Daniel Noah (from left), Elijah Wood, Josh C. Waller, Jared Breeze, Clay McLeod Chapman and Dave Howe, president of Syfy/Chiller, at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Boy" (photo by Andrea Macias/American Cinematheque).
For writer Clay Macleod Chapman, a Richmond native, Friday was a big day and part of a busy month, because the feature film he’s written, The Boy (directed by Craig Macneill, a frequent collaborator on shorter subjects), premiered in Los Angeles at the Egyptian Theater. Chapman participated in a question-and-answer session with producers Elijah Wood (yes, that Elijah Wood), Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller (who together are SpectreVision, which realized A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night), along with the leading (quite young) man Jared Breeze.
The Boy is a feature-length version of an earlier short, Henley, which in turn sprang from a chapter from Chapman’s 2003 novel Miss Corpus. It is the first of a planned trilogy about the evolution of a maniac.
The film is getting a limited nationwide release – but, strangely, not in Richmond, though it’ll be available from video-on-demand on Aug. 18. The film features some familiar faces, including Rainn Wilson (Six Feet Under, The Office), David Morse, Bill Sage, Mike Vogel and Zuleikha Robinson. It's the second film and a big role for its titular player, Jared Breeze. The closest it's coming to a theater is Charlotte, North Carolina. For other locales, see here.
You’ll be able to see Chapman up close and personal here in Richmond this weekend, when Theatre VCU presents his wild and strange storytelling showcase, The Pumpkin Pie Show, along with Commencement, written by Chapman and performed by Hanna Cheek. In September, Theatre VCU is staging Chapman's play Junta High, in which an American high school turns war zone.
Chapman explains, “The whole reason this is happening in the first place — I don’t what has come over them, but VCU is doing on their main stage Junta High, which is the first show I’m kind of aghast at, I cringe at – it’s a dark show,” and he makes a small chuckle and that even scares The Hat a little. Chapman is coming down to sit in on rehearsals and talk through the process, and this will culminate in Pumpkin Pie and Commencement. More on that later.
Meanwhile here’s The Boy trailer. Keep the lights on. Roll’em.
Chapman and crew took the film to this year’s SXSW festival. Though he’s been to Sundance, this was his first visit to the extravaganza in Austin, Texas. “Going with a short film is like sitting at a kiddie table for Thanksgiving,” Chapman says. “You’re at the dinner, but not with the grown-ups. With a feature, you get to sit at the big table and ask, ‘Pass me the bread rolls, please.’ It’s not plastic forks.”
The Boy found favor among critics.
Shock Till You Drop called the film "one of the most memorable contemporary iterations [of the slasher film]." Indiewire described the screenplay as a "grimly poetic understatement worthy of Cormac McCarthy" and then named the film one of the Top 12 flicks to see on VOD this month because it "delivers a lyrical, audiovisual encapsulation of an alienated setting that may as well be post-apocalyptic."
The film was shot last year in two phases in and around a fake roadside motel that was built from scratch in Medellin, Colombia – formerly Pablo Escobar territory.
This is mountainous, Western looking, big sky terrain that cinematographer Noah Greenberg gorgeously shot, Chapman says. “We found a large swath of hillside town and we built the motel literally from the ground up, nothing there.” The budget was $1.4 million, but by dint of the geography, that went up to $4 million. “Yeah, toward the end we weren’t sure if we wouldn’t have to become [drug] mules.”
What does a writer do once the film goes into production? “At that point, it’s problem solving,” Chapman says. “’We don’t have time to shoot the scene as written, we don’t have money to film that car crash. You can only do this once. What’s the solution?’ The bigger problem with a feature is that it’s more money and more people asking you to put out fires from further up the totem pole.”
But Chapman says it all ended well, without mishap, disease or falling-outs. “No actors or animals were injured in any way during the making of this film,” Chapman deadpans. “We’re all still talking to each other, so I take that for a good sign.”
The film’s titular boy, Jared Breeze, had made just one other movie, also for SpectreVision, Cooties, which is out in September. Chapman explains, “We were looking for bright, angelic-faced boys. And Jared auditioned for us. He’s a bundle of energy. You can’t anticipate what his reaction will be, which is good because you want a certain feel of spontaneity. He’s also able to produce the necessary unnerving ickiness.”
David Morse – from St. Elsewhere, House M.D. and Treme, among many others — brought a level of gravitas to the film that Chapman found astounding. “It was difficult not being a fanboy,” he says. “He came in because he likes the producer, he liked the script, and he’s just a generous, tremendous actor. He’s the heart of the movie and one of the sympathetic characters.”
Chapman and Cheek roll in for The Pumpkin Pie Show and Commencement from Aug. 21 to 23 at Theatre VCU (922 Park Ave). The Pumpkin Pie Show plays Aug. 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., and on Aug. 23 at 3 p.m. is a special presentation of Commencement. True to the old traveling shows, each one is different.
“Friday night will be a 'best of' and we’ll pull out random stories,” Chapman says. “We have enough in the back catalog that it’s about choosing what jibes together. It’s a super secret special show on Saturday that I can’t say anything about. Sunday, 3 p.m., we’re really excited about Commencement, a one-woman show, just Hanna, that I wrote specifically for her. Just prepare yourself to be rocked.”
And if that isn’t enough, Chapman contributed a horror story to the Vertigo Quarterly titled “Earwig Out!"—illustrated by Szymon Kudranski. “And it may be the grossest thing I've ever written,” he says. “This isn’t a pre-exisiting character, completely self-contained story.” These Vertigo stories are generated by a writer’s prompt, in this case, the sound effect "POP!" Chapman used the urban myth of the ear wig, that once it enters your head, it cannot turn around. There’s more going on with Chapman and you can read about it all here.
And – there’s another boy in Chapman’s future – he and his wife expecting a possible Halloween baby. “We didn’t plan it that way,” he laughs.