Creation is rarely a linear process. Ask any painter, choreographer or musician if their final product was exactly what was first planned.
Filmmaking, on the other hand, seems to come across as a carefully scripted, meticulously planned endeavor. Just ask Boise-based director Will Schmeckpeper. Budget and scheduling constraints require months of pre-production to ensure an expeditious shoot. Last minute switches, while common, can sometimes cost studios too much to continue. But sometimes, a film not under the watch of a finance-focused exec can emerge, its artistry and intent improved by the flexibility of its creators.
Such a case is Vagabond Lane, Schmeckpeper's new film. It's a scrappy, heartfelt story that doesn't shrink from embracing the strictures of its small budget.
The film tells the tale of Carrie (Chelsea Scheets), a shy, emotionally abused teen who runs away from her drunken stepfather (TJ Johnson) into the eerie, danger-filled fantasy world of Vagabond Lane. There she encounters monsters, power-hungry preachers and heroic knights while discovering the courage to face her fears. As in Dante's Inferno--after which the film is loosely modeled--she descends further into an otherworldly hell that grows more hazardous with each encounter, until her enslavement by the wicked Desert King (Vincent Sanchez) requires her to escape once more.
"I didn't set out to create a Christian allegory," says Schmeckpeper, who says the film's allusions to Dante's novel came while editing. "I'm not particularly religious, but at the core of any belief worth its salt is that God tells you what to do, and you have the freedom to make the choice."
While Vagabond Lane can be viewed as an adventure story--and action-wise, it's mostly family appropriate--its emphasis on decision and liberation highlights the film's deeper message about breaking the cycle of abuse and victimhood. As Carrie learns to take action when imperiled, she simultaneously learns to allow other captives to choose their freedom.
Shot in the summer of 2006, Vagabond Lane doesn't have the slick production values of a Hollywood blockbuster, but Schmeckpeper uses lower camera quality and intrusive visual overlays to accentuate Carrie's disturbing circumstances.
"No matter what you do with it, it's not going to be pretty," Schmeckpeper says. "So for those moments when her world is ugly, I wanted to make it look really bad."
The film's first 20 minutes are in blown-out, grainy black and white, layered over with images of religious icons, alcohol bottles and--to stunning effect--images from the Hubble telescope. After reaching Vagabond Lane, it shifts into color, the weedy greens and dried brown bracken in sharp focus. Throughout the film, Schmeckpeper shifts the resolution and color balance to indicate the safety of the characters.
And it's a charming cast, from Bill (Charles A. Beal), the chatty Celtic knight, to nomadic drifter Joe (Gary Winterholler) and his wise goldfish companion. While certain segments perhaps too effectively communicate the drudgery of Carrie's captivity, it's a lively, engaging story with a message.
"The adventure part of [Vagabond Lane] makes it accessible for the deeper part to make an impression on audiences," says Schmeckpeper. "I realize that this medium is a motion picture; there should be some action. You have to give the audience something exciting to last them through the slower beats."
Vagabond Lane premieres with a special screening at the Egyptian Theatre on Saturday, March 6, with showings at both 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. and a cost-effective ticket price of $6.
"We're making local movies the best we can, but the reality of it is, we should be showing it to local people at a price they can afford," he says. "If I can get two people to my movie for just about the price that it would cost a single person to go to a standard release, I think they come out ahead and I come out ahead."