In Session: Bruce Wemple
ALBANY – To endure in the independent sector of the creative arts world, it helps to have a fierce and passionate do-it-yourself attitude. This is all-too-apparent with local filmmaker, Bruce Wemple. Owner of the production company, 377 Films, Wemple has utilized this undying hunger for his craft to work diligently from the ground floor up on every project he’s involved in.
While promoting his latest work, Island Escape, I had the chance to sit down with Wemple this past week to discuss his process, and more. What follows is our conversation.
Lucas Garrett: It’s good to sit down with you tonight, Bruce, and get to know you. How are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Bruce Wemple: I’m good! I’m a filmmaker. I live in the Albany area. I started off working in Albany after I graduated from college and ended up moving down to Brooklyn for a while. I went from being in a production studio to eventually making micro-budget feature films. Around the pandemic I moved back home to Albany and live in a house with my wife and kid. Now, I make these movies up here. The studios we work with and all of that are either in L.A. or New York, but we try to film somewhere in this vicinity, whether it’s out in Western New York or up in the Adirondacks. That’s the operation we have going on.
LG: What made you come back to the area?
BW: I started off with a company called Aurora Studios, which was in Albany. We worked out of the same building that WMHT is in, and we made a lot of training videos. I was right out of college – 22 or 23. I started as an editor, and eventually I was directing these training videos. It was a great learning experience; it gave me a platform to experiment and make a lot of material. I cut my teeth that way. The whole company ended up moving down to New York City, and I went with them. Eventually, the company became something else and I went my own way.
The first film we did was this movie called Monstruous. We literally made it with no money. It’s a bigfoot movie. I was making this bigfoot costume up on my roof in Brooklyn – I was painting the fur. It looked ridiculous to anyone that came up there who didn’t know what I was doing. That was the first horror movie we did. That was also the first time a distributor came to us. That’s how it all started, around 2019 or so. Then, my girlfriend at the time bought a house in Albany. I was up [there] a lot… right around the same time, the pandemic was coming. Now I’ve been here for a few years, and I’m thinking I’ll be here for a good amount of time.
LG: What is your favorite genre of movie to make?
BW: That’s a good question. I love horror movies. I always like when they’re crossed with a different genre. Horror movies with sci-fi, or a horror movie that’s also a comedy or romance. That’s my favorite, when it’s a blend of those two. With horror, there’s an expectation with the genre. From a filmmaker’s perspective, there’s so much room to play with, versus if I’m making a Christmas movie or something like that. You get a longer leash with horror movies.
LG: Who are some of your favorite filmmakers and directors?
BW: I got a healthy dose of the big ones growing up. The Spielberg ones; James Cameron; Ridley Scott. One of the greatest horror movies of all-time, for me, is Jaws. As I got older, I got more into the smaller movies, or the classics. I can’t deny that when I’m making movies, there’s that platform of those behemoth directors that always sneaks its way into my filmmaking. It would have to start with them. What I really liked when I first watched Terminator was the blend of sci-fi and horror. It made it so much more entertaining than just a supernatural vibe.
LG: As an independent filmmaker, you’re on a smaller scale than the big conglomerate companies of Hollywood. You mention Spielberg, Cameron, and Scott as influences. They have budgets of $100 million or more on a movie. How do you, as an independent filmmaker, capture the ethos and pathos of those kind of movies using a much smaller budget?
BW: That’s a good question. You’re never going to be able to match the scale of those movies. You can try: there’s little tricks, especially right now with technology. You can do more with less, but you’re not going to match the scale of a big Spielberg film. For me, I lean on the fundamentals – like ethos and pathos you talked about. The characters, the characters’ arcs, and all that happens between the script and performance. The direction and score. There’re so many elements of the movie that you do have control over, regardless of the budget.
We wish we had more money – that’d be great – but that’s not the reality at the moment. There are things we can control. That’s the idea; that’s the energy we try to bring to these sets. What’s in our control, and how do we make the best of it? It’s not just the production value, though that helps.
LG: You reference Jaws. A cursory look reveals a budget of $9 million. Meanwhile, a cursory look at Avengers: Endgame shows a budget of between $350 and 400 million. Cult classics have way less than Jaws. Do you feel a higher studio budget affects the overall value of a film? Do you feel it can make it a fad film, rather than a cultural phenomenon?
BW: The first Evil Dead, [Sam Raimi] was working with scraps. It’s inspiring. We put that in our pocket, in terms of when it feels like we wish we had more [of a budget].
It’s really hard for a big corporation to put $400 million into a product and not micromanage. It’s not one, singular artistic vision anymore. It can’t be: the risk is too high. The less money you have, you tend to get a singular vision. The more people you have involved, things tend to get a bit watered down, or confused. That’s my opinion, at least. There’s a middle ground. There’s a budget I’d like to get to, someday, that is enough to get exactly what you want on screen, but not so much that if a movie fails, an entire company’s stock price will go down.
LG: As we wrap this interview up, I’d like to ask you: how do you define success?
BW: The fact I’ve been able to make as many movies as I’ve done… the budgets aren’t big – we’re working mostly for equity in the movie. The fact that I can treat this as a job, for me, that is ultimately successful. That was always the ultimate goal: to make sure I’m doing this as a career. I try to remind myself of that very consistently. As I’m making a movie, whatever the budget is, I want to make it as good as possible. As long as I can keep it going, that’s success. I’m very grateful. There’s obviously bigger and better things out there, but if I’m never able to obtain that, as long as I can keep it going this way, then I’m very grateful for that.
LG: It was nice to meet you, Bruce! Best of luck with everything you do.
BW: Thank you so much!