Recently, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, the writer/directors of the nationally-released movie The Peanut Butter Falcon visited Manteo High School. Kiersten Frazee, Editor in Chief of the Sound to Sea, and Nate Smith from Manteo Today interviewed them. Noting that Nilson, a 2000 MHS graduate, had been on the swim team, Frazee asked him about his school experience. He recalled his time on the swim team, which had a swimmer place sixth in the state in freestyle. Commenting on the changes in the school since his time, Nilson noted the level of stress in the current students: “People need to loosen up a little bit.”
Although his love for the Outer Banks is evident in the movie, Nilson told Frazee that he felt that he needed to move to Los Angeles to find the level of creative support that he needed. While there, he met neighbor Schwartz, and their friendship led to their working together on this movie.
Given the setting of the film and Nilson’s local connection, filming on the Outer Banks would seem to make sense. Instead, the production was moved to Savannah, Georgia, for the simple reason that filming was cheaper in Savannah. Georgia also has grants incentives for filmmakers to bring their productions to the state, and North Carolina discontinued their incentive program several years ago. This allowed the directors to significantly less than they would have had to on the Outer Banks. “With people coming in and out of office, it shifts and changes. When we started shooting the tax incentive was in Georgia,” explains Nilson.
Nilson and Schwartz personally relate to the different characters from the film. Nilson’s youth spent on the Outer Banks shows up in movie Tyler’s personality. Although Schwartz didn’t grow up locally, he wishes he were more like Tyler. Of the characters in the film, though, Schwartz feels more of a connection with Eleanor, Zak’s caregiver in the film: “I grew up more straight-laced. I related a lot more to her arc.”
Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson are the two best-known actors in the film, and Nilson and Schwartz shared a story about LaBeouf. While preparing for his role, LaBeouf envisioned his fisherman character wearing a red t-shirt and crocs. Knowing local fashion, though, Tyler insisted on the local combination of a white t-shirt and “Wanchese bedroom slippers,” AKA white boots.
The directors also singled out Zack Gottsagen, the actor that portrays Zak, as having given a particularly impactful performance in the film. There was some fear that Zack’s Down syndrome would hinder his ability to fulfill the physical requirements in a couple of scenes, but in the end a stunt double proved unnecessary. At one point in the movie, Zak jumps off a high dock, and there was some concern that the stunt would be too difficult. Zack, however, not only made the jump, but did it several times. “He enjoyed showing people he was capable,” says Schwartz.
There is a reason that Tyler is the name of the film’s main character as well as the name of its director. Originally, Nilson and Schwartz were expecting the film to be a small indie, and they had named the character Tyler because Nilson himself was going to play the role. Zack also got to keep his name with little change in the film.
When asked about the best part of the whole experience. Nilson stated that it was being able to work with so many different people to create something so big and exciting. The most stressful part of the process, surprisingly, was coming back to Manteo High School and speaking to the students at his old school about his work.
The directors discussed the great time that cast and crew had while working on the film. “It was like a big summer camp,” says Schwartz. All of the actors and those working on set were able to meet new people and develop friendships with each other. Schwartz also mentions that since they were filming in Savannah, no one could really meet up with old friends from home, so that really pushed everyone to form relationships.
Nilson and Schwartz worked extremely hard on their film and, according to Nilson, it appeals to anyone with a beating heart. Not only are there many Outer Banks connections, but there are also incredible scenes with some really amazing actors. Everyone who hasn’t already seen it should go and support a gifted OBX local.