Interview with D.W. Thomas - Director of "Too Late"

This is a transcript of the interview I had the honor of conducting (via Zoom) with Too Late director D.W. Thomas on Friday, June 18, 2021. It was a thrill to speak with her and I hope you enjoy our conversation! Be sure to watch this fabulous movie and check out my accompanying film review here.


[This has been edited for length and clarity.]


First of all, I want to congratulate you! This movie is so, so good. It’s so funny. I’m totally blown away.

Oh, I’m so happy to hear that you liked it. That’s great!


It’s spot-on, specifically with the comedy scene. I was wondering: have you participated in stand-up before?

I have not done stand-up. I have done improv. My husband, who wrote the screenplay; he was in the stand-up world for a number of years. So, that’s where he got a lot of those incisive moments with the stand-up comedians. We also used real stand-up comedians for the stand-up scenes, so I feel like that really put you into the world. I think sometimes when films write stand-up, it can be funny, but it doesn’t always feel like a real comedian's set. You know when you’re watching a comedian do a set. They’ve done this a thousand times, and they know exactly how the audience responds. They can really read the audience. It was very important to us to set the stage.


It was perfect. I’ve done stand-up; I’ve booked shows and lived in that whole world. It was exciting to see the extra little touch of giving it that very real feeling. It was so cool.

That’s awesome. That means that you really got it. I think people who live in that world respond exactly the way you responded. I’m just so happy that people who it’s actually about feel connected to it, and feel like it’s real.


Oh, yeah. I don’t do stand-up anymore, but I was laughing. I’m like, “I’ve met that monster! I know that monster.” How did the concept come about? Now that I know it was your husband that wrote it, and that he’s participated in that world, it makes even more sense of the personal touch. Does he still do stand-up, or was the script something that he used to work out his own demons?

Definitely a little bit of the latter. He doesn’t do stand-up anymore. He mostly sticks to screenwriting and writing. Really, it came out of a love of stand-up. Although it can be a cautionary tale, it’s also about people finding their voice and putting themselves out there. Not falling into the trap of working for someone who’s huge and thinking, “Oh, well, they’re going to make it happen for me.” It really comes down to making it happen for yourself. I think that was a big part of it. It was also about Ron Lynch. Tom knew Ron Lynch for ages. I met him through Tom, and we wanted to make something for him, because he’s so terrific. We were thinking about ideas that we could shoot at a low budget, and it kind of happened naturally. Ron Lynch does a variety show called the Tomorrow! show. So, we were able to shape it around his actual show. Of course, Ron is not a monster. He’s very far from it. He’s probably one of the most genuine, sweet people I’ve ever met. But he knows the world. And he knows people just like that. I think he really had fun being the monster, because it’s being in costume and engaging with the special effects, and the makeup, and all that stuff. It seemed like he was having a lot of fun.


I’ve been lucky enough to briefly meet Ron and I thought this was a testament to what a great actor he is. I was so happy to see him get a vehicle like this, because he’s brilliant and kind. I felt his joy in playing the monster, and really delving into that darkness, because he doesn’t get to do that kind of thing very often. I appreciated that.

He is amazing. I think a lot of people have had their breaks with him. He’s completely opposite from the character that he’s portraying. He puts people forward and it’s pretty great.


Very much. This is such an amazing accomplishment, especially for a first feature, because the budget – it looks like such a high-end budget. But then you know, with an indie budget, that it was not made with blockbuster money. But it looks and feels like a blockbuster budget to me.

Oh, wonderful!


It’s the perfect line between a rom-com, comedy, and horror. Keeping that focus and that vibe going, it’s so well-done. I can’t stop saying enough good things about it.

That’s wonderful! Thank you. Yeah, that’s great. We were definitely trying to tread a fine line so that it’s not full-on gore. It’s comedy. And then we wanted to have that fun feeling, like for movies I’d watched as a kid like Gremlins or An American Werewolf in London. They have monsters, but they still have this sweetness, which we really wanted to capture. I mean, like you said before, the comedy world is already on the dark side of things sometimes. We wanted it to be lighter and not to dwell so much on failure and all of that other stuff. We wanted to focus on the joys of it as well.


It’s funny that you mention those two movies. I watched this with my husband, and those are exactly the two movies he mentioned after we watched this. He said this made him want to watch those movies again.

Oh, I love it! That’s cool.


I was doing research before this, and I feel bad because I couldn’t even find much about you online. I really want to hear more of your story and your background, so that we can start getting you out there. Can you tell me about your background?

