Director Evan Glodell explains how he made 'Bellflower' for $17,000 while on the run from the law
“No one ever tries to race me,” says writer-director Evan Glodell, as he drives EW around midtown Manhattan in his vintage black muscle car. “But people do cut me off a lot. I guess they think anyone who would drive something like this has to be an a–hole.”
Glodell’s ride is certainly a reaction-provoking item. The car was once a normal ’72 Buick Skylark. The director purchased the vehicle for $2,500 to use in his debut movie, the autobiographical indie drama Bellflower, which opened in a handful of cinemas last month and is platforming out to around 30 screens over the next couple of weeks. But Glodell, 31, has most definitely pimped his ride. Prior to the start of the shoot he painted the word “MEDUSA” on both sides of the car. He added a loudspeaker intercom system, three surveillance cameras, and a 6-71 supercharger compressor. Oh yes, and he also equipped the car’s trunk with a pair of fuel-injected exhaust flamethrowers.
That’s right: flamethrowers.
The whole thing looks like it just rolled off the set of Road Warrior — which is exactly the impression Glodell wanted to make. “I always thought Mel Gibson’s character was so cool,” he says. “All my friends were like that. We always thought the apocalypse was cool. When things are kind of sh—y, the apocalypse can wipe it all away.”
Bellflower is very much informed by Glodell’s fascination with the apocalypse. The director himself stars as Woodrow, a hard-drinking 20-something from Bellflower, Calif., who, in cahoots with his buddy Aiden (Tyler Dawson), devotes himself to preparing “The Medusa” for the post-nuclear war end times. Times of a sexier nature ensue when Woodrow starts hooking up with Jessie Wiseman’s similarly booze-friendly Milly, but the relationship ultimately provokes an almost hallucinogenic phantasmagoria of betrayal, retribution, and mayhem, which is destined to leave more than a few audience members scratching their heads.
The Ventura-based Glodell is aware that Bellflower may confound, and even infuriate, some viewers. Last year, the director screened the film at Independence Day producer Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment production company, where Glodell’s Bellflower co-producer Vincent Grashaw had once worked. Grashaw, who also plays Milly’s roommate in the film, invited everyone he knew who might help in securing the film a distribution deal. The event was not a success. “It was the worst reaction that had ever happened in history,” says Glodell. “Everyone was standing in the lobby afterwards yelling over each other about how f—ed up it was. They were like, ‘This is garbage,’ ‘This is insane,’ ‘This doesn’t work.’ I just left. I literally went home. I’ve never been that depressed in my life. For a month, I did nothing.”
Eventually an acquaintance of Godell’s named Michael Rousselet — co-founder of comedy website 5-Second Films — insisted he submit Bellflower to the Sundance Film Festival. “I fell in love with Bellflower [when] I saw the first cuts of it a few years ago,” recalls Rousselet. “It’s a one of a kind film. When Evan said he wasn’t going to submit it to Sundance, I almost went off the handle. [I said] ‘If you don’t submit it I will punch you in the face.’ I was serious. Good thing he submitted.”
Bellflower was accepted by the Utah film festival where, according to Glodell, the film received “the most unbelievably good reaction I could ever have hoped for.” The movie was bought by Oscilloscope Laboratories, the company co-founded by Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch which previously distributed 2008’s Michelle Williams-starring Wendy and Lucy. Glodell also took the film — and the Medusa — to the SXSW Film Festival. There, the Bellflower cause was further advanced when P. Diddy stumbled upon Glodell as he was filming a segment with Carson Daly for the latter’s Last Call show and peeled of $1,000 in cash to assist the young filmmaker. “That was just complete insanity,” says the director. “I was so starstruck. He said, ‘Are you broke?’ And I’m like ‘Yes.’ And he’s like, ‘Do you want some money?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes.’ He just pulled out a $1,000 in cash and gave it to me. I spent the last $100 on this brass plaque that’s bolted under the hood of the Medusa and sort of dedicates the car to being our official mascot. It says ‘Sponsored by Sean Combs’ on the bottom in little tiny letters.”
It also became clear at SXSW that, at least in terms of promoting the movie, the real star of Bellflower has four wheels rather than two legs. “Everybody thought the car was cool,” says Glodell. “It’s funny to me, because it’s not the hugest part of the movie. But everyone loves the car. Almost any time we’re on the freeway and you look over, there’s some car with people next to us taking pictures and screaming.”
It was probably inevitable that Glodell’s first movie would heavily involve machinery of some sort. As a kid, growing up in Wisconsin, he was always “building stuff and tinkering with things.” After graduating from high school he even briefly studied engineering at the University of Wisconsin. “Almost immediately I was like, I don’t want my life to be like this, I’m going to leave,” he says. “I had a friend in high school who badly wanted to make movies and would recruit me as an actor. It was always so much fun. I decided, I’m going to go to Hollywood and make movies, which is a thought I’d never had before.”
