An interview with Allen Wolf: Filmmaker, author, and game creator
Allen Wolf is a creator in every sense of the word. He’s a filmmaker, an author, and even a game creator. Wolf even finds ways to turn his games into books or his books into movies.
Wolf has won multiple awards for his novel Hooked which was later adapted into a feature length film, which was written, directed, and produced by Allen Wolf himself. A busy man, indeed. Hooked is a romantic comedy which explores both autism and human trafficking – the film is set to be released in 2021.
We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Allen Wolf a few questions about varied career in multiple industries – here’s what he had to say.
You’re a filmmaker, author, and game creator, how do you balance all of those things?
I’m passionate about storytelling, which is the foundation of my filmmaking, writing, and game creation. They all feed into each other. I start my creative time every day around 4:00 am and work on whatever feels like the best outlet for my creative energy.
Tell us about your career before you found filmmaking.
After I graduated from NYU’s film school, I moved to Los Angeles, and I worked in temporary jobs. I always sought jobs that had enough margin for me to work on my screenplays. I worked for several different companies before I finally filmed my first movie, In My Sleep.
The first day on the set was for a crime scene with lots of extras. When I showed up, I saw a trailer hauling the picture cars for the background – a detective car, a police car, and a news truck. It was a strange reality shift as I had realized that all the times I spent working on the screenplay in isolation had now come to life before my eyes. I was never the same.
You took the game You’re Pulling my Leg! and turned it into a book. What does that process look like? How do you translate a game into a book?
After the pandemic struck, I realized how much we all needed to connect and laugh. You’re Pulling My Leg! and You’re Pulling My Leg! Junior lets you do both, but the previous version I had created was in a box, with cards, a shaker, a die, a timer, and tokens.
My challenge was to figure out how to make a new version of the game that could exist purely within a book. I experimented through multiple video calls with different groups of people until the new gameplay finally worked. Along the way, I learned a lot about the people I played with and had many, many laughs.
Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming movie Hooked?
Hooked is a romantic dramedy about a man who believes he found his perfect soulmate, but his autism keeps him from realizing she’s actually a prostitute. My hope is for the movie to bring awareness to human trafficking while helping people to see autism through a new lens. I wrote, directed, and produced the film in Seattle, and we had a fantastic team of actors and people who worked behind the scenes to make it happen.
Businesses in Seattle were very supportive, and we were able to get great locations, while hundreds of people volunteered as extras. The film is funny and dramatic, and I love how it showcases Seattle areas that you usually don’t find in movies based there.
Hooked is based off a novel you wrote, what originally inspired the story?
The Los Angeles dating scene inspired Hooked the novel. Dating in Los Angeles was challenging, and I hadn’t dated a lot before I moved here, so it felt even more awkward for me. I’ve heard that filmmakers write stories that feature versions of themselves as the main character, which was undoubtedly true of Hooked. I then created a character that would be the most challenging for the main character to date, and the story was born.
What made you decide to turn Hooked into a movie?
I had always hoped to turn Hooked into a movie. Several reviewers of the novel noted that it would make a good movie, which further encouraged me. After the book published and won several awards, I had read multiple articles where filmmakers talked about how no one has an excuse not to make a movie because the cost and tools to make it were within reach. That prompted me to finally turn Hooked into a movie.
I gathered together people in Seattle who also wanted to make a movie together, and for many of them, it was their first time. I raised the financing, brought together experienced department heads, and they taught the people in their areas what they needed to know to make our film. It was a team effort. I’m looking forward to sharing the final movie when it is released.
Can you tell us what your career as a filmmaker has looked like over the years?
As a filmmaker, my career has woven through other interests in my life, such as writing and game creating. The work I’ve done is all rooted in storytelling, from the movies, the novels, and the games – whether I’m telling the story or encouraging others to do so.
What does your creative process for film look like? How does it differ from other creative endeavors like book writing or game making?
You can write books and create games with a relatively small group of people, but making a movie takes an army. The expense of making a film means you have multiple people overseeing each area of the process, so you’re able to create the movie as efficiently as possible. Creating a film is very collaborative and is a massive undertaking compared to writing a novel or creating games.
You’re very hands-on with your projects. How hard is it wearing all the hats?
It’s impossible to wear all the hats, and I’m very thankful I’ve been able to work with very talented people who have been able to bring their expertise and experience to a project. I enjoy writing and directing as they tend to go hand-in-hand.
