Interview by Asha Evins
In the wake of the 2012 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, many local filmmakers are busy taking their films to the next level—whether making the festival circuit or going straight to distribution. ALIVE caught up with one director from 2011′s showcase, Paul Wendell, to chat about what his feature film has been up to in the last year. “Bedlam Street” is a gritty, dark drama that follows a cast of interconnected characters over the course of one day near Christmas. Set in a nameless inner-city environment, the entire film was shot here in St. Louis and explores such themes as crime, poverty, race, religion, and family. It was screened at the 2011 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, and since then, the film has received accolades from Jim Uhls, the famed Hollywood producer and screenwriter for the cult hit, “Fight Club.” He says: “It’s good. The actors are good. The direction is good. The screenplay is good. From the first frame to the last, there is not an inauthentic moment to be found. And that’s, frankly, a fairly astonishing accomplishment.”
ALIVE: Everyone knows Jim Uhls for his script adaption of “Fight Club.” How did it feel knowing that he received your film well?
Paul Wendell: Pretty humbled and blown away. “Fight Club” has always been a favorite film. One of my producers, Jim Garrison, was able to get him a copy of the film through a contact. Besides his approval, Mr. Uhls graciously allowed us to use a quote from him to help with the promotion, and he is continuing to help in other ways. He’s also offered me a lot of personal advice and encouragement.
ALIVE: Why did you decide to choose St. Louis as the backdrop for your feature film?
PW: Living here made it an easy choice, and I wrote the script knowing the urban environment available around town. Everything was shot in St. Louis with the exception of the convenience store sequence, which was shot in Farmington, MO. The name of the city is never mentioned in the film because it’s not important. It could be anywhere, but certain neighborhoods in St. Louis provided the realism and grittiness I was looking for, and I knew the photography was going to be crucial. I met Hannah Radcliff after holding several interviews for a Directory of Photography. She was just out of film school at the time, but I immediately recognized her being the right fit. She had obvious talent and really got the low budget and gritty aspect of it all. Hannah nailed the overall photography and was able to capture the tone I felt the St. Louis winter streets would bring for the exterior scenes.
ALIVE: How did the story of “Bedlam Street” come about? Was it derived from any of your own life experiences?
PW: Specific themes addressed in the story are important to me, and they definitely influenced my writing. “Bedlam Street” deals with different perspectives over one day. A philosophy I hold is to try to look at things from different points of view before forming a definitive opinion.
ALIVE: Why did you decide to shoot “Bedlam Street” when you did?
PW: When I had the script completed, I decided that I was going to do it myself and not wait for a ton of money or the perfect circumstances. You can always find an excuse to delay or not do something. Plenty of people were telling me to wait or do something else with it or that I’d never get it done. I pushed all of that aside and jumped in feet first.
ALIVE: When creating the script for “Bedlam Street,” what themes were you trying to portray? What did you want the audience to gain from watching your film?
PW: I love the idea of leaving some ambiguity and room for interpretation compared to complete transparency to my way of thinking. I don’t want to tell someone what to take away. It goes back to my feeling on perspectives. After the couple screenings we’ve had, it was pretty awesome to hear the varying opinions and thoughts from the audience.
ALIVE: What was hardest part in making “Bedlam Street”?
PW: Writing is grueling, but there’s no pressure. Post-production is monotonous with some stresses. But nothing is like the actual shooting. So many worries like equipment not breaking, money not running out, bad weather, scheduling not getting flipped around, and not losing actors and locations are just some of them. There are a couple of specific incidents that come to mind. We shot this lengthy bar sequence where the owner wanted us out after just a couple hours because his wife needed to go shopping, even after he previously agreed on the necessary time frame. We managed to get another four hours and what we needed after pleading and playing the “one more set up,” “one more take” routine. Another was when we shot a classroom scene. The school location we had reserved cancelled on us just hours before shooting because of their insurance worries. We already had a bunch of child extras already booked and I had no choice but to scramble for a new location. I fortunately remembered the library where we held the auditions and a room there I knew we could make work. I got the library to agree, telling them we were holding another closed door audition in case they said something about insurance too. It all worked out. We also worked some odd hours. The convenience store sequences were shot at the E-Z Stop in Farmington over four nights when the store was closed, although the owner, Dean Bone, and the whole group down there were great. Everyone would arrive on set about 10pm and leave around 6am. I do remember blasting music to help with the scary, sleepy drives home.
ALIVE: Did anything unexpected happen during the filming of “Bedlam Street”?
PW: One night when filming an exterior scene in a bad area, a St. Louis city police cruiser pulled up. I thought we were going to get nailed for a permit or something, maybe like driving around South City in a fake police cruiser. Instead, one of the officers asked if he could still audition and handed me his headshot. That was pretty cool. It was less cool one time when the character Caitlin, a prostitute played by Julie Layton, was walking by herself while the crew was getting a far away shot, and a passerby pulled up and actually propositioned her. The driver quickly peeled away when he saw all of us running towards him in his rearview.
ALIVE: After winning three awards at last year’s St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase and being officially selected to show at the St. Louis International Film Festival, what do you have planned next for “Bedlam Street”?
PW: We just started the submission process to film festivals and distributors. We’ll see what happens. I am both loving and hating this part of the process. A part of me wishes I could just hand it off to someone to promote and sell, but everything is a challenge and I welcome it.
ALIVE: How is the filmmaking scene here in St. Louis, and how did you become a part of it?
PW: The scene is flourishing and has come a long way. There’s healthy competition and ton of talent. Some people I know well, some I just know of. One of the best things is that people always seem willing to help you with what they can. For me, this really rang true, because the entire very talented cast and crew of more than 50 people worked for free. All the resources for the film went towards the actual production due to our budget constraints. The catering was pretty much Dominos Pizza, and everyone seemed to be okay with that! As for how I became part of all of this, I’m actually a St. Louis transplant. I grew up in Boston and worked in New York, then came to St. Louis on a job transfer. My professional career is in IT consulting and headhunting, and I have a bachelor’s in business. Filmmaking is a more of an expensive hobby right now. My experience comes from being part of several local independent productions over the years, through self-education and my own “student film” I shot a few years back. “Bedlam Street” is my first real feature. I’ve always had a love for films, I’m passionate about a lot of ideas and views in the world, and I enjoy the creative aspect, so I guess it all seemed like a natural transition for me.
ALIVE: Anyone you feel particularly thankful for?
PW: Making “Bedlam Street” was an incredible experience and team effort. Something I’ll never forget. I’d like to express a huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who was involved. I’d also like to mention some key people. Our main actors were Peter Mays, David Martyn Conley, Julie Layton, Vinay Kamat, Sona Kamat and Ehan Kamat. They all brought something unique and special in their performances. Very important crew members and post production peeps are Jim Garrison, Hannah Radcliff, Roxanne Henry, James Ginoulakis, Andrew Lansangan, Chris Grega, Dennis Boyd and Stephanie Bahn.
See “Bedlam Street” for yourself at the film’s final St. Louis screening, coming up in late August or early September. Check out pitch20.com for details as they’re announced.