Steam! is not your typical short film. Or Western. Or musical. In fact, there’s very little about this film that’s usual—which is no easy feat in the entertainment industry. The thriller follows Lance (played by Coby Getzug from the national tour of The Band’s Visit), the conductor of a tourist steam train, who thinks he’s going to find excitement ditching his boyfriend for an outlaw… but of course, the reality is something much different. With great music (that you can listen to on Spotify).
With the film now streaming on Revry.tv, I spoke to writer/director and composer Jeffrey Simon and producer Matt Andrews to learn the story behind the short and how much of an adventure it was for them.
Brittany Frederick: How did the two of you find each other and find what is honestly a truly unique and different idea in a business where we always hear there aren’t any?
Matt Andrews: Jeffrey and I have been producing together for about 10 years, and one of the first projects we ever tried to get off the ground was a Western musical. We went out to Colorado, spent a few weeks there [and] got to know the city of Durango very well, which is where we were intending to shoot this movie. We spent a whole lot of time writing this Western musical, put a whole lot of work into it and it eventually just became too big of a project to ever accomplish, so we shelved it for quite a while. And then Jeffrey went to USC to get his Masters in film directing.
Jeffrey Simon: I decided while I was there that I wanted to try making a musical. I’ve always loved musicals, I write music, and so I just decided to go for it. I made this little musical called Spark and it turned out great. I’m like “Okay. Well, maybe this is a thing that we can keep doing,” and so for every project I did over the three years I was there I was working up to filming this musical, which was my thesis.
BF: The choice to make Steam! a short instead of a full-length musical, was that purely for logistical reasons or was there a creative reason to do it that way?
JS: This is a proof of concept for our business, which we created after I finished USC. We both quit our day jobs, so to speak, and started a musical production company called The Barn. Our whole thing is that we want to make original musical feature films.
BF: When most people think of musicals in the Western genre, they automatically go to Oklahoma! It’s not a widely explored theme. So how would you describe Steam! to people who don’t know musicals or Westerns? Why should they watch?
JS: We like to think of it as a musical thriller. The music is definitely more Americana than it is Oklahoma! showtunes. It’s more influenced by Elton John in the ’70s when he did Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and that sort of genre of music, I would say, than you would get in a traditional Broadway showtune. It’s a story about a gay train conductor going on an adventure in the Wild West, but set in 2020.
MA: We wanted to make something that captured the excitement of old classic Westerns, so [it’s] quite different from Oklahoma!. Jeffrey wrote, directed, created the music and lyrics, everything on this movie, which is an incredible feat. He’s a very talented human being. And it sounds very unique; I’ve never heard a musical that sounds quite like it.
BF: What’s impressive about Steam! is that it’s a really good movie that happens to be a musical. The film isn’t just the framework to get the songs out. How did you balance those aspects?
MA: That’s the big challenge. A song can do a lot of work for a movie. It can move the story forward in large dramatic ways. It can also halt a movie and let you sit in a moment for five minutes. And it’s finding the balance between those two. I think that for Steam! we packed a lot of music into 15 minutes. We got four songs in there and the songs helped cover a lot of ground, and we tell a lot of story.
JS: One thing that we’re really big on and we’re proud of is that all of the singing is live. There’s no dubs. We cast actors that can sing and they’re doing it—and they’re great at it. We made it really hard for them because when we shot all that train footage and the campfire scene, they were at 10,000 feet above sea level, and they had all come from either New York or L.A. the week before. So they’re singing their ass off at 10,000 feet, and in the case of the campfire scene, in the middle of the night when it was really, really cold.
MA: Everything you hear in that movie was recorded live on set. Particularly scenes around the train station, kudos to our sound guy, because the lyrics are crisp. We were working during operating hours at a real steam train station in Chama, New Mexico.
BF: Can you talk about how you found this incredible cast? What do each of them bring to the film?
JS: Coby is a friend of a friend of ours. A very talented musical composer in his own right introduced us, and we fell in love from the first thing we saw of his. He’s got this great energy and attitude, and is such a powerful performer and singer. He kept the whole mood of everything in the right place the whole time. Barrett, who plays the boyfriend Jud, has this incredible voice. You can hear so many layers of I don’t even know what in his voice and it’s amazing to get to be on set with somebody who’s singing that way, and everything they bring to the part. Liam Cronin, who plays the outlaw Neil, is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. I can’t say enough about him. He’s this incredible actor that you’re afraid of when watching the film, but in real life, he’s just a swell guy.
BF: If people enjoy Steam! and want to support your future projects or learn more about your work, is there anything you’d say to them or a direction you’d point them in?
MA: We’re building a movie musical community and you can follow us on Instagram at @thebarn. We’ve also created a newsletter called the Rooster Revue that you can sign up for. It goes out every two to three weeks with all the movie musical news, interviews and in-depth articles. And we’re also making a lot more movies. We have two shorts we’re going to make this year, and a bunch of features in development that hopefully we’ll shoot one [of them] this year. Just stay tuned.
JS: I have an EP of original songs coming out, so keep a look out for that. It’s called Fairytales & Fallacies. We’ll be posting about it and we’ll have some videos and various cool stuff that we’re going to share with all that.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.