Stepping into the director’s chair for the first time is always a challenge, but for veteran TV and movie producer Randall Emmett that challenge was amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. What was planned as an 18-day shoot, ultimately took a year thanks to shutdowns in various filming locales.
But launching the true crime thriller “Midnight in the Switchgrass” — starring Bruce Willis, Megan Fox, Emile Hirsch and Lukas Haas — has proven to be just as nerve-wracking, particularly due to the continued uncertainty around COVID.
“Considering what the world is still in, and now that things are escalating, I didn’t even think we were going to be able to have this [premiere], so that’s an amazing thing,” Emmett told Variety, Monday night, outside the Regal L.A. Live theater in downtown Los Angeles.
“The movie took a year to make through a lot of COVID shutdowns,” he added, “So it’s obviously a really special night, and to have friends and family here, you couldn’t ask for anything more.”
While Fox canceled her appearance at the event a few hours before the red carpet kicked off, due to the new mask mandate and the rising number of COVID cases in LA, Emmett had his support system with him — including his fiancé “Vanderpump Rules” star Lala Kent.
“This is my first time seeing it all the way through, and I’m over the moon for him,” Kent said.
As a precaution, press and guests at the premiere were asked to show their vaccinations cards or proof of a negative COVID test taken within the last 48 hours. Or attendees could take a rapid test on site.
Although the step and repeat was outside, most press and photographers wore masks, which didn’t do much to muffle the screams of “To your right” or “Over your shoulder” as talent, including Hirsch, Caitlin Carmichael, Sistine Stallone (who brought her sisters Sophia and Scarlet as her plus two) and Olivia Abercrombie posed for cameras.
“Everyone has their own right to decide what is their level of comfort in a situation like this,” Carmichael says of deciding to attend the premiere in person.
“Just as Randall was our leader on set, he has really been prioritizing our safety as best as possible and has been keeping such great communication open with our cast to see what feels best for us as individuals, not just as an ensemble,” she continued. “Whether that’s vaccination, or doing things virtually with our press, there’s been so many different ways we’ve all been able to take this journey, and I’m so appreciative of that.”
Hirsch agreed, adding that it was “slightly emotional” to be at the event, “because it was a really scary time when we shut down. And in many ways it still is.”
But the actor says the seven month journey to complete the movie was all worth it.
“For a lot of us it was the thing that we were working on that kind of kept us going a little bit and kept us upbeat and excited and gave us something to look forward to,” Hirsch explained.
The current (and former) cast of “Vanderpump Rules” also made appearances at the premiere, including Tom Schwartz and Katie Maloney-Schwartz, Tom Sandoval and Ariana Madix, Scheana Shay and Brock Davies, Charli Burnett, Stassi Schroeder Clark and Beau Clark, Kristen Doute, and Jax Taylor and Brittany Cartwright Cauchi.
While Schroeder, Clark, Doute, Taylor and Cartwright Cauchi are no longer part of the reality show, apparently blood is thicker than Bravo, so they came out to support their friends Emmett and Kent.
James Kennedy was also on-hand, sans new fiancé Raquel Leviss, to DJ the event’s after party at Katsuya L.A. Live, where partygoers dined on sushi and sipped specialty cocktails from Indoggo. As an added precaution, both the screening and after party limited the number of guests in attendance.
As one of the co-owners of West Hollywood hotspot TomTom, which shut down last year due to COVID and reopened in May, Schwartz could commiserate with the concerns about capacity.
“The whole industry got ravaged,” he noted. “And honestly, there was a point in which we weren’t sure if we were ever gonna open. But now that we’re fully open, in the swing of things, and we have our rhythm back, it’s so nice. Every time I go in there, I’m just eternally grateful.”
While Bravo’s cameras were likely rolling at TomTom, they weren’t present at the premiere, as the cast wrapped shooting on the reality show’s upcoming ninth season last weekend.
Emmett had previously been featured sparingly on the series, but says that, with the arrival of their daughter Ocean Kent Emmett in March, there’s no avoiding the cameras now.
“We used to be able to get away with it, but now we share a child,” Kent joked, as Emmett chimed in. This season, I think you’ll see a lot more of me. I don’t know if I’m prepared for that, but it’s her life and they want to see all that stuff.”
Kent and Emmett have also collaborated on the big screen as producer and actor, and Kent says she’d be willing to act in Emmett’s next feature.
“He’s incredible with actors. So I would love to work with him because he babies talent in a way that I’ve never seen before,” she explains. “So I feel like it’s his calling.”
Maybe that was a trick Emmett picked up from his former collaborator Martin Scorsese, when working together on “The Irishman” and “Silence.” The legendary director has a special thanks credit in “Midnight in the Switchgrass.”
“He really made me feel like family, and he didn’t have to do that,” Emmett says of working with Scorsese. “I want to be that kind of filmmaker, I want everybody to feel part of the journey. When you make a film, it takes a whole village of all of us together. And Marty taught me that you need everybody; everybody’s important. I’m really grateful that I got to learn that from him.”
“Midnight in the Switchgrass” will be available in select theaters, on Apple TV and available to rent on July 23. The movie will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning July 27.