18 TO PARTY: An Interview with Director Jeff Roda


Bottom line: When Waiting to Get in A Line, Is More Important Than Getting in The Line
Director and Writer : Jeff Roda
Starring: Alivia Clark, Tanner Flood, James Freedson-Jackson, Oliver Gifford, Nolan Lyons, Sam McCarthy, Ivy Miller, Taylor Richardson and Erich Schuett

I had the opportunity to talk with director Jeff Roda to discuss his film new film 18 TO PARTY.

It’s 1984 and outside a small-town nightclub, a group of 8th graders gather, grappling with a spate of recent suicides, UFO sightings, their absentee parents, and each other. 18 to Party spans a single evening in the lives of these kids but manages to transport us fully to a time when waiting for something to happen felt just as significant as the thing itself.

YR: You have said you opted to write about your experiences in 18 TO PARTY in the form of a fable, how has writing about your experiences impacted you.

Jeff Roda: Yes. It started out as a play and was worked shopped. It is hard to get a play out of 11 teenagers but the content itself, came from my life. It came geographically from the same place I come from. Some of the characteristic, some of the experiences that the kids are going through, especially a couple of the characters, I went through the exact same thing. Some of the horrible things that happened to some of the kids in that community, were the same thing that happened in my community.

It was a small community, and I was little but those were the things that were happening with the kids who were six years older. It was all based on reality baked into a fable. Basically, it is away to present the film in a meditative way rather than trying to create a big narrative.

YR: Has there been any improvements made in the outcomes for the young people in your hometown?

Jeff Roda: It is interesting. There was something very singular about this area that I lived. It is the outer suburbs about 80 miles north of New York City but if you are 80 miles away from a big city and you are a kid, that is far. You are in the shadow of it, but you are still not going there.

My school was very small and very white, and those things remain today. In terms of the community itself, there is a lot farmland, horse farms and orchids and because of that it has turned into a working/middle class community. A lot of people moved north from the city with a lot of money and built huge stables, mansions and stuff like that. So those elements are there but the sort of rank and file are still similar.

YR:  You did excellent writing for the film. There was some dialogue between Shel and Amy that really stuck with me. Shel had asked Amy, why people would want to think that way and Amy responded, so they will not have to think about anything else.

Jeff Roda: You see from the film that it is almost shocking in a lot of ways how much things have not changed as much as things have changed.  I think for me, it really came around to the reality of the suicides. The trouble these kids were having, the isolation these kids were having and the aloneness. The latch key kids as we were called. And this is an inditement, somewhat, of the parents and adult figures who were not there for them.

It is weird, more of an around about way to get to the answer but a truer way. I did a lot of research about that time about the suicide and mishaps that were going on at that time. There was a nationwide epidemic of suicide in this specific year with a lot of kids, all these high performing kids from all over the country.

And when parents or school administrators were interviewed and were asked about what they think is happening, they all said peer pressure, drugs, and job prospects. Like anyone gives a sh** when you are in the 10th grade about job prospects. Of all these things, no one said maybe we are not looking out for them. Maybe some of this is on us.

No one ever said that and I boiled it down in those two lines where Amy said they do not want to look at it, they don’t want to look at anything more than their excuses for not being there for them. It is not a generation ahead of us that is quick to blame themselves for things.

That was basically the meaning of that line she said they will not have to think about anything else. Meaning they do not have to be reflective. They will not have to look any deeper into their responsibilities for these kids and what happens to them.

YR: What was it like preparing and working with the ensemble of young talented actors?

Jeff Roda:  It was one of the best experiences of my life, in a way, casting of these kids. We have great casting directors Kate and Jessica. It was my first film directing and the one thing I felt pretty good about going in was I would be able to cast the film with 10 kids. Some with no experience ever being in front of camera, one was on Broadway, one had been in a television series, and one had experience with independent films. It was a wide range of experiences.

Working with them and seeing these 13, 14, 15-year old kids really commit and inhabit the same space was great. Because it was a very short shoot, 15 days and there were kids younger than 16 there’s labor law and screen actor’s guild restrictions to follow.

They had to do a lot in a short time. Watching them come together and inhabit the same cosmic place it was amazing.  It was amazing, almost like being a parent in away, every kid had their moment that things were a little stressful, got a bit overwhelmed, frustrated or something kind of like that. Each one had a day of that, or a moment of that. It was great to support these kids.

