Last year I had the exciting opportunity to make my debut as executive producer of the feature film “A Thousand Miles Behind.” Written and directed by talented actor, writer, filmmaker and friend Nathan Wetherington and starring my husband Jeffrey Doornbos, this film is a stunning exploration into what it means to cope with loss and to grieve. Filmed in our very own backyard (literally), “A Thousand Miles Behind” was shot in and around Santa Barbara in only two short weeks by a small and mighty crew. This film has already made its debut at Indiana’s Heartland International Film Festival, won Best Feature Film at the Rome Motorcycle Film Festival and was an official selection at the Portland Motorcycle Film Festival last month where it also won Best Feature Film.
As we prepare for the film’s screening at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this coming week, I’m excited to feature one of the most hardworking entrepreneurs I know, Nathan Wetherington, as the 14th addition in my Pillow Talk series. Jeffrey first met Nathan when he was a member of Blue Man Group and they have stayed friends and colleagues ever since. I had the pleasure of getting to know Nathan while shooting this film and I’m continually blown away by his talent and perseverance. In between screenings, we took a moment to chat about his inspiration for the film, his strategy for managing doubt and the one role that got away.
When you were in school, what was your favorite subject and what did you want to “grow up” to be?
I’m really not sure that I had one. It was probably either English or Biology. I pretty much just wanted to be a professional surfer or skateboarder.
What contributed to you becoming the filmmaker that you are today?
The films that impacted me and changed the way I saw the world growing up. Just being an astute watcher of films.
Which filmmakers do you admire?
The Coen Brothers, Alejandro Inarritu, Kenneth Lonergan, Julian Schnabel…
What was your inspiration behind the story of “A Thousand Miles Behind”?
The subject matter came out of a documentary I had seen on the Sandy Hook school shootings and the aftermath of that day on those families. I was also looking to make a film with just about NO budget so, I initially had the idea to just try to do something with a single actor and a motorcycle. Then I realized that the motorcycle was really the perfect vehicle as a visual metaphor for the grieving process… because it’s a solitary instrument by the very nature of it’s inherent design, as is the personal and singularly unique and specific nature of the grieving process. I became really interested in exploring that because it’s such a difficult thing for everyone, the person suffering and the people trying to help the person suffering. It’s just such a difficult thing. And I think it often feels like a very helpless situation for everyone. What can you do?
How/why did you choose the locations you chose?
I was looking for the most visually stimulating and cinematic locations I could find. Luckily, this area is full of them. I also needed locations that would fit visually with where Preston was emotionally along his internal journey, so we shot from Joshua Tree all the way up through the central coast. The landscapes really mirror Preston’s internal states of being, so the locations were very important.
How did you get into the entertainment industry?
I started out as a Blue Man with Blue Man Group back in the mid 90’s. That was my first audition ever. I went to an open casting call and ended up getting the job.
What has been your favorite part about making a film?
I really loved the actual process of shooting the film. Being on set and working with my DP and actors everyday and getting it done… that collaboration with all of them was the most exciting part, for sure. Seeing the material actually come to life… it’s a very empowering, exciting, and creative process for me.
What’s the most challenging part of your professional life?
The never knowing where or when or what the next job is going to be.
What do you think is the single most important ingredient to success?
How do you try to manage your work/life balance?
Lately, I feel like I haven’t been doing a great job at that. Still trying to figure that one out.
What do you see yourself doing next to express yourself professionally?
I am working on a new film. I also just shot a small role, as an actor, on this new season of True Detective.
How do you manage the fear and doubt that inevitably creeps in when you’re paving a less trodden path?
I generally just try to block out that noise completely and keep putting one foot in front of the other regardless of the emotion I may be feeling. I definitely have my moments of panic, however. I think staying 100% focused on a given physical task that you actually CAN manage in those moments really helps to minimize the freak outs.
What have you been most afraid of trying in your career, but you did it anyway?
Was there any opportunity that you had in your life that you didn’t take?
Yes. The role of Anakin Skywalker way back when George Lucas was making those prequels. I was meeting with him out at Skywalker Ranch. I just started getting so scared of being “that guy” for the rest of my life, for better or worse, that I just couldn’t do it. I just wanted to go home and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I had a lot of personal stuff going on at the time. I was in this place, all at once, where so much was happening for me so fast that I couldn’t process it. I made some bad decisions and took some really bad advice but, any way you break it down, I wasn’t ready. I had never even been in a movie before. I pretty much immediately regretted it. I’ve gone back and forth over it ever since, but it just is what it is. It’s sometimes hard not to wonder ‘what if’ though… especially when you’re trying to find money to make stuff.
Any sleep rituals that you use to help quiet the mind after a long day?
I often fall asleep to meditations or lectures I find on YouTube.
What’s the biggest gift you give yourself to recharge?
Trips to the outdoors. Camping… Surfing…. Motorcycle rides in the mountains.
What’s your favorite food to indulge in?
Lately, GF Pizza.
What’s the first thing you do after you wake up?
Drink a glass of water, put a pot of water on for coffee, and then take my dog out for walk.
What’s the last thing you do before bed?
I’m usually watching something on Netflix. I love those “Nature’s Weirdest Events” shows… or even “Outback Truckers” hahaha – guilty pleasures that help me unwind a bit.
Do you have a “sacred space” and if so, how do you create that?
I just don’t currently have the physical space for an actual ‘sacred space’. Hopefully, someday that’ll come back around. Until then I’d have to say that motorcycles are a good surrogate. And sitting in a lineup on a surfboard.
Jeffrey Doornbos (actor), Keith Dunkerley (cinematography), Nathan Wetherington (writer/director/producer), Sten Bowen (sound/composer) and in front, Ben Forster (actor/production)
Thank you, Nathan. Congratulations on the creation of this beautiful film. I was instantly drawn to it because of it’s authentic portrail of grief. As those of us who’ve lost someone close to us know, grief doesn’t always express itself in a loud and dynamic way. It can be very quiet and internal and I think you did an incredible job with that task. I also think my husband, Jeffrey offered up the performance of his lifetime, giving us a window into his pain. It has been an honor for me to get to know you, Nathan and I’m so excited for your next projects. You’re a fearless warrior and you deserve all this recognition for your talent. I still can’t get over that this is your first movie! And there were five crew members! Insane.
Don’t miss the opportunity to watch “A Thousand Miles Behind” during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Screenings will be held on Wednesday, February 6th at 8:20pm and Thursday, February 7th at 8:00am at the Metro 4 Theatre on State Street. Bring your friends and family and join us for a Q&A following the February 6th showing. The film will next be featured at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, Las Cruces International Film Festival, and the Sedona International Film Festival. For a chance to catch a screening near you, follow along @lemoynestreetpictures.