Arts & Culture

Cedar Rapids native releases new film 'The Voices,' with more in the works

Movie available on YouTube, Amazon Prime and other streaming services

Cedar Rapids native Bradley Fowler (right), directs his wife, actress Victoria Matlock, on the set of #x201c;The Voices.
Cedar Rapids native Bradley Fowler (right), directs his wife, actress Victoria Matlock, on the set of “The Voices.” Fowler wrote and codirected the film in which a young woman (Grace Crawford, played by Amanda Markowitz) seeks sanctuary at a remote family home, occupied by her sister, Catherine (Matlock). Instead of finding peace, Grace must struggle with her sister’s paranoid schizophrenia and her own sanity before it tears them apart. Fowler, Matlock and their daughter have been staying with his parents, Tim and Joyce Fowler of Cedar Rapids, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy of Bradley Fowler)
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Bradley Fowler’s latest film had its red carpet premiere at L.A. Live before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and now his psychological thriller, “The Voices,” can be screened at home via YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime and other streaming services.

The filmmaker, based in Los Angeles, can been seen at home, too.

Fowler, his actress wife, Victoria Matlock, and their 2-year-old daughter have been staying with his family in Cedar Rapids during the coronavirus shutdown to avoid living in their own psychological thriller playing out in Los Angeles during the pandemic.

“It was scary,” Fowler said. “We literally just picked up our stuff and left in the middle of the night about two months ago. We didn’t want to be quarantined in an apartment. If we’re going to be quarantined, I’d rather be quarantined in Iowa where there’s family and houses and yards for Luna to play in.”

So they’re staying with his parents, Tim and Joyce Fowler. More close relatives live just down the street.

“It’s totally like an old-school-style family unit,” he said. “My family is pretty tight. We thought it was a really good atmosphere for my daughter, and it’s a really good atmosphere for writing. I’ve got a room I go to. I’ve cranked out two scripts in last two months.”

But the shutdowns and social distancing protocols are “going to change film,” said Fowler, 39, a 2000 graduate of Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School and a 2005 graduate of the University of Northern Iowa.

“From everyone I’ve talked to, movie theaters going to take a while before they come back,” he said. “Not only that, but productions. I think we’re going to see some changes,” including a switch from live action to more animation.

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“I don’t’ know if I’m right, but I’m trying to reposition some of my scripts and try to sell them. I’ve got a romance story called ‘Fireflies.’ It’s kind of fantastical, and so I’m restructuring the script to make it even more fantastical. I’m going to try to pitch it as more of an animated movie, because I think (live) productions are going to be harder and harder.”

He works in the independent film realm, which brings a lot of do-it-yourself action to the table.

“There’s levels to this game, and I make sure I’m always learning,” he said. “A purely independent film basically means that there’s no involvement from the studios. But usually what would be considered as ‘independent films’ nowadays is usually independent but with some sort of higher partners. ... There’s a million film companies out there, but there’s only a few independent big-budget movies.” “The Voices” isn’t one of them.

About ‘The Voices’ film

“This one is boots-on-the-ground,” he said, made by his Three Tales Productions for under $1 million. “We’re just a small, plucky, hardworking company.

“All of our movies have had celebrities in it, and I think that’s one thing that makes our smaller, independent company different from most other smaller ones. We haven’t been just making them with a couple of friends. Every movie we’ve done has had multiple celebrities in it, which does help out with distribution and helps to make sure the movie actually gets in front of an audience.”

Among the key players in “The Voices” is his wife, a Broadway actress who starred as Elphaba in “Wicked” and Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, in “Million Dollar Quartet.”

“She’s the famous one in the family,” Fowler said.

Also appearing in “The Voices” is Lin Shaye, who in addition to featured roles in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and other screamers, she also killed audiences as Magda, the too-tanned neighbor in “There’s Something About Mary.”

More star power comes from Amanda Markowitz, who had recurring roles on “The Bold & The Beautiful” on CBS and “Heartbeat” on NBC, as well as a leading role in the film “Mr. Malevolent,” with David Alan Grier, Gary Cole, Vivica A. Fox and Chris Kattan. And from Brendan Sexton, who appeared in the films “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Empire Records” and the Oscar-nominated “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri.”

In “The Voices,” Grace (played by Markowitz) seeks sanctuary at a remote family home, occupied by her sister, Catherine (played by Matlock). But instead of finding peace, Grace struggles to cope with her sister’s paranoid schizophrenia — and her own sanity — before it tears them apart.

The film’s genesis began when Matlock was reprising her Broadway and off-Broadway role in “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s in Las Vegas, which ended its run in 2016. She was with the show for two years, and Fowler joined her there for about a year and a half, focusing on his writing.

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During that time, he stumbled across a YouTube video of a woman who was diagnosed with schizophrenia after giving birth. Intrigued, he began investigating whether or not a traumatic event like that could trigger the disease.

After speaking with friends in the field and digging into more research, he discovered enough evidence to plant the seed for a fictional screenplay exploring “the fear of what that might feel like for someone experiencing the disease for the first time,” he said.

“Six days later, I had a story,” he added.

“I was basically looking for a story that we could shoot that didn’t cost a ton of money, that would really showcase Amanda Markowitz and Victoria Matlock.”

Both women worked with Fowler in his 2016 film, “Love Meet Hope.”

“I wanted to write an incredibly challenging role for both of them.” he said. “This was sort of before the whole female empowerment movies started coming out, about five years ago, so we were still slightly ahead of the curve. Now that it’s just coming out, there’s a million female empowerment movies.

“I wouldn’t say we’re ahead of the curve anymore — we’re sort of more on par with what’s going on — but we were ahead when I wrote it.”

He wrote an incredibly challenging role for himself and everyone else involved in the shoot, too, when flooding prevented the crew from driving a lighting truck across a bridge to the remote farmhouse where most of the action would take place. The team had to cross the nearly 60-foot wire bridge on foot, taking everything piece by piece by hand or on a dolly, in just one day.

The site was on 360 acres of untouched land near Fillmore, Calif., also home to bears and rattlesnakes, Fowler noted.

The production took about two years to complete, moving a lot slower than he would have liked. Despite taking just six days to write, six months for preproduction and 16 or 17 days to shoot, the postproduction took “forever,” he said, with key behind-the-scenes players involved in other productions at the same time.

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“The film, in and of itself, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” he said. “To do it on the scale that we did it, to get the celebrities that we got in it. ... It was just incredible. I’m hoping it sees the right audience.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

How to watch

What: “The Voices”

Where: YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime and other video streaming services

Genre: Psychological thriller, not rated

Run time: 96 minutes

Credits: Written and co-directed by Cedar Rapids native Bradley Fowler, featuring his wife, Victoria Matlock

Details: threetalesproductions.com/thevoices.html

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