Where did the idea manifest for “The Dark Place?”
Jody Wheeler: Probably from family stuff of course because I used to be a therapist and social worker. So, family stuff and thinking about my own family and thinking about my own family and families that I’ve met and how we are kind of stuck with our families. We can’t get rid of them and they can’t get rid of us so that kind of lingered in my mind. I like mystery stories characters that are a little on the rough side and that are called upon to be heroes and they don’t know they can do it. So I just started putting all those things together. This was actually a script that I pitched in Hollywood about ten years ago and people enjoyed. It kept being revised and revised over the years. Finally Keegan (portrayed by Blaise Godbe Lipman) kind of solidified his relationship with his family, solidified his super power in the context of the story. It was both a curse and a blessing.
You directed an incredible cast including: Blaise, Timo Descamps, Sean Paul Lockhart and Shannon Day. What was it like working with the cast?
Jody Wheeler: It was pretty amazing because I had to do very little work with any of them. They had great ideas, great suggestions and great instincts. I just had to make sure everybody’s instincts were directed the right way and they were all going in the same direction which is actually much easier to do.
What challenges did you take on as the writer and director of the film?
Jody Wheeler: My first love is a writer. Writing it is one thing and then making it come together is something else entirely. It is tough to figure out how to make films for the compacted budget that independent films have to do so you’ve kind of tweak your vision and pull everything in a kind of a compact, refined how do we suggest this without actually being able to show it. That is a tough thing to do. There were many set pieces in the original script that were taken out. There was another plot that was taken out because it would not work within the confines of what we had. That being said once we were able to find the locations that we did and we had some really great locations. That kind of opens it up and then as a director you’re working with your director of photography to make sure that you are taking the best advantage of everything that you have. Even on a small budget that you have.
As a writer what advice would you offer to fellow and upcoming writers?
Jody Wheeler: Flee, don’t write. If you can do anything else, don’t write. But I am not good at anything else. Writing is tough and it can be fun, it can be terrible it can be all of those things at the same time. It’s probably the worst lover and the best love you will ever have in your life. You’ll never give it enough time and then you’ll give it too much time. Then you’ll always be afraid that you’re not giving either/ or. You have to keep at it and you have to finish the stuff that you write, you just have to. That is why it is better to start small with a short story or a short film script then it to go right into your first novel or your first screenplay. It is just so much to do. You have to keep at it, very few of us are talented enough that the very first thing that we write is fantastic. For me I know it took years and years of writing. I think “The Dark Place” is about the tenth script that I wrote over a number of years. It wasn’t about the eighth script that I wrote that things started to be any good. You just have to keep at it. You have to steal whatever time that you can.
Do you feel that the family scenario is more realistic in this time?
Jody Wheeler: In some ways yes, I think that we can all see elements of our family in a movie like this. All of us have had the experience of having fights with our parents, a parent dying, some of us experienced a divorce. When you start putting all this stuff together that is when you find really good stories. Even when you go back to Shakespeare and Greek and older you can still see that people were talking about the same thing.
What challenges did you face on location and what can you tell us about the house in the film?
Jody Wheeler: The real fun thing is that the house in the movie is actually two houses and at two locations. The man who created the Solo Flex machines for people who know what that is. That is actually his estate. One is his estate and one is his son’s estate. We found those and so we did insides on one of the houses, no it was actually split up between both houses. So that caused some problems because when we shot out of location. If we had time or wanted to do something different we couldn’t go back to one of the locations that we shot out because we already paid for, used it and had moved everybody. Even though these houses were technically by each other you had to move people you know, a mile. That was a challenge to make sure you got everything that you wanted and got everything that you needed. At one point we had to split our crew because we needed to send half the crew onto a new location that was separate from the houses while I shot out another location.
What are you working on next?
Jody Wheeler: My company has optioned a book series called “The Dark Numbers,” dark just seems to keep popping into my life. It is a European book series and it is basically “Harry Potter” meets “Dr. Who.” We are adapting that into what looks like a TV series and so that’s currently being repped around town. I’ve written a straight up horror, comedy series that we are trying to raise financing for right now.