By G. Robert Frazier
Nashville filmmaker/screenwriter Elvis Wilson’s FOGG pits a “cold and calculating sociopath” against a neuroscientist looking to cure such behavior in a tense, psychological thriller. The movie, which has had a successful run on the film festival circuit, is now available to rent on Redbox and from Amazon Prime. Wilson recently shared how the movie moved from script to screen and how the Tennessee Screenwriting Association was an integral part in its development.
Fogg was originally titled Empathy and actually won a script contest TSA did a few years ago. Talk a bit about the script’s genesis.
ELVIS WILSON: I got the idea for Fogg in 2013 shortly after reading a book by David Eagleman called Incognito. Eagleman dove into the processes of the brain and, in one chapter in particular, the processes of the amygdala – the bispherical part of the brain that’s home to emotions, feelings, rage and reason. The “spirit” stuff of what I think makes us the people who we are. Some of us are “normal” while a few of us are born with deformed, small, or malfunctioning amygdalae (some get their’s transformed by brain injuries or disease), and there turns out to be a correlation between this part of the brain and sociopathic behavior.
I made the leap and wondered what would happen if we were able to jumpstart the empathy circuits in these people, stimulate the amygdala, or even repair it. Sociopaths might have REAL feelings or emotions for the first time. Of course, supposing this could happen, I would also have to consider what the consequences would be if that cure didn’t take or fell apart. That’s how Fogg was born. At its heart, Fogg is just another “birth of a monster” movie with some real science involved.
How did the TSA contest inspire you to complete the script?
ELVIS: In 2014, I had the rudiments of the script idea floating around my head for some time, then it all coalesced when the Tennessee Screenwriting Association announced their annual screenwriting competition called “Make This Film.” I used that as motivation and the first draft was born under the original title of Empathy. I submitted the fourth draft to the contest and won!
At this point in time, I had made four short films and a feature documentary, Being Lincoln—Men With Hats (which was in rotation on The Documentary Channel, now defunct, for two years and had showings on Showtime). After winning at TSA, I convinced my wife (code for BEGGED my wife) to let me make the movie. With her blessing, we started first shots for the feature in November 2015.
How much input did TSA provide in terms of feedback, advice, etc. for the script? How valuable (invaluable?) was that to you?
ELVIS: Honestly, I couldn’t have done this without my brothers and sisters at The Tennessee Screenwriting Association. I work-shopped the logline and the synopsis during one of the meetings where, with the kid gloves off, the feedback was tough and eye-opening. Having minds that you can trust and that will honestly debate with you the mechanics of your work is not only invaluable, but integral to the completion of the work. Few of us can work in a vacuum to create, and I am certainly no exception. I crave input and validation, and more importantly, I need to know what works and what doesn’t in my story building.
One of the most helpful things was getting to critique and “re-build” the script with former Tennessean and professional screenwriter/filmmaker Robert Orr. He was SO generous with his time on the phone. It was fun having him see inside my head and then giving me a peek into his. That experience really opened my eyes at knowing when to cling, or not to cling, onto certain elements in your story. It’s not about being precious about specific story elements that come out of your head, but learning to serve the “whole” story.
The script’s success in the Nashville Film Festival screenwriting competition opened more doors for you, correct?
ELVIS: The Nashville Film Festival’s first-ever screenwriting competition in 2014 helped validate (at least in my mind) some of the stories and film ideas I’d been working on for about ten years. While I’d been busy making shorts and having a documentary get national distribution, many folks in the local filmmaking industry were like, “Who is this guy and where’d he come from?”
The surprise was, not only did Fogg do well, but three other scripts advanced at NaFF. To put the icing on the cake, my road trip script, Driving Top Down, won the Tennessee Screenwriting award at NaFF. That single-handedly created a buzz about my story building.
Ultimately, I had decided to go ahead and start filming Fogg. Kelly Frey (who I met at NaFF) came on board as executive producer and was invaluable to me getting my _ _ _ _ together. LOL! I was a mess. Just running and gunning. I met many of the folks that would work on the film the next two years at NaFF, but it all started on those Wednesday nights at the Tennessee Screenwriting Association.
Talk a little about your prior film efforts and how important that was going into filming Fogg. What were the challenges in filming your first feature?
