How Filmmaker J. Davis Made Manson Family Vacation

I had the good fortune of attending the Los Angeles Film Festival premiere of “Manson Family Vacation.” This quirky indie film stars Jay Duplass and Linas Phillips as quarrelsome brothers Nick and Conrad, who tour Charles Manson murder sites.

After getting off to a bumpy start, Nick, the conventional family man, and Conrad, the nihilistic drifter, bond through this unusual road trip, reconciling their splintered relationship in this fresh dramedy.

Manson Family Vacation

Manson Family Vacation

I caught up with the film’s director J. Davis and asked a few questions.

Rory Owen Delaney: Where did you get the idea for Manson Family Vacation?

J. Davis: I’d always been fascinated by the Manson Family and when I told my friend Jay Duplass about this interest, he was really put off by it. He didn’t understand it at all. So, I decided to explore that difference between us by making this movie.

Rory Owen Delaney: Did you write the film with any of your cast in mind?

J. Davis: Well, as I was writing, I started to picture Jay in the main role. At that time, he hadn’t acted and he hadn’t expressed any interest in acting to me. But when I asked if he’d do it, he immediately said yes. Then, after going through a few drafts, I was able to pull Linas Phillips onboard. I’d been a big fan of his movie BASS ACKWARDS. So, by the time I was writing the late drafts of the script, I had both of the main actors in place.

Rory Owen Delaney: What was it like directing Jay and Linas? What did they bring to the movie?

J. Davis: They brought spontaneity, naturalism, fun, emotion. There was one scene between them that was early in the shoot and I thought it was a very simple scene, just a quick confrontation. But in the first take, Linas started getting upset and actually ended up crying. And it was then that
I knew this was tapping into some strong feelings for them.

Rory Owen Delaney: Did your documentary filmmaking experience help or hinder your efforts with Manson Family Vacation?

J. Davis: Really, it was my editing experience that helped me most during production. It gave me a clear sense of what kind of coverage I needed. At times, it may have pushed me to get more than I actually needed. But I’d rather have more than not enough.

Rory Owen Delaney: Were you planning on including documentary footage of Charles Manson in the film from the beginning?

J. Davis: I think in the script, I opened with a Manson quote that was written out. You’d read this quotation and then see that he’s the one who had said it. So, the concept was there. But as we were editing, we discovered that actual clips were much more effective in showing the audience the
strange charisma of Charles Manson.

Rory Owen Delaney: What was the toughest part about making Manson Family Vacation, and what was the most rewarding?

J. Davis: For me, the hardest part was shoehorning this project into my normal life. I work a regular job with regular hours. So, scheduling this and getting time off was hard. But the rewards were incredible. I was able to do a creative project with one of my closest friends and I made a bunch of new friends along the way.

Rory Owen Delaney: How did you finance and distribute the film?

J. Davis: We started with a Kickstarter campaign that got the ball rolling for us. From there, we started raising money from private investors. We then premiered at South By Southwest and got approached for distribution after that first showing.

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If you’d like to watch Manson Family Vacation, the movie is is available on iTunes, Amazon and a bunch of other platforms.


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ARTICLE BY Rory-Owen Delaney

Rory Owen Delaney co-wrote BREAKING BROOKLYN, starring Louis Gossett Jr., which was released by Lionsgate in 2018. Delaney wrote and directed the feature documentary THE RIVALRY: RED V. BLUE, as seen on ESPN, and co-produced the graffiti doc BOMB IT 2. He got his start in Hollywood working for Avnet/Kerner Productions (FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, THE MIGHTY DUCKS) before apprenticing with filmmaker and distribution guru Jon Reiss (BOMB IT, THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE). In 2010, Delaney was named an honorary Kentucky Colonel by Governor Steve Beshear. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two pugs.
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