Great Buck Howard by Writer-Director Sean McGinly

“The Great Buck Howard,” which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Fest, is a comedy about two seemingly disparate people, mentalist Buck Howard and his long suffering assistant Troy.  The path they take together is often surreal, populated by a hilarious cast of characters, beginning with the great mentalist Buck Howard himself.


Writer-director Sean McGinly had some experience in this world. He explains, “I went to law school like Troy and quit very soon after arriving.  I cashed out my student loan and moved to LA, not knowing anyone or anything.  I was completely clueless. I hadn’t written anything.  I wasn’t some child prodigy.  It was a ridiculous thing to do.  So I had a succession of weird Hollywood type jobs where I met different kinds of strange characters, some who were on the fringes of the entertainment business.”


 “Buck and Troy meet each other at a crucial time. While Buck is not necessarily Troy’s idea of creative success, at least Buck has passion and talent. Troy learns that it’s possible to live life loving what you do,” says McGinly. “As for Buck, he strives to hit the big time again, landing that gig in Vegas and being a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. What Buck doesn’t realize is that he’s already living his dream.”


Colin Hanks


McGinly’s offbeat, funny tale appealed to Colin Hanks. The star explains, “My agent had sent me a bunch of scripts, so The Great Buck Howard was in a big pile. The ADD child in me just forgot about them.  Then my agent called and asked if I had gotten through the pile.  When I sheepishly said ‘No’ he asked me to start with McGinly's script knowing that I would like it. Like it I loved it!  Opened up the first page, couldn’t put it down, finished it, called my agent back and asked him to set up a meeting with Sean,” he says.


He gave it to producer Gary Goetzman, who fell in love with it and passed it on to producing partner Tom Hanks, who was equally excited by the project.  Playtone, Hanks and Goetzman’s production company, signed on to produce the movie.


Sean McGinly was thrilled with the prospect of Colin Hanks portraying Troy.  McGinly knew that he could convey the script’s comedy and drama, as well as Troy’s innocence, confusion and wry humor.


McGinly says, “I needed an actor that could handle both the humor and drama.  After seeing “Orange County,” I knew Colin was the right choice for this part. It was probably a couple of years between his agreeing to star in the movie and the movie getting made.  So we had a lot of time to talk about the character.  Colin was involved in all the auditions, so by the time we started shooting, he was the character.”


Producer Goetzman adds, “Sean is very thoughtful and even tempered. An extremely young writer-director who is so confident about his work, he lets the actors improvise and sets an atmosphere which allows a great flow of creativity which I feel is reflected in the film.”


John Malkovich


The next mission for the filmmakers was to cast Buck Howard. “When John walked into the make-up test for the first time dressed as Buck Howard, honestly, tears almost came to my eyes.  He just looked so much like I had imagined Buck.  We start taking some Buck Howard stills and John did all these poses and weird smiles.  And I realized that he really got it.  After that moment, I knew he was going to be fantastic as Buck Howard,” says McGinly.


As with Colin Hanks, the screenplay brought Malkovich to the project.  “The script was sent to me and I read it fairly quickly.  I liked it very much.  I thought it was very funny and very observant and it looked as if Buck Howard would be an enormous pleasure to play, which he was.  So, it didn’t really take much to convince me.”


Producer Goetzman adds, “I think John gravitated to the material and saw Buck Howard as somebody that we all kind of know, or at least understand to some degree.  Buck behaves outrageously, but John succeeded in making him very human, tragically funny, and someone we can relate to.”


Hanks was thrilled at the chance to work opposite screen legend John Malkovich.  “John has an aura about him that I always saw as a big mystery. Not only is John a great actor, he is also great fun to work with,” says Colin Hanks.  Both actors equally enjoyed working with Sean McGinly. 


Producer Goetzman explains, “Buck’s character is like that of anyone who strives for fame. No matter how famous you are, no matter how much money, love, or adoration you receive, it is never enough.”


Distinctive look


Helping to create a distinctive look for Buck Howard was costume designer Johnetta Boone, “I was so excited to get the call about this movie because it finally gave me the opportunity to do eclectic designing as opposed to your general corporate contemporary classic sort of look.”


The crew eagerly anticipated Buck’s new outrageous outfit, perhaps an orange sport coat with a brown silk shiny shirt and a paisley tie Boone adds, “I did a play on patterns, a play on colors. Since there were very few rules, I put some florals together with mixed stripes, or added some solid colors that are probably too bold for your average gentleman.”


Clothing was only one aspect of creating Buck Howard. Hair and make-up also played an integral part.


Producer Goetzman chimes in, “Buck’s wardrobe has a very unique style. Sharp, contemporary, retro, all at the same time.”


A stellar behind-the-scenes crew helped McGinly bring his vision to screen. “It was amazing,” says McGinly.  “First off, working with director of photography Tak Fujimoto was a dream.  It was fantastic to work with someone of that stature.  Our production designer Gary Fruktoff had worked on “Orange Countyand was already part of the Playtone family. Playtone has this incredible roster of amazing people, from which I completely benefited.”