The Manual – a film by Wil Magness
I was recently contacted by filmmaker Wil Magness, asking me to check out his post-apocalyptic film project, The Manual. After watching it (and getting a pretty bad case of “leaky eyes” more than once), I just had to talk to him about it. Here is that conversation…
Wil, thanks for taking the time and talking to me today. Let me start off by asking, who are you? Where do you come from? What was life like as a child? Have you always been a fan of science/postapocalyptic fiction?
My parents were paranoid about the public school system so I was home-schooled. We moved every three to four years as my dad got different jobs so I didn’t grow up with any long-term friends and spent most of my childhood doing things that didn’t require a lot of people, so reading books, playing video games, watching movies. My mother had us focus on art as much as possible I think because she loves it herself. So school ended up being a lot of painting, drawing or playing music.
I credit my dad for planting the seeds of sci-fi. Mondays were “Star Trek” night at the Magness household and he was always ready to see the next Star Wars. Though I think my interest in sci-fi surpassed his early on.
Very interesting! How long have you been telling stories? Is film the only medium with which you’ve done so?
Does staging fight scenes with ninja turtles count? That would be the earliest I think. I remember focusing a lot on painting and getting bored with it so I shifted to writing, then getting bored with that and playing music, then back to painting, etc. I think I love film so much because all varieties of artistic expression go into it. Writing and directing a project lets you wade into so many different realms of craft and I’ve been lucky to work with so many talented people. I’ve fallen in love with the aspect of world-building and creating intricate backstories and working with actors to get the right performances for the story. It’s something I’d never considered as a viewer but it makes a huge difference.
What sparked your decision to create The Manual? What are you hoping to bring to fans of the genre and does The Manual give something to everyone?
Since it isn’t out yet, we probably need to explain what it’s all about. The Manual is the story of the last human on Earth. His parents die when he’s very young and he spends his childhood being raised by the family robot. The robot has a handheld device called The Manual that contains the sacred text of a composite religion combining a lot of religions we have in our world today, with a new spiritual twist in that robots also have souls and will join humans in the afterlife.
I think one of the greatest opportunities in science fiction is the ability to place a character in a world that purposefully emphasizes and punctuates an aspect of the human condition. In modern society, people struggle with loneliness and isolation while being surrounded by devices ironically meant as means of connection. We took these feelings to a literal place by making our character the only person left on Earth struggling to connect with his origins through a machine.
In this environment, The Manual explores the transition that many of us make from a worldview shaped by parents and religion to a worldview of our own construction, based on personal experience. This perspective shift in my own life involved an existential struggle that completely changed me and it felt important enough and relate-able enough to translate it into my favorite genre.
In The Manual there isn’t a lot of the classic post apocalyptic tropes like zombies or human vs. human survival. I think we’ve made something refreshing that the genre hasn’t seen before.
Indeed, it really is a new and refreshing take on the apocalypse. How long have you been working on The Manual? What has the process been like?
I’ve been working on it for three to four years now, I think. It started as an animated project and evolved along the way. It’s been really fun for me because this is what I love to do, and from the beginning I’d wanted to build a world from scratch. My wife, Sara Magness, has been my film-making partner for a long time. We sort of took a hiatus to get our professional careers off the ground and start a family, so it was really good to get back to our roots with this film.
An animated film? I’m always amazed at how projects evolve over the course of their creation. What is the one thing you remember from making the film? Anything you’d rather forget?
The first thing that pops into my head is on our second day of shooting. Our plan had been to shoot all of our indoor stuff on day one, then outdoor stuff on day two and it rained all day long. It was cold and it was just pouring rain. We were shooting in an area where we’d dug out two huge holes and it was so muddy and wet that you’d lose your boot if you stepped in the wrong spot.
I was working with J.J. on probably the most difficult scene of the film, where he really had to go to a dark place and I think we were on the fifth take. He took his sweater off and wrung maybe a gallon of water out of it and he was shivering. I looked around at the whole setup and I was just struck by the dedication and passion of all of these filmmakers that surrounded me. I felt like we were really making something amazing.
I can tell you that as a viewer, the pain and sorrow of those scenes were palpable. I completely lost my cool more than once. JJ really was amazing! What plans do you have for The Manual? Will you be entering it into any festivals? When do you plan on releasing the film to a general audience?
We had our U.S. premiere at the Rome International Film Festival in Georgia. I wasn’t able to attend, but people have contacted me that saw it and they say it was well received! We’ve also been nominated for nine awards at the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival and I will be able to attend that because my parents live around there so it’s an excuse to visit with them. We have just started the festival game so we have a large amount that we are waiting to hear back on.
After festivals we are planning on releasing it online for a dollar or something. It’s half an hour long, so I kind of want a commitment from viewers to just relax and watch it for the full half hour. I think with a dollar on the line I can get that commitment!
If you could give one piece of advice to independent filmmakers, what would it be?
What everyone says is “make movies”, which is good advice. I’ll get more specific and say that if you are just starting out, do not spend a lot of money on your movies because most likely they will be bad. Write a ton of scripts, shoot them on your phone and get all of your bad movies out of you for cheap. When you have a script that you think is going to be fucking amazing, give it to your harshest critics and have them pick it apart. Please do not rush your script, take your time and make it perfect. It’s a real shame to spend a ton of time and money on a script that isn’t worth it.
Wil, that is some great, straightforward advice! I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me about your film. I very much look forward to seeing its release and I’m excited to see something different in the post-apocalypse genre.
Where can folks go to stay up-to-date on The Manual’s progress?
We’ve got a website (http://themanualfilm.com), a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/themanualfilm), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/themanualfilm) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/themanualfilm).