Into The Wylds


Film director Andrew Wiest talked with alife editor Peter Burgo and managing editor Melinda Lane about The Wylds, his first family feature. Produced locally on a small budget, the movie is inspired by John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, rebooted with a teenaged cast.

al: Tell us how you settled on Pilgrim’s Progress as a feature film.
AW: When I was about nine years old, my dad bought a copy of The Little Pilgrim’s Progress, a kids’ version of the story. It was so fantastical and had a little boy character I could relate to and so many things that captured my imagination, I read it over and over.

We went to a C&MA church in Cody, Wyoming, where Pastor Jim Howard would do drawings and tell stories for the kids during the service. He drew Christian [the main character in Pilgrim’s Progress] hiking up the hill and his pack rolling off. I asked him for the drawing and had it up on my wall, but somewhere along the way it got lost. I got into filmmaking when I was about 12 years old, and that image would creep into various movies I made.

Also when I was a kid, my mom put on a play of Pilgrim’s Progress at church. I helped her build the set and assisted with the dungeon scenes—which probably helped me in doing some horror flicks later on in life, to my mom’s chagrin, I’m sure.

When I finished my last movie [Dead Noon], the whole distribution process wasn’t a great experience. I wanted my next script to mean something to me and be a project where I could express my faith. So I kept going back to Pilgrim’s Progress. I tried to write it for adults, and it just wasn’t working. To this day it’s one of my favorite books, but the time when it really resonated with me was when I was a child. So I thought, What version of Pilgrim’s Progress would 10-year-old Andy want to see?

al: What transpired between 12-year-old Andy making movies and adult Andy making movies?
AW: I grew up in Cody, where my grandpa owned a theater. My love of movies started there, writing cruddy little screenplays as a kid, Indiana Jones rip-offs and stuff. Then my mom got access to a video camera when I was 12. She worked at a school library and would sneak the camera out on weekends. I started making little movies and kept progressing through high school. For class projects, I would always do movies.

In college I majored in philosophy—completely ridiculous, something I would never use. I dropped out and decided to put the money for school into making movies. I started doing short subjects and music videos and worked in a video store to pay the bills.

I moved to Montana and met my wife. I figured that since I was getting married, I’d better figure out how to make a living, and movies seemed like the one thing I could do. I thought I needed to make a feature if I was ever going to get hired or sell my screenplays.

Our first feature in Wyoming was financed out of my own pocket for $1,500. It was a weird little comedy called Pizza, Pesos, and Pistoleros. It played in a big festival in New York and then went nowhere. A couple years later I made another dirt cheap movie called Dead Noon—a weird supernatural/zombie/western thing. It somehow caught the interest of Lionsgate, a top distributor. Because of that, I was able to get a bit of financing for the next movie.

I thought, Do I want to go on making ridiculous zombie movies or do I want to do something that really matters to me? So I wrote The Wylds and shot it in Montana, and it was an awesome experience! I want to keep making family films from here on out.

al: You and your wife, Marianne Myers, the producer, live in Montana. How do you get a film made there?
AW: I am not a big fan of Los Angeles by any means. It’s too sunny and warm; I wouldn’t get any work done. So I just do the independent thing wherever I am.

I have this mindset: we have this movie; what can we make it for? I looked at what I had around me and wrote that into the script. From there, it’s basically finding people that will finance the film. And like I said, since we had some success with the last movie and there was excitement about making a kid-friendly Pilgrim’s Progress, a lot of people who really believed in it gave us money. It came together quickly.

al: How did you find Solomon Ray, the teenage boy in the film? He’s a pretty good actor.
AW: He’s a really good actor. We held open auditions at the Little Brown Church of the C&MA in Big Fork, Montana, and Solo came in and blew me away. I didn’t know it at the time but it turned out that his dad, Brian, is a record producer, and this led to us getting Crystal Lewis (Grammy-nominated, tons of awards) in the flick and distribution through Word Entertainment. We’ve since partnered with Brian to make another movie called Treasure State, which will be finished sometime this winter. The Rays have become good family friends, and I really feel like God just kind of dropped them in my lap.

When I was halfway through editing The Wylds, Brian said, “I have this deal with Word Entertainment. Would you be interested in working with us to distribute the movie?” I said, “Well, yeah!”

al: You mentioned that with previous movies, distribution and marketing was a bad experience. Did that ever make you want to give up?
AW: I am pretty stubborn, so if anything, it drove me to want to do better movies and make them about things I really cared for. [The bad experience] was a big factor for me switching directions from where I was headed, so in a weird way, I am thankful.

