Sean Williamson: Stressed-out Milwaukee filmmaker
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If Milwaukee filmmaker Sean Williamson seems a bit scattered these days, he has a perfectly good reason. With his first feature-length film, Heavy Hands—in which he directs and stars—nearly complete, and a Kickstarter campaign close to being met, his biggest project to date is finally nearing the finish line. For a guy like Williamson, it makes the hiatus from college, the service industry jobs, and the unconventional living situations all worth the trouble.
Stemming from the website World Wide Dirt that he’s run with a friend for the past six years, Williamson has generated an amount of creative output that would put most of his peers to shame. Always sacrificing to make ends meet, he sees the end in sight—and it feels stressful. The A.V. Club caught up with Williamson on the eve of the final fundraiser for Heavy Hands to talk about working, creating, and never having enough money.
The A.V. Club: So are you stressed out or are you taking it all in stride?
Sean Williamson: Oh, I’m just crazy stressed out. I think I’m going to start smoking again.
AVC: But you have cigarettes on you. Right now. Those are cigarettes.
SW: I bought these right before this interview. I’m just stressed out. A lot depends on making this movie good. I’ve made a lot of promises that it will be good. A lot of people probably don’t care as much as I think they do. They probably see this kid making a silly movie. I need for it to be good.
AVC: What’s the inspiration behind Heavy Hands?
SW: I wrote a script called You’re All Alone In This. It was a really long script set in a lot of states and times. I had a friend read it and he asked me how I thought I was ever going to be able to make it. He was right, so I took this really small idea from it. Heavy Hands is about a guy who robs from this family. In retaliation, the family kills his girlfriend who happens to be the daughter of a country crime boss. The crime boss and the main character get together to hunt down this family and kill them, but the crime boss doesn’t know that his daughter‘s death was the fault of the main character. Then he finds out, and the rest of the movie is about the discovery of this lie. It’s supposed to be an entertaining movie, but on a more philosophical level, it’s about violence and the place of violence in our culture. There isn’t any blood, guts, or gratuitous violence, and there isn’t any nudity or profanity in the film at all. There is a cycle of violence where there isn’t right or wrong anymore. The main character just keeps running from this problem he created.
AVC: How long have you been working on it?
SW: Three years. I’m 90 percent done. I’ve been editing it in sections, so post-production is almost done.
AVC: How have you been funding it?
SW: It’s been completely out of pocket from shoot to shoot. The other thing I was doing was taking all my student loans and putting them towards the film. Just taking them all. There have also been fundraisers here and there, and now this Kickstarter campaign.
AVC: Can you talk about being based in Milwaukee? As far as filmmaking goes, there might be better places. What do you like about it?
SW: I have nothing but good things to say about Milwaukee. The city and the people have been extremely good to me. I’ve been working on this movie for a long time, and where I’m from plays a huge part. I’m very attached to where I grew up and the people I grew up with. I spent a lot of years as just a punk kid driving around and causing trouble, and all those places are now locations in the film. I think I used every abandoned farmhouse and tower I knew of. Every time I work on the film, it’s just like going back. I would like to move on and do other things, but my hometown and where I grew up and the country will always play a huge part in what I do.
AVC: Tell us about the World Wide Dirt Party on Saturday.
SW: It’s a party at Sweet Water Organics, and we’re going to have an art show with people playing music. It’s going to be a big party with food and drinks. We’re also going to set up a little movie theater where I’ll show the trailer for Heavy Hands, and then I’ll show some work by other people. Then I’ll just throw on Caddyshack or something. It’s just going to be a fun party.