I am building and helping to invent new architecture to hold the “storycube” rather than the “storyline”.
… been building stories and the teams that build them for audiences, since I could walk. My career has included everything from my first production gigs on one of the most infamously litigious films in Hollywood history, to getting my break in an Academy Award winning film, to Slamdance Competition, Sundance Dramatic Competition, getting asked by Bob Wright and Jeff Zucker themselves to create under contract for NBC and Aaron Spelling telling me as he was hiring me, “I wish I could do what you do to the human heart on the budgets you work with.”(Swear to God that is exactly what he said in his shag-rugged, giant office with the Charlie’s Angels pinball machine and mid-century furniture. Can you tell it is burned in my head? ; )).
After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in communications my career started when I took an offer from producer Carl Mazzocone, after Mazzocone had seen me in a play at Ithaca. (I had put on and performed in different productions both within and independently outside the school curriculum). His film was titled “Boxing Helena” (thus you may understand the “litigiously infamous” reference, it was plagued with lawsuits which I continued work in the office on, after filming), where I often say I learned the biggest lesson about a film career… “9 times out of 10, if you are listening and watching, you learn more on the infamous projects than you do when you get it right.” During the principal photography, the producers fired numerous crew positions and every time one was fired by the producer, Mazzocone would say, “Willson you know how to…” and before the question was complete I, with no film experience really, would step into the position for a week or so, while the producers hired someone else.
When the project was finished I was the one Production Assistant out of 15 who was asked by the producers to come back and work for them in Los Angeles during the trial against Kim Basinger.
After that project, I went on to work for the next year on several films in various roles…but at some point chose to go back to the acting and working on my writing (building plays was a hobby of mine from the time I could write). For three years I was cast in numerous plays at small theaters in varying Hollywood burroughs. All the while I was writing in coffeehouses all over the city, at times homeless and working as the assistant manager of another infamous Hollywood entity, Tower Video and Records on Sunset Blvd.
Some of my other biggest lessons in film were learned here, where daily, the likes of Scorcese, Pitt, Michael Jackson, Landis, Whoopie Goldberg, Johnny Depp, Steve Martin, Sean Penn, Tarantino, Roseanne Barr, Billy Wilder, Shelley Winters, etc.etc…would come in to rent films and talk about them. This was not “just” a little video store job. It was THE little video store job and a rare time …the heyday of the video store in the central location for film. Getting lessons in 20 minute discussions while assisting the legends of storytelling shopping for the products they actually created… …and all the while being pushed to watch more and understand more to be able to assist them.
At this time I was recommended to audition for Mike Figgis by a mutual friend who had seen me in a small play for a small film they were going to shoot in Las Vegas. I did not have a car and jogged 8 miles in 108 degree heat over the Hollywood Hills for one of my call backs. Showed up sweaty and stinking, read my parts, got asked one question thought I screwed it up..and started to jog home. Upon making the journey back, having decided it was a pipe dream, and arriving at my apartment I received a call that I was cast in my first film as a recognizable character, playing the rapist Miser in the film Leaving Las Vegas. I went on from there to play small parts in big films and big parts in tiny films…probably most notable, the film “Pariah” where I played a virulent sociopathic skinhead. The film was one of the first at the young Slamdance Film Festival and, & love it or hate it…got me acclaim for my performance. I then went on to take the lead role in Eric Bogosian’s Boston premiere of “subUrbia” earning me and my cast more awards for the performance. I went on to produce my first film as a filmmaker, based off a fictionalized biographical piece about divorce, a first screenplay of some 60 screenplays that I had written during the 10 years preceeding called “The Autumn Heart.” It was an experiment in filmmaking too. The team assembled to make the film was 60-70 % people who had never been on a film set. We raised the entire budget independently.
Out of 1700 films submitted, the film starring Tyne Daly, Ally Sheedy and myself, was chosen as one of 16 for the prestigious Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival. It went on to win the Vanity Fair / Nantucket Screenwriting Film Festival…and have a run in numerous cities. To this day it plays still on almost every Thanksgiving holiday in several markets. I will add that we were one of maybe two films in competition that were not from the lab or with support from a connected studio. We learned that Sundance wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Although we got the rare standing ovations at every single screening (in spite of horrific massive problems with sound brought on by changes 2 days before delivery because of the festival not accepting our music) … we were largely ignored because the festival pushed the filmmakers who had gone through their lab and the publicist we hired had prioritized several larger companies …huge lessons learned.
At the Nantucket festival Bob and Suzanne Wright (Bob was the head of NBC/Universal at the time) saw a small screening and asked me and my producers to their house. If there is a more productive and enjoyable film festival for story creators than Nantucket I have not been yet.
I went on to be hired by NBC and subsequently aforementioned Aaron Spelling to create projects. After 2 years of being under contract & learning how the sausage making was done … I left those endeavors seeing something on the horizon for independent television and film. Something better. Something better for audiences, for storytellers, for the stories and for brands. 7 Years ago I was asked by Jonathan Rosenberg’s team at Google as they were about to launch the video search, How I saw “an online independent television station working?” I started preparing and recruiting filmmakers and talent for the oncoming paradigm shift and convergence of TV, Independent Film and the Web. An industry that is coming to be known as Cross-media Interactive Story Architecture. My, and these great teams of people who have supported me, endeavor is not part of the next generation of TV, film, and gaming …it IS the next generation of media and story.