“There’s a certain satisfaction in creating your own universe and enjoying your stay there.”
– Alex O. Gaynor
L to R: Best Actor Finalist James Sheldon and Alexander Wright
Have you ever had a moment in life where you felt an irresistable urge to just pick up and go? Did that moment come directly after having been robbed by a cooky old man with a homemade taser? Didn’t think so. And yet improbability is no problem for ‘Wid Winner & the Slipstream’, as two men embark on a seemingly futile quest that proves to be anything but. Writer/Director and native Kentuckian Alex O. Gaynor sees his latest as a merging of two completely separate universes extant in his life (that of Hollywood and that of Bluegrass), and the drifting, dynamically creatively, unabashedly dreaming space between a mirror of his own personal journey.
Wid Winner (James Sheldon) is a fundamentally dissatisfied and admittedly lonely auto-parts store clerk who is just desperate enough to get caught up in the surrealist dreams of roaming tinkerer/would-be mad scientist Kenneth Brown (Alexander Wright). Riding shotgun opposite his newfound parter-in-crime as they travel the land scavenging parts from Brown’s time machine, it is immediately apparent that these unlikely friends need each other just as much as they do the adventure. Splitting its time equally between riding in “The Wagon Brown” (Brown’s station-wagon), musing over various roadside-attractions and sorting through piles of junk, Gaynor describes his film as, “a poetic, blue-collar, coming-of-age story.”
“In a way it’s a love-letter in reverse, of my own original trip, east to west.”
‘Wid Winner’ was shot over the course of two separate road-trips between Los Angeles and Kentucky, with a couple extended sessions in the Bluegrass State proper. Intent on translating the strange combination of discovery and tedium inherent in trekking across vast swaths of the country, Gaynor notes he wrote the middle of the film that it might, “accordion in or out,” with plenty of room for any unexpected bits of film or character-coloring moments captured naturally here or there. He likes to term the narrative a “featurette”, as opposed to a full-length feature or a short, saying:
I wanted to make a film that had a solid arc for my main characters, but not many tertiary characters, no other viewpoints. We would be with Wid the whole way, we would get a singular look at his perspective.
Filmed over the course of two separate road trips from LA to KY and back.
Delving deeper into the inspiration behind the project, Gaynor revealed that Wid’s backstory was at least partially based off a former University of Kentucky roommate, but admitted that both Winner and Brown each shared aspects of two quite different sides of his own personality. “I’ve definitely been to the same place Wid is at in the beginning of the film,” said Gaynor of his character’s initial malaise, but added that he also identified highly with the spontaneous-dreamer aspects of Brown, which saw him taking apart his toys as a child, “in order to build little machines.”
“Did you actually say a ‘Time Machine’?”
An obvious requisite in making a movie about building a time machine would be the machine itself. But Gaynor found himself in a serious pinch just months away from the start of production, as the double-helix-inspired, metallic-contraption of his dreams remained prohibitively elusive. That is, until he met real-life grand-tinkerer and old-world-genius Billy Stephens. Gaynor had heard of this notorious “maker” living somewhere outside Owensboro, but never imagined that just two weeks after pitching him the idea, that Stephens would get back to him with a half-built behemoth assembled from metal and spare parts just strewn about his yard. “It’s a big reveal in the film and it’s still just this magical, ‘look what I built’ moment,” said Gaynor of Stephens’s creation.
‘Wid Winner & the Slipstream’ screens as part of the 4th annual Derby City Film Festival tonight (Friday, Feb 17) at 7:00pm in the Eifler Theater, with James Sheldon’s portrayal of Wid garnering a finalist nomination for Best Actor.