Premiering today as part of the New Haven International Film Festival, Travis Andrade’s short film Wesley is a film about a young kid, the titular Wesley (played by Jacob Sandler), who encounters one of his brother’s friends who has a 3D printed gun, which Wesley would love to have as he worships his own toy gun. The film explores the impact of American gun culture on the developing psychology of an 12-year-old boy.
Before the festival – which runs from today, May 12 through Saturday, May 15 – I was able to have a back-and-forth conversation with Travis Andrade, the film’s writer and director, over e-mail. Find those questions and answers below, which has been edited for clarity:
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest: Why did you want to make Wesley?
Travis Andrade: I was interested in how a young teenage boy might perceive today’s gun culture in America. I saw a video on YouTube of kids doing these “active shooter drills” in school and found it to be eye-opening. Thinking about the bigger picture of our pervasive gun culture, I thought, “How does this affect the developing psychology of a 12-year-old?”
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest: How long did this take to film?
Travis Andrade: We shot for four and a half days.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest: Were there any big challenges in shooting over that short period of time?
Travis Andrade: Jon Brewer [a producer on the film] and I spent quite a bit of time planning out all of our location moves and really dialing it in. Every production has its challenges and I think there are unique obstacles with a short film. You’re trying to secure the most professional and experienced production team you can possibly manage, but you’re doing it all with far fewer resources than a feature film. It’s a game of time management. It’s all in the prep.
DP, Filmcraziest: How did you cast Jacob Sandler as Wesley?
Travis Andrade: We had a number of casting calls; they were invite only, but I think I met Jacob on our first day. For every subsequent audition, it became a matter of, “Does this kid measure up to Jacob?” He’s a super bright kid.
DP, Filmcraziest: I’ve actually seen Jacob in a short film called A Strange Calm – directed by Austin Rourke – where I learned that Jacob was pretty easy to work with… What was it like having him here for the film?
Travis Andrade: You may have heard the old adage, “Never work with kids or animals.” I can understand why in some cases that may be true. Kids are challenging; the amount of time you have with them is limited, their energy levels are all over the place, etc. But Jacob is more professional than [some] adults I’ve worked with. Not being hyperbolic here, it’s just the truth. He also had such a mature understanding of the subject matter. We were lucky to find him.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest: Cool. Austin shared pretty much that exact sentiment about working with Jacob… I’d be curious to see what he could do in a feature in general; and that’s my train of thought jumping towards wondering if there are any feature plans for Wesley?
Travis Andrade: Yes, definitely. I think the feature version of Wesley would deal in a lot of the same themes but would have little if anything to do with the plot. The scope of course would be a lot bigger and possibly involve a few different character perspectives.
DP, Filmcraziest: The film looks like Los Angeles or San Fernando Valley area… Where did you film this?
Travis Andrade: Mostly in the San Fernando Valley area.
DP, Filmcraziest: Ah, kind-of impressed with myself for getting that right! What were your favourite aspects of filming there, and what was the location scouting like?
Travis Andrade: You nailed it! Realistically, I think very few people outside of California would be able to see that unless they had spent some time in the Valley. There are some exterior shots that look as if it could [be] a variety of places throughout the South West.
The scouting process was long and arduous. Just kidding, it was definitely long though, ha! We spent quite a bit of time driving around trying to find places that felt they belonged in Wesley’s world. I had a motorcycle at the time and also spent hours riding around with a camera and just discovering things. I really enjoyed that. The Valley has much more to offer than most people think!
DP, Filmcraziest: You also find a good mix between drone shots and regular cinematography; what was that like?
Travis Andrade: Yes, there a couple of drone shots in there. It’s a great tool to help give a short film some scope and kind-of paint a more accurate picture… You’ll have to tell me what regular cinematography is, though!
DP, Filmcraziest: Ah, sorry. I suppose by “regular cinematography” I mean with the more standard shots in filmmaking with your DP holding the cam and capturing the action… But yes, it definitely seems to add to the production value and I imagine it gives more flexibility in terms of coverage and options of transitions, right?
Travis Andrade: It really does. The tools that are available to the filmmaker today are just insane. Twenty years ago this same story would have been shot in a completely different way just out of mere necessity. This is exciting because it allows you to bring your creative vision to fruition. Of course, you need talented and dedicated people who are going to help you get the absolute most out of your budget and time.
DP, Filmcraziest: Transitioning into the more serious topics here – what are your thoughts on violent video games in general and within the context of your film? Do you think they’re a good outlet for frustration?
Travis Andrade: I played plenty of violent video games as a kid. It would be dishonest of me to depict Wesley and his brother sitting in his room playing cards. That’s just not the culture today. Hasn’t been for a long time. As far as video games being an outlet for frustrated youth, yes, I think it can be an outlet. Kids need stimulation and they need variety. That’s not always easy. Some kids may not be fortunate enough to have the necessary access.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest: I think this is relevant as Wesley is an 11 or 12-year-old whose toy gun appears to be his prized possession, so when was the first time you held a gun?
Travis Andrade: I think I was around 12 or 13. Lucky for me it was supervised.
DP, Filmcraziest: Okay, great to know you had supervision! Would you mind expanding on that context of when you held a gun for the first time?
Travis Andrade: If I remember correctly, I think I went skeet shooting with my dad and brother once when I was around 13. Later on, the family moved to the mid-south. I was in high school and can recall a number of times I went shooting in the woods with a friend’s dad’s shotgun or pistol. This is pretty common for the area I was in at the time.
DP, Filmcraziest: As well, for me growing up in Canada in the 1990s, like playing cops and robbers with cap guns in my residential neighbourhood was commonplace – did you have a similar experience growing up? It is crazy how things have changed that something like that could have very different consequences now…
Travis Andrade: I’m also a 90’s kid. I had more or less the same experience here in America. Sometimes supervised, sometimes not. It was commonplace. Given what’s happened over the last twenty plus years here it’s hard for me to embrace that aspect of our culture now.
DP, Filmcraziest: For sure, I guess the main difference here would be me being 26 and never having held a legitimate gun (other than a BB gun rifle). I’ve never been hunting or anything, so it’s interesting how that’s different in experience, too.
Travis Andrade: It’s a strange paradigm today. It’s interesting to examine the cultural psychology aspect of it. I’m coming at it just as an American and an observer. Gun culture is part of our identity. It’s pervasive. This is undeniable. If we acknowledge that for a second, the question becomes… How can a civilized modern society accept the status quo? As you can imagine, it gets complicated quickly.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest: Without spoiling too much, what’s something you want people to take away from this film?
Travis Andrade: I hope the film provides a window into the mind of a child who is coming-of-age in the midst of our pervasive gun culture. Is the culture going to have a negative impact on all youths? No. But unfortunately, for a few it will. If we fail to confront this reality we do so at our own peril.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest: Awesome, thanks Travis. I appreciate you taking the time and giving these thoughtful responses. Nice e-meeting you!
Travis Andrade: Hey, nice to meet you and thanks for taking the time!
*Wesley is available to watch at the New Haven International Film Festival. A ticket link will be posted soon, for those interested.