Hamish Downie’s Five Questions With Calvin Zimmerman


Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…

Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?

Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all for your hard work.

Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.

Content Warning: We discuss a film about a mass shooting in a high school setting.

TGG: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

CZ: Hey! My name is Calvin Zimmerman, I’m 24 years old, and I’m an independent filmmaker based out of San Diego, California—but originally I’m from the small town of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. In June of 2021 I returned to my beloved hometown for the summer to direct my very first full-length feature film, Wild Life.

TGG: That’s certainly a unique name for a town! Could you tell us about your debut feature film and what inspired you to make it?

CZ: Wild Life is a truly independent film written, directed, edited, and self-financed by yours truly, on a budget of $5500. The Logline is as follows,

“When his older brother commits a mass shooting at his small town high school, a young boy must convince his family of his brother’s guilt, or risk losing what remains of his community.”

A short synopsis,

“The world stops spinning for fifteen year old Rudolph Priest when he survives a deadly school shooting. His heart breaks in two when he discovers that his best friend, Donny, did not. Things escalate further out of control when it is revealed that Rudolph’s older brother, Randy, was the man behind the murders, and that their parents will stop at nothing to keep him out of prison. Now, Rudolph must decide for himself whether he will bend to his family’s will, like he always has, or if he will stand up to them, stand by the community his brother destroyed, and find some sense of justice for the person he loved most in the world.”

Wild Life is a story about loss- losing a loved one, losing one’s innocence, and losing sight of what is important. 

It is a story about standing up for what you believe in, and making your voice heard- it is also an example of this.

Wild Life is not only a form of art, but a form of activism.

The issue of gun violence in schools is one that has been close to my heart since I myself was in high school; I graduated almost seven years ago. A class on current events and a debate topic assigned at random—Whether or not teachers should be armed—lit a spark in me that never went away. The itch to do something only grew over time. Every time there was another senseless mass shooting, the fire that lived within me would grow. I’ve been an aspiring filmmaker since I was a kid, and art has always been my way of making my voice heard, so to speak. Eventually, the idea to write this script came to me. After the first few drafts, I realized this was something I could actually make if I put my mind to it.

And with that, I was off and running.

TGG: At 24, you have certainly grown up with this as the norm. Especially considering Columbine happened 23 years ago. What did you learn while making the film?

CZ: Everything. Where do I start?

This was my film school. Everything was a learning curve for myself and my only other crew member, my DP and lone camera operator Elijah Dercks. Mistakes were made. There were things I didn’t put enough prep time into that hurt us later, and things I invested too much time into, that wound up being unnecessary. Making Wild Life was full of growing pains—we came out on the other side with something wonderful, and something that looks amazing despite us being so inexperienced, but it was tough to get here.

But the most important things I learned had nothing to do with the physical aspects of filmmaking.

I learned what can be done when you set your mind to something, when you don’t give up. It sounds cheesy, and maybe it is, but God, is it true. There were so many times when I wanted to give up on this project, when nothing was going right, when those growing pains were almost too much to bear, but I kept at it.

I learned that all the best indie filmmaking advice should be taken with a grain of salt—No big locations, no big props. Write a script around the resources you have. Small casts and one-room films are your best bet. All of those things are great advice, but if you use them as a bible, and never try to push beyond that, you’ll limit yourself. You are capable of more than you think, and passion is contagious. People will want to help you if you give them a reason to. Wild Life could’ve had a million dollar budget—Impossible to secure locations such as a Police station, Outdoor amphitheater, High School, Chapel, Hotel Suite, etc. and even more ridiculous props including two real caskets, a replica AR-15 and ten six-foot-tall wooden memorial crosses. The film also had ten named characters and three times as many extras. In retrospect, I was delusional to think I could’ve made it work, but we got everything. We cut nothing from the final film. For the love of everything, be delusional when chasing your dreams. Give it your all. You never know what might happen.

And above all else, the most important thing I learned during the making of the film is the true meaning of teamwork, and the true meaning of gratitude. Wild Life was made using almost exclusively free labor, from folks I had never worked with before, or even met before. I think my passion spoke to them, but regardless of why they wanted to help me, it is awe inspiring to take a step back and look at everyone who did—and they really had no reason to. I had no experience, no other films or scripts under my belt. I had no money, no resources. It was a hope and a dream. I have been blessed with an incredibly talented and dedicated team who helped me build something that I never could’ve on my own, and I have never been so grateful for anything in my entire life. Wild Life is not my success, but our success. It is not my story, not my film—but our story, and our film.

We are a little family, and I’m forever grateful for it. I made lifelong friends throughout making this film, and I would be honored to have the chance to work with any of these amazing people again. Wild Life family, if you see this, you know how much I love you.

TGG: What’s next for you?

CZ: For now, we push Wild Life as much as possible. The film is dropping publicly on Youtube on April 20th, for free. We still plan to go the festival route (Yes, I’m aware that uploading to Youtube disqualifies us from the bigger festivals. Wild Life isn’t built for Sundance lol) but art is meant to be shared, and this is a story that I believe needs to be. I have high hopes of course that this film will launch careers for myself and my team—who doesn’t wish that for their first film?— but it is equally important to me that this story is accessible. We have something to say, and something to teach, it needs to reach an audience.

Beyond that, I’m moving on to the next film project. Making Wild Life was the single most incredible experience of my entire life, and I know everyone else had just as much fun, and I want to do it again! I’m writing a new script, Church! And the Haunted Laundry! a Horror-Comedy about a haunted laundromat starring my young cast as a sort of Scooby Gang/Losers Club-esque ragtag group of rascals solving the mystery of said Haunted Laundry. Bit of a 180 from Wild Life, haha! We’re slated to shoot summer of 2023. Unless we can get some eyes on us between now and then, and crazy life-changing things happen (I’m delusional, so who knows what could happen!) This film will be self-funded just like that last. Though I am hoping to double our budget at least, and double the time we had (Wild Life was shot over four five-day weeks.) With an increased budget and timeline combined with the experience we have from Wild Life, I firmly believe next time around we can make something nearly indistinguishable from a big-budget production.

TGG:. How can we best support you? (where can we watch the film, follow you on social media etc)

CZ: You can best support myself and my team by sharing our film’s trailer, and the watch link, listed below. If you are seeing this before April 20th, that watch link will take you to a mailing list, where you can sign up to be reminded on the film’s release date (One time only email, I promise!) Otherwise, that link will take you directly to the full film, which again you can watch for free.


External link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHPszUFyx_c


Follow my filmmaking journey by checking out my personal twitter and instagram,



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