Chad Capellman had the chance to re-connect with Michael Parks Randa, a former colleague who is coming off the release of his first feature film after more than a decade as an established music video director. Best Summer Ever, an original inclusive high school musical, features a fully integrated cast and crew of people with and without disabilities, and has been backed by the likes of Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Maggie Gyllenhaal and others. The critically-acclaimed film was a labor of love for Randa, whose parents have been actively involved in supporting people with disabilities for more than 50 years.  They talked about the challenges of shooting realistic sports scenes, the star turn and by two young sports announcers in the film, the teamwork involved with co-directing, and Randa’s ties to the people behind the Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp.  They also talked about life at Doomsday Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based agency that includes industry standouts like Childish Gambino, Barry and Atlanta director Hiro Mur-ai, and how Michael’s activist father’s adventures are now providing inspiration for his next writing and directing endeavor. 

Podcast Highlights

4:52 – On the reception the film has gotten after having to delay release for a year because of Covid-19: “So when the film finally did come out and it got a New York Times critic’s pick and, great write-ups and Variety and Deadline, and just, it just blew our minds. We were really, I think, above all, really encouraged by the reception, as far as industry leaders, being like, “This is exactly the type of film that can be the blueprint for Hollywood and for filmmakers everywhere to say, ‘This is how you can make an inclusive film. This is how disability representation can be done in a way that isn’t pampering.'” And it isn’t any sort of charity. You can just have characters, played by disabled actors and their disability doesn’t have to be part of their character arc. And that was really important for us was to make a movie where disability was never mentioned, but it’s all throughout the casting. And people seem to take something away from that, which you know, as a filmmaker is really, everything you could ask for.”

6:02 – On the significance of having stars like of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen backing the film: “It just never hurts to have that type of, A-list stardom, attached to your movie. That just helps it get it out there. It was a low budget-ish indie endeavor, so having some big names on it to really give it a little bit more clout never hurts. I think that having their involvement helped us even get the Today Show, for instance, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen went on to rep the film and, without that we wouldn’t have gotten it. We had an amazing PR team who really came through, but when push came to shove, the powers that be want a star. They want somebody who is going to, help the ratings. And, obviously if it’s between me going on who’s relatively unknown filmmaker or Ted Danson and Mary, like it’s a no-brainer. So having that type of visibility through actors of that caliber really elevated it for us for sure.”

7:14 – On the importance of, and process of achieving representation, while still focusing on entertaining an audience: “The most important thing as a viewer is to be entertained. And so I think that it was really striking a balance between making sure that it felt like a balanced cast and also felt like we weren’t hitting people over the head with anything necessarily. I think there’s something delightfully subliminal about the messaging within it, where I think you can watch it for what it is, which is an entertaining, highly eccentric high school musical, and not have to think too much about the casting.”

“And I think it becomes second nature the more that you get into the film. I think right off the bat, some people had said “I was really, somewhat thrown off by the fact that there were so many people with down syndrome, cerebral palsy, just like this wide segment of disabled individuals in the film, but as the film went on, it felt natural. It felt yes, perhaps like a bit of a utopian view of how the world could be, but for us who have, rich friendships of people with disabilities as an able-bodied individual, that’s the world I’ve always grown up in. “

11:02 – On the two actors who played the sports announcers in the film: “That’s an amazing story because that is actually art imitating life. So those individuals are names are Phil Lussier and Eric Folan and they are actually students at my parents’ school. Non-actors. And they have their own Facebook Live, that’s literally called Phil and Eric. Sports Network, something like that. And they, they’re huge Boston sports fans or really just sports fans in general.”

And a lot of that kind of crept into the writing of the film. Like, alright, we’re going to do this high school musical, and it’s got a real sports focus. How can we usher the storyline along and add some flavor in that way? Those things just come naturally. It’s like, “Well, who do we know?” And I was like I’ve got these two friends of mine. They’d probably kill it. We just can sit them down and they’ll just be able to riff because this is what they do every day. And that’s the magic of filmmaking in a project like this, where it’s not about finding the furthest-reaching talent necessarily. It’s about unearthing normal people who may or may not be even actors and just bringing them into the fold and saying you bring value to this project. And by and large, those two have gotten the most response from people. It’s really funny to me because I’ve known them for 20 years. Just as friends, as community members of my parents’ program.”

