You may not know his name, but Connor Williams is hoping by the end of the year you will when his first full length featured film comes out on Redbox. At just 17 years of age, a senior in high school from a small town in Idaho, Connor wrote, shot (in just 16 days), produced, and directed The Spoilers with Terry Kiser (dead Guy/Bernie) of Weekend at Bernies.
How did a 17 year old high school kid get Terry Kiser in his film you ask?
“Terry Kiser was in Idaho, oddly, shooting a film and it was big news in town. 30 years ago my parents had valet parked cars for Terry at his Hollywood house when they were in college. I knew that other film was wrapping so I tried to track him down fast before he left Idaho. I called his agent that I got off of IMDB and said I needed to talk to her about Terry right away. That opened up the dialogue and eventually it was settled. I had to pay 230 bucks to change his airline ticket. 280 bucks for another two nights hotel and his daily rate we agreed on,” Connor shared with me.
Pretty smart kid, huh?
Connor’s movie The Spoilers is a new version of The Breakfast Club. It has today’s problems- social bullying, racial profiling, growing up with two moms- and more to bring it into the 21st century. Here is a quick clip from the movie.
I had a chance to talk with Connor in more depth about making his film and more. Here is my Q & A with him.
ETA: Connor, why did you decide to make this film? What was your motivation?
Connor: The reason I did this film is because I was tired of adults (casting directors/other producers) dictating my success. I was fed up and decided to put every penny I have into this film. We shot this on a Sony FS 700 which has 4k capabilities. Great camera. Not one penny [came] from anyone else.
ETA: How did you get interested in film making in the first place?
Connor: I was interested in film about age 7. Really, I thought it would be cool to be on TV. That’s what got me started. I did a 48 hr film contest when I was 7 with my family. They showed all the films at a theater and someone that was casting a film needed a 7 year old saw me. He auditioned me which was just brutal. I have dyslexia so my reading skills definitely weren’t great at 7. He fed me the lines after I tried to read them and I did a lot better. He cast me in his feature film.
What I didn’t tell you is that a CD [creative director] saw me on the board walk in San Francisco when I was in my stroller at age one and asked my parents to take me to an audition for a SAG commercial. I ended up getting it. Fast Forward 6 years later and I got the movie. So I was two for two in auditions. Sure wish it was that easy now. So my parents were smart and said if I wanted to do this I should learn how to do everything. They sent me to a local film camp to learn how to write, balance, shoot, mic, light and edit. So then, I eventually started to make my own shorts.
ETA: Have you had a teacher who has helped you hone your skills in film?
Connor: Outside of camp, I’m self taught.
ETA: What are your favorite subjects in school?
Connor: I like math for real subjects and I do the school news for my favorite elective.
ETA: What’s the value of an education, do you think?
Connor: Education is a huge topic in our house right now. My Mom wants me to go to college but she is not a fan of this business anyway. My Dad wants me to do what I want to do. Because of dyslexia school has always been a grind. If I go to college (which I’m leaning towards) I will go to Utah State, Weber State or Salt Lake Community.
My agent is in Salt Lake City, Utah and a lot of films are starting to be made there because of the pretty good incentives. If I don’t go I will go to LA and go for it.
However, I am making another feature next summer no matter what I do.
ETA: Why did you start by producing a full-length feature film instead of a short and submitting it to Sundance or another film festival as a first step?
Connor: I have done about ten shorts. Been there done that. I did the feature out of pure frustration. I was up for a series regular lead and thought I got it but they went with the other guy. So when I found out I didn’t get it I basically said screw it, I will make my own success. I was tired of adults dictating my success. I have been too fat, too skinny, too cute, too ugly, too tall, too short, too pale, too dark. The whole process as a kid is difficult and you could be the best actor but if you don’t look like the parents they cast they wont hire you. Once I decided I was doing it there was no turning back. It was a great decision! Now I know I can do it.
ETA: Tell us about your experience shooting, producing and direction and acting in your own feature film. What did you learn from this experience that you did not know before you started?
Connor: The experience was 99% great. 1% a cluster. I hired a production team so I didn’t shoot it. It was a small three person team. They were awesome. They treated me like an adult. The DP [Director of Photography] took a lot of stress away from me. Because this is like Breakfast Club I am in almost every scene so I had to rely on him a lot. But we went over the shot list and he picked up from a lot of different angles. I knew we were good so I stopped stressing.
