Hoopla

Cedar Rapids native Jeff Tomsic ups his directing game with his feature film debut 'Tag'

Kyle Kaplan

Actor Jeremy Renner (from left), director and Cedar Rapids native Jeff Tomsic and Hannibal Buress take a sneak peek on the set of “Tag,” a Warner Bros. Pictures film that debuted nationwide Friday (6/15). Renner, an action film star, broke both arms during a tethered 10-foot fall on day three, slapped his hands on the ground “for a split second” Tomsic said, but was back on set a few hours later, wearing long sleeves to hide the injuries. “I figured he was an Avenger and I could just beat him with a bat and he would survive it,” Tomsic joked, “but turns out he’s just human.”
Kyle Kaplan Actor Jeremy Renner (from left), director and Cedar Rapids native Jeff Tomsic and Hannibal Buress take a sneak peek on the set of “Tag,” a Warner Bros. Pictures film that debuted nationwide Friday (6/15). Renner, an action film star, broke both arms during a tethered 10-foot fall on day three, slapped his hands on the ground “for a split second” Tomsic said, but was back on set a few hours later, wearing long sleeves to hide the injuries. “I figured he was an Avenger and I could just beat him with a bat and he would survive it,” Tomsic joked, “but turns out he’s just human.”

Cedar Rapids native Jeff Tomsic made it into the big dance at Sundance with a short film in 2011. This past weekend, he waltzed into the big leagues.

“Tag,” his feature film directing debut, opened third at the box office, raking in $14.6 million — more than half of its $28 million price tag — in its first weekend.

His A-list cast includes action star Jeremy Renner from “The Hurt Locker” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Jon Hamm from “Mad Men”; Ed Helms from “The Office,” “The Hangover” and of course, “Cedar Rapids”; Isla Fisher from “Wedding Crashers” and “Nocturnal Animals”; and Jake Johnson from TV’s “New Girl” and “Jurassic World.”

But what really blew Tomsic’s mind was seeing their game faces larger-than-life in his hometown last Friday (6/15).

“The whole thing is surreal,” he said by phone from Chicago, where he had another screening event with friends. “I’ve been drawing this out as long as possible,” he said with a laugh, before returning to his homebase in Los Angeles.

“Being back in Cedar Rapids for opening day and seeing it with all my childhood friends was an unexpected, amazing moment. I got used to seeing (his movie) posters in Los Angeles — it sort of made sense. But seeing posters up in Cedar Rapids was a whole different thing. Going to the theater I went to as a kid to see movies, and seeing my movie there, it’s mind-blowing — an out of body experience.”

Now 41, the Cedar Rapids Washington High School and University of Iowa graduate expected to hear good things after the private screening with family and friends at the Marcus Cedar Rapids Cinema. He also stayed to introduce the film at the 7:30 p.m. public showing on opening day.

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“I expected them to just compliment me even if they hated it, but they all seemed to genuinely love it,” he said of the tale of a group of five lifelong friends who gather each May to play a no-holds-barred game of tag. Only one member has never been “it,” so he’s the quest in this impossible dream.

“Even my 80-year-old uncle who doesn’t even watch movies, has a couple of Ph.D.s and is an educator, really loved it. He was like, ‘This is exactly what I would have done with my friends, but we would have been better.’ It’s funny, my cousins’ kids in their teens and early 20s loved it, and also, my older aunts and uncles really enjoyed it, which is really nice.”

The film’s solid opening nationwide also was a plus, topped only by “Incredibles 2” and “Ocean’s 8.”

“I feel pretty good about it,” he said. “It’s a tough weekend to open a movie, when you have ‘Incredibles 2’ breaking huge records, of the biggest animated film opening of all time. But I feel great that we held in there, and made a respectable amount of money, and people went out and watched it, even though there’s a huge Pixar film out there to see, as well. People seem to be loving it, which is really nice. I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff on social media from audiences going more than one time over the weekend, which is cool. It’s so surreal to make something and then put it out there in the world, having no idea how people will react, and see them get enjoyment out of it. It’s very cool.”

His bosses were happy as well. “I spoke to them yesterday, and they’re all really happy,” he said. “They really loved the movie, and Warner Bros. in general is all pretty thrilled. They’d probably would have loved to break their own box office records, but they’re really happy with movie and how people are responding, so it seems all positive.”

So are the 10 real-life game players who met in high school in Spokane, Wash., and have played tag each February for 28 years. The movie began filming in Atlanta on June 17, 2017, and continued with the full cast for 42 days, followed by another day with the younger cast for the flashbacks. Several of the original taggers came to the set, and are pictured at the end of the movie. Only the priest in the bunch was a little hesitant to show his face on the screen, until he saw the movie.

“They were so pleased and so effusive about what we were doing, and that I’d captured the spirit of them,” Tomsic said. “That was a huge relief and was really rewarding to hear, because they are decent, noble guys. They’re just wonderful people, and I wanted to make sure that while we were trying to make people laugh, we weren’t denigrating what was so special about their love for each other.”

Tomsic has his own “tag” kind of story, in that he and some high school and college friends typically take a fishing trip to Canada, but in 2016, they couldn’t all gather. Tomsic went anyway in June, and that’s where he read the script.

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“I just thought there was something very sweet about the movie — something that’s difficult to find in an R-rated comedy,” Tomsic said. “A lot of them have a little bit of a negative streak, but I like that this had a big heart and optimism. I’m sort of a sap, so it spoke to me. ...

“These guys figured out how to make their childhood friendships still relevant into adulthood. It really hit me emotionally, and I didn’t expect that from a comedy called ‘Tag.’ I really wanted to do it as a love letter to my friends. And also, I thought how fun would it be if we just approached this movie as being dogmatic about being stupid, and thought about that as a really healthy thing to do.”

Watch it

WHAT: “Tag”

CAST: Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jeremy Renner, Isla Fisher, Leslie Bibb, Rashida Jones, Annabelle Wallis; directed by Cedar Rapids native Jeff Tomsic

RUN TIME: 97 min.

RATED: R

STARS: HHH

WHERE: Marcus Wehrenberg, Westdale 12 in Cedar Rapids, Coral Ridge Cinema in Coralville, Sycamore Cinema in Iowa City

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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