Interview with Filmmaker Caleb John Cushing (WONDER WHEEL)

WONDER WHEEL, 11min., USA, Drama
Directed by Caleb John Cushing
A couple goes on a date at an amusement park.

Get to know the filmmaker:

1. What motivated you to make this film?

– It was a combination of two things. I studied to be an actor, and after graduating from drama school I was having a really hard time booking roles. It just felt like nothing I was doing was working, and instead of sitting around being miserable (although there was plenty of that haha), I decided to be proactive and to start making my own films and creating my own opportuinites. A kind of “If no one will cast me I’ll cast myself!” type of attitude. So that was the motivation to make a film in general. As for why this specific film, I genuinely love Coney Island (where the film is set and was shot). I go all the time, I think it just has this classic New York energy and vibe, and I wanted to try and capture that and shoot something there if possible. Originally I was thinking about something on the boardwalk, but once I realized the wonder wheel’s carriages were set up the way that they are, I knew that I had the perfect recipe for the story I wanted to tell.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

– There was a really quick turnaround from inception to execution to editing. Probably 6 weeks overall. I first pitched the idea to my creative partner Joshua Ster in my living room, and whenever I can make him laugh I know that I have something worth developing. I wrote the outline and sent it to Bahar Beihaghi, the actress, who graciously agreed, and then we all got in a group chat and scheduled a time where we could go down to Coney. We only shot in one two hour period on one day, and then since it was all one take the editing process was relatively quick and painless as well. So I’d say about 6 weeks from “here’s this idea” to hitting final export.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

– Chaotically Cringey.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

– Honestly, just getting started. I hadn’t made anything professionally before, just backyard movies with friends when I was a kid. So getting over the mental barrier and owning my identity as a creative person and a filmmaker was huge. Once I decided to just sort of go for it, results be damned, everything went incredibly smoothly. I’m very lucky to have the friends and creative collaborators I do. I guess I’m also lucky that the staff at Luna Park (the amusement park in Coney Island where the Ferris wheel is located) didn’t catch us filming, or if they did they didn’t say anything about it haha.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

– I was so overjoyed. I haven’t gotten to share the film with a general audience yet, so it was really gratifying to hear that audience members enjoyed the film and got pretty much exactly what I wanted them to get out of it. That feeling of just pure cringe, oppressive awkwardness. It just feels really surreal to have people not just talk about the work we did, but also talk about how much they enjoyed it. Just feeling super gracious and humble.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

– I knew I wanted to perform since I was ten years old, and I’ve always loved watching films, but I never really thought I’d have the opportunity to make them myself. Only within the past couple of years, honestly since the start of the pandemic. That’s when I’d say I really truthfully committed myself to start making stuff. But it’s been a fantasy of mine since I was a little kid. I used to have the 3 DVD rental plan on Netflix, before it was a streaming service (I feel so old), and I’d just devour anything and everything. I thought it would be cool to be able to make stuff, but didn’t have the confidence or courage until relatively recently.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

– Definitely Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away”. It is a perfect film, not necessarily because all the puzzle pieces fit together like cogs, but because of the emotions and the energy created by Miyazaki’s passion and dedication to his craft. I think it’s a beautiful and magnetic experience and a really powerful example of empathetic storytelling. It’s cute and funny and sad and exciting and even a bit scary for a younger audience! I love the colors and the music and the animation and the characters, it’s just perfect. I watch it probably once or twice a year. It’s my comfort movie but also super inspiring for me, it’s one that I’ll put on if I’m feeling stuck creatively. There was a period in college where I just had it on repeat in the background while I worked on other stuff. So yea, “Spirited Away” no contest.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

– Interesting question. I feel like your festival has done quite a bit to get the film out to as many audience members and industry people as possible. I know travel is difficult but I would have loved to have been at a screening in person, or even virtually called in if possible. The videos are great and useful for marketing etc, but I would have really cherished the opportunity to talk with people and engage with them a bit more personally. I think that would have also led to making more connections with other artists, which is how the backbone of a career is formed in my opinion.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

– I like FilmFreeway! Super convenient to use and navigate, I feel like they’ve made it really easy to keep track of your submissions and to research different opportunities and events. This process can be overwhelming but FilmFreeway streamlines it and always has good recommendations about where next to send your film. I also like that you can track your submissions in pretty much real time haha, it reduces my anxiety.

10. What is your favorite meal?

– Dumplings are probably my favorite food. I don’t know when it started but I absolutely love dumplings. I think gyoza are delicious but prefer the Chinese style because of the usually thicker dough. I also love udon noodles for the same reason. Almost always go pork filling but chicken and ginger combo tastes really great as well. I have a shellfish allergy so I can’t do traditional shumai which is a bummer because they look so tasty. Always always always steamed over fried, so much of the flavor of food and spices is lost during the frying process, so you should always eat foods that are prepared in other ways when possible. Dipping sauces can very but I’m usually a classic soy sauce kind of guy.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

– Definitely going to keep working on films! I’m editing my second short as we speak, and am getting ready to hopefully shoot another one in early 2023. I also have a couple of feature scripts I’m trying to sell, although that process is going a lot slower. I am also releasing a short story collection next month (November, 2022). It’s called “The Orbit of Celestial Bodies”, and can be purchased directly from the publisher’s website at .


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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