AUSTIN, Texas, February 17, 2012, Robert Goldrich --- Over the past year, director Jonas Akerlund balanced a workload of close to 30 commercials, five music videos and a feature film, Small Apartments. The latter—with a cast that includes Matt Lucas, Billy Crystal, James Caan, Johnny Knoxville, Juno Temple and James Marsden—makes its world premiere at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference and Festival slated for March 9-17 in Austin.
Akerlund is one of several helmers with spotmaking ties (he is repped by Serial Pictures) to have a feature-length film at SXSW this year. Small Apartments is a dark comedy in which a man accidently kills his landlord, kicking off a wild journey that meshes both humor and more serious considerations. "The movie is really about hope and not giving up, opening up your mind to deal with changes in life," related Akerlund. "The film starts out like a traditional comedy with strong characters and funny moments. Yet as the story unfolds, it becomes more serious, offering a bit of a message and an emotional aspect."
Akerlund first came across Small Apartments 10-plus years ago. "I always loved the book. This is one of those passion projects that I've been hoping I could get made into a movie one day." One of the stumbling blocks for Akerlund was finding "someone special" to play the main character, Franklin Franklin. "The question for me was always, 'who is the guy brave enough in Hollywood to become Franklin?' A few years ago I cast my eyes on Matt Lucas, an English actor, mostly known for the U.K. TV series Little Britain. I liked what I saw and promised myself that if he wants to do Small Apartments, I would somehow get this film made. I sent him the book and the script, and got an instant response from him that he wanted to do the movie."
It took another year or two to get the film going. Favors had to be called in so as to make production viable within a limited budget. "We decided to shoot in Los Angeles, which might seem odd to some in that it can be more expensive to produce here. But it was a good decision because this is a character-driven film and we needed a strong cast," noted Akerlund. "We aimed high on the cast and when you're asking actors to do you a favor and work for less, you've got a much better chance if all they have to do is roll down the hill and shoot in L.A. rather than them having to fly to Canada, Prague or somewhere else."
This will mark Akerlund's first time attending SXSW. "I'm not much of a film festival guy," he related. "Yet I've heard about South By Southwest the past two or three years, even got some phone calls from friends who were there and told me I would enjoy the experience. From what I've heard, it seems that it's becoming what Sundance used to be, which sounds like it could be a good place for a weird movie like mine."
Akerlund said that another "good place" for him is the spotmaking arena. "It's what I do the most of and without my experience in advertising, there's no way I could have done movies and documentaries. Commercials have helped me in collaboration, creatively and on the practical side."