ETA: What was it like managing the film production and being the lead?
Connor: Acting wise it was tougher than normal as I was in charge of scheduling, food, props everything. So when I showed up on set. Acting wasnt the only thing I was thinking about. What I learned is what I would do differently. I will hire the “A” students from my school to be interns. I will have one in charge of scheduling. One in charge of script. One in charge of food. One in charge of anything else that needs to get done.
ETA: How did Redbox become interested in your film? I read somewhere you have an agent. Who is it?
Connor has an ebook for sale on his website that teaches kids and teens how they can get speaking parts in movies even if they live in Nowhere Idaho. Rock on Connor!
ETA: So Connor, in our email exchange you mentioned that ‘not one penny came from anyone’ for this film. Not even your parents? They didn’t help out?
Connor: Believe me I tried to get my parents to kick in but they didn’t. Funny story now..My Dad was going to pay for all the food as long as I finished all my chores around the house before shooting started. I was so focused on the movie that I didn’t do them all so he pulled the plug. So I stuffed flyers in mailboxes asking my subdivision if they would bring a meal to feed 12 and I would give them tickets to the premiere. I also went to different food company’s and asked for food donations. It worked out pretty well.
ETA: So how badly did you piss off your family? If they stopped feeding you it seems they were pretty un-supportive. Tell me more about the dynamics with your family through this process.
Connor: I was warned a couple of times to clean, mow etc and I didn’t do it. They were not pissed. They just told me I was now in charge of catering. It was just matter of fact. Just because I act or make films gets me absolutely no extra privileges around the house. I wish it did though. My parents have great follow through with us unfortunately. If they say something to us or give us an ultimatum they will do what they say. I was warned. I blew it. That won’t happen next summer in my next feature. My parents encourage me. My mom does not like the whole acting vibe. I guess she’s scared either I won’t make it and it will break me or I will make it and not stay the same. My Dad has his own business so he’s always encouraged us to do our own thing. My Dad drives me the 5 and a half hours to my audition in SLC, Utah. They are very supportive.
ETA: You mentioned you had a distributor interested in your film and you turned them down. What happens if you don’t get another one to come around?
Connor: I turned down the distributor because I feel that company will be there in the future. I rolled the dice. I liked what I saw from the dailies and I thought this film can be something. I’ve noticed people are intrigued by my age. I won’t be able to get this type of publicity next year when I’m officially an adult. I might as well see what will happen if I stay patient. My parents were split on this. This time my Mom said to hold out and wait and my Dad said to go with the distributor now. Luckily, they let me make my own decisions and I decided to wait it out.
ETA: What are the biggest lessons you are learning from taking this kind of initiative as a 17 year old and what advice could you give to others who see a problem and have big dreams?
Connor: I don’t have any advice really. If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Just go for it. Quit talking about it and go for it. Of course you are going to make mistakes but that is the only way you are going to learn. Save your money, get organized and make a movie or start a business or do whatever. Now when I picked up the first actor from the airport I was really having doubts if I could handle this. But everyone believed in me even when I was doubting myself but once we got started it was easy. The biggest lesson I learned is I can do anything I set my mind to.
ETA: You told me that ‘I am saving for next summers film and I want to bring awareness to the 500,000 kids in the foster system.’
Connor: Yes, that’s my next film I will make next summer. It will be raw and parents may not want to hear about these kids but the story needs to be told. My little brother and sister are foster adopted. Sometimes it’s not the easiest thing in the world but I know my parents did it for the right reasons. Who ever thinks of these kids? Why don’t other adults and families take in these kids? The reason, I believe, is it’s hard. A lot of kids have been sexually, mentally or physically abused. Well, I think there are many kids that have aged out of the foster system that have stories to tell. I want to tell them. There is a scene in my movie where I get beat up by a girl. She wails on me. It was real and we shot it from so many angles. I was so sore and bruised.
Next summer, I will show what goes on sometimes behind closed doors with kids in the foster system. I will bring awareness. Let’s open some eyes.
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I think Connor Williams is and will continue to open a lot of eyes with his ideas, ‘can-do’ attitude, ability to get an unbelievable amount done and his big heart. This is one freakin’ amazing creative entrepreneur disguised as a kid!
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