Evan Glodell’s “Bellflower” is the sort of indie success story that many filmmakers dream of but few achieve. A first-time director and a team of unknowns make it to Sundance with an incendiary film that gets people talking. But approaching this film as the too-familiar Cinderella story does a disservice to what a film like “Bellflower” represents. “Bellflower” is the type of movie makes a film festival worth the effort. It’s one of those movies where you walk out of the theater excited that you’ve seen something special that no one else knows about. It gives you that sense of discovery and anticipation that are damn near impossible to find at your multiplex.
It is a grungy and uncomfortable movie; a left-hook counterprogrammer in a summer of studio products. And unlike its indie competition, Glodell’s film isn’t much concerned with exploring the cosmos or the meaning of life. “Bellflower” is a love story, with a flamethrower and a car that shoots fire. We can even see it as an indie take on themes that filmmakers like Hitchcock (“Vertigo”), Bunuel (“That Obscure Object of Desire”) and Lynch (“Lost Highway”) have explored, part of a long tradition of movies about men who are unable (or unwilling) to understand the pain caused by a breakup.
indieWIRE interviewed Glodell in January before the world premiere of “Bellflower” in Sundance. Now we are proud to present the New York premiere of the film as part of our 15th anniversary celebration with a Rooftop Films screening (tonight!) at the Automotive School in Williamsburg. Glodell tells us about his film’s peculiar production and the wild ride that he’s been on since the Sundance premiere.
“Bellflower” opens theatrically in selected cities August 5.
Four years of your life making this movie. What did you expect after finally finishing it?
We were just hoping anybody would put it somewhere. If it just showed up on Netflix and we didn’t make any money from it, we would be happy. The whole point after finishing the movie was to try to make something happen so maybe we could make a little bit of money that we could use to make our next movie. We would joke around, fantasizing about a theatrical release, but even then it was only in terms of New York and L.A. That was our unattainable goal. So everything is pretty awesome right now considering the effect the film has had.
So let me get this straight: you locked yourself up and wrote this script in a panicked frenzy and put it in a drawer for a number of years. How much has the finished film changed from that original draft?
A ton. The original idea was implementing the structure, with these two very different halves in one film. When I first wrote this film, I was really young and super confused and really pissed. When I put it away I promised myself that I was going to make it, that it was going to be my first feature film.
Years later, when I realized I just had to do the film without anybody’s help, I went back to the script and I was like, “Holy crap!! This is not good!” It was very one-sided, so I rewrote the movie. In the first version of the script my character, Woodrow, was a saint and Jessie’s [Wiseman] character was a bastard devil. The film’s tone changed a whole lot when I approached the characters and the story through a more honest perspective.
How did Medusa, the flame-throwing muscle car, come about?
Originally the two friends in the film were just building a flamethrower and then I went back and added the car just because I’d always wanted a car like that and it made sense. Those guys would obviously be building a car after they finished making a flamethrower.
So you brought in the car just because you wanted to have a car like that?
It goes both ways: I thought it made sense in the movie and I also knew that if we put it in the movie we were going to make it and not feel like total idiots for spending so much money on just making a car.
I just heard that the other car in the film, the one with the whiskey fountain on the dashboard, is gone!
Yeah, that sucked. That car got towed and impounded, the city wanted $1,000 to get it out but I didn’t even have $100 to my name. It was one of those times when I felt like I was throwing my life away — I spent all this time and money making this movie and now the city was taking things away from me. It was a very frustrating low point.
Fortunately, [co-star] Tyler [Dawson] needed a car recently and he found a very similar model on Craigslist for like a thousand bucks. It’s sitting over at our place and we’re thinking of retooling it to be either really close or practically the same as the last one.
The whole history of the production seems to have been a constant uphill battle. At a certain point, your entire production team moved into an abandoned office building until you finished the movie.
I used to work at a start-up that wasn’t doing so well, until I quit that job to go make this movie. They had a whole empty wing of the building they were leasing so I started crashing in there so I wouldn’t have to pay rent. Then I realized how much space there was and practically everybody from the team moved in there for the three months we spent shooting in the summer of 2008.
You got a lot of the talent from local theater productions, creating a sort of grassroots headhunting throughout the preproduction period. Was the film constantly on your mind every time you went out to see something new?
Yeah, especially for Tyler’s role. His character is based on my childhood best friend and he is such a strange person — he’s way too crazy to play the part himself, so that was out of the question. For a long time I was on the lookout for someone who could play the part and when I saw Tyler in a play, I knew it would work right away.
What role does your engineering background play when you make a movie? Is it something intrinsic to your work, telling stories through the devices you create as much as the scripts you write? Or are you more driven with crafting the narrative from the script stage?
I think I’ll always use weird stuff I make to shoot my films. We have things we’ve built that we’re saving for films we’re planning to make in the future.
You built a camera for one shot in this movie. You ended up using it for two or three, but you designed and built a camera specifically for one shot. Working on a true indie budget, that’s a near obsessive dedication to detail. Where did this attention to the look of your film come from?
I don’t know. [Director of Photography] Joel [Hodge] and I have been working forever and neither of us are trained in any way with any of this stuff, but both of us like playing around with cameras and trying new things with them. When I started building cameras I realized how much I could manipulate the image and it became this crazy hobby where I kept on building new things just to create more and more shots.
So after working on this film for nearly half a decade, what’s coming up next?
I have a series of scripts I’m working on and I don’t have a name for any of them. I can’t wait to get back to work, I go crazy if I’m not working on something.