‘The Big Bend’ story

"Experience The Big Bend: Unraveling Family Dynamics"

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'The Big Bend'
The cast of 'The Big Bend'

“The Big Bend,” a film written and directed by Brett Wagner, is showing in Savannah at the NCG movie theater through Wednesday, May 8. In the film, two families, the Talbotts and the Prices, meet in the Texas desert for a long-overdue reunion, and while there, they test the boundaries of marriage, friendship, and parenthood, doing their best to survive the big bend.

“Some of the weirdest things in the movie actually happened to me, my family, and the family of my friend and producer, Aaron, when we all took a trip to the deep desert of west Texas several years ago. Art imitated life, and then life imitated art, and then we all went on that adventure a second time when we made a movie about it—along with a bunch of amazing actors and collaborators,” said Wagner, who lives in Savannah and has been the Associate Chair of Film and TV since 2018 at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Wagner and the producer Aaron Brown met many years ago in New York in the basement of ABC News Productions, when we were both young filmmakers starting out.

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'The Big Bend'
Virginia Kull and Jason Butler Harner.

“We’ve been friends and collaborators ever since, but we had never undertaken anything together quite like this,” said Brown, a Texas native. “When Brett’s family and mine spent some time out there one winter a few years back, I could tell the place was working its magic on Brett, too. Next thing I knew, we were talking about making a feature film about everything we were going through in our lives, and then some.”

While there were instances where art imitated life, Wagner expressed that their experience was far more pleasant than what the characters were going through in his film. Another huge part of his experience was nature and the desert, which inspired Wagner while he was writing the movie.

“I find that, as a filmmaker, I'm always really inspired by new places. Certain places are just more inspiring than others. The Big Bend area in west Texas is kind of mind-blowing. It's a very alien feeling and incredibly remote. Everything's dirt roads and no cell service. Big skies, amazing rock formations, hostile terrain, snakes, scorpions, mountain lions, and so much more,” said Wagner.

The environment was beautifully captured by Emmy-winning cinematographer Paul Atkins. The house Wagner’s family stayed in on vacation and much of the nature and things around it made its way into this film. Bringing the story to life, showing how nature can be healing but also dangerous and scary.

“We were there for pre-production for a little over a month. It was incredibly challenging. The heat was overwhelming because we had to shoot during the summer. The distances were outrageous, and we encountered severe rainstorms because summer is the rainy season down there,” said Wagner.

Atkins also recalled that the area they filmed in posed challenges, but with his background in filming documentaries for National Geographic, he had experience filming in extreme places and conditions.

“My inspiration was, from my experience, to try and shoot it in a way that felt realistic, that felt real, like these characters were really going through this. Because we weren't in a studio, we weren't in a green screen environment. We were actually there in all of these conditions that the characters were living through,” said Atkins.

click to enlarge ‘The Big Bend’ story
Tony DeLeo
Delilah Wagner and Nick Masciangelo in 'The Big Bend'.

The film stars Jason Butler Harner from Ozark, also next up in Ryan Murphy's season 2 of Monster for Netflix, as Les Zoeller, the Beverly Hills PD detective in charge of the Menendez brothers case.

Co-starring Virginia Kull (Big Little Lies), David Sullivan (Sharp Objects), Erica Ash, and Nick Masciangelo, along with writer and director Brett Wagner’s own daughters, Delilah and Zoe Wagner. Each gives a connection to their characters that makes what they are going through relatable, and while going through drama, there is some humor in the movie as well.

While the adults in the film were dealing with their issues, so were the adults in reality when having to work around some of the extreme conditions they were filming in.

“It was incredibly challenging across the board, every single day. The joy, though, was the cast and crew—about 35 people there. All really good people, committed to getting this done. They had wonderful personalities, and we were just out there on the most insane camping trip ever trying to get this done,” said Wagner.

Donny Dust served as the film's wilderness survival expert, set medic, and also acts in the film, with almost 11 million followers on his TikTok page. The music is by Texas native Shakey Graves, who also has a cameo in the film.

The film has been on a journey to get to this point. After filming was complete and the world started to open up more since the pandemic, the creators of the film have been working to get a theatrical release.

“We started playing film festivals, and we had a really nice festival run for about a year and a half. We won several awards, and then we were ready to take it theatrically, but there were things we still had to do, including raising more money to clear our music rights and other things to make it possible to distribute the movie,” said Wagner.

The film was screened in Savannah in 2022 at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, receiving the Jury Award for Best Ensemble Cast, and then screened at the Savannah Cultural Arts Center through Cinema Savannah in 2023. However, for a bigger distribution, a film would need to hit the biggest film hubs in the country.

“Once we were ready to go with that, we still had to wait for a screen to become available in New York. You always want to start your theatrical run in New York because that leads to Los Angeles,” said Wagner.

The film had its New York run in April, and the Los Angeles run is coming up on May 17, with other cities to be announced in Texas and Hawaii in June, and the producers hope to go for a wider release beyond that.

“It's one theater at a time; that is how this movie gets released. Watching a movie in theaters is a communal experience. I often sit through the whole movie with the audience just to hear the sounds they make when they react to something, and it's very rewarding,” said Wagner.

If you are in the Savannah area, you can see the film until Wednesday, May 8. Tickets are available at NCG Cinema.

Kareem McMichael

Kareem McMichael is a filmmaker, documentarian, writer, and multimedia content creator. The Macon native enjoys entertainment, and sharing with locals and visitors’ stories about Savannah’s art and culture scene. When he is not working, he enjoys relaxing at the beach, grabbing a beverage, hitting a fun art event,...
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