Former rocket scientist, shark safety diver and award winning screenwriter, Dan Goforth’s most recent assignments were RIDING ON FAITH, the true-life story of rodeo champion Amberley Snyder and the feature film adaptations of New York Times bestselling author Col. Walter J. Boyne’s DAWN OVER KITTY HAWK, as well as the sci-fi graphic novel, THE CHRONIC ARGONAUTS, from New Baby Publishing. Visit Dan’s blog, Script Soup and follow him on Twitter @Dango_Forth.
A filmmaker has to muster courage to make a film smart and to give it heart. When he can showcase his many filmmaking talents among the wheat fields of Kansas, and is also be able to demonstrate that “There’s No Place Like Home” using his own home town, it’s obvious he’s not your average movie maker…
He’s a Wizard of Cinema.
Meet Michael Williams.
His Shendopen Films is an independent film studio that creates compelling, award-winning independent films where story and vision take priority. I first ran across Michael’s name when he was the cinematographer shooting Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts in the award-winning short film Dead Saturday. Some time later, I was introduced to him by producer Jeremy Burgess at the Sidewalk Film Festival, where Michael, Jeremy and Benjamin Stark were premiering the short film.
In a dry and dusty post-apocalyptic world, two wayfarers wander aimlessly until they find a copy of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. Using the book to interpret the world around them, they find their beliefs, friendship, and even their very survival threatened as one of them begins to ask the profound question: What If?
Michael wrote, directed and produced more than 20 short films before making the move to features. I asked him how having such a solid background helped him in making the transition.
Michael: Short films were immensely helpful in preparing me for my first feature film. My team and I have been able to build a really amazing support base which we needed to raise the funds to produce OzLand. It also gave us the confidence and faith in our abilities that we needed to accomplish something so ambitious. Because of scheduling issues, we could only shoot on weekends and holidays. This allowed us to treat each section of the shoot as a short film shoot. We would prepare what we needed for those specific scenes and then use the weeks in between each shoot to prep for the next set of scenes. That allowed us tackle some really difficult sequences with more confidence.
Script: What crew roles did you take on for OzLand and how did you handle juggling them?
Michael: OzLand had an amazing team. However, the team was small and so was our budget. Because of that, I had to wear a lot of hats. I was the writer, director, producer, and cinematographer while on set, however, I had to have my hand in a lot of other areas during filming. The cast and crew had to be involved with almost every aspect of the film to get the job done. In post, I served as the editor and co-sound designer. We all had to wear a lot of hats, but what made it easy for me to be able to juggle it was my team. I surround myself with amazing people who are both talented and wonderful personalities. I knew that our team could tackle the immense task of creating this film on our budget.
Script: How did you cast the film and how did you select the crew?
Michael: I always collect people that I like when I work on films. The crew for my films are close friends that I will always want to work with. With each project, the faces on set may change or we add new people to the family, however, they’re always people who are creatively like-minded, talented, inspiring, hard workers, and overall amazing people on set and off. As for the cast, the two lead roles were written for two actor friends of mine. One of which was Glenn Payne who played Emri. We had to recast Leif due to scheduling issues. For that character, I auditioned a few very talented candidates and Zack Ratkovich, a then newcomer to our family, killed it in his audition and rightfully won the role of Leif.
Script: How did the storyline for Ozland come about?
Michael: I was watching the History Channel show Ancient Aliens and a commentator mentioned how someone with no frame of reference could misinterpret a fictional book for fact. I immediately thought about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It wasn’t long until I had the main premise, however, it took me a couple of years to allow the idea to develop within my head and allow me to sit down and write the actual script.
Script: What is your writing process like?
Michael: It is different on every project. Writing is often the hardest part of my job as a filmmaker. When I’m inspired and on a roll, it is easy. However, sometimes I try to force inspiration and the product doesn’t work until something clicks for me. For OzLand, I took me a long time to actually sit down and write the film. Thanks to Glenn Payne, I was peer-pressured into writing the treatment for the film to submit for the MFVA filmmaking grant. I said, “If I get the grant, I’ll worry about writing this film since I don’t think that I can make the film without the jump start from the grant”. Well, I received the grant and had to make the film. I knew how the story would play out from beginning to end, and I knew the characters inside and out. Therefore, the writing process for OzLand was pretty easy. Once I sat down, it took me a couple of weeks to flesh out the story and get the first draft of the script. I always find it easier to write when you go into it with an extremely detailed and personal understanding of your characters and the story you’re trying to tell. Having that understanding allowed me to write OzLand fairly fast and painlessly.
Script: What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing Ozland?
Michael: I hope first and foremost that they’re entertained and they enjoy something about it. I hope they understand the story we were trying to tell and connect with either both or just one of the characters. The characters in the film are both very different on the surface, however, they are both facets of my own personality, experience, and sensibilities. My thoughts, desires, experiences, and issues are buried within them and the rest of the film. So, Leif and Emri are actually not that different. Because of that, I hope people see that even when people seem so different from one another that they can actually find common ground and relate, love, and respect each other. OzLand is about a lot of things. There are themes, messages, and metaphors buried throughout the film. However, one of the main messages is the idea of coexisting with those around you. We are all in this together!
Script: What is your next project and can you tell us some things about it?
Michael: I currently have two feature films in the works. The first is The Hidden Few. It is a science fiction drama with traces of Independence Day, Red Dawn, and The Village. I can’t talk too much about it right now, but I am very excited about the project.
- More articles by Dan Goforth
- Why You Should Write a Short Film Screenplay
- Short Circuit: When a Writer Has to Move to L.A.