"Sometimes life isn’t about the reward at the end; it’s about the reward during"
A filmmaker from Maryland, Barry Worthington has written, directed, edited, acted, and has even sometimes been the cinematographer for almost all of his films such as "Kin" (2011) and "Hollywood Trash" (2013) while also bringing together award-winning casts and crew.
Barry's latest short film, Bummer, follows Marcia (Marili Mejias) and her daughter Michelle (Hope Perry), as they move to a life of paradise in Florida after earning a great promotion, when suddenly news breaks of an imminent collision with an Earth-destroying asteroid. Inspired by true events ("Unfortunately, a lot of the inspiration for Bummer is not a happy story"), Bummer brings a beautiful message of connection and love: Your time is limited- spend it with the people who are important to you.
Bummer won four awards at LAFA in July 2019, including Best Actress in an Indie Film (Marili Mejias), Best Young Actress (Hope Perry), Honorable Mention: Editing and Honorable Mention: Score (Barry Worthington). We invited Barry to join us for an interview. Here's his story.
Barry Worthington with Hope Perry and Marili Mejias wrapping Bummer
Tell us about your journey as a filmmaker so far. Are you still based in Maryland? How did you start out, and what were some of the important milestones along the way?
I saw what must have been a highly censored version of Jaws when I was about six years old, and from that moment on I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. That film resonated with me emotionally and demonstrated techniques I had not seen before. My parents let me borrow the home video camera, and I began teaching myself filmmaking by making my own movies, even using some of my action figures to understand how Steven Spielberg created some of his most iconic shots from Jaws and Jurassic Park or George Lucas with Star Wars. I even watched the behind-the-scenes specials for some of my favorite films, learned how the films were made, and began to love those as much as actually watching the film itself.
Ever since, I’ve continued making my own films. In high school, I showed my movies to the entire school at lunch time in the school auditorium. While in high school, I had a filmmaking teacher who had a philosophy that still resonates with me, which is that film is a uniting art form. Throughout high school and college, I made my own films outside of course material. After I graduated from Towson University with my Bachelor’s degree in Electronic Media and Film, I founded my production company Limitless Films, LLC, and continued to make my own films while also freelancing. I lived in Los Angeles for a little over a year, working and becoming familiar with the industry there. I even made one of my own films in Los Angeles, and attended UCLA Extension for a semester studying Directing. I moved back to Maryland where I began teaching at my alma mater, Towson University, as an adjunct professor for film production and film theory. I also went back to school for my Master of Fine Arts degree in Film and Electronic Media from American University, where I made my thesis film entitled Bummer. Bummer is my eighth short film made through Limitless Films. I graduated in May 2018, and since then I have continued teaching, freelancing, and working on my next films.
Mitra I Arthur, Assistant Director, and Barry Worthington, Director, Photo Credit Richie Wenzler
What was the first piece of equipment that you owned?
As I mentioned, when I was about six years old and knew I wanted to be a director and make films, my parents let me borrow the home video camera, and I would go around making movies and teaching myself filmmaking. The first piece of equipment, though, is very emotional for me and I think still have it. Probably no more than a year after I started making movies, my uncle, who was a photographer, bought me a tripod for what I think was my 7th birthday.
I remember he said something along the lines of, “If you really want to make movies and get serious about this, you’re going to want one of these.”
Now, what’s funny about that is that I loved doing handheld camera work, and still do. But that gift of a tripod helped me realize there were all kinds of tools that could help me explore new avenues of filmmaking. What was really encouraging about that gift was that my uncle took it very seriously that this was what I wanted to do with my life, which I’ll always be thankful for. My parents were supportive as well, but knowing another adult family member who was a professional and could see how important this was to me was very special.
Unfortunately, my uncle who gave me the tripod passed away a couple of years ago. I dedicated one of my films to my uncle in his memory.
Barry Worthington Directing, Photo Credit Richie Wenzler
Who are some of your favorite filmmakers and what do you like about their work?
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are probably my favorite filmmakers.
What I like about Spielberg’s work is his ability to connect with audiences timelessly, across ages and across cultures. I want to connect the world through filmmaking, and seeing his ability to do that is incredibly inspirational. I like that some of his films have a warmth and a sense of wonder, are thematically resonant, and sometimes take very relatable characters and put them in extraordinary circumstances bigger than themselves.
What I like about George Lucas as a filmmaker is his independent spirit and his conviction of his values that I think were there from his youth, through THX 1138, and even through Star Wars. Even his building of Skywalker Ranch is inspirational to me. What I really didn’t know for a long time was also how he supported a lot of avante-garde filmmakers and films.
What you might think as a funny clash against those first two filmmakers who are an inspiration to me is that I also love Jean-Luc Godard’s films. What made Godard so significant to me were his values as a filmmaker, countering convention in almost all facets, including literally the production itself. Around when I first learned of Godard, I learned of the Auteur theory of filmmaking, which greatly resonated with me.
