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An Interview with Bill Weiss, Co-Director of The Wrong Door

by Mike Haberfelner

December 2023

Films directed by Bill Weiss on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your movie The Wrong Door - in a few words, what's it about?

 

College student Ted Farrell knocks on the wrong door to deliver a singing telegram and meets a beautiful woman who appears to be in danger. After delivering the singing message to the correct address down the hall, Ted returns to find the woman mortally wounded on the floor of her apartment and the killer still in the apartment!

 

How did the project get off the ground in the first place?

 

James Groetsch and I met at a film school, Film in the Cities, in Minnesota. Doing a feature film was partly intended to be a final project of the film program. We discovered an advertisement from Super 8 Sound in Burbank California about making feature films for a fraction of the usual cost using professional level super 8 equipment.

 

What were your sources of inspiration when writing The Wrong Door?

 

Hitchcock movies, Blood Simple by the Coen brothers, Blow Out by Brian DePalma, The Exorcist, by William Friedkin. I was also inspired by my listening to old radio suspense dramas from the 40’s and 50’s on cassette tape.

 

What can you tell us about your writing, producing and directing partners James Groetsch and Shawn Korby, and what was the collaboration between the three of you like?

 

We all wanted to have equal say in creative decision making on the film. We divided specific roles; I was the cinematographer, James Groetsch was the editor, and Shawn Korby composed and performed the music soundtrack. John Schonebaum was an executive producer. We spent about three months getting together at a Perkins restaurant hashing out the story. That was a lot of fun, brainstorming together late at night. (One time, a couple of older gentlemen in the booth next to us chimed in with the idea that the dead woman’s body should be carried out in a rolled up carpet!)

 

Do talk about The Wrong Door's approach to the thriller genre!

 

Again, the common Hitchcock-theme of an innocent person getting caught up in a series of dangerous events was interesting to us. We also liked the austere, moody, after hours feel for our story. Also, like the characters in DePalma’s Blow Out as well as in Antonioni’s Blow Up, we gave our leading character a skill that he would use to turn the table on the killer and protect himself.

 

A few words about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

Not sure how exactly to answer this one. Although three of us wanted credit for directing, we thought we were being savvy by choosing just one of us, Shawn Korby, to be the one who would “talk to the actors.” But I just learned from lead actor Matt Felmlee that there were plenty of times he was getting input from all three of us and that it was confusing!

 

What can you tell us about The Wrong Door's cast, and why exactly these people?

 

We advertised for auditions and were fortunate to have many people read for us. Matt Felmlee was perfect as an everyday young college student. He could be very natural (act like he’s not acting) and also had the range to look like a practiced singing telegram performer. It took a while to find our killer, but once Jeff Tatum read for us it was, we knew he was the guy. He had a great presence and a feeling of boiling intensity under the surface. Loreal Steiner had been a friend of Shawn Korby and appeared in my short student film The Pizza Man.

 

Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere!

 

Shooting the film took place over a two-month period between September and October in and around St. Paul, Minnesota. The filming started out warm and sweaty in James Groetsch’s apartment in early September followed by mostly exterior night scenes during a cold Minnesota October. We had a handful of young volunteer crew members who graciously hung around all hours of the night waiting for us to figure out what the hell we were doing. In spite of the inevitable shooting frustrations, it was a fun shoot. We were filled with youthful vigor and the conviction of doing exactly what we wanted to be doing. 

 

The Wrong Door has only now been re-released, 33 years after its initial release - so how did this come about?

 

We’re still scratching our heads in amazement that this much concerted effort has been put into re-releasing The Wrong Door. In the last five or so years, we have had more than one request for original VHS copies of the film and a couple offers to re-release it on DVD. We didn’t know what to expect when Rob Hauschild of Wild Eye Releasing contacted us a couple years ago, but his steadfast commitment to not just re-release the film, but to include the whole story of The Wrong Door’s creation and the filmmaker’s journeys continues to be astonishing! I think as time goes by and movies are technically easier to make, an appreciation has grown for the efforts it took to make films just a few decades ago!

 

How does it make you feel to watch The Wrong Door from today's point of view?

 

Painful and embarrassed. I’m really proud of what we accomplished and of how well we got along as friends while making it, but it feels a little like we’re re-releasing a grade school crayon drawing we collaborated on. 

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of The Wrong Door, both back when and upon its re-release?

 

I can share two reactions that totally surprised me at the time. A fellow film student was pretty underwhelmed with the film, which surprised me because as a filmmaker, he knew how much work and ambition went into it, and how little money we had to work with. But I was delightfully surprised when the owner of a large chain of video stores in Minnesota, a guy who literally watched three movies every night, told me how impressed he was with The Wrong Door.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Does a fantasy of someone like Brian DePalma calling us and saying “Hey fellas, I saw the re-release of your film The Wrong Door. How about I find some money and help you produce a remake?” count?

 

What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

My dad and mom shot copious amounts of home movies on super 8. My dad spliced together large reels of home movies and we frequently watched them as kids. Later, I did sketch comedy bits on my family’s super 8 camera with my brothers and my friend Shawn Korby. I was sixteen when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out. A high school teacher showed us a documentary of the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Shawn Korby and I made a 90 second homage called Raiders of the Lost Bark. The combination of those things sealed my fate! I took some classes at a film school, which is where I met James Groetsch.

 

Do talk about your past filmwork apart from The Wrong Door for a bit!

 

James Groetsch and I collaborated on a feature length project in the late 1990’s called Now Hiring, a comedy about young employees at a movie theater, shot on digital video. James moved to Florida, and I remained in Minnesota, where I developed and produced 5 episodes of a would-be television comedy series called The Gale Whitman Show. From 2002 until the present, I’ve co-produced several Native American documentary projects, the most notable being a feature length documentary Little Crow and the Dakota War, about an uprising by Minnesota Dakota Sioux caused by government corruption and unfulfilled treaty promises, which led to the largest mass hanging of American Indians in US history.

 

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How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

Meticulous and slightly obsessive.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Psycho, Rear Window, All the President's Men, Blue Velvet, No Country for Old Men.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

The Blair Witch Project, Avengers movies…

 

Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

The two best places to check me out are my YouTube channels: Bill Weiss - @BillWeiss66 - and Cabin Country Podcast - @cabincountrypodcast5738

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

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