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One of the limitations often levied at the medium of cinema is that it’s a medium far more disconnected from its audience than more immediate art forms, like music or visual art. Whereas a rock concert or the sight of a giant painting can provoke an immediate, visceral response from its audience, a film works slowly and patiently over the span of two hours, and often only “gets at” its viewers toward the end of the film, or even after it’s over. However, there are a few balls-to-the-wall films that, executed properly, can have a kind of physical impact on their audiences the way a punk show might. Last year’s Enter The Void, with its POV-photography and drugged-out hallucinations, was one such film. The upcoming Melancholia (from Lars Von Trier), with its earth-shattering (literally) sense of impending doom, left this viewer with a stomachache not once, but twice. To this list of very esteemed cinema, we can add Evan Glodell’s Bellflower.prim
A gorgeous, wildly ambitious mess of a first feature, Bellflower is a relationship film split in two: charting the beginning and ending of a romance between LA hipsters Woodrow (Glodell) and Milly (Jessie Wiseman), as well as the semi-entanglement of Woodrow’s buddy and Milly’s girlfriend, it sounds, on the page, not dissimilar from a typical low-budget indie relationship flick. Yet that is hardly the case. Featuring homemade flamethrowers and a car that shoots flames, and photographed on digital cameras that the filmmakers “hacked” into and modified, Bellflower has a gearhead-esque angle to it that reminds one of the previous decade’s great nerd film, Primer. Accompanying the geek-engineering bend is a heavy apocalyptic tone; the film’s male characters pretend to be readying a gang for a forthcoming apocalypse, and as the film’s second half winds down, its style becomes decidedly dystopian.
Here’s a sentence no one ever expected to hear, ever: this film is Hannah Takes The Stairs meets Mad Max. I recently had the chance to sit down with Glodell at the offices of Oscilloscope, the film’s distributor.
Tribeca: You’ve got a film that is, on one level, a relationship film, and on a different level, atmospherically, there’s something very dark and apocalyptic about it. How did you decide to fuse those two styles, those tones?
Evan Glodell: There was a very specific relationship that I went through that kind of inspired the movie. And – I guess you’re asking this a little differently than I’ve been asked this before –
Tribeca: What do you typically get asked?
Evan Glodell: Well, where did the idea come from?
Tribeca: Oh. I mean, that’s maybe part of it, but specifically what was interesting to me was the idea of blending dudes shooting flamethrowers and a sense of impending doom with a relationship movie.
Evan Glodell: Man, I hope I have a good answer for you. Sometimes I feel like I’ve worked on this for so long, I sort of feel dumb and forget when certain things happened. I knew that the first half of the film would be romantic and dreamy, and the second half would feel like hell. The relationship I was going through was like that. It was like, a relief, a break from the real world, at first. Then, when it goes bad, it’s awful. The more you’ve got to lose, the sadder you’re going to be when you lose it. I didn’t want you to just watch people go through the bad part of the relationship; I want to make you feel how awful it really feels. All of the other stuff – their joke gang, the car, the flamethrower, that all came organically, from thinking about what would best represent what would be going on here, in their mindset.
Tribeca: It’s kind of like a magical-realist sort of way of getting at how they feel, internally.
Evan Glodell: I was having this conversation with someone just the other day. You know, it’s a movie, it’s never so cut and dried. It’s trying to make a visual representation of an emotional story. And my friend was saying, “I wonder if you should tell anyone that, because I’m not sure a lot of people get what that is.” And I said that I wasn’t going to tell anyone that, because I feel like that’s one of those keys to the film that people have to grasp onto, but you just said it.
Tribeca: When you’re doing something so expressionistic, how do you make sure that it’s going to work? Because it’s such a narrative gamble, to push things in that direction.
Evan Glodell: I guess I don’t know how I did it, but that was a huge worry of mine. I didn’t know if people were going to be willing to go there with us. It seems like most people have gone. [Pause] I guess I don’t have an answer for how. Intuition, I guess. We did a lot of little tweaking in editing. A lot of tweaking to get the second half of the movie to work.
Tribeca: It must be a wild writing process, especially for the end.
