Shadowland - Director: Wyatt Weed

I had the great opportunity to talk with the Director of the film "Shadowland", which gets it's DVD Release at the end of this month.  I wanted to thank him for his time, and all the success that with come with this film.

[2vs8] Do you prefer to be known as writer or a director, which gives you better notoriety?

Wyatt Weed: I think my attitude and cockiness is what gives me notoriety...wait, let me rephrase that...
Seriously, I like being a director. Even so, I feel that the writing is a natural part of that, a necessity, really. I am always coming up with stories, so I write them down. That began at an early age, and has just continued since then. To be honest, I think any director who doesn't have some sense of writing and script structure shouldn't be directing. I also think that a writer who sells his script should then just sit down and shut up while it's being directed. If you don't want to suffer through someone else's interpretation, don't sell the script, or direct it yourself.
I would be happy to direct scripts that I didn't write, but I haven't come across many that I like. But please, DO NOT SEND ME YOUR SCRIPTS! You should practice your writing for years and then go through normal channels, because that will then give you experience as to how the industry works and you will have a better sense of what is involved. You can't just sell your script when you meet a filmmaker at a festival or a screening. They won't take you seriously, because EVERYONE tries that. It's too much of a shortcut, too much of a cheat.

[2vs8] How did this project "Shadowland" come about, and was this your first full length project?

Wyatt Weed: Shadowland was my first feature, but it was in the making for a while. Through the 90's, I worked on a lot of low budget films in LA with and for filmmaker friends. I was coming up through the ranks pretty quickly - FX supervisor, associate producer, producer, co­-writer, second unit director - and it seemed like I would be one of the next in line to get a film. But after a couple of failed starts and one pilot for television, I just wasn't getting a break. I was getting older (I'm 46 now) and it just seemed like my chance was passing me by. Tough to crack the glass ceiling when they think you're too old to understand the younger demographic...
So 2003 rolls around and my good friend Ted Smith got a film off the ground, "Guardian of the Realm", and that film was financed by his old friend from St. Louis, Robert Clark. I was very involved in Guardian, and when that film was over, Robert wanted to do another film, but not in LA. He asked if anyone was interested in working in the Midwest, and I was the only one who was interested. It seemed like a reasonable roll the dice, something different. Strategically, I was making myself a big fish in a small pond. I moved back to St. Louis in 2006, and we got into Shadowland just a few months later.
The IDEA for Shadowland actually came about while I was walking by a construction sight in LA one night. There was a huge hole in the ground, and for the life of me it seemed like the angel statues on the nearby buildings were watching over the hole. What were they watching for? What was in that hole? A demon? A monster? A mysterious woman? Hey, wait a minute, let me write that down...
a. If not please tell us about your previous works and a little about yourself.
OK, it Shadowland WAS my first feature, but I'm still going to answer this question...
I was born in Central Illinois, Springfield, to be exact, and I always loved movies. My parents watched a lot of movies, so I did too, and I really took to them. I was artistic, and my parents encouraged it. I always had a sense of story and drama, even when I would play with toys. GI Joe would have intricate adventures that went on all summer long, and I would invent reasons why all the other toys could intermix, even if they were from different time frames or scales. Other dimensions. Time travel. Experiments. I got very creative.
Obviously, I became a filmmaker. But I realized at about 24 that the Midwest, at that time, wasn't really where it was happening. LA was where the films were being made. Ironic that one day I would end up back in the Midwest, and that's where I would get my break...but anyway, I moved to LA in 1988 and did everything - I mean everything. Art department, models, acting, make-up - you name it, I did it. Except porn.
Some of my biggest credits were in FX work - Flight of the Intruder, Mission: Impossible 2, Guyver 1 and 2, Star Trek: Voyager, Jay-Jay the Jet Plane, Red Planet, and a lot of crap I won't name but that was fun to work on and paid the bills. My acting gigs were pretty cool - Star Trek: The Next Generation, Predator 2 ( yes, I was a predator) and a lot of other stuff that you'll see me in but that I didn't get a credit in. I still like acting, but I decided that directing was more important to me, so I shifted more toward that.
You know, I actually worked on a pilot for a series called "Sunset Beat" with George Clooney, back when no one knew who he was. I even worked on an episode of "Roswell" with a young Katherine Heigl. Oh my god, she was such a little puppy at the time.

