Most things starts with a seed. Going Nowhere starts with a film called Seed – the labour of love of writer/director Izzy Shill (played by writer/director Isabel Shill, whose 2020 short Face to Face Time played SXSW). Izzy has been toiling for the last decade on the script and storyboards for this “intimate neo-noir working on both the overt and subvert oppression of women” – which is also a post-apocalyptic sci-fi – set mostly in a barn. Yet even from what little we glimpse of Seed, we can see quite clearly that it is not good – indeed, comically bad – and that what it is bringing to fruition is less a novice filmmaker’s paradigm-shifting vision than her delusion of grandeur.
Fortunately, though, Seed is just a film within a film, and its director, though bearing the same name and appearance as the actual director of Going Nowhere, is a fictionalised character. For Going Nowhere is less about Seed than about its cash-strapped, compromised, Covid-restricted production, from Izzy’s massively over-optimistic crowdfunding goals, to the ‘actual’, afflicted shoot, to the theatrical screening seemingly attended only by cast and crew – all caught a little too candidly on camera for a potential BTS video by Izzy’s brother Josh (Zachary Webber, the only actor in the film with a different name from their character).
Izzy’s friend and lead actress Diana Irvine, who has a history of getting dropped from her parts, is a stickler for rules, addicted to method acting and confused about her sexuality. Her co-star Geoff Marslett has a cult-like relationship with the dietary supplements he tries to push on everyone. Cost-cutting producer Matt Ransdell Jr. is constantly distracted by a slew of side projects. Loopy financier Felipe Dieppa is on a set visit for the entire duration of the shoot and keeps interrupting and interfering. Award-winning DP Alec Richker is disgusted by the lack of professionalism all around him and, alone refusing to be filmed, always appears with his face digitally blurred. Soundman Stefan Singh is looking for love. Only asexual farm girl, Olympic athlete and actor Devon Wycoff seems remotely grounded, and is fancied by everyone.
As all these players come together less to create a miracle than to rub up against one another and to run down an already limited budget, and as the initially excited, positive Izzy is gradually reduced to a weeping wreck, their individual and collective failings become our joy. For in this meta movie about the perils and pitfalls of no-budget independent filmmaking – think Tom DiCillo’s Living In Oblivion (1995), only set on a farm in Kentucky, and featuring camerawork that is all intradiegetic – the flaws and foibles on display may all be to the detriment of Seed, but they simultaneously make Going Nowhere a comic triumph.
A true ensemble affair in which everyone is playing a homonymous, hyperbolised version of themselves and improvisation is very much part of the package, Going Nowhere is all at once a how-to and how-not-to guide in filmmaking on a shoestring. It is also, unlike Seed, charming and hilarious from beginning to end. For with this mockumentary feature debut, Shill’s career as a director of comedy has germinated in full blossom, and is definitely going somewhere.
strap: Isabel Shill’s hilarious meta mockumentary goes behind the scenes of a low-budget indie production
© Anton Bitel