Thursday, 11 February 2010

Interview with Wyatt Weed: Part 3

BTC: Caitlin McIntosh commands much of the film with a performance of great conviction – and basically no dialogue. What made you decide to cast her in the role of Laura? How did you go about assembling the rest of the cast and crew?

WW: When casting began, we talked to all of the local talent agencies, and there are two or three here in St. Louis. We also staged independent calls throughout the city and at the local universities, just to see as many people as we could. We ended up getting an even number of people from all of these methods. Basically, we were our own casting directors. We also discussed attaching a "name" to the production, but basically couldn't get to one, so we let that go. We've since learned how to get in touch with these people.

Caitlin - what a find she was. She came from the main agency here, Talent Plus, and she actually came in to read for the part of a 17 year old girl, but when she walked in, she CLEARLY wasn't 17!! She was very healthy and buxom and in her 20's. What had happened was that she had a very old headshot that hadn't been updated, so she came in dressed like a kid, her hair all poofy. We immediately gave her the pages for the Laura audition and had her read for that part instead.

Full disclosure - her audition didn't blow my doors off, but we really liked her, as a person. She had been a former beauty queen, literally, and she had done a lot of dance and stage performing, some of it in big Sesame Street costumes. She was also into fitness competition, so she was, in a visual sense, one of the most striking people I'd ever seen.

After auditioning all of the actresses, I reviewed the tapes over and over and just kept coming back to Caitlin. I met with her again at a coffee shop to talk, and this time she knew what she was going for - she showed up with her hair down, and when she took off her jacket she had a black tank top on and her muscles were very visible. She was serious and prepared and ready to go, really ready to ditch her beauty queen status and rough it.

Some actresses we had talked to balked at the idea of being, gasp, unattractive for part of the film, covered in mud and bruises. Caitlin couldn't care less. She was actually looking forward to the idea of not having to be pretty and poised every second of the day. We arranged a second, lengthy audition that included doing several full scenes, and that clinched it right there. She never let me down once, and she's still just a great girl who, despite her looks, is really down to earth and kind of a nut, just a little bit off to the left.

Most of the rest of the cast was either people I knew and trusted that I had worked with before, or people we found through our casting process. One thing we tried to do was not cast all of the beautiful, shiny people. We tried to cast actors who looked real and were age appropriate. I didn't want this to look like an episode of "Dawson's Creek".

It should be noted that our male lead, Jason Contini, was found through the internet! We found his Myspace page and after looking at his pictures and reading his likes and preferences, I had a feeling he was the one to play Julian, and he was. Carlos Leon, who had the perfect "handsome leading man" headshot, turned out to be Venezuelan, which I hadn't planned for, but once we read him, I thought, what the heck, let the vampire who bites Laura be a Venezuelan vampire! David Martyn Conley is such a good actor I feel compelled to put him in anything I can, and he always does a great job. He's a filmmaker himself, and as I mentioned earlier, did the fight choreography in the alley.

Also, there was only one actor who ever read for the part of the Pastor in 1897, and that was Dale Moore. He nailed it, gave everyone the creeps, and when I asked our producer Gayle what she thought of him, she just shivered. I said, "Perfect! Cast him!!"


BTC: Are there any ideas and themes you find yourself returning to explore throughout your work as a writer and a filmmaker?

WW
: I am always fascinated with the normal day that goes askew, with the seemingly average situation that turns out to be anything but. I like supernatural and sci-fi elements for that reason, because they allow you to show that there is a creepy, darker underbelly to an otherwise sunny and beautiful day.

More than that, though, I'm drawn to the larger than life, mythic characters with back stories that have implied detail beyond what they are on the surface. I don't mean Ulysses, but characters like Rick in Casablanca, Cary Grant's characters from any of his films, James Stewart's from any of his, and so on. These characters were reflecting the average person's daily concerns or struggles, but doing it on a bigger, more dramatic canvas. They were mythic and flawed. That's a character you can get behind. I like my cinema just a bit larger than real life.

I realize that I also am drawn to strong female characters. I've been attracted to strong women my whole life, which hasn't always worked out personally, but in terms of films, strong women are very entertaining. I'm comfortable with strong women, and I'm not threatened by them. I think Laura would be a great girlfriend, if it weren't for that whole bloodsucking thing...


BTC: Are you a fan of horror films? What do you think of contemporary horror cinema?

WW: I love horror films, but I tend toward the classics more - "The Haunting", "Psycho", and "Jaws", films that work on your imagination as much as what you actually saw. In more modern films, the effects are getting in the way, and they are just too hip for their own good, trying to scare you or shock you with more and more graphic images. No one THINKS about these things anymore, or conversely, operates from their gut instinct. It's all become too calculated, and that doesn't work when it comes to horror. You can plan it out, but it still has to come from a place in your gut that says, "Oooo, that's scary...".

There have been a few bright spots in recent cinema. The first "Saw" film was quite creepy and well done, but the sequels just kept re-hashing the wrong things. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is genius, but none of the sequels captured the tone of that first one. "Poltergeist" was pretty in-your-face, but it was just so damn well done. I loved, loved, LOVED "The Ring", and think it really understood what creepy and tension were all about. "Seven" and "Silence of the Lambs" are fantastic, fantastic films, but I'm not sure if they are horror, strictly speaking.

