My friend heard about this new thing on Tik Tok called “getting Shmacked” where you take a flavor packet like Crystal Light Lemonade or Sunkist Strawberry and pour it directly into a bottle of vodka and drink it. It’s just as dumb as it sounds, so of course we had to try it. I had expected to hear from Allison Marie Volk about her film DEANY BEAN IS DEAD on Wednesday night, so I paused HAMILTON right after his son died and waited for the call, but it never came. Thursday night, as I was heading out the door to get Shmacked, my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. My wife said don’t answer it, and I said, like a true lower-middle-class American, “maybe I won something.” As it turns out, I had won my chance to chat with Allison Marie Volk, who is a pure delight.
DEANY BEAN IS DEAD is a dark comedy that plays more lovesick than actual sick. Think less VERY BAD THINGS, more Rachel Bloom’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Check out the trailer here:
Featuring a script written by Volk and cast with colleagues for whom various roles were written, DEANY BEAN IS DEAD has all the tight character development of black box theater with a wider world of murder-obsessed, cubicle-bound, meditating socialites navigating the autonomous beauty of Southern California. The performances elevate DEANY BEAN above the deafening din of independent romance comedies flooding the home release market on any given Friday, and they find their anchor in Volk’s clever and vibrant script.
Speaking with Volk on Thursday evening found us laughing easily and frequently, and I appreciated how forthcoming she was with the development of the story and the filmmaking experience. Even if I didn’t enjoy the movie, I’d tell you all to watch it based purely on her warm personality. Luckily for all of us, it’s a genuinely enjoyable film, with an endearing and relatable character, played by Volk, herself.
Eric McClanahan: Alright, how are you doing today?
Allison Marie Volk: Good. Great! How are you?
EM: I’m great. So you wrote and starred in DEANY BEAN IS DEAD. Which is super fun. I love a good dark comedy so when I saw that come across my desk I knew I had to watch it.
AMV: Oh, good. I’m so glad.
EM: There were so many things that I liked about the script that I just wanted to pick your brain about. First question, obviously, is how much of Deany Bean’s life is inspired directly by yours?
AMV: [laughs] Well I have been telling people that I don’t hurt people, I am not into physical violence at all. So I’m not like Deany in that way, but I do relate to her in that I have experienced heartbreak. I have definitely had relationships end before I was ready for them to end and really suffered over it like she does. And I have felt really intense emotions like self-doubt, insecurity, jealousy; I mean I think that’s pretty much just a human thing but those things I can definitely relate to.
EM: And how about the mundane jobs? Did you have a cubicle life before filmmaking?
AMV: No, I have only worked in a cubicle once and it was for a very brief amount of time, but I have had a lot of jobs that just didn’t do anything for me and felt like it was sucking the life out of me. So that I know very well.
EM: I really loved the way you used the Murder Porn Podcast as a narrative device. I think it’s very telling of our times. How did that idea strike you, to use that as the through-thread?
AMV: You know I can’t remember where that idea came from although maybe I was listening to “Serial” at the time. In general, our culture is so saturated with violence and this fascination with murderers that I think it came from that aspect of our culture. I should also say that at that time I was going through a pretty intense Hitchcock phase so a lot of those influences were swirling around in my mind when I was working on the script.
EM: That also explains the look of the narrator; he had that Hitchcockian, kind of Raymond Burr as Perry Mason look about him.
AMV: Yeah, he does.
EM: Tell me about some of the meditation techniques and support groups and how that played into the story of Deany’s healing or transformation.
AMV: Yeah, it’s sort of funny because in hindsight when I watch the movie it kind of feels like we’re making fun of it a little bit, but I’m so into meditation. I’ve been meditating regularly for a few years now and I really believe in its power to help you get centered and connect with yourself. So it’s funny to me to watch the cut and think “Gosh, it looks like the person who wrote this film thinks that meditation is a bunch of hoopla and nonsense” but I really don’t feel that way. How did it read to you? Like how did it come off to you?
EM: I can see how it does look a little snarky. At least Deany’s respect for it in the moment seems kind of touch and go.
AMV: Yeah, that’s true.
EM: But she’s in a very vulnerable place, trying to find herself, so she just wants to get right to it or through it and talk about herself. And I get it. We’ve all been there, in that vulnerable place. That’s what I really loved about this script: the authenticity of it. Even though not many of us would choke our bosses in the parking garage, aside from that we can see a lot of ourselves in Deany.
AMV: Well that’s good. I’m really glad that it came through; that was one of our objectives.
EM: Now, when she gets to the party, or rather the party happens around her and she gets invited in, I just loved the way that everybody, even those who knew who she was from the beginning, accepted that she was there in the room because she was already there in the room. Like that social contract kicks in and they have to say “Okay, this is happening.” How much fun was it to play with that idea of the unbreakable social contract, not only in the script but in the scene, itself.
