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Interview: Evan Glodell on the Making of Bellflower

Bellflower instills a series of distrusting traumatic memories within a crumbling universe of mechanized poetry.

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Interview: Evan Glodell on the Making of Bellflower
Photo: Coatwolf Productions

Ever since it premiered at Sundance in January, Evan Glodell’s Bellflower keeps reminding critics and festival audiences alike that there’s a powerful electric charge still thriving in modern independent American cinema. Shot on a shoestring budget using intricate cameras and rigs created by Glodell and his crew, Bellflower instills a series of distrusting traumatic memories within a crumbling universe of mechanized poetry. Narrative closure doesn’t exist, and we get a mosaic of many different human apocalypses emerging from a fractured narrative where the domineering masculinity of the Mad Max mythology rests alongside the potential tenderness of a flowering romance. This creates a collectively foggy point of view for heightened characters on the cusp of self-destruction, an approach where plenty is subject to interpretation. Do these men and women step over the edge into an apocalyptic oblivion? Crushing ambiguity such as this was one of the many diverse topics Slant discussed with Glodell during his stop at the 2011 Comic-Con International in San Diego, the last media stop before Bellflower’s limited U.S. release on August 5.

A mythological folklore surrounds Bellflower. It’s well noted that you made your own lenses, you created the Medusa, flamethrower, etc. Why do you think this resurgence to the independent spirit of filmmaking is so important to modern audiences?

There’s probably a lot of answers to that. One is that the film medium is one of those giant untouchable things that’s always been in control of someone you don’t know. And so, with all the cameras coming out and technology changing where theoretically anybody could make a film if they had the determination, and no matter where they were they could get a group of people together and make a movie, it seems very important. Kind of like the people taking the power back. It seems like on some level we’ve done that more than what is usually common.

Your film seems wholly independent with a specific vision, which I think is what modern audiences are craving.

I really hope more people keep doing what we did. I would like to see more independent movies that embody this spirit. I hate when you hear people saying you have to think about what’s your market, where’s your movie going to go. To me, that seems really wrong if you have to think about how you’re going to sell your movie before you let the idea come to fruition. For me at least, the idea isn’t even done until the movie is done. If you’re working on [a movie] and it’s growing and growing and growing, and instead you’re worried about how am I going to sell this, that’s wrong I think. That should probably come afterwards, otherwise the movie is going to suffer in some way.

Bellflower is first and foremost a love story. In what ways did you want to tweak the specific conventions of the genre when you set out to write the script?

Well, one of the first things that got me excited about the idea was that it wasn’t going to be a little character development at the beginning and then the journey was going to start. This intense character development was going to encompass the first half hour and we were going to understand the characters and the relationships and then the second half was going to completely switch. By then, hopefully you were going to actually care about these people.

When Woodrow meets Milly at the cricket-eating contest, she tells him, “You’re going to get your ass kicked.” This turns out to be a prophetic statement later in their relationship. Why were bits of foreshadowing like this so crucial to the film’s unique pacing?

The initial idea for the first half was supposed to be a memory that was twisted. Woodrow thinks the first half of this relationship was so good, and now he’s asking, “What happened and why did it go bad?” It became this twisted view, as if he remembered the relationship better than it was. In reality, you forget all the obvious things that happen in those relationships that tell you “this isn’t going to work out,” but you don’t want to see it. So you ignore the foreshadowing.

Throughout Bellflower, certain images are partially blurred, with one half of the frame in focus. How were you able to achieve this effect with your D.P. Joel Hodge and what does it say about the world these characters live in?

Two of the three cameras I built to shoot the movie with have a tilt shift built into the focusing mechanism, so you can put any lens on there and you can get that tilt-shift effect. The visual effect it creates certainly plays into that augmented version of reality, where you know that something is heightened. One camera we built just for a key scene at the end of the film just so it would look a specific way. It was supposed to be an aesthetic hint that you’re not supposed to take the image at face value.

