How Did This Get Made: An Interview With The Director Of 'Money Plane'

Recently, the gang at How Did This Get Made? covered this summer's most over-the-top and Snakesonaplane-ish action film: Money Plane. To figure out how Money Plane got made, I spoke with the film's director (and co-writer), Andy Lawrence. Which, I must admit, was especially fun as I've been a fan of Andy's work since the mid-90s when he—along with his older brothers Joey Lawrence and Matt Lawrence—starred in the series Brotherly LoveSince Brotherly Love, Andy has notably appeared in shows like Oliver Beene, The United States of Tara and Hawaii Five-O (and perhaps even more notably voiced characters on shows like Recess, as well as video games like Dead Rising 3). Needless to say, Andy has done a lot in the entertainment industry over the past couple decades. But there's one thing he had not ever done before: direct a feature film (well, not officially; we get into his epic feature-length home movies). So, of course, I was eager to hear how about the origins of his directorial debut. Which, as I soon found out, is a tale whose fate hinges on a very epic arm-wrestling match...[AUTHOR'S NOTE: the interview below has been lightly edited for clarity]

PART 1: Do or Die…at a Casino in the Sky

BJH: You look very nice and relaxed. ANDY LAWRENCE: I am very relaxed. I'm very relaxed. I'm a relaxed dude. BJH: I'm getting that sense—which I can't believe given the movie. But we'll get into that in a little bit. First, I wanted to ask if you were familiar with the How Did This Get Made? podcast.ANDY LAWRENCE: Dude, I absolutely do. And I don't know how the hell Money Plane is even making it on this podcast. I'm shocked. I'm flattered, honestly...whether people like it, or whether they rip it apart; the fact that they watched it and they're talking about it is super flattering...As long as they watched it, that's awesome! And I can't wait to make another one. And, yeah, hopefully I'll improve on it and learn from my mistakes and make something else. BJH: Okay, good. So you know that How Did This Get Made? is...they are [euphemistically] sometimes not so kind to the movies on their show. ANDY LAWRENCE: The fact that they watched it is flattering enough. I literally thought that this movie was going to know, I thought it was going to be what it was; it was going to be a really campy, self-aware comedy that no one was gonna really see. I didn't think anyone was going to watch this movie like that, I really didn't, man. And then it's being came out the same day as Old Guard, which is, you know, a $70 million awesome movie, and it's being reviewed like back-to-back with that by the same critic. I'm going: no! BJH: [cracking up]ANDY LAWRENCE: Dude, I can't tell you the budget of my film because the producers would kill me. But if I did, I think that would change everybody's perspective. BJH: Well that's a good place to begin. Because my friend Alan Siegel wrote a great oral history about Money Plane for The Ringer, and his piece begins with your producers—Richard [Switzer] and Tyler [W. Konney]—calling you up with the vague idea of doing an Oceans 11-like movie that involved airplanes and casinos. Tell me more about that call and how it led to the initial idea of what became Money PlaneANDY LAWRENCE: Yeah, you know, they wanted to make a movie. I did an MOW—"Movie of the Week"—with Richard. The movie was Love on Repeat, which was released earlier this year (February 2020). ANDY LAWRENCE: And Tyler I had known before. They love airplanes and casinos and they were trying to figure out how to blend the idea. And I love action movies, man...all action movies. From "good action movies" to also the "campy, cheesy ridiculous action movies." BJH: Right. ANDY LAWRENCE: I got two older brothers. They raised me on all the Steven Seagal films and all those crazy, ridiculous action movies. So I pitched [Tyler and Richard] an idea, and their eyes kind of twinkled. They pitched a price point [for the budget] and I got a bunch of nutcases that, you know, are talented guys that said: yeah, we probably could pull this off. BJH: Alright. Well, hold on. There's so much to unpack there. Because you hadn't directed a feature before, as far as I'm aware...ANDY LAWRENCE: No. BJH: So how did were you looking to direct? And what made you think that you'd be capable? And you also wrote the script. So how did you think: I want to do this and I can do this? ANDY LAWRENCE: I've always wanted to make movies. I love the entertainment industry. I love making movies. I love every facet of it—I like pre-production, principal and post. The things that go into that, the team effort. It's amazing, it really is. It's such a team effort, it's such a do-or-die. So with that being said, I was confident that I had a couple of guys around me that...we could pull it off when it comes to just getting in the trenches and shooting this thing. And I was just intrigued by doing something that I haven't done before. I mean, I grew up on movie sets, right? BJH: Yeah, of course.  