Evan Glodell: And when we were thinking about the end, that’s when we decided to make our own cameras. Because we wanted things to look so hyper-unreal. The visual thing, the progression of the visuals toward the end of the film… I mean, by the end of the film, it’s not an even remotely acceptable representation of reality.
Tribeca: Tell me about the cameras.
Evan Glodell: There were two hacked cameras that were basically for the first half of the film, our default cameras, and then there was a special camera for some of the later stuff.
Tribeca: Yeah, the look is extremely unique, the saturation of the colors, the orange tint that dominates toward the end.
Evan Glodell: Yeah. I build custom optics – cameras, basically – it’s a hobby I got into a while ago. I was working on cameras specifically for this. It was a lot of work and time. I was a beta tester for Silicon Imaging, the Si-2K camera. It’s a really cool camera. And [in] the cameras we used, all that’s left of the Si-2K is the sensor and the recording electronics. All of the other mechanisms – the lenses and everything – are all stuff we built.
Tribeca: Did you use a 35mm adapter or something?
Evan Glodell: That’s where I started learning. I heard about people using ground-glass adapters, and I figured that was a way to make my crappy camera look better. That was a long time ago. And my brother and I thought we could figure out how to make one. So I bought a bunch of stuff, hacked stuff up, and by the time I had made the first functioning 35 adapter – I felt like mine looked better than any on the market, but that’s probably because I built it to my aesthetic – from there, once I understood how that worked, I realized that this analog optical stuff can be taken so much further than anyone’s taken it.
Tribeca: Hearing you talk about that, it’s funny, it reminds me of the way the characters talk about, and then make, their flamethrower. You’re kind of a crafty guy, like they are. What was the story with the flamethrower?
Evan Glodell: The flamethrower, the three cameras we shot the film on, and the car, yeah, we did all that. I’ve always built stuff, and when the challenges come up – we need a flamethrower, okay, it’s not that complicated of a machine – it’s a huge tank on your back with pressurized fuel, you find a way to regulate it, put a nozzle on it and light it on its way out. I think the first version was built entirely inside Home Depot. That one worked, but it wasn’t quite cool enough. It was more about finding the right parts, the right look. So we tried a bunch of surplus stores with hydraulic and pneumatic stuff, old tanks, gauges. You’d dick through it and piece different parts together.
Tribeca: Do you see any connection between hacking into these machines, making all these really complex machines, and your interest in filmmaking?
Evan Glodell: In life, generally what I do is I flop back and forth. I’ll get an idea and be really excited about it and just spend all my time writing and talking about it. And that’s all I do for two months. And then I’ll be like, “I have this idea for this camera,” and I just spend a month building some camera. I don’t know what the connection is between the two, but I have noticed that those two types of things seem to be the only significant things that I do.
Tribeca: Do you think perhaps it’s that a screenplay or a film is something you construct, like a piece of machinery?
Evan Glodell: It certainly is, right?
Tribeca: I think so.
Evan Glodell: They’re both forms of creating. One is movies, the other is something physical.
Tribeca: I guess what I’m getting at is that, at a certain level, a movie kind of works. It functions. Once assembled, the hope is you deploy the mechanism and it works according to a certain logic.
Evan Glodell: It does what it’s supposed to do. Right, definitely. That’s how I viewed working on Bellflower. That’s always what it was… I wrote the script, we shot the film, we edited the film, and I remember thinking, “This part’s working, this part’s not working.” You fix the broken part until it takes you on the emotional journey you’re supposed to go on.
Tribeca: And it really did take me on a journey – I felt really physically affected by the film. Like I’d been through a really intense, anxiety-inducing experience. Were you hoping to physically palpate the viewer like that?
Evan Glodell: For me, that’s my number one goal. I feel like that’s a huge compliment. The first idea that I had, when the idea first came to me, was that no one had ever warned me about how brutally, unbearably painful and confusing having your heart broken is. You think life is gonna just work out. And the relationship that I was in – when it ended – I had thought, this was gonna be the one. So when that went down, I [realized] everything in my life is going to be harder and different from what I thought. That was the beginning of some sort of intense collapse for me. And I’d never seen a film that really took me through what it was like to be there.
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