Movie Reviews

The A-Frame Director & Stars On Their Collaborative Experience Filming The New Sci-Fi Comedy

Summary

  • The A-Frame, a sci-fi comedy, debuted at Tribeca following Dana Namerode’s character Donna battling cancer with a scientist’s help.
  • Inspired by ’80s classics like Back to the Future, director Reeder focused on character development over scientific theory in The A-Frame.
  • The A-Frame stars Namerode and Whitworth discuss the unique tension and humor in the film, along with their characters’ motivations and experiences.



Calvin Lee Reeder’s new sci-fi comedy, The A-Frame, hosted its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival on June 7, 2024. The movie follows Dana Namerode’s character, Donna, a young musician struggling to cope with her bone cancer diagnosis. While in a hospital waiting room, Donna is approached by a quantum physicist (Johnny Whitworth), who claims he has inadvertently created a machine that can cure her. Desperate to find a remedy, the pianist visits Sam’s lab and is shocked by what she discovers.

Reeder states that the inspiration for the film was derived from his love of classic sci-fi movies such as Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. Although he researched different astrophysicists, the director wanted The A-Frame to focus more heavily on its characters than the scientific theories it presented. Namerode and Whitworth admit that, while the story was a major draw, their experience was enhanced through working with Lee and the rest of the crew.


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Reeder, Whitworth, and Namerode chat with Screen Rant about the film’s complex characters and Nik Dodani’s real-life stand-up experience, and share what they would do if faced with the same choice as Donna.


The A-Frame Star Was Determined To Do Donna’s Cancer Diagnosis Justice

Dana Namerode as Donna in Sam's lab in The A-Frame.

Screen Rant: Calvin, since you’re also the writer of this film, what inspired The A-Frame?


Calvin Lee Reeder: A friend of mine had come to me and challenged me to create a more commercial genre idea, and I got to thinking about the things that I liked in that space. I’m a child of the 80s, and I was thinking about all those great movies I had been raised on with homemade science projects that turned into weird science stuff like Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, and Re-Animator. I just wanted to roll the dice and add to that whole curriculum. That was sort of where it started.

On the other hand, Dana and Johnny, what drew you to the movie?

Johnny Whitworth: Well, Calvin. That’s really pretty much it. I read the script, and I got a tone that was funny to me, and then met him, and then saw some of his work. That was the defining factor.

Dana Namerode: I personally like films that are really unique and unsettling. I like being pushed to the edge of my comfort zone, and I thought this script did just that. You read it, and one minute, you’re laughing at the jokes, and one minute, you’re uncomfortable, and another minute, you’re horrified. I love that tension that carries you throughout the story, and I thought it was a great story to join.


Calvin, this is a science fiction film, but I imagine there had to be a level of research done to make the theory sound somewhat plausible.

Calvin Lee Reeder: I can say plausible is a very generous word. They got this thing now—it’s called YouTube, and you can pretty much YouTube anything. I did some reading. There were a couple books, but mostly, I just YouTubed different astrophysicists and took things that I liked and meshed them together. I didn’t want to spend too much time doing research because, honestly, it was more about the characters, but I also didn’t want it to stop being fun. So it’s trying to find that limit of learning just enough, and then also just saying, “Okay, I’m not actually a scientist here. Let’s tell a story.”

Dana, we open on your character, who’s been diagnosed with cancer and is trying to find a way to cope. What spoke to you about Donna and the way she handles herself throughout the film?


Dana Namerode: Good question. I personally have a lot of people in my close inner circle in life who have experienced cancer, unfortunately, but this immediately connected me to them. I had a lot of conversations with these people about their experiences, things that I assumed one would feel in certain situations. I understood after digging into their emotions and experiences that I totally did not understand.

Speaking to them really helped me understand Donna much better. I thought that was a really interesting experience, to put yourself in one’s shoes. As an actor, that’s obviously what you do, but in this particular case, cancer is all around us in real life, and to have to put myself in the situation and try to do it as much justice as possible and make it as believable as possible and see the world from that point of view—it was a good experience, learning that behavior.


Johnny, I’m curious how you would describe your character, Sam, because he’s quite interesting.

Johnny Whitworth: I’m curious how I would describe this character. I’m not really sure because I haven’t defined him. I found him. I didn’t have an objective because I just trusted that Calvin did the research and all the science I’m spittin’ is correct, so I don’t get challenged by all my MIT friends and things of that nature.

Halloween’s Anton Tremblay Designed The A-Frame And The Quantum Dislocator

Johnny Whitworth as Sam sitting in his lab in The A-Frame.

Nik [Dodani] isn’t here today, but his character is a comedian in the film, and he does stand-up himself. Was that decision influenced by real life, or was it already in the script?


