Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Director’s Journey From Home Movies to Multi-Million Dollar Budget

Filmmakers share many things in common, but none more so than the passion for bringing their stories to the screen. Danny Wilson discovered his passion when he was given the assignment to write a daily journal in middle school. For him the tedium of what could have been another boring task transcended into a foundation for storytelling.

In high school, armed with a consumer video camera, his obsession turned to the capturing of family vacations and poignant moments with his friends. In due course, he was directing short scenes with his school mates who were often unwittingly cast in the roles he created. Writing, filming and directing provided eventually moved him to editing of necessity. Within a few years his home movies and shorts became more elaborate incorporating clever camera tricks and homegrown special effects. His friends and family tagged him “Dawson” after the aspiring director character in Dawson’s Creek.

His love for reading short stories and novels inspired his fantasies and his early characters. For Danny, there was not enough time in the day to satisfy his appetite for books. Conversely, and to his parent’s horror, he made no secret of his complete distaste for math. He was frequently busted for using math class as his time to read science fiction/action adventure novels. He accomplished this by placing his novel within the math book. Unfortunately that ploy only worked for a short time. When called on to participate in the class discussion, he rarely knew the question and was clueless about the answer. More books than he can recall were tossed into the large pile which also included confiscated remote controls, watches and rubber bouncy balls behind the teacher’s desk.

After losing a myriad of books, he decided to try another approach. He was a student at a Catholic High School and thought the last thing they would take away from him was a Bible. He had already discovered how many films and novels where based on biblical characters and narrative. His instincts were correct, and for the balance of his high school years not one Bible was snatched from him by a math teacher. The book of Revelation became the foundation for his vision of the Nephilim trilogy.

He could not think about anything other than developing short stories, and characters, to construct his interpretation of the weird universe he imagined as a result of his biblical inspiration. Eventually, he made his decision to dedicate every waking minute to not only telling this story all the way through but to do so in the medium of film. Thus began the long journey to directing Nephilim.

His first challenge became raising money to produce his “test” film, Darkest Days. Under the guidance of his father and other family members, he completed a crash course on funding an LLC, pitching investors and writing a business plan. He disappeared from the outside world for three months while he finished creating the documents he needed to raise the money. Another challenge was the time frame he had to shoot the film. He planned to shoot in Virginia, but state showed little faith in his shooting schedule and ability to complete the project within the state’s guidelines. He heard the word “impossible” from them so often he considered changing the title of the film. Key crew turned him down, cast declined to work on the film, and no one seemed to share his vision and level of passion for the project. After hundreds of rejections and hearing “impossible”, his solution was to train the cast on the equipment before he rolled camera. When they were not on the screen, they worked as crew. Any job an actor could not do, Wilson did himself. He was DP, Audio, Director, Producer, Writer, and Editor on the film. Many nights provided him less than two hours of sleep, but he was determined to not succumb to the word “impossible”.

In addition to performing multiple roles on the production, he also found it necessary to improvise his equipment. He took a trip to a local hardware supply store, with crude drawings, and within a short time he and his younger brother were welding parts for a dolly, crane, steady cam, and tracks. He also improvised the filming of scenes with camera special angles. He wanted shoot a scene through a car windshield but had no way to rig the camera. Finally, necessity was the mother of invention. Using rock climber’s gear, he strapped himself to the front of the car. On a freezing cold Virginia day, he got the impossible shots. This is not recommended for anyone else by Wilson.

After completing Darkest Days, his decision to create a trilogy was an easy one because the story he had in his head naturally played out in three parts.

Wilson completed Darkest Days and set out to enter festivals in search of distribution. Winning prizes at festivals proved to be much easier than capturing the attention of legitimate distributors. Darkest Days has not made many major sales, and the film is still in the red, but for Wilson the process proved to be a solid foundation for the Nephilim trilogy.

After nearly three years of working with producer, Susan Moses, the project has grown from notes and conversations to fully developed franchise project which has attracted award winning Hollywood talent, Warner Bros post production, high profile Special Effects, Visual Effects and CGI companies and dozens of extremely talented and experienced crew and production team members.

According to Wilson, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Filmmaking is his passion and his calling. He can live without a regular pay check, but could never live without the pressures, tension, challenges and rewards of making movies.