By: Judy Shields
Palm Desert, California (The Hollywood Times) 1/23/2020 – Relish is a very personal film for me, and I am extremely proud of it. It was important to me to make a film that promotes inclusion and acceptance, as well as tackle some serious issues teenagers face today. Director, Writer and Producer Justin Ward told The Hollywood Times at the screening of his new film Relish.
The movie is available on Amazon Prime and I highly recommend you purchase this movie and share it with your teenage son or daughter. It is an amazing road trip movie dealing with today’s issues that teenagers face and may not even talk to you about. In my opinion, this is an excellent movie to get that conversation started. The characters deal with today’s issues and what a fantastic job Justin Ward did with writing this story. He chose talented young actors that did an amazing job with each of their characters. This is the road trip movie of 2020 and WOW what a movie it is. Don’t hesitate another minute. Get this movie now and watch it, truly entertaining and even life changing for some.
Panel after the screening was Director, Writer and Producer Justin Ward with cast members: Tyler DiChiara as Kai;
Mateus Ward, Co-Producer as Levi; Chelsea Zhang as Sawyer; Rio Mangini as Theo
The Hollywood Times Question: Where did you get the inspiration for this movie?
Justin Ward: That’s a good question. I always wanted to do a road trip movie. I was working on another project and I was exploring a transgender as a lead in a role. I had not seen that in another movie before. I didn’t want the transgender character to be a victim in any way, shape or form. It was a combination of the two. I got to do a road trip film that I always wanted to do, which has always been a dream of mine and I also got to work with Kai’s character that is not a victim, who is actually a fine and outgoing lead in the film.
Question: What is the next film you are going to be working on?
Justin Ward: I am working on a modern version of MacBeth and that is a really exciting project we are working on. The other one is Elvis Presley before he became famous. About a woman who goes on a couple of dates with Elvis and he is just a young hillbilly boy, it’s about a six week period and a life-long change.
The Hollywood Times Question: I thought all the characters were all quite robust, what caused and inspired you to create each of them. I thought you all did a great job.
Justin Ward: I would like to talk from a writing perspective. I told them all that by the end of rehearsal, you should know your character much better than I and they all did obviously. So for each character, I wanted them to be very different and explore different social issues that I see in teenagers, what they are going through. I went with bipolar in Rio’s character in Theo and did a lot of research for that one. There a great deal of people that struggle with OCD that Chelsea plays in Sawyer’s character. Obviously Opbids are a huge problem in our society and the younger kids using that, so I wanted to show how that shapes people’s lives. I wanted to make real people and that was the biggest struggle and how to make them relatable to their characters.
Tyler DiChiara who plays Transgender role as Kai: Considering this was my first role ever (huge applause) I was definitely surreal to read a film that was finally giving my community a representation, finally giving us a voice because I have never seen someone like me in a movie. Never seen representation where we are strong, every day humans trying to live our lives. We were always portrayed as freaks, as people you couldn’t understand and I think when you finally saw this, you see what we go through on a daily basis. It’s not even people anymore giving us issues, we are battling ourselves. So we need all the support and respect from that we can get from the outside point of view, so that we continue on. I was so grateful for Justin wanted to portray someone like that and give us the spotlight. Hopefully this will reach that one person to help them understand and even the parents to understand and once they see it they will say ‘damn, that is what my kid is going through’! I don’t want that, I want to help her, so I am really glad that I got to portray this character.
Rio Mangini who plays Theo: For me it very creatively inspiring to craft Theo because if you probably didn’t notice in the movie there is no background on Theo, so storyline and I am thankful that Justin instilled me the responsibility to kind of make Theo and it is going to be a secret, and I am never going to tell anybody! (laughter)
Mateus Ward who plays Levi: I think each of us was told to create a big secret for the characters to never tell anyone. That was one of things that helped with the mystery of each characters. One of the biggest things he talked about was how society loves to put people in boxes and tell them who they are. This movie gets down a little deeper with each character is on the surface a character that we have seen a thousand times in a thousand movies, and in this movie showing that in the beginning but then digging a little deeper to find out why they are the way they are. For Levi, that was something for me to dive into to his struggle with leadership and also being able to let people live out of the boxes they create for him. He is surprise with each character that don’t really fit into his world’s beliefs. Trying to understand how football worked! (laughter) I the biggest, never left the house, I am nothing like him. I struggled with the football stuff.