“And it was pretty awesome. And for them they’ve just been so stoked. I think they should have like their own like half-hour thing on like NESN or something in Boston where they just like riff on, daily, Red Sox games or Pats. I think they would add a much-needed reprieve from your normal sports broadcasting and journalism, of just like your friends that just riff and have a good time.”

“Yeah, they’ve definitely have been compared to the two old men from the Muppets, are up in the balcony, just like chirping off at everybody.”

13:39 – On the challenges of shooting realistic football scenes:  “That was actually one of the biggest challenges because we, of course didn’t have the budget to bring in, a thousand extras and have weeks and weeks of coordinating plays and even having two full football teams in order to run games.”

“And so we actually ended up, we filmed it in Bristol, Vermont, and we filmed it right around September, which we’d planned around so that we could actually film the local football games at the high school. We filmed at that local high school throughout the summer when the students weren’t there and then returned in the fall.”

“And so a lot of, it was left up to discovery of okay, we know that the film is going to end with this kick. We’ll be able to capture that self-contained in a small enough shoot and be able to have cutaways of crowds of a football game. You got to really lean into the energy and have those wide shots of the field and the crowd and having the teams play in an organic way. And we just knew we’d never be able to do that unless we actually went and filmed local games. And so of course within that, you’re like you have no idea whether, you’re going to be able to have – is a Hail Mary going to be thrown at some point? Is it gonna be a low-scoring game? Is it going to be a high-scoring game where you’ll have lots of touchdowns?”

“And scheduling-wise, we only could shoot two of the home games because we were filming the rest of the movie. So a lot of that was holding our breath and then, we shot with several cameras for those games, and kind of just pieced it together in post and we’re like, “What do we have? Okay, that shot we’ll be able to utilize for, when the QB has a terrible throw. We can utilize that shot, then go to a closeup actually on the field of our actor.” So it was really, it was unconventional. But in the end, it more or less worked out, I think there are definitely some things that we wish we’d thought of, maybe scheduled differently to have more games. There’s this montage within the film where you see a lot of different football games going on, but really there’s only one.”

15:46 – Between the camp scenes, the school scenes, the football and the songs, did it feel like three movies? “It did. I’ve been a music video director for the better past 10 years. And so I felt really comfortable in this space of creating these sort of eight breakout worlds that were really like finely tuned, scripted shot-by-shot like I would any music video that’s got sort of narrative leanings in that way.”

“I think you’re using a different side of the brain when you’re, half the day shooting a musical number, and then the second half of the day – of which you’ve only captured part of the song – but we’re like, okay, we’re shooting this part in the high school. So we’ll shoot, this musical verse in the woodshop or whatever it was. And then it’s “Okay, we break for lunch.” Now we’re filming a dramatic scene between, the protagonists and you’re having to, flip one switch off that’s like very vibrant and lively, and then go into a bit of a heavier, narrative mindset.”

“And that definitely felt like different films at times. But I think we always knew. That we had our eye on the prize that they would naturally be able to coexist.”

“It’s also a musical. What I’d learned, given this was my first feature, and first time directing a musical, is that the musical numbers are such a great narrative sheet where you can usher in information that just moves the story along without having to be like, “Okay, we have to write this other scene that gives the context of these characters.”

“You can learn about one another through song. And I think that definitely felt like a bit of a cheat, while recognizing that’s just how musicals are. That’s the beauty of them. But I think for my first real narrative endeavor, I felt like a little bit safer, whereas okay, I know that I’ve got like half of the movie in the bag in my mind creatively, because this is my comfort zone music videos. And then the narrative end was like, “Okay, I only really need to capture these storylines because the other storylines exist in the musical numbers themselves.” So that was definitely something that was interesting to develop a working order for throughout.”

