Interviews: Independent Filmmaker Brandon Wilson

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Lurking in the shadows of Detroit's indie film scene, the exceptionally hard-working local director, Brandon Wilson, had created a low-budget cyberpunk flick and I think deserves a little more recognition for the immense labor of love that went into his film, The Contract. When I caught back up with Wilson, he had mentioned he was actually working on a sequel to The Contract and I couldn't wait to get the first word on record.

TMS: So, like Brandon Wilson? That's clearly a mix between Brandon Lee and Don "The Dragon" Wilson, am I right?

BW: (laughs) Well, I am a huge Brandon Lee fan.

TMS: Man, that's awesome. I used to love Brandon Lee. Back in the day with Rapid Fire. Loved that flick!

BW: Dude, I go as far back as Legacy of Rage and Laser Mission! I liked Rapid Fire when it first came out, but The Crow definitely began the obsession. That's the one that made me want to step behind the camera. [The] visual style, pacing, incorporation and placement of the music and concert scenes, the score, the world... I attribute about 90% of the reason most of my movies are all at night to that movie.

TMS: I caught your short film, The Contract, at January's Mitten Movie Project. If I'm just being honest, I really feel you got robbed that night. Turns out, you worked your ass off on that film (NOTE: Wilson wrote, directed, produced, shot, cut, scored, and did the sound design/vfx for The Contact.) How did you end up with the majority of the work load all on you? Was that premeditated or a series of unfortunate flake-outs?

BW: It was always my intention. One, to keep the vision I had as clear and focused as possible. Two, I enjoyed learning all the different areas I needed to [in order] to get it done -- some for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed audio post and visual fx. And three, not that I minded, but it was a necessity due to funding. It was completely self-financed.

TMS: What was the budget on The Contract and how did you gather your resources?

BW: Basically, every penny I had that wasn't paying for living expenses was going toward this project for a little over a year. The overall budget, largely due to it being 16mm, was probably close to $6-7K. I never stopped to tally it all up, because it would probably just depress me, ha!

TMS: Why the decision to shoot on 16mm when all the new kids are going full digital? How did that benefit the tone of The Contract?

BW: I guess it's in my nature to go against the grain, so to speak. I went to MPI to learn to shoot on film. I love film! There's a depth and richness to it that at least I haven't really been able to replicate with digital. It's grainy. It's imperfect -- much like the world I was trying to create.

TMS: How do you prepare for making a film like The Contract? Is cyberpunk something you've had an affinity for or was this entirely foreign territory?

BW: The goth style is nothing new to me. I've been a regular at Detroit's goth club, City Club, for almost 10 years, and the look, style and music surrounding that scene I've always found aesthetically appealing. The entire origin of The Contract and the lead character, Sevin, can be traced solely to one person: a guy by the name of Kevin Franks. He's a guy that is a regular fixture in that scene, and he was the visual basis for Sevin. Between running into him at City Club or at Hot Topic, the image of this character began to emerge. I actually told him years ago that I wanted to do a movie about him as a sort of futuristic bounty hunter or hitman.

With the film and the world having the feel of a future envisioned from the 80's, there are definitely a small handful of films that I looked to for influence and inspiration. Escape from New York, Blade Runner, The Warriors and Streets of Fire being at the top of the list. Being that I was trying to create a world it meant lengthy pre-pro time, [and] building the retro future props and costumes. Oh! And Road Warrior!

TMS: The Contract is a clearly inspired vision. It's fun to watch just to see if you can pick out the influences. Besides film where else do you go for inspiration? Comic books? Music?

BW: MUSIC! It's not uncommon for me to write or film something solely around how a song makes me feel. A lot of times, I'll structure a scene around a particular song, and build and pace based on that.

TMS: Was there any particular albums or artists you listened to while cutting or writing The Contract that had a strong influence on your rhythm or tone?

BW: I dove into a lot of both electronic-based music and action movie scores. Certain artists like Imperative Reaction, Rotersand and Apoptygma Berzerk fueled the idea of the industrial/ cyberpunk landscape of this world, the scores of John Carpenter (whose influence I think is heavily felt in the contracts score) [and] Harold Faltermeyer. I look to how music and score was incorporated into 80's action movies. The cues, the suspense builds, and the driving action themes helped guide me through structuring this story.

TMS: You've set up a universe within The Contract and to anyone who has seen it would be thinking the same thing: This clearly is meant for a larger film. What's your game plan for expanding this into a feature and what avenues do you think you'll take to get there?

BW: I'm not too sure, and trying to do that kind of scares me (laughs). The prospect of trying to raise funding to do what I have in mind for the feature is a terrifying task for me. I don't think of myself as a salesman. So, how to convince someone to give me their money is something that currently eludes me. I guess, at the moment, I'm just hoping that festival exposure of The Contract, and the expanding I plan to do in the upcoming sequel short film will convince any potential investors of the caliber of my work and believe that I can put their money to good use.

TMS: In the meantime, though, you're expanding the fiction this summer and shooting a sequel to The Contract. This time around, what roadblocks do you hope to overcome that you faced in the original?

BW: I wouldn't necessarily say there are any particular roadblocks, but I just think, with everything I learned making The Contract, [I can] apply that to make something bigger and better with a clearer and more focused vision -- the way one might say that the world of the Road Warrior is more focused than that of Mad Max. Not that I'm trying to compare my work to those films in any way. I plan on really pushing the art direction and wardrobe further, building on the lead characters and taking them to their limits and out of their comfort zones, as well as the action. There will be more hand to hand combat and what I'm hoping will turn out to be an edge of your seat climactic shootout. I really wish I could continue it on film, but I think the funding, at this point, would be better utilized in the art dept.

TMS: Let's say you're sitting in a theater surrounded by an anonymous crowd who has just seen the closing shot of your sequel to The Contract -- what is the feeling that you want to leave your audience with?

BW:Man, that guy really stepped up his game! Although, to be honest, I'd probably be sitting in the back out of sight, as I did at its premiere at the MMP. As proud as I am of my work, I hate seeing it exhibited. Well... I like seeing it in a real movie setting, but I hate feeling like I'm sitting in judgment of others.

TMS: Well, personally, I can't wait to see what else you come up with. I wish you the very best this year. Looking forward to seeing your work again on the big screen!

BW: Thanks, Jesse. I appreciate it very much.

TMS: Same to you!

You can check out Wilson's The Contract here on Youtube.

-Interview by J.G. Barnes