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.