Recently, I have another filmmaker as a favorite who has been a big influence on me, and one of the reasons is because in 2019, they are around my same age. I love Ryan Coogler’s work, and I believe he is an important filmmaker. I believe that he raises the voices of those he works with, and he brings to light stories and issues that really need to be heard.
Mitra I Arthur Assistant Director and Barry Worthington Director Bummer, Photo Credit Richie Wenzler
You normally write, direct, produce, edit and sometimes even compose your own films, which is very impressive but can be exhausting. What is your main career goal? Would you prefer to continue this way, or focus on a certain aspect of filmmaking like writing and/or directing?
I love collaborating with other artists to make a film together, like we did in Bummer, but I also do love being involved in many aspects of a film as well. My goal is to continue to be able to do both, leading teams and being able to work solo. My main focus is being a director and writer, whether working in small teams, working solo, or working in big teams. As a director working with a team of any size, I feel very fortunate working in the collaborative process alongside wonderful and talented people.
Alongside working on your own projects, you also worked on White House Chronicle for PBS. How did you get involved with that?
While I kept making my own films and wanted to work in fiction filmmaking, I knew it was going to be really important to stay open minded and learn from the news and television work that was common in the area where I am from, especially as I believe news and documentaries are so important to the world. Around 2011, as I was navigating freelance work, the team at White House Chronicle had heard of what I was doing through mutual associates, and wanted to interview me. They were interested in starting an internet documentary series separate from the PBS show White House Chronicle, but wanted someone with my sensibilities. They wanted my “eye” and vision, working as a Director, Cinematographer, and Editor. I accepted, and they were also interested in bringing me in for a role that was essentially a blend of a Production Assistant and Producer for the PBS show White House Chronicle itself.
As my positions and responsibilities grew on White House Chronicle, it was a very classic production story. I started out getting coffee for people and running errands, and shortly after that, I worked my way up, becomming a Cinematographer on select episodes, and about two years later I was promoted to Editor and eventually Director on select episodes.
Let's talk about, Bummer which is such an original story! Tell us about your creative writing process, and in particular, how did you come up with the concept for Bummer. Where did you find the inspiration?
Unfortunately, a lot of the inspiration for Bummer is not a happy story. A lot of the inspiration came when I was dealing with the loss of family, friends, and even my dog (who would sit under my desk when I would write scripts or edit films) who all passed away pretty suddenly at around the same time. I was also personally dealing with an injury that was potentially life-changing. On top of that, one of my best friends who had helped make films with me in high school was diagnosed with cancer. He eventually beat it after Bummer was completed, which was wonderful.
Meanwhile, when I was forming the script, I was approaching the end of my time at AU and working several side jobs. I think subconsciously, I was worried of what would happen when I graduated, and whether I would meet my goals or not after graduation.
Dealing with all of that, though, I remembered a great lesson from when I was a kid making films, which is that you have to make the most of things, and sometimes life isn’t about the reward at the end; it’s about the reward during, even if you have to make the most of it yourself.
I remember one of my professors at AU mentioned that he grew up in the D.C. area, and that the story really resonated with him because he grew up during the Cold War, when every single day there was a chance D.C. would be vaporized by a nuclear attack. And yet, you had to keep living despite that fear. When he told me that, I knew how important it was to make the film.
How many drafts of the screenplay did you write before the shooting screenplay? Did you guys stick with the screenplay, or did the actors do some improv as well?
I must have re-written the script about ten times. It used to be very different. It was originally going to be longer, maybe about twenty minutes, and was going to be about a larger family and all of their different perspectives of the event. As time went on, I really felt that it was important to boil it down to only be about a mother and daughter dealing with the struggles of trying to find a better life, and getting so close to finally achieving it, only to realize maybe it was always there. I even originally thought it would just take place in their home, but then I thought about taking the characters out into the elements and really feeling far from anything resembling their house, and what that would reveal from the characters.
We generally stayed close to the screenplay, however, I was never satisfied with the way I had originally written Marcia’s ending monologue. On the day of filming that last scene, I asked Marili Mejias, who knew her character inside and out, to improvise the dialogue and speak from the heart. It took Marili no more than a second to try improvisational lines. I looked to one of my colleagues, Michael Henry, who had helped give me feedback on the script itself, and we both smiled at each other after Marili spoke, because Marili’s lines took our breath away. We knew that was it, and she came up with something beautiful. When we actually filmed her improvised lines just minutes later, I nearly cried as I’m sure most of the crew nearly did, too.
Hope Perry and Marili Mejias Reheasring, Bummer, Photo Credit Richie Wenzler
Speaking of the actors, how did you get Marili Mejias (Marcia) and Hope Perry (Michelle) on board, and how did you work with them to create good chemistry?
I knew of Hope Perry’s work because she was in my colleague Michelle Hernandez’s film The Little Deer Killer, which was a haunting and emotional film. Hope came in and gave an incredible audition. During her audition, I could see the film forming, which was really wonderful as it existed in my head for so long as a script.
I got to personally work alongside Marili Mejias in a short film in D.C. where she played a character with a thick accent. I was working audio for that production that day, and was mesmerized by her acting. However, I was particularly struck by seeing the first time she came out of character to take her break, at which time she immediately dropped the accent. I was in disbelief, and thought, wouldn’t it be awesome if I got to work with her one day?
Shortly after, my colleague Shayla Racquel made an Emmy-Award Winning short film titled Riverment that I got to be a small part of, and Marili was a major character in that film. I asked Marili if she would be interested in auditioning for Bummer, and she gave an incredible performance. I immediately knew she was right for the part.
After the film was cast, we all came together to workshop and practice some scenes, and the chemistry was immediate. Everything between the three of us just clicked, and I feel very fortunate to have worked alongside them. We began filming just weeks later.
Michelle Hernandez Cinematographer, with Camera on Bummer, Photo Credit Richie Wenzler
How long was the shoot, and what was the most exciting thing about it?
Most of the shoot was completed in just 2 days, with about two more days of pickups for the introductory scene. For me, the most exciting part was that it was the largest crew I ever worked with and directed. One of my previous films, The Infinitely Generous Francis Victus, had a very large cast but a small crew, which was a great experience for me, whereas Bummer had a very small cast but a large crew.
Seeing the chemistry between Hope and Marili was also really exciting as I let them bring their own life to the characters while they respected my direction as well.
Were there any unexpected challenges you had to deal with? Did you find it a bit complex to shoot in a car?
I actually really enjoyed filming in the car. I had made a previous 30-second short film a few years earlier in Los Angeles titled Tanzanite, that almost entirely takes place in a car, and I took some lessons from that production into Bummer. What was probably the most complex aspect was the audio, particularly after the car pulls over to the curb, which demonstrates the talents of the sound recordists Pamela Xing and Markell Hawkins.
I had to shoot most of the entire opening scene on a day we were getting pickup shots, which also was a day nearly nobody else in the crew was able to work, so I was the cinematographer and audio recordist myself, along with directing those shots. That was a scenario where working in the different roles was really helpful, and I enjoyed it as I enjoyed working in a large team the other days.
What's next for you and for Bummer?
For Bummer, it is my first film to make available through Vimeo On Demand for rental or streaming. While I’m working on pre-production for my next film, I’m wrapping all the aspects for Bummer being released. On September 16th, Bummer played at a film festival in North Hollywood called the Kapow Intergalactic Film Festival in North Hollywood, just down the street from where I used to live, and later this month it will be playing at the Rendezvous Film Festival in Florida. Bummer has been entered into more festivals for consideration through most of the remainder of the year.
For myself, I’ve begun writing my next few screenplays, most of which are feature-length, and I have all kinds of ideas for different projects. One script in particular I’m rewriting for about the tenth time, and I intend for it to be my first feature-length film. The story may change before the film is entirely finished, but the approach is that it’s going to be about a character who is a major celebrity, but does not want that kind of life anymore.
What are you currently working on? And... If you had an unlimited budget, what kind of project would you be working on?
I’m currently gearing up for my next film, which I think is going to be the feature-length film I’m writing about a pop star. I’m also working on my next few projects which may be feature-lentgth and short films. I’m continuing to do this as I also continue to teach as an adjunct professor at Towson University and freelance work in the D.C. area.
I admit, the question of what kind of project I would be working on if I had an unlimited budget stopped me in my tracks. I really have to think about it, as I’ve never been asked that before. It’s actually a really hard question for me to answer, as I’ve refused to let budget get in the way of me making a film, and I know I’ll keep making films regardless of whatever the budget, or no budget, may be. Like the theme of Bummer, I’ve always tried to make the most of what I have. Even some of these feature-length ideas I have, some of which are intimate dramas, others being farout science fiction ideas, I know I’ll find a way to make them.
I suppose if I had an unlimited budget, one kind of project I could consider would be to try to make a film that pushed technological boundaries and explored interactive filmmaking, maybe even virtual reality filmmaking, on an immense scale, but one that is accessible for audiences worldwide. It’s interesting because those technologies seem to be becoming more and more accessible anyway. While I really enjoy creating original work, I could also consider other ideas like buying the rights to a project based on a biography, or even blending my love for video games with my love for films, maybe making a film based on a video game. It would open doors for different opportunities and allow me to explore different approaches to filmmaking, although I think a lot of my core values as a filmmaker would stay the same.
Is there anything you wish to add/ someone you wish to thank?
I really want to thank every mentor I ever had who helped me along with my journey. As an adjunct professor, I’ve mentored many of my own students, so now I know first hand how challenging but rewarding that opportunity can be.
I want to thank every single cast member, crew member, and collaborator I’ve ever had and for all we have accomplished together.
I want to thank my friends, my family, and my wife for being there for me and supporting me.
Where can our readers see more of your work?
My filmography can be seen at limitlessfilms.com.