[2vs8] What are some of the biggest struggles from page to movie, is it more difficult when you are the director?

Wyatt Weed: It is very easy to type something on the page like, "And then there was great battle", and not think about how that battle is going to get accomplished. As a writer-director, I'm always thinking, "How am I going to do that?" I try not to let that hinder the creative process, because you always want to push yourself, but you can't get nuts when you don't have millions and millions to spend. Even in Shadowland there were scenes where my vision was more epic than what ended up on screen. Hell, that's film-making 101, but it's also why low-budget films with too much vision always end up looking cheap - the resources aren't focused. They are spread too thin.
As the director, however, I am in tune with what my original intent was as the writer, so I can interpret and re-write on the fly, on the set. If something isn't working, or we suddenly end up with 6 men instead of the army I envisioned, I can adjust based on the intention of the scene, and try to keep the original meaning intact. It also allows me to see better opportunities as they arise, and take input from people on set. I don't have to run off and consult with the writer - I just change hats and do it right there, on the spot.

[2vs8]: Vampires have never really died, but with the recent success of the "Twilight" series from books to screen has given a new look upon them. Were you influenced to write a vampire story because of the craze, or did you write it because it was not a typical vampire story? Do you find people are more open to your film, because of the surge of vampire press or shunned of it for the same reasons?

Wyatt Weed: I have always liked vampire films myself, and I lean toward the more serious productions, like "Interview With the Vampire", which I think is the finest vampire film ever made. I liked the first "Blade" film a lot, and I have a spot in my heart for all of the old Hammer Films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. But as of the mid-2000's, there really hadn't yet been a vampire resurgence, just a new film or book every few years.
When I got the green-light to make a feature film, I had several scripts written already, but none that I could do really cheaply. Then I remembered walking by that construction site in LA, and thought I could turn that inspiration into an interesting low-budget horror film. But I was reluctant to do a vampire film right out the gate - there's enough of those, and I didn't think the world needed one more. But the story just screamed to be a vampire film, so I decided early on that if we were going down the vampire road, we would treat it seriously.
I actually began writing Shadowland in November of 2006. Twilight had already been published, but I hadn't heard of it yet, and we really didn't begin hearing about it until after we had finished shooting in 2007. By then Twilight had become a pretty loud voice, and you were seeing Stephenie Meyer's name in places like Time magazine on a regular basis. By the time we went to San Diego Comic Con in 2008, that voice had become a roar! San Diego was also the first we heard of True Blood. We were like, "Oh great - what the hell is this?!?"
The frustration is that we are a small band of people working with limited means, and it has taken us forever to get the film out there. The perception could be that we are cashing in on a craze, but the truth is that vampire fans are eating it up, so it really hasn't hurt us. In fact, we could never have made this big of a splash on our own, so riding the crest of this vampire wave has been really lucky for us. Awareness is really up right now.
No one has yet accused us of cashing in, but what does happen is that fans disagree over "The Rules". Should vampires be allergic to sunlight, or not? Should they be able to eat and drink other things besides blood? The rules go on and on, and Shadowland played around with them a little bit. Some fans are open minded. Others are strict, and if you don't stick to a particular set of guidelines, they reject you on principle. Average moviegoers just watch, and they either enjoy your film or they don't.

[2vs8]: How is the process of finding actors done, and how did you know you found your cast and your main leads?

