Jody Wheeler: Notes From a Social Worker Turned Filmmaker

The Dark Place is a gay thriller. It was written and directed by Jody Wheeler, marking his feature length debut.

It was the first script Wheeler pitched to Hollywood twelve years ago.

It was shelved for a decade, but now the movie comes two years after the hit gay sci-fi film Judas Kiss, which Wheeler co-produced.

Wheeler loves mysteries and loves smart heroes, especially heroes who can out-think their opponents like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Who. He loves a hero who relies on his brain and not his brawn. Thus, the creation of the protagonist in The Dark Place named Keegan Dark!

When Wheeler pitched this to Hollywood, he went to two companies. One of which was a mainstream studio and the other specialized in LGBT content, mostly on the home video market. Both companies said they hadn't seen anything like it. The only close comparison now is the Donald Strachey mysteries.

The Dark Place involves the intricacies of the wine-making business. Yet, Wheeler doesn't drink alcohol. Vineyards and breweries fascinate him, but rarely does he partake in their products. He grew up in suburban Virginia. His parents took him to rural areas of the state to visit wineries, which planted the seed for this story, but it was put on hold.

Blaise Embry in "The Dark Place"
In Virginia, his first degree came from George Mason University. That degree was in social work.

During the 90's, Wheeler was a social worker in the Washington, DC area. He was set up in places like Whitman-Walker Health and St. Luke's House.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1996 where he continued as a social worker. He got a job at the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) where he investigated child abuse allegations and helped to reunite or find residences for youths.

Eventually, Wheeler changed directions and got his master's degree in writing in 2006 from UCLA. Wheeler says though, "I couldn't have been a director if I had not been a social worker."

He wrote The Dark Place, but he hadn't planned to direct it. He didn't think he was ready. He wanted to shadow someone else first. Yet, the planned director got sick and forced Wheeler into the lead chair.

He compares directing a film to building a house. Wheeler says filmmaking is collaborative. It involves shepherding people to the right place so that they can realize their full potential, which again is not unlike his social work at DCFS.

He began principal photography for The Dark Place in April 2013. It was a 25-day shoot.

Blaise Embry played Keegan Dark who Wheeler says nailed the audition. Wheeler said there was an edge and vulnerability to Embry in real life that matched his character's. Embry simply needed to amp up pieces of himself.

Allison Lane in "The Dark Place"
Allison Lane co-stars as Sheriff Timmer. Wheeler first met her on the film festival circuit when she was promoting her film Going Down in La-La Land. He found her to be a great comedic actress.

Wheeler's principal problem was lack of time. For certain scenes, he needed six hours but would only get four hours. Certain locations were believed to have been secured for four days, but then the rug would be pulled and he only got two.

Wheeler says his one bad day, the "day that drove me mad" was the day he had to shoot the final climactic scene. He didn't have as much time as he wanted and as such was in a rush. He said he had sharp words for people that day. Despite that, he says he was surprised how well most days went.

Jody Wheeler is 45. His favorite movie this year is Guardians of the Galaxy. He saw it twice on the big screen. Once was in 3D and once in 2D. It made him feel like he was 12 years-old.

Some of his favorite TV shows include Penny Dreadful, Game of Thrones, Prime Suspect, The Returned on Netflix and The Originals, which is a vampire series. He also enjoys Dr. Who, as well as a show known as In the Flesh, a British take on the zombie genre with inclusive gay characters.

Wheeler's next project is tentatively a horror-comedy called Beverly Hills Lizard People, which he hopes to shoot next year.

The Dark Place is available on DVD and VOD on December 2nd. The DVD will exclusively feature a full-length commentary with director Jody Wheeler and co-star Allison Lane, as well as alternate and extended scenes.


Popular Posts