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Everything Must Go – Director Dan Rush on how garage sales can be crazy

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Everything Must Go - Will Ferrell with director Dan Rush
Will Ferrell with director Dan Rush © 2011 Roadside Attractions

Dan Rush is an accomplished commercial director, working with such clients as Sony, Major League Baseball and Dell Computers. His new drama Everything Must Go is his feature film debut.

But his adaptation of the short story Why Don’t You Dance? impressed superstar Will Ferrell so much, he didn’t hesitate to agree to play the lead character in it, even though it was Rush’s first motion picture.

Ferrell portrays Nick Halsey, an alcoholic and salesman living through one of the worst days of his life. He’s been fired from his job, he despondently arrives home to find his wife gone and the locks changed, with all of his belongings scattered across his lawn. With his finances frozen, he is forced to begin selling his things, with the help of a young kid named Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) who happens by on his bike.

What was it about the short story Why Don’t You Dance? that attracted you to it?

Everything Must Go - Poster
Will Ferrell on the Poster © 2011 Roadside Attractions

I thought I needed to write something with a great role for an actor. Here was the tale of a man whose marriage falls apart and who finds his belongings dumped out in his yard. He then rearranges the furniture on his front lawn so that he can watch television and listen to his record player.

In Why Don’t You Dance?, you have a situation where everything is stripped away and you have no belongings, no friends, and in this case you have an alcohol problem as well, what do you do? And to me, I think that that’s the definition of character.

What was the most challenging part of choosing an actor who is not known for doing roles like this?

Will is great in the movie and people really like him in the movie. I have to say after I make a movie or commercials I do a postmortem, what did I do wrong and what did I do right? The part that made the movie easy was casting, if you cast correctly, getting the right actor for the role, your job is easier.

These actors were amazing and they helped to overcome the really hard part which is there’s never enough time. Every day we were rushing and sacrificing and having to do fewer takes, so I think that was really hard every day to go, ‘Gosh, I wish we had done this.’

Alcoholism issues are challenging, Arthur is a recent example of how difficult it is to do a movie about drinking. What kind of challenge was it for you?

Everything Must Go - Will Ferrell with director Dan Rush
Director Dan Rush with Will Ferrell on set © 2011 Roadside Attractions

We talked about that a lot, we talked about level of drunkenness and how we were going to play it and we had both agreed that this was a guy who was an alcoholic who drank, but he could function. He could talk and he could have conversations, he might slur a little but he was a functioning alcoholic.

We never wanted to play it so that he was sloppy, slurring, it was a conscious effort to down play it.

How did Christopher relate to the material, as it’s quite adult?

One of the things we talked about is Kenny’s probably the least judgmental person [in the movie], he’s never critical of Nick and we talked about that. I think also he’s probably the most mature person in the movie. When you’re young sometimes you don’t’ recognize all that stuff as bad.

How were you able to make this on such a small budget?

I think that’s something that’s really nice about the business of Hollywood – that people still want to do things because they love them. And they’ll take pay cuts – and they’ll make sacrifices, because they’re trying to do something creative and special, and I think that’s a really nice, nice part of the business.

Have you had any real world experience going to garage sales?

Everything Must Go - Will Ferrell with director Dan Rush
Will Ferrell with director Dan Rush © 2011 Roadside Attractions

One of the scenes actually in the movie where the guy buys mouthwash is based on [a real experience]. I live in Santa Monica, which is the yard sale capital of the country it seems And my brother-in-law and sister hold these huge yard sales and I would go to them and it’s amazing what sells. It would be a piece of a recorder, or a quarter bottle of vodka or mouthwash, so that actually came from a real story, It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

I see ‘Everything Must Go’ signs everywhere and I take pictures of them. When we were starting to do research on the movie I would go and stop at all these different yard sales and it’s crazier than it’s portrayed in the movie, as far as the stuff that people try and get rid of.

People selling underwear and an old Mac computer, and people buy it. There are people that go early and try and get deals and they’re all looking for that special item.

What do you hope the audience will take away from this film?

For me, the greatest movies whether big or small are movies that move me and make me think differently about the world or myself or my friends. So hopefully whatever you come in with, when you come out of the movie you’ll be thinking about it.

You’ll be thinking about Will’s character’s journey and how it relates to you.