Wyatt Weed: As with everything in a film, you have to have a vision. You have to see a character, and that guides what you describe to a casting director, who puts out requests for different types to come and audition. It helps to be flexible - sometimes you describe a character, and the casting director will think outside the box, or suggest casting against type, which leads to interesting results.
Then you audition actors. God, lots of actors. You see many who are horrible, then you see more who are good, but aren't right for the part. Then you get that feeling - it clicks. A performance that touches what you saw in your head, or a quality comes through. You get a glimmer, and then you see if you can coach it and draw it out of the actor further. Sometimes you just like and communicate with an actor, and that's huge, having a connection. It makes the work so much easier.
As for determining if I had the right actor, I must admit it was a different process for each one of the three leads. Caitlin was a slow burn - we liked her, and she transformed into the character as I re-wrote the character and worked with her. Jason's performance was good from the get-go, I just had to be sure he could be physical enough. Carlos was right from the first audition.
 a. First thoughts - Caitlin McIntosh?
Wow. A real woman. Spunky. Fun. Vibrant personality. Quick - read her for the lead role...
 b. First thoughts - Carlos Antonio León?
Could a man BE prettier? A gentleman, an old-fashioned, good guy. Thoughtful, educated. Very considerate.
 c. First thoughts - Jason Contini?
A younger version of me. I can't play the role myself, but hiring Jason will be the next best thing. Strong voice. Likes to laugh. GOOD karaoke singer...
 d. First thoughts - on any or all of the rest of the cast?
Don McClendon (The Bishop) - saw him in a play, thought he would be a great bishop, and was the only actor I ever considered for the part.
Dale D. Moore (The Pastor) - a great guy, but a really creepy character actor. He was the only actor we read for that part as well, and he freaked the producer out so badly that I decided he had to be the guy to play the part.
Donna Parroné (Mother) - Beautiful skin. Like porcelain on film.
Stephanie Kronenberg (Sister) - an old fashioned movie star face. Think Kim Novak, Grace Kelly. This actress could be huge. Keep an eye on her.
Bill Stine (Father) - Authority. Turn of the last century. You believe him. 
Brock Roberts (Cop) - fly paper for women.
John Bratkowski (Cop) - like my dad, only different...
Erin Callahan (Cashier) - How could anyone that sweet play BITCHY so well?!?
Taylor Louderman (Obnoxious Girl) - Should be on "Glee"...but at the time I probably thought she should be in the next Lindsey Lohan film as a competitive high school friend, something like "Mean Girls 2: Girls Strike Back".
Nicole Cummins (Obnoxious Girl) - Is it wrong to have a crush on such a young girl? She's just so damn CUTE! She needs to be in a movie where Robert Pattinson sucks on her neck...
David Martyn Conley, Jay Kelley, and Robert Nolan Clark ( Cook, Homeless Guy, and Digger) - all actors who I had known and worked with previously, these guys I cast for what I knew they could do. David can be very strong in a subtle role, Jay I've known for 30 years, and I can trust him with the tricky, thankless roles, and Rob can do funny and serious back to back, on the turn of a dime. And he looks like he could dig a mile of ditch in a day.

[2vs8]: How are the composers picked for this or any project? How did you get connected with Patrick Savage and Holeg Spies, and did you have any input to what the final score was to sound like?

Wyatt Weed: A composer should fit the project, should complement the feel that you are going for. Sometimes you use different composers for different projects, depending on the mood, but some composers are also capable of doing different things, working in different styles and with different instruments.
Patrick Savage actually contacted us through the internet. He was looking for films to work on, and I think he found us on the Imdb or found our Myspace page maybe. But when we heard his demo reel, it sounded so good we didn't think we'd be able to afford him. We got lucky because he didn't have a lot of feature film credits and wanted to do our project.
As for mood changes, Patrick works with a man named Holeg Spies, and Holeg has a different style, so the two are good team, taking on different parts of the film when it calls for a change, yet they were complimentary.
When I edited the film, I had certain music in my head, mostly drawn from other films I'd seen. I borrowed tracks from about 20 films, everything from Evil Dead 2 to Superman Returns to The Fugitive and Signs. I used a ton of James Newton Howard, and built this really complex temp score, mainly to give Patrick and Holeg a sense of tone and pace.
Using that temp track as inspiration, they would start composing themes, and we worked out those themes first - a main theme, a love theme, an action motif, a theme for Julian, the vampire hunter, and so on. They then started weaving those themes into scenes throughout the film, and started sending me temp tracks that I would place against the scenes, and test how they played. 80% of the time they nailed it. The other percent was me being picky, and I would usually try to speak in emotional terms because I'm not a composer and didn't want to tell them how to do it, so I would say "not dramatic enough", or "too militaristic" and then let them adjust accordingly. 
One of the scenes I was really picky about was when Laura walks back into her home town for the first time since she has re-awakened after a century of sleeping. I was really going for a tone, and I think Patrick did about 4 or 5 passes on that scene. We also worked a lot on the very end scene in the church, which is just a big scene emotionally. 
This entire process was done over the internet, by the way. We met Patrick once, and after that all of the time-coded footage and the music tracks were passed back and forth through FTP sites. Patrick is in England, and Holeg is in France.

