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Gary Wheeler: Go For The Audience of One
By Marie Asner
Film director Gary Wheeler is a man of faith. In the motion picture business, it may be a rarity, but Wheeler believes in the power of prayer and it certainly brought together a star-studded cast for Wheeler's latest film, The List. This movie is now available on DVD through Fox Faith and is rated PG. (review at www.PhantomTollbooth.org)
Gary Wheeler is a graduate of Appalachian State University and Regent University. He is the founder and president of Level Path Productions ( www.LevelPathProductions.com). Previous films have been Final Solution and Midnight Clear. The List recently won three Crown Awards (Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Drama) at the International Christian Media Convention in Orlando. Fla. The script, co-written by Wheeler, Michelle Hoppe-Long, Johnston H. Moore and author Robert Whitlow from his book of the same name, took ten months to write. It tells the story of decisions and following the right path. Going from Civil War times and a scheme to preserve family funds and control, the story in our time centers on Renny (Chuck Carrington) and Jo (Hilarie Burton). They find they have a great deal of money through inheritance. Upon investigation, they discover Renny can access his money, but Jo can't. Malcolm McDowell plays Larochette, the present head of this controlling "organization" along with other members Nicholas Pryor and Pat Hingle. Renny has to see through the cob webs of intrigue and mystery to find a solution and in the meantime, keep his friends from danger. The List is the type of film you want to watch in the evening with lights out. It can frighten you, but not that much, and the light switch is always within reach.
Photography by Tom Priestly, Jr. is beautifully done and makes the camera another member of the cast along with James Covell's original score. In a way, the storyline of The List reminded me of a tontine scheme, in which the survivor receives everything, although this story continues for over a hundred years. As Gary Wheeler states, "In The List, as in the Bible, money is not the root of all evil, it is the love of money that translates to power that is evil."
When I first saw the cast for The List,I wondered how Gary Wheeler managed to get Malcolm McDowell, Will Patton, Pat Hingle and Nicholas Pryor in the same film? My favorite performance of McDowell's is from Blue Thunder and Patton from No Way Out. But Wheeler's favorite is McDowell's film Time After Time. To my question, Wheeler replied, "The actors signed on because it was good material and the first was Will Patton. Pat Hingle and Nicholas Pryor live in Wilmington (near where the movie was filmed) and both read for their parts. McDowell was on the wish list, but they couldn't afford him. A friend who plays golf said he would tell another 'friend' about the film and the 'friend' turned out to be McDowell who signed on after reading the script. He's agreed to do another film with me, too."
Having your film picked up and distributed by prestigious Fox Faith is an achievement. The DVD of The List has a Bible discussion guide included. As Wheeler says, "Going with Fox Faith is like having a child and letting that child go out and stand alone. Your work has to stand on its own. It's being in a bigger sandbox. When you first go there, you realize it is 20th Century Fox and you are going into the tower."
Independent film-makers have no chance at broad distribtion without help and it is often tiring, depressing and wearing to go from festival to festival. Wheeler guest lectures and shares his philosophy. His advice to young film-makers is "to keep on plugging and don't forget the power of prayer. If we needed sun or rain, we got it. Film making is a business of peaks and valleys. Things can change in five minutes. You need a moral compass inside you for calm so you don't swim in either direction too much. There are times when things get so down, you want to curl into a fetal position, but make yourself get up. Keep your expectations at a manageable place. Film-makers need to do their own vision or help others to achieve theirs. Go for the audience of One---if He's happy, it's OK."
For his next film project, Gary Wheeler will do another Robert Whitlow novel called The Trial and Malcolm McDowell will have a role. Wheeler's favorite book and film is Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, and he feels doing The Trial is his opportunity to make something similar, a story of going against accepted tradition. Interviewing Gary Wheeler is like drinking a glass of cold fresh water in the summertime. It is definitely a day-brightener.
Copyright 2008 Marie Asner
KCUR-FM (NPR-Kansas City) film panelist
WQFL-FM "The Ticket" host Darren Marlar (Rockford, Ill.)
Metro Voice News (print-Kansas city)