On the vampire front, I love all things Hammer Horror, especially the films that starred Chris Lee and Peter Cushing. Those films were formative for me, and that inspiration is evident in Shadowland. Despite that, I think the finest vampire film ever made is "Interview", in 1994. that film had it all - acting, production value, style, script. It was the total package. "Fright Night" is a great reinvention of the genre, with a dark sense of humor and quirkiness that elevated it. "Blade" was another great modern reinvention, one with a larger than life, mythic character at the center.

Other modern vampire films have failed because they are too harsh, films like "30 Days of Night". Great idea, but too much in-your-face gore and not enough creepy. I liked "Underworld", and it made me a fan of Kate Beckinsale, but I'm still not sure what some of the story was about. It also bordered on being too artsy, and that can be distracting, artsy camera work for camera works' sake. Number 2 and 3 in that series WERE too artsy.


BTC: Who or what has inspired you most as a filmmaker?

WW: I was born in 1964, and grew up in great old movie palaces during a really amazing golden age of cinema, before the multiplexes. I saw "2001" and "Planet of the Apes" in a theatre when they were released. I saw "The Green Slime" and "The Cowboys" at The Route 66 Drive In. I saw all of the great studio maverick films of the 70's - "The French Connection", "The Godfather", "The Exorcist", "Taxi Driver", and "The Deer Hunter". All of those films were gritty, exciting, inexpensive by today's standards, and yet they were all ABOUT something. They literally could satisfy on all levels.

This brought about an early love of film history - how did they make King Kong? How was that shark able to swim around and ram a real boat in Jaws? I went to book stores, libraries, anywhere I could to get the answers. This was also a good time for American television - the late nights were filled with old classic films, and the ABC Sunday Night Movie, a huge phenomena here, was showing the greats that I had missed - The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, The Great Escape, and every other Cinemascope studio classic.

But really, the critical moment, the punch that just knocked me out came in 1977, the year that "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters" hit within about 6 months of each other. By spring of 1978 I had borrowed an old Super 8 camera, started shooting movies, and really haven't looked back since. To say that Spielberg and Lucas were my inspirations is partially true, but more than anything I would say it was an overall feeling that films had and generated at that time. They had a sense of wonder, and my day was better every time I came out of a theatre.

"Star Wars" and "Close Encounters" ignited something that set me on a path to researching and discovering films of all types, and so my film language was really formed by studying films that were made, primarily, from the 50's through the 80's.

This all relates to what I was saying earlier about "mythic" elements, especially when it comes to "Star Wars" and the broad strokes that film used, even as it lavished detail into every little corner of the frame. Also, if you look at "Close Encounters", it is the epitome of what I was saying about the creepy things that lurk beneath an average day: you can be a lineman working in rural Indiana or a single mother raising you child in the country, but without warning you could come face to face with aliens who disrupt everything you ever knew and trusted.


BTC: You received an award from the Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival in Belfast last year for Best Director. How did it feel to have your work recognized like this?

WW: This whole Shadowland experience has been as good as I possibly could have hoped for. To be honoured, for the second time, with a directing award, plus the fact that it came from an overseas festival, was the greatest vindication. Not only did my peers like it, the WORLD liked it! I felt like Sally Fields. They like me, they really like me.


BTC: What does the future hold for you? Any future projects you can tell me about?

WW: Honestly, so much of it depends on how Shadowland does right out the gate on DVD and Pay-Per-View. It has done well at festivals and at a few theatres, but if it doesn't make bank when it's released, we won't have a lot of choices going into our next project. We'll practically have to start over from scratch.

On the other hand, I believe Shadowland will do pretty well. I don't expect it to re-invent the wheel or cure cancer, but I think genre fans will get it and like it. Based on that, I would love to do another couple of low-budget films in a very retro style. We recently did a promo for The St. Louis International Film Festival, and we did it in the style of a 1950's science fiction film, and it was a blast. To mimic that style seriously and not do it as a parody was really satisfying, very freeing creatively. This has lead me to the idea of doing a Sinbad-type film in the style of the Charles H. Schneer and Ray Harryhausen films, very much like "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad". I would also like to do an intimate horror-thriller in the style of a 1970's film, kind of like "Carrie" or "Jaws".

I have piles of scripts and even more ideas, of all types and genres, but I think I need to get these two projects out of my system. If that changes, I'll let you know. It could just as easily end up being a John Hughes-type comedy set in the 80's. Seriously!


Part I of interview

Part II of interview

Shadowland is released on the Yellow Fever DVD Label in May...

Read the review of Shadowland here...

3 comments:

Craig Smith said...

Great interview James!

Mykal said...

James: What an interesting film maker is revealed here! James, you have done yourself proud - all so many fathoms deeper than 98% of the blogosphere. The absolute horror of the movie blogosphere is that there is so sooooo much drek that quality can be hidden. But cream will always rise, given time. -- Mykal

James said...

Thank you so much Mykal! Absolutely chuffed you liked the interview - Wyatt is indeed an interesting guy. To say he is passionate about filmmaking is kind of a vast understatement as I'm sure you can fathom from the interview!
Thanks for your kind words - you've really made my day. I hope all is well with you. ;o)