[2vs8]: Will there be a score released for the film?

Wyatt Weed: We would like to release both a score and a CD featuring the songs from the film, but like everything, it takes time, and we just haven't had much of that lately. Hopefully those two CDs will be along soon.

[2vs8]: When did you know you wanted to be a director/writer? Who are some of your personal influences from writers to directors? 
Wyatt Weed: I started making films shortly after Star Wars came out, but there was a seminal moment where I was watching "The Making of Star Wars" at a local university in 1981 and there was a scene of the stars hanging out behind camera, just goofing off. They were having SO much fun, and the scene just stuck with me. It was great. I wanted to DO that, be involved in that... 
Directors? Classic directors that I really admire are John Sturges, Richard Fleischer, Howard Hawks, Michael Curtiz, Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Byron Haskin, Robert Wise, and Otto Preminger. These were directors who could tell a story in one shot, keep the dialogue moving, and weren't afraid to let a scene breath occasionally. They could make you focus on exactly what they wanted you to within the frame.
Modern directors - Spielberg, of course, plus Richard Donner, Danny Boyle, David Fincher, Martin Campbell, James Cameron, Robert Zemekis, and a few others I can't think of at the moment. I keep my eye on J.J. Abrams - I thought "MI:3" was pretty damn good, and "Star Trek" was just flat out great. I like Zack Snyder, but I'm not ready to call him a classic yet, though "300" will have a place in history books. I think "Watchmen" SHOULD, but won't.
For writing, I go back to Howard Hawks. That guy could make dialogue fly. Ernest Lehman was great, and of course, the amazing William Goldman. Re-watch "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" any time and listen closely. In the modern era, I learned a lot from television writers. "The West Wing" was some of the best stuff I've ever heard or seen, and that's mainly Aaron Sorkin. "United States of Tara" and "Glee" are both quite good, and that's Ms. Diablo Cody and Ryan Murphy, who are really cutting edge. "The C Word" is very good. "Californication" surprises me every time I watch it.
Clearly, I watch a lot of uncensored cable stuff...

[2vs8]: What scares you?

Wyatt Weed: Lawn darts. No not really, I love lawn darts...I think they should bring those back, the metal ones that kill...
What really scares me is deep, dark water. Try swimming two or three hundred yards out to sea with a mask on, looking down into the deep dark water off one of the Channel Islands near Southern California, where Great Whites hang out and have been spotted recently. That will make your stomach flip.

[2vs8]: When finding locations to shoot, what was that one place you said in your head, we have to shoot there?

Wyatt Weed: In 2005, I was scouting locations for a short film and came across an alley that was only about 6 feet wide and about 100 feet long. It was dark and gloomy, all old brick and wood and very creepy. I jokingly said, "We have got to come back here and shoot a vampire film someday", and we did. There was also a church here in St. Louis, St. Francis Xavier, that I REALLY wanted to shoot in, and we finally got permission. The scenes are beautiful, but the irony is that these scenes got cut from the film.
While filming how did the townspeople react to you taking over parts of their town?
Most people were great, and welcomed us with open arms. They were really excited about a film being made in their area, and realized that it might pay off someday, either through tourism or by other films coming through. One night we had a few hundred people gathered around, sitting on the curb, watching us shoot. It was a party. Most times people asked who was in it, took photos, asked when it was coming out, and if they could get a copy.
A few people hated it, though. They didn't like having their daily routine interrupted. "How dare you park a production truck here? Don't you know I drive this way every day?!? What do you mean, I HAVE TO GO AROUND THE BLOCK???"
Can you imagine being that narrow? It isn't like we were Transformers 3 - we weren't shutting down 10 city blocks and blowing stuff up. And we didn't shoot at any one location for longer than a day.

