A lot has changed since Austin Vesely met Chance The Rapper six years ago.
Shooting on a DSLR camera with no budget, Vesely formed a bond with Chance while documenting a 2011 listening session after the two first met on a music video set with Vic Mensa and Nico Segal. Following the successful collaboration, Vesely found himself behind the camera on the majority of Chance’s early videos and helped carve out his visual identity while shooting and editing clips for 10 Day standouts like “Fuck You Tahm Bout," “22 Offs,” and “Brain Cells.”
More than just collaborators, the two became friends—sharing moments like the time Chance wandered over to Vesely’s place on acid on his 19th birthday because he had nowhere else to go.
Then Acid Rap dropped. Chance’s life transformed as he blossomed from promising blog darling to legitimate star. But in a rare move, he chose to keep his team close and Vesely remained by his side. The view counts multiplied, and Vesely and Chance pushed each other to create memorable videos for songs like "Everybody's Something," "Sunday Candy," and the VMA-nominated "Angels," while managing to remain independent.
“I'm always surprised and excited for the next groundbreaking thing Chance does to shake up the status quo,” Vesely says, explaining that he’s had just as much fun watching his friend’s trailblazing career and meteoric rise in popularity as the rest of us. “But beyond the scope and scale of what we're able to do together, our dynamic hasn't changed a bit. We get to have fun together, and now we just get to do that on a bigger stage.”
The additional exposure brought exciting new opportunities like TV ads for Apple Music and Chicago White Sox collaborations—and now, the biggest leap forward has arrived in the form of Slice: Vesely’s first feature-length film as a writer and director.
Having originally moved to Chicago for film school in 2010, Vesely had slipped into the role of music video director when he found himself surrounded by the city’s vibrant crop of talented young musicians, but tackling this film has always been a major goal.
“Truthfully, I just sort of fell into the music video thing, partially because of [Chicago’s] rich music scene,” he notes. “I think I've always considered myself a writer first, so writing and directing features has been the dream. And the cool thing was, I never felt more purposeful than when I was directing this movie.”
First growing legs nearly five years ago, Slice began as an idea for a short horror film drunkenly scribbled on a notebook that read: “Person orders pizza to houses. Kills the driver.”
In the years that followed, that concept took a brief detour as a pilot for a television series before finding its final form as a feature film script. Then, once things were in place, Vesely’s decision about who to cast in the film’s leading role was a no-brainer. The role of Dax Lycander was offered to Chance.
“It seemed like a really logical progression from when we'd shoot a DSLR music video in a basement in 2011,” Vesely says of their decision to jump from music videos straight to a full-length feature film. “We're just friends sharing our crafts with each other and hoping to entertain people.”
While Chance lacks big screen experience outside of a role in short film Mr. Happy, Vesely explains the two had spoken about his acting interests for years and adds, “I think his screen presence anywhere he goes speaks for itself.” Originally planning on tailoring the role to Chance's voice and personality once production began, Vesely changed his mind when his leading actor showed impressive acting chops and a willingness to push himself creatively.
“It didn't end up changing a whole lot,” Vesely says. “I think Chance probably didn't even want me to make those adjustments so that he could challenge himself more to get into a role, and he did a great job.”
People ask me often if the film is really scary. I hope it has its moments but it's more of a comedy for me. Tonally, I was really inspired by 'Twin Peaks,' if that says anything.
Chance's character, Dax Lycander, is an ex-Chinese delivery food driver who also happens to be a werewolf. When a pizza delivery boy is murdered, the film's fictional city suspects Lycander of the crime because of his spotted past. Vesely says the character was inspired in part by The Joker and Orson Welles' character Harry Lime in the 1949 British film noir The Third Man.
“I don't think his actual character is similar to either the Harry Lime character or The Joker, but their use within the films was interesting to me,” Vesely explains. “I wanted to make Chance's first screen appearance exciting.”
The film takes place in a supernatural alternate reality where ghosts and werewolves are commonly accepted, setting the stage for murders and other classic horror film elements. Vesely reveals the overall tone of the movie will veer in more of a surreal, comedic direction, however.
“People ask me often if the film is really scary. I hope it has its moments but it's more of a comedy for me. Tonally, I was really inspired by Twin Peaks, if that says anything,” Vesely says. “I studied Paul Thomas Anderson's movies to figure out how to balance multiple narratives. TV shows as well, like Twin Peaks, to discover how to establish a sense of place. I guess this movie is like Magnolia with ghosts. Just kidding. Kind of.”
Nearly five years after first scribbling the original idea into his notebook, Austin Vesely's first feature length film will see a wide theatrical release—thanks in part to the involvement of independent production company A24. Known for films like Ex Machina, Swiss Army Man, and Moonlight, Vesely calls the collaboration "a dream."
“I think we fit really well together because they are a company that really loves filmmakers,” he says. “They want unique voices to be heard and that comes through very strong if you just glance at their roster. They wanted me to make the movie I wanted to make, and help in any way they could for that to happen. It was beautiful.”