Amid the flurry of high-profile acquisitions at this year’s Sundance Film Festival—Brit Marling’s Another Earth and The Devil’s Double among them—a deranged love story made for just $17,000 and boasting homemade flamethrowers and whiskey-dispensing muscle cars has emerged as the leader of the pack.
Bellflower tells the tale of Woodrow, a soft-spoken gearhead played by writer/director Evan Glodell who, along with his best friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson), grew up idolizing Lord Humungus, the charismatic, muscle-bound leader of a vicious motorcycle gang in The Road Warrior. The directionless duo spend all their time building flamethrowers and various other weapons in preparation for the apocalypse, which would clear a path for their made-up gang, “Mother Medusa,” to rule the earth. Woodrow then hooks up with blond bad girl Milly (Jessie Wiseman), and the two go off on a romantic road trip to Texas, guzzling mini Dixie cups of whiskey along the way courtesy of a dispensing device in his customized Volvo. Shortly after their return, Woodrow catches his love having sex with her sleazy roommate, gets in a near-fatal motorcycle accident, and transforms into a brain-damaged nihilistic loner who drives around in a muscle car with fuel-injected exhaust flamethrowers called the Medusa, beds his best friend’s crush, and makes Milly’s life a living hell. The cinematic chimera was inspired by a traumatizing breakup suffered by Glodell.
“I was young and for some reason [the breakup] caused this realization in me, the shattering of the thing where you’re growing up and people are always telling you that things are going to work out and be OK,” said a manic Glodell in an interview with The Daily Beast.
In the film, Glodell draws a fascinating parallel between the destructive machinery the two buddies build and the architecture of a relationship—which, he feels, can prove just as lethal. A tinkerer from a young age, Glodell soon garnered a reputation around his neighborhood for his bizarre contraptions, including a three-wheeled bicycle that he customized to include a stereo system, electronic motors, and a chair on the back with armrests. “It was like I had a car in middle school and no one else did,” gushed Glodell, talking a mile a minute. When older bullies would see him riding by, they’d hop on the back and force him to take them places. As payback, Glodell turned the welded-on chair into an electrocuting seat that ejected. “When they jumped on after that, I’d electrocute them,” chuckled Glodell.
He also built shocking devices in middle school consisting of a box with two wires attached that would electrocute its user. Glodell sold them for $5 apiece to his classmates, until one of them shocked a teacher, resulting in a school-wide crackdown and around 30 suspended kids. “I got my own rule in the yearbook that there couldn’t be any recreational electrocution devices in the school,” said Glodell.
Naturally, the childhood inventor took a stab at engineering school when he was 18, but he freaked out after a week and opted to go to Los Angeles and try his hand at filmmaking. In 2003, around the time he first began work on the script for Bellflower, Glodell met actors Tyler Dawson and Jessie Wiseman while attending a series of shotgun theater performances in L.A., and soon recruited them into his movie gang. The trio collaborated on several demented short films and commercials. “We did a webisode called Boss of the Glory that’s a really weird version of I Love Lucy where he’s a really crazy, over-the-top manly motorcycle dude and I’m weirdly housewife-ish, and Tyler plays the postman,” recalls Wiseman. In another short, the actress had to act like she was eating a doll head with a safety pin through it on a cracker. “I think I was cast [in Bellflower] because I would honestly do whatever,” laughs Wiseman.
They began to raise money for Bellflower in late 2007, but nobody bit. By then, their crew had swelled to 11 people, and the determined outfit decided to finance the project themselves on a microbudget of $17,000. Many of the crewmembers quit or were fired from their jobs in order to work on the film, and Glodell and Dawson even moved into an abandoned office building in Oxnard, California, which had been used to test military rockets. “There were times where we’d be so broke we were stealing fruit from the local orchard to eat,” Dawson told The Daily Beast.
Production on Bellflower lasted three years, including a chaotic 90-day shoot that saw the actors risking everything to realize their vision. “When it came to the movie, I was willing to do anything that I thought wouldn’t kill me,” said Glodell. This included, among other things: Wiseman eating several handfuls of crickets and the filmmaker enduring multiple punches to the face. “[The actor] didn’t want to hit me that hard, so every time he wouldn’t I screamed, ‘You have to hit me harder!’” said Glodell.
The biggest scare, however, came when they had to shoot the scene where Woodrow’s muscle car, the Medusa, shoots flames from its exhaust pipes. Glodell built the car himself, but wasn't entirely confident in his creation. “Evan actually took me aside that night and was worried he didn’t know what was going to happen. That’s something that he never does,” said Dawson. “We thought the flames were going to go back into the exhaust and light the car on fire, which actually happened, but it wasn’t that bad. We just set the trunk on fire.”
In order to achieve the film’s distinctive hazy, yellow-red palette—similar to Tony Scott’s in films like Man on Fire and Domino—Glodell, who’s been building and modifying movie cameras for nearly a decade, constructed several new cameras for the shoot. According to Glodell, 85 percent of the film is shot on cameras he built, including a large-form 4x5 camera that he invented for a single shot. “Nobody’s ever seen that before,” chuckled Glodell. “That was built just for the steadicam shot where I’m covered in blood.”
Woodrow spends the final third of Bellflower in a brain-damaged state, and since the events are seen largely from his perspective, it leads the character—and the viewer—to question whether the bloody revenge he exacts on Milly and her lover is fantasy or reality. “The entire idea of that part of the script was to find a way to illustrate what it’s like to have your heart broken and endure an experience like that,” said Glodell, who takes a rare pause. “Watching a character go through that in a normal way is boring.”