The filmmaking process provides many outlets for both creatives and people with technical skills. Some work in film as a job, while others just do it for the fun of it. Some people are casual filmmakers, and some are bitten by the bug and can’t get it out of their system. This is what happened to filmmaker Wilson Large, creator of Dark Darkness, an offbeat epic about a D&D nerd, a dread vampire wizard, a sorceress ninja queen, and a snakeman who are framed for a grisly murder and forced to work together to solve the mystery, clear their names, and save the world from eternal darkness.
As Wilson explains below, he was inspired by storytelling at a very early age, using whatever equipment he had available to tell his stories. Wilson has been driven by this passion all his life, sharing stories through radio dramas, practical special effects, comics, and films. Wilson goes into more detail about his journey and what inspired him, causing his thirst for film to be unquenchable until he was making it happen for himself. Wilson even found that film production and storytelling was healing, mentally and physically, as he coped with tragedy and tried to quit unwanted habits.
Even as the years go by, Wilson still moves forward to create more and tell more stories because he indeed has been bitten by the film bug. Read on to discover what led him to embark on his sci-fi web series, Dark Darkness.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I started getting into filmmaking with the advent of the VHS camcorder as a teenager. I had been a storyteller as early as age 7, with a tape recorder and a bunch of Foley instruments surrounding me. I enlisted the help of my little sister (4 years younger) who would scream on cue when I needed the damsel in distress, but otherwise I handled all the other voices. I still have those audio tapes.
I have progressed through a range of roles in entertainment. After watching a behind-the-scenes special on the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I wanted to be a stunt man for a while and practiced daily jumping off my bike onto a parked truck. When I reached the age of 9, I got into acting in church plays, and that lasted until we moved to Bellingham (Washington state), when I was around 11. The angst of my teen years and the discovery of horror films and the work of Tom Savini (particularly the documentary Scream Greats) inspired me to be a Special FX guy. I used my paper route money to buy a VHS camera and made little SMUFX vignettes with my friend.
Now with a camera of my very own, I got into camera and lighting pretty heavily. It just progressed from there and to make a long story short, I now am a writer / producer / director. I’ve been a full-time film professional for over 20 years and recently have expanded into comic book storytelling as some of my ideas are difficult to produce for film without a budget. I’ve been reading comic books since I was 5 years old.
What sparked the inspiration for this idea/world?
I suspect it was a combination of the comic books I read as a kid, and we also had a lot of radio dramas in my house—tape recordings of The Shadow, as well as the BBC production of the Star Wars radio play.
The films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were the most inspiring to me, and as I mentioned earlier, once I watched a TV special on the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I think my goose was cooked.
Dark Darkness was originally a serial stage play written by Ben Eisner called The Dastardly Death of Dr. Darkness. I absolutely loved the characters, which is the most important piece because I couldn’t stop thinking about them when the play was over and felt a need to keep them alive somehow. But also the story was wildly imaginative and fun. They had the most creative ways to bring big concepts to a little stage with no budget.
I think another important aspect was the timing. I experienced this story while my sister (the same one who helped me put on my radio plays) was dying of cancer, and the escape was crucial to my mental health. The characters of Dark Darkness actually took me out of my mental darkness that was consuming me at the time.
How much money did you raise? And how did you raise it?
For the entire 30-minute pilot of Dark Darkness, I raised about $15,000. Some of that was from friends and family, some was crowdfunding, and some was services trade to local production companies that co-produced.
What do you wish that you had done differently in your last film?
Hmmm, depends what you mean by “my” last film. If you’re talking about the last film I made that was my story, I guess that would be the Snakeman’s Solitude webisode of the Dark Darkness web series.
Overall, I was really happy with how that went. I guess if I had to change anything, I would have made sure to build the bad guy of the story of Dark Darkness into that episode because in retrospect, that’s really what the pilot web series is missing—a clear protagonist and an essential question for our four protagonists to answer. It wasn’t until after the pilot season was shot that I got some help really developing the main screenplay.
What mistake in your series do you see, but no one else does?
I thought about this one for a while. I couldn’t think of anything, which may sound like bragging, but it’s not meant to be. I’m sure there are mistakes. Just can’t think of them at the moment. Now if we were talking about my recent comic book publications, I have a long list of mistakes that some people may catch and others may not.
What is the most rewarding part about making this particular web series?
