Steve Pink and Taylor Gray talk behind the wheel (exclusive)
Embarking on an insightful, emotionally driven journey to mature and grow is a powerful and tantalizing message from the new intimate drama, “The Wheel.” Written and produced by Trent Atkinson, the deep and visceral film was then directed and produced by Steve Pink, who is known in part for directing the “Hot Tub Time Machine” series. The tonal start of Pink’s latest feature film, which premiered in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last month, emotionally and thrillingly explores the raw and vulnerable journey of how a young traumatized married couple learns to navigate the growth process without separating.
“The Wheel” follows Walker and Albee (Taylor Gray and Amber Midthunder, both of whom were also producers) after they quickly became inseparable as pre-teens when they were met at a children’s group home. . When they married later at the age of 16, Albee was rescued from her rough foster home. It has now been eight years and they are on the verge of a divorce, despite being the only family they have ever known. Walker hopes an Airbnb mountain getaway devoted to the practices of a relationship self-help book will save their struggling union. But the budding artist Albee does not share his optimism and his good intentions.
Albee’s demeanor becomes increasingly alienating over the weekend, as she mocks their newly engaged Airbnb hosts, Ben and Carly (Nelson Lee and Bethany Anne Lind), and does scathing public dissections on Walker’s personality. Albee also pokes fun at the rental’s affected pastoralism, in an effort to avoid discussing her true feelings and working on her falling apart marriage. Walker must decide whether his wife’s vicious performance really hides a desire to just shake him out of his rosy view of her or to sever the ties between them entirely. Meanwhile, Ben and Carly are drawn into the young couple’s personal drama and attempt to intervene in ways that create, or perhaps reveal, the issues in their own relationship.
Pink and Gray generously took the time at this year’s TIFF to talk about directing and starring on “The Wheel” in an exclusive Zoom interview. Among other things, the filmmakers discussed elements of Atkinson’s script and the overall project that convinced them both to get involved in the feature film. The duo also explored what the experience of filming the drama last summer in the Mountain was like during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how that experience influenced how they rehearsed with the rest of the distribution.
The conversation started with Pink explaining why he was interested and how he got involved in the making of “The Wheel”. “I met the producer, Josh Jason, while we were working together on commercial production. Josh was actually working as a PA (production assistant), and we formed a great relationship because I saw he was a guy who could do more than just bring you coffee. He was a young aspiring filmmaker, which was really obvious, ”he explained.
“So we talked about the movies we love and wanted to make. Then one day he handed me the script for ‘The Wheel’, and I read it and thought it was brilliant and beautiful, ”Pink exclaimed of the script.
The director added with a laugh, “Part of the joke for me was, ‘You’ve seen my IMDb, haven’t you? So I’m not sure you wanted to give me this script. ‘ But it was good that Josh had confidence that I could deliver ting that he had never seen anything delivered, which included the naivety of youth.
“He then edited the film with Taylor and Amber. Then we went last summer to the forest outside of Los Angeles and spent 30 days in a bubble with about 20 of us and made the movie, ”Pink added.
Gray then delved into how he had bonded and why he was interested in playing Walker in the movie. “To pick up on what Steve was saying, the linchpin for me was Josh, the producer. We had gathered around another pre-COVID script, I believe. COVID silenced the industry for a while, so we were hanging around just and were talking about that other script one day, and also talking about the movies we love and could possibly do during COVID, ”he shared.
“Then he brought up ‘The Wheel’ and said, ‘I’ll send it to you, who knows.’ I don’t think he had the ambition to do it until COVID struck. So I read it and really enjoyed it, and thought there was so much meat on the bone, ”the actor noted. “It almost reads like a play sometimes, and it’s something an actor would love to get their teeth into. Then I met Steve and Amber and went up into the mountains.
As Pink and Gray mentioned, “The Wheel” was shot on location in the forest and takes place in the secluded, mountainous Airbnb cabin where Walker and Albee travel to work on their wedding. The filmmakers looked at the process of filming the feature film on location in the hill station.
“Well, I don’t think we could have survived if Taylor hadn’t organized the preparations for an epic water balloon fight,” the coxswain joked. “We knew going up there that this little group of us was going to be in a bubble, like we were going to be in a little summer camp. There was some trepidation and nerves about COVID, but we all had to be tested and socially distanced, even though we were in the woods. Taylor brought… ”
“1,500 water balloons,” added the artist, laughing.
“So two weeks later, when we were in the middle of this really intimate and intense experience, since we were all stuck together and couldn’t leave, spent the whole weekend filling the balloons,” Pink continued. .
“Myself and Sean Crampton, who was another producer on the film, filled the water balloons for about half a day. But it was totally worth it, ”Gray noted.
“It was worth it. The whole cast and crew had this water balloon fight while trying to stay away from each other. It was super fun. It was a fight. of water balloons at social distance, ”the director also explained.
“Being there in general was a really cool experience. If the world hadn’t transformed like it did, I don’t know if we could have lived this experience, ”admitted the director. “So we were grateful to have this experience, even though things were so difficult.
“It was a different experience. I’ve never made fun of myself before, like putting the mic on myself, ”the actor then revealed. “There were some things we had to do differently because of COVID, and this was one of them. I was like, okay, I can do this again in the future.
Pink then looked at how he approached the cast of the rest of the cast that appear on “The Wheel,” specifically with Midthunder, Bethany Anne Lind and Nelson Lee. “I believe Amber came on board through Trent, the writer, and Taylor through Josh. Then, after their casting, we found Bethany and Nelson, ”revealed the director.
“Since it was COVID, there was no traditional casting process. We made a bunch of auto cassettes, but we didn’t really want to approach it that way, ”Pink also revealed. “So we watched a bunch of movies and watched a bunch of actors that we loved.
“Josh also had a relationship with a bunch of managers and agents, so when an actor came in we would assess him without really auditioning them,” the director added. “I just had one Zoom conversation with Bethany and Nelson, and then we offered them the roles. I was like, we can just tell by their nature if they’re good for the roles.
“It was also about persuading them to go into the woods with me, a complete stranger, and trust me to be in the COVID bubble with us for a month and do something they will love. So part of that was to cast actors as much as they auditioned, frankly, ”Pink added. “Bethany and Nelson loved the script, because it’s a beautiful play, and that’s how they got involved in the movie.”
The duo then explored what it was like to work together and with the rest of the cast once they were chosen to build the characters’ stories and relationships. “There were a lot of conversations. We did another new thing; I never rehearsed 15 feet away with a mask, ”Gray revealed.
“To be honest, I felt very confident the entire time we were up there. I never said that to Steve, but after the first rehearsal I thought it might go wrong, ”the artist also admitted.
“We were shouting our lines at each other, but it was difficult to hear and connect. The heart of empathy and connection with whoever is with you. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be able to connect with them because I could barely see them, let alone hear them, from across the room, ”Gray revealed.
“But I think our conversations were really important for building relationships. This is something I really commend Steve for; whenever we felt like things could go this way or that way, we would talk about it, rather than saying ‘get him on his feet and we’ll see if it works’, ”the actor also revealed. .
“So we really understood what we wanted from each scene. As an actor, I think it’s such a blessing, ”Gray Fur added.
“Yes, there were times we were sitting 20 feet apart with masks in a parking lot in the woods on folding chairs and rehearsing. I left feeling the same, terrified, ”Pink admitted.
“We realized we had to find a way that feels organic when we get on set so the actors can work. It wasn’t that difficult; it was a joy to find the space to do it and explore any particular scene they wanted. I think it really brought them together as actors, especially Amber and Taylor, ”the director concluded.