So Glodell moved to Ventura and in 2003 started work on the script of Bellflower whose central twisted love story was inspired by his own recently failed relationship. “I was very confused and I was really upset and I was going insane and I was writing this script,” he says. At the time, Glodell was unable to get the project off the ground, which, he now admits, was blessing. “This is a weird reference but I recently saw The Room (Tommy Wiseau’s, infamous, so bad-it’s-awesome melodrama) and I was like, ‘If I had made that script in 2003, it would have been like The Room.’ My character was like, ‘What’s going on? I don’t understand why this is happening to me!’ Years went by and I grew and I learned a lot and I’ve come to understand the world a little better.”
Glodell spent the next few years making short films, Internet commercials, and music videos, including one for Omaha indie-rockers Cursive. Along the way, he cultivated a network of young, like-minded buddies, such as his future Bellflower costars Grashaw and Dawson and cinematographer Joel Hodge. This loose collective eventually formed a production company named Coatwolf, under whose aegis Bellflower would be made. “I developed a group of friends around me that were all as crazy as I was about wanting to make films,” says Glodell. “So when I finally was like, ‘Now’s the time to do this,’ I had all these people around me. None of us were really doing anything that important, so we were like, ‘We’ll just drop everything we’re doing and make it.”
While Glodell had collaborators, finance was another matter. “There was no money,” he insists. “I think I had two or three thousand dollars.” Glodell got a little more cash by working as a cinematographer on Placebo, a movie starring Martin Sheen’s brother, Joe Estevez. “I got offered a job through a friend of a friend that was making a low-budget horror film,” he says. “He was like, ‘If you guys come over and shoot this, we’ll give you $5,000.’ So he took our whole crew, went over there, did that. None of us took any of the money, we just used it [for Bellflower]. Everybody did their part, figuring out how they could get their hands on a couple hundred dollars here and there throughout the whole thing.” The director estimates that, in all, his debut movie was made for a mere $17,000.
Glodell shot Bellflower in Oxnard and Ventura between July and October 2008. As you might expect from an under-funded production whose principal prop was a flamethrower-equipped car, there was the occasional hiccup. “We were shooting pick-up shots of the Medusa and all of a sudden the entire inside of the trunk was on fire,” recalls Glodell. “I was like, ‘Holy crap!’ Because the trunk is where the gas tank is, that runs the flamethrowers. It’s a big tank. We got out, we were screaming. I didn’t know whether to run away from car before it blew up or pull the trunk lid off and try to put it out before it blew up. Because we love the car so much we pulled the trunk lid off and we put it out with a fire extinguisher. It was pretty terrifying.”
Glodell’s anxiety levels were jacked up further still by the fact that, at the time of the shoot, the Bellflower writer-director-producer-star was on the run from the police. “It’s true, I had a warrant out for my arrest” he says. “I had dug myself into a very deep hole financially and I hadn’t paid the insurance on my car. I got like, four driving-without-a-license tickets in three weeks. I didn’t even go to court because I was like, ‘I can’t pay this!’ It added a lot of stress on the shoot. People would be like, ‘If the cops come today I’ll say I’m in charge, because if they realize there’s a warrant court for your address, you’re going to disappear for a couple of days.’”
The director’s real-life crimes are more than matched by the list of laws broken in Bellflower, which include driving under the influence, various acts of violence against both property and people, and one character being given an unwanted facial tattoo. Despite his film’s very bleak tone, Glodell insists that he has made a positive film. In a statement in the Bellflower press notes he writes, “if I thought I was putting something negative into the world, I would most likely burn it before I would let anyone see it.”
“Some people understand how the more intense scenes and the violence fit in the film and don’t even question it,” says Glodell. “But the people that don’t get it, they’re asking me like, ‘Why’d you put this in your movie? Are you trying to tell people it’s okay?’ Which is obviously not the case. This movie is not saying that it’s cool to drink and drive. I’ve had a DUI before. I crashed my car. I spent a month in jail when I was 18 years old. I was just covering a lot of issues of male insecurity and just crazy dark things that go on inside young guys’ heads that people would not normally talk about. I was trying to be honest and do it in a positive way.”
Things are looking a little less “crazy dark” for Glodell these days. The film’s release in August was accompanied by a sizable piece in the New York Times and a week- week-long collaboration the 5-Second Films crew. Bellflower also garnered some highly positive reviews, with EW’s own Owen Gleiberman praising Glodell for his possession of “a true filmmaker’s voice.” The director has sorted out his legal problems by paying a small fine — “I had a very kind judge” — and is currently working on a number of new scripts. He explains that the Coatwolf team has plans to “start our own small studio and have a creative space where we can make movies.” Needless to day, Glodell has a lot riding on the commercial fortunes of Bellflower, not least his chances of getting a new ride. It turns out that the director is not just driving the Medusa as a way of drumming up publicity for his film — it’s also the only vehicle he can afford at the moment.
So does he go to the grocery store in the car? “Yes,” he laughs. “I don’t have any other car. I went to the grocery store the other night and I ended up having to do a whole demonstration. People were like, ‘What’s this car? It’s awesome, it’s awesome!’ I’m like, ‘It shoots flames.’ They’re like, ‘Really?’ And then I’m like, ‘I’ll do it!’”
You can check out the Bellflower trailer below.