INTERVIEW: Jeremy Dehn & John Hoff

 

Miracle Investigators is a satirical short film about the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican office charged with validating or disproving alleged miracles worldwide. Taking this concept to its (absurdly) logical conclusion, Miracle Investigators recasts itself in the mold of a buddy cop movie, making the investigators the quarrelsome, mismatched heroes recognizable from countless cop films and TV shows. Featuring strong performances from some of Austin’s most recognized actors, an irreverently amusing script, and a surprise climactic confrontation that carries the film into a whole new realm of satire, Miracle Investigators is a unique comedy worth the penance you’ll have to do for laughing. “

—From www.miracleinvestigators.com

 

Dikeou Collection director, Jessica Hughes, interviews Jeremy Dehn, director of Miracle Investigators, and John Hoff, who plays Cardinal Thomas.

So, tell me a little bit about the background of the film and how you two met.

JD: I made this film as a graduate student at the University of Texas. This was actually my thesis film.

JH: And we met each other through a casting call. Jeremy had posted an ad for it on AustinActors.com, which is sort of like a craigslist, but for actors only.

And how did you two decide to work with each other?

JH: I’ve been acting for 20-plus years, so, while they’re obviously evaluating me at casting calls, I’m evaluating them as well. I loved the audition, and I loved that improv was a part of the audition.

JD: John kept emailing me beforehand, asking to see the script, and had all of these questions. I almost blew him off, actually. I thought, “Who the hell is this guy?”

So how did the casting call go?

JD: I had a well-trained actor as a reader for the audition, which helped a lot because then he could sort of give his opinion of the actors, too. As soon as John left the room, he said “That’s your guy!” He could hardly wait to tell me.

How did you decide on a part that was fitting for John?

JD: I didn’t really know what to do with John at first. He was too young to play the old priest, but too old to play the young priest. So, I ended up re-conceiving his character [Cardinal Thomas]. Originally, that character was going to be a 60-year-old man. Afterwards, I wasn’t really sure why I was so attached to that idea. In this process you get attached to certain things, but then you learn to let go. I learned that in the auditioning process, too; it’s how I learned to start auditioning actors with improv. I think in the beginning our egos are too fragile to really do that.

JH: I think that’s probably why the same directors and actors work together on multiple films. In this case, Jeremy had a very clear vision, but he was also open to ideas, which is important.

Are you working on any other projects where you two might collaborate again?

JD: There are definitely other projects in development, and I’d love to work with John again. There’s so much planning and so many things that need to come together to make a film, though, so you really have to be in love with the idea before you start on it, start getting financial support and everything else. But there are definitely projects in the developmental stages.

How did you get financial support for Miracle Investigators?

JD: Well, I did have some grant money, but a lot of it was out of my own pocket. Really, I looked at it as an investment in film school. And the whole thing was shot on film (rather than video), which is over $5,000 alone. I mean, financially, I’ll never make that money back, but I’m happy with the film.

You both started in Austin, but now you both live in Denver. How did that happen?

JH: After we stopped filming, my family and I went to Norway for two months, then spent two weeks in Denver, then went back to Austin. Once we got back to Austin, we said “Ew, it’s too hot and humid here. Let’s move”, so we did. We just packed up and moved.

JD: For me, it was because I got a teaching job at the University of Denver. I’m originally from CO, too, though. I grew up in Pueblo and my wife’s family is in Aurora.

So, it was just a strange coincidence that you both ended up here?

JH: It really was. And we ended up moving in just a few houses down from each other.


JD: Yeah, and at almost the same time, too. I think we moved in like 6 days after you guys did, John.

Where else has the film been showing lately?

JD: It just played at the Friar’s Club, which seems like a Kiwanis Club for NY comedians. It was so neat to sit at the bar and look at pictures of famous people like Dean Martin sitting at the same bar. We usually do better with this film at comedy film festivals, too.

Where else has the film been shown?

JD: Last night was our 22nd showing of the film at a festival. But Vail, Austin, and the Friar’s Club have really been the highlights for me.

What sorts of films influenced Miracle Investigators?

JD: Well, definitely buddy cop movies. I mean, that’s all I watched for 3 or 4 years in middle school-high school.