ELVIS: Fogg was my first narrative feature (note that Being Lincoln was also a feature), but I’ve been in the advertising business for over three decades, so I’ve been on many sets and film locations and I came to making my movie with a basic knowledge about “production.” Making a no-budget feature, however, is a beast with many teeth and tentacles, each taking strips of flesh out of you simultaneously.
The first problem was, I had NO money. I started an Indiegogo campaign and raised about $3,000 to get started. That was helpful, but far from enough cash to get through a couple of days of filming. The second problem was getting good locations. Getting GREAT locations require, guess what, MONEY! I had to barter on many of our locations with businesses that needed or wanted motion content for the websites. So, that doubled the work. I had to create content for the business, then shoot there for Fogg…This was exhausting.
Another challenge…a few weeks into filming the first few scenes of Fogg, my father died. On top of grieving, work and family commitments, I was dramatically behind my own self-imposed schedule of when I wanted to be wrapped. But I struggled through. I don’t want sympathy about all this, but during the final few days of shooting in June 2016, my mother also passed away. I was crushed. I remember crying to myself on set, knowing eyes were on me from cast and crew. Writers and filmmakers need to know that this business is HARD and takes a lot out of you. Those who commit and have the love and support of their family and friends can get it done. You cannot do it by yourself. There is no such thing.
This brings me to what I call a “gift”…my cast and crew. Ryan Wotherspoon, Hayden Wyatt, Jeremy Childs, Wynn Reichert, Rodney Pickle, Sarah Shoemaker, JesseJames Locorriere and Susannah Devereux and others. Screenwriting and filmmaking friends, do yourself a favor and surround yourself with great actors and great crew. My DP, Tamara Reynolds, is my soul sister and spirit animal. I love her so much. Tracy Facelli, a filmmaking force of her own, was instrumental in keeping my sets safe and professional when she could join us, and Columbia State Community College’s Film Production program in Franklin provided us with great interns that worked their butts off for us.
You entered Fogg into a number of festivals and enjoyed some success. But, ironically, your film didn’t make the cut to be shown at NaFF, even though the script did so well in their contest. How did that make you feel?
ELVIS: Not being invited to screen at NaFF hurt. Not going to lie. But, I appreciate the festival and will always love and support it. I know I had folks inside fighting for us, but ultimately, we moved on to other festivals.
We had screenings in Canada, Russia, China and all over the U.S. We won several awards like the Best Thriller at The Golden Gate International Film Festival, The Audience Choice Award at The Knoxville Film Fest, Best Horror and Best Actor at The Bloodstained Indie Film Festival in Shanghai, China, among several others. Not bad for a no-budget little indie!
TSA: You have since managed to land a distribution deal with Fogg being available from Redbox and Amazon Prime. How did that happen and how does that feel to have your film out in the world now?
ELVIS: I can’t really talk about the details of our distribution deal (which is in the billions of dollars…which is also a lie but fun to say), but I was pleased to get calls and emails from reputable organizations that wanted to represent us. When approached by them personally, I deferred to my executive producer, Kelly Frey, to handle them. I think he took care of business nicely!
What’s next for you?
ELVIS: What’s next for me? I am ALWAYS thinking about the next story. If you want to be a writer or a filmmaker and you only have the “one” idea, give up now. You need to drown yourself in ideation. It’s part of the DNA.
I’ll be making up stories, painting, creating, no matter where I am or what station in life I hold. I am working _ _ _ _ out in my head and if I couldn’t be part of some creative process, I would definitely do something crazy like be homeless or run for political office.
But on a serious note, I hope you all get to see a Fogg 2 soon. Also, I’ll be heading to the 2018 Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriter’s Conference in October where my first every TV Pilot is a semi-finalist in the AMC-sponsored category of TV Drama. I am stoked about this! The producers that made Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are reading my material. Sweet! Out of 10,500 entries, I’m in the top 2 percent! I’m in the top 30 in the category. This is the best I’ve ever done in a screenwriting competition (my best was a top 15 percent in the Nichol Fellowship). Wish me luck into the finals!
Even with all that success, you still come to TSA meetings. Why?
ELVIS: I have NOT had a lot of success. I’ve had some, but I am struggling…every day. This is why I need my tribe. The companionship, the friendships, the support of my comrades in arms at the TSA, you guys always give me a charge when I desperately need it. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
To find out more about Elvis Wilson and Fogg, visit his websites at: