When it comes to making it in the entertainment industry, sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands and blaze a trail all your own. Such is the case with the multi-faceted, creative dynamo that is April Mullen. Skilled both in front and behind the camera, April is a maverick filmmaker whose been producing and directing for ten years and acting for over fifteen years.
Co-founder of WANGO Films, launched in 2005, she has produced and directed every one of the company’s feature films to date. The company’s first two feature films, ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser’ and ‘GravyTrain,’ both garnered theatrical releases in her native Canada and were picked up by Alliance Films for distribution. Her next feature, ‘Dead Before Dawn 3D,’ not only generated a buzz from genre fans but established her as the youngest person and first female to ever direct a live action stereoscopic 3D Feature Film. As a producer, she has participated in a number of major co-production markets and producer labs from around the world including: Cannes, Belinale, TIFF, Mip and Tokyo TIFFcom.
Her continued hard work and dedication to her craft, both in front and behind the camera, have begun to turn the heads of both critics and fans alike. Her latest film, ’88,’ is one of her most ambitious projects to date. Featuring Katharine Isabelle, Christopher Lloyd, and Michael Ironside, the fast paced thriller follows Gwen (Katharine Isabelle), a young woman who comes to in a road side diner with no idea where she is or how she got there. Split between two timelines, blurring reality and fiction, Gwen gets taken on a revenge-fueled journey as she seeks out the person responsible for her lover’s death. ’88’ is an immersive and satisfyingly mind bending cinematic ride, which is sure to leave the viewer spellbound. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with director April Mullen to discuss her blossoming career, the origin of the film’s storyline, the challenges of bringing it from script to screen and what the future holds for this creative powerhouse!
A career in the entertainment industry is not the easiest route for someone to pursue. How did you get started on your journey?
I started really, really young. If you were to ask my parents, they would tell you I was putting together neighborhood kids, cousins and other family members at a very young age to put on plays and productions. I was doing that when I was 7 years old, so it started way back when! [laughs]
I started getting really serious about my career and acting when I graduated theater school. There was a huge strike with the SAG and I decided to start creating my own work. Writing and creating my own stuff had always been really important to me, so it sort of propelled things a little faster than I had initially envisioned.
Who were some of the people who impacted you as an artist?
That is a difficult question. I think, overall, I have always been heavily impacted by real life and the people I meet on a day-to-day basis. I am also heavily influenced by images I see each day. I sort of take note of moments that stand out to me and make an impact on me, no matter if they are big or small. I usually somehow embed them into the films in one way or another or they inspire a character trait, a story, a character I am portraying or something we are writing. I think I just pull a lot from what is around me and what excites me about life in general. In terms of directors, the list is so long! [laughs] Right now, I am right back on a Martin Scorsese train for some reason. I have been so amped up about everything he does! I love people who create entire worlds like him and Tim Burton. “Edward Scissorhands” is one of my favorite films!
Tell us a little bit about your latest film, “88,” and what made this the project you wanted to take on as your latest feature.
Tim Doiron and I have worked together for over 10 years now. We had done a lot of comedy and comedy-horror. That is where our strengths were. We had always wanted to do this fractured, fragmented story, a revenge story. We didn’t know what it was called but “88” was in our minds and bubbling in our imaginations for about three years. That was before we even did “Dead Before Dawn” that we had plans to do “88.” We were just waiting it out until our experience as filmmakers sorta met what we wanted to achieve. We are from Canada and that is where our funding source was. We were doing comedy, so that was a lot easier for us at the time for us to continue to do something we were known for. When the timing was right, we felt it was time after three comedies to attack “88.” That is how it happened!
What were you eager to accomplish as a writer/director from a storytelling standpoint or stylistically with this project?
Definitely. With “88,” because we are dealing with the fugue state, which is a state of amnesia, there was a lot of creative freedom in the way we edited and shot the film. With the two different timelines going back and forth, we sort of separate them with stepbacks. We wanted the viewer to feel that they were immersed in what a fugue state would feel like. By that I mean your mind would feel like it is pulling at different memories or moments or things that trigger an emotion. We were really trying to go for something new and frenetic, so the audience members could feel what people would go through when they are in the fugue state. We were hoping to achieve new things in our editing with the fast-paced flashbacks. When it comes to storytelling, the fugue state has a hyper-realistic look to it. We just wanted to use that to share with audience members what people in a fugue state really do go through. Some parts gave us a lot of leeway to explore and push the creative boundaries of what we were normally allowed to do. I think it is fun to be able to step outside your comfort zone and give audiences something they haven’t seen before. Whether they love it or hate it, it is something new! Because of the fugue state and the whole theme of the film, we were allowed to do that without having to overly explain anything. With the fugue state, there are auditory and visual hallucinations and that adds so much to the film!
