Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your film, The Well, at the Los Angeles Film Festival! What inspired you to write this post-apocalyptic tale, and how would you describe its premise?
Tom Hammock: Thanks so much. You guys gave an awesome review to my graphic novel, so I’m thrilled you were interested in talking about this film in addition. I wrote The Well with Jacob Forman (All The Boys Love Mandy Lane). Having tackled the teen slasher genre with Mandy, there were a number of other genres we wanted to explore, including sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, westerns, and samurai films. We're both really drawn to the desert; I grew up spending time in deserts all over the world for my father’s research, and Jacob lives part-time in Joshua Tree. We're also in the midst of a massive drought in California. Plus, we think the privatization of water sucks.
So, the premise falls between a number of genres with elements of science fiction, horror, westerns, samurai, and post-apocalyptic films. It’s the story of a teen girl in a dry, violent future: a world without water. And yet, she has the most precious thing which exists in that world: a working well. Killers take over her valley and the residents hide, but are driven out by thirst as their wells go dry one by one. Only Kendal’s well remains. And, she defends it by any means necessary.
BD: What is unique about the story’s protagonist, Kendal, and how do you feel that viewers will most identify with her?
TH: She’s a very strong female protagonist, but rather than just standing on her own, she is driven to protect two of the male characters in her orbit. Kendal is also quite young (our lead, Haley Lu, was only 17 when we shot the film), so we thought it would really turn things on their head if we flipped the standard gender roles. A number of viewers have compared Kendal to Jennifer Lawrence’s character Ree in Winter’s Bone. We love that film and will gladly take that as a compliment. We tried to create a character who was equally determined and tough, but we thought she should have a shotgun and a samurai sword!
BD: The Well marks your directorial debut, as you have previously been a writer for both the film and comic book mediums. Did you find the transition behind the camera challenging or simply a new avenue through which to tell your story?
TH: It really was just a new avenue through which to tell a story. Which isn’t to say directing wasn’t difficult. It was exceptionally difficult, especially with how ambitious we strove to be with this film. But, I’ve designed a lot of feature films before (You’re Next, The Guest, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane), so I’ve been on a lot of film sets and knew what to expect. As a production designer, I’ve supported a lot of directors in the telling of their stories, so I’ve been able to learn from all their different styles.
BD: In addition to your work on the project, you have had the support of a talented cast and crew. Can you tell us about the process of working with the creative team and the contributions of these individuals?
TH: Wow, how much space do I have? Jacob and I were exceptionally lucky. We'd been developing the treatment for The Well for quite some time but didn't write the script until the Federighi brothers came aboard as EPs. I had designed Billy Federighi's first feature, Adventures in the Sin Bin, and we all wanted to find a way to work together again. We were joined by two amazing, get-it-done producers: Seth Caplan (In Search of a Midnight Kiss), who we went to AFI with; and Chris Harding who we’ve been working with since Mandy Lane. In fact, we gave Chris his first job in the industry!
Then, people really rallied around the material. So many stories about how this crew came together. Nine of us are part of the AFI community. We wrote this knowing that some of them absolutely had to be a part of it, including our phenomenal cinematographer, Seamus Tierney. Other collaborators are people I've worked with over the last ten years as a designer – like Emma Potter, Megan Hutchison of Will O' the Wisp, Dan Hooker, and Sarah Pott. In every case, we offered each one of our collaborators the opportunity to try something they'd never had the opportunity to try before – everyone responded to that and really rose to the occasion.
It was a very similar experience with cast . . . Some, like Michael Welch, Leo Lee, and Michael McCartney are people we've worked with before. We hadn't seen Welch in a while when we ran into him at a fundraiser for The Thirst Project. I think Welch was on board the very next day. We also went after some of our favorites, like Jon Gries, Rena Owen, Michael Massee, and Barbara Crampton. And then, the young'uns: Haley Lu Richardson blew us away in three separate auditions and then continued to do so under the toughest shooting conditions. Serious trooper. Booboo committed to this film in such a massive way, losing a huge amount of weight between his turns in Twilight and X-Men; and Max Charles . . . I don't even know what to say about that guy. Ridiculous talent trapped in the form of a 9 year old!
BD: Once The Well has been released at the Los Angeles Film Festival, do you plan to attend future film festivals or to distribute the film nationally/internationally?
TH: We hope to attend future film festivals for sure. Fingers crossed the film will be picked up by a distributor, so that no matter where one is there will be the opportunities to see the film.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are currently working that you are able to share with our readers?
TH: Megan (illustrator of Will O’ the Wisp) and I are working on a new graphic novel about a female teenage ninja called The Wraith. It takes place in a very dark, gothic world. I’ve finished writing, and Megan is gearing up on the art, so that project’s at an exciting point. Jacob and I have several projects we want to collaborate on next, some that we've written already and some that are quickly taking shape. We’re still figuring out exactly what we’ll follow up The Well with.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek” at Fanboy Comics, would you care to geek out with us about your favorite films?
TH: Of course. While I have all time favorite films like Night of the Hunter and Blade Runner, I’ll skip to some more recent films. Maybe your readers will discover a film they haven’t seen before. Klown is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. Head Hunters was a really incredible Norwegian thriller. Let the Right One In was such a sweet love story. Time Crimes is an amazing time travel film. [REC] was such an incredible horror film. I’ll end the list with Yojimbo, which is the film, the love of which brought me and the cinematographer of The Well, Seamus Tierney, together in film school.
BD: What is the most important piece of advice that you can offer to our readers who aspire to be filmmakers?
TH: So few films are really about something. Get out there and have interesting experiences, spend time with people whose viewpoints are different from your own. Live. That way, you’ll have all that to draw on, so you have something to make films about.
BD: On that same note, which creators have inspired your work?
TH: Very specifically for this project in the number one position it would have to be the book Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. Followed by some others Sebastiao Salgado, Cormac McCarthy, Richard Misrach, Edward Abbey . . .
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Well?
TH: Keep an eye out for more screenings! And, start reading up on water conditions in the West. Serious stuff: you just might be living The Well soon enough.