Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Producer Kyle Newacheck Talks Going Independent For The Quirky Alien Dramedy I'm Totally Fine - Exclusive Interview

Kyle Newacheck has blazed a trail in Hollywood as a producer, director, writer, and actor. With a filmography that includes everything from the series "Workaholics" and "Adam Devine's House Party" to the movies "Game Over, Man!" and "Murder Mystery," Newacheck — who currently serves as a co-executive producer and director on the vampire mockumentary "What We Do in the Shadows" — has shown he's a versatile talent. For the movie "I'm Totally Fine," however, he decided to forgo the studios and produce the dramedy independently. The result is a uniquely quirky film that is likely to move audiences everywhere, even as its wacky premise also leaves them laughing out loud.

"I'm Totally Fine" centers on Vanessa (Jillian Bell), a woman whose recent success in business has been overshadowed by the sudden death of her best friend and business partner, Jennifer (Natalie Morales). Vanessa takes a trip away to mourn her friend, only to find herself confronted by an alien who's taken Jennifer's form in order to learn more about the human race. While it may sound absurd, the film's out-there elements mix with big emotions to ultimately create a touching exploration of grief and loss. 

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Newacheck explained how "I'm Totally Fine" came together during the height of the COVID pandemic, discussed casting the movie's impressive lead actors, and shared what he hopes audiences will take away from the story. In addition, the multihyphenate teased the upcoming 5th season of "What We Do in the Shadows."

'We needed to make that film'

"I'm Totally Fine" is very funny but also very meaningful. What about it made you want to get involved as a producer?

Everything. Everything about the film, [including] the director, who has been a great friend of mine for quite some time, Brandon Dermer, and his concept. His premise for the film was [something] he said to me in passing on a Zoom. We were on a Zoom for an hour during the pandemic, catching up, seeing who was doing what, if we were working. We were directing via Zoom, and it was a strange time.

I said, "I want to make a movie," and then he said, "I got this idea." He told me the premise, and I said, "Okay, I'm going to produce that." He had his friend Alisha Ketry, who writes for "American Dad!" and they went off and developed the story. Once I read that initial story document, I knew that it was game on. We needed to make that film, and we needed to make it as soon as possible. So it was my only job to protect that and to try and get it out there, try and make it during the pandemic. That was hard enough. It was December of 2020, and we're like, "We're going to go do something crazy." And we did it.

Going full indie

The credits of the film make it clear this was a pretty independent affair. There are a whole lot of Newachecks in the credits, including you, as executive producers. Why did it make sense to go that route for this film?

I've experienced high highs in the film business, but I've also experienced lots of people getting cold feet and saying, "It's my money, so it's got to be done like this." I didn't think I could get it off the ground fast enough in that environment because it takes pitching, it takes script drafts, it takes all sorts of casting conversations. I knew instinctually how this movie needed to be made, and I knew that the people that were involved in it, myself, Brandon, and Alisha at the beginning, were going to make the right choices.

We didn't need a quote-unquote "parent" in the room. The only parents in the room were my parents, who are on that executive producer block that just says "Newachecks." It's my parents and my wife, because the way we ended up making it happen was to be incredibly efficient and dip into the savings account.

You had to really believe in this one.

I did. I did, and I do.

Collaborating with I'm Totally Fine's director

This is Brandon Dermer's feature directorial debut. You've had a lot of experience directing, including with Netflix's "Murder Mystery." What advice did you give Brandon during the production?

Brandon and I worked side by side. He was doing something he had never done before, and I was doing something I had never done before, so we were each other's rocks during this time. I had lots of advice, lots of thoughts, and Brandon is so eager and wanted to know. He picked my brain. He asked to go through my shooting scripts of "Murder Mystery," to go through my shooting scripts of "Game Over, Man!" so he could see what I was doing. We talked at great length.

Those films are very [dense and have] lots happening. This film was [the] opposite. This film is delicate, this film is very nuanced, and Dermer did things that I never would've thought about doing in terms of holding and allowing for space. We were each other's best buds while making this, and it was great. It was super great. [I] talked to him on the phone once a day for probably two and a half years.

Putting on his acting hat

Why did you decide to act in the movie as well?

