Filmmaker Mikel Wisler (pronounced Michael Whistler) has started branching out – and that’s good news for all of us cinema lovers! I first noticed him after I reviewed several of his short films for Rogue. What stood out for me was Mikel’s ability to craft engaging and thought-provoking sci-fi films on a limited budget. Several of these short movies have been featured at film festivals over the past few years and he has won several awards as well. Last month, Mikel gave us a little bit of background information on what his influences were and how he crafts his screenplays. This month, Mikel talks about two of his short films (“Parallel” and “Intrigue”) and what he’s got in store for the future.
RC: Mikel, I love ‘Parallel’. It has such a wonderful premise. How did the premise come to you?
MW: “Parallel” is a very special film to me. It’s a movie about two people from different planets who start communicating with each other and later fall in love, even though they are separated by the void of time and space. Late one night as I drove home after a lengthy conversation with a friend, the idea just jumped out and grabbed hold of me. I was a new father and struggling to wrap my head around all of that and I was profoundly depressed about what I felt was a stalled career as a filmmaker. I’m also a total science nerd, being a sci-fi writer and all. So I’d been following the discovery of the Higgs boson by physicists at CERN. While I drove home, this mental image of cars traveling down the street side-by-side for a while mixed with the image of particles zooming through a particle accelerator at slightly different speeds. Every particle had its own trajectory, it just so happened that for a brief moment some trajectories lined up with others.
I realized that life, and specifically relationships, are very much like this. They’re all too brief and fleeting, but no less meaningful. Each of us has a trajectory through life and our own factors affect that trajectory. Our lives, when viewed in fast forward, might be nothing more than streaks through time and space. And for just a little bit, those streaks happen to run alongside other streaks. But here’s the thing about those streaks running parallel. That’s kind of the best they can hope for. For decades I’ve been fascinated by the metaphysical reality that I exist within my own brain and body and soul and while I can form profound connections with other people, I can never truly break that metaphysical barrier and exist as them and experience the world as them. There’s only so far I can travel in getting to know anyone. In this sense, we’re each our own little universe that just happens to be bumping into other universes out there—other people. A recent article I’d read around that time was on a proposed multi-verse theory suggesting that if there are multiple universes they may well be a lot like bubbles in a fluid (thus the opening image of the film).
So I blended the ideas! We’re each our own isolated universes flying through space like tiny particles. And while we can’t seem to crack the shell of each others universes, we do manage to travel together for a while. It struck me as such a potentially meaningful way of looking at life. And as a new father, I wondered how in the world I might communicate such a thing to my own daughter some day. And just like that, the whole story just landed, damn near fully formed: a father telling his daughter about love across parallel universes that slowly drift out of synch.
Part of me knew the moment the story showed up at my brain’s doorstep that I needed to make it. But it took me at least a week, maybe longer, to write the first draft of the script. I was honestly broken by the idea for a while. I’d think about it, and I’d just lose it and cry for a while and then go do something else. Finally, I got past that and I felt like I could write it down. But even then, I wondered if I could do justice to the entire ocean of emotions that seemed to swell behind this idea. Could a short film really do the job? I don’t know. I still don’t know. But I gave it my best shot.
RC: “Intrigue” is a six minute panic! The story is so wonderful, but it’s a definite departure for you. Why did you decide to make it?
MW: Ha, yeah! That’s such a great way to describe it! “Intrigue” is definitely a departure for me as a writer/director. It starts out like a spy thriller, but it really isn’t. I’ve helped write and produce other comedy projects, but I’d never directed a comedy myself. I went through a pretty rough time where I wasn’t writing much, and then one day this really silly idea popped into my head. It was just the mental image of a gun haphazardly taped to the bottom of a dining room table. And of course my writer’s brain went to work asking, “Now, why the hell would anyone tape a gun to the bottom of a table?” And within a few minutes I came up with this entire scenario that was pretty ridiculous. I wrote the script in a single sitting and then just sat on it for a while thinking it might be a fun project to do at some point. Eventually I showed it to Kristina and we agreed it would be a cool project for SbtR (Stories by the River) to do in the winter when things were a little slower. While we were waiting for winter to arrive, the whole “Parallel” thing happened.