These were extraordinary kids. Just warm and committed, competitive with each other in a healthy way.  Everyone had a lot of work to do and the movie was only going to work as well as how well any of the actors were prepared. And they all really did it. I think that is part of the competitive spirit, creatively, were privately they are like I do not want to be the one, I do not want to be the one with any mistakes.  It was great. It was fun having an idea, having an instinct about kids and then actually delivering on that. It made me feel really proud. It was rewarding.

YR: How did you come about the setting for 18 To Party, the back of the building, the limited space and telling such great stories?

Jeff Roda: When you are making a film this size, until you are shooting the film is not definitely happening. We did not have that location until 2 days prior to the first day of shooting. And as originally written in the script, it was more one dimensional, more theatrical, the kids were hanging next to a mall.   Again, it was originally written for the stage. As you saw from the back of this club, we found this place with 2 days left. We had to dress it. There are stairs, there is a loading dock area, a cement barrier that kids sit on. Just a lot more texture and space to work with.

We had a wonderful cinematographer named Gris Jordana. She did a lot with what was there. There was more than we thought was going to be there. She did so much with it. We really lucked into it. It was an abandoned place in Staten Island. There was a realtor sign next to it and it was called the number and we were in there.

It was not a club. Our entire production was inside that building and we were shooting outside. It is one of those things that came together. We are very, very lucky.

YR:  What else do you have in the works or that you are working on with any of the actors in 18 to Party.

Jeff Roda: Several of them, I know Sam that played Peter, he is in a couple of series, one on Netflix with Christina Applegate and Linda Cartalini. He plays Christina Applegate’s’ son. Taylor, who plays Missy, she has been doing this for years.  She was the last Annie on Broadway and I think she is in a series on Netflix. Tanner is working on the Kimmie Schmidt Show. And some are just going to school. They are really self-possessed. They are wonderful. They do not need to be acting stars. They can do anything that they want, and this is something they are doing now and exploring.

As for me, I am working on one specific movie, a script and hopefully it will be done within weeks. I am looking forward to reverse engineering 18 To Party back into a play. Which I think would be a great experience. Because I think there are a lot of roles for younger actors in acting school. I think it would a good piece for a group of kids to do together.

YR: How have you been impacted, as a filmmaker, by COVID-19?

Jeff Roda: It has not at all, frankly, because it is really up to me to write. Unfortunately, it has not at all because I have nothing to shoot right now. But it has affected the way a movie is released. The way a movie our size is released. It has completely changed everything, and I think people are really trying in the moment to pivot or understand what is happening with movies. Basically, movies cannot be released in the theaters right now. In any circumstance, to get an independent film out there to get tractions is very difficult. In some weird way, it is also very exciting because there are opportunities to get word of mouth. There are opportunities to roll it out slowly. We opened at the Alamo On Demand Virtual Cinema and Laemmle Virtual Cinema and then a month later a wider release on iTunes and Amazon Prime. So, in between that, we can get reviews, we can explore. There is a longer period now for people to discover the film. With this movie, if it had come out in May like it was supposed to, it would have been in a few theaters in New York and a few Los Angeles. You do not have a lot of money to promote it, so you are not going to get a lot of people regardless of the reviews being rave reviews.  You are still going to have a per screen average of about $500 and then your movie is going to go away after a week or two.  In some weird way, COVID has given these films more of a chance, for now. That is how it has affected filmmaking.

Distributor: Giant Pictures
Run time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Starring: Enzo Cellucci, Alivia Clark, Ashling Doyle, Tanner Flood, James Freedson-Jackson, Oliver Gifford, Nolan Lyons, Sam McCarthy, Ivy Miller, Taylor Richardson, Erich Schuett, Kevin Daniel Carey
Written & Directed by: Jeff Roda
Produced by: Nikola Duravcevic, Emily Ziff Griffin, Andrew Cahill, Stephanie Marin Production Company: Asterion Pictures in association with Cahill Bros
Editor: Katherine Williams, ACE
Cinematographer: Gris Jordana
Production Designer: San Bader
Costume Designer: Ava Lopez
Music: Dylan Neely, featuring the music of: The Alarm, Big Audio Dynamite, Mick Jones, The Velvet Underground and many more.