Local musicians (and David Lynch) cameo in hilarious mockumentary at Sound Unseen

Like many filmmakers before them, former Minnesotan Jake Dilley and his collaborator, McManus Woodend, search for the meaning of life — this time on the road while manning an RV. In their new film, Rocksteppy, the two brothers make a pilgrimage to SXSW in Austin, Texas, and lose and discover themselves along the way. 

Dilley, formerly of Minneapolis band the Color Pharmacy, moved out to California last year when he was awarded a scholarship to study in the David Lynch MA Film Program. In Minnesota, he had been working on his script under the name We'll Know When We Get There, but once he made the move and it came time to film, plans were thrown out the window to make room for something that was more functional. The results produced an organic film stemming from a lot of improv and working with change along the way.

Rocksteppy will premiere at Sound Unseen at Bryant-Lake Bowl on Thursday, November 12. City Pages caught up with Dilley before the debut.

What do you think moving out to California has taught you about the film industry?

Jake Dilley: I've mostly been working on Rocksteppy over the past year while living Los Angeles, but the limited exposure I've had to other projects in that time has been really positive and educational. It's interesting to be in a city where so many people openly identify themselves as creatives. Minneapolis is teeming with artists, but I've found that people in L.A. are generally more eager to talk about their art.

What did you feel you had to learn before making this film? What do you think you learned along the way?

JD: The making of this film and the masters program I attended were great in that pretty much every part of the process was new to me. My undergrad is in studio art, and I've primarily focused on writing, producing, and performing music since then. I dabbled with music videos here and there, and have always loved movies, but it wasn't until I was awarded a partial scholarship to attend the David Lynch MA in Film Program that I really considered making a feature.

Since you moved, why did you decide to include so many Twin Cities musicians in the film?

JD: In many ways I still consider Minneapolis to be my chosen hometown. Some of my fondest memories and closest friends are from playing music in the Twin Cities, so it seemed appropriate to include many of them in this film that pokes fun at the music industry.

ROCKSTEPPY Pre-Release Trailer #1 from Mack or McManus on Vimeo.

Where did the concept for Rocksteppy come from?  There are certain elements reminiscent of Flight of the Conchords and Frank.

JD: McManus Woodend [co-writer/co-producer/co-director/co-star of Rocksteppy], and I met while at the DLMA, and spent a number of months writing and developing the script for a movie called We'll Know When We Get There. The idea centered around two childhood friends who rekindle a long-dormant relationship on a cross-country RV trip. It was much more in the vein of a Wim Wenders or Alexander Payne film, slow and subtle.

As the pre-production process wore on, it became apparent that we lacked the money, time, equipment, and personnel to make that film the way we wanted to, so we scrapped the screenplay 10 days before we were scheduled to start shooting. We kept a few of the characters' names and the route of the RV trip, but that was about it. 

The change from scripted to unscripted format, and fiction to mockumentary, was liberating. It allowed us to get away with shooting in locations that otherwise would have shut us down and we were able to capture the freshness of things happening in the moment.

I think Rocksteppy shares a kinship with Conchords or Frank — though I didn't see Frank until after we had finished shooting Rocksteppy — but the format and tone definitely puts it more in line with a Christopher Guest movie. In fact, we screened Waiting for Guffman for our crew the day before we started production on the film.

It looks like there was a lot of improv happening in some of the scenes. How did these come about? 

JD: The film was pretty much entirely improvised. We would have certain ideas for scenes and things happening in those scenes, but for the most part, we would feel it out as we were shooting. The whole production was exhilarating and scary.

One of my favorite moments was when McManus and I got to improvise songs for unknowing passersby on Sixth Street in Austin during South By Southwest. I've performed at SXSW a number of times with my band [The Color Pharmacy], but playing intentionally bad music loudly in public was different. Part of me felt bad for making these people think we were taking ourselves seriously, but we weren't hurting anybody.

We definitely had some brushes with dangerous situations throughout the production. We hit a deer with the RV almost immediately after beginning the road trip, subsequently putting the rest of the production in jeopardy. Two of our crew members got robbed on a day off at the beach. We drove through the Rocky Mountains overnight during a blizzard. Some of the crew was sick during the production, and we all stayed together on the RV. Every day was a new set of challenges and potential rewards, and — in the end — I think that spontaneity really helps guide the spirit of this film.

Who wrote the screenplay? 

JD: Technically the film is written by McManus Woodend and myself since, as Christopher Guest and company found out while making Spinal Tap, you can can't credit an entire cast as the authors of a film. We developed a rough outline, including key scenes and events, but we had to be open to turning every possible event we encountered into a serendipitous one, including when we hit the deer, which ended up in the movie. Some shots, scenes, and interviews were more designed than others, but we felt it was important to keep it feeling unscripted as a whole to preserve the pseudo-authenticity.

What advice or wisdom did David Lynch share with you?

JD: Our class got to spend some one-on-one time with him for a few days in his Los Angeles home recording studio [which is when he performed his cameo in Rocksteppy] and he had much advice to share with all of us during that time.

He gave practical advice on guiding the departments on a film toward a common creative goal, and the advantages and disadvantages of different formats, but for the most part his message was one of exploring personal creativity through different media while remaining true to one's original idea. My favorite quote he shared with us — and I'm paraphrasing here — was: "Making art is like making a puzzle where someone is throwing you one piece of the puzzle at a time from another room. The puzzle was once complete in the other room and it slowly becomes complete in yours."


Rocksteppy Premiere
Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater
7 p.m. Thursday, November 12 
Tickets: $10 advance/$12 door
More info