Dark Darkness has been so incredibly rewarding in so many ways for me over the last decade that I’ve committed to getting the story told. If I had to put it all in a nutshell, it would be the relationships and good memories associated with the production. So many of the awesome people I have in my life right now are here because we started collaborating on the Dark Darkness web series together.
The project also gave me something to really focus on as I had found myself in a place where I desperately needed to quit being a practicing alcoholic. I now have 8+ years sober, which has also enriched my life over the course of working on this project, but I can also say that having Dark Darkness to focus on helped me tremendously in leaving that lifestyle behind.
What advice about filmmaking do you wish you knew when starting out?
When I was young and starting out, I wish I had known that it isn’t a “rock show” and I’m not a “rock star,” and there’s not really a “rich and famous.” I had some small, varying degrees of success starting out and became a big fish in a small pond where I work and live. I think it got to my head for a while, and I may have been somewhat self-absorbed.
After being in it full-time for 20 years, I realize those trappings are not the reason I do what I do. I do it because I don’t really have a choice. It’s in my DNA. It’s crucial to my mental health and well-being. Doing the work, learning from every mistake, and working hard to make the best product possible is what it’s really all about.
What advice would you give to filmmakers going into sci-fi/fantasy?
Be patient, stay with it, don’t give up and maybe explore storytelling in comic books as well. Also, be willing to think outside the box in terms of how to sell your world-building without having to build the world entirely. It’s incredibly expensive making high concept motion picture content. Making a comic book version first serves so many purposes: You’ll get to work out some of the story/script wrinkles, create a storyboard for when you do film the content, and increase your fan base at the same time. Finding others who have successfully completed projects to join your team is extremely beneficial as well.
What are your pet peeves in filmmaking?
Among my biggest pet peeves around filmmaking are definitely the catch 22 of the fan base and the money. It’s so hard to raise the money and so often today, financiers want projects that have a built-in fan base, which is hard to build if you don’t have the content—and the cycle goes on.
I’m particularly sensitive to certain personalities in the industry who have ginormous egos. I’m not sure if it’s because I let my ego run unchecked early in my career or what. But there’s a certain type of individual that I find very challenging to work with.
What other filmmakers are you inspired by?
I’m inspired by most filmmakers. It’s such an incredibly huge undertaking, getting a film made. Anybody who goes after it and gets it done is a hero in my book. Of the “famous” people who inspire me, I’m a very big fan of the stories by Joss Whedon, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, David Cronenberg, David Lynch and Gene Roddenberry.
I wish there was a more diverse representation in the names I just listed. It’s my hope that the film industry can amplify more voices of women and BIPOC individuals for the next generation of content consumers to be inspired by.
What is your advice on how to create a fanbase?
Regarding creating a fanbase, I’m not the best person to listen to. I believe we should get advice from those who have succeeded. But I’d be happy to share my experience and what I think I could have done differently.
I wish I had a partner from early on in the process who was good at marketing. I love making the content, but I’m a terrible self-promoter. I just keep making the product and hoping that it speaks for itself and people will share and promote it. So it’s hard when the fanbase after all this time is still so small, and I worry that the content just isn’t compelling for others. I know that what I’ve seen of other successful properties who have a better fan base, they pump out more regular content.
How are you set up so fans can get involved in future productions and help grow your community as it relates to your content?
We’re currently revamping our website so people can more easily see the stories we’re offering and buy the comics and other swag we have for sale. We’re also pushing people to sign up for our email newsletter.
I’ve also started a low budget horror film so I can get some new content created that is a little easier to get financed, in hopes that it will help make a name for myself and people will become more interested in my other projects, namely Dark Darkness. The horror film is called Strip Craft, which we hope to be filming in Vancouver B.C. this year.
Does “star power” matter anymore, in your opinion?
“Star power” does matter, in my opinion. This opinion is shaped by what I have learned by attending American Film Market for three years in a row and by seeing how much a celebrity or social media influencer can boost a project’s exposure.
Is there anyone who may make you starstruck?
Sometimes I still get starstruck when I meet artists I admire. But I’ve done surprisingly well working with people I admire also.
I think the worst time I can remember was when I had a chance to work with Daran Norris, Veronica Mars and Fairly Odd Parents. He was so funny and really just a wild entertainer. Always “on.” I was so enamored that I lost focus on the direction I wanted for his character as well as missed some other technical details with the camera department that made the footage unusable.