21:58 – On how he describes his voice: “I think my voice is evolving. I think that for me, I definitely feel a calling to create stories and tell stories that are not being told. I feel creating this film was really a coming together of so much of my family’s history and that legacy. My father is a anti-war activist, disability rights, activist, animal rights activist, and so much of what he and my mom have done together is really stand up for individuals and tell the stories of people who people don’t necessarily pay attention to. I think that there has been a real attitude towards people with disabilities as just being invisible.”

“And I hope that, and I feel like my voice right now is being honed in that direction to continue to make films that are inclusive, but also tell stories that really speak to individuals that aren’t necessarily getting the limelight and including casts, actors and crew members that don’t necessarily get a fair shake. And I think that as a white, straight male in the industry, that is a good place to align myself and to say “Yeah I’ve grown up with extreme privilege.” And I hope that I can help to at least be an ally and create, with no agenda, other than just this is what I know, this is the way that I see the world. And I hope that through my work, other people can expand their horizons and hopefully take something away from what I do and apply it to, their narrative work or documentary work and, just help to – it sounds cliche – but make the world a better place. I think when you have a platform, you’d be silly not to try to make things a little bit better for everybody.”

23:59 – How the opportunity for Best Summer Ever came to him: “What was really unorthodox is that it’s actually created through a nonprofit which is called Zeno Mountain Farm and Zeno Mountain Farm is based in Bristol, Vermont, where we shot the film. It’s really a community of people with, and without disabilities that get together as a creative arts camp. No one pays to attend it. No one gets paid to do it. It’s just this really organic community of friends, regardless of ability, that get together. It’s a summer camp, it’s a sports camp. There’s camps throughout the year. And so they had started making the films that I had referenced before about 10 to 12 years ago. And we would shoot them in Los Angeles. And it was as simple as, getting all of us together in a room, 20-30 of us, and writing a script. And every film was genre based. So we did a superheroes movie, all very low-budget, like no money type of films. And we would just run and gun it all around Los Angeles.”

“We did a pirate musical. And these are like 15-, 20-minute films that then the organization would have screenings around the country. Not even like festival-type of screenings, but just a fundraiser in Boston or New York or LA or DC and show these films really just for us.”

“We were just making them for ourselves. And I think there was this undertone of activism that we weren’t even really aware of at the time that has now very much been labeled onto Best Summer Ever. The activism is really important. But it wasn’t the primary focus. I think that we found ourselves as thought leaders and activists over time. And so I had just been involved – I was 19 years old, went out to LA visit some friends and aligned with this group of people who were doing what my parents were doing in a bit more of a creative arts way. [I] just created lifelong friendships with them. So being around that subconsciously, I started to get more into production. I was in college at the time and was focusing on editing. I knew that I liked music videos, but I didn’t know if that was a viable thing to go out and do.”

“And I think being around that camp for years, and being around these short little, short films that we would make, I started to hone my voice, aligned with that, but with my own work. And then I hadn’t been around camp for probably five years. And then one of the producers had called me and was like, “Hey, we’re going to do a musical of a feature-length musical.”

“And I was like, ” Yeah, let me know when you’re shooting. I would love to come out and see it.””

“And they were like “Given that it’s these kind of music videos, we were thinking that you would be great to direct those. and then we’d have this other director, Lauren Smitelli, who had a bit more narrative knowledge.” And it was like, “Alright, you guys can sort it out how you want to do it and do it together.””

26:37 – On the challenges and lessons learned from co-directing: “We had never met before. And it turned into a very challenging endeavor because you’ve got two completely different directors from opposite sides of the country who have never met before being asked to collaborate and make a movie that’s cohesive together. And it’s no wonder that most directing duos are siblings. You look at the Cohen Brothers. You have to share a DNA, like birds in flight. Your brains are intertwined in a way. And that’s a really challenging ask for two people who are well-meaning people who just don’t know one another.”

