Even the most minimalist plot twists and character developments can become the most frightening elements of genre movies. First-time feature film screenwriter, G.O. Parsons is proving just that with his new supernatural drama, ‘Willy’s Wonderland.’ The feature combines the scribe’s love of ’80s action, horror and comedy tropes as the main character is forced to fight possessed animatronic robots in a small town’s indoor children’s theme park, without even muttering one line of dialogue throughout the entire plot.
With the aid of director Kevin Lewis and genre veteran actor Nicolas Cage as the unconventional protagonist, Parsons was able to bring his basic, but equally dark and wild, story to life. The Academy Award-winning performer’s memorable portrayal of the writer’s modest but unique main character in the wildly entertaining movie is now being shared with genre fans, as Screen Media is releasing ‘Willy’s Wonderland‘ today in select theaters and on digital and on VOD.
‘Willy’s Wonderland’ follows a quiet loner (Cage) as he finds himself stranded in a remote town wafter his car breaks down. Unable to pay for the repairs he needs, he agrees to spend the night cleaning the title abandoned family fun center. But this wonderland has a dark secret that The Janitor is about to discover: he soon finds himself trapped inside Willy’s, and is forced to engage in an epic battle with the possessed animatronic mascots that roam the halls. To survive, he must fight and defeat each of them.
Parsons generously took the time recently to talk about penning ‘Willy’s Wonderland’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the scribe discussed that his love for B-horror films inspired him to create a fun but small independent horror movie that would include the twist that the villains crossed the wrong person-the Janitor-who wouldn’t be afraid to fight back. The writer also shared that he was honored that Cage wanted to play the Janitor, as he scribe feels the actor perfectly captured the protagonist’s equally subdued and assured personality, which drove him to kill the possessed animatronic robots before they could hurt anyone else.
The conversation began with Parsons explaining what inspired him to pen the script for the film, and what his overall writing process was like on the feature. “I’m also an actor, and moved to Los Angeles about 20 years ago. I was doing everything to get noticed in the movie industry, and it wasn’t going so great for me; I got a lot of rejections. I felt like I was on the very bottom, and backed into a corner,” he admitted.
“So I was doing anything I could to be noticed. I decided to put up plays, and they started to get a little bit of notoriety. Then after one of the plays, a friend of mine came up to me and said, ‘These plays only last as long as the show. As soon as they’re over, no one’s going to remember them, so you’re going to have to do a screenplay,'” the scribe shared.
“It was great advice, but I had never done a full-length feature, and I didn’t know anybody in the business. But I still took on the challenge, and wrote a horror movie, because I thought everyone likes them, myself included,” Parsons noted.
“I love B-horror movies, so I thought I could create a really fun B-horror movie. I thought I was going to be the only person doing the movie, including shooting it with my iPhone and acting in it. So I thought I would make one main character,” the writer revealed.
“The twist that I wanted to throw in was that with horror movies, we often see the villains running tough throughout the whole story, while the heroes and heroines are running scared until the end. So I thought, what a great twist it would be if the villains messed with the wrong person,” Parsons continued. “That was the recipe that I used to put ‘Willy’s Wonderland’ together to write the script.”
Once the scribe finished working on ‘Willy’s Wonderland’s screenplay, Lewis signed on to direct the feature. Parsons then delved into what his collaboration with the helmer was like throughout the drama’s production.
“I was working with a producer named Jeremy Davis at the time, and he knew Kevin from a project that they had done together many years prior. Jeremy said to me, ‘I know this guy Kevin, and he’s an extremely hard worker. So I think we should send the script to him to see if he’ll respond to it.’ I said, ‘Absolutely,'” the writer shared.
“So Kevin read it and got back to us immediately. He said, ‘I would love to be a part of this project,'” Parsons stated. “One of the things that I noticed about Kevin right away is his work ethic. One of the things that I respect in general is somebody’s work ethic, including how hard they work, and if they put their heart and soul into something, and try to make it the best that they can. That came across in our first conversation with him.
“So I knew that once Kevin was on board to direct the film, it was going to be in good hands, simply because of how hard he works, and how much he cares about the movie. One of the things we said was, ‘Let’s do this like it’s our only opportunity, and we’ll never get another shot, so this is it,'” the scribe shared.
