'Tinker' director Sonny Marler on the emotional rollercoaster of filming and what he learned from Clayne Crawford
Sonny Marler, the director of 'Tinker' had no idea what an emotional rollercoaster making the film would be.
Sonny Marler's 'Tinker' may be a fascinating sci-fi family drama, but what's even more interesting is the story behind it. An independent film, the tale of 'Tinker's materialization is that of incredible will, grit and lots of faith. When Clayne Crawford approached director Marler with an idea to work on a script together in 2013 he had no idea what an emotional rollercoaster the project would turn out to be.
"He initially wanted it to be of a horror genre," says Marler, "and he wanted to do it with his son, Colt." Marler, excited to do a project with a longtime friend (they've been buddies for about two decades) wrote it along the lines of a father-son plot, instead. Clayne loved it.
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Starring Clayne alongside Christian Kane, Wilmer Calderon, Colton Crawford, Chalet Lizette Brannan, Randy 'Tumbleweed' Smith, and Wendy Baron, 'Tinker' follows Grady Lee Jr., a lonely man with zero social skills and a life he isn't used to. One day, Grady's life changes forever after he stumbles upon a hidden compartment in his dad's office.
He finds a journal from the '60s that belonged to Grady Sr. containing secrets from his time in the military. As he digs deeper, he finds that his dad had drawn up plans to develop what could potentially be a revolutionary machine capable of changing the world. In another curveball that life throws at him, his sister suddenly passes away leaving him to take care of her son Kai. He's distraught at first, but what follows is an adventure of a lifetime.
Marler and Clayne came up with the idea for 'Tinker' while working on a project in Peru. The inspiration? Nikolas Tesla and Marler's son. "We did this spiritual journey type documentary and when I came back I started directing pilots for Discovery Channel," says Marler noting that he, at the time, had the opportunity to talk to researchers who were studying the life of Tesla and other areas of Quantum Physics.
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He came across Dr. PMH Atwater, the author of the sensational book 'Children of the Fifth World: A Guide to the Coming Changes in Human Consciousness'. "And that was the inspiration for the little boy in the movie," he says referring to Colt's role in the film, Kai. "My son was 5 years old at the time and I really felt a connection - and the father-son storyline came to mind...that, that was close my heart."
Everything looked fantastic for the film. They met up with Nick Stathakis and Tom Bhramanaya, who would both go on to serve as producers. Tom, who would become executive producer, also co-wrote the story. They also had the crew who had previously worked on Showtime's popular show 'Homeland'.
The leads, Clayne and Kane were both working on TV shows at the time but they figured out a way to work during the holidays. "I started to write the concept and the plot for the film was based on Nikola Tesla's wireless transmission electricity. Then in 2014, the Tesla car suddenly came out and it was the talk of the town. I approached a friend of mine and he put in the first $50,000.
Then, the following year, we started the Kickstarter campaign and two nights before the campaign was going to be over, we were $40,000 away from reaching our goal." Things looked grim for the crew - who were working on the film, one day at a time. However, things looked up at the last minute, they raised $100,000 two days before the campaign ended.
"I don't want to say guerrilla style but you know, it was $5,000 coming in every now and then and $10,000 coming in every single week. On set, it was like we were working for the day, no one knew how things would go tomorrow. The producer and Nick, my executive producer and I, we were fighting to raise more money every single day," recalls Marler. Did he ever feel like it wouldn't materialize? "Every day," he says.
"Every day there was this constant internal conflict with myself where I didn't know if this was going to happen - if the next day we would be able to continue and it literally became day-to-day," he recalls, the struggle evident in his voice. "And that's even going in post-production. There was a constant battle of having faith. Do I succumb or not? I just had to ignore the fear of everything falling out from underneath me. It was so overwhelming that I would plan things with actors that were emotional because I was so emotional," he says.
To Marler, the art of making movies is just his way of telling the world how he feels. "Growing up we were traveling all the time from one Military Air Force Base to another. My grandmother, who is a Reiki master and a Native medicine woman, opened my mind to her magical world. After that, the only thing that I ever could relate to was the world in movies. The way I see the world is almost like watching a movie. There's always a love story. There's always conflict. There's always good," he says laughing.
The film not only features Clayne's son, but it also features his mother Lennie Crawford as Jeannie along with Randy Tumbleweed Smith, who is also related to Clayne. "We had the opportunity to work on Clayne's farm. We even built a greenhouse there," he says reminiscing. "He can buy four or five greenhouses now, but at the time he couldn't," jokes Marler.
"The best part was working with Colt, a child actor with no acting training and his mum. It was amazing watching them being nervous before the camera rolled and then just being able to seamlessly do the scene. Being able to take these people who had never done anything in front of the camera and then seeing them transform into such authentic characters who represented every bit of the landscape of Clay, Alabama."
Working with Clayne too was just as great, he says. "He would do every 48-hour short film festival, every 18-hour shoot, every little thing...Clayne was always there for me," says Marler, his love for his friend evident. "That's the kind of actor he is - he cares so much about the production," he adds.
Clayne had been fired from Fox's 'Lethal Weapon' after accusations against him surfaced, alleging that he was abusive and violent on set. "I can understand and appreciate other people's point of view when he went through things with 'Lethal Weapon' but honestly, I can tell that his intentions were good," he says.
"I just don't think they understood him or appreciated him the way they should have."
Watch out for more from Marler who reveals that he's been reading scripts nonstop since the film came out. "Right now I'm reading. I have read about 21 scripts over the past six months," he says laughing. He is currently working on a project with Mike Chapman and another documentary called 'Soul to Science'.
'Tinker' hit theatres last month on November 16 and is available on VOD since December 4.