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Walter: A quirky comedy, filmed by IU grads 

After working in Hollywood, Brenden Hill, Paul Shoulberg and Andrew West are coming home to the place that made their latest film — and friendship — possible.

The three amigos met in IU-Bloomington's drama department. And on their new film, Walter, which premieres at the Indiana State Museum IMAX Sunday, March 8, they've resumed the roles they first took on as students with Hill serving as producer, Shoulberg as writer and West as the star. William H. Macy, Neve Campbell, Jim Gaffigan and Virginia Madsen co-star.

Walter started as a short story by Shoulberg, which Hill turned into a short film five years ago starring West. Hill, whose production company Purple Bench Films is named after the purple benches in IU's theater department, shopped the project around to film industry folks. They liked what they saw, wanting to see more of the unusual title character — a son of God who sends people to heaven and hell as casually as he tears tickets at the movie theater where he works.

Shoulberg can’t pinpoint precisely how he came up with this premise. But he grew up with a Catholic priest for a father and a nun for a mother. “That upbringing implanted the film’s religious, iconic ideas in the back of my mind,” he said.

The film is set in Indiana, but most of it was filmed in Los Angeles. Ironically, Shoulberg was on set every day that the film was shot in L.A., but he had work obligations that prevented him from visiting when the production moved to Indianapolis, an hour away from his home in Bloomington. He felt Indiana’s influence on the film after seeing early footage.

“By the nature of the beast, most movies come out of New York or L.A. Since this one came partly out of Indiana, it seemed to have a different perspective — a Midwestern feel,” Shoulberg said.

Shoulberg added that his original vision of the story was a shade darker than what ended up on screen. As the production moved to the Midwest, it took on a more “heartwarming vibe,” he explained.

“Indiana is a wholesome place with an Everytown, USA feel that’s fitting for a story with these universal themes,” Hill said. “It’s about grief, death, how we’re all haunted by something, and what we do to cope and come out the other side of it all.”

Those universal themes seemed to unite the Indianapolis community, Hill said. “The city completely opened its arms to us. A low-budget film like this depends on favors from people. I knew Indiana was the right place to take it, given how warm, welcoming, and willing to help Hoosiers are.”

The film’s Indy locations include the Speedway, Fountain Square Theatre and Long’s Bakery.

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Production designer Michael Bricker was the expert on local locations. When he's not working on well-received films like Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess, he's chief innovator at People for Urban Progress, the design-inspired sort-of-profit he co-founded. He used his on-the-ground knowledge to seamlessly link the Los Angeles locations together with the Indy settings.

“When you’re making a movie, you’re mostly looking at all these little pieces,” Bricker said. “My job is to think about the big picture, to step back and make sure that when all those pieces get stitched together, it looks like they are part of the same universe. I had make sure that when Walter walked out of an L.A. location into an Indianapolis one, it all looked like his Midwestern world.”

Apparently, he did a good job.

“I forgot the movie was filmed largely in L.A.,” West said. “It feels like it was shot in the Midwest. Indiana is a major character in the film. Audiences will get a real sense of the beauty of Indiana that a lot of the country isn’t aware of.”

West will join Bricker, Hill, and Shoulberg to present Walter at the Indiana State Museum and participate in a Q and A after the premiere at 7 p.m. They will also attend a screening of the film at IU Cinema on Tuesday, Mar. 10 at 7.

“I can’t wait to bring this film back to the place that made it possible,” Hill said.


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