Interviews: Tim Zajaros - Producer of The Peanut Butter Falcon

TMS: It was really cool to see something so positive with The Peanut Butter Falcon. Is it hard to break away current trends with this movie?

TZ: It's either that that you don't get positive, it's dark, it's Marvel, or it's Disney trying way too hard. 

TMS: You've been producing for a few years now. You've got quite an eclectic set of projects. Mudbound, Arctic (which I adored), Mom and Dad. What's it like working on such a variance of films?

TZ: I like it because it's never the same. Then, you're always doing something different. And I got into the business because I love movies. I love all kinds of movies so it's never this genre or that genre. I'm not a comedy person or an action person. I'm just a movie person. So if we get certain material and we're like 'wow it's unique', I want to make stuff I want to watch. 

TMS: So how did you get into producing. What led you on that path?

Photo credit: The Detroit Free Press

TZ: It was very random. I'm a finance major from Western Michigan. I never intended on getting into films. I started working for an automotive marketing company when I graduated and did pretty well. I traveled and started hiring some friends from school so I should have been on cloud nine but it was still it was Office Space. It was 'when's lunch?' 'it's 9 o'clock'. Me and one of my buddies I worked with, we were like 'what kind of business should we start?'. So I knew I wasn't in the right field and was wondering 'what do I love?'. The only thing I could think of was movies. A friend of mine who is Detroit based. He's done a few movies. I started working with him. I moved to L.A. and tried to become a producer. I knew the title but I really didn't know what a producer did. 

TMS: A lot of people don't get the difference between a producer and a director. The producer is there for financing and basically moving the project along. 

TZ: I think the best way to describe it is really easy. Every movie is set up as a company. Every movie is an LLC. It's its own entity. So you can look at the producers as being the CEO. Basically we oversee the money and we oversee all the departments. You oversee the entire project from start to finish, then sell it. Then you're involved in the marketing. We were heavily involved in this one. You're there the whole time. 

TMS: We're in this era of franchises. How hard is it for something like this to secure funding?

TZ: This is really hard. For many reasons. One, it's independent movies are hard to finance in the first place but this stars a young man with down syndrome, who actually has down syndrome. So people are A. Can he really do it? and B. People were wondering if people would go see it. They looked at it as a negative. We looked at it as a positive. So my company financed and produced. There weren't many other options. 

TMS I'm a big proponent of Shia. I've been a huge fan for a long time. Obviously, he's changed career trajectory. He's not doing what he was doing a few years ago. He's taken a new path. What's it like working with him?

TZ: He's amazing to work with. Him and Zack clicked right off the bat. Their relationship on screen is very much how it is off screen. He was extraordinarily committed to the project. Whatever we needed, he was doing it. Whenever we needed him, he was there. He was so amazing with Zack. Every night after shooting they would go back to the hotel. Monday and Tuesday they would watch Monday Night Raw and Smackdown. They would rehearse every night. It was just magic. 

TMS: This was Zack's first feature. He's done some shorts and things like that. How hard was it to get him into this role?

TZ: Actually, the writer/directors met him at a camp in California for people with disabilities. The focus was on the arts. So, they met him. They built a friendship with him. He came to them one day saying how he wanted to be a movie star. They were really honest with him and said it was going to be really challenging. The big studios that make things happen really are not going to be actively pushing for somebody like you to be a star in their movies. So he just looked at them and said, 'why don't you write one and direct one for me?'. And they just kinda looked at each other and said 'good idea'. They wrote it for him from the very beginning. So, even a lot of the lines that he has in there are things that he says. They used wrestling as an element because he loves wrestling. 

TMS: What's the release schedule like for the movie now?

TZ: It was limited the last couple weeks. And it's nationwide now. 

TMS: A lot of movies like this are going to Netflix or Amazon Prime. How did you make the choice to get this in theaters?

TZ: Well, Amazon was looking at this and they made an offer. We didn't like the offer.  Netflix didn't even make an offer. It was crazy. When we were trying to sell this movie, even though we won the awards at SXSW, we got rave reviews...I think everyone was frightened to distribute a movie about someone with down syndrome which again, I look at it as something unique. I can't recall any films that the lead had down syndrome. 

TMS: We had the Life Goes On series in the '90s. 

TZ: But not a movie. And that was more about the family. I honestly can't believe the studios and the streamers thought it was a bad movie cause it's not. What scared them about the movie, I don't know. So we partnered with Roadside. We know it's special. We felt strongly that it needed to be in theaters. 

TMS: You guys are getting great word of mouth from early reviews. 

TZ: That's why we released it limited in the first few weeks. 

TMS: This is a really positive project. Does it feel good to release something that isn't tonally dark?

TZ: Yeah, it does. These are the types of movies, the reasons why I got into movies in the first place. Being able to leave a movie theater feeling good and feeling happy. The Goonies. Stand By Me. Even Big. You know what I mean? This is fun. It's funny. It's also heartwarming. It doesn't hit you over the face with it. It's not trying to be that. It just IS organically. 

TMS: Even though there are some kind of scary moments with John Hawkes' character, this is something I can take my kids to see. They wouldn't be scared. There were a lot of people in the audience with down syndrome and their parents. How are they reacting to it?

TZ: It's just a real family movie. The response we've got from that community is sensational. It's people thanking us over and over again for doing it. Obviously people look at people with disabilities as if they can't do certain things. And that's what people think. It's really not like that. Zack was there 10-12 hours a day. He did an incredible job. The scene where he jumps, he wanted to do it. Everyone didn't want him to do it. But we had to let him do it because that's what this movie is about. 

TMS: Where was the movie filmed and how hard was it to find locations?

TZ: It was shot in Savannah. Very hard to find locations. And the directors were very very particular. It was extraordinarily difficult at times. We found some amazing locations together. We all worked very well together to figure it out. The movie looks great. The locations look great. The theme was that we wanted every scene to look like you could get tetanus from it. Earthy. Rust. Old. Decayed if you will. It was a really difficult shoot. We had 35 days. It was a difficult shoot because you're on water. The water scenes were really tough. We had multiple boats out there.

We strongly suggest checking this movie out. It's definitely one of the best of 2019. Thanks to Tim for chatting with us!

-Chris George