Most of the press surrounding Bellflower has focused largely on how you built the major props yourself, which is definitely an interesting hook. But, in your mind, has all of that taken attention away from the actual film’s merits at all?
Yeah, a little, but I honestly just want people to like the movie. [Laughs.] That’s the main thing for me. Some people have asked me, “What came first: the car and the flamethrower, or the idea for the movie?” And I guess that question is the closest thing I’ve been asked to an offensive question, just because the story in the movie is so unbelievably important to me, and the car and the flamethrower were just some things I thought would help the story along.
As far as it being gratifying to hear all of this talk about what I built? I guess it’s nice. It also makes me feel uncomfortable when people start talking more about that than what they think of the actual movie. It seems like an easy way for people who don’t like the movie to still be friendly with me. [Laughs.] Like, “Hey, that car is really damn cool!” Then, me, “Thanks. So what’d you think of the movie itself?” And them, “And that flamethrower is awesome!”
As strong and unique as Bellflower itself is, it’s hard to ignore the film’s gritty, self-made quality, though. Was there ever a point where you thought nobody would ever see it? That it’d just be this little movie you and some friends made that lives in your bedroom closet?
Oh, absolutely! [Laughs.] Yes. I just hoped that it’d get seen at some point for the actors’ sake. They all put in so much work. I’d been sort of pseudo-casting since I first wrote the script, so I always had my eyes out for the main characters. So whenever I’d meet someone who felt right for a specific part, I’d stay in touch. When the time came for us to actually start the production, and we were finally telling everybody that it was actually going to happen, the main four or five actors had already been close to the project; I’d already been talking to them for years.
Everyone in the cast, myself included, is in the beginning stage of their career, which made the shoot really exciting, and also pretty nerve-racking. Becca [Brandes, who plays “Courtney”] is the only person who’d ever worked before; if you to the local DVD store, you can probably find a few things that she’s been in. [Laughs.] It’s a blurred line thing, because I met all of these people as “actors,” but now, having gone through this intense and really intimate Bellflower experience, they’re more my friends than just colleagues.
Once you started shooting, did you have to adjust any parts of the script to fit within your miniscule budget, or did you write from day one with those restrictions in mind? Because you pull off some really intricate shots and elaborate sequences on what appears to be a major studio director’s lunch stipend.
[Laughs.] It never really changed. I always assumed that there was a chance I’d be making it on my own, but I don’t think I wrote it too much with that on my mind. We convinced ourselves early on that we’d bust our asses to find ways to make everything work, somehow.
The optical system that you built, Coatwolf Model II, gives the film a really lo-fi, gritty, and sort of dreamlike feel. What was it about the story that lent itself to such a singular visual style?
I’ve been modifying cameras and optics for a long time now, and building cameras. When it came time to make the movie, I knew what different kinds of looks I could get from all of the cameras that were already available to me and my budget, and then I also knew what I could execute on my own if I built the cameras.
It was frustrating at times, too, because those cameras did break a lot. They required a lot of maintenance, which, on top of having nothing already and working with tiny resources, a camera breaks and it eats up five hours. Everybody’s there trying to shoot a scene and it’s a big hassle. Everybody involved needed a hell of a lot of patience.
You shot the entire movie without any city permits, right? How difficult was that?
I was shooting while watching over my shoulder the whole time. [Laughs.] Any time there was danger of hurting a bystander, with the flamethrower or the fire shooting out of the car, we’d try to bring friends around to stand around the area and keep watch. People walking by probably thought they were official production assistants, or some kind of hired muscle, but they were just our friends helping out. But then, all of the sudden, there’d be police coming, so we’d have to wrap up, head out, and figure out a way to continue shooting as quickly as possible.
At some point, I’d imagine, you were walking around otherwise quiet neighborhoods armed with a huge flamethrower. Were people walking along the street freaking out
Surprisingly, no, but I had that in the back of my head the entire time we shot that flamethrower scene. That was one of those days that I thought the cops would at least come and see what we were doing, but they never showed up. So fucking lucky. [Laughs.]
The cars must have turned heads, at least. What inspired the designs for those?
A lot more thought went into the planning of the car than it did the flamethrower. The sketch artist and I were drawing all sorts of mock-ups of different modifications we could do, and we ended up settling on the idea of having the iconic look of tailpipes coming up through the trunk—I’d never seen that before.
The car with the whiskey dispenser inside of it wasn’t nearly as difficult to build. That was only a two-day project; we just ripped out the dashboard, painted the inside and outside, and just turned it into the ultimate road trip mobile. [Laughs.]
Do you still have those cars?
The one with the whiskey dispenser got impounded, actually. It was towards the end of the shoot; we had run out of money, and it got towed because I left it parked illegally for too long. [Laughs.] We couldn’t afford to get it out, so they ended up selling it at an auction or something. The Medusa car, though, I still have—it’s actually the only car I own. It’s parked right outside of my house. I’m actually a little bit worried about it now, though, with the movie coming out. I really don’t want to have get another car.
Last week, in fact, someone actually followed me to my house; I’d gotten out of it with a bag of groceries, and there was this car idling in the street. This guy gets out and yells, “Hey, what’s going on? I just saw this car in a movie trailer!” They followed me home just to ask me about the car. I’m really hoping that doesn’t start happening more now.