Will Canon, the director of the South By Southwest (SXSW) Audience Award-winning film Brotherhood, told me that a good movie is one that can make audiences laugh, scream, or cry. His favorites accomplish all of those at once.
Canon has crafted Brotherhood with that type of multi-dimensional mentality. His approach exhibits an array of talents that have not gone unnoticed by Hollywood. After garnering critical attention at the SXSW Film Festival, Canon’s film premiered last Tuesday in Los Angeles.
According to Canon, Brotherhood is about the lengths people will go in the name of loyalty. The film begins inside an unmarked van: a fraternity president, Frank (Jon Foster), challenges a pledge named Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci)—perhaps you’ve seen him in John Krasinski’s adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men—to hold up a convenience store. Kevin is hesitant to proceed, but when it comes down to choosing between “brother or bitch,” he feels obligated to choose the former.
When Kevin is shot by the store clerk, Frank and the likable pledge Adam (Trevor Morgan) must devise a scheme to get Kevin to safety without involving authorities. They decide to kidnap the clerk and bring both boys back to the frat house. Things go downhill from there: an angry mob of sorority girls light fire to the lawn, Kevin’s sister demands to come inside, a doctor crashes into her car as she drunkenly pulls out of the frat’s driveway, and then a cop shows up. The situation only continues to get increasingly out of hand for the reckless frat president and his well-intentioned pledges over the course of the film, as Frank angrily commands his fellow brothers to carry out his cavalier orders and the group listens, no matter how much Adam pleads to put an end to the madness.
Though Brotherhood is only 80 minutes long, it offers about 78 minutes of intense action. The film begins in medias res with the fateful robbery attempt; the drama doesn’t let up until the final scene. Yet Canon asserts that the film is, at its core, a commentary on groupthink rather than college life.
“When something goes wrong, we tend to follow the person who is the most charismatic or the loudest, instead of the person with the most honest intentions or best ideas,” Canon said.
Was this story based on any of his own experiences with groupthink or college life? Canon answered that he was fascinated by the steps that his friends went through to get into frats. Canon grew up in Texas, but went east to attend New York University’s film school. The Greek system didn’t have a large following at NYU, but it dominated the social scene back at his in-state schools. He set out to make a movie about college kids that would reflect real people he knew during his undergraduate years. Though I doubt you’ll find a maniac like Frank at The Wash, The Boot, or Pub, Canon has succeeded at portraying frat life in an accurate—yet cynical—light.
Though the movie depicts the superficiality of many college friendships, the filmmakers themselves contradict that image. Canon met his co-writer and cinematographer, Doug Simon, on the first day of his freshman year at NYU. Their friendship developed into a successful working relationship that has continued throughout their professional careers.
For this film, they even brought another NYU buddy on board to edit the picture. These three friends accounted for the major creative aspects of the film’s production: writing, directing, shooting, and editing. This is a true feat. It’s a testament to the importance of lasting friendships, as well as to the old Hollywood adage that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
But Canon and friends didn’t get their start with the help of insiders; they had each other.
“Making a movie is all about being able to trust the people that you’re working with,” Canon said.