Last week, a 17-second clip surfaced on Twitter seemingly out of nowhere—or at least it felt that way, as it arrived unannounced from the deep corners of the cinematic ether with a resounding bang. The foreboding clip is minimalist and unrevealing in every way: a young man wearing a black leather jacket— his back to the camera — is perched atop an idle motorcycle on the side of the road in a bleak, vacant area. The camera slowly pans closer as the ominous score swells, the man looking up the road slightly. He reaches for his red helmet and puts it on as if he realized it’s time to begin a mission of some kind. We don’t see him ride off, but we hear it as reputable indie distributor A24’s logo flashes across the black frame. That man on the motorcycle was Chance the Rapper. That clip was a teaser for his first feature film, Slice.
The teaser sent Twitter into a frenzy: Chance the Rapper is now also Chance The Actor. Shot semi-secretly last year in his hometown of Chicago, Slice’s official declaration felt similar to 10 Cloverfield Lane’s earlier this year—completely unexpected, enigmatic as hell, and super intriguing. The details of the plot are still shrouded in mystery, something that first time feature director and frequent Chance collaborator Austin Vesely upheld during our interview.
A 26-year-old Illinois native, Vesely always had the desire and drive to be a director; there exist home videos of him self-identifying as a director at the early age of six. After geographically bouncing around due to his father’s job, Vesely eventually took root in Chicago. Vesely would drop out of film school a few semesters deep and begin cutting his teeth in the music video space. Inspired by Spike Jonze’s earlier music videos and the works of Hiro Murai (who directed episodes of Atlanta), Vesely started making videos gritty and otherworldly, yet always cinematic in scope.
Vesely hopped on the phone with Complex to talk Slice, his relationship with Chance, working with A24 and that historic World Series win for his city.
How did you build this creative relationship with Chance?
I’ve been working with Chance for probably five years now. I made his first music videos. I shot “Fuck You Tahm Bout,” “22 Offs,” “Brain Cells,” “Juice”, “Everybody's Something," “Sunday Candy" and this year’s “Angels." Chance had actually sent me a song that he wanted to make a video for, and I wasn't really vibing with it, hilariously enough, But then I met him on the set of my first music video “Clear Eyes” for Nico Segal—who is now Donnie Trumpet—that featured Vic Mensa. He showed me “Fuck You Tahm Bout” around that time and I was stoked on it. So we went ahead and made a video for that.
Was he always your first choice to star in Slice?
Just being friends and working together for a such long time, Chance had always been interested in the same sort of stuff I’m interested in, like movies and wanting to make them. After collaborating as friends for this long, it seemed like a natural fit to put him in Slice. And he did such a great job in it.
So what the hell is this movie about?
[Laughs] So it’s my first feature film. I wrote and directed it and it’s a horror-comedy. It’s about these pizza delivery drivers who are mysteriously murdered. The whole town is trying to figure out who’s responsible for it. There are supernatural elements to it. There are ghosts involved. Chance’s character is a werewolf. It’s hard for me to encapsulate the movie in a short elevator pitch, but those are some of the elements right there.
The “supernatural pizza delivery thriller” seems like a very niche genre to explore. What inspired you to go this route creatively?
Honestly it just happened naturally. It was an idea I had that I thought was kind of funny. I wrote Slice as a short film probably 4 or 5 years ago and I eventually began to build upon that initial idea to make it bigger. So I started expanding the script, expanding the world in which it takes place. When it was the original short, it didn’t have any of the supernatural stuff, it was just about someone trying to get a pizza store closed because they wanted the real estate to open a hot yoga studio or frozen yogurt store. The supernatural stuff came sort of naturally though. I was inspired by the work of author George Saunders, particularly Civilwarland in Bad Decline. He has these ghosts in this story, and he just treats them as part of the fabric of the universe so that you just accept it. I thought it was really funny and I’ve always wanted to do something like that in a film.
Is Chance about to surprise the world with his acting chops?
He has this incredibly natural screen presence. It’ll be exciting for people to see him not as himself—the guy you know through his music—for the first time, even though to some degree it is still him. But just to see him actually act, I think that’s what’s gonna be cool for people to see. I think this will end up leading to other acting opportunities for him too.
How was it working with A24?
It was really amazing. They’re just a great company. For them to reach out about becoming involved with the project was mind-blowing from the start, but then to actually get to where we were, signing the papers and making it an A24 film, it still feels like it was all a dream. Even between when we first started talking and shooting Slice, their roster has just grown and gotten so much richer with stuff like Moonlight and American Honey. I’m just excited to be a part of that family. And as far as working together goes, A24 definitely made it feel like we were family. They were just always there to help out in any way they could without being overbearing. They wanted to make sure that I was making the movie that I wanted to make.
At what point did they reach out to you to come on board?
We announced the movie initially last summer. Basically we were going to make it at a certain budget level that we reached just from independent financing. We announced it to get word of mouth going thinking that we were going to make it last fall. A24 picked up on that press but thought that we had made it already so they were just interested in looking into what our distribution situation was. I was like, “Hey we don’t actually have a movie yet.” [Laughs] So they wanted to read the script and see what we were all about and they dug it. We started figuring out how they could be involved.
Were there any particular cinematic influences that inspired you while writing Slice?
When I was tuning into the details of it, I was watching a lot of Twin Peaks and David Lynch movies since he has such an interesting way of handling tone. So I wanted to figure out how to balance those tonal things. There are also a few plot lines in Slice with lots of different characters so I watched Paul Thomas Anderson movies to figure out how he balances multiple interconnected narratives.
Are there any other rapper or actor cameos that we should be looking forward to in Slice?
There are definitely some actors in there that folks will recognize. That’ll be the fun part of our roll out and keeping the mystery box a little bit closed until we’re ready. You’ll just have to stay tuned.
So what’s next for Austin Vesely?
I'm back in writing mode currently. I've got two feature scripts in the works, one for me and one for a friend. I'm hoping to get back into production on something as soon as possible. That, and just promoting Slice until it finally makes its debut next year.
The Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in over 100 years the same week the teaser for Slice dropped. Coincidence?
[Laughs] Man, it was really huge for the city. No matter how trivial you might find a sports game to be there’s this undeniable collective joy that was really exciting. It felt like being a part of something. I think Chicago’s going through a lot of great changes, and also, of course, some negative ones in the past few years, but anytime something like that happens, it’s always like “Wow it’s a really cool time to be in this city.” It was history.