Many of you no doubt remember 24, the Fox television series starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, the tortured (emotionally and physically) counter-terrorist agent who repeatedly thwarts attacks on American soil. In its heyday the show inspired rabid fandom; I should know, because I was one of the die-hards. As a “just-for-fun” summer project during my BYU years, some friends and I made an homage-parody entitled 29, about a group of college students whose race to make it home on time to watch the 24 season finale is fraught with peril (watch the film here).
The 29-minute film was low-budget, but the script was (in my opinion) fast-paced and funny and we had a great time with the action scenes. We premiered the movie outdoors for about 80 people (friends and family), gave out DVD’s, and thought that would be the end of it. Little did we know that 29 would be the beginning of something that launched the film careers of several people and drew one of the world’s biggest stars into its net. I’m referring to something you may not know about: quintessential nice guy Donny Osmond once played a terrorist. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
The next year my friend and roommate Alan Seawright pitched an idea to me for a sequel. Between working full time, attending college, and performing with the popular BYU humor group Divine Comedy, I couldn’t commit to writing or directing again, so Alan offered himself up for the job. This would be his first time directing a movie, but his idea and script were solid, so I dove in.
29: Day Two was altogether more polished and cinematic than the first film (watch it here), and I knew that my friend had natural talent. We premiered the film as a double-feature with the first 29 in the Joseph Smith Building auditorium on BYU campus. Working hard to promote it we got some 900 people to attend and fill up the building. It was a huge night for the handful of college kids involved.
I pursued a career as a marriage and family therapist, but Alan was bit by the bug. He was going to be a filmmaker. For his first feature-length film, he recruited me for CTU: Provo, an independent action-comedy inspired by the 29 films, but altogether its own animal. ‘CTU’ stands for Counter Terrorist Unit, and the film took for its premise that there’s a CTU office in the city of Provo. There the most inexperienced and underqualified agents get dumped because “no one’s ever going to attack Provo.” Then, of course, someone does.
Alan and I play ourselves (it’s meta, just go with it), two 24 fans who think the fictional TV show has given them all the preparation they need in order to fight actual terrorists, and of course we get in way over our heads. So how does Donny Osmond factor into all of this? Naturally, he’s the criminal mastermind.
The film, which premiered online after a film-festival run, is having a 5th anniversary screening at this week’s Salt Lake Comic-Con, Thursday September 5th from 2-3:30 p.m. I recently had the chance to catch up with my old friend and reminisce about the film, working with Donny Osmond, and how he’s managed to have a successful career as a filmmaker, on his own terms, outside of Hollywood.
JONATHAN DECKER: Great to be talking with you pal. It's pretty wild that five whole years have passed since we released this flick. What inspired you to become a filmmaker? Is it what you always wanted, or did you have other plans?
ALAN SEAWRIGHT: 5 years? How old are we now? I've wanted to be a filmmaker since seeing Jurassic Park as a 1 –year-old. That was really the first movie I was aware of and excited about before it came out, and it certainly didn't disappoint. I didn't really pursue it as a career though, until that fateful day in late 2005 when you told me you liked my idea for 29 Day 2, and that you didn't have time to direct it, so I should.
JD: That's right. I didn't initially think I wanted to do a sequel, but your idea was pretty great. There really is nothing more fun, for me at least, than making a movie with your friends just for kicks. Of course you did all the heavy lifting for that, especially in the weeks leading to the BYU double-feature premiere. What was it about filming in the freezing snow, slaving away in front of a computer for days editing, and showing up at your own movie premiere visibly sleep-deprived (and dare I say malnourished?) that made you say "Yep. This is what I want to do for a career"? Or am I overlooking something about the experience?
AS: Thanks man. It's not hard at all to figure out what it was about that experience that made me want to do that for a living. After those crazy hours, the lack of sleep, the tough shooting conditions (we broke so many rules, never shoot at night, don't shoot at sunset, in the snow, etc...) I simply enjoyed all of it. But the high of having something that I made screen in front of hundreds of people, who laughed at (most of) the jokes, and got quiet at the right moments of tension... it was unbelievable! So I get to have fun most of the time, do crazy things that most people don't get to do, and at the end of it, I get to have fans? No question.
JD: So the next year we had the idea for a 29 prequel (called 29 Begins) that found my character and your character teaming up to thwart an actual terrorist plot on Provo, Utah. How did that gestate from a low-budget short film into a feature-length independent movie that launched the film careers of several people?
AS: So 29 Begins turned into CTU: Provo because, um.