Interview with Sharon Wilharm

What inspired you to get into filmmaking?

I never intended to be a filmmaker. I was a bookworm and never even really watched movies. But my husband had a broadcast communications degree and ten years into our marriage decided he was going to make a documentary about the history of the small town we’d moved to. Somehow that documentary morphed into a narrative feature with me writing the script, directing it, and starring in it. I had no clue what I was doing and hated it. But ten years later, he convinced me to do another movie. We ended up doing seven movies, and at some point, I decided if this was what God had us doing, the least I could do was to learn how to become a better screenwriter and filmmaker.

What filmmakers would you say were your greatest sources of inspiration and who had the greatest influence on your filmmaking style?

The Kendricks and Erwins were definitely sources of inspiration. I’ve watched how they’ve focused in on their goals and what they’re trying to say with their movies. As for my filmmaking style, for each movie, I try to study similar movies and see how they handle things. I analyze color, composition, camera angles, costumes, all those little details to see how they are compiled to bring the story to life. For Summer of ’67, my style movie was Moonrise Kingdom. I studied how Wes Anderson used the bold, gaudy colors, fluid camera movements, and character framing.

What are some challenges to indie filmmakers that a general audience might not know exist?

There are two problems that are interconnected. First, most people have no idea there’s even such a thing as indie movies. All they know about are the big budget Hollywood movies that are released in thousands of theaters across the country. So then, when they do discover an indie movie, they expect it to look like the movies put out by Hollywood. They don’t understand that Hollywood spends more on craft services than indie movies’ entire budgets. Not to mention the big budget films have hundreds or even thousands of highly trained professionals working together whereas indies may have just a handful of individuals trying to do the work of all those thousands. I think if they understood that they’re really two different artworks, it would change the way they looked at independent films.  

How would you describe your directorial style?

I’ve been told that I’m nothing like other directors. I’m very hands on, and my first priority is the people, not the project. I can’t always control where the movies end up, but I can control the filming experience for everyone involved. So I get to know all the cast and crew prior to filming. I create private FB groups and build a sense of family before anyone ever steps foot on set. I have private prayer groups that pray for the production, the cast and crew, and all the many issues that arise in the course of making a movie. For out of town cast/crew, we host them in our house. We also film a large portion of our movies in our house (we live in an 1800’s Queen Anne, so it lends itself well to filming.) I personally feed everyone when we’re filming. I cook in the crockpot or make up meals ahead of time and freeze them. It’s my way of taking care of my people and making them feel appreciated.

I’m very organized, and since Fred and I work together – me handling everything in front of the camera, and him handling the filming and editing – we plan the shots and blocking long before anyone else shows up on set. My call sheets are super detailed with exact times for filming each scene, and unless something happens out of our control (sudden rainstorm or a hearse that breaks down on the way to film), I’m never more than 15 minutes behind schedule. When everyone arrives on set, they all know exactly what’s going to happen, and then I let them do their thing. Actors love that I don’t micromanage them. My philosophy is that I cast actors who get the vision.  I go over ahead of time with them exactly what we’re hoping to achieve, then I let them work their magic. It makes for a very laid back set because everyone has the freedom to do what they do best.

As far as filming goes, it varies with the movies, but I have a very distinct shooting style. I very rarely do over the shoulder shots. I much prefer to do blocking and camera shots with the actors side by side so you can see both of them at the same time.

What are some of your favorite films?

I love dramas that make you cry like Driving Miss Daisy, Terms of Endearment, and Steel Magnolias,  period films like Indivisible and Wild Faith or female friendly comedies like Mom’s Night Out, Heaven Bound, Matchbreaker, and Heavens to Betsy.

Which filmmaker currently working in Hollywood do you admire most?

Honestly, I don’t pay attention to too many Hollywood filmmakers, however, I’ve had a number of actor friends who’ve worked with Ron Howard, and they always say how great he was to work with. One even said he and I were similar in our directing style, so that was pretty cool.

Tell us about your experiences on the festival circuit.