“And we hit snags throughout the process, but in the end, we were able to get it together and, certainly, had quarrels together. If there was anything that made it, the most challenging for the crew was that Lauren and I were almost like too respectful of one another’s, opinions on stuff. So sometimes we just fall to a standstill, where she sees something blue, I see something red and we’re just like “How do we create those primary colors to meet in the middle?””

27:45 – Was rock, scissors, paper or coins tosses involved?: “Honestly, in certain ways, yes. I think that we did at times have to really fight for certain things based on our experience. Lauren of course, had an equal right. To the music video elements as I did, but I really would say I knew how to properly script out and account for the edits as an editor of music videos of like, “No, we can’t we can’t cut this shot. That is going to be integral to a transition in this musical moment.” And I think I also would, be guilty of being like, “We don’t need the scene. Like it’s just not that important.” She’d be like “No, this is crucial character development for the mom and Sage, the two of them having a scene together.””

So in the end, I definitely, through that, realize that co-directing is not necessarily something I would want to do again, but I value what I learned from it. I think she would say the same. It was really challenging for both of us. And we were we didn’t have another choice. We both were part of the community, but had never met before. Just like ships passing in the night at Zeno and suddenly we’re directing a feature film together pretty well.”

29:20 – On life working with Doomsday Entertainment in LA: “Doomsday is a commercial production company in Los Angeles. And they are my like production company that produces my commercial and music video work, but they also rep me as a director. So if another production company out of Boston wanted to hire me to direct something, they would basically be my agent. I just directed a couple of commercials for Pokemon that were through Doomsday, so they produce that for me. It’s this really wonderful directors roster of incredible talent. Hiro Murai, who directs Atlanta and has directed some of the best music videos of the past 10 years.”

He directed Childish Gambino’s This is America. So Doomsday produced that. James Lees from England, Charlie Buhler from South Dakota. Just some directors who I’ve really idolized for quite a while. So to be part of that group and kind of feel part of that family as someone who’s been independent for the vast majority of my career, having to piece things together, Doomsday is just a wonderful support system that brings in the commercial work from the agencies. So we bid out like any other production company would for a commercial job.”

When I first signed with them, they were like, “Send us your Christmas list. What are the artists you want to work with?” And that was like a dream just to write this list out of all my favorite bands and all my favorite artists. And they really go out and try to get me in front of the labels.”

“Doomsday’s one of the industry leaders in music videos, and so they’re always getting in briefs for really exciting tracks from some of the top artists. And I get to at least pitch on it. It doesn’t necessarily mean, “Oh, you’re a hundred percent getting this music video.” Whereas, Hiro Murai, who’s done for Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino or Earl Sweatshirt, like he’s like a go-to. Any artist would be, counting their lucky stars to work with him.”

“But he was really created by Doomsday. They really put a lot of effort into him and building him up. And now he directs Barry. He directs every episode of Atlanta, which is probably my favorite show. So it’s an exciting place to be. And it definitely feels like I’m taking strides in the direction as far as commercial and music video that I’ve always wanted to. And then the feature stuff is its own game.”

31:40 – On how his activist father is playing a central role in his next project: “Yeah, so the next film that I’m in the midst of writing is actually about my Dad. It’s based in Boston in 1999. My dad, Lewis Randa, talk about wearing lots of hats. He’s been running this day program for people with disabilities for nearly 50 years. Conscientious objector from Vietnam War. He designed a stone with engravings, Unknown Civilians Killed in War ( and created this journey. Pushing the stone all the way from Sherborn, Massachusetts to Arlington National Cemetery, to give it to Arlington. He has had an unbelievable life. And as his son, who’s a storyteller and director, that’s been really daunting. He’s so deserving of this story and he’s such an under-the-radar guy, I always knew that I wanted to tell some segment of his life. But there’s so much to choose from. And after making Best Summer Ever, there was a lot of internal pressure, like “What’s next?””

“Do I continue to ride this? I should really ride this wave of inclusion, but I just did that. I have lots of, aspirations as far as different types of films that I want to make. And then one day it just clicked. It was like split the difference there. Like my dad, back in 1999 the State of Massachusetts had owed my parents’ school around $300,000.”

