10 Questions with an Alum
Who? Wyatt Bunce ’10 + What? Filmmaker
Here+There: What have you been up to since graduating from Sun Valley Community School?
Wyatt Bunce: After graduating from Sun Valley Community School, I went on to study English Literature at Stanford. There, I caught the creative writing bug and poked around in fiction writing and screenwriting. I made a couple of short films, too. In 2014, I graduated and worked a summer job at Lake Tahoe before moving to the small town of Healdsburg, California. I was led there by a romantic vision of furiously writing film scripts in isolation. Reality set in before too long, though, and I craved collaboration and learned that to get scripts made, I needed to be in the belly of the beast. So I moved to L.A. and, for the last four years, I've been making my way around the crazy circus that is the entertainment industry. For the last two years, I've been writing and producing this movie!
H+T: When did you get into filmmaking and what was the path?
Wyatt: I made three or four short films while in college. They came after I dabbled in short-story writing for a bit. I guess I liked the idea that filmmaking involves not only realizing the story on the page, but also on the screen. The screen adds another layer of life. It's thrilling to watch an idea transform from a bullet point in a notebook to a visual experience on screen. I also found that my creativity is stimulated through collaboration. I am much more productive and active if I'm working with people, and filmmaking's collaborative element pulled me away from the more isolated fiction writing.
The path to making this film (Killer Whales) has been a winding path of excitement and terror. It's been an adventure, to say the least. I worked on the script for over a year, writing it over and over again, eventually scrapping a major element of the story, only to write it over a couple of times more. My collaborator and I almost gave up the project, found a spark of renewal and passion, stumbled through learning how to start an LLC and raise equity, got a film crew together, and filmed our movie in a hectic 19 days. Such is the insanity of filmmaking. It is also the beauty of filmmaking. I am proud that we pushed through all the lows and made this thing. The path has been about willpower, commitment, play, and faith that putting one foot in front of the other will eventually get something made! And it did.
H+T: How do you come up with ideas for your film(s)?
Wyatt: If you asked me this nine months ago, I would have had a different answer. I've learned in this last year to listen to a different part of myself when ideating. I used to grasp and muscle for ideas. It was a tense process. At some point, I let go and released to the thoughts and images that were naturally coming up for me. Thoughts and images barrage our brains, but we don't validate many of them. I experimented in this last year with writing them all down every morning in a notebook. I try to completely turn off the judgmental voice in my head and quite literally write down every thought that comes up. Boy, that's opened a window to a new creative world.
I think the juiciest ideas come from deep in the unconscious. Writing my morning pages is my way of listening to the unconscious—of letting the ideas I have little control over make their way to the page. I guess that's what I learned—to throw in the towel on trying to control the process. Listen to what's already happening.
What comes up naturally for me is wacky and comedic and strange. It was a leap to embrace this. I do know that it feels much better to validate these ideas than the less authentic, "muscled" ones.
H+T: What qualities of character are essential in filmmaking?
Wyatt: Willpower and loyalty to the bigger picture. When you're in the trenches making a movie, it's chaos. One minute an actor is making everyone laugh, the next your light fixture has caught fire and firemen are on the way. One minute an investor pulls out and you don't have money to pay your location permit, the next a grant seems to land in your lap. If you get too rocked by any one event, you'll have a hard time making it to the end. You have to know that if you want to make the movie, it will get made. It's that simple. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
H+T: How does revision play into your work/life?
Wyatt: Hard to downplay the role of revision. My first drafts are never, ever, ever ready. I just saw the first edit of our movie, and it's far from ready. It's all about getting loose on the first draft and letting everything come out. As a recovering perfectionist, I learned this the hard way. Draft after draft, the story takes shape until it stands and breathes on its own.
H+T: What are some things that you feel like you have a completely different perspective on since you were at SVCS? What has shaped these perspectives?
Wyatt: Wow. Couple bits of advice I'd give high school Wyatt...I'd tell him that passion, not smarts, is what makes anything thrive. I'd say that progress is not at all linear—especially in the arts! Highs and lows will come like tides, and that's okay. Most importantly, I'd say that just when you think you have it figured out, the world can wag its finger at you and say, "You simply haven't scratched the surface, my boy." New wonders abound. I'd say: You don't have it all figured out, and thank God you don't! That, right there, is the excitement of life.
H+T: Tell us about your new film—what's it about, how has the scope of the film and the subject of the film (or any details of the film) changed throughout the process?
Wyatt: It's called Killer Whales. The script started out as a three-person, dialogue-heavy, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf-esque story. It is now a whodunit mockumentary character comedy. That make any sense?! It's like if Best in Show and Clue merged into one. Still don't get what I mean?
Here's the logline:
Four wacky characters attend an open house where a murder takes place. One year later a documentarian struggles to make sense of the events surrounding the murder.
We originally set out to make a cheap movie in one location for $60k. Then everything expanded and we at one point had the budget at $250k. Then it contracted again, and we made it for about $100k.
All that is to say: The movie changed a LOT in the process. It's a feature film and its final form will be about 1.5 hours.
H+T: What's your least favorite thing about making films?
Wyatt: Raising money. Logistical stuff. Getting everyone's schedules aligned. When I'm taking care of that, I think to myself, “No, no, no, I should be DREAMING right now...” But, of course, ya gotta do it.
H+T: What's your favorite thing about making films?
Wyatt: I love ideation. I really, really love imagining the possibility at the beginning. I am doing that for a new idea at the moment, and it's thrilling to think that one day I could see this on the screen. Also, when I see the set built for the first time, it's like, "Ok, I've been imagining this for a year and here it is." It's often terrifying watching the movie on screen for the first time, but that is, truly, what it's all about. That and sharing the dang thing.
H+T: What's next for you?
Wyatt: I have a lot on my plate right now. I'm working on a new story idea called Sugar Pine. Acting here and there. Painting, tutoring, etc, etc. Top priority is finishing this movie, which means mastering the sound, filming pick-up scenes, raising a bit more money, and finishing the edit. We'll submit to festivals and try to make our budget back!