TV Talk: Former Pittsburgher directs ‘Better Nate Than Ever,’ based on his novel, for Disney +

Tim Federle grew up in the Pittsburgh suburbs as a theater kid, realized his dream of appearing on Broadway, became an author and is now a scriptwriter / showrunner / director with the movie “Ferdinand” and Disney + ‘s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series ”among his credits.

But his film directorial debut, an adaptation of his 2013 novel “Better Nate Than Ever,” marks his most autobiographical effort to date.

In “Better Nate Than Ever,” Pittsburgher Nate (Rueby Wood), 13, has Broadway dreams. When he doesn’t get cast in his school play, Nate and best friend Libby (Aria Brooks) sneak off to New York City for a Broadway audition and to visit Nate’s Aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow).

“I was the last kid chosen to dodgeball every week in Pittsburgh throughout most of the ’90s,” said Federle, who also made bus trips to New York to audition. “One of the amazing things about being a writer and a director is you get to take all of the setbacks and turn them into plot points. When I pitched the movie to Disney, I said it’s like ‘Billy Elliot’ meets ‘Ferris Bueller.’ … Whether your dream is Broadway or to be a chess champion or to go to the Olympics, many people can relate to the idea of ​​feeling different and wanting to find their people. ”

Streaming Friday on Disney +, “Better Nate Than Ever” never explicitly states Nate is gay, but it is implicit.

“There’s a very obvious coming out scene to his best friend, which I wrote from the point of view of me at 13 years old, when there were certain words I wasn’t ready to say but there was a blooming identity that I saw myself trending toward, ”said Federle, a 1998 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School. “I didn’t want to put a label on it because we’re watching a younger generation embrace fewer labels and more possibility.”

The film’s timing comes after Disney was under fire for not fighting against Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which nebulously limits discussion of sexuality and gender identity in schools and allows parents to sue, alleging schools or instructors violated the law .

While Pixar employees accused Disney leadership of removing same-sex affection from its films, Federle said at the highest level of the Disney movie studio, he felt support.

“They were like,‘ Make the movie you want to make, ’” Federle said. “I wanted to show a journey of identity that was about hope and optimism and music and laughter.”

Federle was “disheartened by the company’s initial response” to the Florida law but he finds some optimism in Disney’s now-stated goal of seeing the law repealed.

“Better Nate Than Ever” was filmed last summer in New York with Westchester County used for filming Pittsburgh scenes.

“We scouted all of Westchester and I said,‘ Find me the homes that feel the most Midwestern on the biggest hills, ’so I think we did okay,” Federle said, adding that he knows Pittsburgh is a great town for film production but due to covid protocols and the need to film on Broadway, it made more sense to shoot the entire film in New York.

Federle did make some changes from his book for the movie. In the book, Nate lives near Pittsburgh in fictional Jankberg, Pa., Which is not mentioned in the movie.

The biggest change is the Broadway show Nate auditions for. In the novel, it’s “ET: The Musical;” in the Disney + movie it’s a musical version of the animated 2002 Disney movie “Lilo & Stitch.”

Federle said the change was both practical – easier to get the rights to use a title already owned by Disney – and thematic.

“‘ET’ is a funny joke on the page but ‘Lilo & Stitch’ has this thematic element, which is, ‘family means no one gets left behind,'” Federle said. ‘I just flew my parents in to come to the premiere of’ Better Nate Than Ever. ‘ It took us a long time to get to that place. I was kicking and screaming and wanting to get to New York and wanting to be on Broadway and wanting to get out of my family. And the big arc of being a grown-up is that now I’m so proud to have them there watching me do this thing. And because Stitch is an alien, which is how Nate feels like a 13-year-old theater lover – certainly how I felt in the ’90s in Pittsburgh; I felt like an alien in my own school and in my own family – I thought it was thematically very relevant. ”

“Better Nate Than Ever” is a joyful family film and as Nate, Wood proves a terrific discovery. If there’s any disappointment it’s the same as with the novel: “Better Nate Than Ever” ends just as the story gets to a spot where viewers will want to see what happens next. Federle said there’s not yet a plan to adapt his sequel novel, “Five, Six, Seven, Nate !,” but he has hopes it will come to fruition.

“My executives at Disney know that I have big dreams for this movie,” Federle said. “I actually think the timing’s beautiful because if this conversation that’s happening right now drives more people to watch something that has no lightsabers and no Marvel characters, then I’m a happy creator. … I want to make all the Nates out there say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m finally at the center of something.’ I hope this is not the end of Nate and Libby. ”

But first Federle is attached to direct “Sister Act 3” for Disney +.

“I see that one happening very soon. We’re still at script stage. And as you can imagine, with the various [actors playing] nuns who are so integral to the franchise, you want to get the band back together, ”Federle said. “So we’re juggling schedules and talking about all that, but I have really high hopes for that.”

KDKA news director to depart

KDKA-TV news director Kathy Hostetter, who joined the CBS-owned station in 2018 from WTHR-TV in Indianapolis, has been promoted to general manager of CBS-owned WJZ-TV and its associated media properties.

During Hostetter’s tenure, CBS cost-cutting led to Susan Koeppen and Rick Dayton being laid off, several veteran broadcasters retired (Stacy Smith, Paul Martino among others) and KDKA expanded its evening news block to include a 7:30 pm newscast. The station also saw an increase in its competitiveness in the morning newscast ratings.

KDKA general manager Chris Cotugno did not provide a timetable for when Hostetter’s replacement will be hired.

Channel surfing

Per Nielsen, viewership for Sunday’s Oscars spiked by 614,000 during Will Smith’s best actor acceptance speech after he slapped Chris Rock. … Cable / streaming network Black News Channel shuttered Friday and filed for bankruptcy this week. … Hallmark Channel’s “Chesapeake Shores” will return for a 10-episode, sixth and final season this summer.

You can reach TV writer Rob Owen at [email protected] or 412-380-8559. Follow Rob on Twitter or Facebook. Ask TV questions by email or phone. Please include your first name and location.

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