DUNEDIN — Wendell is a loser.
He's too skinny, a slacker, neurotic and dull. He complains, "Something's gone horribly wrong for me to get to this point," and it's hard to disagree.
Adam Bowers, 24, said he created Wendell to mirror his own life. But here's the twist: Bowers is far from dull. And the film world seems to have noticed.
New Low, the romantic comedy he filmed with friends on the beer-soaked streets of Gainesville, was one of 200 selected from nearly 10,000 applications to premiere later this month at the Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance is the Super Bowl of independent cinema; Bowers, one of this year's youngest filmmakers. As director, writer, lead actor and head jury-rigger of the no-budget feature, he'll appear at the film's first sold-out showing at the Yarrow Hotel Theatre in Park City, Utah.
"It's been really weird, you know. I'm just a kid from Dunedin," he said this week from his apartment on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. "I want to cry. I would love to cry. But for some reason that hasn't happened."
Bowers, a 2007 telecommunications graduate of the University of Florida, has a publicist, a sales agent and prospects for a talent manager. In the next few weeks, he'll field interviews, schmooze with industry bigwigs and attend a press party at "the nicest house I'll ever walk into."
"It's hilarious," he said. "I don't have money or anything. And suddenly in a couple of weeks I'll be in this mansion."
Like Bowers' Wendell, the man in the Sundance spotlight seems far separated from the University of Central Florida film school reject who began his no-budget career as an 8-year-old in his mother's closet, raiding her dresses for props. A student of San Jose Elementary and Dunedin middle and high schools, his early songs and comic books bloomed into a love of self-deprecating comedies and improvised skits.
The script of New Low, expanded from a short film Bowers made his senior year, tells of Wendell's love troubles with an angelic social activist, played by UF graduate Valerie Jones, and a rude and dirty drunkard, played by Bowers' ex-girlfriend, Jayme Ratzer. (Bowers quickly points out that Ratzer, who also grew up in Dunedin, didn't inspire the character.)
UF alums will recognize the cheap pubs, punk venues and "Student Ghetto" streets that serve as the film's grungy backdrops.
"He wanted to make a movie in a real place like Gainesville, instead of like Los Angeles … and it's funny because every scene has a Dumpster in it," said Bowers' mother, Jan, who rents out property on Indian Rocks Beach. "I don't think the chamber of commerce will like it very much."
The cast and crew shot for five weeks, for up to 18 hours a day, in the summer heat of 2008 on pay of grub and beer. They borrowed camera equipment, used a Pier One china ball for lighting and had to routinely chuck pebbles at chirping cicadas to keep quiet on the set.
For moving shots, cast members stuffed the cameraman into an old Volvo. They muffled the sound by pushing the car barefoot.
"Of the low- to no-budget category, I definitely feel it's the least professional," Bowers said. "Everybody else seems to have known what they were doing so much more."
Ryan Moulton, 23, the film's director of photography, said the crew didn't mind.
"Adam's a talented guy," Moulton said. "He knew he had a story to tell, and he got it made."
When the movie finished and Bowers moved to Los Angeles, he hadn't planned to submit it to Sundance until a friend convinced him the day before the festival's deadline.
A festival official told him it was perfect for its new low- to no-budget Next category, calling it "a breath of fresh air," said Bowers' father, Tom, a graphic designer in Safety Harbor.
The future of the film is unclear — studios often pay to distribute Sundance films, though organizers make no promises. (To prevent buyers from low-balling, Bowers won't say how much the film cost.)
Still, there's a lot of excitement about what a Sundance showing could do for Bowers' early career. Though he hides it well, his parents said, he's upbeat about the possibilities, far from the negativity on display when Ratzer's character, Vicky, wishes "life was like a movie" and Wendell responds in a huff:
"Yeah. Then it'd be over in two hours."
Drew Harwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.