by Ryan Meehan
Having grown up in Colorado, Brian Dietzen is not your typical actor. He enjoys his role on the huge hit series NCIS playing the role of Jimmy Palmer, the eccentric autopsy assistant to Dr. Mallard. Brian was excited when he was asked to guest star on one episode and now eight years later, he remains an integral part of the NCIS crime fighting team. Brian is also proud to be a filmmaker having just written, produced and starred in his latest feature film, “CONGRATULATIONS” which will be released on Film Buff on July 30th. He and his writing partner Abby Miller wrote the movie in 15 months. The film’s financing came from a producer that Dietzen had previously worked with on the independent feature, KAROKEMAN. She became a huge fan and was so impressed with the script that she decided to invest in the movie. Having gone from screenplay editing in a mere 19 months and with the film currently in post-production, Brian is already writing on other projects and continues to fulfill his passion as a filmmaker. We’re pleased to have him as our guest today in 5 Questions.
RM: You play Jimmy Palmer, a medical examiner’s assistant on the hit CBS show NCIS. Here’s a question that I’ve always wanted to ask someone who works in that genre of television: If most people want to live in areas free of crime that are safe, why are Americans so obsessed with crime dramas in primetime TV?
BD: It think that the answer is twofold: First, we live in a culture that glorifies danger, and it’s entertaining to feel a bit of that danger without actually putting your life at risk. Second, I think that people do believe in justice. It’s rewarding to watch something where the bad guy goes to jail at the end of nearly every episode. It calibrates the universe’s scales of justice, if only for an hour. I think that feels goods to viewers.
RM: What’s the most challenging part of being on a show like that?
BD: Occasionally, the dialogue can get a bit rough, when you’re spouting off scientific evidence or anatomical facts. On the whole though, we’re pretty blessed with our work schedule and environment. Early on in the show’s run we had some REALLY long days, but over the years, we’ve all gotten better at our jobs (cast and crew) and I think we’ve become more efficient.
RM: Could you tell us a little bit about this movie “Congratulations” that you have produced and written? What is the premise of the film and why did you choose FILMBUFF as a launching pad for the movie?
BD: I co-wrote “Congratulations” with three friends of mine. Abby Miller, Eric Levy and Juan Cardarelli and I worked on this script as a team, and it ended up being a great passion project, and a film I’m really proud of. The story centers on a guy who wants to marry his longtime girlfriend. He proposes, and she says no. She doesn’t say no because she doesn’t want to be with him, but rather because she doesn’t value the institution of marriage. In fact, she’s totally turned off by marriage, having come from a family torn apart by divorce. Essentially, she doesn’t want it, and he does. It was great to write a script like this with four people. We each had our own specific views on marriage, and they all made their way into the script.
We were so happy to partner up with FilmBuff to release this movie. We played at around seventeen festivals, and got a ton of great feedback and praise for the movie, so a partnership with FilmBuff just made sense. Those guys release some of the best indie movies out there, and are leaders in digital distribution. It’s a great era in filmmaking right now. We have the ability (through digital distribution) to make a passion project for significantly less money than a standard feature film. The fact that that film can not only see the light of distribution, but also be financially successful is something that wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. It’s very exciting.
RM: Do you think that people in their late twenties and early to mid thirties are putting more and more pressure on EACH OTHER to get married, as opposed to the traditional view that it’s the parents who are doing the pushing?
BD: Marriage is just not the absolute, top priority for most people. More and more of my friends want to get their careers set and their life really going before they settle down, and I can see the wisdom in that. However, having married my high school sweetheart, I went a totally different path! To be honest, most of my friends who really have marriage on the brain, are my gay friends who had their right to marry taken away out here in California. It’s crazy. In a world where two people have trouble defining marriage between themselves, (as in our movie) our government is seeking to define it for everyone. I’ve always seen it as something between two people who love each other (irrespective of gender).
As to the parents being involved, and pressuring their kids, I think that parents can see the writing on the wall when it comes to modern marriage. It’s no longer enough to just get engaged and married; what’s important is being happy with the one you’re with. If that entails marriage, then so be it. If not, then more power to you. With divorce in this country hovering around 50%, I don’t know many parents who are enthralled with the idea of marriage at all cost. Happiness is where it’s at.
RM: This film also features Debra Jo Rupp (from “That 70’s Show”)…was it difficult for you to see her as a different character given that everyone is so familiar with a particular character that she played on television for so long?
BD: Debra Jo is without a doubt one of the kindest, most talented people I’ve worked with. Abby was friends with her and thought she’d be perfect for the part. But her character in Congratulations is a much different person than Kitty from That 70’s show. The character of Nancy (my mom in the movie) lost her husband a few years before the events of the movie, and she is just not over him. I don’t think she will ever be over him. He was the love of her life. It’s a character who required a massive emotional depth, and I was so happy to see Debra Jo knock it out of the park take after take. She’s a walking lesson in diversity of character. It turns out she was a fan of NCIS, and I was a fan of her, so we had a fun time playing together and I hope she can be my screen-mom again sometime!
RM: You mentioned that during some screening the audiences have been a bit polarized as far as taking sides when it comes to Bridget and Jim. Is that a pretty gender-based thing, or were you seeing some of the girls get behind Jim and some of the guys understand Bridget’s point of view?
BD: It seemed to be a strangely geographic-based thing. Many people who saw the film out here in LA sided with Bridget. They saw that she said what she wanted, and Jim just didn’t listen to or respect what her view was on the matter. But when the film has screened in the midwest, the audiences were behind Jim nearly all the time. “Why wouldn’t you say yes to him? You love each other. You’re supposed to say yes!” I heard plenty of those comments. It remains a movie that people can argue about after the credits roll, and that’s what we set out to do. In fact, I’ve had people come to me and say “It’s too bad that their relationship didn’t make it at the end”, and others say, “I think it’s great that you chose to keep them together.” It’s all in how you view the story (and a really cool ending helps too!).
RM: What’s up next for you in the twelve months to come? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
BD: I’ve been blessed with steady work for the past ten years, and I’ll continue that trend. I’ll be working much more on the show NCIS, and I’ll be guest starring on a few other series as well. I just shot a fun guest spot on the TNT show “Perception.” Behind the scenes, I’m collaborating on the next feature script, and hope to shoot it in my next summer hiatus. This one’s about fatherhood. Being a dad has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done with my life, and I thought that it’d be a great artistic challenge to raise as many questions about fatherhood as I can. “Congratulations” allows the audience to question what defines marriage, and happiness, and I hope to raise similar questions about fatherhood with this next project.
Twitter handle: @BrianDietzen
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