Any particular films that were especially influential?

JD: This is such a hard question to answer, because if I say really good films, then I end up sounding arrogant, like my films are as good as those. But I’d say everything from Charlie’s Angels to Kung Fu movies like Iron Monkey. Iron Monkey is a really great one, one of my favorites. But, I mean, our film is no Iron Monkey.

John, what kind of influences did you use for your acting in the film, or did you develop a unique style for playing the role?

JH: I definitely worked on developing my own style for the character, and I do that by placing myself into the character and reacting to things the way my character would react. But I also like to observe other actors and say “I’d like to try that.” For instance, Michael Kane never blinks. They’ll be doing close-ups of him and he never blinks. I also trained in NY, so I learned different methods there.

What kinds of methods do you prefer?

JH: Well, for example, some actors like to use sense memory. One time, I had to cry for a role, and my daughter asked me what I was thinking about to make myself cry. Like, “Were you thinking about our dog that died last year?” I don’t use this method. For me, it takes me out of the moment. I would rather immerse myself in the character and get into it that way. That’s called the Meisner method.

Where did you go to school, and for what?

JH: I went to the University of Texas and got a business degree, actually. Then, one time, I was on a plane talking to a lawyer, and he mentioned he was going to be late for an acting class. I asked him why he was taking an acting class if he was a lawyer, and he said it helped him be more comfortable with public speaking. So, I decided to do that too. I only took acting to speak more comfortably in front of people. Then I went to NYC to the Academy of Dramatic Arts.

What was your favorite part of making the film?

JH: My favorite was the fight scene. It was just so cool and really fun to shoot.

JD: I agree, it was my favorite, too. It was a drawn out part, and the part I’m most proud of. It took us three solid, 14-hour days to complete it. 

Being a low-budget film, were most people involved working as volunteers?

JD: Most people worked for free, yes. Which is actually really cool, because the people involved were just as into it as I was. At first, I felt bad, but by the end you realize that you’re not actually asking them to sacrifice as much because they are just as into it as you are.

JH: People are not going to volunteer for something they hate. Which is why it was important for me, as an actor, to make sure that he had a good script and a good vision. I asked all those questions beforehand to make sure Jeremy had his shit together.

Did Jeremy have his shit together?

JH: Yes, definitely.

JD: It really is important, though, because when you work on a film, it gets to be an intimate relationship. There is an element of honesty. People tend to overlook how important that chemistry is, I think. There’s an upside and a downside to working for free. If it’s a bad project, then you start thinking maybe you should go out and get a real job. But, in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

John, how did you keep a straight face while playing your character?

JH: I think the best comedies are the ones in which the characters have no idea they’re in a comedy. The actors treat it as a drama. So I would be completely serious when the camera was rolling, and then as soon as the camera turns off, it’s all laughs.

So, immersing yourself in the character was crucial.

JH: Right. I knew my character, and I knew exactly what he would do in these situations. You don’t judge the character you’re playing, you just become the character.

Have you gotten any negative response to the controversial nature of the film?

JD: There were a couple of people that refused to be involved because of the subject matter. But, honestly, I think Miracle Investigators is pretty tame satire. It could have been way harsher than it was. 

JH: I met some Catholics at the screening, and they thought it was just hilarious.

JD: I mean, I wasn’t trying to attack Catholicism or anything. I was trying to attack the uncritical following of any religion. I was attacking the idea of following something without asking or knowing why. There are some serious moments in the movie where we pause and show this theme. It pauses for the serious moment, and then we get back to the ass-kicking.

What did you think of the screening last night?

JD: I think it’s all about the attitude of the spectators, and I think the Festivus atmosphere was great. People were very open and ready to enjoy the films.

JH: As a spectator, I loved the atmosphere. It was so neat to be around other people who really enjoy film, too.

JD: There are usually two different atmospheres at film festivals: people there to judge the pieces as artwork and people there to enjoy the films. I think the word “festival” is really appropriate for this, because it really was a celebration of accomplishments.

 

Miracle Investigators screened at the Festivus Film Festival on January 14 at the Bug Theatre in Denver, CO.