Get to know Penwheel Productions Co-founder John F. Uranday
Penwheel Productions is shaking things up. The production company was founded by John F. Uranday and Bobby Cloud in 2018, with the expressed purpose of telling stories from unique perspectives. The duo managed to do just that with the short film Broken Innocence and the feature Lost Souls, both of which earned critical acclaim and a slew of awards at film festivals. Penwheel has continued to broaden its reach with five or more scripts, two show bibles, and more concepts for films like the upcoming Depth of Field than they have had time to put to paper.
Trolled is the latest and perhaps the most daring Penwheel release to date. The horror film, which has been described as a cross between Saw and The Blair Witch Project, was shot in a single location using six cameras, which led to some daring and fascinating editing choices. Film Daily was fortunate enough to speak with Penwheel Productions co-founder John F. Uranday about the new film, the Penwheel brand, and his plans for the immediate future. Here’s what he had to say:
Tell us about your history in filmmaking. How did you start your journey?
We shared an office building together. At the time I had an internet video radio station called The Core Live and Bobby [Cloud] had just opened his lawyer office. Several years later I asked Bobby to represent me at AFM and help me negotiate a deal for my 2nd feature film. While attending AFM, I learned that Bobby made films before becoming a lawyer. We had an immediate creative connection that we learned while creating a film idea during lunch.
Penwheel Productions was founded in 2018. What was the mission statement for the company and how has it changed over time?
The mission has never changed. It’s been to tell stories from a perspective not seen before.
What was the inspiration behind the name “Penwheel”?
There is an old story that reality is made from pinwheels working in the background together and that’s what we inspire to be. To work out ideas with our pen.
Lost Souls was the first Penwheel Productions release. Did you encounter any challenges during production? What did you learn from these challenges?
Learning to work with cast and crew and their unique individual talents and creating a synergy between all of us. What was beautiful was everyone’s individual input to add their own little spice into our collective meal.
Lost Souls and Broken Innocence won several film festival awards upon their release. Were you surprised by the glowing feedback you received for these films?
It was something we should have explored more. We’re new to the festival side of filmmaking. I had written and directed 2 prior feature films and they immediately were released via Walmart. Redox and VOD platforms. So I thought why do I need to do the festival circuit, if my films are getting out. So when we started to gain some acknowledgement for our films, we realized in order to build our brand within the entertainment community,
We needed to stop going to the end result and let our fellow filmmakers know we are here and we have some beautiful films. Getting those accolades is amazing, whether it’s 1 or 1000. Just someone giving you that high five is nice. So we are making a conscious decision this time around to focus more on the festival circuit. We’re coming.
Have you been inspired by other film production companies?
We love old Hollywood. Actors, writers and directors were primarily with one production company. So that’s why everyone always worked together.
What is the biggest difference between producing a feature and a short film?
Realizing it’s all important still. Just because it’s 5 minutes or 120 minutes, you can’t rush it. Take your time.
How closely do you work with filmmakers during the production process?
Our situation is different. Our writers and directors are also the production team. All ideas come from the team, which makes this journey even more fulfilling. It’s personal. One day I will have an idea, the next day Bobby will have one and one day Jeff will have one. Then when we can we collectively throw our thoughts in.
Do you have a specific process for determining which films get produced by Penwheel Productions? If so, can you describe the process?
We only work on projects we have created. At the moment. We have enough for a while all over the board. We are not a genre specific production company. We make what we want to make, which gives us goosebumps when we speak on it. It has to give us goosebumps in order for us to even go further. We have created our own universe outside of the comic book world. Inspiration comes from a meme we may see, a story we heard, a life event, even a t-shirt.
Tell us about Penwheel’s latest release, the horror film Trolled. What initially drew you to the project?
Trolling is a hot topic nowadays. You have celebrities, political figures, sports figures, our neighbors, maybe even we ourselves have experienced some form of online bullying. Online bullying has even created its own term, trolling. We had someone recently tell us, we are more scared about our social media persona, then we are walking down the street and something is happening to us.
