"We did anything we could to make this movie the best it can be because this is our big gamble," said Evan Glodell about "Bellflower," a movie he wrote, directed and starred in.
The film was made with no big-name stars or money, shot on the fly over the course of years. It's the sort of insane, heroic filmmaking that gives jaded film writers like me, beaten down by a summer of depressingly bland and timid blockbusters, some hope that cinema might not be dead after all. Whatever you think of "Bellflower" -- since the movie premiered at Sundance earlier this year, the movie has been polarizing -- it is unquestionably a brave and original cinematic debut by Glodell. In fact, it might just be one of the best films of the year.
The movie is about two best friends. Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) kill time drinking and preparing for a "Mad Max"-style apocalypse. They build flame-throwers and construct the ultimate post-apocalyptic set of wheels. "The Medusa" is a hulking, fire-spewing muscle car. During a cricket-eating contest (yes, a cricket-eating contest), Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman) and, after a first date that included an impromptu trip to Texas, falls in love.
This first half of the movie recalls Richard Linklater's early movies like "Slacker" and "Before Sunrise." In an unforced, thoroughly natural way, Glodell manages to capture all the grace notes of two aimless 20-somethings falling in love. When their relationship goes south, the film gets much, much weirder, spinning into a hallucinogenic fugue of violent retribution, aggrieved masculinity, and, of course, flame-throwers. For anyone who's been through a breakup that felt like the end of the world, this movie is for you.
Not surprising, perhaps, "Bellflower" was drawn from some of Glodell's personal experiences. "I went through a breakup that was kind of brutal, and in the wake of it the ideas just came to me. I was like, I want to make a movie about this experience because I'd never seen a movie that portrays what I went through."
People in the movie industry have generally trained themselves to speak to the press in easily digestible sound bites. Glodell doesn't. His answers are punctuated with pauses followed by a burst of jumbled words. But what comes across from Glodell is his conviction in his film. He spent the past four years working full-time on it. Over the years, he assembled a group of supporters who went all in for the movie.
"The movie was kind of everybody's project. No money ever came in it. It was literally like whoever had a couple of hundred extra dollars that's putting it in to keep us going …. It was crazy, it was an epic challenge."
This included getting naked, handling extremely dangerous weapons, and eating bugs. Wiseman, who played Milly, told me that she ate six fistfuls of crickets for the shoot. "I wanted to make it real," she said. She told me that shots of whiskey between takes helped her get through that day of shooting. That extreme dedication to the movie seemed like par for the course.
"We pulled all of our favors," said Glodell. "We threw all our lives into a mess. Some people quit their jobs. Some of us were homeless for a pretty long period of time while we're shooting so that we will be able to work full-time and not worry about paying rent."
Shooting "Bellflower" posed some challenges. The Medusa, which was built by Glodell and company, was not insured and not street legal. The flame-thrower, also hand-built, is wildly illegal. And, for a movie with a budget of a mere $17,000, getting film permits was just not financially feasible.
"Before we started we were all saying that by the end of this thing at least a couple of us will have been thrown in jail for the night at the very least," said Glodell. That fortunately didn't come to pass.
After a 90-day production followed by two and a half years of editing and reshoots, Glodell was ready to show it to producers and studio execs in Hollywood. They hated it. One producer advised Vincent Grashaw who acted, co-produced, and co-edited the movie to remove his name from the film to protect his career. Having bankrupted himself and his collaborators, the movie's chilly reception was a huge blow. At the premiere, Glodell said that he had "something like a nervous breakdown" during that period.
Now that the film was a hit at Sundance and has distribution, those dark days are behind him. It looks like Glodell's big gamble has paid off.
See this exclusive clip of "Bellflower":