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A Lookback: The Director’s Take on “Good Mr. Wallace”

Oliver Antone, Writer/ Filming Extraordinaire

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It’s hard to believe that Saturday, April 29, marked one year since we began filming on the original Mr. Wallace film. How did we do it? I’ll reveal the secrets for the general audience. Well, buckle up for a long one here because I’m going to recount the entire process of the short film “Good Mr. Wallace.”

Writing: Always, the first question I receive is where did I get the idea for Mr. Wallace. Great question actually, and I’ll give it to you. If you want me to be honest, I was daydreaming in AP Euro. Originally Alice’s name was going to be Alexis, which is where the character of my next film would get her name from. Her name actually was a typo when I wrote “Alice” three times instead of Alexis. Alexis was going to be struggling in her AP Euro class and shenanigans were going to occur from there. Mr. Wallace wasn’t even supposed to be in the film, let alone the title character. In fact, the film was, and still is, labeled “Still a Working Title” on the Screenplay.

I knew from the start that I wanted Alice to be the transfer, so before anything, I wrote scenes one and two. However, scene two took a turn when I introduced Mark. I knew he would be a theater kid, but for some reason it seemed to flow that he would invite her to join. Even once she joined, Mr. Wallace was still supposed to be a minor character who made Alice feel comfortable at her new school. At some point it dawned on me that he was more than a side character; he was supposed to be the inspiration to her. It was then that Alice’s story took shape and how she needed a father figure.

The title took a little internal debating and “Good Mr. Wallace” was still supposed to be a working title. I liked it too much to get rid of it; it was catchy. After 72 pages of screenplay, the writing was complete. People don’t believe me when I tell them that it was only a five to six days to write the film. I never wanted to put it down, so the story took shape very quickly.

Casting: The casting process was partially rough, partially easy. Early on into the writing process, I knew who I wanted to play each character. Virginia, Miles, and Catherine all agreed to do the film before the screenplay was even finished. It was a risky move, but they hopped on eagerly.

Alice came down to two people: Virginia Sullivant and Tessa Herzer. Neither of whom auditioned for the role, then again, no one auditioned for their roles. However, the more I wrote the film, the more Alice related to Virginia. So when I was about halfway through the writing process, I shot her a text. It was about 9:30 at night and I was surprised she even replied.

For Mark, I knew I wanted Miles to play from day one. The second I wrote his first line, Miles popped into my head. I was lucky enough to get him on board with the project.

Maria was a little more complicated. Our fiery antagonist did bring Cat to mind immediately; however, her prior role as the innocent Ugly made me hesitant to ask her. I mentioned the idea to her, and she said she didn’t mind being the bad guy. If you want me to be honest, she said it’d be fun.

Theresa was similar to Mark. I needed the dry sarcastic humor that balanced out Maria’s energy. Kathleen came to mind (and made it confusing during filming when I called for Cat and both replied). She was the hardest to get on board because of her schedule, but I was determined. Not only was she the balance, but one of the favorite character for everyone who watched the film. In a way Theresa was my favorite character too. The underdog who finally stood up for herself. Terry in “What Next, Mr. Wallace?” doesn’t have the same feel or capture the same essence as Theresa, but that’s for another article.

Next, I cast Betty. If you want the truth about Betty, Katie Ray asked to be in a film of mine. I didn’t know where to put her, but she matched Betty perfectly. Betty was a character that could stand up for herself, but was also witty and fun. While the witty part went away in the second film, a lot of things for a lot of characters. Katie captured Betty in such a way, that you couldn’t help but fall in love with the character and feel for her as she had to endure Mark’s horrid stories. You really want her to help Alice and chuckle at her clumsiness as she fell for Maria’s trap over Alice.

For Joey and Allen,  I could have casted whoever I so pleased, so I chose two close friends for the roles. Philip and Ethan were great choices for me to make. Allen is a mystery character; people ask me if he caused the events of the film happen. Maybe he did. It’s hard to tell. Ethan never fit the description of Joey I wanted him to, he even admits to it. Obviously we all make mistakes, and there is reason for Joey’s lack of return in the sequel. Nonetheless, he was a comic relief character who brought forth laughs and fun.

