Exclusive Q&A: Filmmaker Breathes Fire into Ultra-Indie <i>Bellflower</i>

What is? It's a road movie, a mumblecore/relationship film, even a weird buddy pic with some bitchy girls and that flamethrower.
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Actor/Director Evan Glodell's Bellflower makes for an auspicious debut, sort of. Yes, the ultra-indie created a buzz at Sundance 2011 and has done pretty well at the start of its theatrical run this month. The 31-year-old's debut feature snagged a slot at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. And it got picked up by a fine little distributor, Oscilloscope Laboratories.

But it was made on a shoestring by a guy who really didn't rack up all the indie chits or creds. He just hammered away at writing and directing this film, wrangling his friends into it, morphing his car -- a 1972 Buick Skylark -- into a death-dealing "Medusa" and crafting a homemade flamethrower. Amassed over nearly a decade, Glodell edited the collected footage into a 106-minute feature, and established an entourage to lift off his excellent adventure.

But what is Bellflower? It's a road movie, a mumblecore/relationship film, even a weird buddy pic with some bitchy girls and that flamethrower.

Or to sum it up, best friends Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) toil endlessly over Mad Max-inspired devices and vehicles to prepare for the impending apocalypse. Yeah, right. Until Woodrow meets a girl, falls in love, gets a gang and journeys into shifting patterns of love, hate, betrayal, infidelity and a bit of violence -- basically everyday fantasy life in post-millennial America.

Q: Is this mumblecore meets Mad Max?

EG: I actually didn't even know what mumblecore was until all the reviews started coming out saying, "mumblecore." I just last month got to watch a couple of movies that Wikipedia said [are] "mumblecore."

Q: Were you a fan of the post-apocalyptic film Mad Max?

EG: Oh absolutely, yeah. When I was a kid [and] I first saw that movie, I was absolutely obsessed.

Q: You're more Mad Max than you are mumblecore?

EG: It's definitely influenced by Mad Max, but it's not really like Mad Max.

Q: There's this weird, ambling social life within a little community of guys and girls, and there's this fantasy of creating the faux life through these kinds of cultural icons. You have found a way to put the two together. Would that be a fair assessment of what you were accomplishing?

EG: Yeah, totally.

Q: You could have done separate films, but you forged a relationship between the two. What was it about those two things that you saw as connected?

EG: There are a lot of different relationships between those two things. The main one for me is the two different ideas of the relationship that the character goes through that destroys his entire view of the world.

He's so devastated by the relationship because he thought that it was going to last forever, right? The obvious thing a lot of people have been saying about it is that would be in his world, so it's like the Mad Max thing.

But also the obsession with Mad Max, especially with the apocalypse, I've always thought has something more to do with people who are having a hard time fitting into the world.

The system in the world is so big, you know as a person that it's not going to change for you. So if the world's not working for you, the only thing you can really fantasize about is some kind of apocalypse coming and wiping it out and changing it all. You've got to reset it.

Q: That sounds pretty metaphorical. I saw the movie in a more literal sense. The guys want to live an ordinary life, but then they want to live their fantasy life, and they're trying to find a way to make the two work within a pedestrian world. Neither ends up working quite the way they think it's going to work.

EG: Oh, that's absolutely right. When I had the idea for the script, it came in as literally all those things, exactly -- except there was no apocalypse, no flame thrower, no anything.

The idea came in as the way the relationships were going to play out. There were the two friends, and then the girl came in.

Then they try to find a way to represent the character's training with the girl, and then him going back to his friend afterwards and trying to figure out how to deal with it.

Q: Truth be told, the girlfriend was kind of an asshole, the one who was really much nicer and cuter was the one he ended up screwing but not appreciating.

EG: Yes.

Q: Had that been your intention, that you wanted to convey that often it's the girls who get involved with guys that are assholes. You know they're assholes, they know they're assholes; the girl knows they're assholes, and they still go home with them.

EG: Yes. I don't think that was a key thing that I was trying to convey. But you're seeing that on both sides, right? It's weird how that works. It's definitely something that I've observed many a time.

Q: Where have you been on the spectrum?

EG: I feel like I've played all parts on all sides at different points in my life.

Q: At an early screening in New York, you did a Q&A, and it was interesting to see how the audience reacted. Do women react differently from men?

EG: I think so. Everybody in general reacts differently regardless of whether they're women or men. But certainly, I think there are different parts in the movie that women are attracted to more.

Q: What made you finally decide to add in the flamethrower and Mad Max car/geek fan obsession element? It added a twist to the film that would have made it much more mumblecore and far less merely an interesting quirk.

EG: Aside from the fact that I very, very strongly feel there are ways to tell probably any story so it's exciting, and a lot of that element is exciting stuff, right?

Q: Right.

EG: But I didn't know what it was going to be to make the movie. When I had the idea, I [thought] this was a really intense idea, and where the idea came from for me was most emotional experiences. So there has to be a way to convey that in an exciting and intense way in the movie.

The idea had come that the characters were building a flamethrower, and that just literally popped in my head. I was like, what are these two guys doing? They should be building a flamethrower -- I don't know why.

