Mark Wilson, director of WADE IN THE WATER, sits down with Contributor and Co-Founder of SpoilerFreeReviews, Aaron Goldstein, to talk about his new movie, SUNBURST.
Please donate through the Film Independent website if you want to get involved with SUNBURST. It’s tax-deductible and allows Mark and his “family” of filmmakers to make more movie experiences.
AARON: Thank you for taking the time to meet virtually. I’m excited to chat since our lives have so many crossings in film as well as personally.
MARK: For sure, I’m happy to be here today virtually!
AARON: Before diving in, let’s set context for the SFR readers. A couple of fun facts about Mark and me:
- We both grew up in Arizona
- Mark went to school with my family. My mom was his theatre teacher. And that teacher/mom is Esta Rosevear, one of our lead contributors at SFR.
- Most importantly, we are both diehard Phoenix Suns fans!
With that out of the way, so why Directing?
MARK: I grew up in Arizona, where you are very limited with what to do in the summer due to the heat. So I found ways to entertain myself. I discovered my dad’s VHS camera and started screwing around with it, and I really enjoyed the creative aspect. I remember I made a horror film when I was twelve and showed it at Christmas to my entire family, and just that moment of everyone reacting energized me to want to make films.
AARON: So cool, what was the film about?
MARK: Probably some SCREAM rip-off with the mask since that’s what was popular at the time.
AARON: 😂 How did you learn to make movies?
MARK: So, I was self-taught by making video announcements in high school. I would advertise clubs and events coming up. Funny enough, your mom picked me to do a bunch for her plays. I did homages to other films like THE MATRIX and would screen it in different classrooms. All of my friends gave me the confidence to get into filmmaking.
After that, I went to Scottsdale Film School. And the film school teachers gave me even more confidence. Both year’s I won the Audience Choice Award, which sparked the courage to move out to Los Angeles.
AARON: Cut to you in LA and having directed the award-winning WADE IN THE WATER. A film SFR called “a tough viewing experience that you won’t be able to towel dry from once you leave the water.”
MARK: What drew me to WADE IN THE WATER is it took me out of my comfort zone. It’s a dark film. But the director that inspired me to become a filmmaker is Ron Howard. And Howard is known for switching between genres. I still remember dragging my parents to take me to see RANSOM in fourth grade. It left a lasting impression that the director of APOLLO 13 and WILLOW could make that film.
AARON: I love me some Howard, and it’s such a great comparison. You are a pretty positive guy, so when I saw WADE IN THE WATER, I was pleasantly surprised how dark you could go. What was your proudest accomplishment with that film?
MARK: Yeah, you nailed it. And just making WADE IN THE WATER is my proudest moment as a filmmaker. We accomplished so much with so little. The tight-knit cast and crew have become my family.
AARON: Dang, I thought for sure you were going to say the Stephen King tweet.
MARK: That was such a cool moment. I love King, but that had to be our writer, Chris Retts moment. He cried afterward.
AARON: Now, onto SUNBURST. I’d ask you why switch to such a different-style movie, but I know why after your Ron Howard comment.
MARK: Yeah, SUNBURST is more my bread and butter. It also gives me a chance to reunite with Chris Retts (co-writer on WADE IN THE WATER). He fell in love with the original script I wrote and did a pass on it.
SUNBURST is a love letter to the cinema based on a friend, Brock, that I met in film school. Unfortunately, Brock passed away at 27 years old from congenital heart disease and knew he wouldn’t make it past thirty years old. So SUNBURST is inspired by his life.
AARON: So sorry to hear about Brock, but I love that you get to honor him in this film, which feels like a kindred spirit to ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL.
MARK: Yes, that’s an inspiration, but minus the sock puppets.
AARON: Nice, lol. So what’s the story?
MARK: The story’s theme is to live your life to the fullest, and all good things, sadly, come to an end. The main character, Garrett, has a congenital heart defect that all but ensures he won’t live to see his thirties. It’s a specter that causes him to forestall any relationship before it begins. Garrett plans to spend his summer vacation locked in his room, working on the one thing he cares about: his films. Garrett’s short movies reflect himself: a little detached, a little cold, and more than a little solitary.
But all that changes when Garrett’s father forces him to accept a job at Sunburst Cinemas, a dying, independent movie theater badly in need of structural and technical renovation.
With that setup, we can create a love letter to the theatre. We all seek out community, and the theatre provides that for so many. But, sadly, that community has been taken away from us at times during the pandemic.
AARON: Love the plot. What’s one thing you want audiences to leave the theatre with after seeing SUNBURST?
MARK: I want the audience to feel inspired and to reflect on their own lives and also continue to go to movie theaters!
AARON: Let’s do a few rapid-fire questions. Are you game?
MARK: Of course!
AARON: What filmmaker(s) are you most inspired by for SUNBURST?
MARK: Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Jeff Nichols.
AARON: What movie(s) would you compare SUNBURST to?
MARK: No movie has been out like this before. Kidding. SUNBURST is CINEMA PARADISO, modernized. We want to capture that magic, but in today’s world.
AARON: First film you remember seeing in the theatre?
MARK: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
AARON: Favorite adapted Stephen King movie?
MARK: THE SHINING
AARON: Most underrated Steven Spielberg movie?
MARK: THE TERMINAL. They built that whole damn airport, which blew my mind! Also, a fun fact, my aunt’s husband’s sister moved into Speilberg’s childhood home back in Arizona.
AARON: Nice! Favorite film this year?
MARK: TICK, TICK …BOOM! I am literally going through a lot of what Jonathan Larson goes through in that film. I am trying to decide about art, career, settling, and compromising. So many things are going through my head because I have two kids and a wife. Do I struggle to make ends meet doing what I love? I think that’s any true artist’s internal conflict.
AARON: Please struggle a bit longer so I can see SUNBURST. Last questions. What movie theatre has the best popcorn, and where do you sit when watching a film?
MARK: Harkins. And I sit dead center.
AARON: I miss Harkins popcorn so much.
The image of Mark at age twelve, showing horror movies to energize his family, is burned in my head. I imagine him today, with his new family (the cast and crew of WADE IN THE WATER), on to their next adventure, SUNBURST. Here’s hoping his new film makes a lasting impression and energizes the theatre community soon.
I want to thank Mark Wilson for taking the time to speak with SFR and, of course, for my honorary SUNBURST name tag.
Please donate through the Film Independent website if you want to get involved with SUNBURST. It’s tax-deductible and allows Mark and his “family” of filmmakers to make more movie experiences. And you can find SUNBURST on social media at the links below.