AMV: Oh my Gosh, well, this whole thing was so fun but that in particular, as a writer, that sort of thing is my bread and butter. I just love messing around with characters. Because it’s so true! You know, if you found yourself at a dinner party with one person who wasn’t supposed to be there, what normal socialized American would say “You need to leave!” It wouldn’t happen. It would take so much for them to try to kick that person out. Polite society is so much fun to play with, trying to see how far you can push it until someone takes action.
EM: There’s a tension throughout the party, and we know that at some point it has to snap. So as viewers we carry that tension through the scene which plays very well. Congratulations on that.
AMV: Oh, thanks.
EM: Now, having the boss NOT die… Where did that idea come from?
AMV: That idea was my mom’s idea. [laughs] My mom is the type of person that you can’t play CLUE with because she just knows things that she shouldn’t know and she thinks of ideas that you marvel at, like “Where did that come from?” While developing this script I had my outline all written out and I was telling her the story, which is something I do when I’m working on a script to see what comes up: what’s not working, what is working, and she started laughing and asked “Oh my God, is the boss alive?” And I said “Oh, yes! That’s a great idea!” So all that credit goes to my mom, Lisa Volk.
EM: I love once she enters the party, the film takes on a WEEKEND AT BERNIES meets OVERBOARD feel…
AMV: Yeah, it kind of does.
EM: Which I think the world needs more of right now.
AMV: Oh man I agree. And Wendy Wilkins, her transformation was amazing, to see her go from this wicked boss to this ding dong who can’t remember her own name. She’s so good! She just does it so well.
EM: It was almost like Rick Moranis in SPACEBALLS after they stop the ship and he hits his head. A lot of great performances throughout. Now tell me about the casting of Tom; he had to be the all-American, dashing good looks; everything that Deany holds in such high regard. Tell me about casting that role and how you found Christopher Glenn Cannon.
AMV: Well that was easy, because I already knew him and I wrote the role for him. He and I had done a production of AUGUST, OSSAGE COUNTY together in Santa Ana a few months before I started writing the script. And you’re right: he has this dashing, handsome appeal, but then there’s something about him, (and I’m not saying that Chris personally has this evil side to him because I know him and he doesn’t; he’s the most wonderful, professional person I’ve ever met) this ability to have this other layer of emotion riding just beneath the surface which is perfect for Tom. I think it takes a real skill to be able to do that and he did it flawlessly.
EM: There’s definitely a challenge with Tom and his oscillating emotions. At first he’s with Angela and he’s excited about that, and he’s initially so revulsed by Deany being there. But then over the evening he warms to the idea, and it’s that awkward tension and a fascinating situation that I think everyone played pitch perfectly.
AMV: Yeah, my idea as a writer was that Tom is one of those guys that kind of likes being stalked, like he loves the attention so he wants to keep burning his candle at both ends, if you know what I mean.
EM: He wants what wants him, at the time.
AMV: Yeah. Exactly.
EM: Now tell me about the idea of Myron and the sibling rivalry and how it played as a foil to Deany’s relationship with Tom.
AMV: Yes! I see Myron as a real shadow character. We see him at the meditation group and it looks like he’s going to become Deany’s enemy or the antagonist. But as the story unfolds he turns out to be the only person who actually sticks up for her. I love that about the character of Myron and that’s another actor that I wrote for, Colin Taylor Martin, and he has a depth of sensitivity and a great subtlety that Myron really needs. He’s the character who was outshined by his brother his entire life and his brother turns out to be a scamp who stole some intellectual property from him and I was so in love with the Myron character, I have to say.
EM: So what are you working on now?
AMV: I have a film, a short film, coming to the Valley Film Festival, in August. It’s called WHAT KATY DID, and it’s a film that I wrote and directed, it’s my directing debut. So I’m very excited about that. And I have a feature film project that I’m so excited about, but I’m currently working on getting financing for, so I can’t really talk about but I’m hoping that we’ll be shooting by next summer.
EM: Well I hope so, too.
AMV: Thank you, I appreciate that.
EM: So DEANY BEAN IS DEAD is releasing July 10th, 2020, but I see the copyright date of publication is 2018?
AMV: We premiered in a festival in June of 2018 and then it took us a while to get all the way through the distribution steps, which there was also a wait because of the pandemic, but we’re here! We’re finally coming out!
EM: Well, I love the movie. I thought the writing was very tight, your acting was wonderful and the ensemble is all very good. I can’t say enough nice things about it. Is there anything else you want to say about DEANY BEAN IS DEAD?
AMV: Well, I just want to say thank you. It’s so fun to talk to people who really clearly care about story structure and characters and I think that it’s just wonderful that you enjoyed the film, so thank you so much.
EM: Thank you! I wish you the best of luck with the movie.
DEANY BEAN IS DEAD released digitally this past Friday, July 10th, 2020, and you can learn more about the film and Volk at https://www.deanybeanisdead.com/
Until next time, stay safe and sane out there and don’t get Shmacked.
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-