In November of 2010 I went to the 24fps film festival in Abilene, Tx. It was there that I first saw THE BUTTERFLY CIRCUS by Josh and Rebekah Weigel. I was blown away by the beauty, boldness and the brave heart this film showcased. Its a moving film that makes you realize anything is possible. Before we fully jump into that magical film let me tell you a bit about Rebekah Weigel.
Over a series of emails I was able to chat with Rebekah about her life prior to entering the film industry and here are those questions and answers. We started with where she grew up and where she spent her college days.
Lets start out with your Laramie days. How did you end up going to Wyoming? I also noticed that you’re a Kansas City Chiefs Fan, EXPLAIN the love of the big red machine?
I am originally from Kansas City and since most people from Kansas City are die hard fans, that explains my love for the Chiefs. I was offered a scholarship for track and field from the University of Wyoming which is how I ended up in Laramie.
So how did Josh Weigel enter her life?
I met Josh when I was 19 and he was 18. He had just graduated high school and I had finished one year of college. We had so much in common that once we started hanging out we quickly became very good friends. We have always enjoyed each others company and although we never planned to get married young, at some point we just decided we couldn’t imagine living life without each other. After fourteen years of marriage and three children we still love and cherish our time together.
The young couple eventually made it to “Hollywood”.
Josh has wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of thirteen, so I knew when I married him that we would eventually move to Hollywood so he could pursue his dream of making films. After getting married he moved to Wyoming for a few years so I could finish my B.S. in Psychology and after a brief backpacking stint around Europe we made the big move to “Hollywood”. We didn’t know anyone when we moved and it was pretty intimidating to move from a small town in Wyoming to Los Angeles without any friends or family in the area. After we moved to LA Josh began trying to work his way into the industry, often working for little or no pay, while I worked a full time job in Human Resources that gave us some income stability and insurance benefits. He slowly worked his way from an Office PA at the WB Television Network into the art department on National commercials which allowed him to be around sets and learn. He was very diligent and would read books about film, take acting classes and study in his spare time.
When did you guys decide to begin writing together and what were some of the elements that made you think that it was working well enough to make films?
We have always viewed marriage as a partnership so whether it’s parenting our three children, approaching domestic responsibilities to providing for the needs of our family; we work together as a team. Although we have always been supportive of each others goals, in the past we had very different career paths. I have always been passionate about relationships and counseling and Josh wanted to make films that would have a positive impact on society. At first I just offered a bit of feedback here and there and helped on set when needed, but slowly I became more and more involved and essential to the projects. To be honest I think it was because I believed in him so much that I would defend his vision and protect it when no one else would.
One of their first projects together was a short filmed, STAINED. What was the inspiration for STAINED? You shot it on the RED ONE and actually became the first film shot on the Red to win an award, can you talk about the choice to shoot on the RED rather then film?
“Stained” was our first major collaboration together as a couple and since we made it for a speed film-making competition (168 Hour Film Project) it really tested our ability to work together. Despite the stress and challenges we ended up winning Best Screenplay and Best Film and to our surprise became the first film shot on the RED ONE to win Best Film at a festival! At the time it was a pretty big risk to shoot on the RED because it was such a new camera and few people were experienced handling the work flow, but our editor (Chris Witt), won Best Editor and did a fabulous job figuring out the process.
After I watched THE BUTTERFLY CIRCUS I really wanted to chat with the Weigel’s about the film, so I started my research into who this husband and wife team were/are. Well I came across their next short film (after Stained), LIV. You may remember LIV from our interview with Actor Jared Day who starred in the short. The film is still one of the more moving pieces I saw in all of 2010 and I was so glad to chat with Rebekah about the short film.
LIV was an extremely powerful film. How much as a writer do you work with your actors, specifically Jared’s performance being so emotionally driven? What was the inspiration of the story?
Over the years we have known a lot of people who struggle with depression and our goal with LIV was to offer a glimpse of hope to people who have lost hope and are contemplating suicide. Josh is a very hands on director and his experience as an actor helps to get great performances out of his actors because he really understands the process. That being said, Jared Day did an amazing job portraying such a complex and emotional character and we were very pleased with his performance.
Jared Day with Director Josh Weigel.
The film itself involves a depressed suicidal man who is “saved” by a young girl named LIV. How much of your faith is in your films, touching on subjects like “guardian angels” it appears quite strongly to be faith based material?
Art is clearly a reflection of the artist and since our faith is very important to us it naturally makes its way into our stories. Faith is a universal subject that all people grapple with at some point in their lives. We don’t really feel it’s helpful to label a film “faith-based” because it usually means the film is aimed at or only appeals to the Christian audience when in reality faith is a core topic of humanity that is relevant and important to everyone.
