Newsblaze caught up with writer-director Wyatt McDill to chat about filmmaking and his latest project “3 Day Weekend” releasing October 8.
Can you tell us about life before film, where did you spend your childhood?
My parents were part of the Back to the Land movement, so our hippie family moved from San Francisco to a farm in a small town in Northern Minnesota. In effect, I’ve spent my adult life trying to get back to San Francisco! I love cities, the mash-up of people, and the intersection of different cultures. I guess it was only a matter of time before I became a filmmaker.
Was it always your dream to work in the entertainment industry?
At Reed College in Portland, I studied history and literature, which are essentially just two different kinds of stories. After college, I was at a friend’s house and he was screening Super-8 footage from a film he was making. Seeing the images entranced me: he was turning life into art with a camera, like a magician. When I started taking filmmaking classes myself, I realized everything in my life had been preparation for telling stories in this magical way.
You’ve partnered with your wife, producer Megan Huber, to create Sleeper Cell Films. Can you tell us how that came about?
Megan and I met at a film party in Minneapolis, she was a producer and actor, and I was a writer and director. If you know about filmmaking, you can fill in the rest of that story … In our case, the name of our production company is really just another name for marriage.
How did you both come up with the production company name?
A sleeper in our business is an unexpected hit movie, and a cell is like an incubator, so Sleeper Cell. The name fits how we see our company’s goals, too: to operate beneath the film industry’s radar but create projects with a surprising impact.
Can you tell us about your latest film ‘3 Day Weekend’?
We wanted to make a film we’d love to watch, an old-fashioned caper where one surprise just leads naturally to the next ’til everyone is miles off course. Making films is hard, so we figured, let’s pour it on! “3 Day Weekend” is the result: a dense puzzle, seen from four points of view, with time jumps forward and backward, and all told with no dialogue.
Why did you choose to make the film with hardly any dialogue?
In the film, people occasionally talk, and even sometimes to each other, but they never successfully communicate. A Sleeper Cell film always makes the writing itself a key part of the story, so no dialogue – or communication – just made sense. I always love a movie that shows a story, not tells it and asks the viewer to keep up, or even fill in what’s happening. No dialogue is just taking that idea to its extreme.
Can you explain the casting process ahead of your final choices of Maya Stojan, Morgan Krantz, Nathan Phillips, and Scott MacDonald?
Real-life – with its history and its nuance and its messiness – is ten times more interesting than this hokey thing we do with actors and scripts and costumes and cameras called filmmaking. For this reason, we always ask our actors to stay as close as they’re comfortable playing themselves in any given role. In the end, we couldn’t have been happier with the expressive performances given by Maya and Morgan and Nathan and Scott, who all had a really difficult task: create a compelling character without ever speaking a line!
What can you tell us about your main location, and what was it like filming there? And was ‘3 Day Weekend’ written with that location already in mind, or did finding the right spot to make the movie come only afterward?
We like to stay flexible in the process of shooting a film, so we’ll often tailor the script to a great location, rather than spend money or effort searching endlessly for a needle in a haystack. In the case of “3 Day Weekend” however, we really needed a lake that felt isolated yet was picturesque enough to serve as our main location. As it turns out – although Minnesota has 10,000 lakes – all the good-looking ones have cabins and docks and boats all over them! In the end, we found a mostly privately-owned lake near the Mississippi headwaters that worked great, but it was a lot harder to find than we thought it would be.
How would you describe yourself as a director?
I consider myself to be a practical director – I think of the director as part of the crew. If I’ve done my job correctly, the actors know what’s expected of them, the rest of the crew knows the plan for the day, and we finish on time. Of course, before the shoot inspiration plays a key role in the preparations – everything relies on everyone believing in the project and seeing its full potential. But on the day of the shoot, Megan and I believe in planning and planning-redundancy: we only impress ourselves when nothing is left to chance.
What filmmakers inspire you?
All of them. I like the Safdie Brothers lately, Greta Gerwig, and we’ll watch anything by Olivier Assayas. During COVID we discovered Nancy Meyers, and we watched all her movies – she’s amazing. In the past, I’ve answered David Lynch and Chris Smith to this question. I’m more of a case by case person when it comes to directors, though: “The Lighthouse,” “First Cow,” and “The Overnight” I recently clicked on and enjoyed. Also, I put the “L.A. Confidential” DVD in three times a year, usually when I’m drinking – I love that movie.
What’s next for you and Megan?
We recently world-premiered “Hollywood Fringe” at the DWF Festival in Hollywood and were pleased to win an Audience Award. Next summer we’re back in the woods shooting another thriller, called “2 Feet Underground.” It’s the next installment in our “10,000 10” Series, which is ten puzzle-thrillers that all start with a number 1-10. And we’re developing a cooking show, and directing a Holiday special, and…
How can people find out more about you?
Our movies have Facebook pages, I’m on Instagram, and we have a site with information about our projects at www.sleepercellfilms.com. Also, we are developing a streaming site where people can watch our films direct from the filmmaker: www.sleepercell.tv.