We’ve had some great experiences on the festival circuit. We use festivals as a way to travel to places we’d like to visit, and we’ve literally traveled all over the country attending festivals. We drove cross country to L.A. for the Pan Pacific Film Festival and had a wonderful time exploring Route 66 along the way. We’ve visited the northeast (The Narrow Way), central Florida (International Christian Film Festival), Michigan (Glory Reelz Christian Film Festival), Buffalo, New York (Great Lakes International Christian Film Festival), and everywhere in between, especially Tennessee and Kentucky.  At many of the festivals, I teach screenwriting, visual storytelling, and budget filmmaking, so that’s always fun, too.

We’ve been blessed with far more festival accolades than we can keep up with. Our most treasured is probably the four ICVM Crown Awards. We’ve also won many Best of Fest awards, which is always special, and, of course, I’m always thankful for the Best Director and Best Writer awards.  

We started entering festivals with The Good Book because it was a silent film and we needed to prove its worth to distributors. With Providence and Summer of ’67, though, we primarily entered to provide awards for our cast and crew. They work so hard and often without recognition, so we try to enter festivals that give individual awards that they can win. We’ve had actresses who have been in many movies, but ours was the first for them to win an acting award, so that’s always special to be able to provide them with that encouragement.

How did your film get picked up as part of the AMC Independent Program?

We wanted Providence to have some kind of theatrical release and were looking at what it would take to maybe do a screening at a local theater. But as we were searching online, we ran across the AMC Independent website and saw where you could submit your film for consideration. We filled out the form, literally laughing at what a long shot it was, totally not thinking anything of it, but an hour after we submitted it, we got a request for the screener and our marketing plan. We didn’t have a marketing plan, but we brainstormed and made up some infographics and listed all our resources that we’d put to work to promote the movie. We basically said, we don’t have a lot of money, but we’ll work really hard with what we’ve got. And I guess it worked, because they picked us.

Next, came the process of deciding which theaters to submit to. We could select up to 20 and basically pitch to them, and they would choose whether or not to pick us. We decided to only go with locations where we had some kind of support already in place. There weren’t any AMC theaters in Tennessee at the time, but we had lead and supporting cast members from all over the country, so we just asked our actors where they suggested. Rich Swingle, our leading man, lives in Manhattan and suggested AMC Empire. We just laughed at him, but he insisted we at least try. We did, and they accepted us. Later, we found out the full story. Years ago, when he and his wife first moved to Manhattan, they went to see a movie at Empire. And as they were coming down the escalator, he prayed that someday he’d be coming down that escalator after having seen a movie he was in. At the time, he’d never been in a movie. He was a stage actor traveling around the world doing one-man shows. But he started doing movies, and by the time he was in ours, he’d been in maybe 20 movies, but none had released to Empire. Ours was the first, and it was the one where he was the lead. So that was pretty special.

We released Valentine’s weekend, and so we got quite a bit of press for that. We had actors making appearances and doing Q and A sessions at the different theaters and Fred and I spent the week traveling from one city to the next, hitting the Southeast locations, and doing radio and publicity appearances along the way. It was an amazing experience and one that was special for all involved. The only bad thing was that opening weekend New York was hit by extreme cold temperatures, and Saturday, the mayor told everyone to stay inside and not go out unless they had to, so, of course, that affected our opening weekend there. But, still, we were very pleased with the turnout and the attention we got in New York and the other cities.

Its relatively uncommon for indie films to be set in times and places other than those the filmmaker lives in for obvious budgetary reasons. How did you overcome these challenges?

Well, it helps when you live in a historic home in a small town historic district and most of your furnishings are antiques. Our biggest challenge was finding more modern furnishings since most of our stuff is older than sixties. The year before we filmed Summer of ’67, we were doing the festival circuit with Providence, so as we traveled the country, we shopped for sixties costumes and props. Pretty much everywhere we went, we found stuff. We also haunted every estate sale, antique store, and flea market within a hundred mile radius. We had a wonderful time gathering up the most hideous, gaudy items. Our objective was to choose the most over the top authentic pieces we could find.  

