Talk about guerilla filmmaking.
The rough-hewn "Bellflower" from writer-director-star Evan Glodell was made for $17,000, half of which went to turn a '72 Buick into an ungodly contraption called Medusa, the ultimate flame-spewing muscle car.
It was shot without permits, using a highly illegal homemade flamethrower.
The cameras that Glodell used to shoot the film were hand-crafted and souped-up, with built-in dirt on the lenses and high-contrast oversaturation giving the film a distinct — and distinctively cheap — look.
"Did you ever see 'Hearts of Darkness,' the documentary about the making of 'Apocalypse Now?'" producer and co-star Vincent Grashaw said at a party this week following the film's premiere (which, suitably enough, took place at the resolutely unglamorous Silent Movie Theater in the Fairfax District).
That chronicle of Francis Coppola's famously stormy and difficult shoot, according to Grashaw, depicted events not entirely dissimilar to the shooting of "Bellflower." "The summer of 2008 was rough," he told TheWrap of the 90 days during which the movie was shot. "It's a miracle this movie got made."
"Bellflower" follows the adventures of a pair of friends (Glodell and Tyler Dawson) who breakfast on beer and bacon, spend most of their days drunk, idolize a badass character from the post-apocalyptic thriller "The Road Warrior" and have visions of ruling a post-nuclear wasteland by driving through the shattered landscape in Medusa.
Their alcohol-fueled fanboy fantasies, though, are disrupted when Glodell's character falls for a free-spirited local named Milly (Jessie Wiseman), who sends him into a downward spiral of heartbreak, violence and destruction both real and imagined — though it's often hard to tell which is which –when she inevitably breaks his heart.
The film wowed 'em at Sundance, picked up a distribution deal with Oscilloscope, and is released in L.A. and New York on Friday, with a multi-city expansion scheduled for next week.
The film is a ragged, uproarious fever dream of fire and blood, booze and sex. "Everything's a slightly twisted version of something that happened to me," said Glodell at the Silent Movie Theater screening.
Glodell wrote the script almost a decade ago but couldn't get it off the ground; while waiting, he made dozens of short films and assembled his cast.
The film was shot mostly in Ventura and Oxnard, northwest of Los Angeles, during summer 2008 with a catering budget that disappeared anytime Glodell needed car parts.
"If Evan decided to work on the car," Grashaw said, "we didn't eat."
Also complicating matters: a homemade flamethrower was used during filming, and a propane tank was blown up with a shotgun.
"I don't know for sure," said Grashaw, "but I think a flame-thrower would be considered a WMD and we'd be classified as terrorists. It would probably mean 10 years in prison."
After two years of editing, Glodell submitted the film to a single festival, Sundance against the advice of Grashaw, who thought they were wasting the $100 entry fee.
But not only did "Bellflower" get accepted into the festival, it picked up rave reviews and a distribution deal there. And suddenly, the Hollywood insiders who considered the picture uncommercial folly changed their tune.
"It's all about the context," said Grashaw with a laugh. "When we were showing it around town, friends at agencies would come up to me and say, 'Well, it's fun, but are you sure you want your name on it? It's not going to help your career.'
"Then when we showed it at Sundance and everybody else was talking about it, they said, 'Oh, that version is much better than the one you showed me before.'
"And we hadn't changed a thing."