The Tribes of Palos Verdes offers an evocative portrait of California that could have only come from the inside. Here, Emmett and Brendan Malloy, the brothers who directed the film, share a behind-the-scenes look at their impassioned project
Emmett and Brendan Malloy took a roundabout path to get to Hollywood, despite the fact that their childhood home in Hancock Park was just a couple blocks from Paramount Pictures’ studios. Their dad was an urban contractor who laid sewer pipes and water mains. “We grew up with shovels and brooms in our hands cleaning up the streets after him,” says Emmett, 45, the older of the two brothers by a year and a half. After college, Emmett found a job at a company that made movie trailers, and Brendan later joined him there.
They parlayed that experience into actual filmmaking, creating shorts featuring a ragtag group of surfers including their cousins Chris and Keith Malloy, who at that point were on the pro circuit, and singer Jack Johnson, who appointed Emmett as his manager (the brothers now run their production office out of a bungalow on Larchmont Boulevard, where Emmett and Johnson’s Brushfire Records are also headquartered). Those early surf reels paved the way for music videos (The White Stripes and Vampire Weekend) and big-budget spots for the likes of Nike and Google.
The Tribes of Palos Verdes, a character drama based on Joy Nicholson’s novel of the same name, didn’t exactly fit into the Malloys’ repertoire, but the script, which had been kicking around Hollywood for almost 20 years, struck a chord. It’s the story of a family who moves to California and starts to unravel: After the father (Justin Kirk) leaves, the mother (Jennifer Garner) plunges into a drug-fueled depression, dragging her son, Jim (Cody Fern), down with her and stranding his twin sister, Medina (Maika Monroe), who seeks refuge in the ocean. Sure, there are surf scenes, but that’s far from the main thrust of the piece. “People are going to think, ‘Oh the Malloys and surfing, I bet you it will be kind of nice,’” says Emmett of the film, which also features Alicia Silverstone, Elisabeth Röhm and Joely Fisher. “But this is a really heavy-duty movie.”
The film is narrated by Monroe, who grew up in Santa Barbara and was a professional kiteboarder before becoming one of Hollywood’s most exciting ingénues. “This story is very close to my heart,” she says. “I felt an immediate connection to Medina. I keep my sanity by being in nature, the ocean. It’s a crazy world, and everyone needs a source that grounds them.”
To prepare for the intensity of the story, the brothers met up with locals of the affluent community of Palos Verdes to ask them what it was like growing up there—drugs, sex, drinking and all. “We grew up in a similar community and were exposed to a lot of this at a very early age, way before our parents knew it was happening,” admits Brendan. Sadly, the Malloys’ father passed away just before they started filming, leaving the brothers in an uncharacteristically raw state. “We’re a super close family,” says Emmett. “So Brendan and I were kind of emotionally with [the actors] as they delved into these dark performances.”
They shot the film over the course of 23 days at a rundown house in San Pedro on a shoestring budget. “We’ve made commercials that cost twice as much as this whole movie,” says Emmett. “There were no star trailers. If Jen [Garner] wasn’t up for a couple scenes, she would just pull up a foldable chair and eat trail mix like anybody else.” Bound by a strong esprit de corps, they also turned to members of their own tribe to pitch in: longtime friend Robbie Brenner was the director of photography; Emmett’s wife, photographer Hilary Walsh, helped with wardrobe styling; they even pulled a Jack Johnson song for the soundtrack.
Having waited almost two decades to create another full-length film (their first, the snowboarding-themed Out Cold, came out in 2001), it was “super critical for us to make a great movie and make this script our own,” says Emmett. In the end, The Tribes of Palos Verdes is as much a story about the dark side of California as it is about two native sons unafraid to jump in the deep end.
Photography by EMMETT MALLOY.
Written by KELSEY McKINNON.