He said ‘No’ to film school. He said ‘No’ to a studio offering to buy his script. Risky moves, yes, but telling – JB Whirtley wants to make movies his way, and his latest project, Bullet of Madness, a madcap dark comedy starring a plastic surgeon who snaps under pressure from the mafia and a deteriorating family life, is no exception.
The youthful writer/director from Sarasota got his start in high school, making skateboarding videos and a short film, The Psycho Dish, which, Whirtley admits, garnered only lukewarm reviews.
“That was my film school,” said Whirtley. “I didn’t know how to make a film. I knew how to shoot, but I didn’t know how to tell a story and translate it into moving images.”
Whirtley did enroll in a film program at Full Sail University in Orlando, but unhappy and eager to move on, left after only 6 months. Whirtley moved into the world of freelance videography, plying his trade to local businesses and international giants, like MTV and ESPN.
After a couple years brushing shoulders in the big leagues, Whirtley was ready to step back into the director’s chair.
“I was a videographer and those were just jobs – I didn’t really get too much gratification from it,” said Whirtley. “I was happy that I was doing that, but I wanted to be more of a director.”
Whirtley began saving his money again and completed his second short – a black and white psychological thriller called Anti-PainKillers – which enjoyed a respectable run on the festival circuit.
Shortly after, working on a pilot in Toronto, Whirtley caught the eye of Magnet Releasing, a Canadian production company known for cult favorites such as Hobo With A Shotgun and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.
Seizing the opportunity, Whirtley pitched his idea for Bullet of Madness and Magnet offered to option the script. There was just one snag.
Whirtley wanted to direct the film himself, but the studio balked at giving an untested newcomer free reign with a feature-sized budget. Whirtley turned Magnet down, and, in what seems to be a characteristically Whirtley move, presented a counter-offer.
“I said ‘How about I make a short film version and prove that I can be the director. If you like it, then maybe we can do business,’” said Whirtley. The folks at Magnet agreed and gave Whirtley two years to convince them.
Returning to Florida, Whirtley set to work securing funding and building a professional crew. Local actor Mark Troy was quickly cast in the lead role as Dr. Jeffery Mishlove, for whom Whirtley said the character was written. Then, according to Whirtley, good fortune came in the form of Trishul Thejasvi’s Orensis Films, a Tampa-based production company that supplied top-notch equipment and Thejasvi himself as cinematographer.
Despite his driven ways, Whirtley is, at heart, a collaborator and stops to sing the praises of his co-workers often, whether it be Troy, , (“He’s a great actor. He was born to play his role.”) or Orensis (“Without them – without Trishul – this film would not have been made.”).
Filming took approximately a full year, shooting at over 40 locations across Florida and building sets in Bradenton warehouses, squeezing scenes in between full-time jobs.
With principal photography completed a couple months ago and Magnet’s two years coming to a close, Whirtley is currently overseeing the final stages of post-production. He hopes to finish Bullet of Madness by October, in time for the Orlando Film Festival and, of course, a screening at the monthly ManaSota Films meet-up.
However, the real test will be at neither of these venues, but likely in the offices of Magnet, where Whirtley’s gamble will be decided.
View the trailer for Bullet of Madness here: http://vimeo.com/89657118