I don’t ever recall wanting to give this up. But, yeah, it gets tiring in this business. It is stressful dealing with setbacks and roadblocks, especially in the world of independent filmmaking. It’s a constant battle competing with movies that cost 100 million times more than yours. So sometimes I think, Really, do I want to keep doing this? But I sit down and pray about it and ask, “Are we doing the right thing? Are we on the right track?” It always seems like something happens that lets us know we should keep going.

al: When you are in the independent circuit or shopping your movie around, have you met many other Christian filmmakers?
AW: I haven’t much. I am really bad at networking in any way, shape or form. Living in Montana, where there really isn’t anyone else doing movies, too, is a factor. I am just now starting to take the initiative to meet some people.

Matt Russell, a Christian buddy of mine from Wyoming, made a Robert Duvall flick called _ Days in Utopia,_ so he is, like, the next tier above me. Through him, I’ve kind of got some relationships going. As we talk, we realize we are doing the same thing and dealing with the same struggles. It’s been nice to start going out of my way and meet these other guys.

I’ve been hired to write a screenplay based on a book called The Street Sweeper by Tim Enochs. It’s a Christian movie that will shoot in Tennessee this fall. My friend Matt is involved as well and was instrumental in getting me the job. It’s a good group of Christians producing the movie, and I think it’s going to be a really cool flick.

al: Did you feel like it was more of an uphill battle because your message was faith based?
AW: We haven’t really run into too much opposition from distributors. Representatives from a couple of companies have said, “This a Christian film, and we can’t do anything with it.” They just kind of pigeon-holed the movie. But some have said, “I am flat-out an atheist, but I absolutely love this movie and want my kids to see it. I even appreciate the message.” So a lot of non-Christians have dug the flick.

I think it helps that these guys are starting to realize that Christian movies actually do make money. A lot of times for them it boils down to the bottom line. We feel like it’s a great movie and want to make sure the message stays intact.

al: I don’t get the impression that it’s a real faith-in-your-face thing.
AW: I think it’s inherently there because of the source material. I wanted to keep that without being super blatant about it, because to me it’s still an allegory. We never come out and say this book [that Christian carries with him] is the Bible, but the kids in the film are reading Bible verses out of it, so it’s pretty obvious. We have had 4-year-old kids realize the source and go get a Bible and start quoting lines from the movie.

al: If you have people quoting lines from your movie, you know you’ve reached some level of success.
AW: It’s great. At the premier my dad heard some kids arguing over who their favorite bad guy was and then quoting lines from the movie, so we felt like we were doing alright.

al: Speaking of bad guys, where did the name “Good Outlaws Studios” come from?
AW: It came from my grandpa, one of my heroes. One day when I was in high school, we were talking about a friend of his. Grandpa said, “You know, Andy, that guy’s an outlaw—but he’s a good outlaw.” That was his attitude; sometimes you’ve got to break the rules a little bit for the better good. That always stuck with me. When making movies, we kind of try to go against the flow and do things our way.

al: You gave Pilgrim’s Progress a kind of post-apocalyptic setting. How did you end up with that vision?
AW: Well, I am just chomping at the bit to go see any “post ap” movie that comes out. Road Warrior is one of my favorites. And second, I wanted a world where it could be in the future but also feel retro, like things are still in the past. I thought a postapocalyptic time frame made the most sense for some of those images. My idea was that things got wiped out or whatever and then all the trees and vines started growing back.

But I think what it really boiled down to is that I have these images in my head, and I need a setting where they work.

al: You said you did auditions at the Little Brown Church of the C&MA. Has the church been supportive, even in your zombie days?
AW: Oh, yeah! People from church would tell me they rented the zombie film. They are always really cool about it, with a good sense of humor. I always really enjoyed the attitude of people in the C&MA; I always seem to click with it.

al: What advice would you give those 10-year-old Andys or Andreas sitting in the pews who have ideas for movies?
AW: If you feel it’s what you are supposed to be doing, then run with it. There will be a lot of obstacles, a lot of people telling you no, but you just have to say, “I feel like this is what God wants me to do, and I am going to do it.” You will know if you aren’t supposed to keep going. If it’s in your heart and something you feel like you have to do, pursue it whole heartedly. That’s my number one piece of advice.

Andrew, his wife, Marianne, and their infant daughter, Marie, attend the Little Brown Church of the C&MA in Big Fork, Montana. The Wylds is a vailable in Christian bookstores and through Amazon.com and iTunes. Visit www.thewylds.com to set up a screening of the movie at your church.

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