Origins Of Goat
When Andrew Neel premiered King Kelly at SXSW in 2012, he was greeted with
acclaim for his controversial portrait of a debauched teen webcam star who gets
embroiled in a drug deal that goes horribly wrong. Christine Vachon and David
Hinojosa at indie powerhouse Killer Films in New York saw King Kelly and
championed the film. Killer and SeeThink (Neel's company) began discussing
Neel's next film. Convinced that Brad Land's memoir GOAT would make a fantastic
movie Vachon had been doggedly holding on to the property for over a decade (in
concert with James Franco's company Rabbit Bandini). Gutsy, debauched, and
frenzied the material seemed to be a perfect fit for Neel. The script written by
none other than David Gordon Green and based on the book by Brad Land, details
the horrific hazing process at a university fraternity, as experienced through
the perspective of Brad, whose older brother Brett is already a member of the
frat in question.
Neel decided to come on board, revising the script with co-writer Mike Roberts.
Neel had become deeply drawn to the material. "I realized the film could be part
horror movie and part expose," Neel explained. "It was interesting how the whole
central section of the film - the hazing section - basically turned into a
horror film." Neel, who has made a number of feature documentaries, was also
intrigued by the more journalistic angle of the material. "There really haven't
been many narrative features made about hazing," he pointed out. "And the
subject matter allows us to explore something intriguing, which is men and
masculinity with a capital M. I don't just make movies because I want to tell a
story - for me, the films I make are often born out of an idea I want to
discuss. And this film had a philosophical underpinning that made the story
For Neel, that philosophical underpinning is the complex web of codes and
assumptions that make up the idea of what it means to "be a man" in contemporary
American society, in all of its contradictions and faults. "When men are
college-aged, they have a lot of violent energy in them," he explained. "How
that energy is focused depends on the circumstances you're in. If you're middle
class, sometimes it gets meted out through the mechanism of a fraternity, which
means it's not really properly dealt with. Men deal with the specter of violence
every day - pussy,' 'bitch,' all these derogatory terms are a part of daily
language in our society. It stems from male insecurity, which itself stems from
deeply rooted societal masculine expectations. They're brutal systems, and
certain institutions tend to prey upon and promote the darkest, most violent
elements of the male psyche. I think frats are one of those institutions."
Despite that, Neel's goal was to humanize, not demonize, the members of the
fraternity depicted in Goat. "There's something that makes so much sense to me
about fraternities. I think coming of age is terrifying. I think a ot of
the people that join frats are actually really self-conscious. I don't mean that
in a cruel way. They're just young men who don't know who they are. They're
scared because they feel like they don't fit in. They want guidance. The
fraternity system offers a simple answer: 'Oh, I'll get together with this clan
of guys who will help tell me who I am.'
For the process of casting those aforementioned guys, Neel worked with Susan
Shopmaker, whom he'd previously worked with on King Kelly, to build out a
compelling ensemble cast of the tortured masculine energies within the frat.
Cementing the cast as Brad and his older brother Brett were Ben Schnetzer and
Nick Jonas, respectively. For Schnetzer, the part of Brad held enormous appeal.
"Brad's kind of like a raw nerve throughout the story," Schnetzer explained. "I
think any man, to one degree or another, can understand the struggle to define
masculinity and what that means to him to identify as being a man. The script
explored all these insecurities that I think a lot of guys feel, that I know
I've certainly felt, but in a heightened and distilled manner."
For Nick Jonas, much of the appeal of the script was the nuance it provided of
Brad and Brett's relationship. "The thing that came to mind to me when I first
read the script was this compelling relationship between these two brothers. At
its core, it's a story about two brothers and their strength and support of each
other and the journey that they go on. I knew that it was something that I
wanted to be a part of from the minute I read it. And I was really impressed by
Andrew, his vision for the portrayal for these characters. We did a lot of great
work together, Andrew, Ben and I, to really bring out the dynamic at work
between these two guys."
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