Mr. Wallace is the title character, but not the protagonist. Alice’s guide was easily chosen to be Mr. Campbell simply because he was the only one willing to do it. He was always in my mind as I wrote the screenplay; however, I didn’t think he’d say yes. Surprisingly, he was very excited to take on the role. He did it better than I ever thought he would and offered directing advice along the way, which I am more than grateful for now.

Filming: On April 29, 2016, we packed up after senior assembly and met in a hallway upstairs. We had three scenes to film, we got all of them done surprisingly. Virginia and Miles were roughly on time and we were stressed and rushed. Our final scene was not what it originally was intended to be in terms of dialogue and time. However, Miles had somewhere else to be and we couldn’t afford a delay.

Throughout the process, there was a lot of stress. Virginia couldn’t make any Mondays, while Cat, Ethan, and Miles couldn’t make Wednesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays were our primary days. We scrounged a few Wednesdays in as well. Amongst the stress there was plenty of laughs. I recount every day with some fond memory. We shot out of order, and if you want the facts, we shot the final few scenes with Maria and Alice on day two.

Costuming involved raiding the prop room. Two scenes were improved entirely, we had tornado warnings, tripping lessons, and continuity errors. I would not change a single part of the filming process because it was my favorite part.

We had three weeks to make the movie because my deadline was a Thursday morning. When Mr. Campbell got sick on the final day of filming, we were in trouble. All scenes not involving him were filmed as scheduled; however, his scenes were moved to the next Tuesday. I had two days to deadline to film seven scenes, put them into the final cut, render it, get it on a flash drive, and get it on the desk of Mr. Patton by 7:55 the next morning. 36 hours was roughly the amount of time I had. By some miracle of God, we worked quick and got it done and done well. Costume changes were smooth, lines were well memorized, and we were done by 6:00.

Editing: I never edited in one chunk, that’s just cruel. The first trailer was released midway through the filming process, while the next came a week later. We weren’t done with filming for either release, but we were supposed to be for the second trailer. Obviously that didn’t happen due to the issue mentioned earlier. I edited by the scenes we had filmed, then grouped those together, before finally having enough for the final product.

Complications: I admit, things went wrong with this film on a variety of levels. Other than Mr. Campbell falling sick, costumes didn’t always line up, dates were never met, two scenes (one full one short) were improved, lines were never memorized, and continuity was our favorite word.

The End Product: Despite the complications, the missed dates, and continuity errors, we finished the film. I am beyond proud of it. In my speech before the premiere in the auditorium, I thanked two people in particular. Firstly, I thanked Mr. Campbell. He allowed us to use him, his costumes, and his theater. All the commitment he had to this film was amazing, despite the fact that he didn’t need to get as involved as he did. Also, his directing advice really did help me out in the long run.

The second person I thanked was our Maria, Catherine Bender. Cat was up for anything at any time, and on various occasions the afternoon of, I’d tell her we were filming one of her scenes. She was open and flexible, she helped with costumes, and improved a scenes. We would not have hit our deadline without her.

The person I never thanked in the end was our leading lady, Virginia Sullivant. People don’t understand that Virginia was not flexible. Being on the Cheer Team removed two days of the week that we could have used her. Mondays and Thursday, possibly our most valuable days. Virginia did not have to take on the task of Alice, and it still baffles me why she did. Nonetheless, Virginia was our perfect Alice, and I haven’t given her the thanks she deserves. She was always ready with her costumes, on occasion she knew her lines, and in all aspects I needed her to, she hit her mark.

The Response: On May 24, 2016, we gathered into the auditorium. Roughly 30 people, including the cast showed up for a mostly positive response. We did have to make a few edits after the premiere, pushing the release date to May 26, 2016. When it was released to the general public, it was well received. It became a “cult classic” according to Jack Julow. While there some people that didn’t like it, the amount of positive reception and requests for a sequel made it all worth it.

Overall: In the end, I’m proud of the product we made. Almost 700 views later and the film still gains new viewers and fans. While the sequel was not as well received, the demand for it made me pleased with the work we’d done. A constant question I get is will there be a third one. Honestly, I don’t know yet, but I want to make one. I’ll tell the story of “What Next, Mr. Wallace?” another day. Until then, you can see the film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1Tvinq3gqI

A Final Note to my Cast: I’ve sent you all this to bring back memories and make you smile, laugh, and reminisce. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I loved working with you all.

Until next time. -O.A.

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A Lookback: The Director’s Take on “Good Mr. Wallace”