It was a packed crowd that showed up to actor Luke Wilson’s movie screening and Q&A session at Ringling College last Friday, during which he premiered a 20-minute short film he wrote and directed with his brother, Andrew Wilson, for the first time to a public audience.
The short, titled Satellite Beach, follows Wilson’s character—“who’s crazy,” the actor says—as he pretends to be a NASA official whose job it is to track the path of the Endeavor space shuttle’s journey through the streets of Los Angeles, from LAX to its home at the California Science Center, as well as the space shuttle Atlantis’ journey to its final resting place at Kennedy Space Center here in Florida. The movie was filmed during the Endeavor’s actual move through the streets of L.A.—not easy, Wilson recalls, although he and his team managed to figure out. “With a clipboard and a tie, you can do just about anything,” he says.
And even though this was a low-budget short film, writing and making Satellite Beach was rewarding for Wilson. “I’ve always enjoyed writing, and as an actor you do have so much time on your hands, whether you have a job or not, so I feel like it’s important to be productive,” he says. “I’d written a script and gotten one movie made, and then I’d written a couple more and had difficulty getting them off the ground, so I thought [with this] I’d try something different. It’s a little more rough-hewn than a regular movie, I learned just as much making it as I have on anything else.”
As for the Kennedy Space Center portion of the movie, Wilson says he’s always been fascinated with Florida—“it’s a wild state!” he told the Ringling auditorium to much laughter—but admits he’d never been to Sarasota before. “It’s pretty!” he says. “I’m looking forward to walking around. I took a walk on the beach today and then came here, but it’ll be cool to see more.”
And he echoes previous Ringling Digital Filmmaking Studio Lab guest Anna Paquin’s thoughts about filming movies in smaller towns, like Sarasota, as opposed to big cities like New York or L.A.: “I was working in a small town this summer, on a period piece, and they basically shut the town down. Everyone couldn’t have been nicer. I think people can get behind the idea of storytelling," he says.
Wilson was duly impressed with the Ringling College campus and students, too. “I’ve seen a ton of student work, and it’s pretty incredible stuff,” he says. “The finished animated pieces seemed like those Oscar short pieces. In two minutes, they had everything—sad, happy, it was like three acts of a screenplay in two minutes. I’ve never been any place like this.”