-Interview by Nic Brown-
On the last day of the 2008 B Movie Celebration a new independent film had its world premiere. The Writer/Director of THE TREK, Lola Wallace, was anxious about how the near capacity crowd in the Johnson County History Museum’s auditorium would react to her new movie. Almost from the start it was apparent that there was something different about this film. The basic story is one that has been told before of hikers in the woods running into trouble, but there is more to THE TREK than just that and the audience could tell. When the movie ended the room sat in stunned silence for a long moment, the audience holding its collective breath at what they’d just seen, before bursting into a standing ovation for the film! Anyone seeing Lola at the end of the premiere could tell that she was thrilled with the response and it had to be gratifying for someone who has known she wanted to make movies since she was 17 to get such a reaction from her work.
Like so many people aspiring to be a filmmaker, Lola went to film school. However, while that covered much of the theory and mechanics of the art, it also left her feeling that it takes a lot of money to make a quality film. Fortunately, she met fellow filmmaker and special effects expert Tom Devlin who showed her that isn’t the case.
Now Lola has three features under her belt, including THE TREK and she’s already started work on a new film project. She is also ready to talk with B Movie Man Nic Brown about THE TREK, what it’s like being a woman filmmaker in a male dominated industry, and why your first words as a child may be more prophetic than you think!
Nic - Lola, can you tell us about your new film THE TREK?
Lola - THE TREK is the result of a crazy
experiment in filmmaking that I began back in July 07. It's
the story of Keith and Kim Russell who are these two really
down to earth people, spending their honeymoon on a camping
trip in the mountains. In the movie, we spend the first day
watching them as they have a great romantic time with each
other. Then they wake up the next morning and the mood just
completely changes when we find out that there are savage
cave people who live in these mountains. I had been working
on another screenplay for a few months and we knew we were
going to need a much higher budget for that one, so in a few
brainstorming sessions we just came up with the whole idea
for the movie. But rather than spend more time writing a
different script, Tom convinced me that we could just
improvise the whole thing.
We made sure to cast actors that we knew would be completely dedicated to the part. We had made an outline of events and I spent time working with Erin (Fleming who plays Kim) and Brett (Hundley who plays Keith), discussing who their characters were, what they were like, their interests etc, so that when we rolled camera, they would have things to talk about, things that Keith and Kim would talk about. We went out and filmed in the woods for 3 days and we filmed 2 days on the cave set. We started cutting the movie together and we were loving what we were seeing, but it seemed that we needed something more, so we came up with the Unsolved Mysteries-style interviews to cut between.
This ended up working really well because we
got to have a way to keep learning more about these
characters by hearing what their friends and family think of
them. Also, it was a great part for Trent Haaga and it was
great to get to work with him again as well. One of the
things that was so great about making this film was that,
since there was no script, there was never anything being
CHANGED. We were always just finding things to add to it, so
there was always this creative freedom throughout the entire
Nic - It's hard to believe that THE TREK was unscripted. Are you planning to try that again in future projects since it worked so well on this one?
Lola - Now that THE TREK is done, and we're happy with it, it does seem like going unscripted again would be a good idea. During production though, I said to Tom almost every day that I would never do it again! There were a lot of pros and cons to shooting this way. Being on such a short shooting schedule made it even harder. There just wasn't enough time to do too many takes or to try different things. But that was also the best part about shooting this way, - to be able to let the actors surprise me. Right now I am working on a script for my next film, but I have a feeling that we will incorporate a certain amount of improvised scenes as well.
Nic - How did you get your start as a filmmaker?
Lola - I didn't realize that filmmaking could be a career option until I was 17. Growing up in the Midwest, I didn't know anyone who was a filmmaker, so it didn't really dawn on me that it was something that I could do. I was watching the Oscars that year and they did this segment showing the art department crew building a "miniature" Titanic. I had a total light bulb glowing above my head moment and by the next day I knew that I was going to study film production at USC.
