Broken Wall Films: Past, Present, and Future
Series creator Alex Laferriere and executive producer Nick Allain talk about the origins of Broken Wall Films, and where it's going.
Today we're talking up the brains behind Broken Wall Films about where the company came from, where it is now, and where it's going. We have today Alex Laferriere and Nick Allain, the series' creator/director and executive producer.
Rick Desilets: So tell us about Broken Wall Films. Where'd it all begin?
Alex Laferriere: In my mind, Broken Wall Films was set up in August of 2005. This is when I was a freshman at WPI filming small, short videos with a Handicam in my dorm room. It really started popping when I made a six-minute short called Alone with Your Thoughts with Dustin Deren, after a walk through Worcester, MA and spinning our wheels about filming a short in homage to Evil Dead II. After returning to my dorm at three in the morning, we gathered my camera, went to his parents' house and filmed alone in his house, just him, me, and three Koosh balls. After it was all done, I remember Nick's words fondly; he said, "You took an inanimate object and gave it life. That movie rocks." It was then that I thought I caught the attention of someone who I considered to be great at everything he does with something I thought was just high school tomfoolery. It really made me think that I could do this film thing.
Nick Allain: I like to think it began the moment we mixed our first batch of clothing-friendly fake blood (chocolate pudding, red food coloring, water, and dish soap, if I remember correctly). Mentally, I think it occurred somewhere around the time of Rios Locos. I think that's when I realized what we had going on and that it wasn't just some "bunch of kids and a camera".
AL: Ha... Even though we were a bunch of kids with a camera at that point. Rios III (if you go by its two high school predecessors) was a gimmicky fantasy shot in your backyard. Technical difficulties abound! The audio was piss-poor, and stands out in my mind of still not moving beyond high school and learning about putting trust in others who may not handle it as you think you would. It really instilled a lot of "one-man wolfpack" in my mind. Shit, even at this point Nick was just handling the work that I couldn't do/find the time for: Photoshop, etc. I felt that after Rios, I had to do everything myself as far as filming, editing, sound recording, and production stuff was concerned just because I was worried someone would goof it up where I wouldn't (cocky, sure).
RD: It sounds like there's been a lot of practice since then. Give us a walk through what Broken Wall Films did before Something Remote.
AL: After that six-minute short the godfathers of Broken Wall Films, Jake and Rayne — great high school buddies of mine who were in their senior year — approached me with a desire to film another Spanish project. This happened around the same time as AWYT and the result was the evolution of skill, understanding, and impact. I remember saying to Rayne, "Something about Rios Locos II looks good, like we knew what we were doing..." It was around this time that a friend of mine returned from the ether of his college experience: Paul Cornoyer. His influence during high school really made me believe that film was possible, if I only had his "knowledge" of how to do it. His return from "film school" started seeding the idea of doing a zombie film that ballooned out of control. The simple premise of having a nice, short movie about two buddies in a garage surrounded by zombies spiraled out of control, making it bigger and bigger... the mistake of "directing" and "acting" (and I use those terms loosely) at the same time left Paul behind the camera. I figured, "He went to school for it, he has the talk of filmmaker, he will help me get this underway." Well needless to say, we had car-driving scenes and gas station pit stops... It was basically the scope of a Super Bowl halftime show with two tin cans and a few rubber bands... a total failure. Nick was enlisted as crew and really threw himself at the production, providing odds and ends, insights, and friendly word. Unfortunately, Project Zombie ended up never seeing the light of day, except for a five-minute teaser trailer Paul salvaged from our 20+ mini-DV tapes for a class... Regardless, it taught me what had to get done. I was managing scheduling via text messages, locations by memory, and literally had no idea how to manage the camera or what to expect. Just stick it in front of the action with some general desire and Paul will handle the rest. Going back to Rios Locos II, I started to cultivate what was working and what wasn't. "Okay... Everything that has seen the light of day and is 'good' was filmed in a small time frame — one day." PZ was filmed over the course of a summer, probably once maybe twice a week with locations scattered throughout Dudley and Worcester.
Okay, so we needed to condense the production schedule, get people in, get people out. Harking back to Rios and my true desire to direct something fantasy-inspired, I wrote a small story that encapsulated these elements. Production was slated the next summer, a Friday/Saturday/Sunday schedule. I set up the locations beforehand, prepped the costumes, actors, and made everything click as best as I could. I took the reins from Paul, making him camera/sound and began demanding things to ensure completion. I pulled myself behind the camera, burying my ego, knowing that I can still entertain without being seen. Nick became a larger asset during these productions, providing insight and aid where I needed it. Hell, half of Rios is filmed in his backyard!
Without dragging this one question into oblivion, we ended up slating two short films for the summer and even squeaked one in between the two, a rehash of last years short, Alone with Your Thoughts, with more Kooshes and more blood! The three summer shorts were a culmination of our endeavors: Rios Locos: A Hero Lost, Alone with Your Thoughts, and His Face is a Mass of Entrails, each for roughly $100 and more solidified roles as a director/producer respectively.
RD: Since that summer, Broken Wall Films has done horror, suspense, action, adventure, and more recently comedy. Would you say that there's any specific genre Broken Wall Films does best? What is your favorite genre to work with?