As you mentioned, the idea for this film was percolating for a while. How did the film evolve from the script to the screen?
That is a great question. The original idea, when we started putting it to paper, we had the timeline of the present state and the fugue state on the office walls for a year-and-a-half. What we did at first was play it in sequence so it happened from present state all the way through and then fugue state all the way through. We just felt that would play out like a very run-of-the-mill thriller with the story unraveling itself along the way. Then we thought, as I mentioned before, it would be interesting to have the audience feel like they are thrust into Gwen’s world and try to capture what the feeling of broken memory is like. We were really excited about having the timeline go from one to the other and back and forth. It sort of came about organically. It was definitely a very well plotted and laid out map on which we meticulously pinpointed every single thing. The more you watch it, the more hidden gems you will find!
You have a terrific leading lady in Katharine Isabelle. What did she bring to the table for this project?
She was bold and unafraid! She was willing to take the risks of going too far and then pulling back. I think another really exciting thing she brought to the role was it wasn’t overly done. It could have been that the person in the fugue state, like Flamingo, would have been over the top and a totally different person and Gwen would be something totally different. I think she did it ever so slightly but because of the writing and the situations both women are thrust into, that helps to do some of the story writing on its own. She did a terrific job of making Gwen vulnerable and a lot more fragile but without overdoing it. I thought that was a really beautiful choice to have it not be over the top and in the audience’s face. It was very based in reality with the circumstances that are happening around whichever woman she was playing. I think that was really exciting!
You are an actress yourself. What type of advantage has that given to you as a director?
I literally don’t think I could be a director without having the backbone of my acting training that I have had for the past 25 years. I feel that my toolbox is what I know and my communication skills with the actors is my strength. That comes from practicing the art form in every different facet for the past 15 years. I think all of those things are a blessing and they really help me. Having communication with the actors, finding those moments, allowing the freedom and pushing them when they need it is such a very fine, fine line. I think because I understand the craft so well and I have lived and breathed it my whole life, it really makes me feel very comfortable. I feel like I am in a very comfortable space and can run on instincts and impulses when it comes to choices with actors and different personalities. I feel like because my tool belt is loaded with so many years of experience, it is very natural and almost second nature. It’s natural and not forced in any way. It is a blessing because I don’t have to think about it because it isn’t coming from my head, it’s coming from my gut instincts.
What do you consider your biggest evolution as a director in your career to date?
You know what? I don’t think I have even come close to where I want to go and where I want to be as a creative person, whether it be as a director, a writer or performer. I feel like it is a constant learning curve and every script that I read or film I see makes me so in awe of what is around me. I am constantly striving to do better and try new things. I am really striving for new and exciting things that audiences haven’t seen. I am really striving to one day make a film that one day has a large impact on people in general. I hope to create those magical moments of film that impact people with an everlasting image. I think it is an ongoing journey. I definitely feel very, very excited at this point in my life and I feel blessed to be able to create every day, hone my craft and try new things. I feel a lot more confident because I’m getting older and with age I am very excited to come into my voice. I feel with “88,” Tim and I were both able to showcase what we have going on in our imaginations, when five years ago I don’t think we would have been able to literally put it to paper, whereas now we can totally surpass that. I think “88” is very complicated in its structure with its broken timelines. After having done that and 3D in the past, I feel I am ready for a totally new challenge. I am certainly up for new challenges all the time!
Where do you see yourself headed for your next project?
Tim and I are going back to what is sort of a comedy. It is a paranormal comedy that is a big budget feature that we are developing. It is already written and we are really excited about it! I am also going to start shooting an action/drama in March called “Badville.” I am very excited about that as well!
It is very exciting to see someone like yourself out there creating their own work and forging your own path. What is your advice to young creatives looking to make their career in the entertainment industry in today’s climate?
That is a great question. I would say stay focused, take really big risks, never doubt yourself, work as hard as you possibly can and never stop being inspired by the little things! It’s the little things that will keep you going! Working in the industry is like walking through a tornado every day, especially if you are self-generated and building your own path. It can be as if you are a ship in the midst of tidal waves. I think you have to constantly remind yourself to stay grounded. You have to look at the little things like the sunsets! I know that sounds so cheesy! [laughs] But really, it is the little things that play a huge role in keeping you inspired on a daily basis so that you can continue to self-generate and create new things. Never give up!
Terrific advice, April! It has been terrific talking to you today! We can’t wait to spread the word on all you have going on!
Thank you, Jason! Thank you for your support!
For all the latest news and updates from April Mullen and Wango Films, visit the official website at www.wangofilms.com. ’88’ is now available on Blu-ray and digital media. Be sure to check it out!