The last thing Josh Locy wanted to make was another movie about two young people falling in love. While struggling to write the film that would ultimately become Hunter Gatherer, he scored an aspiring filmmaker's dream gig, working as an assistant to director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Your Highness).
Through Green, Locy befriended Eddie, a reformed pimp and former heroin addict with whom he spent nights off drinking. Listening to Eddie's fascinatingly bizarre adventures in 1980s Detroit, Locy was inspired to write a haphazard script full of pimps, prostitutes and gratuitous shots of blood commingling with dissolved narcotics in barrels of syringes.
Then Eddie died just after the film secured financing. Suddenly, Locy's foray into the dark underbelly didn't seem so chic. "I realized that most movies about the urban world and heroin-addicted pimps really glamorize that lifestyle," he says. "They're about how cool things are. I didn't have any personal connection to that."
In his crisis of faith, he returned to his script and removed any and all references to drugs, violence and even profanity while retaining the basic plot. "I took out everything that was between the characters and their emotional states," Locy adds. "I created an environment where they actually have to deal with their feelings, put words to them, feel their pain. That's where the title comes from, taking humans back to their emotional core."
Locy's revision sets familiar archetypes among new settings. The film's protagonist is played by Andre Royo, a man already famous for his portrayal of optimistic addict/scam artist-turned-informant Bubbles on The Wire. Royo's performance in Hunter Gatherer earned him a Jury Award at South by Southwest in 2016. As the ever-confident ex-con Ashley Douglas, Royo makes ramshackle attempts to earn a living, secure housing and rekindle an old flame that are all hopelessly ill-advised, but his intention is something primal that Locy hopes anyone can relate to.
"That's part of filmmaking—finding yourself in the story," he says. "These are people who are way different than I am—different lives, different experiences. But we all share that desperate need for human connection."
SEE IT: Hunter Gatherer is not rated. It opens Friday at the Clinton Street Theater. Donation suggested.