“And a lot of budget cuts had happened because of the Big Dig that was happening. So my dad ended up, trying to get the state to pay the money. They wouldn’t do it, and then he ended up breaking into the Big Dig and climbing up a 50 -foot crane handcuffing himself to the crane and lowering down this flag that said “Stop digging up human service funding.” My dad was arrested – one of the many times – he’s been arrested for his civil disobedience. And the state ended up paying the school back. That’s just like the beginning of the film.”

The meat of it is that back historically the school was funded by state funding through the Department of Mental Retardation. That was the name of the state agency. You’d think it was like, oh, that must have been in like the 40s, 50s. No, that was up until 2007. And so my dad and a group of students at the school had really advocated for that name to change. And one of the students from the school who’s been there forever, his name is (Courtland) “Corty” Woods, he’s an individual with cerebral palsy and is an activist in his own right. And my dad and him and a group of individuals with disabilities and their families ended up, after failed attempt after failed attempt, ended up staging a demonstration in front of the state house in Boston, handcuffing themselves together and to the gates of the state house.”

“And several people got arrested with and without disabilities. And it was this like, under-the-radar news clipping in Boston. It was in the Boston Globe, but it’s this amazing civil rights story, that’s really never been told, around people with disabilities and their, freedom of privacy.”

“They’re getting a letter in the mail that says, the “Department of Mental Retardation” in the mail and it’s just totally archaic. And so it’s really this kind of buddy film between my father and Corty who have known each other for 40 years together through the school and their activism together, that ended up initiating this change.”

“And so they all got arrested in 2000. And then Corty and several of the people from that demonstration were at a changing of the name ceremony in Boston (, where they were arrested. And they changed the name from DMR to the Department of Developmental Services.”

“And so it’s this, buddy film meets, a Trial of the Chicago Seven-type of, and the aesthetic of The Place Beyond the Pines in Boston, right after Y2K. It’s such an interesting time, and it’s such an important story to be told. And it’s been right under my nose, my whole life. But it took until I made Best Summer Ever.”

That was like, “Okay, I can continue to tell inclusive stories and bring it even further into the type of films that I want to make, which are dramas and more of underdog storytelling.” And to be able to have it also check the box on “This is my family, this is my legacy.””

36:04 – On how his life and Best Story Ever overlaps with Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp: “Crip Camp, those guys that are … Jim LeBrecht’s a good friend and Lawrence Carter Long who is one of the executive producers on Crip Camp also plays the cop in Best Summer Ever.”

“And he’s just a legendary disability rights guy. And I think, the ethos of our films, while they’re completely different, you can’t really compare a high school musical to this like absolutely engrossing Oscar-nominated documentary. But it definitely has brought a lot of visibility in ways that, the reach of Best Summer Ever may not. And we’re so proud of that film and Lawrence is actually the one who helped get Jim Breck and Crip Camp in front of the Obamas, who ended up getting it to Netflix. And so he was actually the one, when I told them about the story and my dad and he was like, “That is exactly what needs to be told next.””

“And so he and I have sort of been scheming together of when is the right time to bring this? Either, either we find the funding through like CAA or, bring it to a studio, make it A24 film would be like my dream. And yeah, I hope everybody sees that film. I think it’s one of the most important documentaries ever made.”

37:30 – On what artists he would drop everything for to make sure direct their video: “God, that’s a good question. Arctic Monkeys for sure. Rage Against the Machine. They’re actually getting back together They were supposed to do a huge tour last year, which got postponed because of COVID, but Zack de la Rocha is like my favorite. I absolutely idolize him.”

“Rage would be huge. God, it’s one of those things I think about all the time. And then when the question’s asked, the list is too long, but I’ve been lucky, I’ve worked with a lot of bands that I really do love. But Arctic Monkeys is like my favorite band probably right now.”

“So I would probably drop everything to do that music video. And. Also would love to go back in time and like direct for The Band. Even Bob, Dylan, still, even though I don’t really love his music as much anymore. I’d love to work with Dylan.”