Dave Norman directed the 2013 deadCENTER Film Festival movie Left of Center, one of two movies that proved so popular that they picked up an extra screening on the final night of the festival. Norman, screenwriter Brandi Jenkins and actor Jason Wilkinson took the time to talk with Renegade Cinema about their thriller and the excitement at its success in their home state of Oklahoma.
Tell me a little bit about how you guys got started making films here in Oklahoma?
Dave: I moved from Florida, back in 2009, to Stillwater. My job transferred me there, and when I got there I have always had this itch to make films. I am a videographer full time for a defense company in Stillwater, and I was looking for a screenwriter. I was kind of driving as I first got to Oklahoma, I was just driving down these roads and just sort of dreaming up stuff. Then I met [Brandi Jenkin’s] ex-husband who told me that she was a writer. So we got together and met and started talking.
Brandi, how did you get started as a screenwriter?
Brandi: I have always been a writer – you know it is just something that I can’t not do. So I met a friend a few years ago, and we wrote a script together, and that is the first script that I had written. We really haven’t done anything with that yet. I am kind of new to the ballgame, and we took Dave’s idea of a desolate highway in the middle of Oklahoma, and maybe some murders being committed along that highway, and then turned it into Left of Center.
So you wrote the script, while the two of you collaborated on the story itself?
Brandi: Um, somewhat but…
Dave: I mean, she wrote the script and I tried to motivate her along the way, but I had some basic ideas for a story. But, you know, she did the bulk of creating the characters and all the important things.
And you are?
Jason: I am Jason Wilkinson, I play the Chief of Police in the film. I met Dave through a mutual friend. I wasn’t actually going to be a part of the acting situation at all, but I helped them out with auditioning because they were new to all this stuff. So, I read against everyone that auditioned and Bryson [Baker] and I go way back. Bryson is the guy who plays the other main character in the film, and we did collegiate theater together. I have just done commercials and little bit parts in Oklahoma films like Pearl and Time Expired.
How long have you been acting?
Jason: Probably about six years. Bryson and I knew each other, and I guess they tell the story better, but there was something in our reading that the chemistry…
Brandi: They had really good chemistry together.
Dave: I am a first time director, but it was one of those things where you can see the chemistry right away and you knew that they had the talent – the raw talent – but the chemistry was almost more important. So, we tried to base our casting decisions on the chemistry with all the different characters and it worked out great with those guys.
How did you raise the money to make the film?
Dave: We did crowd-funding through Kickstarter.com and we raised $16,000 in 30 days. It was a very aggressive campaign in 30 days. A lot of friends, a lot of family, a lot of local people in Stillwater and Glencoe, so yeah we got $16,000 and then we shot it in nine days.
That seems to be not a whole lot of money for a feature length movie, I am sure that you were skating by.
Dave: Oh yeah.
How were you able to get the movie made the way you wanted to for just $16,000?
Dave: I wouldn’t say we made it exactly how we wanted to. Of course, we would have loved to have had more money to do some bigger things, and to get better performances. I mean because we shot it in nine days, we had to rush through each scene. We got some great performances, don’t get me wrong, but it would have been nice to have had a little more time. The other thing was that we had tremendous help from the city of Glencoe, and Brandi had that relationship because she grew up there. We got police cars and we got the whole town supported us, so we got police uniforms, they were blocking off roads, fire department came out.
It makes it look like it cost a lot more than it really did.
I have friends in L.A. who are shooting movies too, and everyone in L.A. wants money, while people in Oklahoma seem to be more willing to help. While you are not in Los Angeles, where you have all these connections, there are advantages to working in Oklahoma and shooting films, what are some of those advantages?
Dave: Oh God, I mean the people for one are just so friendly and they are so willing to help you. You know, that is probably one of the biggest differences. I have never made a film in L.A., I know some people from L.A., but I will let you answer that.
Brandi: You know, I still live in Glencoe, I work at the bank in Glencoe, I know everyone there, and people were coming to me asking “what can I do?” Even if it was just to bring food one day, or can we even just come watch because they thought it was a really cool thing. It’s wonderful and we couldn’t have done it without the people of Glencoe for sure.
Dave: I will also say this: I have some friends that have worked on some other productions that have come from out of state to Oklahoma, and I think it is how you treat people. You know, if you shake their hand and talk to them and you don’t have this diva attitude, I think they are really willing to work with you. I mean, nobody ever turned us away. The people of Oklahoma are amazing. I wouldn’t hesitate to come back and shoot another film here.
Where are you living now?
Dave: My job moved me to Portland, ORE. I moved about a year ago from Stillwater, where I lived for two years. I loved my time there. I am always going to love Oklahoma because, you know, the people were so helpful in me achieving my dreams. I will always love Oklahoma.
Now that you are in Portland, obviously it is a new place, are you working on something new up there?
Dave: I am. We would like to get the band together again and do another project. We’ve got an idea for a film, it is more a concept, and we have got potential funding, which is nice, so we are in the early, early, stages of looking at another project.
How many festivals have you been to so far?
Dave: This is the very first festival.
What was the experience like as a first time director at your first time festival?
Dave: It is awesome to see your film on the big screen. I mean, more than anything, for the people that helped us in Oklahoma, for them to see it on the big screen.
Dave: Finally, you know, it has been three years and it was a great experience by far.
Brandi: Definitely. So many people were so excited because it is the first time they had seen it – even actually some people from Glencoe because we hadn’t had the opportunity to do that yet. It was very, very, exciting.
As the writer, you envisioned what it was going to be in your mind, and then he went and directed it. How does it compare to what you saw in your mind when you were putting it on paper?
Brandi: I was there the whole time so…
So, you were collaborating the whole time. Seeing the finished project, do you say yes that is what I was envisioning when writing it?
Brandi: Well, as close as we could, yeah, as close as we could get to what I envisioned, yes.
What was it like, as an actor, working with him as a first time director?
Jason: I thought it was great. He is very genuine, he takes – even though we were on a rough schedule – he takes the time to get everybody in place, everybody on the same page. You know, we didn’t have a lot of time to do takes, but we didn’t need that time, because he prepared well. Him and the producer also put out the schedule that was very detail oriented, and all these people who helped us out – it just worked. I think it is the hardest working crew, having worked with some larger films, it is the hardest working crew I have ever been a part of. They really went above and beyond in every aspect I think.
What do you have coming up next?
Jason: I am actually moving to Portland, ORE, so my girlfriend, she just graduated from vet school, so we are moving up there. I am working at a bank up there already, and we’ll see what we can do about this next project.