‘Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying’ takes on Tribeca
June 9, 2022
Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying is one of those rare indies. It captures the zeitgeist of now while paying homage to its predecessors and manages to be both hysterically funny and heartfelt. The premise of the movie is simple. Two best friends are feeling uninspired during quarantine lockdown times, so they decide to make a road trip movie to go see their best friend who has just contracted Covid. What could possibly go wrong?
The film is the brainchild of filmmakers Devin Das and Parker Seaman who wrote and starred in the film with Das producing and Seaman directing. Das explained the origin story of the film: “When pandemic first hit we made a short of us pranking our friend (see Trust the Bum). When we were making it, it turned into something more than a prank, and we started to ask ‘why are we doing this?’ And how do we feel during the pandemic? It’s a short film that played into a self-reflective narrative and we had a lot of fun making it. It spawned this idea of how do we create that feeling in a long-form in a feature way, and that led us down a path with our friend who really did move back to Boise, and how do we play with that?”
Parker elaborated: “We have known each other for ten years and we never really sunk our teeth into something together… this movie is very nostalgic… we decided, ‘let’s go down the path of our darkest secrets and fondest memories and conjure something.’”
For the love of Duplass
There is a very special reverence for Mark Duplass in the film and for indie micro-budget indie filmmaking in general. Seaman idolizes Duplass both in the film and in real life. “Parker had been sent a Cameo from Mark Duplass for his birthday and when pitching around what was the core idea of this movie, the real Cameo also helped inspire us to make the movie.”
The pair then dove in when the world was shut down but they both felt quarantine times helped them get the project done. “It weirdly played into our favor in a lot of ways,” mentioned Das. Seaman continued: “We had a very small crew and kept things really tight. We worked within the confines of Covid, and that played to our strengths. Half of our locations let us shoot for a couple of hours because they didn’t have anything else going on. 'Come on in.'”
In a pre-vaccine world, star Wes Schlagenhauf really did get Covid which caused the shoot to shut down. Instead of making the movie in three weeks straight the pair shot for two weeks, waited for Schlagenhauf to recover, and then continued. Sometimes life really does imitate art. Das agreed: “We basically became those characters.”
Art imitates... books on structure?
Parker Seaman in the movie carries around a copy of "Save the Cat" throughout the trip. He references it constantly like his own movie-making Bible. His character is hoping their trip can hit the right beats at the right time, even if it means he has to go behind his partner’s back to manufacture some of those beats. Seaman elaborated on his own real-life experiences with the book that so many screenwriters have come to rely upon: “It comes from a completely respectful place. I am not ashamed to admit I whip out that book every time I am writing anything."
"In terms of structure that was followed, we were reading it while writing, trying to follow it in a way, that if these guys are following 'Save the Cat' then you can really track that in the story.” Das expounded: “In a big way, Parker and I very intently tried to flip tropes on their head: road trip tropes, and buddy comedy tropes. We said, let’s not fall into those traps, let’s have fun with it and show these tropes in a different way, and these beats in a different way while referencing 'Save the Cat' beats. We hope we bring a wider audience into the film without it feeling too inside-baseball, by doing it in a creative, fun way that most people would be surprised to see.”
In general, Wes is Dying is a very meta indie movie. It’s a movie about two guys who love indie movies, trying to make an indie movie with designs to get into a major festival, as they also analyze what makes a solidly structured film and what vehicle says ‘I’m making a road trip movie,’ all while delivering a gut-punch of emotion. It’s a lot to absorb, but that’s what makes it so fun.
When asked what balances the tone, Das said, “It’s a fine line.” Seaman continued: “After working on it for years at this point, I think there's two main tones, there’s this self-aware metaphor, and there’s also like shitty selfishness from the characters. That was a big theme… there’s also the tone of getting hit with a lot of emotion, and the characters are not in control, and their true selves come out."
"We wanted to hitch it with something that is so self-aware and silly and friends who are arguing about how they are not friends anymore. It’s a dramedy that makes you feel, but we want you to, in the next moment, question why are you in the theater, because what’s happening in front of you is also very stupid.”
Das agreed: “A lot of thought went into it. What you are watching is a product of Parker and I just sitting down and talking. The way we joke, an idea will organically come up just by sitting down and goofing around. And it always comes from a real place… ultimately the story is all rooted in character. We truly believe in what these characters would say and do.” Seaman solidified: “We love delusional people… there’s something so tragic about people thinking they can make a movie, and we weirdly liked just having the script be a diary entry of what we are thinking about, trying to have things folding in on themselves, and not being satisfied by making a classic road movie, and just adding more layers on top of that…. It continued to be a goal to see if we could hit the actual beats on the 'Save the Cat' pages at 15 minutes and 30 minutes, etc. We tried our absolute hardest for any film nerds out there to be able to see a direct correlation to time code and page count.”
Small budgets and big asks
Das and Seaman were deeply true to indie roots budget-wise. While an official figure was not mentioned, it’s clear they dug deep to pull off the film on a shoestring (and they included the gimmick of a fake shoe company sponsoring the whole thing). The pair do have excellent advice for those out there daring to achieve the same: Das: “Sometimes working on a shoestring budget feels like a constraint, but sometimes more money can mean more problems. If you have a shoestring you just go out and do it. Don’t let the budget stop you from reaching out to certain people. Know clearly what you are doing and what you are capable of doing. You can accomplish a lot. The worst thing that can happen is people can tell you ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ You don’t have to do everything by the book." Seaman simply put it: “Have confidence… know what your movie is. Don’t write a scene in an airport. Shoot the movie you know you can pull off. Write for your budget. Not the other way around.”
The pair said they also experienced a ton of happy accidents along the way: “We were never supposed to have a scene in an empty jacuzzi,” said Seaman. “But it’s one of my favorite scenes and it was because it was there. Same with the bowling alley,” said Das. “We got it for $100 for the whole day, and it really heightens the film. Sometimes you just have to ask.”
Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying is about to take on Tribeca. It’s the first time for the pair. Wondering if they had advice for the festival circuit as they are about to embark on a road trip of a totally different kind Seaman joked the most important thing is the outfits. Das more seriously offered that every indie filmmaker should bring on a sales agent before they hit the festival. “Know your strategy before you go in. How are you going to roll it out? That’s super important.” Seaman stressed their excitement: “We talk about going to Tribeca as our characters in the movie. The fact we are even there, we are so grateful.”
Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying premieres Thursday, June 9th at Tribeca. Follow their Tribeca page for more info.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/