Now this talk of faith led to the real heart of what the Weigel’s are trying to accomplish with their films.
Your films invoke powerful messages of never losing hope and always fighting through the struggles of life. When Joshua and you begin the writing process what motivated you in structuring your script? Does your background in Psychology play a major presence in your choices?
Yes, I do believe my Psychology plays a role in the stories and characters we develop. LIV was inspired after reading in the news that suicide was on the rise and was our attempt to offer a ray of hope to people struggling with depression. Similarly, we set “The Butterfly Circus” during the Great Depression because we thought it would be a great parallel to what our society is currently going through.
As you can tell from Rebekah’s responses that Josh and her are trying to use the power of film to help people. Though their films do invoke a sense of faith, they are not doing it to preach, but as Rebekah said, “to offer a ray of hope”. This leads to the Weigel’s amazingly moving film, THE BUTTERFLY CIRCUS.
The short film, that they are adapting into a feature length film, is about a Great Depression area circus that recruits a limbless man to be part of the show. Real life limbless man, Nick Vujicic, played Will. Rebekah was kind enough to chat about the incredible cast in the film.
Yes, we were so grateful to get such a talented cast, especially for a short film. Doug Jones came on board after seeing one of our previous films and has been wonderful to work with and very supportive throughout the entire process. Eduardo was referred to us through his friend Ed Vizenor who gave him the script and encouraged him to take the role of the showman. Casting Nick Vujicic as Will ended up being the most difficult role to fill. After months of trying to contact him and convince him to be a part of the project he declined the role two weeks before the start of production because his schedule was too full. Fortunately his schedule cleared and after meeting with us and seeing our previous work, he changed his mind. From speaking Japanese with our costumers to cracking everyone up with his great sense of humor, he has been an inspiration to everyone involved with this project.
In the film their is a very powerful scene that takes place at a watering hole.
The water sequence is an effective “leap of faith” moment in the film. It even has a baptism type emotional feel to it (I realize the irony in me asking that question as I am Jewish), how did you come up with the scene and actually shoot it?
It’s funny you say that because we never intended for this scene to be a “leap of faith” moment. To be honest it took a lot of brainstorming to come up with a realistic circus act that could be performed by a limbless man. The idea came to us when we were with Bob Yerkes (Poppy) who has been a professional circus performer and stunt coordinator for over 50 years and happens to have a diving platform in his back yard. Although Nick really did jump from a platform about 5 feet off the ground, the main effect was accomplished by composting shots of him against green screen and background plates of the diving area.
Will (Nick Vujicic) with Director Joshua Weigel.
What are the next steps for The Butterfly Circus?
The response to this short film has exceeded every expectation and continues to amaze us as we have had almost 10 million views online to date and continue to win awards at festivals across the country. With the proven grassroots movement and interest behind the film we feel it has the potential to become a very successful feature film. We have always had a much bigger story in mind and are really excited about the script that is coming together for the feature. For anyone who is interested in the latest news and updates feel free to check out our website at www.thebutterflycircus.com or find us on Facebook.
Since I’d seen the wonderful short film at a film festival I was curious about Rebekah’s thoughts on festivals.
How have you and Joshua enjoyed the festivals you’ve been to? In making short films it seems festivals are one of the main avenues of getting noticed, would you agree?
In the beginning we were getting rejection after rejection letter from the larger festivals, but online the film was going viral and fans were blogging about how much they loved the film so we didn’t know whether to be discouraged or encouraged. We stopped submitting to film festivals after a few months because they didn’t seem to like the film, but an encouraging call from Derek Horne, the short film programmer at the Method Fest, changed everything. He was so enthusiastic and encouraging and helped guide us to festivals and audiences that would appreciate our film. We ended up winning Best Short Film and Best Actor at Method Fest and from there we started getting invited to other festivals.
Those aren’t the only awards the duo has taken home. Your films have garnered tremendous praise and have been honored with awards accordingly. Does any particular award stand out to you?
The Clint Eastwood Filmmaker Award definitely stands out and was the most memorable award we have received so far. We had no idea we would be receiving the award at the Carmel Art & Film Festival and to have the legend himself present the award left us both speechless. Clint has always been one of Josh’s favorite directors so to receive an award from him and to hear how much he liked the film was a tremendous honor.
Clint Eastwood awarding Joshua Weigel THE CLINT EASTWOOD FILMMAKER AWARD!
Take the time to check out Rebekah and Joshua’s wonderful work. They are a film-making couple that hopefully will be enriching our lives for a long time. PSD will of course keep you updated with all the greatness that the Weigel’s have in store for 2011 and beyond.
Here is the trailer for The Butterfly Circus.