“I have been a prisoner for about three years,” said filmmaker JB Whirtley, the writer-director speaking from the sound booth where he’s made his home for the past couple weeks, dragging an inflatable mattress into the space and setting up camp as he puts the finishing touches on his long-awaited short film Bullet of Madness, to be screened for the first time August 19 at the ManaSota Films monthly meet-up in Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, where local filmmakers get a spot on the big screen to show their work. Now the nerves set in. “It was hard to make the movie, but it’s probably going to be even harder to watch it,” said Whirtley, tired but in good cheer, “especially with a bunch of strangers.”
A dark comedy starring an unhinged plastic surgeon (played by ManaSota Films founder Mark Troy) tearing through the local criminal element in a mad quest for revenge, Bullet of Madness began in 2013 with an idea, an elaborate trailer and a trip to Canada to meet with Magnet Releasing, a studio haven for the offbeat and bizarre, especially within the world of genre filmmaking. Impressed, Magnet sent Whirtley home to make his short film and meet again after with possible talk of turning Bullet into a feature-length film. Now, three years later, Whirtley’s film clocks in at a cool twenty minutes of slick and demented action, but not without a few bumps in the road, such as switching crews and uprooting the production from Orlando to Bradenton.
“Me and the crew just did not jive,” said Whirtley, regarding the Orlando crew with a stylistic update of the classic ‘creative differences.’ “They were trying to make a different film than I was.” Shifting his focus to Bradenton, Whirtley enlisted the help of local filmmakers such as Trishul Thejasvi, founder of Orensis Films, producer and cinematographer for Bullet, and now a regular collaborator, and John O’Keefe, an actor who stepped into a co-producer role to keep the film moving as crews were assembled and sets rebuilt. On top of that, Whirtley met the demands of his regular job as assistant director for commercial work. “Any time I had a gig, I had to stop to make money,” said Whirtley. “And then when I had money, I had to reopen the production again and start shooting.” Putting the film together in bits and pieces, time ran long. “We shot whatever we could over the course of two years,” said Whirtley.
Film in hand, Whirtley remains in contact with Magnet, where he says relations are “cordial, but I still have other options on the table.” That being said, he doesn’t want to overstate his position. Magnet knows he has something, he says, but they haven’t seen the finished product and anything could happen. “It’s business,” he said. “Nothing’s carved in stone until there’s a contract.”
But even if Magnet passes and Hollywood doesn’t come calling just yet, Whirtley hopes to see the film have an impact on the local scene, inspiring other artists to try more than the usual dramas, more often than not touching on drug addiction and other social ills, which he typically finds unsatisfying and overreaching in their attempts at depth. “Especially for first-time filmmakers,” he said. “I want to push genre filmmaking.” Genre films, the biggest being horror but including science fiction and fantasy, are usually relegated to schlock, but Whirtley sees opportunity in a cinematic tradition more focused on audience enjoyment and engagement than any pretense of high art, an opportunity to invigorate the local film community. “Everyone has their own way of making film and this is just my opinion,” said Whirtley, “but there needs to be more genre films treated with more respect. Filmmakers should try to please themselves and please audiences at the same time.”
Bullet of Madness screens tonight at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas at the ManaSota Films meet-up, which begins at 8:15pm. Also screening will be At a Glance, a short film from Rory Smith about coffee shop conflict; Stephanie Davis and Cindy Krapfel’s Speed Dating; Heading Nowhere, a lengthier and seemingly absurdist short film from Keenan O’Reilly and more. Admission is free, but guests are encouraged to give back to the theater that hosts the community free of charge for the event by treating themselves at the concession stand.