Director Jody Hill Discusses 'The Legacy Of A Whitetail Deer Hunter,' '80s Hunting Videos, And More [Interview]

Jody Hill is trying to warm some hearts with his latest comedy, The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter. The co-creator of Vice Principals and director of Observe and Report hasn't softened up his humor for his Netflix movie, but the lead characters in his father/son story are certainly far less destructive than his past protagonists. Hill's first feature film since 2010's Observe and Report stars Josh Brolin as a hunter and TV show host – and Danny McBride as his trusted and inappropriate cameraman – taking his son Jaden (Montana Jordan) hunting for the first time.

The story, which Hill co-wrote with McBride and John Carcieri (Eastbound & Down), has a surprisingly sweet side to it. The movie will likely feel both familiar and new for Hill's fans. The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter has the director's sense of humor, although it's not quite as dark this time around. Hill says he wanted to do something different. The very polite filmmaker recently told us about the project's history, watching old '80s hunting videos, memories from making HBO's Vice Principals, and more.


These are maybe your most well-intentioned characters, which is saying a lot. 

Oh, cool. It's a little different from some of the stuff I've done.

Was that intentional? Did you set out to make something with a different tone?

Yeah, a little bit. You know, I actually wrote the script a long time ago. So, you know, after doing so much TV I was kind of like, oh all right, well I want to make a film, got this script laying around. It was a chance to sort of make a smaller budget thing, and that there wouldn't be a lot of pressure on, and that kind of stuff. I don't think it was necessarily a reaction to anything I've done before, but I definitely wanted to try something a little bit different. You know, more of a traditional, like Old Man and the Sea or Straight Story kind of story, and see how I feel.

How long ago exactly did you write the script?

It was after Observe and Report. John Carcieri and myself, and later Danny, started writing it, so this was done years ago. It was always one of those things where I always wanted to make it, but getting busy with the TV stuff, it never seems like the right time. So I had a little window and wanted to make a movie. So it was like, all right, well let's dust this one off and get to it.

How do your stories usually start? Do you begin with a character or a story? 

They've all been, yeah, mainly character, I would say. That's one of the good things about a partnership with Danny, actually, is Danny usually has really good story ideas. I mean, he's good at all of it, but I can write a character all day long, but some of the bigger ideas and things like that, Danny is definitely better than me at that stuff. They come about in different ways. Like, Vice Principals was me and him, we were sitting around going, like, okay what do we know about? Well, we went to high school. We could do something about that. We sort of came up with the concept of two vice principals fighting to be principal, and then we started filling all that kind of stuff out. Like, The Foot Fist Way, it was definitely like, he's a martial arts instructor and then the story came out of that. Which honestly, that story is, there's barely a story there.

[Laughs] You don't need it.

Yeah, it's like, his wife cheats on him and then he tells her fuck off, and that's sort of the whole story.

Your characters are usually very watchable doing bad things. How do you pull that off? How much do you consider how an audience will react to their behavior?

That's a tough question. You know, I think about the audience, obviously, before I get started. To some degree of like, will this be a cool movie? Will anybody want to see this? But we very rarely make them, you know, to do some nice thing or something for the audience to like it. I think it just becomes, whenever you tell somebody's story, no matter if they're a murderer or whoever it is, it's like you want to understand that person to some degree, what makes them tick, and why there do these things. I think following that course of action, that it eventually gets to a point where hopefully you sort of understand. So even if it's a terrible person, you stop thinking of them in black and white, like they're a villain or not. It just becomes who this person is.

Your characters also usually see themselves as the hero.

Sometimes it's fun just to play with ego and that sort of thing. I mean, most people probably think of themselves more than anybody else, I would imagine. And I don't ... I just saw the Mister Rogers documentary. How kind he was, and how he thought about everybody else. He's this good dude. But I think most people, generally speaking, probably think of themselves first, and think they're the star of their own movie.

Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter TrailerFor writing Buck Ferguson, you watched a lot of '80s hunting videos. What are some of the details in those videos that maybe influenced the character?

I've never been hunting. I didn't know anything about it. I mean, the initial spark was to kind of ... Which is pretty surface now, but in these videos, they're killing deer, but yet, they'll be almost somber, like, with real heartfelt music over it. The guys would take hunting very seriously. I thought just that juxtaposition was interesting when I first started seeing those. Hunters are very ... I don't want to say a blanket statement or something but all the videos I saw, they were selling tradition a lot. You know, tradition, family, and a lot of these kind of classic values. And that's kind of one of the things that I've always sort of gravitated to as well, you know, the idea of heroes and tradition and family. I felt that was sort of just a weird world.

We usually don't see Josh Brolin in these sort of roles. He's great, but what specifically made you want to cast him as Buck Ferguson?

I think people's perception of him as being like this man's man. I thought it would be kind of funny since that's very much how Buck Ferguson portrays himself, as this hero, this great hunter, this man's man. To sort of take Josh and what we know about Josh and play with him like that, and play with people's perception of it.

The Coen Brothers are very good at that, too. I felt like I was waiting to see this movie for a while. How long was post-production?

Post production was probably a year, all around. Part of that was because we were finishing Vice Principals at the same time. So, everything sort of took a little longer probably than it should have with that. But yeah, Netflix wanted to get into it right away. We never showed it to anybody else. It has taken a while, but there's actually been no hiccups or anything like that. I probably should explain that to people.

I read this quote from Mike Myers earlier today saying how studio comedies died five years ago. I know you've been working in TV the last few years, but have you felt any resistance from studies at all about making comedies? 

You know, I personally haven't felt it. I think that one thing, at least with my collaborators Danny, David [Gordon Green], and myself, we've never been in the comedy world, necessarily, even though the stuff we make has been funny. We've never had big box office success with a lot of that stuff, and most of the stuff we make. As the years have gone by, we've been able to build an audience in that kind of thing, some fans and whatnot. But we were never the guys selling the broad comedies, or even studio comedies, necessarily. I know when I approach a movie or a TV show, and I think I speak for those guys too, we very rarely think about genre and that kind of stuff. So I don't know, I personally haven't felt that. I'm also not like a super comedy fan, either.


No, not really. I've never ... Because we went to film school together, Danny and David and myself, we sort of come from a more ... We came from more of like a traditional background than maybe, you know, improv or standup or something like that. My favorite movies are generally, well, not comedies.

Is the hope to always continue working in both television and film?

It all depends, honestly. I let the ideas dictate it, or what I'm feeling at the time. Television has been great to me, honestly. The kind of stuff we do with characters it's really hard to do right now with film. I just don't think people are coming out for stuff like that, and that's part of the reason Netflix is so great. This film could easily just get turned away at the movie theaters, and you know, it looks like some failure even though... This happens to a lot of film, but they're not [failures]. What's selling right now are these big franchise movies. I'll probably continue to do both, depending on the project.


The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter is now streaming on Netflix.