“I realized I have all these amazing resources to tell this story—I want to tell the story out here,” writer and director Josh Klausner said of his new film “Wanderland,” and the setting, the Hamptons, where he has had a second home for more than a decade.
He filmed “Wanderland”—about a solitary New York City man, Alex, whose quiet off-season getaway to the Hamptons goes sideways and leads him to meet interesting, perhaps life-changing people along the way—over 20 days last fall on location. Now, a year later, it will have its world premiere on Friday, October 6, in East Hampton during the Hamptons International Film Festival as part of the Views From Long Island program.
Mr. Klausner said Monday that it makes poetic sense for “Wanderland” to launch in the Hamptons, because it’s connected to the community. He explained that the film grew out of his own experience getting to know the area.
He and his wife, Hyatt Bass, had previously been frequent visitors to Fire Island, but on one visit their dog became sick and almost died—and they decided they did not want to be that isolated. So instead of going back to Fire Island, they began looking for a rental in the Hamptons about 13 years ago.
They settled on a house in Sagaponack.
“We fell in love with this place, and suddenly the owner said, ‘I don’t want to rent it, I want to sell it.’ And we weren’t really ready to buy anything yet,” Mr. Klausner recalled. “We started looking at other rentals and there was just kind of nothing that we loved as much. And we figured that, you know what, we can always splurge on this and sell it if we hate it. And it was kind of the smartest decision we ever made.”
Becoming a part-time South Fork resident changed his perspective on the area.
Most people associate the Hamptons with the beach and think of it as a very posh, fancy place where the New Yorkers go for the weekend, he said. “I had always felt that there was a real stigma about what Hamptons life was like. And the life that we were discovering didn’t bear a lot of similarity to that, and actually had a lot of character and eccentricity to it.”
He found there was something magical about finding that other side to the Hamptons. “You come out believing you’re going to enter one environment, and end up discovering a very different one, or a number of very different ones.”
That’s what Alex experiences when he accepts an offer from an acquaintance to use her house in the fictional Townhampton for the weekend. It doesn’t take long for him to get himself lost, ending up on a circuitous journey punctuated by music.
“It’s very easy to live a life in New York where you’re in the middle of hundreds of people and you’re completely disconnected from everyone else,” Mr. Klausner said. “... What I like about this journey is it’s about him getting lost and for the first time realizing how to connect to people again. I really wanted to capture the range of fun, interesting personalities that exist out there. … It’s not accidental that a lot of artists have taken up residence out there, a lot of people who really go to the beat of their own drummer. And they create their own mini-environment out there. And I love the idea of him just traveling from environment to environment, connecting to people again.”
Mr. Klausner praised casting director Avy Kaufman for finding the right actor to play Alex, who appears in nearly every frame of the film and often has to emote without the benefit of dialog. Out of 50 who read for the part, it was Tate Ellington. Among his television credits are “Shameless,” “Quantico,” “The Mindy Project” and “The Walking Dead,” and among his film credits are “The Endless” and “Sinister 2.”
Most of the situations Alex finds himself in, he is looking to escape from.
Mr. Klausner said that for most of the movie Alex is thinking, “I know the reason I say ‘no.’ It’s so I don’t end up in situations like this.”
But over the course of his journey, Alex realizes that saying “yes” makes his life larger, Mr. Klausner said, relating, “And it’s a journey I’m going through too. I’ve often taken a very safe path, and certainly the decision to make this movie was not that. It was veering very much from my very safe commercial career to do something that was very personal and that didn’t follow the standard tropes of what worked in the movies that I’ve done that have been very successful.”
Mr. Klausner wrote and directed “The 4th Floor,” a thriller starring Juliette Lewis and William Hurt, and his writing credits also include “Date Night” with Tina Fey and Steve Carell and the “Shrek” sequel “Shrek Forever After.”
He said he had been working on many very large studio movies—“some of which got made, some of which are in the process of getting made, some of which may never get made”—and he felt the need to try something different from the typical, very structured way to write a film.
“I really wanted to tell a more personal story that was a rambling, almost stream-of-consciousness journey, but really not know where my main character was going to go one second to the next as I wrote it,” he said. “And there was something about the number of environments that exist in the Hamptons—be it the beach, the forests, the corn fields, the range of houses, the range of personalities that I’ve encountered that exist out there, the ferry—where it really felt like an odyssey could happen on a scale of a budget that I could do. Where we really felt like he, our main character, goes on this circuitous journey and experiences a lot and comes back changed.”
Mr. Klausner noted that Harry Ludlow gave him permission to film at the Fairview Farm corn maze, and Tundra Wolf and Luna Shanaman let him use Nova’s Ark. His friends let crew members stay at their places, saving the production on hotel costs.
In addition to penning “Wanderland” and sitting in the director’s chair, Mr. Klausner wrote nearly every song performed in the film. However, the film is not a musical. “I often say it’s a movie with a live soundtrack,” the director said.
“One of the things I had always loved growing up watching Shakespeare plays are when in plays like ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ you’re in the midst of this comedy, and then there’s a song that takes place,” Mr. Klausner shared. “It kind of stops things for a moment and it also gives you a chance to think about what’s happening. And what’s going on in the journey of the character. Alex’s journey is very frenetic, where we don’t get a lot of time to kind of step back and have him think about what he’s going through. And I’ve always loved those moments in movies where things slow down and it becomes a readjustment of emotion or feeling based on a song that in some way captures what the main character or what the story is going through at that moment. …
“I think very often we can feel like life is not filled with music or beauty, or all of that, and be unaware that we’re maybe living in the thing that we fantasize all the time about. I like the idea of a character who wishes he lives in a musical world, but he doesn’t realize that he does have music going on all around him—until the end when he starts to.”
“Wanderland” premieres Friday, October 6, at 8 p.m. at East Hampton Cinema. It will screen again on Saturday, October 7, at 3:45 p.m. For more information, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.
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