Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Spotlight on Jon Weimer" by Kelly Luck

This article is from the October 2012 issue of KC Stage

It's not easy thing being an independent filmmaker. You have to deal with the lack of money and dearth of outside funding in these financially uncertain times. Or people who, when you tell them you're making an independent film, automatically think "porn". Locations which flat-out refuse to allow you to film, or demand rates that would make a major studio flinch. Leads who move across the country three-quarters of the way through filming because they "want an Asian girlfriend". Stoned sound guys. Spending thousands of dollars for an animatronic monster and getting nothing to show for it.

But none of that stops Jon Weimer.

Jon got started in filmmaking several years ago, starting with his 2001 short film "Wild", based on an original story. Jon is a writer by nature; the films are a way to bring his stories to life. After managing to complete "Wild" to moderate success, he expanded his horizons and made a feature length anthology called Night Terrors. In the tradition of the old Amicus horror anthologies, the five stories - all his - featured the same actress playing five different roles, and a wraparound story to join them together. Basically, it was like making six short films. What could possibly go wrong?

"The sound guy ... talked a good piece, but he was a heroin addict. I'm sure he must have been great when he was sober, but most of the sound we got ended up being useless." Jon laughs, relaxing in the patio of his home. "Then the actress who was in all of the sequences ... we were, two thirds, three-quarters of the way done ... nobody could get in touch with her. I finally got an e-mail from her. She'd moved up to Seattle because she wanted an Asian girlfriend. Okay, I admit there's probably not an awful lot of bisexual Asian women around here, but she couldn't wait a few weeks?"

But he persisted, and lately his hard work has been paying off. Most recently, Ariztical Entertainment picked up one of his projects, Change of Life, for distribution. A dark fantasy set in the present day political climate, Change of Life combines elements of some of his favorite influences: horror and suspense writers Freddie Francis and Robert Bloch, who wrote some of the stories that gave the world not only the aforementioned horror anthologies but memorable episodes of Night Gallery and The Twilight Zone. Gary Catell is a radio preacher in the Westboro mold, railing against gays and lesbians and nearly everyone else. When his lesbian daughter Sarah is outed by some of his church members, she calls into his radio show and commits suicide on the air. The next day, an emotionally distraught Gary staggers into his church, calling out to God to give him one more day with his daughter. When he wakes up the next morning, two weeks have rolled back: his daughter is still alive, and he is in the body of Adam, a gay man and friend of Sarah's. Adam, he realizes with horror, is one of the victims of a man who has been going around brutally killing gays because "it's what the Bible demands." Gary must reconcile with his daughter while enduring the slings and arrows of his followers and trying to keep himself alive.

Jon freely admits he draws on his environment for ideas. Unafraid - even eager - to tackle hard social issues, nothing delights him quite so much as to play with the audience's expectations and preconceived notions. Characterization, to him, is all-important. When he wrote the original draft of Change of Life, he felt that it was too dark and lacked by not having a genuine LGBT perspective. Enter Amy McClung, a talented gay woman of his acquaintance he brought in to direct. Together, they rewrote the screenplay, finding a balance between his natural predilection for darkness and the overall theme of redemption and reconnection. The collaboration paid off: the film won the Religious/Spiritual category at the 2009 Great Lakes Independent Film Festival, and has been selected for numerous others both at home and abroad.

Jon is quite adamant about building realistic characters. "That's the problem with modern horror films, like since the 80's," he explains. "You watch someone pretend to pull sheep guts out of a topless woman, and you don't care, because you've seen it all before and you've been given no reason to care about this person ... it's all tits and gore. Frankly, the only thing scary about horror movies these days is that you paid ten bucks to see it."

Recently, he has been developing a new project: a reworking of the vampire classic Carmilla, moving it from 16th century Vienna to a rural group of Amish-like Hassidim who broke away from the early Judeo-Christians and who have settled far from anywhere in rural Kansas. In the story, a father moves back to the enclave with his daughter after the mother's murder, where the villagers take them back in because they need a doctor, but the daughter is shunned as the product of an outside marriage. One day, a woman's car breaks down nearby, and the daughter gives her shelter in their barn. Friendship blossoms into love, and she finds herself getting and receiving real affection for the first time since she found herself in the village. Unfortunately, that's about the time that people begin to turn up dead with their throats ripped out, and the local Inquisitor is determined to root out the cause, even if he has to slaughter every girl in the village.

He was hoping to get seriously working on the film this summer; unfortunately, the horrors of real life got in the way. "I'm diabetic, and I was getting up at like 4 o' clock in the morning my blood sugar was like, 60. I went in to my [endocrinologist] and he checked my thyroid, and it was cancerous, and that just put the kibosh on everything for the summer." With a combination of radiation and surgery, the danger is over for the time being, but for Jon the threat isn't ever quite gone: "Don't get me started on ObamaCare. That saved my life. I'm an itinerant faculty member at various universities in the area; universities aren't hiring tenure track jobs anymore because it's cheaper for them to get adjuncts ... my fear that keeps me awake at night is that Romney and Ryan will get in, and they'll erase ObamaCare, and my cancer will come back."

For now, though, he's feeling better, and getting back to work. A recent meet-and-greet with Doug Bradley (best known as Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies) led to the actor developing an interest in the story, and hopes are high that if funds can be raised for the production, they may be able to begin planning sometime next year.

In the meantime, Jon's keeping busy. He's got short stories and novels in the works, and is even planning to make a foray onto the stage. With Agent Provocateur, the company he started with his friends and collaborators, they are hoping starting next year to do one or two stage productions of "refreshingly dark" material. First in their crosshairs is "Death and the Maiden", the Ariel Dorfman play about a psychologically scarred woman whose husband gives a stranger a lift home, only for her to suspect the stranger of being the one who repeatedly raped and tortured her when she was a political prisoner fighting against the erstwhile repressive regime. "It's a really simple production to stage," he explains. "There's only one set, the living room: couch, a chair ... the main thing is finding an actor with that property ... you think, what a nice guy, and you're totally on his side and it turns out maybe he's not after all, but he has the ability to get you on his side." If that production goes well, other stagings in a similar vein are planned.

Jon Weimer has been through a lot trying to get his visions to the screen, from minor technical glitches to full-blown cancer, but he perseveres. Far from slowing down, he's writing full tilt, and clearly has no interest in abating. Like many amateur auteurs, he has stories he wants to tell, and the will to tell them.

No matter what it takes.

You can find Jon Weimer on Facebook. When Kelly Luck isn't hanging out in darkened theatres, she is a writer for KC Stage and builds roller coasters on her kitchen table.

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