An Interview with Josh Epstein
By Dannielle Piper
Liam (Daniel Doheny), is a book-smart, yet awkward, home-schooled teen with a bright future ahead of him as the world’s (second) best astronaut. As he is about to solidify his place at the prestigious Cambridge University, he becomes smitten with the pretty, wooden-legged girl in public school. So what does he do? In his effort to woo the girl of his dreams, Liam flunks his exam with the intent of entering public school for one year.
Written by Kyle Rideout and Josh Epstein, this hilarious, intimate and zingy film, isn’t the first project the pair have worked on. Speaking on their first film, Epstein says: “Our first feature was an epic period drama about the Godfather of Cinema, this film couldn’t be more different and that’s the way we want it”. And he’s right, Public Schooled explores the adventures of an awkward teen – something that Epstein says we can all relate to.
Dannielle Piper: Are there any personal belief systems that you incorporated into the film? If so, and without giving too much away, how are they touched upon in the movie? Do you see yourself in any of the characters?
Josh Epstein: I think we all relate to our lead awkward kid. I was benched for my little league baseball team’s championship game. We won but got the title stripped and the league made us replay the game because you weren’t allowed to bench players. I was incredibly embarrassed but I was always able to soldier on and I think those experiences are what provides me with the drive I have today.
Piper: One writer claimed that the protagonist’s mother seems to believe that public school breeds mediocrity. Is that your own personal belief as well?
Epstein: No, I think home schooling or public schooling can both be done incredibly well. I don’t have kids yet so who am I to tell anyone how to raise their kids but my guess is that it’s important to socialize your kids with other kids while home schooled and it’s important that you spend time enriching your kid’s life when they are public schooled!
Piper: What was the overall writing process from conception to execution? How long did it take? What obstacles did you come across and how were they resolved?
Epstein: This script came out very naturally for Kyle and I. It was the first thing we started writing and it’s gone through many incarnations. I think in our first draft our lead kid’s best friend was a bear. That got cut. Kyle and I love writing together, we have full permission to edit each other’s work. If we argue over something than our rule is whoever cares more wins.
Piper: How does producing compare to acting or writing, and how it was doing all three in this movie?
Epstein: Producing doesn’t compare to anything. It’s a grind, it’s a hustle, it can be incredibly stressful and all consuming.
Piper: The film was written and filmed in Vancouver. How important was it that this film was made locally? Was this intentional or was it by happenstance?
Epstein: This is definitely intentional, we’ve made two all-Vancouver films. We want to significantly add to the Vancouver indie film scene. LA shoots in Vancouver are great for the economy but we will only evolve culturally if our indie films can make their mark outside Vancouver. Vancouver is a world-class city that is capable of creating world-class art. There are some great local examples too, like The Electric Company Theatre creating a dance piece with Crystal Pite that recently won an Olivier Award. Kyle and I share an office with them and to be surrounded by their level of ambition and creativity is all the motivation we need.
Piper: There are some big names in this movie. Did you have a say in the casting process? How excited were you to have stars like Judy Greer and Russell Peters cast as some of the characters?
Epstein: Of course. We’re over the moon. Kris Woz and Kara Eide helped us cast and did an incredible job. We are able to attract a world star like Grace Park to come home and shoot a film with us. Kyle and I are also firm believers in the theatre talent of Vancouver being able to handle large film roles. Most major cities like London, NY or Toronto dive into the theatre talent and we do the same. Daniel Doheny, Andrew McNee and Jonathon Young are some of the actors we have borrowed and everyone’s been in awe of their switch to film. This is Daniel’s first film role and since shooting our film he has landed the lead in two straight Netflix/Ben Stiller produced features.
Piper: What would you say is the purpose of the film? What are you hoping for it to accomplish or for the audience to walk away with?
Epstein: There’s popcorn flicks and then there’s like frozen yogurt with Skor bits, Reese’s and cookie dough flicks. Public Schooled is one of those.
Public Schooled is screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the SEA TO SKY program stream on Monday, October 2. Tickets available here.