Sunday, April 9, 2000
The film's star is Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher in the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Wheaton once worked at a computer company in Topeka.
Cassoday (ap) -- Seth Wiley easily could have directed his short film "The Good Things" from the movie Mecca of Los Angeles where he lives, but he opted to return to his native state to film in the small Kansas town of Cassoday.
The 24-minute film portrays a day in the life of a toll collector at the Cassoday exit of the Kansas Turnpike, so Wiley flew most of his cast from Hollywood to the Flint Hills.
Wiley, 28, a native of Lawrence, and two other Kansas University alumni produced the film, which he said he shot in wide screen during six days in September to capture the beauty of the rolling grassland.
"I loved the way it looked," Wiley said during a telephone interview. "I kind of liked the visual irony of having someone working inside in the middle of this vast emptiness."
Wiley, who works as a location scout for commercials, said the site also plays a symbolic role.
The film's protagonist is Zach Means, a toll collector in his mid-20s who is thinking about leaving Cassoday on the day of his ex-girlfriend's wedding.
Wiley said the open spaces reflect Means' sense of isolation, and he liked having him confined in his small, metal tollbooth while contemplating his future.
"Everyone's going somewhere else, and he just stays in one place," Wiley said.
Wiley said the idea of a film about a toll collector developed while he sat in bed one night wondering "what kind of lives these guys have beyond these five seconds" that motorists share with them.
A friend offers Means an opportunity to work on a boat with him in the Mediterranean Sea, but Wiley refused to give away the movie's ending.
Wil Wheaton, who plays Means, was Wesley Crusher in the television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
Wiley said he and Wheaton, who once worked in Topeka for a computer company, hit it off during their first meeting, and he decided on Wheaton for the lead role without an audition.
The movie's budget was a meager $36,000, and all of the actors signed a contract that pays them only if the movie makes money.
Wiley said Wheaton agreed to do so because he liked the plot of "The Good Things."
"Immediately, he was into the story," Wiley said.
Wiley worked on "The Good Things" with two other alumni in Los Angeles: producer Scott McPhail, 30, a Wichita native, and executive producer Eric Almquist, 29, who grew up in Salina. All three graduated from the University of Kansas in 1994.
The Kansas Turnpike Authority allowed them to film at the Cassoday booth without charge, supplied the cast with uniforms and briefly stopped traffic for filming.
"They were unbelievably wonderful," said Almquist, who works as an actor and production coordinator.
The Kansas Turnpike Authority also was pleased with the project.
"I thought it was pretty cool myself," said Dot McDonald, assistant toll supervisor at the Cassoday, Admire and Emporia booths.
Current and former University of Kansas students made up the majority of the 20-member crew.
"Kansas has truly amazing people who haven't been jaded by the film crews out in Los Angeles," said McPhail, who is the head of DreamWorks Animation's communications department.
McDonald said turnpike workers never had to stop traffic for more than a few minutes, and the only complaint came from a motorist who was late for a Kansas State University football game.
Even rain during much of the filming turned out to be a positive.
"We got these beautiful rain vistas that only Kansas can have," Wiley said.
Wiley said he wants to finish the film by May, then show it at film festivals. "The Good Things" is his second short film since graduating from Kansas.
He and Almquist worked on a nine-minute short that came out last year titled "P.1," which features a would-be thief who ends up being seduced by a car alarm with a female voice.
Wiley hopes his latest project will bring something good: a feature-length movie.
"Hopefully, it's good enough to get us more work," Wiley said.
Regardless of the film's success, the three filmmakers remember the project as a great experience.
"I loved it," Wiley said. "It was the best six days in memory."