AL: I think we are all naturally inclined to comedy, at least with me in the director's chair. I think it stems from my girth. It's a natural social mechanism to make people laugh and I think, for me and at the lower ends of production value, it's easy to achieve (willingly or not).
NA: I don't think we've found our genre. I don't know if we ever will. If I had to choose, I'd say it's an amalgamation of sci-fi and dark comedy. As a producer, I don't think genre really changes my job enough to make me feel one way or the other.
RD: So you guys have been at this for a while now, but how did you two first meet?
AL: Nick and I went to the same high school, Shepherd Hill Regional. We shared some classes and some friends but honestly, we were on opposite ends of our clique. I did football for the majority of my high school stint, which kept me at bay from the video production stuff that Nick had been working on. It wasn't until my senior year where I joined SHAM (the Shepherd Hill AM show). I started taking the reins on the sports show (typecasting if I ever heard it, thanks Mr. Cusick), but the segment was literally me doing other sports, getting hurt, and making people laugh. It was my project and I embraced the freedom and the ability to show my face off to the entire school once a week. It wasn't until we were both in college that we started talking about films.
NA: As Alex said, we went to high school together. We had a class or two together maybe but to this day, I still think of Alex as the kid at the school dance dressed like Drew Carey (I still don't know if that was intentional or not). We actually weren't good friends until college, which is weird because we hung out with the same group of people (until the whistle blew and he went back to being a jock). I say "jock" jokingly because by day he was a football player and by night a Dungeon Master — ala Vin Diesel.
AL: Yeah... high school was [frick]ed up for me. I liked living up like a geek, but for some reason football was a challenge and physical. I always felt that if I never did football I would have never built the self esteem to do SHAM or lead. I mean, I was captain of the football team (Cid Highwind smile). Hell, even in college football I remember Paul telling me to quit and make films with him, though I kept telling him, "It's bigger than I can perceive." And hell, some things are coming out of my athletic career in the form of a white wizard.
RD: So you've both at least had film on the brain for a while now. How did you know you wanted to make films?
AL: It sort of just happened... I can't really pin point the knowledge of "making film". It never occurred to me that I could make Star Wars or Indiana Jones, even though I was filming shorts in the latter part of senior year... There was a huge disconnect between what I was doing and comparing it to "film". I just did. It's been my motto for years. It was more learning the technology that was offered to me, the school, and at home. iMovie, cameras, editing... I never thought about researching how to make it look better, compare it to film, how it "should be"... Hell, some may argue I still haven't done that yet. (winks) But I have come so far and I am ready to take the challenge that I know I can tackle. I haven't felt more self-aware since the completion of my first film/webseries. Though a lot is attributed to time, effort, and skill, it's a culmination of what should be done, and what can be done. But I am finding the balance as we grow. Stemming off of being self-aware, I attribute my early desire to create/tell stories from being an avid D&D gamer. I was always the Dungeon Master, I wanted to be in control and move my players around the story I wanted to tell. Film is a natural extension of that.
NA: I've never actually wanted to make films. I'm driven by doing something new and working with tools in cool ways (and taking advantage of technology). I'm a geek at heart and means over anything, from computers to cars to motion pictures (in the barest sense). I'm all about pushing technology, and film is a very accessible way to do it. I'm a bit allergic to the word "film" because I think it implies that we're carrying on a dying tradition started in Hollywood of bloated productions, fighting change, backwards thinking, and vilification of audiences/theaters.
AL: Yeah, "film" is such a jaded term that can work for or against you. I am centered on the fact that I am a creator and whatever that creation is is irrelevant as long as we can measure it and figure out its impact. I am also mindful of changing times and desire to push boundaries and expectations for our benefit and whatever "industry" wants to adapt/adopt it.
RD: With that in mind, you guys must have some kind of vision for the future. What's Broken Wall Films like today, and where do you see it going over the coming years?
AL: Broken Wall Films, as of the writing of this, is the culmination of student efforts, and I have to keep reminding myself of that. I get caught up in the destination that I forget our position. I love all our work when we do it, but it looks so amateurish as time goes by... I want to change that in the future. I want to create something that stands the test of time, but one might argue if that's even possible, or even obtainable. Some might argue the other way as well, saying that things created are great if not better with the age. Well, as the creator, you look at your work differently. All I know is that I believe in my work when I did it, it was the best it could have been when it was done. I also want to support those that support me. If I ever get fans, I want to treat them with the utmost respect and nobility. It probably comes from my years of slinging coffee and customer service. I just want to entertain people and enjoy their entertainment.
NA: Broken Wall Films, today, is at month nine of gestation. Tomorrow is make or break. In most cases, great companies don't end up making their millions on what they started out doing. Nintendo made trading cards. Microsoft wrote a BASIC interpreter. BMW was an aircraft maker. Great companies with great people find their way and I like to think that's where we're headed.
AL: Really? Those are neat facts, well said though. If you had a Nick schematic to go with it, I would frame an image of it and make it into one of those inspirational posters. Nick loves to draw out his explanations.
RD: Well, it's been great talking with you guys, and I hope we see great things coming from Broken Wall Films in the future!
Alex Laferriere and Nick Allain graduated with degrees in interactive media from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Becker College, respectively.
And this Sunday, see why you shouldn't believe everything you see on TV with the next episode: Something Popping.