I got my BA in Film Production at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts in 2003. USC was a great experience. There are a lot of people who will debate whether film school is necessary but I have to give credit to the education I got there, because I was able to learn about all aspects of filmmaking - and learn to do them professionally.
One of the things that held me back though was that since I had such professional training, I felt like I needed a lot of money to get any projects off the ground. I also graduated right at the same time that HD was becoming available and, as the artistic students we all were, thought that we needed to have this kind of artistic integrity and shoot everything on film. Luckily I met Tom Devlin about a year after graduation and he wasted little time in enrolling me in the Lloyd Kaufman school of Make Your Own Damn Movie.
In 2005, Tom and I produced and wrote LEGEND OF SANDSQUATCH, which was an ultra low budget creature feature that we shot on MiniDV. Making a first feature is a huge learning experience. I'm really glad that I did it on my own with a group of friends. THE TREK is my third feature and you can really see the leaps in progress from Sandsquatch. We had less money and fewer shooting days and made a film that is just on a whole other level.
Nic - What advice would you give to a novice filmmaker getting ready to make their first film?
Lola - It's going to be a lot of work and you are going to make mistakes. The best thing you can do is surround yourself with great people that you trust. Learn to take constructive criticism and learn from your mistakes! Be confident (or at least fool everyone around) and never give up! When the universe seems like it's trying to stop you from making your film, keep pushing through to the end!
Lola - I think the entire process is great.
When you finally get to sit down and just watch the finished
film, it is so rewarding to think back to when it was all
just an idea in your head. To watch how much that idea
transforms through every step and gets influenced by all the
small choices made by each person involved is incredible.
But that being said, I feel the most in my element when I am
on set directing my own script.
Lola - Being a director is a male dominated profession, in all genres. Like any director, I want people to go out and watch my films and enjoy them. So working in horror does mean the audience is going to want to see beautiful women get naked, but it also means that I get to have smart women who kick ass make it through to the end of the movie. It's so hard to do something that hasn't been done before, so it's my goal to at least bring a different perspective and to really heighten the emotions that the audience feels while watching the film.
Lola - Robert Rodriguez, Sam Raimi, and Peter
Jackson are largely influential because they all started out
making low budget movies on their own and now they are huge!
I am also very influenced by Baz Luhrmann, Tim Burton and
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, especially because of how visually
stunning their films are.
Lola - Mostly I watch movies! It's a good thing that making movies is fun, because answering this question makes me realize that maybe I spend TOO much time making movies! I love to travel and spend time at the beach. I'm also hoping to buy a boat one day because I love spending time out on the water!
Nic - Can you give us any hints about your next project?
Lola - We are currently trying to wrap up principal photography on HALFWAY TO HELL, which is the story of two friends who unintentionally make a deal with the devil while taking a road trip to Florida for spring break. It's full of motorcycles, monsters and mayhem. We are working very hard to have it done in time to premiere at the B Movie Celebration this September.
Nic - How do you think the internet is affecting the world of film, both independent and “big studio”?
Lola - I think the internet gives us all so much potential to do so many things. It will be interesting to see what starts to happen in the next few years. From Amazon and Createspace making it so easy for anyone to sell their own films online to sites like Hulu.com providing so much studio content, I think that everyone is really trying to figure out where they can fit in and how they can profit from it.
Nic - Can you tell us one thing about Lola Wallace that might surprise people?
Lola - My first word was "Look". I was born to be an entertainer!
Nic - Going back to your movie THE TREK, the film does have some intense scenes of violence. There has been a great deal of criticism of violent images in film. How would you respond if that criticism were aimed at THE TREK?
Lola - One of the things that influenced THE TREK is that there is so much violence out there that a lot of people are kind of desensitized by it. So we actually tried to create something that would disturb people who thought they had seen it all. But we also made sure that it wasn't just pointless. All the violence stems from either protecting a loved one, or getting revenge for what was done to each character's significant other.