Luke Wilson makes his directorial debut with The Wendell Baker Story, a twisted comedy about a good-natured con man who turns his life around after spending time behind bars. Luke Wilson not only directed the film, along with his brother Andrew, but also wrote the screenplay and plays the lead. Brother Owen appears in a supporting role and their mom Laura handled all the still photography on the set. Even Luke’s dog, Brother, got in on the act, making his feature film debut by tackling the role of Junior.
The Advantages of Working with the Wilson Family: “I think the pluses are that we get along," said Luke Wilson. "You do kind of know each other and you are able to hit the ground running. Sometimes when you get on a new movie, you kind of have to figure out the way other people work and it can be like being the new kid in high school where you’re just trying to find out where your place is on the movie or on the set. I don’t know what the minuses would be.”
Andrew Wilson added, “We didn’t really have time to have any sibling [arguments]. We were on such a tight time constraint. You know, we had 35 days to shoot it and the producers called it an ambitious schedule, which is euphemism for impossible so we were just trying to get the thing done. We were always aware we really didn’t have time to mess around and argue about this and that. Just try and get the best shot.”
The Wilson Sense of Humor: Andrew said they all share a similar sensibility. “I think we think the same things are funny. I mean Owen, obviously, is a really funny, funny guy and he has been since we were little. I can remember like my dad always saying ‘You think you’re the funniest person in the world don’t you?’ In a very negative way. And it turns out he may be one of the funniest people in the world. But yeah, we think kind of the same things are funny. When Luke showed me the script I thought it was funny and really well written. So, we tend to read the same things and be drawn to the same kind of interests.”
Divvying Up Responsibilities on the Set: It was kind of a play it by ear situation in terms of deciding who would do what. Luke explained, “It just kind of worked out where I would block the scenes out with the actors and Andrew and Steve Mason, the cinematographer, would kind of work out the shots. It was never the kind of thing were I had one idea and Andrew had another and we kind of had to take 10 minutes to figure it out. If anything, I feel like we kind of moved a little faster in doing it that way because we really would be able to… I would be able to block it and he’d be able to lay it out and figure out what shots they were going to do, and I can be rehearsing at the same time with them. Yeah, I think it worked out pretty well.”
“There wasn’t the kind of auteur effect where you had a director with a vision of what it should be and a writer with a different vision and then a big star that wanted to do something else that only benefited him,” offered Andrew. “We were all trying to do the same thing which was get the script, which we all really liked, shot in the amount of time we had. That was really a very simple goal. And also I think when you also have a short amount of time - and I’ve worked on some bigger movies where there is a ton of money and a ton of time - you find that there isn’t the kind of creative tension that we had on this. When you know you only have a short time with a limited amount of money, it helped us come up with some kind of good creative solutions. Things we came up with quickly and on the fly that we knew made it better.”
Luke Wilson added, “And we knew we that didn’t want to do the conventional like one master over the shoulder and then a tight shot. We knew wanted to do a lot of oners, just because we know that’s what we like, like Woody Allen movies and things like that. So when you do have a close up it can have a little more of an impact. That’s where Steve Mason was really helpful, the cinematographer, to tell us certain times what you have to get just to make it work and that you can’t always do that. You can’t always just have a master, just the one shot and move on. You really need it for the story and to keep people kind of interested. So, that was really helpful to have something like that.”
Following in Brother Owen’s Footsteps: Luke Wilson credits brother Owen with inspiring him to write. “Just kind of seeing, like the time he and Wes would put in. You get the script and you read it and it seems so kind of fluid and you just think, ‘Well, it just must have rolled right out of them.’ But you find out it does kind of take time and hard work. So I think in between watching Owen and Wes [Anderson] and the way they work, I think that kind of gave us a good feeling that you do really have to sit down and take the time and it’s not always really fun. You can’t always think, ‘Oh, I’m gonna wait till I get inspired.’ Sometimes you just have to like sit down together and grind it out.”