I spoke to filmmaker Richard T. Wilson about his filmic influences, both as an audience member and behind the camera, before breaking bread over his new web series Under the Flowers.
Robin Write: Hi Richard. How are you?
Richard T. Wilson: Hi Robin! Doing great here – how about you?
Robin: Yep. My working say is over. At least the day job is.
Richard: Always a good thing!
Robin: So I’ve got standard questions about your work, but always like to start with non-movie icebreakers.
Robin: Okay. Food. What is one if your go to cuisines? Which country’s food is one of your favorites?
Richard: I love all sorts of stuff but, honestly, I’m a roast turkey guy – pretty much roast anything guy! Grew up in a very ‘English’ household on both sides, so there you go.
Robin: Cool. Outside of the movies what do you love doing?
Richard: Listening to music – definitely listening to music. I’m a big classic rock, post-punk guy – but Bowie is King in this house.
Robin: God rest his soul.
Richard: Honestly – I felt like I lost a family member, as trite as that sounds. Really tore me up – I grew up with him!
Robin: Yeah it was really sad. Let’s talk about movies then.
Richard: Yes – movies!
Robin: Your favorite David Lynch movie?
Richard: I have to go with ‘The Elephant Man’ – but ‘Twin Peaks’ is my favorite Lynch piece overall.
Robin: Excellent. So you write, direct, produce, pretty much a hand in all processes. On writing briefly, do you feel the words on paper don’t get the credit they deserve? Like Lynch and countless other filmmakers applauded for their vision, but great writers too.
Richard: I accepted the fact that writers, and film editors, don’t get their fair share of credit long ago. Having said that, it doesn’t really bother me – I know what it took to put something together and that’s enough really.
Robin: What is your writing process? Where do you write? What are the best surroundings for your creativity?
Richard: I generally walk around with pictures in my head, bits of dialogue for a couple weeks and then start a diary. I essentially just start talking to myself out loud in a notebook & it evolves in to a script from there. Lots of ‘What if this happened…?’. Also, I write in my home office.
Robin: Yeah I find I get great little ideas when out and about. Like character imperfections or real dialogue. Places where I can’t find a pen.
Richard: It’s true! Walking really gets me started too. I avoid a pen for a long time. At least it feels that way…
Robin: Tell us about the founding of OutreachArts, Inc. and Mad Shelley Films? How did they come about? What is their individual purpose and inspiration behind them?
Richard: OutreachArts was originally OutreachPlays; we did awareness theatre for schools, community groups, that sort of thing. However, I originally resisted doing anything ‘educational’ because I really hated all that crap! [laughs] However, once I decided to write what I would have wanted to see as a kid, it all came together. I always liked films & TV shows that entertained but got people talking about difficult subjects (the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ & ‘All in the Family’ come to mind). Anyway, I’ve always wanted to reach out to people who felt alone and were struggling. Mad Shelley is a pure entertainment extension of all that – and, quite frankly, it’s more for me.
Robin: The name Mad Shelley?
Richard: I was in High School, busy being bored out of my mind, when I jumped to the back of our Lit book and discovered Shelley’s Hymn to Intellectual Beauty. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the passage they featured – and then I read the blurb about his life, how he got the nickname ‘Mad Shelley’ at school – immediate kindred spirit.
Robin: Love it. Okay so briefly what is your background in film and television prior to OutreachArts and Mad Shelley?
Richard: Honestly, up until 2001 I was working in the theatre – writing plays and seeing them produced regionally & Off-Off Broadway. It wasn’t until the digital thing started that I saw a way back in to my first love, filmmaking.
Robin: So you have “Emmy Award Winning” in front of your name. What did the success of Maple Ave mean for your career back then?
Richard: Oh, that really meant the world to us!. We had been nominated several times but right before we finished up the series we won an Emmy – and for one of my favorite episodes too, ‘After I’m Gone’. Actress, Catherine Kustra appeared as a ghost in that one and later starred in our Mad Shelley projects, ‘The Halloween Girl’ and ‘Under the Flowers’ – as a ghost, naturally!
Robin: Yeah she was very magnetic in both. I saw The Halloween Girl fairly recently. Very compelling. It made me want to ask you how you work with the cast. So how do you select your actors and actresses first of all? And what is your technique in directing them?
Richard: Thanks! Well, I either write something for an actor I’ve previously worked with, like Catherine, or I head over to Heery-Loftus Casting in Philadelphia and find them there. I get a feeling for the actor as a person very quickly and from there I just know they’re perfect for the role. I never cast a ‘look’ or a style – I cast souls to match the souls of the characters. You have to already be enough like the character in real life to get me to sit up and notice. I then give the actors a wide berth – and reign them in here and there where necessary. However, casting is the hard part – once you’ve got the right people, the right energy the directing is easy.
Robin: So your brand new web series Under the Flowers is now out there. Like The Halloween Girl, I was particularly impressed with the picture and sound editing. Are there particular aspects of the filmmaking you are more passionate about?
Richard: Many thanks again, Robin! Yes, writing and film editing are the two I’m most passionate about – directing comes after those two. I really love directing but we move at such a break neck pace that it’s often hard to stop and enjoy the process properly. I’m sure if we had a bigger budget I would feel differently…
Robin: And how is the collaboration process for you and your artistic journey?
Richard: Well, I work with the same awesome crew on every film so that makes a huge difference – everybody brings a unique set of talents and energy to each project. I love trying new things that the cast and crew might suggest because I already trust them implicitly.
Robin: Time for two quick ones to finish?
Robin: Do you want to pursue the feature film path?
Richard: Everyone asks that and I always struggle with my response… Once again, I’m going to say no – I love short form too much. However, things could change…
Robin: And the final question really ought to be how can we support indie film more?
Richard: I think by interacting online and at festivals it creates an energy and a support system for indie film – indie anything really. So, don’t hesitate to start that conversation with an indie filmmaker – it has the potential to start a wonderful, creative landslide!
Robin: I will indeed remember that. Thanks for talking to me today.
Richard: Thank YOU, Robin – this was wonderful!
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Watch the entire web series season of Under the Flowers here, and be sure to go see Richard’s other worthy works: