This year as part of the LA Film Festival, Film Independent has teamed up with Netflix with the “Find Your Voice” competition for filmmakers in which the winner receives a film making prize package valued at over $350,000. This is a dream for any first time film maker, considering most first time Indie filmmakers shoot on a budget that is closer to $15,000. The prize package includes a premiere screening at LA Film Fest as well as online distribution from Netflix.
The Wheeler Boys is a film about the struggles of adolescence told from a male perspective. Ted (Lorenzo James Henrie) longs to fit in at High School and be closer to his cooler, older brother Truck (Alex Frost), a senior and football star. He starts to hang out with Truck’s group of friends “The Kings”, a feared and respected group of High School seniors. Ted decides that the only way to get closer to Truck is to be initiated into the Kings. Ted has no idea just what he has gotten himself into until it is too late. One of the conditions to becoming a King is to participate in a contest to have sex with freshmen girls. Ted is used by the Kings to recruit (invite) freshman girls to their parties.
Ted finds himself quickly in over his head when he is at a party with freshman Emily (Olivia Crocicchia) and is being coaxed by the Kings and Truck to take advantage of the passed out girl. Instead, Ted cuts himself and plays it off that he has taken her virginity. Ted’s situation quickly spirals downhill from there, as Ted is faced with the reality of who his brother is and must choose to stand up to Truck, the brother he has idolized.
The Wheeler Boys tells a gritty version of the High School experience that is, unfortunately, much more based in reality than any parent would like to believe. The film felt like a modern day John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles) film. When speaking with Phillip G. Flores I asked, “What drew [him] to make a film about High School?” Phillip: “High School for me was such a rich experience.” Phillip wanted to portray his characters “like John Hughes, who really treated his young characters as adults, as real people with real problems.”
And that is just what Phillip does. The characters in The Wheeler Boys are rich and complex; they go beyond the shallow characterization of High School that is often portrayed in Hollywood. I asked him about his choices is casting; “authenticity was the goal in casting,” and Phillip has definitely reached that goal with the casting of Alex Frost and Lorenzo James Henrie. Both actors give a performance that as so genuine and real that they become easy to identify with. You find yourself at times in the film rooting for both Ted and Truck. “I love films that have both sides. I feel there is as much tragedy as there is comedy in the world at any moment,” and this film has just that: comedy mixed with tragedy.
The boys are raised by their paraplegic dad Ron Wheeler (Billy Campbell), giving Truck in particular a background to explain why he is so damaged. I questioned Phillip, asking why he made this choice for Ted and Truck. Phillip’s answer shows the understanding that he has as a writer when building a character, “I felt like it was great to see where Truck’s damage originated from.” Why cast someone as handsome as Billy Campbell? “I liked contrast the ugliness of Ron Wheeler and Billy Campbell, who is a very good looking man.” By really understanding his characters Phillip grounds his film and gives it substance.
So what has the experience been like as a first time feature filmmaker to win the Find Your Voice competition? “Netflix Find Your Voice gave us a shot of adrenaline to get the film made.” They shot the film in a ten month period. ”It has been a race to making the film and getting it into the festival and getting it ready for the streaming process. The experience has taught me a lot about myself.” What has the response to the film been so far? “We have two sold out screenings this weekend,” and, through Netflix, thousands can enjoy the film this weekend for free. Phillip feels lucky; ” it is rare that a little Indie film can get that much awareness.”
So, what is Phillip looking to work on next? “For my next thing I would like to do something a lot lighter. In many ways this was a catharsis for me,” he said.
Go watch The Wheeler Boys FOR FREE this weekend. Netflix members and non-members alike can also enjoy the film streamed from Netflix for 48 hours, beginning at 8:00 p.m. PT on Friday, June 25 to 8:00 p.m. PT on Sunday, June 27 at www.netflix.com/findyourvoice. Netflix members with unlimited plans will also be able to instantly watch the movie right on their TVs via a range of popular consumer electronics devices capable of streaming from Netflix.