Plenty of stuff blows up in “Bellflower,” but it is the film’s director Evan Glodell who explodes most brilliantly from his blistering debut, a dirty, torn valentine made on cameras the filmmaker built himself and told with the rawness that comes from personal experience.
Literally and figuratively, that may be the only safe thing to say about the film which involves two buddies (Glodell and Tyler Dawson) stuck in the middle of nowhere geographically and chronologically whose pent-up frustration manifests itself into the flamethrowers and the beastly Buick Skylark called the Medusa they create to combat boredom and the apocalypse (or as they refer to it, “Lord Humongous”). For Glodell’s Woodrow, the latter ultimately comes not in the form of a global disaster, but instead, a new woman in his life (Jessie Wiseman) that announces she’s going to break his heart only slightly quicker than the time it takes for her to burrow inside it. She’s right, of course, and that’s when “Bellflower” descends into the most epic onscreen breakup ever.
As it turns out, the only thing more combustible than the gas tanks that Glodell and crew used for “Bellflower” has been the response to the final product, which is either being hailed as a searing portrait of a lost and emasculated generation of men or a disturbing, misogynistic revenge fantasy. However, to reduce it to a one-line description would hardly do justice to the eruption of ideas that Glodell puts on display, especially in how he puts them on display with a visual style at once grand and literally golden with an unshakable yellow tint and yet intimate with fingerprint smudges and limited focus that warmly remind of the six years of sweat and tears that augmented the film’s rumored $17,000 budget. While at SXSW earlier this year, Glodell and Dawson discussed how they came together for the film, Glodell’s real-life obsession with mechanical objects and the whirlwind that’s resulted since the film debuted at Sundance.
Evan, were you interested just in gadgets or filmmaking first?
Tyler Dawson: Gadgets!
Evan Glodell: Ever since I was a kid, I was tinkering with stuff, taking things apart and learning how to fix things or building little devices or weapons or high voltage things. That’s why I tried to go to engineering school for literally like a week, then when I got there, it was like wait, this isn’t what I was supposed to be doing. That same day I took off, I thought, I think I’m going to make movies. I never had the thought before in my life.
Have you found those have gone hand in hand with each other?
EG: On our projects, they ended up working out that way so far. Because you want something and then you’re like wait, I can just make it.
Did your friendship really manifest itself into the film?
TD: I think it grew that way without us realizing it because the character’s actually based on Evan’s childhood friend who was his best friend growing up primarily, right?
EG: My friend Aaron Smith, who’s been like my best friend since I was a little kid, he’s a total lunatic. And I wrote this part, it had to be him, but there was no way he was going to be able to do it himself because he’s so insane. You can’t get him to concentrate for one second. So I was looking everywhere, being like how the hell am I going to find someone to play this unbelievably weird character. When I saw Tyler in a play, I went up and talked to him afterwards with the intention of casting him in a movie, which ended up not happening until six years later. But by the time, we were coming to shooting, all of a sudden, the character in the movie when I read the script, it was just Tyler.
Tyler, are you seeing flamethrowers and wondering what’s up with this guy?
TD: Actually, by the time we met till the time we actually shot was six years, so in that time aside from working together, we just became really good friends. When you’re friends with Evan, part of the thing is that you hang out and play with weird things and so he would build prototypes for the movie, so we’d play with flamethrowers.
You made all the cameras yourself, which is something that the audience can visibly see since there’s points where there’s smudges on the lens. It’s actually a great effect, but is that something that came by accident?
EG: It’s a decision that had to be made [since] that’s the nature of those cameras. I don’t have a cleaning room or an optical lab, so you’re making this stuff in your bedroom usually with angle grinders and that’s just the way they are. I’d always been stoked in how they looked, so I just kept building them more and more. Sometimes they have dirt all over them.
Does having that kind of camera set up change your relationship to it as actors?
TD: Only in the sense that oftentimes it wasn’t as easy as perhaps having a simpler camera where you could just set up and shoot. A lot of times, the camera would dictate things. We’d be all ready and you’d want to shoot the scene right now except the camera wanted two more hours, so we often had a lot of things we had to troubleshoot on set on the day of shooting. Definitely, it changed things a little bit.
EG: I’ve got a different answer for that, which I hope is reality. The cameras look so different than reality looks. They [don’t project] a real look. Have you ever seen the behind the scenes [documentary] on a really stylistic movie? And then you see camcorders shooting a big scene that’s super crazy and amazing in the movie and it also looks like just a bunch of people standing in a room? You’re like, “that’s really what it was like there?” For some of the actors and myself, you had to have faith in these weird cameras that they’re going to make the scene look special or unreal.
It’s unusual to have four editors on a film. Was that because you had different people coming on the film at different times?