ANDY LAWRENCE: So I've known a lot about making movies. BJH: I mean: look, you obviously had the skill...but, like, why now? Why not ten years ago? Was there any specific reason? Were you looking to direct a movie? Or, even, were Richard and Tyler surprised that you said you wanted to direct this movie, or anything like that? ANDY LAWRENCE: I mean...honestly, straight up, the other movie I did with Richard Switzer [laughing]; he basically asked me to arm wrestle. This is a true story, dude. BJH: [laughing]ANDY LAWRENCE: This might sound ridiculous but this is a true story. I have video of this. He asked me to arm wrestle. And he's a tough I said: sure. And he said, "Let's make it interesting"—because he likes to gamble, right? So let's make it interesting. And he's like, "if I win, I don't know, you gotta do my next movie for free, as an actor. Or for cheap, you gotta be in it. And help me. And if you win, you can..." [and I said] "I can direct the next one." BJH: WHAT?!ANDY LAWRENCE: And he said okay. And I won! I swear to God, that's honestly how that idea came into play. BJH: [cracking up]ANDY LAWRENCE: And then about six months later, the Money Plane script was written and we went into production. No joke, dude, that script: my writing partner and I, we wrote it in probably three-and-a-half weeks. We had no idea, like...Money Plane wasn't a movie that I would set out to make; it's not the movie that, like, I've been going to bed every night dreaming about for years. By all means. That's really not what that was. It was more of just an incident where we had a really wacky idea and a bunch of crazy people wanted to come together and wanted to make a fun, campy, throwback action film. That's really what it was meant to be. BJH: That's amazing! The arm-wrestling thing...ANDY LAWRENCE: And honestly, I have to give it to Switzer. Because you know how many people in Hollywood do not live up to their word. Like it's all hot air, they never follow through. This guy actually followed through. He gave me a shot. So, yeah, I appreciate it. BJH: That's a good point. ANDY LAWRENCE: And when an opportunity like that—to make a movie and potentially write and direct it—presented itself to me, that's a gift, man. That's awesome. That's such a blessing. So I had to, you know, roll with it. And give it my best to make whatever I could and make everybody happy. I probably could have hit harder on that tone—I tried; I definitely made the effort—but it got toned down a bit. And that's fine! Because, again, it wasn't my movie. I didn't pay for this thing; and didn't cultivate this for years. It was a movie that was conceptualized as a group and executed as a group. 

PART 2: “It’s finish or fail…and failing is not an option.”

BJH: I get your point: that Money Plane is not, like, the movie that you've been carrying around in your heart for years. But, in a way, it is...because it's an homage to all the action movies that you and I grew up with. ANDY LAWRENCE: Yeah, I mean, I've probably seen them all. Honestly. Whether or not I can recall them all specifically, or whether they're all just a blur...BJH: [laughing]ANDY LAWRENCE: I've always watched movies. Growing up, I was never a big TV guy. I was a gamer, but I never watched TV. It was either movies or games. That's really what I did. So I've probably seen all of them. Everything from The Kickboxer to Hard to Kill to Executive Decision. I know all those by heart. And then mixing in a little bit of, like, Snakes on a Plane. That type of vibe. That's really what I feel like the category of this movie is. BJH: For in Alan's piece for The Ringer, your brother Joey says that you've been making home movies since you were a kid. And that you filmed one movie for six years called Truth Can Kill. What was Truth Can Kill about...? ANDY LAWRENCE: It was about these two brothers in the crime world—they were these mobster guys. One was just released from jail and the other picks him up and they set out to get revenge on the two guys that brought down their crime syndicate. BJH: [laughing] Gotcha. ANDY LAWRENCE: [clarifying Joey's statement] And it was two movies. That's why it took six years! I filmed one and then the sequel! BJH: [laughing]ANDY LAWRENCE: I was like 12 years old. BJH: That's so precocious. ANDY LAWRENCE: I was very lucky because I grew up in an environment where...I had really supportive parents, I was coming off of film sets, I had access to some pretty cool stuff and my brothers were my guinea pigs. And they let me torture them—time and time again—for years. Yeah, it was awesome. I would edit, like, 82 minute features on iMovie on those old color MacBook's and melt them. They would just explode. BJH: Really? ANDY LAWRENCE: Yeah. I went through two or three of them, for sure to try and finish that movie. BJH: Do you still have that movie? ANDY LAWRENCE: Somewhere, probably. BJH: Alright. I might be bugging you over the next few months to find it. ANDY LAWRENCE: [laughs] This thing would be epic. might be better that it's 'lost forever.'BJH: Alright. ANDY LAWRENCE: But I'll look for it though. BJH: So flashing forward to Money Plane. Do you remember when you guys shot it.  