I had the opportunity to talk to the founder and director of BWC Films for my new podcast episode. Discussing film-making, production, war movies, westerns and funny stories from behind the scenes with.
Tell us about BWC Films and how did it all started?
— BWC Films got started through this gaming organisation which I had founded back in 2002. I originally started doing machinima films in video games like Planetside and Battlefield 2. But aside from playing video games BWC also played competitive paintball and had acquired a number of awards like Most Valuable Team, Most Feared Opponent, etcetera. We decided we wanted to try our hand playing a similar tactical game called Airsoft, and I had seen this airsoft scenario game that takes place in England on some abandoned estate, roleplaying a zombie apocalypse. So we were coming up wit ways to fund sending ten people to the UK to participate, and I discovered Kickstarter. So initially we were going to crowdfund through Kickstarter and have our gamers chip in, but I discovered a bylaw in the Kickstarter terms of service which said that wasn’t allowed. So we decided “well what if we make this into a movie?” so we wrote a script for it. At the time, The Walking Dead was not on the air so the zombie craze hadn’t quite kicked off.
When it came time to start making flight reservations, the list of people who could go suddenly dropped dramatically. I also ended up being the only one doing the work with writing the script, finding gear, finding people, finding cameras, etcetera so I said “okay, we’re canceling that idea and we’ll just make a movie here in the US.” So we filmed much of it where they’d shot the first Blair Witch project, and that’s how BWC Films got started.
Eventually I rebranded BWC Films as a veteran-owned organisation with an emphasis on placing veterans in cast and crew positions (if they have the requisite talent/skill respectively). Most of our live-action projects, outside of our nerdy fan-films, has some degree of emphasis on veterans or issues that affect veterans.
The Cost of living film has a very strong message, the film is rough, raw and true. Can you tell us the whole process of coming up with idea and then the actual production?
— I am a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and prior to that also the Balkan conflict. I also spent time in Africa as a “conflict resolution specialist”. I’ve seen the absolute worst of humanity and what human beings can do to each other, but I’ve also seen the very best of humanity when the bullets are flying and people are dying. I’ve seen extraordinary courage, bravery, and heroism from the least likely people. I’v also seen the varying degrees of aftermath. Something that has always angered me is the way that people see combat veterans, especially with all the war films about Vietnam and the post- 9/11 generation.
We’re typically all portrayed as these deeply scarred individuals with the same four issues: substance abuse, anger issues, nightmares, domestic violence. Everyone is always a bawhair way from committing suicide or taking out their mates in the workplace. To some degree, in America the blame can fall on the veteran community because there’s this perception that we’re whisky-drinking, gun- toting cowboys who love to fight. I can own that perception because I fell into that trap for a few years, but I realised that there is a very diverse set of experiences that branch out from the shared experience of deploying into a combat zone.
I wanted to show that we may have issues, but not everyone deals with them the same way. I don’t want to see movies where everyone comes home, everyone gets drunk, everyone has a nightmare. We are better than that, and we are more interesting than that.
I also lost two of my best mates to suicide. This film tells a little of their stories as an homage to the gifts that they gave me. I wanted to immortalise them. There are characters in the film who embody those two men.
Do you act in your films too?
— I very specifically do not. I suck at acting, I’m shit at it. I don’t think I’m funny, and nobody wants to see me try. I do some voiceover work for the machinima project, because we always need some last- minute dialogue from a random character. I don’t assign myself anything major because there are other talented people who can, and will, do it.
I did give myself a role in my first-ever film but I discovered that I couldn’t focus on directing, and I only took the role because I had to recast it three times and finally just got fed up with the process. I also got typecast when people discovered that I’d done a bit of acting. I got typecast as a Scottish “heavy” in a couple of things. I’d much rather be behind the camera though.
Which film needed the biggest production and how do you get funding?
— Our indie western The Bounty Hunter probably cost the most, because we built sets or rented location, and I bought a lot of props, wardrobe, and weapons for it. I wanted it to be historically accurate and not have any anachronisms in it, it’s one of my pet peeves.
All of my films are self-funded. I make this joke that I quit drinking for a month and then do 1-2 film shoots, and that’s pretty accurate to some degree, but I’ve also got some experience crowdfunding through Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe.
I’ve not quite worked out how to attract investors or secure funding sources. It’s an area in which I am deficient. Also distribution. Once I can get that figured out I have a lot more projects I want to do, like the sci-fi film about the man who falls in love with a sex-robot.
Do you have any funny stories from filming?
— I’m sure I have loads and need to gather examples for this. Note to self.
Is there anything that helped you in filming career that you’ve learned in the Army?
— The entirety of The Cost of Living was a hard lesson in life, or as some people call it the School of Hard Knocks. I learned how to stay alive in combat, and my experiences in that arena are what drove some of the story for that film. Other than that, my military career was infantry, or military intelligence and languages. I’d say maybe my work ethic and Never-Quit attitude.
Can you talk more about Star Citizen Nocturne episodes on your YT channel? What’s that about?
— During the quarantine lockdown here in the US, the city in which I live was essentially shut down and that really crippled the local acting scene. They film a lot of Marvel stuff here, The Walking Dead, and other shows/movies. I am a die-hard video gamer and machinima was how I got started, so I combined all those things with some out-of-work actors and gamers, and we started making this webseries as a way of coping with crippling boredom. It was originally going to be a five-minute thing just to mess around, and then it turned into a thirty-minute one-off, but people saw it and wanted to know more about the characters and the plot. So after that it sort of really took off. I acquired a writing team that really got involved with the plots and characters, and we organised these story threads over Discord and Google Documents, and the voiceover team seems to enjoy what they’re doing too, so we’re currently planning our tenth episode as I finish editing the fourth episode and prepare to start shooting the fifth. I also got my first opportunity to work with a legend who I admire and respect– Mark Meer who does the voice of Commander Shephard for the Mass Effect video game series will show up in Episode 5.
What are your plans for the future?
— I want to succeed in film, it’s the only thing I’ve ever done that I felt I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was good at being a soldier but I knew that had a shelf-life. I have a notebook full of ideas, and I want to take them somewhere. The Cost of Living is currently about forty minutes long and I want to make it bigger, tell a more poignant story. I have a film idea called Executable, a sci-fi film set about twenty years from now. In this age of technology and people withdrawing inward because the internet offers so much contact, and with the pandemic and people learning to quarantine, I wanted to examine a non-traditional relationship so I wrote a story about this lonely gamer nerd with social anxiety who buys the futuristic version of a RealDoll. Only he sort of falls in love with the AI. Unfortunately that’s a bit out of my budget range, so I just need to figure out how to get that project going. I also want to go back to the fantasy genre and tackle that subject–I wrote a story about a female half-orc who gets thrown out of her tribe and then hunted by those same people. I want to examine prejudice and xenophobia through that particular lens. After what our countries have gone through with those subjects over the past four or five years, or in America’s case much longer, I think it can pack a pretty powerful punch. And I know some very fit, very capable women who are great actors who can take that character and do some great things with it.