From there, I had to think about it and work on the script on and off for years after that. From that idea I had to decode it, like, why did I think that that made sense? And that's where the idea of the gang and the apocalypse and all that stuff came from.

Q: Nobody ever seems to have a job in this film. That was intentional, I'm sure -- why did you think that was important?

EG: There are a couple of different ways of explaining it. Basically, the time period that I was writing the script and the type of people that all my friends [and I] were, none of us had jobs that defined us at all.

They were all crappy jobs. One of my best friends worked as a janitor, and I was working as a waiter or any job I could pick up. My characters had jobs like that in the movie.

When I was working on [the script], during the period when I was refining it, any time anybody talked about money, work, the police, it made me cringe. Those elements just didn't seem that refined to me. When I had that realization, I went through and just deleted all that stuff.

Q: They were comic book and science-fiction film geeks, playing out their fantasy. Is that what you guys are about in a sense? Only are you actually making movies instead of just fantasizing?

EG: I'm some version of that. I never got into comic books specifically. It was always an obsession with ideas that came from movies and other worlds.

Q: Who do you think of as your models or mentors?

EG: I've been thinking about it and planning on making a list because I can never think of anybody off the top of my head.

Q: First one to come to mind, who's that?

EG: I honestly don't know. I saw [Stanley Kubrick's] 2001-A Space Odyssey for the first time like three weeks ago. I feel like I saw mostly mainstream films growing up.

Q: They have a flamethrower in the new film 30 Minutes or Less as well.

EG: When I was in San Diego, I saw one of the posters and it looked like someone was holding a flamethrower.

Q: Are you tapping into a trend or creating one?

EG: It's funny because our movie was shot three years ago now, so who knows, who's to say. Certainly everybody thinks flamethrowers are cool. That's why I put it in the movie, because I thought they were cool.

Q: There are flamethrowers in Captain America too.

EG: I guess I'm trailing behind the trend because of limited resources. Otherwise I would have unleashed it.

Q: Are you ever worried about anybody going and making their own flamethrowers, adding to the trend? I'm hoping they don't blow themselves up.

EG: I know somebody that worked on the movie has been joking around about that. I wouldn't say I'm worried about it. But certainly if I heard that someone had made a flamethrower because they watched my movie, and then blew themselves up, I would feel pretty terrible. So hopefully that doesn't happen.

Q: Go see the flamethrowers in Captain America. They were double flamethrowers. You might want to try the double flamethrowers.

EG: Like two nozzles?

Q: Two nozzles; one on each arm. Will you ever make another flamethrower?

EG: I imagine I probably will.

Q: You may be tapping into the zeitgeist that's out there.

EG: Yeah.

Q: Would this movie have been different if it had not been in Southern California? Would people have behaved differently?

EG: There would have been different elements. I'm from a small town in Wisconsin, where there's not a whole lot of direction, and I could see that entire movie playing out somewhere like that. Just some of the ideas would have been a little different.

Q: That's on the mumblecore side -- a bunch of people, relationships, the fucked up-ness of today's kids or whatnot. At the same time, there's also this kind of edginess that puts it in the same place as Hobo with a Shotgun. Where do you feel more comfortable with it being thought of?

EG: I didn't know anything about the mumblecore movement until recently. I watched a couple of the movies and they were good.

But I personally don't want to be lumped in with them, because this movie is not a simple relationship. It has elements that are unreal and larger than life.

From my perspective, I was trying to make a movie that was exciting and a whole experience, not just a clinical portrayal of a relationship, you know?

Q: You have elements of a buddy movie, a road movie, and a trippy picture. You've brought a lot of different genres together in a funny, weird way.

EG: I'm somewhere right in the middle. There are a lot of weird genre names now. I don't even understand what a lot of them mean.

Q: Did Pulp Fiction also have an influence on you?

EG: I've seen that movie, but I was very young. Some people are able to list tons of things. When we started making Bellflower, there was no point where I sat down with everybody and was like, oh the movie's going to be like this movie.

We talked about all the different parts, how we were going to do them, and then we didn't. It's not to say that I'm not influenced, because obviously I was influenced by everything else that everybody else is.

Q: If you could have found money, would you have cast your friends and yourself or would you have put in other people if you had it?

EG: It would have been the same main cast. I thought I was going to be an engineer. I went to engineering school when I was 18. I was there for about a week and I was like, holy crap, I can't live this life.

For some reason, right at that moment -- apparently it had been growing in the back of my mind even though I'd never consciously thought about it -- I was like, I'm moving to Hollywood to make movies.

And that's what I did. I moved to LA from Wisconsin. I knew I wanted to make movies.

It was very confusing to figure out how to get involved and what I was going to do. I didn't even know what a director was when I was 18. I don't know how that managed to slip past me.

Q: I guess being an engineer helps when you make a movie. There's a mentality of organizing yourself. Is that what allowed you to get it done? People talk about making movies, but pulling them off is a whole other thing.

EG: I am actually especially unorganized, one of the most unorganized people I've ever met in my life.

