Clay McLeod Chapman is going to the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. He and an estimated 70,000 people will attend the week-long extravaganza devoted to music and film. Unlike most of them, he’s showing a movie he co-wrote titled The Boy.
Not long ago, he was in Richmond presenting new stories of his at the Poe Museum. This was entirely appropriate, considering the territory he's staked out for his creative endeavors.
The Richmond-raised author, playwright, screenwriter and educator (now based in New York City's Brooklyn borough) once more teamed with director Craig William Macneill.
In 2005, they took their classroom teen sexual angst film Late Bloomer to Sundance, and toured it to some 20 other festivals, winning the audience award for Best Short Film at the Lake Placid Film Festival. Another short film collaboration, Henley, began its steady march to Sundance at the 2011 GenArt Film Fest, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Film and also won best short at Clint Eastwood's Carmel Film and Arts Festival.
Not bad for a 10-minute movie made in the dead of summer, set in a dilapidated Cumberland County motel where, during the eight-day shooting, several crew members were afflicted with Lyme Disease.
The critical reaction to their films and the creative partnership of Macneill and Chapman spurred them to complete a narrative feature about the strange upbringing of young Ted Henley. And it's making its world premiere in Austin on Saturday.
Well, it didn’t take 13 years to make. And it was mostly filmed in the nation of Colombia – not the troubled historic village near Scottsville, which frankly seems ripe as a setting for a Chapman story).
And it’s the first in a trilogy that traces what turns a kid into a maniac.
Chapman and MacNeill met in 2002 a year prior to the publication of Chapman's novel Miss Corpus. “I’d do readings from the book and found that only one or two worked out that way,” Chapman recalled in a 2011 interview. “Craig laid claim to the 'Henley Road Motel' chapter and said he’d turn it into the best short film he could."
Along the way, they made Late Bloomer until funding, talent and location lined up to make Henley possible. The project got its jump-start through a grant by the Jerome Foundation. The title role in that film was fulfilled through the offices of Laine Satterfield at SPARC, who introduced the filmmakers to Hale Lytle from Henrico County. This was his first film — and perhaps the beginning of a career.
Henley is about a 9-year-old boy named Ted whose father pays him a quarter to clean road kill off the approaches to the motel. “Then nobody is coming at all, and that’s when the trouble starts,” Chapman said at the time of his Sundance visit.
Macneill took the production to Colombia, South America, because, he explained in a recent Entertainment Weekly piece, the location needed “a very specific highway and an old, rundown, desolate motel in the middle of nowhere.”
He'd dreamt of building his own grotty motel from scratch, but the cost of such an undertaking is prohibitive in this country.
“And this was where the idea of filming in South America came up. As a result of some great tax incentives, we discovered that we could film there, and build this motel from the ground up, and create it exactly how I envisioned it. That was really exciting.” You can read the whole piece here.
Thus, we are taken to the summer of 1989, when 9-year-old Ted Henley (Jared Breeze) and his father, John (David Morse), are the proprietors of the Mt. Vista Motel, a resort in hard times amid unvisited mountains.
The film’s description says, “Since Ted's mother left, John has drifted into despondency— leaving Ted to fend for himself. In this isolation, unchecked by the bounds of parenting, Ted’s darker impulses begin to manifest. The arrival of a mysterious drifter, William Colby (Rainn Wilson), captivates young Ted and the two form a unique friendship — setting the stage for Ted’s final, unnerving metamorphosis.”
The film was produced by SpectreVision, whose partners include Elijah Wood. Yeah, that Elijah Wood.
All-in-all, seems like a good weekend to me.