Maceo Greenberg is an award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Greenberg’s films have screened at festivals around the world, and he has worked with such clients as Disney, Marvel, Facebook, HGTV, Samsung, the State of California, the Special Olympics and many more. He was recently honored by The Boys & Girls Clubs of America for a documentary about at-risk youth, and his VR film, The Game, was selected by YouTube as a “Best of VR” show. His new film, Take Me to Tarzana, won the Gold Remi Award for Best Feature Comedy at WorldFest-Houston.
Hey, Maceo. Tell us what your film, Take Me To Tarzana is about.
Take Me to Tarzana follows three friends who band together to take down a horrible boss and an evil data-mining corporation. The film stars Jonathan Bennett (Jameson), Samantha Robinson (Jane) and Andrew Creer (Miles), and there’s a really great supporting cast made up of Maria Conchita Alonso, Chris Coppola, Kahyun Kim, Oliver Cooper, Owen Harn, Desiree Staples and more.
The film is sort of an Office Space/The Big Lewbowski mashup — how did you pack so much into one film?
Yes, those movies are big inspirations for Take Me to Tarzana. As storytellers, Mike Judge and the Coen Brothers are really great at taking you on hilarious adventures. I was hoping to create a similar vibe with Take Me to Tarzana, but I also wanted to subvert the traditional slacker/stoner comedy by taking a look at darker issues like data privacy in the current digital age, gender and income inequality as well as student loan debt. That said, I ultimately wished for the film to be a fun, entertaining and wild ride. There’s even a capuchin monkey in it!
What was your best and worst day on set making this movie?
It’s funny, but they are actually the same day, which was the very last day of production. We were slated to film in the old L.A. zoo cages in Griffith Park. Everything had been scheduled and permitted in advance; however, when we arrived to load into the location, the guard was refusing to unlock the main gate for us so that we could access the cages for filming. With precious minutes ticking away, there was a very real and terrifying concern that we were not going to gain entry to the location, which meant of course we would be missing some of the most important scenes in the film. There was no budget or time available to us for reshoots, so this was beyond stressful because we were facing the anxiety-inducing threat of not making our day. Finally, after some tense back and forth, we were able to load into the location at midnight. We had to make a few creative trims to the script, but we made it happen and the scenes turned out great. We finished our final take as the first rays of dawn arrived, and I remember feeling an ultimate wave of happiness wash over me. Those wound up being some of my favorite scenes in the movie.
You use comedy to address important issues like workplace harassment and data privacy. What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
Yes, workplace harassment and the corrupt usage of our data by corporations are very real issues that impact people’s daily lives, and that is why I showcased them in the story. Rather than taking a dramatic look at these problems, I approached them through a comedic lens. I do believe that comedy is a powerful tool that can be used to help break down the obstinate walls most of us are guilty of in some way, shape or form. Dramatic takes on heavier issues can oftentimes come off as preachy or stilted, and I think many viewers just really shut down when you hammer them over the head with a message. The great filmmaker Billy Wilder was a genius at using comedy in this very way. For example, I love how he used humor in The Apartment to take a look at the darker sides of office politics and relationships back in the ’50s. Similarly, I hope Take Me to Tarzana helps us take a more honest look at these issues so that we can improve upon them as a society and culture. After all, stories are mirrors from which we view ourselves.
The film takes a wild turn and trust-fund baby Jameson is a wild character—how did you direct Jonathan Bennett (Mean Girls) to accomplish this?
Jonathan Bennett is such a gifted actor and comedian. He brings so much energy to his performances, and I wanted him to feel comfortable in taking risks with his role in the film. He had so many good ideas and funny bits to try on set, so I really wanted to support that and be a constructive sounding board for his efforts. It was a really fun and collaborative process, and he did a brilliant job of taking Jameson to the next level as a character in the film.
What was a fun or memorable moment to film, and what’s next for you?
There were so many memorable moments but filming at the jungle mansion was certainly a highlight. It was really gratifying for me to see the cast work out those crazy scenes on set. They were all working so hard and pushing each other to bring it on every single take, and the scenes between Jonathan Bennett and Owen Harn are absolutely hilarious. Samantha Robinson also gave a powerhouse performance, and it was special to see her tackle the heavier scenes so masterfully and with such fierceness. She truly commands the screen.
As far as what’s next, I have a couple of projects in the works right now, but I am most excited about a horror/thriller called Kill for Love that I have co-written with my writing partner, Laura Picklesimer. The screenplay has been adapted from Laura’s novel, and it follows Tiffany Ames, a wealthy sorority member, who goes on a killing spree across Los Angeles. The story deals with issues of class and American consumerism in a biting way that’s similar to Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. I can’t wait to bring the film to life.
Lastly, where is Take Me to Tarzana available?
The film is currently available on demand on all major streaming platforms, and we will have a limited theatrical run a bit later in the year.
Thanks for talking with us, Maceo.