I like to act. It's fun sometimes. I don't really like to act while I'm directing, but acting while I was producing seemed to make sense. I actually wanted to play the smoking guy at the beginning. That's what my cameo was going to be, and we actually had someone else cast for the middle of the movie [when Newacheck's character also appears]. But because we shot it in COVID, we were all out there in a bubble and everybody got the message on their phones to stay at home. So we had to make a last-minute choice and say, "We're going to keep our bubble strong and untainted."

I went in and played the part, which was perfect because all throughout the scripting process and when they were writing the screenplay, I had my eye on that part. That El Camino [that the character drives] is mine. We wrote that El Camino into the script because it was sitting in my driveway when we were writing the script, because this movie is necessity as a mother of invention. And I liked the idea of getting out there and sharing a scene with my best friend, Jillian Bell. We've been friends forever, and we don't get to share the screen that often, so what an opportunity.

Casting Jillian Bell and Natalie Morales

The two leads in the film, Jillian Bell and Natalie Morales, are phenomenal. How did you get them on board such a quirky little project?

I'm good friends with Jillian, and Jillian and I always had these conversations about dramatic acting and respecting dramatic actors 'cause we both know that we want to go down that road at some point. We're attracted to that road. What was really interesting is, when we were writing this, we actually had Jillian playing the alien. It's really bizarre, but when we first started, 'cause we were playing to the comedic strengths, we were like, "Okay, comedic strengths. Let's do this and that."

Then Jillian said, "I really want to work with my friend Natalie." So I was like, "Okay, that sounds great. I don't know Natalie, but I'm a fan of her work, and let's make that happen." So we wrote the screenplay. Once we turned the screenplay in to Jillian and Natalie, Jillian was reading it and she called me and said, "The words of Vanessa are coming out of my mouth. I'm reading this right now, and I know that we've talked about me playing the alien, but when I'm reading this, this part is what comes naturally. This is what I want to do."

Thankfully, when Natalie was reading the script, she was very attracted to the alien as well, so it was thankfully very seamless. We did a little swap, and there you have it, and I can't picture it any other way from that moment on.

That's an example of how this movie had to bob and weave, and it couldn't have a studio. It couldn't. It needed to be made by people who were just making this movie because we had to be like, "Okay, does this work? Hell, yeah. Let's make it. It's going to be great."

The message behind the movie

The movie's about being powerless and the movie's about loss of control. There's a certain amount of powerlessness and loss of control that we had making the movie, too, and [we let] it take its natural course and [let] it breathe. It was organics. For me, it was a lesson in organics. You're not trying to force anything; you're trying to do the right thing to make the movie exist and nurture it in the proper ways.

The film examines the experience of grief and loss of control in such a unique way. What do you hope people take away from the story?

One of the big takeaways is the emotions that follow the realization that you are powerless and you are out of control sometimes are incredibly necessary. Those emotions are supposed to be felt, and they're supposed to be felt very tru[ly] and authentically, and hopefully, they help you get in touch with yourself and understand yourself at a higher level, or at an emotional level.

Making room for those big feels ... As I talk to my kids about when they have their big feels, you've got to have those. Of course we use comedy; of course we use this absurdity of an alien. But at the end of the movie, Jillian says, "I'm sad, but I'm okay." That's it. It's okay. It's okay to be sad when stuff doesn't go your way. It's okay.

Teasing Season 5 of What We Do in the Shadows

You're a producer and director on "What We Do in the Shadows." Is there anything you can tease about the upcoming 5th season?

I'm going to tell you what I tell everybody: [On] "What We Do in the Shadows," we keep it in the shadows until it comes out. But I will say that there's a lot of good romps, a lot of good, fun quests that the vampires are going on. Thematically, [Season 5]'s a little bit going back to its roots in the sense of vampires are amongst us humans, but it's not without its magic and its insanity. There's so much happening this season. Oh my gosh, it's going to be incredible. I can't tease any more than that, though.

I love that that show is so shrouded in mystery until it comes out. It's so cool and part of what that show is all about. I've been doing the last four seasons, and man, the cast is fantastic. I can't get enough of those guys.

"I'm Totally Fine" is currently available in theaters, on demand, and on digital.

This interview has been edited for clarity.