[2vs8]: How does it feel when someone asks you for an autograph or says, "Hey, I loved your movie?"

Wyatt Weed: It feels really great, just a huge dose of validation. You had a vision, and someone else picked up on it and understood it. They like you - they really like you! But it can also be a little scary when someone seems to know a lot about you, starts to recite your resume, and so on. And I'm not really very well known! I can now imagine what it must be like for a Brad Pitt to try and just walk down the street. Sometimes you don't want to talk about the film, but you have to - it's your job. You gave this to the public, and now you're out in public, so you can't be rude - people won't understand. You have to take the time and talk. But 99% percent of the time, it's great.

[2vs8]: How do you pick the next project and can you discuss it? What is your process?
Wyatt Weed: Well...I know what I WANT to do, but economics is a big factor in anything that has to do with film-making. I would love to move on and do either my Sinbad project or my real-life story about a police incident, but we really have to see just how successful Shadowland is first. If it is very successful, I'l be able to do either of those projects. If Shadowland is huge, people will want a sequel - and I have one in mind, trust me.
What we're learning right now is the reality of the current DVD market and that will help guide us into our next choice, by looking at what is selling in the market right now and what isn't. That won't be the sole decision-making factor for us, but let's face it, if we can't get people to buy a movie, it won't make money. If we can't make money, no one will give me more money to make another film. Art is great, but it is nice to earn a living while doing this. I think art and common-sense commerce can meet in the middle somewhere.
As for a process, it would be nice to just go after what I was pumped up about at any given time. But until I am more financially bankable, what I really have to do is look at what is available to me in terms of resources and see if it matches up with anything I have written. I hear a lot of people say, "Hey, I have an empty apartment and two actors who want to do a film". Well, that's great if you have a script for that situation, but I usually don't - my version of that would involve the two actors, the apartment, an inter­-dimensional doorway, and a demon army.
What I AM trying to do on the next few projects is make them a bit smaller - because I don't want to spend four years on each film I do - and I want to get some name actors involved. That will help us from a sales standpoint, and I think it would be fun to work with some name actors. If I can do a few smaller films and continue to be successful, then I'll start going back to some of my dream projects.

[2vs8]: Funny story on the set, that makes you laugh?

Wyatt Weed: One day about half way through shooting, we were all getting along really well together and hanging out eating lunch. We all started acting like dinosaurs, trying to figure out how dinosaurs would survive in a modern environment. "Sure, Tyrannosaurus Rex was king of the dinosaurs, but could he eat with a fork?" One of us would impersonate T-Rex, with his short stubby arms trying to reach his own mouth with a fork, and wackiness just ensued. It went on for the whole lunch - t-rex driving a car, velociraptors drinking from cups - and we laughed as hard as I can remember laughing. I spotted.

[2vs8]: Three words that describe you?

Wyatt Weed: Focused. Passionate. Animated.

[2vs8]: and last... A word of wisdom someone passed to you, that you would like to pass onto someone else?

Wyatt Weed: A WORD of wisdom? I don't know about a "word", but three or four phrases come to mind...
"Nothing to it but to do it." This philosophy covers everything, from the person you don't want to fire to the bad news you have to deliver, to just getting up off your ass and making it happen. Those words come back to me over and over in my life.
"Don't do business with someone who hasn't done business successfully before." Hard to follow, because sometimes you need to give people a break, and sometimes they need to give you a break, but generally, whenever I don't follow this rule, it all goes to hell in a hand basket.
"Form follows function." This is a design principle - if the thing is to go fast, make it long and sleek. If it is to knock things over, it will be big and bulky. But it also applies to business and life - if the thing is to be successful, then you want to be well-planned and efficient. If the thing is to be happy, then find a way to do what you enjoy and make it pay. Form. Follows. Function.
And last but not least, one of my favorites: 
"Memos are like bullets - and you don't want to shoot at your friends." This made sense back in the 90's when I first heard it, but it's even more relevant now. You can't blurt out something hurtful or angry on paper and just pass it along. That's worse than if you'd said it face to face. You have to be just as careful and thoughtful in writing as when you speak. Now, in the unaccountable days of internet talk back and blogging, people REALLY need to think before they shoot.

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