The producing role involves hiring everyone, managing the budget, and driving the film forward. That role is the most challenging to take on while directing a film, so it was essential to figure out how to produce a movie without it interfering with my role as a director. It is not easy at all, but it has been gratifying.
Who or what are your current creative influences?
The works of C.S. Lewis inspire me, and I have read his books numerous times. I recently finished reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to my kids for the first time. I’m always impressed by how C.S. Lewis can weave together a powerful story that has a deeper meaning. JRR Tolkien also inspires me for the same reasons.
What part of filmmaking do you geek out about the most?
I genuinely love each filmmaking area and directing in particular. But I can geek out during the post-production process because it’s the final chance I have to fix things in the movie or change moments for the last time before it’s complete.
They say a film is never finished, it’s just abandoned, so the challenge is to find that point of being satisfied with the work and being able to let it go.
Are you able to tell us about any upcoming project(s)? What are they?
Next year, I’m going to re-release my NYU senior thesis film, Harlem Grace. The film is based on a true story about a man who graduates from Harvard Law School and decides to move to Harlem to start a homeless shelter. It was a finalist for the Student Academy Awards and won several other awards.
After the racial unrest of 2020, I realized I have a true story about a man who made a significant difference in the Black community. Still, I had never transferred the original film to high definition. Over the summer, I had the 16mm film negative scanned in 5K, and now my original composer is creating new music for the soundtrack.
The film aged very well, and the film’s subject went on to be the Commissioner for Housing in New York State and an author, among other accomplishments. I hope re-releasing the film will create new conversations about race and homelessness while bringing a positive story into the mainstream.
I’m also adapting another one of my games, JabberJot into a novel so people can play it anywhere. In this game, you have 90 seconds to write a story using three pictures, three words, and a theme. It comes with an enormous box, multiple cards, and other features, but I believe I’ve figured out how to adapt it into a book.
It’s very time consuming, however, so I’m taking it slow. I think it will be out in 2021. I’ve also been writing a sequel to Hooked, and working on a fantasy novel. I wake up around 4:00 am to pursue these creative endeavors.
What’s your storytelling mission? Name the most important thing you want audiences to experience when reading or watching your works.
My storytelling mission is to create stories that have a positive impact on people and our world. I want readers and audiences to enjoy experiencing the worlds I have created while wanting to do something to make a difference in our world.
What’s your five-year plan?
I’m excited about what the future has in store, but I’m afraid my five-year plan is top secret.
You’re already involved in so many different types of projects, do you think we could ever expect episodic television from you?
Have your agent call my agent, and we’ll discuss. I’m open to all forms of storytelling.
What do you consider to be your biggest success so far?
My family is my biggest success so far. I’ve been married since 2009, and we had a daughter in 2012 and a son in 2015. The fact that we all love each other and enjoy being with each other is by far my most significant success, and I thank God for it. Creative projects will come and go, but the time and love I invest in my family now will hopefully continue to endure long after I’m gone.
What is your all-time favorite film? What did you learn from it?
I don’t have an all-time favorite movie, but the original Star Wars movie inspired me to want to be a filmmaker. I have learned the most from watching Alfred Hitchcock’s movies.
One of my favorite mainstream movies is Jurassic Park. I first saw the movie in a packed movie theater in New York City, attended by thousands of people. The entire audience screamed as the T-Rex terrorized the kids on screen. Thinking about that experience reminds me of the delight of filmmaking and how you’re able to transport an audience into an entirely new world. That’s what I hope to do in my stories.
If you could have someone create a soundtrack for your life who would you choose to compose it?
Conrad Pope scored my first two movies, In My Sleep and Hooked, and he’s an incredible talent. He’s orchestrated movie scores for John Williams, Alexandre Desplat, Danny Elman, and all the greats. I would definitely want him to compose the soundtrack for my life.
Where do you find inspiration?
The Bible greatly inspires me, and I try to read every day. It is an epic story of love, sacrifice, and redemption that takes place over thousands of years and continues to impact people today. I talk with many people who make assumptions about what they think the Bible says or doesn’t say, but usually haven’t taken the time to read it themselves. I highly recommend it.
Outside of the Bible, I find inspiration by going to museums, zoos, reading, watching movies, and having experiences with food and cultures that are outside my own experience.
And, finally, an easy question: Cats or dogs?
Cats and dogs!