ANDY LAWRENCE: Yeah. December of last year [2019]. BJH: WHAT?!ANDY LAWRENCE: Yeah. I know, right? BJH: Wow. You should be winning, like, a Nobel Prize for...I don't even know. ANDY LAWRENCE: Everybody [deserves that credit], though. Like: even to get it through post. Again, it's not a "masterpiece," it's really not, everybody knows that, but just the fact that we all banded together to get it out. It was wild! Again, this movie was put together so quickly. From, literally, talking about the idea to three-and-a-half-weeks later having a first draft of the script to about two [or] three weeks later being on set. It was nuts. I'm not was pretty wild. And the production moved from Romania to Toronto to Louisiana within, I don't know, 12 days? And we needed an airplane set, so you can imagine how that's gonna work. Talk about "building an airplane in flight." So we get to Louisiana and we're building the airplane set while we're shooting. And [at that point] I'm picking corners of the set to shoot in. BJH: Wow. ANDY LAWRENCE: Because it's real indie, dude. It's very independent film. Even though we have awesome actors in it—which was crazy that they agreed to do it; I'm super humbled and flattered—but it was a rag-tag crew. It was rough but it was awesome. Everyone really did their part...BJH: As an outsider, it definitely didn't feel that way...ANDY LAWRENCE: That's awesome. I mean...if you only knew. BJH: Well, as you said [at the start of our conversation], you're a pretty relaxed guy. But were there times when you felt, like, in over your head? ANDY LAWRENCE: So the pressure of accomplishing what we needed to accomplish? That never got to me. Because I'm good under pressure. I get it. I get what that means to go to set and only have a finite amount of hours to accomplish what you need to accomplish. And there are no extra days. I get it. And we can call the audibles and make things work to facilitate that. But what does stress me out is, again, you know, budget's an issue. And that's always gonna be an issue—whether the budget is $100 or a $100 million. BJH: Yep. ANDY LAWRENCE: But not having more time to do some proper action only having almost one day with some of these big actors. To fit in all of this stuff that is obviously very expository. And trying to make it as interesting...just enjoyable as you possibly can. That stressed me out a little bit. I would love to have had some more time and some more freedom to push the limits. You know, exploding heads and all that good stuff. I really would!BJH: [laughing]ANDY LAWRENCE: It was actually pretty shockingly stress-free: location-scouting, and knowing that we have to shoot in two days and we have to build an airplane and make everyone look the best that we can make them look. That was okay. BJH: Yeah, I guess, once it's going...ANDY LAWRENCE: Yeah, it's do or die. It's finish or fail...And failing is not an option. BJH: So tell me about some of the actors. How did you get Kelsey Grammer? How did you get Thomas Jane in the film? ANDY LAWRENCE: That had a lot to do with the producers...and we got very lucky. Again, I'm so humbled. They were so awesome to work with. I thought they were gonna come on set and hate me, and hate us, because, you know, we only had like six people! You know, they're used to very big studio films. Granted, we're a well-oiled machine for six people! But you know... BJH: [laughs]ANDY LAWRENCE: But they came on set and did a fantastic job. They were super prepared. Kelsey Grammer was unbelievable with these lines. And I told him beforehand: cut [any exposition] you want. Demolish it! Murder it! Whatever you want. But he said: no, I like this arrested-development videogame-boss-type-of-guy. I really want to lean into it. And I was like: alright! That sounds fantastic! BJH: Yeah, I did realize watching it that I'd watch 90 minutes of Kelsey Grammer doing any evil musings...ANDY LAWRENCE: And [in many ways] that's all we could afford! And he killed it. BJH: Did you guys ever explicitly talk about [the similarity to] "Sideshow Bob"...? ANDY LAWRENCE: No. Honestly, there was so little...and we had so much to do. So