EG: I dislike editing. It’s very difficult for me. At one point, we had thought we’re going to find this really good magical editor we haven’t met yet and it just never happened. So it’s me, Joel Hodge, who’s also the DP and Vince [Gradshaw], who’s the producer and John Keevil and he did a lot of things, these are just basically all the people that worked on the movie that know how to edit. Joel and John assembled the movie as it was written and as it was shot — that first cut was way longer than the script even. They were trying to help me keep a fresh perspective because I’m horrible with editing – like I’d lose my mind. So then I took it and I got it down to a little bit more, so we were passing…because we all were there working on it together, passing it around back and forth to help refine it.
Since the process was over six years long to make it, what was it like to keep coming back to it while other things were going on in your lives?
TD: When we were away from the film, it was mostly because we had to be, not because we’re focused on other things. We couldn’t be shooting for whatever reason, so when you’d come back, the passion was still there. It was like an old friend. Whenever you see them, you pick up the conversation and you haven’t missed them at all.
EG: For all of us who worked on the movie, there were probably two parts. I only had one part in my life because I was constantly trying to work on it. It’s almost like the more time it went on, the more time [everyone else] got to know it because they’d see a rough cut or they’d get to see sections of it and see it coming together. And I’d be like, I think we’d need to get this scene. And all of a sudden, everybody would be like, “okay, oh, that totally makes sense.” The movie was more real as time went on.
Were the days involving the flamethrowers or the Medusa car the days you’d look forward to most or were they the most stress-inducing?
EG and TD: Both. [laugh]
EG: I looked forward to those days, but there were some days when I thought we might be doing stuff that was too dangerous. All of the guys had so much faith in me that it was like they were the least scared and I was like, “One of us might get hurt today.” And they’re like oh, whatever, it’s going to be fine. But then once we were there, it was awesome.
TD: When we were shooting flames out of the car for the first time, Evan, who is always sure of everything, actually took me aside for the first time in knowing each other and was like, “I’m a little bit worried.” To me, that was like a death sentence. [laughs] If Evan’s worried, oh no. In between every take, I’m cheering for the car and then I literally would jump out and run away, just terrified. But those were the days that were obviously super exciting.
Has it been fun to bring the car out to all the events for the film? You couldn’t have brought it to Sundance with you.
EG: It’s so expensive to maintain a car, so we were always struggling, so all of a sudden, the more we worked on the car and I’ve obsessed [more] over it, the car almost represents any amount of success on this movie for me. The more that the car is running well and the more I get to drive it just for fun, the better things are going. [TD laughs] When we got into Sundance, my first , “Can we get the Medusa car brought in?” And the people are like, no, we don’t have any money. You can’t do that. Then when the movie sold, that was the first thing I wanted to do. It’s like the movie sold? The Medusa car is going to be riding again.
The car has become emblematic of the film and yet it’s actually not in the film that much.
EG: That’s been a scary thing for me. I try not to worry about it because right now it’s also my car – it’s been the car I’ve been driving around town.
TD: It’s his only car.
EG: I’m still working on it, so the car is still progressing. It’s got more crazy gadgets on it than it did for the movie. [But] it’s a little worrisome for me, like I don’t want people to see the car and be like it’s this fucking “Fast and the Furious 10” or “Mad Max 5” or something, because the car plays an emotional part. It’s an icon for the characters in the movie and it’s the same thing for me in real life.
Do you actually live in the valley? I do and I’m just picturing you driving around Oxnard in the Medusa.
EG: [laughs] Yeah, I’m driving around Oxnard or Ventura in the car because that’s where I’ve been living for the last several years and then I just moved back to the L.A. area, so I’m driving around there in the car.
TD: It’s funny. In Ventura, people don’t actually think the car is that crazy. [laughs] Just driving around, oh no, we see that shit all the time. If we’re in L.A., people are holy crow, what the hell is going on? Taking pictures and stuff.
Has it been an interesting feeling to have nobody aware of what you were doing and now having this much attention coming at you?
EG: Definitely. Completely insane.
TD: We literally lived in the middle of nowhere by ourselves for years making projects and working on this movie. All of a sudden, it’s awesome to get recognition. It’s very, very surreal. In a good way.
EG: I’m sure it is for everybody, but I got to a point where I wrecked my life so much working on this movie that I was into couch surfing for years. and for a while, I was living in my friend’s garage, which is not like a renovated…it’s like a garage. Dirt. Concrete. Unfinished rafters. And I was in there, that was the place I was able to hide out and be left alone and I was in there for a year, just with my laptop, editing.
I pressed a button because my friend talked me into submitting to Sundance and I just did it online, not thinking there was any chance we’d get in. So I was like “okay, upload.” All of a sudden, my phone blew up. Trevor [Groth] called, said, “You guys are in.” I was like, “Is this real?” I still didn’t know if it was a joke or not. All these agents started calling me and people wanted to buy the movie and people wanted to talk to me. I went from inside this garage to some huge boardroom at CAA and Sundance and have our movie screened. It’s been wild. But I welcome it in every way.
“Bellflower” is now open in Los Angeles at the Nuart and New York at the Angelika Film Center. It will expand into limited release on August 12th. A full theatrical schedule is here.