Interviewed by Rohan Bhattacharya
Cult Critic- You have been a military vet, a federal employee, and have worked as a real-estate agent, what got you into writing? Did it start as a hobby? When did you jump-shift to taking a more professional route with this?
Sheldon Woodson– Comic books. I starting reading comic books as a child and later started to draw them myself. The writing came from that. I thinking drawing is a form of writing. Writing explains a picture or scenario in your head and can be considered long form drawing. Good and great writers paint a picture in words and allow people’s imagination to paint the picture based on how the individual person interprets the words on the page. Steven King novels got me into writing. He wrote 500 to 1000 paged books. I was super impressed and challenged to do the same thing. My writing started as a challenge and then a hobby. Once I felt comfortable with what I was writing I had it published. My first book is called “Destination, Sowing and Reaping.” I published three books after that. About 10 to 15 years ago I started writing screenplays. I submitted them to competitions and production companies to no avail. I had a number of false starts and last year I decided to just do it despite the outcome. I want to be known as a filmmaker at the end of the day.
Cult Critic- You have worked as a screen-writer for a long time and have directed three short films; what made you want to venture into the world of films and filmmaking?
SW– Seeing Citizen Kane, The God Father, Thriller, and a sleuth of other films. For me, filmmaking was always my end goal. I thought writing and drawing would get me there. It helped, but just doing it where I was, was a better strategy.
Cult Critic- You have made the concept of ‘Come Outside’ into both a short film, and a feature film. Do you believe that expanding on an already tight short film narrative into a feature film was difficult?Could you elaborate a little on the process of how you got the script for the feature film ready?
SW– I think of shorts like concept films. There’s always more there but sometimes you don’t have the resources, or maybe even the avenue to do something bigger. Expanding the concept into a feature film, for me, is easier because I get to explain more of the concept, idea, and character. I can personally see two more films developing from this movie, which for me, is a longer concept of the short. I draw a story circle and put in the 3 act structure. Once I write out the scenes I perform a breakdown on the script of shots I think are important to the scene. I took what the young lady was thinking and her philosophy and showed it on the screen verses the man’s ideology. They were opposing but compromised to live harmoniously.
Cult Critic- Is ‘Come Outside’ your first feature? If yes, what was it like making a feature length film for the first time, considering how hard it is for an average filmmaker to handle the sudden escalation in the production cost and the elaborate management routine? If not, then could you compare your previous experiences to this recent endeavor?
SW– Yes, it took a lot of time, patience, and reimagining scenes to keep things going. Once I saw an actor couldn’t do something written or time prevented the cast and crew from performing a certain thing, I either rewrote what I wanted to do or simply changed the way it was shot. Something’s can’t be predicted or planned until you’re there. I underestimated a lot of things, i.e. time, talent, ability, etc, etc, but that’s par for the course and worth it in the end. Most of the “on the fly” things worked out better than the planned things. At the end of the day, this is a creative art, so as an artist be like water and let it flow.
Cult Critic- Many filmmakers often consider short-films to be a more difficult medium of storytelling than feature length cinema. Do you have a similar opinion? Could you elaborate on your opinion such that a younger audience could learn from your experience?
SW– Short films are like short stories or let’s say quotes that give you a wealth of knowledge with minimal words or actions. “Never, never, never give up.” The words of Winston Churchill was all that was needed for British to win a war. That’s a short story. It’s a text message rather than a long drawn out letter simply to say. “I’ll be home at 3.” Feature film’s are long letters telling the audience the who, the what, the when, the where, the why, and the how. Sometimes people don’t want to know all of that and sometimes they do. A short film, used as a concept film, can make people want know more which can lead to a feature film or a television series. After “Come Outside” the short. People kept asking me, “what happened next?” That made me write the feature film.
Cult Critic- You were the director, cinematographer, actor, editor, and the producer for your film ‘Come Outside,’ how did you manage to handle so many elements of production and post production at once?
SW– I’m a “nothing stops the show” kind of guy. I had people in those positions that fell out or either couldn’t do the dates, so I took it all on myself. It’s a good lesson in knowing what the job is and how to do it. Planning shots on paper helps a lot with the cinematography and directing, since I’m the writer I know the story so it helped with the acting. That goes the same for editing. I knew where things were suppose to be, learning how to put it there was the challenge and that comes with training which mostly came from Youtube and Udemy.