It feels good to branch out. I’ve always been interested in pushing myself to try new things and take new risks. And that’s the beauty of making short films. The stakes are relatively low, so I can take risks and venture out of my usual territory and try new things.
RC: Tell me about your first feature film project ‘Unidentified’? Why did you write the novel first?
MW: “Unidentified” is a sci-fi/horror blend that is pretty heavily influenced by my love for “The X-Files.” It follows FBI special agent Nicole Mitchell and psychiatrist Alan Evans as they investigate a case in New Hampshire. A young woman claims she’s being abducted by aliens. The case is pretty similar to one Mitchell had investigated in the same town a year ago where a boy made similar claims and then vanished without a trace. She’s convinced someone is cleverly using the powerful suggestion of UFOs to abduct people. Evans figures there’s probably a more mundane but still powerful psychological explanation. The story goes in a direction I feel most alien abduction stories don’t tend to go or at best just flirt with a little but never quite fully explore.
The truth is I wrote the screenplay first. The early draft of the script then served as a super detailed outline for the novel which I could go ahead and expand on. I went very quickly from writing the script to writing the novel. I opted to publish the novel first even as SbtR is actively seeking investors for the feature film because I know how important it is to begin connecting with and building an audience for an indie feature long before the shooting begins. With the dramatic evolution of the self-publishing world over the last several years, it just made sense to get the book out there first and start building some buzz.
So far readers seem to be enjoying the book. I’m hopeful we’ll get to make the film. It’s definitely a story I’m very excited about and totally fits my criteria of characters in a high-pressure and life-changing (or worldview-altering) situation. It also would give me the chance to do something I don’t often get to do with my short films: scare the shit out of people.
Interested readers can check it out on Kindle or in paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Unidentified-Mikel-Wisler-ebook/dp/B011K3XC2I
People can also grab a free copy by signing up for our Unidentified newsletter by visiting: http://www.unidentifiedfilm.com
RC: What is your timeline for the film?
MW: The timeline for the film is rather uncertain at this point. It’s all about securing funding. We’ve talked to some people already and we’re currently connecting with more people who might be able to help get the project funded. So we’re in that awesomely frustrating and uncertain part of indie filmmaking where we have to hurry up and wait, work our asses off without any promise of achieving our goal. It’s the reality of making a feature film as opposed to short films. I also don’t want to rush into a funding deal that I’m not 100% confident in.
RC: What else is in your future Mikel?
MW: Well, I’m about to publish a new book. This one is a non-fiction book about making short films. It’s called “Short Films 2.0: Getting Noticed in the YouTube Age.” It explores how short films have changed dramatically over the last decade and how new filmmakers can make the most of these changes to the medium of short films as they seek to garner an audience and tell meaningful stories. The book will come out on Kindle first and then eventually in paperback.
I’m also shooting a new sci-fi short film called “Empathy OD” which is based on a new short story I wrote. And I’m in the middle of the first draft of my next novel, which is a sci-fi time-travel thriller called “Stop,” which is based on a short film by the same tile I made in 2011. I’ve just been incredibly busy with commercial editing work and parenting lately, so writing has been slow. After I finish “Stop” I have three novel ideas I’m dying to tackle plus a possible collection of short stories centered around “Empathy OD.” So, writing – a lot of writing.
Otherwise, I’ve got my day job as a stay-at-home dad and as a freelance cinematographer and editor and occasional writer for local TV and web commercials.
RC: Where can Rogue Cinema readers learn more about your projects Mikel?
MW: I definitely recommend people head over to the Stories by the River Facebook page and like us there: https://www.facebook.com/StoriesByTheRiver
Or follow us on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/StoriesBTR
You can see all of the Stories by the River films for free on our website: http://www.storiesbytheriver.org
I also have my own website: http://www.mikelwisler.com
RC: Thanks a lot Mikel for all your time and good luck with ‘Unidentified’!
MW: Thank you so much for this awesome opportunity, Phil! Keep up the great work! Indie artists like me definitely need people like you checking out our work, reviewing it, and sharing it with people. This is super exciting and encouraging and has been a lot of fun!