Tyler DiChiara: I really liked Kai and Levi’s relationship because it shows that a man like him could respect a character like me. I love how you incorporated us becoming friends, accepting my down the line and I have never got that. The representation of each character is there and just not one character and we figure out each of the characters. Relatability.
Justin Ward: If we take people out of their comfort zone, let’s take Levi who is by nature a very big biget and we take him out of his comfort zone, away from his friends, away from society and we put him with people not like him, what would happen. That was part of the arc I enjoyed writing, watching Levi, this is a guy struggling with football and if I am the coach, I would want to help him get back on the field, it could relate to that as opposed to this is a freak and I am just going to ignore him, make fun of him or tease him or beat him up. That is the arc of the character and what I wanted each character’s relationships to go through. We are all human and we all have needs.
Question: After the script was done, did you know who you were going to cast?
Justin Ward: I have to admit, there were two characters that I wrote specifically for, one of them I knew really well and the other one I never met and saw him on a couple of shows. So the first one was obviously Mateus, so Mateus is my son, if you haven’t figured that one out yet. So I wanted to write something for him that would stretch him as an actor. The second one was, and it became a joke afterwards, I want Theo to be a Rio Mangini type. (laughter). So in my mind, that was the type of person I was writing that role for and then we put out an offer and thank goodness he sent in a tape and we accepted it. He didn’t need to send a tape but we asked him to. I wanted to see what Rio could do with the role and maybe that we terrible of me but I needed to see the tape and he nailed it. Everyone else I did not know. I had worked with Hana, the lead on another film I was working on and needed money for and she was a wonderful actress and I knew I wanted to work with her, so we had several long conversations about the character, it wasn’t like an audition just a conversation if she got the character, understands the character. She was a young child then. Chelsea sent in a tape and Kai was the hardest character to cast. It was one of those moments when you say I am really proud of what I have written but who in the hell am I going to cast for this part. There are not a lot of trans actors out there that can pull off this character and most of the tapes that I was receiving where victims. They all played it as victims and played it weak and no matter how much advice I gave them, they were always falling into that victim and I didn’t want that.
Tyler DiChiara: My first tape sucked, okay! I was in theatre, so going from theatre to film was a huge transition for me. So I finally got some pointers, like calm down, you don’t need to be that big and it took a couple of times and it took a while to get the whole film aspect of things.
Mateus Ward: He might say that, but there were no tapes like his tape that we watched, he had the personality and charisma too.
Tyler DiChiara: I was in high school, not doing so well and then doing theatre, bigger than myself and I got a DM and saying this is not real and it was. I thought you shouldn’t doubt yourself, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, because you never know what you can accomplish! I never thought I would be doing anything like this because I was just so focused on my transgender position.
The Hollywood Times: There are three parts of film that really rock me anytime I watch a movie, it’s storyline, great story, characters, like I said roboust character and the third thing is the music. So who is the music writer down there?
They all point towards Rio Mangini.
The music was great and it makes the film memorable. What was your inspiration and how long did it take you to write the score?
Rio Mangini: I think it was March to July. One of the things that inspired me was staring in the movie and I thought it would be important to bring some of that experience of being in front of the camera, actors emotions up into the score. It was very challenging, because as a composer, who have this script and doing rehearsals and this theme and this theme and it’s always that composer’s struggle, you get the final picture and it was really good and not what I expected and now I can’t use that and I can’t use that and know it’s all bad, oh my! So I had to start again and it expired me.
The Hollywood Times: Justin where did you get the name of the film Relish?
Justin Ward: Wow, my wife. It was along the line of we have to make a movie called Relish because I like it. It’s a condiment, but also like RELISH, that is how she pitched it, like a condiment but also like RELISH, you get it. That is where it came from.
The Hollywood Times: Where was the Relish diner scene filmed at?
Justin Ward: We filmed it in Los Angeles. It is actually a stage café used in many films, so we came in and gave it our look.
Chelsea Zhang who plays Sawyer: So for Sawyer and having OCD, I had to look into the lifestyles of those with OCD. She expresses that with her obsessive cleaning. Also, why Aliens? Why does she believe in Aliens. I loved how he wanted to explore her just representing anyone with a belief system, from vegan, they believe in their religion, don’t judge them before you understand where they are coming from.