Brian Wallinger is an artist that has given everything to finding his own voice. After spending a lifetime being fascinated by movies and dealing with his autism, he left his home town of Seattle, Washington, dropped out of film school, came to New York to pursue a career in film, and put his active imagination to use.
In 2019, Wallinger finished four arthouse films exploring the beauty of nature, including the upcoming award-winning film Bleeding Solar that gained praise from film festivals in Russia, Jerusalem and across Europe. He then signed on to do a documentary for NASA before signing on to be an executive producer on the upcoming horror Used Body Parts, with up-and-coming filmmaker Vernita Graham. If you’d like to see some of Brian’s work, you can view some of his films via Vimeo, including A Lysergic Lullaby, and Between Scylla and Charybdis.
If going from making no-budget nature films to documentaries and then working on his first feature with a million-dollar budget wasn’t enough, he’s in the first phases of establishing his own New York City-based production company called Inner City Pictures. The mission statement of Inner City Pictures is to, “allow anyone and everyone easy access to utilize their dreams and pursue their passions as an artist while maintaining complete creative control men and women alike equally without any biased notion.” Once Used Body Parts is complete, Wallinger will be heading to Dublin to work on a film with the European indie filmmaker James Slaymaker.
Before heading out to Los Angeles for the first time, Wallinger sat down with PureGrainVideo to fill us in on what it’s like to begin your own career in film, the challenges of the modern indie film landscape, what it’s like working with NASA, the upcoming release of his last feature Bleeding Solar and how modern horror films have helped audiences rediscover the genre.
What has it been like transitioning from more arthouse and more exploratory forms of filmmaking, like what you did with Bleeding Solar, which managed to get all kinds of international festival acclaim, to pivoting into that NASA documentary? How did that documentary opportunity come about?
Brian Wallinger: (laughs) “Well, I have to be completely honest, and I don’t mean to get all sentimental, but I’ll try to keep this as short as possible. So, I had just shot the last film, the fourth film, with Eli Hayes, and that was during the Bleeding Solar run. We had done one movie about a year and a half ago or so ago, and then we did Bleeding Solar, which was the second film. Coming and Going was the first movie, Bleeding Solar was the second one, then we did a third one, and shot a fourth one a couple of months later.
2018 into 2019, we made four full-length movies in less than a year and garnered two cinematography awards and a Best Picture award for Bleeding Solar, that Eli, myself, Alex Gustav, we all shared collectively. Which is pretty wild because while we shot it, we weren’t really thinking about all that other stuff. Awards, festivals, and things like that.”
Yeah, and which festival did you win those awards at?
Wallinger: “It went through a series of festivals in Europe like London, Russia, Russia has a bunch of film festivals and we were in one of the smaller ones, then it went to Jerusalem, and all over that half of Europe, really. If anything, it’s good to know that I’m popular with the Europeans.” (laughs)
It’s not a bad thing to be, at all.
Wallinger: “So, you know, having never really won anything like that before, the excitement was pretty overwhelming and immense because we just continued making movies. After a while, I started getting more creatively ambitious and more open to who I am as an artist and things like that. Then I realized that I just needed to make that leap from the art house, no money productions, and I’ve got to do something. So, I met a musician who wants to cross over into films and she comes from New Jersey, her name’s Tabitha Booth. She was talking to me about a piece that she wanted to do, that she put aside to convince me to do this NASA project for her friend named Patrick Flynn, he’s an editor.
He’s had this project for years and had just never done it, and I was going to be the producer. We went to this place called Reaction Motors, which is this abandoned compound where they used to test motors and things like that, but it was for the space race, like breaking the sound barrier, and all the technology that did that. We went to all these burned out buildings and stuff like that, it was like being on the set of a (Andrei) Tarkovsky film, with all these trees and overgrown things, and trash everywhere. So we shot for two days, and it was okay. The first day ended up being a scrap day and the second day we shot. Anything for NASA sounds like a good bet.
We finished the NASA documentary, it came out around October, November, that’s when the competition was. Long story short, I worked with Tabitha’s father Paul Booth for a little bit, he’s a tattoo artist but he has a gallery on 38th Street by Port Authority, which is amazing, he puts his paintings there. I did a music video with Tabitha. Over the fall we went on tour together, she took all these pictures and she performed (her music), she did ok. I wish her all the luck in the world, but she is a musician and you can find her stuff on Spotify and all that. She’s an acoustic guitar player, she’s got a great voice, and I would really recommend looking into her music. Anyway, let’s get back to the films.”
Yeah, I was just going to say that the NASA opportunity was… When I think of NASA, I think of an exploratory, adventurous experience where there’s no set linear roadmap for any of this type of stuff. It certainly sounds like that experience led down that kind of road to get you to be able to redefine yourself as a filmmaker, along with rediscovering your skillset along with everyone else you collaborated with within a different context. It seems like a reoccurring theme is that you’re able to pivot into these different kinds of crazy areas. How did that lead you into being a producer on your first feature horror film with a million bucks in the gas tank to swing into unchartered territory yet again?
