Theric: Let’s start with the history of WWJD? Where did it come from? How did you find it? How did the New Play Project production do?
Davey: WWJD was written by Anna Lewis as her BYU Creative Writing Master’s Thesis. The idea started as a poem (which will be published later this year in Dialogue), and developed into a play through the BYU Writers-Dramaturgs-Actors workshop, led by Eric Samuelsen and Wade Hollingshaus. My wife, Bianca, was a dramaturg and actress in the workshop at the time, and got to see the script as it developed, offer feedback, and participate in the staged reading when it was finished. She loved the play, and had been wanting to produce it ever since; so, when we started planning New Play Project’s first season with Bianca as Artistic Director, WWJD was one of the first titles that came up. I finally read the script and completely adored it. We decided to do it.
The show ran the last weekend in March and one of the first weekends of April at the Provo Theatre (we skipped a weekend for General Conference–who in Provo wants to see a play about Jesus during General Conference?). Tony Gunn did a wonderful job directing, we had a fantastic cast, and audiences loved it. We were (I think understandably) a little nervous about doing a show in Provo where Jesus skateboards, goes miniature golfing, and plays Halo, and it was tricky to market–the script might seem a bit edgy for the Deseret Book crowd, but it’s also pretty G-rated and really quite reverent. As is usually the case with New Play Project, our most effective advertising was done through word-of-mouth–our first weekend, we had audiences of twenty or thirty people, but by closing night we were playing to a sold-out crowd, including a few people who had come back for a second time and brought friends. Almost everyone who talked to us after the show told us they loved it. One guy told Bianca as he was buying tickets, “I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, I had to come see it again.” It was really an incredibly rewarding experience–the sort of thing you really look forward to in theater and in the arts generally. We had a good time putting it together, and it was a project I think we were all excited to share with our audiences. And we were even able to pay rent on the theater.
Theric: So I hear there’s a new production of WWJD happening in Salt Lake? Tell us about that.
Davey: Actually, I don’t think there is. We’re having a round of auditions for the film in Salt Lake, so that might be where you got that idea–maybe we should look at that and make sure it’s more clear. (Unless there is a new production in SLC, and I just don’t know about it, which would be awesome!)
Theric: In that case, let’s move right into the real point of this interview. Filming WWJD. Whose idea was this?
Davey: Last summer I was starting to really get into low-budget and DIY filmmaking–reading a lot of blogs, watching no-budget movies, and seeing how beautiful and professional a movie can look for just a few thousand dollars. With DSLRs and other recent developments in prosumer HD and with online distribution I think we’re seeing a shift in the economics of filmmaking that’s unlike anything in film history–it’s a bit like the paradigm shifts of Italian neorealism or the French New Wave, but on a much broader scale. So right around the time I was thinking about directing a feature in the not-too-distant future, I read WWJD. The more I read the script, the more I loved it–and the more I started to see it as a film. I thought it was a shame that our stage production would probably only be seen by a few hundred people at the most, and I started getting really excited about the idea of shooting it. I e-mailed Anna Lewis, and she was thrilled about the idea. I got started adapting it and started talking to some potential crew members, and things grew from there.
Theric: I can get why the script inspired you. I somehow came across it online (all BYU masters theses being online these days) and started reading it and couldn’t stop even though I had more important things to do. I look forward to seeing the poem and, I hope, seeing the film. But even a cheap film is expensive. Even with (relatively) inexpensive cameras and options for digital distribution, you still require hours and hours of people’s lives to make it happen. What kind of range (both in terms of hours and dollars) do you anticipate this project taking?
Davey: We’ll be shooting the first two weeks of August, with typical 12-hour shooting days. Our projected budget is around $10,000, about half of which we hope to raise through Kickstarter. Almost all of our cast and crew will be working for free, with the possibility of deferred pay if the film makes a profit or if we’re able to raise additional funds. I think we’ve been able to assemble such a strong crew primarily by virtue of the script–people are excited about the project, and it’s attracted a very talented group (and hopefully will continue to do so, with auditions for most major roles taking place this Saturday and next). We’re making the movie for (compared to most movies) virtually nothing, but we’ll be using the same kind of camera that was used to shoot movies like Monte Hellman’s Road to Nowhere, Lena Dunham’s SXSW-winning Tiny Furniture, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Rubber, some of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, and House‘s sixth season finale. For an example of micro-budget filmmaking, check out this featurette on Gareth Edwards’ terrific Monsters, which came out last year, was shot for $15,000, and features big scary monsters breaking things on location in Central America. It’s an exciting time to be making independent films, and I hope WWJD will show how Christian and Mormon filmmakers can take advantage of new technology to tell great stories that traditionally probably wouldn’t get funded. After we wrap production in August, we’ll be working on editing the film and sending it out to festivals around the country.
Theric: The reason I’m interviewing you about this project now (as opposed to next month or last week) is because of your Kickstarter campaign. So give us your pitch.
Davey: As mentioned, we’ve got a great crew, and this really is a phenomenal script–incredibly smart, funny, and entertaining. I really think we’re going to be able to put together a great movie. As you mentioned, the play is available to read online for anyone interested, and I think it speaks for itself. As far as Kickstarter goes, for those who don’t know how it works, it’s an all-or-nothing fundraising platform–which means that if we reach our goal of $5,000 in 60 days, we get to keep all the money that’s been pledged. But, if we don’t make the goal, we don’t get anything, and no one will be charged for any donations they’ve pledged–which means, as a donor, you’ve got nothing to lose. Every dollar counts, and we have rewards available at different donation levels–including seeing your name in the end credits of the film (along with your very own IMDb page!), season tickets to New Play Project (if you’re in the area), and copies of the movie itself (on DVD, Blu-Ray, or digital download–so if you want to see the film, donate to our Kickstarter and consider that your pre-order). We’re putting everything we can into the film, but we need everyone’s help in order to get it made. It’s just the sort of intelligent, thoughtful, well-crafted and engaging story that AMV readers (and fans of the “radical middle” everywhere) will love.
Theric: Well, you certainly know how to say what we want to hear. Folks, here’s where you get in on the action.