The couch and chair in the main room we actually found alongside the road. The couch had gotten rained on, so we had to air it out before bringing it inside, but it was perfect! Oh, so bright and ugly!

I sew, and in addition to ready made costumes, I bought vintage patterns and fabrics and custom made costumes for the main characters. I had a wonderful time working with polyester double knit, and the girls loved wearing the dresses and bell bottom pants. We interspersed a few period inspired modern items that were worn in the background, but everything the leads and supporting actors wore was authentic.

Filming inside the house was pretty easy. We just shot around modern items (except the security system panel in the background that we missed in one of the shots). In the kitchen, we covered the dishwasher, microwave, and glass top stove with flowered fabric to match the curtains. The rest of the house we just brought in tacky sixties furniture pieces, lamps, telephones, and other accessories.

Fred loves old cars, and already had the Thunderbird that one of the characters drove. Then he bought a VW bus which he worked on for several months to get it running then to give it the right look. When we shot outside, we got guys from the local car clubs to bring in cars to line the streets or to drive by. Then we’d have a modern car drive past, and we’d have to reshoot.  On garbage day, our crew would have to go up and down the street to move all the neighbors’ garbage cans out of the shot. Fortunately our neighbors are used to us filming, and they don’t care.

Perhaps our biggest challenge was finding a church that hadn’t been modernized. We needed two churches. We had one, but the other one I needed a very specific look – red carpet, paneled walls, and wood pews. All the churches in our area looked too modern. We finally found a country church, and it was perfect. We invited church members to be in one of the scenes, and they had a blast.

Our city is very supportive of our filming. They always help us however they can, which is very much appreciated.

What drew you to the premise of your film?

Summer of ’67 is a Vietnam War love story told from the perspective of the women left behind. My dad was on the USS Forrestal when it caught fire July 29, 1967.  Growing up I heard his stories and thought it would be a great way to have the story focused around the fire. It’s different from other war movies, though, in that all the action takes place on the homefront. It brings to light the difficulties and sacrifices made by not only the men who went off to fight in the Vietnam War, but also the difficulties and sacrifices made by their families.

Last year we spent five months traveling around the country doing theater, festival, church, and community screenings, and met many Vietnam veterans including ones who were on the Forrestal or the other two carriers that were stationed in Yankee Station with it. We’ve watched as it’s brought back memories and often made them cry, but then afterwards, they always thank us for helping to share  with others what they went through.

What advice would you give someone thinking about making their first film?

Because I blog about the industry, I get a lot of wannabe filmmakers contacting me looking for advice. So many of them have this idea for a movie and are convinced that if they can just get someone to finance their movie, they’re going to have a blockbuster hit. It’s just not going to happen. This is a tough industry. I know filmmakers who have been doing this for decades, and because of all the changes taking place with DVD’s, brick and mortar stores, and streaming services, everyone’s struggling to stay afloat and figure out how to find new ways to succeed. The only reason anyone should be making a movie right now is because they can’t imagine not making a movie. You have to do it because you’re passionate about the story and getting it out there. You have to understand that you’re going to invest all this time and money into your baby, and there’s a good chance that you’ll never see that money again. If you’re willing to take that risk, then go for it! It can be a lot of fun. You can meet a lot of great folks and have some wonderful experiences. But don’t do it for the money, or you’ll just end up disappointed.

You can find out more about Sharon Wilharm and her films in the links below!

Summer of ’67 website – www.summerof67.com

Summer of ’67 on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Summerof67themovie/

Summer of ’67 on Twitter – https://twitter.com/Summerof671

Summer of ’67 on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/summerof67movie/

Sharon Wilharm’s website – www.sharonwilharm.com

Sharon Wilharm’s blog – www.faithflix.com

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for the interview and the opportunity to share about our movies. I appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Sharon Wilharm | Christian Filmmaker | Blogger | Speaker and commented:
    Thanks to National Association of Film Critics for the great interview. We got to talk about my filmmaking background, my directing style, our experience with AMC Independent, and more.

    Like

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