we just shot for a full day, and that was pretty much it. BJH: And what about Thomas Jane? What was he like to work with? How did you end up getting him?ANDY LAWRENCE: Awesome. Same sort of a thing. I was always a huge fan of Thomas Jane growing up. He's done some of the coolest movies. I mean: Boogie Nights and The Punisher, right? The only time that he got mad at us was we shot something with him off-camera, and he was outside smoking his pipe (because he showed up smoking a pipe) and just smoked it all the way through the movie—so he was smoking his pipe and we didn't get him [for the scene]. We figured we'd get him reading off-camera later. But he came in, [saw us shooting] and wanted to be in the scene. [He said,] "I'm here to work! Put me to work!" Oh my god, this guy is fantastic! The only time he got angry at us is when we didn't have him in a scene! BJH: That's great. ANDY LAWRENCE: So he's fantastic. Thomas Jane is wonderful. BJH: And what about Adam [Copeland]? How'd you end up finding him and what surprised you most about his performance? ANDY LAWRENCE: He was extremely capable of doing so many things on set. Just the stunts and the performance. I mean, we had so much dialogue—just so many pages on these call sheets for the day. Again, we shot this movie so quickly. We weren't lounging around on set, living this epic studio film life where we bonded and all had MONEY PLANE tattoos. BJH: [cracks up]ANDY LAWRENCE: So he dealt with that...he spent most of the movie in the cockpit, honestly. Because originally that role was designed for someone that wasn't as physically capable as Adam. It was somebody that was potentially going to be a lot older. And when Adam got put into the mix and decided that he would be willing to do it? Of course, we were super stoked. It changed the dynamic, but in the best way possible. BJH: In what sense? ANDY LAWRENCE: [For example] he did this cockpit fight sequence and we probably shot for like four or five hours...because it was kind of his only fight sequence in the movie and we wanted to put some time in it. And to do your own stunts? I mean, it was these two giants guys in this teeny teeny cockpit. It was ridiculous, right? And the stunt guy sliced his head open within the first take. Real blood's dripping all over the place. It was nuts. And these gladiators continued to battle it out!BJH: Wow. ANDY LAWRENCE: For hours. Literally...and then after the fight sequence, we asked Adam to sit down and read 16 pages of dialogue. And he did, no problem. And [pivoting between stunts and dialogue], it's very difficult to do that as an actor.BJH: Did the movie change a lot during the edit? ANDY LAWRENCE: Yeah, for sure. There were a lot of things that we couldn't pull off; and we saw that [in the edit] so we decided not to do them. And really lean into the, you know, don't-show-the-shark Jaws type of thing. BJH: Right, right. ANDY LAWRENCE: We gotta go for what we think we can pull off here. Even though it's cheesy and campy and fun, we don't wanna look like complete idiots. So: yeah. A lot of things changed. We actually of my favorite lines in the whole thing was [that you could bet on] "a dude f***ing an alligator." Which Kelsey Grammer said. Not only is the line insane. But just him saying it was fantastic. Pretty much, I could listen to him saying that all day.BJH: Right. ANDY LAWRENCE: So we really were very close to...not showing it. But there was an alligator wrangler in Louisiana—we could get an alligator—and maybe have [a guy] in his underwear chasing an alligator for a second, or something. BJH: [laughs]ANDY LAWRENCE: But we couldn't do it. It was just too hard to pull off. So we had a snake that we didn't show and a guy in a cage. BJH: And as a director, how do you go about finding the appropriate level of "campy"-ness? ANDY LAWRENCE: Well I think it's intention, right? It's how it dictates the emotion and almost your reaction to it. So if it's landing too dramatic or too serious, you want to tone it down a little bit and make it a little more fun. Again, in this space in particular, the goal was fun. BJH: Right. ANDY LAWRENCE: That's the goal. So when there's throwback lines to "one last job" over and over and over again. That's what it's supposed to be. And again, looking back on it—tonally—there was a bit of a, I don't want to say "struggle," but there was some uncertainty on whether it was a serious action movie or a crazy, zany comedy. I was really pushing for the crazy, zany comedy given the circumstances and the limitations to what we had. And I did the most that I could, honestly. And going forward, you know, I'll push even more. If that's the intention. That's the big thing that I've learned through the process—to really go for that intention and commit even harder...

