A lot of people from Charlottesville like to think of themselves as Hollywood types, but Jeff Wadlow, son of the late State Senator Emily Couric and Charlottesville High School graduate (Class of 1994), really is one. In 2002, he won the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Competition, garnering $1 million for his first Hollywood feature, Cry_Wolf. These days he’s working on an action/crime feature, Hail to the Thief, with his writing and producing partner Beau Bauman. But despite this golden start to his career, Wadlow maintains his local ties, returning each year to the Virginia Film Festival with Bauman to direct the Adrenaline Film Project. The intense, guerilla filmmaking weekend, which was born of an offhand comment he made three years ago, is close to his heart, being fundamentally collaborative. Wadlow does not subscribe to the auteur school of filmmaking. I reached him in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago in advance of the Adrenaline project. He was there to attend the annual meeting of the National College of Gastroenterologists, where the keynote lecture was named in memory of his mother.—J.T.B.
C-VILLE: Why was Cry_Wolf, your first major movie, a teen slasher film?
Jeff Wadlow: Because I had 1 million dollars and I wanted to make a big commercial film. If you want to make a big commercial film for not a lot of money, you don’t have a lot of choices.
What are the key elements of short film?
The key to making a good short film is making sure your running time is merited by your story. Usually people make a short film that is too long for their story. There’s a big difference between a story that should be five minutes and a story that should be 15 minutes.
How did the Adrenaline Film Project start?
I’m on the board of the Virginia Film Festival and the year “Speed” was the theme I said it would be kind of fun to do a short filmmaking thing. I had this idea to make it unique. Instead of just making it a contest where you’re just sort of challenging people to do the best they can, given the circumstance, you actually get involved in the making of the film. I actually consider myself a part of each team’s team. It’s not about the academic distance that teachers create between them and their students, where they want the student sometimes to fail to learn their lesson. To me, at the end of the day this isn’t about the teams, this is about the screening. This is about the audience enjoying the screening. And the filmmakers seeing an audience enjoy their work, because as a struggling filmmaker so often you spend all this time and all this energy and you forget that it’s about showing your work to an audience.
It’s almost like sport, and that seems odd in the context of art.
Well, you know, there’s a lot of different definitions of art. I believe that filmmaking is collaborative art. It’s art often created under unique circumstances that ultimately influence the art much more than what your creative spark may have been.
Do you see any similarities between AFP and something like “Project Runway” or “America’s Top Model”?
Those are very different in that ultimately those are about making a good TV show, and so they’ll do things to intentionally play up a dramatic situation, where I’m interested in creating drama. It is surprising to me how good films can be that are made fast.
Did you have the same philosophy for your film Manual Labor, another movie made for a fast film competition?
Yeah. And what happens is the more times you’re put into a position where you have to produce, the better you get at producing. It gets to a quote that I heard once from Arthur Miller. Someone asked him, “What’s the key to writing a Pulitzer-winning play?” and he said, “Write a lot of plays. One of them will win the Pulitzer.” I honestly don’t care if these teams ever watch their Adrenaline films again. The important thing is that they did it, they got it done, they screened it in front of an audience, they saw what the audience thought of it, they saw what works, they saw what didn’t work, now they need to go make something else.