Q: How much did you know about using the camera, get the lights right and know where to put it and everybody?

EG: I got to LA and I'm such an unorganized, strange person I couldn't find work doing anything -- literally anything. My brother moved out here with me.

Some people I met gave me a rundown of how the whole industry works. I was like, "Wow, that sounds crazy, that sounds like something I don't want to be any part of."

I just got a camcorder and [my brother and I] just started making short films on the camcorder and on the computer. I made something like 40 short films and music videos and weird stuff, and that's actually what led up to making Bellflower.

The only reason I got any credit assigned to me is because when I started getting better at making short films, I started building my own cameras that had this really cool, unusual unique look. People started seeing my stuff and saying like, "Whoa, you have some kind of weird camera."

People started asking me to do work, and I'd be broke, so I'd be like, "Oh okay."

From my point of view, I was always just making my own things and they just slowly built up until finally I'd worked with the same people enough times and had kind of a crew. And it was like, "All right you guys. You want to try to make a feature? We're going to go for it."

Q: If people threw money at you, will you go the more mainstream route or will you stick to your guns?

EG: I will never be bought. If the movies that I'm going to make anyway go mainstream, that would be the coolest thing ever. But I have set up a plan that I've been working on for a long time.

Q: So do you see yourself as continuing as an actor or are you going to abandon that the minute you can hire somebody else in your place?

EG: I hope I don't have to act in one of my own projects again.

Q: Were you embarrassed to look at your performance or did you like it?

EG: I've been embarrassed the whole time. My performance was by far the shakiest of the entire movie. But also I spent most of my time on it in editing, because I felt it was important because I was playing the lead.

In the end, I'm happy with what we managed to get, but I still don't think I did a really good job as an actor.

Q: Since you have this very fresh idea of LA / Hollywood, which gets you more girls talking to you, playing the lead in this funky movie or being the director of it? Or do they come to you because you're either -- after all it's a movie about talking to girls, so I have to ask...

EG: Every time we have a screening I go and do a Q&A, and afterwards everybody knows who I am. So any time there's a party after a screening, all of a sudden I meet more girls and more people in general than in any other time in my life.

But I always see myself as the filmmaker. I wonder if everybody else sees me more as an actor.

Q: The two women friends in the film -- how has it been for them especially, the one who dumps you?

EG: That's Jessie [Wiseman who plays Milly].

Q: Did they realize that they were who they were and especially how nasty Jessie was? Did she like being villainous?

EG: They were very aware of their characters. I see it differently than a lot of people do, because I don't even see Jessie's character as the villain. I just see her as a part that she played temporarily in my character's life.

I don't know if people missed that or if I didn't really get it in there as much as I wanted to, but that's sort of what that whole weird conversation at the end of the movie is.

Tyler [Dawson]'s character [Aiden] is joking around about [failed roles]. But you think he's presenting an argument for how, theoretically, the entire relationship falling apart could have been my fault, which is sort of what the point of that whole scene was to me.

Q: She was saying, "Hey look, I'm this bohemian girl and you've got to play by my rules or you don't play -- if you don't like it then fuck it." And you want her to be something she really wasn't. She let you know from the start.

EG: Exactly. And that's the way I see it, because I'm sure that same character went somewhere else and played the opposite card.

Q: The film is very much about post-millennial relationships. This idea that college kids hook up, that they don't really have a relationship. It's not even an affair, it's a hookup, and what is that? It's just screwing around. Now you've got to give it a whole other term. It's interesting how things have been cast this way in this new generation.

EG: I guess maybe I'm just a part of it so I don't see it.

Q: In the '70s a woman could come up to you and go, "Where are you going now, come home with me," and that wasn't unnatural. It's now became more conservative again. Your movie addresses that in a funny way, colored by its punky Mad Max side. Does that make sense?

EG: It totally makes sense. I don't know if my perception of this is accurate or not, but I remember, even growing up, it seemed like there were trends and they were very specific.

But then when all of a sudden the Internet kind of exploded, it seems like now there are still trends, but not really. All styles exist at the same time now, it just depends on who, where and what variation of it.

So what you're talking about sounds like the exact same thing with relationships. What I'm seeing is that it just depends on what group you're in and who you're talking to. You can be conservative or you can be in the free love land or anywhere in between.

Q: So why should someone see the movie -- what would you say?

EG: They should go watch the trailer, and if they think it's interesting they should go see it. From my point of view, I [made] this movie, and tried to do it in an extremely honest way, even against my better judgment sometimes. I also tried to make it really interesting and exciting. So hopefully that's enough that people can watch it.

Q: How has making the movie changed you?

EG: More ways than I could think of right now, but I feel like I've been allowed to move forward in my life. From the time I wrote the script in 2003, and when I got off track -- and was like how is this going to go forward, I can't figure it out? -- I got stuck for years.

I was treading water and got really depressed. Doing this freed me from that. I had a pretty intense epiphany halfway through working on the movie, which sort of gave me a feeling of purpose in the world.

For an extended version of this Q & A go to: filmfestivaltraveler.com

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