Sitting down with "Bellflower's" creator

Director Evan Glodell talks about his explosive, "pre-apocalyptic" new film

By Drew Grant

Published August 2, 2011 8:03PM (EDT)

The DIY filmmaking movement has heralded a lot of great work, to be sure, but giant fireballs, death cars and motorcycle crashes really haven't been a part of the genre. Well, not until now.

"Bellflower" is an explosive indie film about two best friends Woodrow and Aiden (writer/director Evan Glodell and Tyler Dawson) obsessed with preparing for a "Mad Max"-style apocalypse. No, they're not stocking up on food and water; they're building flamethrowers with diesel fuel and re-creating the Mother Medusa car from "Road Warriors." Things take an unexpected turn when Woodrow falls in love, and the film alternates between a sweet indie comedy and something much darker and surreal. "Bellflower" does have its apocalyptic elements, but they are deeply personal, not the end-of-the-world scenarios these boys envision.

The unraveling narrative of "Bellflower" mimics the lives of its creators: It's taken Glodell five years to complete the film, for which he nearly bankrupted himself and all the actors involved. "I had a bit of a breakdown during shooting," Evan tells me after the film. "I kept thinking, 'What if I've ruined everyone's lives and this never even gets finished?'"

He and his production company, Coatwolf, did finish, however, after building all of the film's "Mad Max"-inspired machines themselves (including the camera used to film the movie; you can watch a short clip of them using it here). And the result is a touching, if sometimes painful, love story eaten up by the flames. "Bellflower" was an official selection at Cannes and SXSW, and opens in limited release Aug. 5.

Do you consider your film to be part of the mumblecore movement?

You know, I don't. I didn't even know what that term was until people were calling our movie mumblecore. I had to go and watch those films to see why it was getting compared [to them]. I assume it's because I look like that one actor from "The Puffy Chair."

One of the Duplass brothers.

Is he the main guy? He talks funny, and he baby-talks sometimes. And I realize I do that in the movie. So that's why people probably think we're mumblecore.

I always associate that genre with DIY filmmaking, not with actors who actually mumble or anything. Or I guess I always thought those movies were made on such a tight budget, they couldn't afford to properly mic their actors.

Well, they're also improvised a lot, aren't they? We didn't really have any improv, and we did have a boom mic. And I didn't know what mumblecore was.

Your film is getting all this press because of those impressive homemade pyrotechnics and the camera you built. Were you always so into building these giant fire-spitting machines?

I've always been interested in fire, but I hadn't spent any time working on cars or flamethrowers until we started shooting the movie.

Really? So what was the genesis for the film? I heard you say in a panel that part of it was based on an actual breakup you went through.

Yeah, the initial idea was something I had after going through this really intense relationship, that was the basis of the story between my character and the girl, as well as my relationship with [the character's best friend] Aiden. All the other stuff, the flamethrowers ... that came from just working on the script.

So we're actually watching a personal love story, but it's getting billed as this big action/indie film.

I hope no one feels cheated.

I was a little confused by the marketing, which described it as "post-apocalyptic," I think to tie it into this "Road Warriors" idea that your characters are obsessed with. But the movie itself is very much pre-apocalyptic. Like a Gregg Araki film, where everything is kind of going to hell but it's not quite there yet.

Pre-apocalyptic! That's like us right now. Yeah, I hope no one gets confused. There's always that distinction between what you see in the trailer and what the movie can be about.

I didn't hear any complaints. Actually, I did hear two, but they were really funny. One guy was saying how it didn't seem realistic that none of your characters had jobs.

Out of a movie with flamethrowers and death cars, they're worried about the jobs? [Laughs] We actually shot the scenes with the characters at their jobs; it was in the script and I took it out.

It actually struck me as more realistic that way. That feeling of being in your 20s or 30s and just kind of being aimless in the city, drinking with your friends -- that's something a lot more people have experienced than when you give someone a specific occupation that's just going to be tangential to the plot anyhow.

Right, you make just enough to get by, to pay your cheap rent at the end of the month. Your job doesn't really have that much to do with who you are as a person. I didn't keep the jobs in because this film isn't about reality, which you can probably tell from the look of it and the style of it.

Well, then you're really not going to like the second complaint I heard: There was an older man after the show talking about the scene with the cricket-eating contest. He wanted to know exactly how many crickets both you and another character ate, apiece, because how else could he be certain who actually won an imaginary contest in your fictional movie?

That is crazy to me. I'll tell you how you know who won: They raise the arm of the winner, and that means they've won the contest. I mean, we did actually eat the crickets, but this is just fascinating. How many times in films do you see the beginning of a game and then it's suddenly the fourth quarter. How did that happen? How do we know who wins in movies? They get a gold medal at the end; that's how we know who won.

I think again, this is a reaction to what might be perceived as a blurring of the lines between a scripted film and a somewhat looser, pseudo-documentary told in this hyper-realistic way. I'm sure it doesn't help that the lead character also wrote, directed and produced the film, because then you have that "Catfish" dilemma. We have all these triggers that tell us, "Oh, what we're watching is supposed to be taken at face value" because it is shot a certain way, the characters interact a certain way. And you've put yourself in the film. Even though it's fiction, there are spots where people are going to ask themselves, "Is this what this guy's life is like?

Yeah, for some people it's hard to differentiate me from Woodrow. I've had a lot of people tell me I'm nothing like the character, but I've also had a lot of people come up to me after screenings and give me a hug. Which just proves to me that they get it; even when things go insane, this movie is first and foremost a love story. And those feelings you see my character experience come from a real place.

An intensely personal love story that's also an action movie, and we can't forget the dichotomy of this also being a bromance as well. Aiden is going to be there for you, no matter what. Did you find it hard to reconcile the film's more "Eternal Sunshine" moments with the "bros before hos" ethos?

Of course, but to me, those were the two core elements of the film: Woodrow's relationship with Milly, and his one with Aiden. Above everything else, it's a friendship story and a relationship story. And from there, it just became about how to tell this story in the most interesting way. Because you see that struggle all the time: When a guy gets a girlfriend, he disappears. They "nest," and it can backfire and really hurt their close friends. It puts your best friend at odds with your girl. I mean, I've found this to be true in more than just this one relationship.

Yet your female protagonist also has a best friend, and her reaction to you is very different than Aiden's is to Milly. Do you think that women are less dependable in friendship with other women?

Obviously this movie is being told from one dude's perspective. I put a real emphasis on the guys' relationship to one another, because when I was growing up, my guy friends were there for me; we were more like family than my family was. Does that answer your question?

Sort of. But let's talk about the relationship in the film then. After this big turning point in the narrative, after this physical and psychic trauma to your character, we experience two different outcomes to essentially the same event. You plan to set your girlfriend's stuff on fire, but in one scenario it's very confrontational, and in another it's more of a personal ritual, like you are trying to burn her memories. What were you trying to say the difference is between the two acts?

That you should always go with the second one (burning alone), the one that's going to bring you peace and allow you to move forward with your life.

What about Option C? Returning all your girlfriend's shit?

Oh, that's what I'd do in real life! Obviously. But out of the two outcomes in the movie, we see where the first road takes Woodrow. And by the second, he has hopefully learned something.

So it's fire as a means of instigation versus fire as way of cleansing yourself?

No. Fire is way too complicated to use as an apt metaphor.

Drew Grant

Drew Grant is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @videodrew.

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