Wallinger: “Oh man, the way you say it like that, you make me feel all warm inside. (laughs) Well, that’s a pretty wild story too. That goes back to this theatrical piece that Tabitha finally wanted to do, and we were talking about it, I was going to write parts of it, you know, whatever, things like that. There was just so much fighting and so much drama that we just couldn’t make it work. I was being really overbearing to be honest. I realized the best thing to do is just walk away, so I took all these hits in the summer. Not making any money, just hanging in there, just looking for something that would come up.
Through Tabitha, I was able to get some experience and some good friends out of it. You know, they’re all very talented people, the camera guys I work with, and things like that. They’re all very intelligent, unique individuals, but anyway, I was getting messages from people with offers to do this and that and the other thing. I just wasn’t really in a place to take on anything. Then I got a message from a woman, she’s a filmmaker, her name’s Vernita Graham, she’s based out of LA. She sent me this link to a short film she was doing because she was looking for funding.
I was talking to her about it and asked her what she wants to do. She sent me something with a script attached called Used Body Parts and it’s about cannibalism, it’s very nitty-gritty and it’s very modern. It’s a very modern ‘80s cult status type of film, and I was really into it, the script is amazing, and then she told me the budget was over a million dollars. I said, ‘It’s what?!’” (laughs)
Horror is one of those lucky genres where you’re able to do it with unknowns with a relatively cheap budget or affordable budget compared to a lot of other genres. There’s no way to do a cheap period piece really, like, there’s no way to do a super cheap science fiction movie these days. There are certain ways around it, but I was going to say, horror really affords you a lot of cool opportunities, not to necessarily cut corners, but to invent your own rules to create a world in a fast and loose way that isn’t insanely expensive.
Wallinger: “Oh yeah, definitely. I don’t know what your beliefs are, but it’s been weird because shit’s been falling into place in such a unique way that it’s insane and it has to work. The other thing is that I went from making these art house films with Eli, who’s one of the greatest auteur filmmakers no one’s ever heard of, and then doing this project if you can believe that. But everyone in my life has played a part leading up to this, though that, it’s finding myself again, you know? I’m pushing into my 30s now, and the game is starting to get a little more complicated.”
No doubt! Life’s funny that way.
Wallinger: “I’ve been very fortunate through the grace of blind luck and I was turning down a few offers because I wasn’t sure, but then I realized, ‘This is my whole life right here.’ Everything has lead to this. Right now it’s now or never. So right now I’m the only leading executive producer (on Used Body Parts). Right now, I’ve been looking for new actresses and actors in New York with other filmmakers, so I’ve been in constant meetings week to week. My whole life is just a meeting.” (laughs)
So how has the casting been going? Because I know, also for actors and actresses, because despite what are commonly seen as trappings of something like an independent horror movie have presented a lot of opportunities. Look at It Follows or even The Witch. Now you look at some of the new voices of Hollywood that have made their bones making independent horror movies in the last ten years like Robert Eggers doing The Lighthouse and Ari Aster doing MidSommar and Hereditary, even Jordan Peele doing Get Out and Us.
I feel like there’s a newfound respect for horror among modern audiences now. Especially after Get Out winning an Oscar, The Lighthouse getting nominated for a ton of awards this year, but they (the movies themselves) managed to find audiences, introduce new voices, and prove that low budget films can be profitable at the box office (in 2019) at the same time. I would imagine that it’s actually a pretty interesting opportunity for actors and actresses when they look at the genre in a newfound way the way audiences have in the last few years.
Wallinger: “Our budget is about one, 1.5 million dollars, which is a huge opportunity, for individual reasons, but it comes down to a group effort. I mean, who doesn’t like horror films? Everybody loves horror films. Everyone’s seen Halloween, they’ve seen Alien, and those films are just as iconic now as they were back then.”
Wallinger: “There’s a re-realized respect from audiences for horror films because no matter how many films I’ve seen or will see, or how many films I make or will have made, I find myself always returning to seeing horror films and wanting to make horror films. There’s something that’s really romantic about it if you think about it. It’s the last genre that hasn’t reached, to me, it’s full potential as a genre. We’ve done the slashers, we’ve done the psychological stuff, but now you have these even deeper, darker existential films like The Witch, which is all about identity and this insane kind of madness.
But it’s so beautiful to see the chaos and the distraughtness of it and having this feeling of dread because that’s what makes you want to be a part of the film’s experience in those types of situations. Like the way The Lighthouse is shot, and when Robert Pattinson killed that seagull. Or in Hereditary when you watch this family just suffer and there’s nothing you can do about it. On the one hand, it’s so tragic, but there’s somehow it’s so beautiful on a cathartic level to witness that (cinematically onscreen).”
Yeah, that’s a very interesting point, and I think that’s the perfect place to leave it.