Donavon Warren’s Past, Present and Future in Film
Article presented by Sidon Faris
Donavon Warren is an actor and filmmaker best known from the 2014 cult hit, “Wheels” (available on Amazon). Donavon is currently hard at work on his eagerly awaited upcoming project, “Vampire Apocalypse”. We sat down to pick the brain of the man behind these two very different, but very compelling films.
Tell us where it all started. How did you first get into filmmaking?
My first project was this little giant action short called Scalpel.
“Little giant?” That one’s going to need an explanation.
The production was little in that there were only four of us in the cast and crew combined. Giant in that we were filming ourselves shooting up cars with a minigun.
So, a little giant film with a big minigun?
A minigun is a kind of gatling gun with six rotating barrels. It’s normally mounted on a vehicle, so it’s only “mini” compared to other weapons in that category – the thing is fucking huge. You’ve probably seen it in movies before, hanging off the side of a helicopter or used by Blain in the original Predator.
The whole idea with Scalpel was to show that I could shoot a giant movie on a super shoestring budget. The plan was to bring it to potential producers and investors and raise money to shoot Wheels. It was very early in my career, and I wasn’t super savvy about the business at that point. Wheels is more of a dark dramedy, but I’d been told it was easier to raise money for an action film because action films sell. So I went to AFM and pitched producers, and some people told me that if I had something to show it would be easier. So, I saved up $3,000 and drove out to the desert in New Mexico to shoot the biggest no-budget action short ever seen.
I wrote this script envisioning a kind of Paul Greengrass Bourne loose-camera feel. The movie starts off with a guy hogtied to the ceiling, being tortured for info. I just wanted to go straight genre in terms of tone. So, the guy, Jack, is getting cut up by a guy with a scalpel. He manages to bite the scalpel out of the bad guy’s hand, slits his throat, then spits the scalpel into his hands to cut the rope. He gets out of the room and fights through a bunch of guys with the scalpel. Then there’s another fight with more guys outside, then the guns come out, and then there’s the minigun, more fighting, and so on. It’s not exactly a plot-driven film (laughs).
Okay, so I get why it’s called Scalpel. But when you pitched it as a feature, the title was (checks notes) Nuclear? What’s that story?
I took Scalpel back to AFM the following year, and everyone told me it was good, but I couldn’t secure any money to shoot the other action movie I wanted to shoot. So I decided we would go and turn Scalpel into a feature and title it “Nuclear”. I figured why not go even bigger. I knew we could CGI a nuke blowing up a city in the trailer of the movie and it would definitely sell.
Again, we set off to New Mexico – I actually grew up there, so there’s some sentimental attachment, but more importantly, the location was just incredible. This time we brought a crew of 18 and a full script I had written. The idea was to shoot 15 pages a day, which was… ambitious.
Five pages would be ambitious. Fifteen is just…
Yeah, it was insane. There’s no way to get any sort of quality at that pace. There are way too many variables. But in the end, we managed to shoot about 25 pages of the script, and we were super happy with what we got. The problem was we still had 50 or so more pages to shoot. Eventually I realized that for the amount of effort I was putting into this I could be shooting Wheels. It was then that I realized you have to go after what you are truly passionate about. So, we dropped Nuclear.
And that’s when you started on Wheels? Let’s hear more about that.
Wheels will go down as one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. We shot that movie for $60,000 over 60 days of shooting. We had some days where our crew size was 57 people. We filmed all over California, and it was an amazing experience. It was also traumatic as fuck, basically 60 days of constant panic attacks. At least half of those days involved some kind of disaster or near-disaster that threatened to literally shut down production. We were setting people on fire, doing car hit stunts in the middle of Downtown LA without permits, totaling a rental car, almost going into hypothermia while shooting in the ocean. I lost 50 pounds for the role, which drove my heart rate so low that they kicked me out of the medical study I was doing to raise money. I adopted two rabbits. It was just absolutely insane and still probably the best experience of my life.
But you did finish this time, right?
Yup. Shot, edited, distributed. You can stream it on Amazon.
That brings us to the next chapter in your career, Vampire Apocalypse.
I am so excited about this one. It’s like acid in my mouth; I can taste it.
I’m guessing from the title this is a return to your action flick roots. Or is it your foray into horror?
Definitely action. The story is about a small group of survivors who have escaped an apocalyptic plague that turns people into nocturnal, vampire-like monsters. Our heroes live on a tiny island off the coast, but when the little girl gets sick, they have to venture onto the vampire-infested mainland for medicine. These are normal, everyday people suddenly forced to fight their way through an entire city of vampires. It’s something I know people will absolutely love. It hits all the beats.
There’s definitely something very visceral and universal about the fantasy of surviving the end of the world. Especially now that we’ve all just lived through a real pandemic.
I constantly think about what it would be like in an abandoned city – it’s this weird, Freudian combination of wish fulfillment and terror. Even before COVID, but especially now, I have this nagging anxiety that any second, society is just going to come loose at the seams and fall apart into chaos. I think everyone’s had that at some point. This movie will definitely tap into that.
I’m sold. When can we expect Vampire Apocalypse?
We are set to start shooting soon. We even have a teaser on www.loadedicefilms.com. I also run a publicity company, so we’ll make sure you’ll know when it’s coming.
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