There’s intricately designed cars and a flamethrower the characters use that are complex mechanisms functioning like clockwork. Yet each relationship in Bellflower ultimately breaks down. Can you talk a bit about this duality?

I believe every image has some sort of meaning. You can abstract the image and you find something complex there. It’s like dreams that you can’t quite interpret, but you’re subconsciously processing. I’ve heard a lot of people mention that duality, and I think it’s awesome. I never thought of it consciously, but it kind of organically came from the idea of the relationships working on the script. Another person, I can’t remember who, was telling me about the machines in the film failing, but they said the machines didn’t have to fail, because their job was to explode, and the same thing was being done with the relationships. It wasn’t that the relationships failed and the machinery didn’t, it was that the relationships blew up unintentionally and the machines exploded intentionally.

The Mad Max lexicon, including the image of Lord Humongous, looms heavily over certain sections. As characters, why do Woodrow and Aiden define their lives through such extreme iconography? How does it fail them?

Or does it fail them? [laughs] I have some simple theories about that. Obviously, the whole thing with the obsession with the apocalypse in general is that the world is a machine, so big and powerful that any one of us looking at it from the outside think that there’s not much we can do to change it. If the machine isn’t working for you, it’s like “Fuck you.” So, if you’re not happy and your life isn’t going to way you thought it would, the idea of an apocalypse happening and decimating the system, it would open up everybody to be human again. I feel like that idea is behind the fascination with the apocalypse and Mad Max. It’s like a reset button for society. I don’t know if that’s something we actually need, but I’ve thought about it a lot.

Why did you use heightened synthesized tones and musical cues in the second half?

I had an idea that there would be that type of sound in the second half but I didn’t fully understand why. I defined some of the sounds of the second half by literally downloading tones from free websites online, then laying them in to the soundtrack and seeing what happened. John Keevil [the film’s composer] was making stuff at the same time and sending it to me to lay in. So it came out of that process of working together.

For me, the iconic moment in Bellflower is the slow-motion sequence of Woodrow walking down a suburban street with a flamethrower strapped to his back. Can you talk a little about the overlap between order and chaos in this one dynamic moment?

I can tell you, even in the first draft of the script, that scene was always the key turning point to me. It was initially going to be all one take. The idea of someone walking through a neighborhood with a flamethrower, it was the first strong image for me, and it still is one of the key moments in the film.

Bellflower envisions many different apocalypses for these characters. Why did you inserted so much ambiguity and fluidity into the structure of the film?

Tweaking the last section of the movie took four to seven months, moving lines and swapping scenes to create this sense of ambiguity. I once tried putting the movie in order, and it didn’t work at all. It’s not about things happening linearly, it’s about the emotional idea and experience Woodrow feels is happening. So that’s the main drive to move the story, to portray what Woodrow is experiencing through ambiguity. I wanted there to be a certain amount of confusion in a way that can only get accomplished by spending tons of time with these characters, specifically Woodrow.

I responded to those gaps in between the moments, where crucial narrative events have happened off screen.

There’s a big section in the film that’s really left up to the personality of the viewer. I could give you my answer, but again, ultimately it’s not entirely about that.

Toward the end, Aiden tells Woodrow, “You need some better images in your head.” For you, what does Bellflower say about the lasting effect of emotional trauma?

The simple answer is, hopefully it will cause you to grow, think you can either let it crush you, or you’re going to process it and move forward in a positive manner. But it certainly changes you.

Now that Bellflower is getting a national release in the States, what’s next for you in terms of future projects and aspirations?

I’m one of those people who writes a lot, so in my head I’ve got the next 15 years of my life planned out, even though I know it won’t work out that way. If it does it’s there. I’ve got a couple scripts I’m working on. One in particular I’ll be working on when stuff slows down with Bellflower. I think it’s important to me to make each one of my projects as important to the people working on it as Bellflower was. That’s a big thing for me. In the long run I want to have my own studio, even if it’s a small one. I want to have a creative space that makes enough money to sustain itself and not have to always worry about whether things are going to sell or not.

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