Sure, yeah. I started as an editor. I went to film school in Australia. It was a two-year intensive course in Australia, and I ended up majoring in editing. I came back home to New Mexico, and I didn’t really know what I was going to do. Through random chance, I ended up befriending a Hollywood agent; he introduced me to some L.A. people, including Jim Manos [Dexter, The Sopranos], who’s a writer. Then Jim ended up introducing me to Allan Holzman, who worked on a lot of lower-budget Corman films. He took me in and mentored me. Then, through that, I edited with Cineville Pictures. They did Swimming with Sharks and Mi Vida Loca. I edited features for a number of years. Gosh, maybe five or six years. Then I fell into the behind-the-scenes world. I was working on Disney behind-the-scenes types of pieces, like documentary pieces on “the making of” and whatnot. It’s interesting when you’re an editor. You have to be careful about what jobs you take on, because you can get pigeonholed. The minute you start doing one thing, people are like, “Oh, that’s what you do!” Then you’ll do that for the rest of your life. I always wanted to direct, and I always wanted to tell stories, but I never really had I an opportunity. When my husband and I were talking about it, we were like, “You know what? We’re never going to do it unless we actually just do it.” It’s never going simply materialize. So, we started making short films. Then we came up with this story, and we thought we could probably find funding for this. We went around to all our friends and family, and we got funding. So, I guess in terms of 25-odd years of editing, I was finally like, “All right! Time to do more.” It was time to get on the directing side, because I’ve spent so much time making other peoples’ work work. Polishing other peoples’ projects. That’s the long and short of it.



That’s a great point. I’ve been in those positions as well. Like booking or marketing. Those are wonderful jobs. But, after a while, it’s easy to feel like, “This is great, but this is also a vehicle to make everybody else’s dreams come true.” It takes a lot of guts to step forward and make your own dreams come true.

Yeah. I had no idea actually how much guts it took until it happened. Now, being the head of it all, I loved the directing on-set, and I loved being in charge of 100-odd people. My husband, Tom, he was like, “You know a lot of people don’t actually like being the boss of 100 people!” I was like, “Oh, man; that’s the best part because I get to tell everybody what to do!” It’s a collaboration, of course. Everybody had their creative view and input. It was a lot of fun. Then, going through post-production and through a pandemic, and now releasing it through a pandemic, it’s been so strange. I’m experiencing everything in my own home instead of actually going to festivals, and seeing people, and having that kind of energy. There’s still a lot of energy, but I’m here inside my home. It still feels exciting.


It’s awesome that you finally get to do this. Then it’s also this weird timing for everybody. Not quite the red carpet you wanted, I’m sure!

Right.


But you did get to film before the pandemic though?

We did. We filmed before the pandemic, and we did our ADR session in March of 2020. So, we pretty much got all the actors in right before things shut down, which was amazing. What we ended up having to do during the lockdown was the color correction, and the score, and the sound design. We interfaced with everybody through pretty much what we’re doing now [Zoom], which was definitely a challenge. But we worked with so many talented people, and they were able to work remotely with no problem. I missed being around people though. I missed actually sitting in the sound booth or sitting in the sound room and then actually hearing it on their screen and their system. I missed that, but it worked out exactly the way that it had to.


And it turned out beautifully. Back to directing, did it feel like a pretty natural transition? Now that you’ve done it, do you know for sure that this is what you want going forward?

Absolutely. I loved it. There were a couple times when I was an editor that I would go to set and help the director get the performances that weren’t coming through, so I did have a little bit of that experience early on. But being in charge of the shots and knowing what I needed was amazing. I also edited this as well. Because it was so short of a shooting schedule, I had to do a lot of cutting in my head. I wouldn’t recommend that, but it worked for what we were doing, and it worked for our budget. I could take my editing experience and know what I could do in one take. I had the advantage, having had all that editing experience, in figuring out how to optimize our shooting time.


I bet that was a huge help. That’s something that really stood out to me, how tight the runtime is. Nothing is wasted. It made for a perfect film. I was also wondering: Was there a scene, or a storyline, or anything else that you would have wanted to include? Was there something that you had to cut that you really didn’t want to?

There were a couple of shots that we did have to cut. Mostly with Ron making his way back. Oh, I guess I shouldn’t give away too much information! But, towards the end, there were a couple of scenes that we had to cut because of time. I’ll leave it at that, so we don’t have spoilers!


Everyone in the cast is perfect. When I was writing my review, I had to stop because I felt like I was just going to name every single person in this film. What was it like working with everyone? We know, of course, about Ron. But how did you nab Fred Armisen and Mary Lynn Rajskub?