PART 3: Surviving (and Thriving) at the Mercy of Opportunity

BJH: Before we wrap up, I had a couple questions from Paul; and then a couple questions about you/your career I wanted to ask. ANDY LAWRENCE: Sure!BJH: Paul texted me...alright, one: could you definitively tell us what was the device that Kelsey Grammer found under table. Was it a tracker or a microphone? ANDY LAWRENCE: Yeah it was supposed to be...there was a lot more of that going on that just didn't make it. But it was a tracker. Yeah, it was a tracker. BJH: Okay, and the other one, it's a little broader; he said, "So in the film they have a casino on the plane, but the activities they bet on are on the ground, for the most part. What was the logic to that? Was there any thought of it being in the air, the activities?ANDY LAWRENCE: There was a lot of games actually on the casino. But when it comes to having dudes f*** an alligator, that's almost impossible to get on an airplane. BJH: Right. That makes a lot more sense now, given the limitations; knowing it was not the biggest plane of all time. ANDY LAWRENCE: Yeah. And, again, if I could, I would have had...originally, there was dueling—like old school duels—[where] a guy would take ten paces and shoot. Like all sorts of crazy stuff...But, you know. BJH: Right. Again, I think many people think this is a bigger-budget film than it really was. ANDY LAWRENCE: And that's super flattering. That's really cool....I'm stoked that people have that perception...If I could, I would have taken this thing to many different heights. But again, I'm super happy and proud of what we did because we pulled off (almost) the impossible.  BJH: Alright, so this is not related to the movie specifically. We've talked about how you've been in the industry; grew up in the industry; been a part of it for 30 years...were there times in your life where you rejected it? Where you didn't want to do acting and you had second thoughts about it...? ANDY LAWRENCE: Sure. Yeah. Of course. Especially when it rejects you. [laughs] You know? I mean, it's not a's a journey, man. There's peaks and valleys to it. I would say the majority of actors aren't sitting back, twiddling their thumbs, thinking about "what they wanna do next." BJH: Good point. ANDY LAWRENCE: It's more of kind of have to live your life, and journey, and navigate that career the best you can. Because, again, I really believe that in this industry—at least where I'm at—I'm at the mercy of opportunity. You know? BJH: Yeah. ANDY LAWRENCE: If I can get an opportunity, I'm going to attack it and do it to the best of my ability. And with no retreat....BJH: Yeah. ANDY LAWRENCE: But now the goal is definitely to come up with a movie that I'm very passionate about and really want to make and try to get that made. That's on my radar of things that I want to do. There's definitely some stuff out there. BJH: Awesome. Okay, so I remember you as a kid as this cute kid with a huge bowl cut. When did you cut the bowl cut? Was that a seminal day...? ANDY LAWRENCE: You know, growing up—all three of us—it was a thing. We'd all go to get haircuts. At least when I was younger; ten and under, I would say. It was a thing. Joe it probably lasted longer, that's probably why he's s adamant about shaving his head these days. BJH: [laughs]ANDY LAWRENCE: He was forced to have these locks for so long! [And now] every morning [mimes a razor going through his hair] he's like: YEAH! BJH: [cracking up] ANDY LAWRENCE: But yeah, I don't know, the bowl cut was iconic for us for a long time. That was a thing. BJH: Well, you've come a long way, man...ANDY LAWRENCE: [laughing]BJH: Let's end with a if I called you a month from now and was like, "Andy, I got this opportunity to make an action movie on an indie budget. I'm gonna direct it. I need to have a script in three weeks and then we're going to immediately start shooting. What advice would you give me...?ANDY LAWRENCE: The only thing I would say is: what's your budget? And if it was anywhere near what we did this one for: double it!BJH: [laughs]ANDY LAWRENCE: Or triple it! Because honestly: I gave major kudos to Richard and Tyler because they're both super tenacious producers and they did a great job for what we were working with. They killed it and they got it out there; and they got it seen, which was awesome. And they got it made. Richard drug this across the finish line. Moving it from Romania to Toronto to Louisiana and actually having it go into production...that is not an easy task. And again—against the financial restraints that we had—we were up against it. We were set up to fail, sort of. And we got it made. That's awesome. BJH: Awesome, man. Thanks so much for your time...ANDY LAWRENCE: Let's keep in touch. And hopefully if I make another ridiculous movie, you can watch it and interview me again. BJH: My hope is that you win Academy Award for Best Picture five years from now, and people are like, "Wait, is that the guy who did Money Plane??"ANDY LAWRENCE: [laughing] You know, stranger things have happened in this industry!