CJ Wallis – Dead Hooker in a Trunk and American Mary (Interview)

CJ Wallis has been described as “Canada’s Best Kept Secret Weapon” A hidden Gem in the filmmaking world. He is an extremely talented and gifted director, actor, cinematographer, producer, editor and writer.

You might know Cj because of him acting as Goody Two-Shoes in Dead Hooker in a Trunk but he also shot, edited , composed the score and worked on the effects team. Yet He isn’t even on the cover of the film. This made me extremely curious and decided to get in touch with him. Especially after he had left working on American Mary before shooting.

Harley: Hello CJ, Thanks so much for taking the time to do this with us today. How did you start working on Dead Hooker In A Trunk specifically?

CJ Wallis: Of course. Thanks for having me.

Harley: you have worked on documentaries, music videos, shorts, scores you name it… but how did you start working on Dead Hooker In A Trunk specifically?

CJ Wallis: I started working on dead hooker in a trunk about a week before the girls were starting their feature film version of a trailer they had done at their film school, which i was briefly teaching a film class at. one of the acting students didn’t bother to show up for the final project we were putting together so I played his role. It was a character semi similar to what goody my character in hooker came to be. and the girls were at the screening of my classes project and saw what i did and asked me. at the time, I don’t think they knew a lot of the other things I did at the time.

Harley: When you look at all the credit’s In dead hooker you just can’t help but think, is there anything you didn’t do.. was it at all overwhelming wearing so many different hats for that film?

CJ Wallis: Not really. The only thing that was kind of tough at first was trying to offer the things I knew I was good at without overstepping. All these people had been working together for months on the trailer and now feature, that I just felt I should say the lines and go home. and that lasted about 2 days, once they knew I wasn’t leading them down any sideways paths, the three of us set off and made it over the next 3 years.

Harley: Three years sounds like a lifetime in the film world. How did you guy’s find funding for the film?

CJ Wallis: By not eating. The budget officially was around 2,500 bucks but that doesn’t really factor in the ‘life-budget’ which included endless tanks of gas, mailing out hundreds of dvd screeners, festival application fees, feeding our crew and on and on…I was doing contract work for companies making websites and doing random film things and the girls waitressed a few days a week for a few hours… our parents obviously saved the day with groceries and all the things parents do to support their children who are running around with a home video camera talking about Hollywood instead of accounting or responsible things

Harley: Eventually that all paid of when you guy’s got distributors, can you talk about how you got the film bought?

CJ Wallis: Well the girls and I had a plan for how to attack the release of the film and how to handle it in film festivals and luckily the plan paid off and a lot of people started talking about the film and seeing it in random places we put it and small festivals became medium festivals became bigger festivals over the course of a year so once the film had picked up enough steam and awards/pats on the head i brought it to long-time friend Evan Tylor at Industryworks and put it on his desk. At that point, he just had to call his contacts and say he had the rights to it and people started asking for it. Only thing that sort of screwed us is we made such a big deal in the beginning about the fact the film was made for so little that buyers tried to underbid us cuz they knew we made it for so little

Harley: It definitely got its name out there though along with the cast, so much that Eli Roth started openly praising this film. Did you ever meet or talk with him about it?

CJ Wallis: We met him the first time in Vancouver when he was coming thru the city to promote Inglorious Basterds and spent the day with him in LA a few months later. He was very kind with the things he said in the beginning. Rumor has it he gave Quentin his first cut of Dead Hooker for part of his birthday present.

Harley: You’re kidding! Any words about what Quentin thought about it?

CJ Wallis: We had spoken to Eli for a couple months before the Vancouver meeting, but we had also just done very well in a Quentin spoof contest the week earlier so we definitely got ourselves on the radar in a bunch of backwards way. Eli told us that Quentin just thought ours was really funny but it played a bit too much like a commercial for the contest vs a direct spoof of his scenes. We worked in all his characters seamlessly weaving in and out of all the different worlds. the one that won did the royale with cheese scene but in french. Our entry also features me doing a terrible Quentin Tarantino impression and, in contrast, an amazing John Travolta.

Harley: It doesn’t seem like he was insulted by it.

CJ Wallis: Oh not at all. He loved it.

Harley: Judging i’m sure isn’t easy when there are so many rules you have to follow.

