This month we talk with Corry Wiens about his short film, Defy the Odds.
Defy the Odds is based on the true story of Bill Lester, the first black NASCAR driver to win a race in NASCAR's Grand-Am series.
Feeling trapped within a job when your heart is elsewhere is something that a lot of us can relate with. Bill Lester's courage to walk away from his life of comfort to pursue his dreams is truly inspirational. On top of that, Lester was also up against incredible adversity as he pioneered his way through the predominantly white sport of racing. Lester persevered in spite of these barriers and spent more than a decade competing at the highest levels of racing.
Can you tell us a little about your background and your route into directing?
My background in directing is rooted in my postproduction experience. I worked at a commercial production company in Chicago about 12 years ago and then was the Senior Editor at a boutique creative agency until 2020.
I’ve always had a passion for directing and I was given more opportunities to develop those skills while working for this boutique agency.
I decided to make the jump to freelance directing in 2020 and haven’t looked back since!
Would you say you have a directing style? How did you arrive at it?
My style naturally leans towards powerful stories that have a gritty aesthetic. My background as an editor has given me invaluable experience to know exactly what’s needed to capture a powerful story and how to tell that story really well.
Visually, I’ve always been drawn towards imagery that has a bit more of a darker mood while incorporating vibrant colours into the lighting. This has led to a gritty, yet striking, visual style that pairs beautifully with the types of stories I love to tell.
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Did you study filmmaking? How did you learn your craft?
I did two years of film school in Southern California, but I believe that the greatest teacher is experience. I think I learned more about filmmaking during a summer internship than I did in my two years of film school.
What was the inspiration for Defy the Odds?
When I read through Bill Lester’s memoir Winning In Reverse, my initial reaction was: “This is a story that needs to be told.” Feeling trapped within a job when your heart is elsewhere is something that a lot of us can relate with. Bill’s courage to walk away from his life of comfort to pursue his dreams is truly inspirational. On top of that, Bill was also up against incredible adversity as he pioneered his way through the predominantly white sport of racing. Bill persevered in spite of these barriers and spent more than a decade competing at the highest levels of race car driving.
As a filmmaker, I wanted to use my influence to elevate Bill’s story. His determination to choose the hard road, even when the odds were stacked against him, is something that we can all admire and learn from.
This is a story that needs to be told
ABOVE: Behind the scenes on set with the director.
What other directors' work do you admire? What is it that stands out?
My favourite director is Christopher Nolan. His unconventional storytelling methods consistently leave me with my jaw on the floor at the end of each of his films. He also has an incredible way of rooting even the biggest Hollywood-budget action films in very human and realistic ways.
My goal is to eventually move into feature filmmaking, and it would be a dream to direct a feature that is even just half as inspiring as one of Nolan’s films.
Where do you find the inspiration for your projects?
Most of my inspiration just comes from daydreaming. I might get a spark of an idea from a book or an article that I’ll read, but then I just let my imagination run with it. In everything that I create, I ask the question: “What would make this something that I would want to watch?” From there, the trick is just getting what’s in my head to actually show up on screen!
What would make this something that I would want to watch
ABOVE: Behind the scenes on the shoot.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in pulling this project together?
Defy the Odds was a huge challenge to pull together and there are so many reasons why the project shouldn’t have happened. We needed two race cars, a private track, a set build, Unreal Engine designers to build virtual sets, and a practical effects team to help pull off a car flip. All with zero budget. If that wasn’t challenge enough, my producer also disappeared three weeks before filming and stopped answering my calls...
Thankfully, I have a lot of very talented friends that I was able to call to help come in and support the film. Gear Seven helped produce the project and Meptik graciously provided their expertise in pulling together the LED volume content for the virtual set. We were miraculously able to find two of the perfect race cars that fit the right time period and style as well as a private race track South of Nashville that we were able to film at.
The whole project was a producer’s nightmare (which might be why my original producer ghosted me), but with enough will power, we were able to pull it all together!
How long was the shoot and what was the most challenging aspect of the project?
Since we were self-funding the project, we could only afford to two shoot days, one on the track, and one in the studio. The biggest challenge that we had while filming was that our hero Camaro broke down a couple of hours into filming.
I had a big cat-and-mouse chase scene planned between the two cars, but we were forced to pivot and just continue filming with our backup car as the hero. Thankfully, we were able to capture enough content to make it all work!
ABOVE: On set with the cast and crew.
What have you learned during the process of making the film?
I learned a lot from this project, specifically about the process of high-octane automotive filmmaking. It’s incredibly challenging and expensive to pull together all of the various pieces required to create this type of racing sequence. From safety concerns to the logistics of getting the camera where you need it to be, there’s a lot that I discovered through this process. I’m excited to take these learnings with me onto the next project!
The whole project was a producer’s nightmare
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
My short term goals are to just do more commercial directing. I would love to do more automotive work, specifically projects that have a strong story behind them, or any other commercial projects that could benefit from my style of combining story and grit.
Long term, my goal is to move into feature filmmaking. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll even be able to enjoy the full Bill Lester story on the big screen together!