After serving four years and two combat tours in the Marine Corps, there isn’t any challenge that Devon Colwell shies away from. He worked on the edges of the film industry for a few years, but decided in 2014 that the best way to get all-in was to partner with his friend Philip Plowden and start their own production company. The company, Fatal Funnel Films, focuses on thrillers and is currently filming its first feature film, Range Runners.
Range Runners, which Colwell wrote and Plowden is directing, is the gripping story of a woman thru-hiking an isolated trail who runs into trouble when her pack is hijacked by two men hiding out in the woods, desperate and on the run. Now, stranded and left to fend for herself, she has a choice: crawl back to her normal life in defeat, or push forward and take back what was stolen from her.
Bob Chiarito of The Chicago Ambassador recently spoke with Colwell, 34, who lives in Batavia and works a day job in the locations department for Chicago P.D. at Cinespace about his company and his current project.
CA) A decent amount of Range Runners will be shot in Southern Illinois, right?
COLWELL) Yes. We’ll be in the Chicago area for a few days but the bulk of the film will be shot near Carbondale.
CA) Why did you choose that area?
COLWELL) We were looking for an area with more geography, that wasn’t flat. The inspiration was the Appalachian Trail, so we wanted to match the topography without leaving the state and we found it down there.
CA) Is there a specific reason why you guys did not want to leave the state?
COLWELL) When we started the company, my business partner, Phil Plowden, who is also the director and I wanted to have a focus as an Illinois based company. We marketed ourselves as non-Hollywood, indie filmmakers, so it’s important to us to represent ourselves as Illinois based filmmakers and to stay in the state as much as possible.
CA) Regarding the plot of the film, I read that it’s about a woman on the trail who gets her backpack stolen by two men. What’s in the backpack, or do we have to wait and see?
COLWELL) It’s more than what’s in it, I think it’s what the backpack represents to her. When she goes out on the trail, it’s something she hasn’t done before. It represents a breaking free from her normal lifestyle. The backpack itself represents her taking charge of her own life so when it is taken from her, it’s like her power has been taken away. There is something in the backpack that will be revealed later in the film.
CA) I didn’t know if it was going to to be like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
COLWELL) Something like that.
CA) All the films being done by Fatal Funnel seem to be horror films or thrillers, is that right?
COLWELL) Our focus is psychological thrillers. Horror once in awhile. Really intense, plot-driven stories. It’s less about drama and more about intensity.
CA) Are you influenced by or trying to ride the wave of the movie Get Out?
COLWELL) Between Phil and I, we see a lot of indie films and like what people are able to do with small budgets. Films like No Country For Old Men was a big inspiration for us.
CA) How are you guys funding your films?
COLWELL) Independent investors.
CA) It looks like there’s a lot of Chicago actors in Range Runners.
COLWELL) Yes, they are all Chicago based. We found them all through a Chicago casting firm. A lot of them are stage actors with some film experience. Most are really talented people who haven’t found their big moment on screen yet.
CA) Once the film is finished, how are people going to be able to see it?
COLWELL) We have a lot of distribution options that are on the table right now. We think most likely it will be on some type of digital platform like Netflix or Amazon.
CA) You have four or five projects on the Fatal Funnel Films website and you’re listed as the writer for all of them. How do you find the time to do everything?
COLWELL) A lot of really late nights. Some of those are scripts that are in progress or really solid outlines. I’ve been writing for several years so some of these projects have been in my file folder for a long time.
CA) You and Phil founded the company in 2014. What led to that?
COLWELL) We met on the set of Jupiter Ascending in 2013 and then ended up working on Chicago P.D. together. We were on set on night, it was a late night and ended up talking about how most people who get into the film industry on the crew level have the ambition to be a writer or director. We were talking about how we wanted to move up in the world. Phil had done some producing and talked about how he wanted to get into that again and was looking for a writer, so he kind of commissioned me to write a horror film that he had an idea for. In the process of writing that film, he suggested that we partner up and make the film ourselves.
CA) How did you come up with the name Fatal Funnel?
COLWELL) I was in the Marine Corps prior to getting into films. Fatal funnel is actually a military term. When we were talking about starting the company, we had a moment of ‘Is this really something we want to do? Are we ready for it?’ As a motivating metaphor, I told Phil a story of how when you’re in an urban combat environment and going to breach a house, the most dangerous part of it is crossing the threshold into the house. It’s called the fatal funnel. I was using it as a motivator. There comes a time when you have to stack up and breach the doorway and take your chances and once you are through, you’re on your way. The next day when we registered the company with a lawyer, he said he liked that term for the name.
CA) What years were you in the Marine Corps? Did you have to go to Iraq or Afghanistan?
COLWELL) I was in the Marines from 2004 until 2008 and did two tours in Iraq.
CA) Has your military experience influenced your writing?
COLWELL) Yeah. I initially went to community college to study journalism but I had always secretly wanted to work in the film business as a writer. Being in the Marine Corps made me realize that after doing what I had done, there was no reason not to try to do whatever I wanted to do with my life. The Marine Corps led me to making the choice to take a chance as a writer. I think I learned a lot as far as self-discipline and getting over rough hurdles. I think a lot of what holds some writers and creatives back is the self-doubt and not being able to push through it when things get hard. I think I learned how to overcome that in the Marine Corps.
CA) Range Runners is a female led thriller. That was on purpose, right?
COLWELL) Yes. From a writing standpoint, when I came up with the idea for the story I knew immediately that I wanted a female lead. It was the most interesting angle of the story for me. The idea came about when my wife and I were on a hiking trip last year in the Smoky Mountains and had a conversation about people that hike the Appalachian Trial from Georgia to Maine. My wife made a comment that she could never do that, so I put myself in the position of a woman who was out by herself tackling the trail. For me, I always envisioned the story from the point of view of a woman. Then, when Phil and I decided to do it, it became a really interesting point of focus for us. How does that change the character, does it inform how she reacts to situations, or does it not?
Colwell and Fatal Funnel Films will wrap shooting Range Runners at the end of this month and plan on releasing it in summer 2019.