Zach Wheeler: Re-Tracing 'The Trail' - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Zach Wheeler: Re-Tracing 'The Trail'

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Writer-director Zach Wheeler Writer-director Zach Wheeler
Richard Kidney in a scene from 'The Trail' Richard Kidney in a scene from 'The Trail'
The Trail is a 27-minute film that will screen as part of the Johns Hopkins Film Festival this weekend. It premiered at the inaugural Salisbury University Film Festival in May 2014. It was written and directed by Zach Wheeler who has been a student at Salisbury University since 2012. I talked to Wheeler after screening the short film and after reading the script for the movie. Wheeler hadn't read his script in a while, but he helped me to re-trace the steps of how he put it together.

The Trail is about a man alone on a hike who realizes he's trapped on an endless loop with no escape. Wheeler came up with the idea in the summer of 2011 during his own hikes in the Adirondack Mountains in New York. It's inspired by things like Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone and David Lynch's Rabbits. Wheeler was born in Washington state and has always been a hiker but he says the movie really isn't about hiking. It's about abstract fears and certain anxiety disorders that Wheeler says he's experienced in his own life.

Wheeler was born in 1994. His parents were professors in political science and Middle Eastern studies who moved him to various countries all through his early childhood. His family finally settled in Annapolis where he attended high school. His reason for attending Salisbury U. was because he said that SU was the only school in Maryland where a person could major in film or cinema studies. He said it's surprising given SU's location and size.

His focus was critical and scholarly study of films, learning about film theory and film history, and not production. Wheeler was more about analyzing movies, not making them. Wheeler does draw and paint, so he understands visual storytelling, but he didn't have the practical and technical know-how to create a movie all the way to the end. For that, Wheeler had been coincidentally contacted by Josh Lynch. Lynch is a filmmaker in his own right who currently works at WMDT, the local ABC-TV station, but after reading the script Lynch wanted to assist in this project. Wheeler said he and Lynch were fans of the films The Trail tries to emulate. It's one Wheeler said Lynch might have written.

Wheeler penned the 15-page script in the winter of 2013. There's a lot of detailed description with little to no dialogue. Wheeler called it a written storyboard or like the script for a comic book, making it evident that he had a clear vision of what he wanted to see on screen.

It was this clear vision that attracted Lynch but also a cast and crew who were fellow college students, but students who had no interest in filmmaking. The Trail was shot over the course of 9 days with about 11-hour work schedules, which were complicated by heavy snow fall just prior to shooting, making things at times very cold and long.

Wheeler describes his movie as a "interrogative film." It asks more questions or forces the audience to ask questions, rather than give answers, certainly not any direct ones. There's more symbolism in his film than anything else. It's less comical and more disturbing. He also describes it as avant-garde, a thematically-driven story that's more about exuding his fears and anxieties of the unknown.

His next project The Cabin is a spiritual sequel but will be more of a two-hander, a psychological thriller involving a husband and wife. The Kickstarter for it will be online soon. Wheeler plans on graduating this December and then pursuing his Ph.D. with hopes to be a teacher down the line.

The Trail will play at the Johns Hopkins University Film Festival on Saturday, February 28, 2015 at 7:30PM within the collection of short films called Experimental.

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