CJ Wallis: He just thought ours played too much to the contest vs to what the contest was, which was a spoof contest. we had one or two lines in there about the characters trying to win the grand prize in Toronto and etc. it was too self aware to win

Harley: So you said Eli said nice thing’s in the beginning, did this at all change later?

CJ Wallis: ha, no, he was supportive through the whole process and kind of kept a passive eye on us during the 2 years of pre-production on the second feature.

Harley: I can’t help but notice on the FortyFPS Blogs from American Mary you have posted American Mary’s Investor book along with teaser posters and announcing Kathrine Isabelle as Mary… Can you tell us how she came into the mix?

CJ Wallis: I knew her a little bit from being friends with Brendan Fletcher and knew her agent. When we were trying to figure out who would be the best lead she just kept surfacing back to the top of the pile. And she gave the exact performance we all knew she would.

Harley: How did you guy’s come up with the title American Mary?

CJ Wallis: I called up her agent and send along the script and some of the marketing gimmicks we had on hand and it was a pretty easy from there.. You’d have to ask Sylvia. I don’t really remember. I love that song by The National and used to play it around the apartment along plus they are big American Psycho fans so it all probably mashed up subconsciously. Plus it looks nice written in a classy font.

Harley: What inspired American Mary?

CJ Wallis: Eli inspired it actually. Sylvia got an e-mail from Eli that asked if she had any genre-based horror scripts to show his producing partners and she told me what he said and they didn’t have anything else written, so I said: Tell him you have the perfect one but you need time to quickly polish it up….and then write something. So two weeks later they sent it along.

CJ Wallis: They didn’t end up getting involved during pre-production with any development or anything, but really enjoyed it

Harley: Did you guy’s hear what they thought of the finished product?

CJ Wallis: The film was dedicated to him so I assume he was more involved during the filming. I was only involved in producing the film during development & pre-production.

Harley: I have to ask, why did you decide to cut ties and leave American Mary?

CJ Wallis: The three of us parted ways. They went on to film and deliver the film and I decided I’d go on a tour bus with an artist I really enjoyed because as much as I wanted to do my own feature, I was exhausted from the 4 years of Hooker & Mary and I had the opportunity to go on a 2 month tour across North America and film a tour-documentary like “Meeting People Is Easy” which was something I’ve always wanted to do. Then 2 months turned into almost 2 years.

Harley: What have you been working on in those 2 years?

CJ Wallis: I’ve been working with Curren$y and his artists on his record label Jet Life. Been doing all their album covers, marketing, music videos and filming day to day events and cutting them into mini film-like documentaries… For the first year i was editing the documentary. Currensy broke his leg the very first time I worked with him in LA…and then two months later they called me to go on tour with them and the film as about how he dealt with going on tour with a busted ankle and how everyone sort of banded around to help him out. It was like Magnolia but with hip hop. A week away from me having picture lock my house was robbed and they stole everything. All my hard drives. Everything I had ever made in 15 years of doing this. So that film, another documentary “Please Subscribe” and countless other things were lost.

Harley: That is so horrible to hear!

CJ Wallis: Every script scene I ever wrote and was saving. Countless things. Yeah. It happened last October. Im almost over it.

Harley: What can we expect to see next from you?

CJ Wallis: I’ll be doing this for the next while. Got a video Im really excited about with Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y for Live In Concert I’m going to do in LA and have two feature films in development and which ever one happens first, I’m going to try and shoot end of the year.

Harley: Thats great I can’t wait to see it! Where can we stay updated with you’re work?

CJ Wallis: One is called Sisters Of Mercy and another is Frank Flood. I’d love to shoot Sisters Of Mercy in New Orleans. We’re also working on a feature involving the Jet Life artists acting and doing the soundtrack. Curren$y has one in mind and I have one as well. So, movies and videos. I am fairly active on twitter (@fortyfps) and I try to keep my portfolio as up to date as possible with links and ways to find everything.

Harley: Can’t wait to see what the future hold for you!

CJ Wallis: Appreciate it

To check out Tarantino’s Basterds go to www.vimeo.com/6077732 The following video is footage shot with a 6 megapixel still camera directly off of a television. The quality is everything you’d assume from such source material.

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FortyFPS Productions is the production company & digital portfolio for award winning filmmaker & composer CJ Wallis. Official filmmaker to Curren$y & The Jets and President of Jet Life Films & Street Customs Media Division. Recent clients include The Scarlet Ending, Wiz Khalifa, 2 Chainz, Pharrell, Nokia, Fiend…