During the beginning of the pandemic our producer Bob experienced this first hand. Then it hit him, what if we could hire someone to handle our so-called dirty work for those of us who have been trolled? Then we explored that idea further and Trolled was created.
Trolled has been described as a cross between Saw and The Blair Witch Project. Has this combination of influences informed the promotion for the film?
True terror is a genre term we have created. Horror films still leave a window for it couldn’t really happen. But they scare us. True terror is the deep belief that this could really happen and this could really happen to me. Blair Witch nailed that. They were the creators of the POV shot in film and used it in a way we felt like we were right there in that experience.
Then Saw gave us this world of what are we willing to do to survive. Is it him or me? Embracing both of those we found our niche and to be compared to both, is an amazing thing so we just follow the steps of our predecessors. We see a franchise coming, stay tuned.
What makes Penwheel Productions stand out from other production studios?
We’re not tied down to one specific genre. We want to teach you a lesson while ripping your heart out of your chest. “Haha Kalima” is what we say when we hit that emotional climax. It sounds extreme, but you get the point. We want you to ride this roller coaster with us. Life is comedy, drama, pain, anger, fear, hope etc. We want to give you those life experiences. However we feel it will be best served.
Tell us about the distribution process. Does it vary depending on the project?
That’s a great question, we recently had a discussion about this and decided each film has a specific feel to it and we want distributors who understand that. That each film has a specific audience. A lot of these companies in our experience get a handful of films and try to sell them as a group. We will not be allowing that to take place for us again. We do want to build a relationship with one company, but they need to understand this film isn’t like the next film or the next film. We are not genre specific.
What has been Penwheel Productions’ greatest success to date?
Each completed project is its own success.
What about Penwheel’s biggest failure? What did you learn from it?
One sided relationships where someone doesn’t have the same passion as us. Nothing worse than high expectations and the relationship being one sided. So we are learning to realize quicker that maybe it’s not the right time for that relationship to move forward. We don’t want to burn any bridges, we want us to all enjoy the journey and all of us trust each other. This is a group effort, always.
Penwheel has largely dealt with horror/thriller films. Do you foresee a time when the company is releasing comedies and/or romances as well?
Yes. We have a comedy called The Last Road Trip. It’s in our style of comedy but also gives you that Kalima moment haha. We have some fantasy, some romantic comedy stuff, some dramas. We love to tell stories, period.
Pinwheel’s upcoming film is titled Depth of Field. Can you tell us how the film stands out from the rest of the company’s output?
Depth of Field will be our festival darling. This is a personal film. I took a lot of my life and put it into this film but obviously changed it a bit here and there. It’s the story of an old biker who loses his family in a tragic car accident, he has become depressed and a recluse. When the neighbors bring in a foster child, the two end up building an unlikely friendship through their similar pains of loss. Healing each other in the end so they both can move on in life.
Can we expect to see any episodic television from you anytime soon?
We have Karen and Sharon, a comedy which just recently has begun talks to shoot the pilot. We are extremely excited about that. We’ve been working on that for a year or two. I love Lucy meets absolutely fabulous. We also have Low Life, a family drama and two other ideas we are flushing out at the moment.
Can you tell us about other upcoming Penwheel projects?
Films and TV are keeping us busy at the moment. But we are finally starting to branch out to other producers to help with the load. It’s an exciting time for Penwheel. We’re just spinning out project after project. Wait till they all realize what we’ve been saying all along. We have a story for that.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers and producers?
No matter what you want to do, do it over and over and over again. If you want to write, write. If you want to direct, direct. But do it consistently. Keep exploring and perfecting your craft. And if one thing doesn’t work, it’s ok. Don’t take rejection as a failure, embrace it and learn and get back to it…immediately. If you want it bad enough you will get it, but you have to put the work in.