Recently, we spoke with director Trent Cooper about his new film Father of Invention, which currently has a very limited theatrical release and will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray on October 25th.
Father of Invention tells the story of Robert Axle (Kevin Spacey), a millionaire infomercial mogul who loses it all when one of his inventions goes awry and cuts off people’s fingers. After spending eight years in prison, Robert is ready to get his life back on track by somehow rebuilding his fortune and reconnecting with his estranged daughter Claire (Camilla Belle). He also has to deal with his ex-wife Lorraine (Virginia Madsen), who has spent all of her share of the divorce. There’s also his moronic new boss (Johnny Knoxville) and the person who took over his company (John Stamos).
We spoke to Trent about the film, its major theme, who inspired him to be a director and his upcoming projects.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: I saw you were also one of the writers of Father of Invention. Was this your original idea, or did you and Jonathan Krane come up with it together?
Trent Cooper: Jonathan actually came up with the story about 15 years ago. He wrote the first draft to this in the mid-‘90s, and it’s something that never got made. 15 years later, he was really inspired to get it back and going. He hired me to rewrite it and direct it. He really empowered me, and I kind of got to do my own thing and wrote my draft.
What you hope will happen with indie film is that you write something that the town gets excited about and a bunch of great actors want to be a part of. That’s what happened and it’s kind of a miracle every time it happens. It happened here and, obviously, we got a really fun cool cast. We made this fun, cool independent film for very little money. It’s a very classical movie that is character driven, fun and it’s what we set out to do.
WGTC: Now did Jonathan base his screenplay on a specific infomercial pitchman?
Trent Cooper: No, not really. We’ve all kind of known these guys, and we’ve all bought stuff from them over the years. There’s a little piece of a lot those dudes in this character. I think the theme is what Jonathan was originally attracted to. It’s what I got connected to as well. It’s the idea of a guy who’s really brilliant, and he’s got this gift. He’s got this incredible passion and he builds this career with blood, sweat, tears and passion. He’s trying to give his family a good life. Along the way, he loses his connection with them and he doesn’t even realize it. This is something that was personal for Jonathan. It’s also something that I feel everyday, and all my friends feel it.
I mean, are you wrong to be passionate and driven and to work that hard? No, you’re not. You’re supposed to, and it’s just so easy to lose sight and have that true connection to your kid slip through your fingers. So I think that theme of balance and connecting those things were things that drew me to the project, drew him to the project and drew Kevin to the project. It’s very relatable stuff.
One of the things I’m most proud of with this film is the eclectic cast. There are a lot of people you’d never expect to do a film together. It’s really fun to see, especially when it works. It’s also kind of true with what’s happening in the film with this inventor. He even says, “I’m not inventing anything new. I’m just taking two things you’d never expect to be together, and I’m putting them together in a way that has this amazing effect. That’s what we do with casting. We try to take some chances and do things unexpected. Johnny Knoxville in a movie with Kevin Spacey. No one in a million years would expect to see that combination, but it’s really cool to see them in these scenes together. The same can be said with Craig Robinson and Virginia Madsen. I think the audiences are sort of loving that sort of eclectic thing with the cast that’s going on.
WGTC: How was it like to work with Kevin Spacey?
Trent Cooper: First and foremost, he’s very funny. You’re always laughing when he’s around. He’s also a total pro and he really respects the craft. He really respects other actors. He respects writers. He’s the first one there, and the last one to leave. He wants to work, and he wants to work hard. He loves the process. He loves rehearsal. He’s worked with some of the best directors of all time, and he’s done some of my favorite movies. But, working with him, he treated me very well. It was a true collaboration. He was hard on me in a good way. He expected a lot from me. I really felt like every day, I had to bring my A-game. But he appreciated what I was doing, and he taught me a lot. It was a real mentor type-relationship we had.
I came there with a skill set, and I wanted to get better at what I do. He was really helpful. He really helped me get better at this craft, and I know that my next film and the film after that are going to be better as a result of it. I was excited about that whole mentor relationship thing we had.
WGTC: What drove you to become a director?
Trent Cooper: Well, it’s funny. I love stories, I love movies and I don’t really have any other skill set. If I wanted to, I couldn’t be a photographer and I couldn’t be an editor. What I’m drawn to and what I love is writing and telling stories and working with actors and helping to bring things to life. You have to be sort of good at a lot of things to be a director. The people around you are the real masters of those different skill sets. I don’t know. My wife and I always joke around that we don’t have a plan B. We’re just going to make this work somehow and some way. And you kind of have to be that way when you’re a director, because there are about 10 million other guys out there who want your job every single day. And you have to just say, “Nope. This is what I’m going to do, and I’m going to do it or die trying.” That’s kind of how I look at things. There are movies that I love and filmmakers that I love, and I try to learn from them. There’s probably a little piece of every one of them in this film.
WGTC: Who are some of your favorite directors?
Trent Cooper: Well, I like a lot of the old stuff. I love Billy Wilder and I love Frank Capra. I love the way you feel when you watch those movies. I love how you can’t really categorize those movies as comedy or drama. They’re a little of all of those things. The storytelling takes you on this ride where you’re laughing at times and crying at times. I love that sort of classical filmmaking. I love Woody Allen, and I love Cameron Crowe. Juno and Little Miss Sunshine are two films that really blow me away. I love how simple and elegant they are and yet so fresh. Character driven dramedy is stuff that I just adore, and I’m always shocked that it doesn’t have a bigger audience. These are films you can see at the Laemmle. You come out of there and you go, “What? How is that not in a million theaters?” It’s weird, but those are the movies I love and those are the kind of scripts I write and I try to live in that world.
WGTC: Do you have any other projects that you’re working on right now?
Trent Cooper: I do. I have two things I’m doing. I’m writing a big studio film right now that doesn’t have a title yet. It’s kind of in the vain of The Blind Side. It’s a big sports movie about a 12-year-old girl named Chelsea Baker who loves baseball and plays in a league with boys. She’s the only girl on the team. It’s the true story of her incredible journey to become one of the greatest pitchers in the history of little league baseball. She does so with the help of one of her coaches who taught her the knuckleball. He’s a legendary pitcher named Joe Niekro. He’s really famous for throwing that pitch. Right after he taught her that pitch, he tragically died. This little girl hasn’t lost a game in four or five years and people think she might be the first girl good enough to pitch for the majors. We’re working on that now for Universal.
Meanwhile, I’m about to direct a little indie comedy called Holy Takedown. It kind of has Napoleon Dynamite feel to it. Think of it as Napoleon Dynamite meets Vision Quest. It’s a really small, charming and quirky film that’s set in the world of high school wrestling. It’s a really twisted script. I didn’t write it, but I loved the writing. I think it’s super fresh and I’ve always wanted to make a high school movie. So we’re going to do that and probably try to start shooting right around the holidays.
This concludes our interview, but we would like to thank Trent for taking the time to talk to us. Father of Invention will be available to rent or own on DVD/Blu-ray on October 25th.