Most filmmakers I interview are quite happy to chatter about their own work. It is, after all, the purpose of our conversation. Not so with Justin Hilliard, the tall, thin UTA graduate whose beard doesn’t distract from his boyish facial features and enthusiasm that befits his 24 years. Our conversation winds through a great many film-related topics, like our shared enthusiasm for the Tutto Fellini festival, Talladega Nights, and Asian horror flicks. “All great horror flicks are either dramas or comedies at their core,” he said. His casual manner and passionate engagement with film (instilled from an early age by his mother, he says) make him agreeable company.
When Hilliard wrote the script for his debut film Wednesday (which is now on sale in DVD form through his production company’s web site at www.striped-socks.com), he figured that a portion of the movie featuring an older couple felt like it belonged in London. So instead of trying to make a facsimile of Old Blighty in our area, he moved to England and almost instantly got a job as a hotel porter. The work required him to learn the city’s geography as quickly as possible — the better to direct visiting guests to local tourist spots — and it allowed him to rewrite the script for specific London locations. His pay helped fund the project, and the actors he cast were locals. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, on his second day in the city he unexpectedly ran into his ex-girlfriend on the tubes. “A lot of personal events wound up going into the script directly,” he remembered.
Wednesday is a meandering and rather abstract meditation on the lives of various couples, one section involving a young couple in America (Arianne Martin and Ryan C. Hurst), another about an older Englishman (Philip Goldacre) ruminating on the choices he’s made in life. The American sections of the film were mostly shot in North Texas, including Haltom City. “The DFW area is great at giving filmmakers permission to shoot, especially Tarrant County,” he said.
For his next project, he and producing partner Ryan Hartsell (for whom Hilliard has nothing but praise, saying, “He can tell me when my ideas are bad”) are shooting for the moon. He’s looking to finance three more feature films that he’ll be selling to investors as a package: a horror flick called Pale Horse that he plans to shoot in Denton, a drama called Enoch that he’ll look to shoot in Prague and Rome, and a one-character piece he describes as “my Bergman film” called Blue Like Isolation. He’s hoping that the three films and Wednesday will form an aesthetically cohesive four-part story built around questions of masculinity and loneliness. This stunningly ambitious project isn’t without its pragmatic elements; he’s hoping the package will reduce the risk for investors, and he expects the horror movie, at least, to make out financially. “Even when horror is crappy, it sells,” he said, “and we don’t plan to make a crappy movie.” In most horror flicks, character development is secondary, but not so in Hilliard’s film. Indeed, he’s hoping Pale Horse will “revolutionize” the genre.
It sounds like a lot to handle, but Hilliard seems completely undaunted by the monumental task in front of him. Looking back on his sojourn in England, he said, “If you want something bad enough, you can make it happen.”