“As far as our collaboration goes, we were on the same page from the start. We knew we had to make the animatronics as real as they could look on the budget that we had. We had to walk a fine line because the movie can’t be horror comedy; it has to play as straight as it can be,” Parsons noted.
Further speaking of the animatronics, the writer then delved into what the process was like of creating the look for the robots that attack The Janitor. “When Nicolas Cage came aboard, he let us know that he’s interested in reptiles, amphibians and dinosaurs. So he pitched the idea of changing some of the animatronics that I had, which were standard mammals, like a dog and rabbit, and turning them into reptiles and amphibians. So we ended up with a turtle, alligator and camelon,” he shared.
“That suggestion really stood out when you look at the animatronics visually. Leading into the visuals, one of the other ideas that Kevin and I had was to create an Easter bunny gone wrong, after I had seen photos…of Easter bunnies that are supposed to look happy-go-lucky with a child, but the child’s crying because the bunny looks so scary,” Parsons revealed.
“So we took that mold of taking things that are supposed to look happy and nice, and making them look absolutely terrifying, just by the way they were designed,” the scribe admitted with a laugh. “So we created animatronics with ratty fur, and if it’s supposed to be smiling, it actually looks like it’s snarling. The eyes also had to play a part, because they’re a window to the soul.”
Further speaking of collaborating with Cage on ‘Willy’s Wonderland,’ Parsons noted that having the Golden Globe-winning actor sign on to portray the protagonist “was a dream come true. When I shot the original short film as a concept that inspired this feature, I played The Janitor. So when began working on the feature, I selfishly didn’t want anyone to play The Janitor unless it was an absolute legend.
“When Nicolas Cage signed on to do the movie, he was given the script on a Friday, and on Monday he said he wanted to do it. So there was nothing in my mind besides absolute adulation,” the writer shared. “To his credit, Nicolas protected and nurtured the script throughout the process. He couldn’t have been a better Janitor.
“Switching to his performance, the character that Nicolas plays isn’t given a lot on paper, in terms of the dialogue. We’re used to seeing his amazing ability to speak through monologues and his Cage Rage outbursts,” Parsons pointed out.
“But this film changes up the whole idea of that, and gives him a little less to do. As an actor, it’s extremely difficult to be able to convey a million emotions, especially with only a smile or an eyebrow raise or a head nod,” the scribe noted. “So we needed someone with his acting talent to do that, as he’s one of the best to ever do it. He really pulled off this character.”
Parsons then delved into what was the process of creating the look for the title location of the movie was like. “In the script, it was really just that one location, and it had to be as run-down as possible when you first read about it. It’s as gross as you can possibly imagine, because it’s The Janitor’s job over the course of the film to make the family fun center as clean as he can,” he shared.
“We got extremely lucky to get our production designer, Molly Coffee, to create that space, as she knocked it out of the park. She did a fantastic job,” the writer gushed over the production designer’s work. “In the film, Willy’s Wonderland looks like it actually existed, down to the minute details on the posters and table cloths. Every single detail was done so well that once you’re inside this small world, you feel like you’re actually there. Molly did a fantastic job.”
Once production on ‘Willy’s Wonderland’ was completed, Screen Media Films secured the distribution rights to the feature. With the drama being released in theaters and on VOD and Cable today, Parsons expressed his happiness that he’s finally able to share it virtually with audiences.
“The movie was intended at the start, before the pandemic, to be a Midnight Madness experience, where all of us could get together in the theater, and we could scream and laugh, with popcorn and candy flying every which way. So it’s very disappointing that we can’t have that experience,” the scribe admitted.
“However, I think it being released digitally into everyone’s homes is a blessing in disguise. Some of the biggest events that have ever been witnessed in human history have been inside our homes. I’m not comparing the movie to these things, but you don’t necessarily need to be in the theater to witness the film,” Parsons pointed out.
“If the world is all watching it together safely in their homes, and can talk to their families and friends about it over social media, it’s an absolute belling in disguise. I think people are going to watch it and talk about it. Then the people who haven’t had a chance to watch it yet will hear about it, and maybe want to see it. It has to be seen to be believed. We’re making it easy to do that by just a click of a button, so people can watch it in the safety of their own homes,” the writer concluded.