Below is my conversation with Wendy McColm, the director, writer, and actress of Fuzzy Head, a psychological thriller being screened at Indy Film Fest. We talk about the challenges of acting in your own project, and the real-life influences behind the film. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Ben Sears: Did you always plan on acting in the film?
Wendy McColm: When I write a movie, I don’t really think about who’s going to act in it, if it’s going to be me or not. But it’s based loosely on my life and my experience, and I think, in my head, I was doing perhaps my last hoorah as an actor. The film ended up taking so long to make that it ended up being a great thing, not just for me as an actor and creator but just, in the end, the healing process of what the film is based off of. To act in those experiences was very surreal. I think, for my next film, I’ll probably have another main actor just because I love watching people acting on screen, and when I’m on screen I can’t really watch behind the camera as much. I have to do one take, go look at it, and maybe do one more, but I usually spend all my time directing the other actors.
BS: You mentioned that it’s based on your real experiences. Can you talk about that a little more? The film has a very fragmented reality, and becomes very surreal in parts, so what is based on your experiences?
WM: The childhood trauma, relationships with family and my mother and sister, and relationships with people and friends. How you run into people in real life and how you interact with other people, and how you’re able to take in other people, and how you can do that after you’ve grown and healed versus when you’re living in a trauma mind. The main character, Marla, is living in a trauma mind of PTSD; I had PTSD and developed PTSD when I was 24 or 25 from living in an abusive relationship, and I dealt with that without knowing for 3 years, and dealt with it while knowing for 3 more years. It feels just like the movie. When you say surreal, I say very real.
BS: Was making the film therapeutic for you?
WM: Yes. Very therapeutic. I didn’t know how it would be, but that’s the only reason I kept getting this signal from the universe saying “you have to make this”, and I didn’t really want to because it’s a drama and I don’t make dramas. But I’m also not a fan of repeating a style, I think it’s boring. I think it’s good to try all kinds of different things, and it was a challenge, but I think it came out great. Dealing with my own personal trauma though, I don’t know. If it works with someone else’s script, I’d like to put my own vision and knowledge of healing and empathy to that, I’d love to do that. But as far as writing my own drama again, I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. It was definitely a fast track way to find out how to do a drama, and the pain that can be involved in making something so deep.
BS: Which aspect of making the film did you enjoy more? Do you like writing, acting, or directing?
WM: I always enjoy the directing on set the most. That’s why we do it, I think. I like writing because it’s a nice outlet, but I could easily write a poem or a song or something, and go perform, and have instant gratification. Writing a movie for a year and nobody knowing where you are and having no accolades – not that anyone needs accolades – it’s kind of nice to share what you’re doing. But when you’re under a rock, you kind of wish people knew what you’re doing. Writing can be fun, but directing is definitely the most fun because you’re working with a team and you’re experiencing your vision coming to life from the page. The best best part is working with the other actors, and seeing what they bring to your script. That’s so thrilling
BS: You’re working in this movie with a lot of established and newer actors. Did you get any advice from Fred Melamed or Alicia Witt or Richard Riehl or anyone else?
WM: You know, they didn’t really give me any advice. They just trusted me and they know that I’ve made a good amount of films and commercials already. The greatest thing about everyone hired, new or seasoned actors, is they were really down for the experience and the ride. When you read the script, I’m pretty sure it’s obvious to everyone that you’re not in for a normal project. You’re in for the unknown, and I think that’s thrilling to people. Most of them, they were just there to support and to take any turn we wanted to take. And I’m eternally grateful to them for that because they didn’t have to do that. They just brought it 110%, so just them showing up 110% teaches you enough.
BS: Was working with them intimidating at all?
WM: With Richard, he’s so sweet right away, so he made it very comfortable for me. I’ve wanted to work with Fred for over 10 years. That was very intimidating but I also think he was trolling me a little bit because he wrote in his contract that he needs A/C, so I don’t think he was serious, but sometimes he’d walk by and be like “if the A/C goes out, I’m gone.” [laughs] And that was so much pressure! We still reach out on facebook sometimes, but obviously he didn’t want it to be hot, and comically enough, the place that we got had central A/C but it turned off halfway through the day. And I had to send out people to Home Depot to get window A/C units, and they were dripping water on the floor and I was freaking out and we were trying our best. It’s just one scene but it worked out well, and he was so excited afterwards. With Alicia, it was intimidating at first to work with her because I kept wondering how she would interpret this mother character. We started with such a sweet scene and I didn’t want to push her too much out of her choices, but I wanted to see what else she could do. So that was intimidating to be like ‘well, what about this?’ They were pure professionals. They’re willing to take direction and are willing to see what happens. The last thing you want, because I’ve been an actor that didn’t get direction before, and the last thing you want is to look stupid in a movie. It’s nice if you have a little direction.
BS: To go back to your performance, it’s a very vulnerable character and a vulnerable performance. You had to do several nude scenes, and obviously you have your own personal connection to the material. Were you nervous at all to put yourself out there like that?
WM: I think I was ready. Nudity doesn’t bother me, I think in the last 7 years and the healing from PTSD, I started to realize all these societal norms and how it’s important to embrace yourself no matter what. It’s part of what I want to show as a creator and as a person. If I’m in front of the screen, that’s important to me, and there’s no safer way to feel completely seen than on camera because it’s a fourth wall. It took me a while to realize that that’s what drew me to film and theater in the first place. You can be angry and win an Oscar, but if you’re angry in real life, you’re a monster. It’s pretty interesting. I think the only thing that scared me about baring my soul was the societal norm that you’re a monster or mean or bad if you have any feeling other than happy or neutral. So showing that to people who are used to seeing comedy from me was a little scary for me.
BS: I think it’s safe to classify Fuzzy Head as a psychological thriller. Are you generally a fan of those kinds of films?
WM: No, it’s not what I lean to. I had to find a way to give some sort of thing people can connect with. Because I’ve seen movies about trauma and I just don’t feel like it hits, and for me as a creator and as a human, something that can be taken in a little more easier. When you go “full trauma”, I don’t know if that’s digestible for people. And this film isn’t easy on the mind by any means. I’ve had people in the audience say they want to leave in the first 20 minutes, but I took a risk in sculpting the film that way. Because with trauma or victims, most people do leave and I was willing to take that risk for the outcome of the ending. Some people have said they wanted to walk out but it’s the throughline of the psychological thriller that keeps them there for the ending, which is what you want. I want them to grow with the main characters, and growing isn’t easy. I had to find a way to keep them wanting to stay there and grow, just like a real life experience.
Hundreds of Beavers will screen at Indy Film Fest on April 22 at 10:30am at the Kan-Kan Cinema in Indianapolis. Buy tickets here.