Calvin Lee Reeder: We really wanted a real comic to play that part. These guys will tell you I have a joke or two to tell the world. I’m always working on a joke. I really wanted a real comic to pull that off, so that’s where we got Nik.

If someone came up to you and said they had a machine that could cure your cancer, would you take the chance?

Johnny Whitworth: It depends on who told me it would work. If I had no other choice, I absolutely would try to do it. Especially, if I were the scientist. I’d be so convincing of whatever the hell I was trying to convince someone of.

Dana Namerode: I was actually watching the film recently, and I asked myself that same question. “Would I do it?” I think, yes, especially in my character’s position. She’s a pianist, and she has bone cancer in her hand. This is her whole life, and to lose her hand is the worst possible case in the world. It couldn’t possibly get any worse. There’s nothing to lose, so I think I would have gone with it in real life, as well.

Johnny Whitworth: YOLO, you know? Aren’t we supposed to just kind of live this life and do it? And if somebody is trying to take it away from us, and we have an opportunity to maybe keep it and rebel against death—that would be a better answer for me.

Calvin Lee Reeder: Well, now that I’ve made the movie, I’m gonna go ahead and say no. It’s not so much that I would question the science, but I now kind of understand the motivation of somebody who might try to work around the powers that be, talking to me in a lobby of a clinic and trying to convince me to do this. So basically, if I was confronted with that, I would be much more concerned with the character of the person than the actual science. I just don’t see myself trusting him enough at this juncture.


Calvin, did the quantum dislocator and the A-Frame turn out how you pictured them?

Calvin Lee Reeder: You know what? I kept the idea pretty loose in my mind. There are shapes mentioned in the script, but it’s not too specific. My hope was to find a great production designer that could fill it in better than I could, and we ended up with exactly that, with the great Anton Tremblay, who did, of course, Rob Zombie’s Halloweens, and then before that he did Army of Darkness and a lot of other stuff. I don’t know how we got him, but he designed so much great stuff.

Can you each talk a bit about your overall experience on The A-Frame? What will you take with you to future projects?


Dana Namerode: This was an incredible experience. This was my first lead role in a film, so definitely a massive learning curve. I was so fortunate to do this under the guidance of Calvin. I learned so much from this. I also just enjoyed it very, very much. It’s such a pleasure and a privilege to be able to work on something that you believe in with people that you admire. I could not have asked for a better experience to do this.

Johnny Whitworth: There are few things that could set the confidence in somebody that, I don’t know, their work or their ability to put that forth. Throughout my experience, you start to realize that not everyone who calls themselves a director has really got the same vibe, but Calvin, given the writing, the tone, and his humor—and we didn’t have a lot of time. Bless everybody. We managed to do it.

It was the shortest shoot that I’ve ever gotten to do. Once in the situation, letting go is so much more experiential and freeing and fun than trying to control what the hell this guy is going to do in the editing room by limiting what I might do, because I’ll make a fool of myself, but I would prefer not to use that take unless it is what would enhance the story.

Calvin Lee Reeder: A lot of what they just said. I can prepare only as much as I possibly can, but you really do need to trust your collaborators and let them lead the way. Johnny said something about letting the editor pick the takes, but in many ways, he picks the takes. He gives us the best stuff, and we see it. It’s about preparing, getting the best you can, and then letting go of maybe a traditional idea of control, making it as communal as possible. Especially when the clock is ticking, and we’re all trying to do the best we could do. We’re all very proud of everybody. I honestly can’t believe we did it.

Johnny Whitworth: I’ve only seen the rough cut, and when I sat down with Calvin, I had an image, which is how I was going about getting into the character, which was just this black and white drawing. It was a feeling in this picture of Tom Waits that felt, as far as tonally, I vibed that from early on. Calvin encouraged my process, either to use or not use something, and what Brandt brought and everything—I haven’t said any of this to anybody, but it exceeded expectations because it is what it was. We did it as a team.

Every day when we’re coming in, I’m pounding it with everybody, and everyone was so great. It was such a good collaborative experience that, at a budget like this, could actually be done. It doesn’t have to be frustrating. Throughout my career, there have been times that I’ve passed on things like this just based on lack of knowledge or something, but the experience that I had on this frees me up to maybe trust some other people. It’s amazing what we did, and the time that we did [it in], as far as I’m concerned.


About The A-Frame

The A-Frame Official Poster (Tribeca)

In this mind-bending sci-fi comedy, a quantum physicist’s (Johnny Whitworth) groundbreaking machine inadvertently opens a portal to a subatomic universe while attempting to prove its efficacy. During his experiments on rats, he stumbles upon a radical cancer treatment that could revolutionize modern medicine. Driven by ambition and the desire to legitimize his work, the physicist begins human trials, raising the stakes and blurring the lines between science and ethics.

The A-Frame premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on June 7, 2024.

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