That was actually through Ron Lynch, because Ron knows everybody. We were looking for some names to see if we could get anyone to put into smaller roles. Ron sent the script to Fred and Mary Lynn, and they both liked it. They were like, “Yeah! I’ll work on this This is great!” So, it was super easy. Being the first film, I know that this can always be the biggest challenge [to cast actors with name recognition]. And then finding the cast and making sure the schedules all line up, that can be really difficult. With Mary Lynn and Fred, it worked out great. Through the other stand-up comedians, Tom gave me a list of his favorite stand-up people, and I pretty much got to cherry-pick them and choose my favorites. I wanted to have a scope of comedy, so that it wasn’t just one type of comedy. You have alternative comedy and different types of comedians. That’s how we pretty much put them together. Then Alyssa Limperis, she came in for the audition. She actually auditioned for a different role. But when she came in, we thought, “Oh my gosh, she is our Violet Fields. She’s just perfect.” She had so much more confidence than the character, of course, because she’s lived that life. She knew exactly who Violet was. As long as she could play more to where she’d started out, as that meeker, more vulnerable character – if she could go back there and have it start with that and end up where she is now as who she is, then she would nail it! She’d be perfect. Of course, she was amazing. Then Will Weldon, he is a good friend of Tom’s. Tom really wanted Will. We needed someone who could do stand-up and play Jimmy. Will is charming and he’s so funny. Will and Alyssa had instant chemistry. Later on, we found out that they have the same manager, and their manager was like, “Oh, this is great! You guys can practice before you go in for the audition.” When they came in, they were perfect, of course. We were like, “Wow, they have instant chemistry!” [laughter] It worked out so well.


That’s pretty cute.

Then Jenny Zigrino as well. She was an amazing catch. She is one of the funniest people I think who’s doing stand-up right now. She’s a road comic. She’s actually performing in Florida right now. She’s just so funny. Then Paul Danke; he’s another terrific stand-up who my husband knew. He’s also just a terrific actor. I don’t want to give anything away, but I love Paul’s character. I kind of wish that we could have more with Paul and Jenny, because they had instant chemistry on set as well. I think their scenes were so funny.


What I loved is how authentic everything felt, with the chemistry between Alyssa and Will, and then Jenny. The three of them – I believed that they were best friends. The three of them all had such great chemistry and that helped keep things grounded in what is also a very fantastical plot device. The vibe was wonderful. Alyssa was toe-to-toe with everyone, in every scene she was in.

Yeah, I was so proud of her. She does mostly front-faced comedy online. [Alyssa has gained nationwide recognition for her hilarious videos where she imitates her mother. Check out her Twitter feed for more info.] We didn’t even know about that when we cast her, and then we found out about her online presence. She’s so funny, and it’s such a different type of comedy and acting. To really get to see her act; she goes from comedy to drama with ease and she just did an amazing job. We’re really proud of her.


That’s what I thought was pretty neat too. I was reading about her story as well to get ready for this, and she’s like, “I’m in New York, and I want to move to LA., and I want to act.” And boom – here she is, killing it. Again, that’s what I thought was so amazing for all of you. This is your first feature. Is this your husband’s first screenplay as well?

That’s right, yeah.


Okay! We’re just going to start at the top. [laughter]

It was a lot of fun. We’re like, “If we’re going to do it, we have to do it big.”



I’d love to hear more about your husband as well. Let’s get his story out there too. I need to know more! That’s what I wrote in my review. I wrote specifically about you, and I didn’t know he was your husband. I was like, if this is the director and screenwriter’s first offering, and this is where we’re starting, where are we going from here, and who are these people?

Oh, my gosh. That’s so wonderful. Yeah, my husband started out as an actor. He did that for a number of years, and then he did stand-up. He’s got one of those minds. He’s just brilliant. He has a photographic memory, and he’s always thinking. He holds onto dialog and the way people talk. He’s one of those people who can rattle off a line from a movie from the ‘80s. He’ll rattle it off exactly. I’m always so impressed with him. After being an actor for a long time, he decided that he wanted to have a job that was a little bit more stable, so he went into post-production as an assistant editor. He was doing that for the last 8 to 10 years. I met him actually after he stopped being an actor, and I never really knew that side of him. He’s been in bands and done a lot. He’s one of those people who can just pick up a lot of things and be brilliant at it. He did a spec script for The Office. That was one of the first things I read of his. I was like, “Gosh, you’re really good!” As an editor, I’ve edited a lot of stuff that wasn’t very good. I mean, I don’t want to bad-mouth anyone, but it is just so great to read a script where it’s funny, and it comes through, and you really get it. I encouraged him to keep writing, and then he started writing shorts. He also did a lot of UCB classes, so he started going in that direction. About five years ago, we started writing screenplays. We have eight or nine screenplays. This was the cheapest one that we wanted to start with. So, we have two or three more that we’re ready to go into production with as soon as we can. A little bit of the same thing, but different. That comedy and adventure feel. We’ve done a couple family films that are more adventure. It’s fun! We just had so much fun together. We would write the stories together. Then he would go write the screenplays and the dialog and do all the stuff that he was really terrific at. It actually was a perfect marriage, being that we are married. Being a director and having a screenwriter on hand that’s so talented is amazing.


