There are worse places you could learn about the art of storytelling than on the set of Stranger Things. Luckily, star Finn Wolfhard has been paying close attention to what that series’ creator/directors The Duffer Brothers have been doing on the hit Netflix thriller, which helped him immensely when he and former Vine star Josh Ovalle recently co-directed their first music video.
“When I get off school or I’m on set, if I’m not filming I go and watch them direct another scene, and I definitely learn from them,” says Wolfhard, 14, who plays supernatural teen sleuth Mike Wheeler on the series. “I definitely learn from them. There’s definitely a lot of patience and trusting each other [on set].”
The pair got together last year after Wolfhard — already a fan of Ovalle’s comedy Vines and short films — met up when the actor was in Los Angeles to do some Stranger press. “I found out he was a filmmaker and [after the show came out] he found out I was following him on social media, and he reached out about how he loved the show and we ended up clicking because we have very similar personalities,” says Wolfhard.
After a few months of hanging out they decided they wanted to co-direct something, and Ovalle mentioned that his high school friends in the band Spendtime Palace had a new EP coming out and wondered if they could film a video together for one of the songs. Ovalle had already shot some acoustic sessions for the Southern California group, and when the new partners heard the driving western rock tune “Sonora,” they got to work on a treatment.
“Once we listened to the song a bunch of times we were thinking of what the tone was and we thought it had a western feel,” says Wolfhard, who co-stars in the video with Iris Apatow, the 14-year-old star of the Netflix dramedy Love and youngest daughter of director/producer Judd Apatow and actress Leslie Mann. “We thought, ‘What if we do a Western, but with two teenagers in 2017 California?'”
Drawing inspiration from Clint Eastwood Westerns, as well as Steven Spielberg’s classic early kid-focused suburban classics like The Goonies, they hit the mean streets of Costa Mesa, California for three days recently, to tell a sweet story of teenage love threatened by a classic mean dad (character actor Ron Rogge).
“We were inspired by watching those kinds of classic Spielberg kid movies for sure, and I think it’s a cool idea that someone who is fourteen can still make someone happy in the sense of taking them away from an awful person,” explains Wolfhard of his character’s desire to save Apatow from an abusive situation.
Before all that, though, they had to find the cash to make the video, so they launched a crowdfunding effort earlier this year aiming to raise $10,000 to cover the shoot. To their delight, the funding ask raised more than $15,000 in just a few weeks. Funders got the chance to earn signed props, Skype calls and, for the high-rollers, a chance to come on set and watch the shoot.
“The main character, Spike, comes from who I wish I was when I was a kid,” Ovalle said of the bike-riding, hat-wearing, slingshot-wielding hero played by Wolfhard. “I wanted to be exactly like Spike in this video in 7th or 8th grade.”
And though — spoiler alert — he gets to kiss the girl at the end, just before her dad smashes his bike, Wolfhard said he’s “very different” from Spike. “I do ride my bike a lot,” he said. “Maybe just the willpower and persistence that I have in real life, but otherwise I’m not really like him.”
The kiss wasn’t a big deal, either, since Wolfhard said he’s been friends with Iris for a while, and she said yes right away to the gig. As for mean dad Rogge, he’s managed by Wolfhard’s manager, and when the co-directors saw the actor’s head shot — complete with facial scar — they went, “That dude is the dad.”
The pair got to fill out the obligatory party scene, featuring Spendtime Palace playing the song with some of their friends acting as extras, and the shoot was so much fun they’ve already hatched a few more projects. Ovalle said one of them is a movie that’s in the early stages, based on a situation from high school surrounding a student getting expelled.
The other project on the docket from their Minimum Max Production shingle — named after a short film by Ovalle about a kid with ADHD — is a mockumentary. “It’s about a guy coming to Los Angeles to pursue social media and finding out it’s not what he thought it would be,” says Ovalle. Before those projects, though, Wolfhard will be seen in season 2 of Stranger Things, which will debut on Netflix on Oct. 27.
Check out “Sonora” below: