Making It Up: When Improv is the Script

As it exists today, Rebel Pilgrim is seven years old. But our story starts before that story. We’re marking ten years together because it was ten years ago that we started making our first movie, Hitting the Nuts. The original dream was to make films, to tell long-form stories, true or otherwise. We wanted to create something from scratch and see what it could do in the world. 

We made several feature-length movies in those earliest years. Some of them started with somebody else’s script and some of them were our own stories. 

But one of our favorite projects barely had a script at all. 

Hitting the Nuts is the story of a poker tournament played by a ridiculously beautiful cast of characters, including a humble Amish farmer, played by our own Joe Boyd in an authentic beard. 

While the story was scripted out scene by scene, all of the actual dialogue in the script of Hitting the Nuts was completely improvised, a constant search for the bit that worked best in the moment, a collaboration of the people in front, behind and around the camera.

Not only were the lines improvised, but the behind the scenes work often had to be made up also. We had to find immediate solutions to problems in the moment. We had to get creative when the resources ran out or the talent went rogue. (To be fair, the rogue talent was usually Joe.) Every idea had to be held up to a light to see whether it was the one that worked. Every possibility was on the table. And fittingly, it was a gamble. 

The days of filming a mostly improvised movie were so formative for who we are as a company, those of us who came to the company later understand the spirit of our origin story without having to be there. The values discovered way back then are still operative in our everyday work. There is still a spirit of improvisation, invitation and collaboration that we strive to keep alive.

Those early days have become a bit of a legend for those who weren’t there. But that’s the way legends work: they are told and retold so they still guide the day. In many ways, having a loose script, open to adaptation, has become our script.