That’s an amazing partnership, both ways! You both have the skills to make each end of it fully realized.

Exactly. He also did the assistant editing on the movie.


Wow!

We did it all. Yeah. We wore a lot of hats.


It’s “in house,” and regardless of pandemic times or not, it’s must be so nice to have such a tight duo where you can make all those things happen. The world is going to be different for a while, and it’s wonderful that you can still keep moving forward creatively.

I know. We’ve all gotten so used to working from home. I mean, I want to see people again, but I also want to have my own schedule. I really like not having a two-hour commute. It’ll be an interesting transition back.


What are some of your inspirations for female directors or otherwise?

Gosh, there are so many cool female directors coming out right now. I’m always put on the spot with names. There are so many talented people. I’m so excited that more female directors are putting their voice out there. We’ve been working all along; we’ve been here, and now we’re finally getting opportunities that aren’t just directing TV. It’s directing films and directing a variety of projects. I think it’s pretty cool. We’re in a really interesting time with entertainment especially, having online platforms. Not everything has to go theatrical. It’s opening up the world to so many different voices. It’s so much easier to make a movie for not a lot of money and to make it look like a larger budget film, because we have so many more tools. It’s pretty cool.


That’s exactly what I thought when watching Too Late. This looks like a big budget production. Another thing I did want to ask you – I don’t know how to phrase it, and I hope this is okay… But I was wondering about your name. Is there is a fuller name, and, if so, if the abbreviation was intentional in order to take away from the gender expectation of a director?

Yeah, actually my full name is Diana Woods Thomas, and I started going by D.W. about 10 years ago as an editor. I wanted to remove the gender from my name in getting editing jobs, because it’s pretty competitive. I don’t know if it actually made a difference, but I feel like taking that out of the equation felt better for me. There was also a couple other Diana Thomases on IMDB, and I wanted to separate myself from other people as much as I could. Once I did it, felt like, “Okay, I have to stick with this.” Because once you start putting it on movies, you have to stick with it. I like it. I think it’s cool. I think now would be the time that you don’t really need to do that for female directors. You can have your full name and it’s totally cool, but I’m happy with the D.W.


It’s a nice choice. I know you just finished this project, but I already can’t wait for what you’re going to do next. I know you probably can’t talk about it, but you said you’ve got some fun ideas?

We do; we have a fun one coming up. Sort of the same, but different. It takes place in L.A. I won’t give any more information, but it’s a lot of fun, and it will hopefully be a bigger budget. Hopefully we’ll get some more money for visual effects. We worked with Mo Meinhart who did all of Bob’s effects. She’s so talented. I would love to give her a lot of resources and see what she does. Hopefully she’ll be available for the next one. Yeah, we’re really excited to dig in, have more resources, and be able to have a lot of fun with it. I’m so glad the movie connected with you.


I loved it, and I feel like every viewer is going to love it as a comedy, period. But especially having been in the stand-up world, it really hit home. It brought back a lot of memories.

I know. It is a crazy world. Also, Bob, as much of a monster as Bob is, in a way you also kind of empathize with him, because it’s not all black-and-white. The monsters also have a story too. It’s an interesting push and pull. I think people finding their voice and people also allowing younger people to come up and take over, it’s an interesting area to be in.


Yeah. That’s what I thought was interesting too. You did connect with Bob. Also, Violet could be considered a monster as well. I thought it was interesting that she’s also complicit in some of Bob’s actions.

Exactly. Yeah, I think it’s about taking responsibility. That was what was important for us, from everybody. Taking responsibility for your life and for your voice.


That’s a beautiful message, and I definitely got that from this film. It inspired me. It’s so lovely to talk to you. I really appreciate your time.

This was terrific. Thank you so much for having me; it’s been great to talk to you!


[I'd like to thank D.W. Thomas for her time and Karen Oberman of KO-PR for setting this up!]