Filmmaker Profile: William Cusick (Director – ‘WELCOME TO NOWHERE’) – THE QUEENS WORLD FILM FESTIVAL

A surrealistic and dreamlike new take on the classic American road story, ‘Welcome to Nowhere‘ is an experimental film following the overlapping encounters of five strangers as they struggle to exist in the absurd desert world of the American West.

Constantly shifting perspective, the fractured narrative revolves around a poet, a hitchhiker and three motel rooms. In a series of warped, image-driven episodes, the archetypes of the American road story are deconstructed in action, dialogue, intent, and ultimately meaning. Reduced to a series of actions, character traits and only minimal dialogue, these representations of the American promise of freedom and travel on the open road disintegrate into paradoxical fantasies of improbable escapism, perverse sexuality and futile violence.

We talked with the film’s Director William Cusick in anticipation of its Queens, NYC premier on Thursday March 7 at The 3rd Annual Queens World Film Festival.  The film will be screened at 10:15 at the Jackson Heights Theater in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Your film ‘Welcome to Nowhere’ is described as a “surrealistic and dreamlike take on the American road movie”.  What are some of the film-­‐specific influences behind the film? 
The inspiration for the project originally came from the gritty 60’s and 70’s classic road movies – films like ‘Easy Rider‘, ‘Two Lane Blacktop‘, ‘Vanishing Point‘, ‘Five Easy Pieces‘, and ‘Paris, Texas‘  –  desert road films that have an edge and a sense of danger, something lurking behind every corner.  Counterpointing the road movie framework are surrealistic and dreamlike overtones inspired by Andrei Tarkosky’s 70’s films ‘The Mirror‘, ‘Solaris‘ and ‘Stalker‘.  The film also   takes inspiration from David Lynch insomuch as the logic structure of the fractured storytelling bears no explanation, it simply unfolds, make of it what you will.

The film is based on the stage performance by experimental theater company Temporary Distortion, how did you find the stage performances translated to the screen?  What were some adjustments in the original content in order for it to work as a moving image?  
We threw out all of the stage text when we began writing the screenplay and started by writing imagery based around the original sequences from the performance.  The key ideas we kept intact were the characters, the soundtrack, and the tone of physical stillness to guide us through the process of adaptation.  As Kenneth Collins (Co-­‐Writer, Producer) and I wrote the screenplay, each of these key elements were further  developed  –  we added characters, expanded the world around the 5 principals and  John Sully (Composer) wrote and recorded additional music to compliment the  elements of the original score that were carried over to the film.  Some of the text from the stage production made its way back into the shooting script,but then not all of it made it to the final cut of the film. The original stage performance was a hybrid of cinema, theater and installation which had nearly an hour of video content I created for it.  All of that original projection content was discarded, but conceptual elements were definitely carried over, such as the Interlude that happens in the middle of the  movie.

 The film is meant to disturb audiences over a brief running time.  Obviously without giving too much away, what kind of filmmaking/artistic techniques did you employ in order for this to be successful?
Part of why the film disrupts the traditional viewing experience is its purposeful lack of clear plot and narrative.  We  chose not to follow structural rules that define traditional arcs of mainstream (and most indie) films, and instead built a film around a series of moments that give only impressions of narrative connection. This approach stems directly from our experimental process of creating performances.  

What was the technical setup behind the film?  As a director, what was your own visual approach to the narrative?  
The movie was shot entirely on digital using the Canon 7D HDSLR. Principle photography happened over the course of about six months in 2010 at Temporary Distortion’s art studio in a warehouse in Long Island City, Queens.  Most of the exterior shots with actors were done on green screen, and nearly all of the interiors were sets that we constructed, save for M. Well’s diner and the gas station.  Even with these real locations, Jonathan Weiss (Production Designer &  Animator) created composites that placed these locations in the desert.  This level of artifice was essential to the visual style and (non-­‐) narrative approach to the filmmaking.  There’s a push and pull between the “real” in-­‐camera sections of the film and the more lush, composited sequences.  We wanted this sense of plasticity and falsity to continuously seep through to the surface, reminding the audience these characters are not where we say they are, and yet you can choose to  believe what’s being shown and go on this journey in your mind.

Can you explain a little about your strategy behind marketing the film going forward? What is your strategy is building the biggest audience for ‘Welcome  to Nowhere’?  
We’re primarily interested in festivals, micro-­‐cinemas and galleries for public screenings.  This is not a movie with mass appeal, and we knew that from the start. However, audiences for this type of edgy, off-­‐the-­‐cliff experimental narrative filmmaking exist, it’s a matter of curators and programmers taking a risk on something that isn’t a traditional indie film with a hero and an easily summed up narrative.  We’ve had some good luck so far with smaller festivals opening up to the ideas at work in this project.  This is not a movie that benefits from aggressive “must-­‐see” advertising either, because it will ultimately disappoint if that’s how people discover it.  This is something that open-­‐minded film-­‐lovers will find on their own over the course of the next several years as it screens at smaller local venues and festivals.

Purchase Tickets for ‘Welcome to Nowhere’HERE

Thursday, March 7, 2013
The Queens World Film Festival presents
‘WELCOME TO NOWHERE’
@ Jackson Heights Cinema
40-31 82nd st.
Queens, NY

About William Cusick
William is a video and projections designer based in NYC, whose work has recently been seen in productions at the BAM Harvey, Lincoln Center Theater, New York Theater Workshop, PS122, Culture Project, Ontological-Hysteric Theater, and The Chocolate Factory, as well as various theaters in Europe and Canada. Cusick is the recipient of the 2007 Henry Hewes Design Award for Projections for his work on Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center Theater. Cusick has designed four original productions for the experimental theater company Temporary Distortion, including the recent Americana Kamikaze at PS122. Cusick is a recipient of the NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Designers for 2009-2011.

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  1. […] Director William Cusick did an interview with IndieNYC.com about the film. Steve Rickinson, IndieNYC’s Editor-In-Cheif, asked great questions that ought to help illuminate some concepts behind the film. Check it out over on their website – interview link. […]

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