Cult Critic- While we have seen legends like Orson Welles direct and act in their own films, most filmmakers try not to dabble into both these territories simultaneously. Did you find it difficult to communicate with the other actors as a director, while on the scene yourself as an actor? How did you manage to jump-shift between these roles.
SW– I’m glad you mentioned Orson Welles, he’s my main motivation for acting and directing though I love Woody Allen, Spike Lee, and Quentin Tarantino as well. I can’t see what I do as switching roles. I feel like I come in knowing what to expect from myself. I can’t tell if I’m doing it because no one is telling me “hey that’s off”, or “do it again this way”, but for others I tend to let them do what they do and add a suggestion after the fact. For my main characters, I like to know who they are before I cast them. Sometimes I write what I write based on who they are, that way the actor is simply being themselves and adding the proper emotion to it. Writing what you know a person can do takes the strain off of having them do it over and over and over. Being themselves and knowing the lines was probably the most regurgitated advice I’d have. “Stop acting, be yourself, and stop looking at the camera”, was my mantra.
Cult Critic- The characters of Shell and Vane were extremely complicated; especially after the astronomical catastrophe; how did you prepare yourself to play this character? What was your advice as a director to Mrs. Vanessa Dehesa-Woodson?
SW– Understanding the change in character and being yourself was my only advice. I’d ask, only when I didn’t feel the emotion of the moment, “do you understand what’s happening? And what she’s going through?” If the answer was no, I’d explain it to her. She was good at picking up the emotion and characterization from a place of understanding.
Cult Critic- ‘Come Outside’ is loaded with political messaging, and religious motifs; what according to you was the real message of your film?
SW– The film was more about choice and predetermination. Most people complain about not having a choice when in reality we all have it, we just know that going along to get along is maybe better for our careers and/or physical safety. We like to be liked, so most people simply silently conform to what the authorities dictate to us or feel the wrath of their condemnation by speaking truth to power. There is a time for one or the other but we must seek the balance between the two rather than taking a hardline either way. If you believe the story of “The Creation”, “Come Outside” takes from that. It ask the question “what would happen, if Eve would not have bit from the apple? Would we be more in sequence to the universe?”
Cult Critic- The visual refrain of opening the windows was very well thought and executed, the lighting too was very effective; did you intend to showcase a color story through the stylistic changes in the lighting?
SW– I wanted the change to be noticeable to the audience but not the characters in the story. The effect from walking blindingly into it was the subject’s notification that something was happening. I wanted to show a mood with the color palettes blues and blacks normality, yellow and the fog effect as a calm takeover or return to the original creation plan.
Cult Critic- When it comes to post production, you were the editor of your cinema. Could you recount your experience putting this film together? How did you manage to select the most appropriate shots out of a mountain of rushes? Did you plan the edit during pre-production, and create a shot-list according to a predesigned edit-plan?
SW– For about 85% of the film, I planned every shot based on what I wanted the audience to see, which includes the emotion of the character or theme, and the length of the dialogue. I needed to very the shots between full, medium, long, dutch, etc… based on what was being shown. I didn’t have a lot of time to do cover shots in most of the locations, so I’d do only the planned shots with no cover. I heard an interview of how Martin Scorsese wrote his shot list right on the script. I used that strategy and it worked. Knowing the shots helps with putting the 1st draft of the film together rather quickly.
Cult Critic- What is your message to all the young filmmakers who want to make a film, but are either restrained by socio-economic challenges? Do you have any words of encouragement for them?
SW– Yes, get out of your own way. Don’t talk about it, be about it. In today’s world, you can make a film with you doing everything, acting, writing, directing, editing, etc… If you can’t do it good, do it good enough and put it out there. My first short was me, me, and me… My second and 3rd was me, me, and Vanessa Dehesa-Woodson, my feature was me, Vanessa, a cameraman, six other people and a studio owner who let us use his cabin for the film. I have actors, writers, editors, musicians, and all sorts of talented people contacting me now to collaborate on a project. This all came from me simply wanting to do it, doing it, and putting it out there. People want to work with doers, not talkers. In the words of David F. Sandberg of the movie Shazam, “Make movies, not excuses!”
PS- Thank you for these insightful questions. Thank you for watching Come Outside and talking with about me about this film. I’m really honored.