Bored to death with Hollywood’s cookie-cutter love stories? We’re right there with you. And, more importantly, we’re here to inform all those who can’t stand modern-day romance films about the fire-spewing, blood-dripping, and unpredictably nihilistic antithesis: Bellflower, the feature film debut from writer/director/actor/handyman Evan Glodell.
Opening today in limited theatrical release, Bellflower is a homemade, truly independent depiction of one man’s catastrophic break-up; more of a psychological drama than an emo mope-fest, Glodell’s film conveys its emotional pain through a tricked-out muscle car named Medusa (which Glodell built himself) and an enormous flamethrower (also contrasted with Glodell’s own hands).
For a first-time filmmaker, Glodell an immense amount ingenuity, confidently weaving Mad Max imagery and a post-apocalyptic veneer (captured via Glodell’s self-made Coatwolf Model II optical system) into an everyman, we’ve-all-been-there situation. The California resident, by way of Wisconsin, also earns fine performances from an unknown cast of big screen virgins; Bellflower is as naturalistic as it is lo-fi.
If Bellflower isn’t the best cinematic love story of the year, it’s definitely the most inventive, not to mention the darkest. To better understand the madness, Complex caught up with Glodell to discuss the production’s do-it-yourself, permit-free shoot, the film’s long road to a self-afforded green light, and the dangers of walking down suburban streets while holding a gigantic flamethrower.
Complex: The idea for Bellflower first hit you way back in 2003. At that time, what was the inspiration?
Evan Glodell: I had just gone through a really brutal relationship and a break-up,. I was having a very hard time dealing with it, and, at a certain point, I started to come out of that fog, and I thought, “Holy crap! That was a whole journey—it’d make a pretty great movie.” I’d been writing short films and stuff, but once I started to heal a bit from that break-up, it dawned on me that I needed to write about it, just because it felt like I’d never seen a movie like it, one that really shows firsthand what it’s like to go through something like that.
What separates Bellflower from other films that deal with relationships, however, is the final act’s incredibly dark tone, which incorporates psychological horror and Mad Max influences. But it remains about the relationship, and that seems like a tricky balancing act to pull off.
That’s cool to hear, because that’s what I was trying to do with the story. Even at its darkest and craziest, I wanted it to feel as connected to the earlier, happier romance stuff as possible.
At first, it’s a calm, naturalistic, and even sweet little romance, but then, out of nowhere, Bellflower takes a hard left turn, with suicide, sex with a knife, and some other rather unsettling imagery. Was it difficult to find that tonal balance?
That was one of the main things in my mind years before we even started shooting. I needed to make sure that people could stay with the story and the characters no matter how insane things became—I didn’t want anyone to fall out of the movie once it gets really dark.
How much of the stressful, no-budget, guerrilla-style shooting process worked its way into the performances once the violence and darkness kicked in?
I haven’t really thought about that before, actually. That’s an interesting question. I’m pretty sure some of that played a part. I remember the day we were shooting the crazy kitchen scene, with that knife bit, we lost a crew member that day—the first time that ever happened. It was a result of the tension on set; everybody was just burnt out, and we were running out of time. We shot that in our friends' house, and they let us know that we had to be done with the scene in five minutes or else the neighbors were going to call the cops. I imagine that all of that helped us raise the intensity in our performances.
It took five years for you go from the screenwriting stage to actually shooting the movie. What led to such a lengthy road to production?
I started doing some work-for-hire stuff for a web company, making web commercials and stuff like that. And I worked on a web series for a little while, too. It was all stuff for-hire, though. From the time I’d written the script, I kept telling myself, “I’m going to make this movie,” and I actually tried a few times to get it together. I started casting, planning locations, and figuring out how I was going to make it back in 2003, with basically just a camcorder, and on a much different level than I ended up making it.
It didn’t come together, though, because I didn’t have the resources. It came to a point where I had to tell myself, “I can’t make this happen.” But as I was working for-hire, I’d constantly meet people and be like, “Hey, I’ve got this really cool script I’ve been working on.” I was hoping that at some point I’d meet someone who’d be willing to help out. It didn’t happen, though.
Life was going by, and I remember that I just looked around one day and thought, “Shit, five years have gone by.” And that wasn’t cool. After five years of meeting people who weren’t interested in helping, I just decided to do it myself, at all costs.
Was the plan from the beginning for you to build the car and the flamethrower yourself, or did that come out of budget restrictions?
I think that was always just the plan. The idea of hiring someone else to do those things was never really an option because we didn’t have any money. I’ve always been good at building stuff, and I knew that an ability to build those things was something unique I could bring to the production. I could build these props that’d make the movie a lot more interesting, and a lot cooler.
The cameras are a separate thing—that’s a hobby that I’ve had for a long time. Everything I shoot, I shoot on cameras that I’ve built, but I stepped them to do this movie. And I knew I could figure out how to build a flamethrower, and I knew that I could take a car and turn it into some kind apocalypse machine.
When I was a kid, I thought I was going to go to school for engineering, because I was always good at building stuff and I always played around, built stuff, and messed around. But I didn’t learn anything in college, because I was only there for, like, ten days. [Laughs.] Right away, I got to school for engineering and I had this idea of what my life would be like as an engineer, and then I left. I was like, “I don’t want to do this,” and that’s when I decided to move out to L.A. to try and become a filmmaker.