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Artist profile: Writer-Director-Producer Allen C. Gardner redefines "Awesome"

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The word “Awesome” has become the most hackneyed of terms, used for everything from describing ColdPlay’s last concert, to the latest Pinkberry flavor.

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When Allen C. Gardner, the writer-producer-director of the movie Being Awesome was asked what the word meant to him, he said, “to be true to who you are; to be pure.”

Sometimes finding that truth or “awesomeness” isn't cut and dried; that has been Allen’s discovery, as well as the focus of his latest film.

Allen started writing Being Awesome five years ago, at a time in his life when he was admittedly “feeling down on myself, about where I was at with my career and my love life. Ever since I was a kid, I kinda looked to the two big brass rings, the way I had it in mind was: get married, have a family, be successful at what I do, you know, storytelling, making movies, and all that.”

But none of those things were coming together for this tall, handsome, and charismatic fellow. “When I just started to come up with this, I wanted to feel awesome again. That’s the whole reason behind it was feeling this way,” Allen said. “I was coming off of a production that just ended, and I was ending a really intense relationship. All of a sudden I just felt displaced and unsatisfied with where I was at in my life. I needed to figure out why, and I needed to learn how to appreciate myself again, and really take stock of who I am and all that I had accomplished, and what I had to offer. So that's where this movie came from.”

Being Awesome is a slice-of-life drama that centers on Teddy and Lloyd, one a deeply introspective artist, the other a gregarious jock, who meet again at their 10-year high school reunion. Both discover they are in similar places of disillusionment, and unable to move past their failures, and unachieved dreams. Teddy and Lloyd band together to motivate each other toward a more awesome life, and provide encouragement, and sometimes a swift kick in the butt, to help each other turn their lives in a different direction.

Allen pulled the characters and situations from his own life and relationships, and used it as a form of therapy for his woes. “It was by helping these guys on their journey: they started off very depressed, displaced, disappointed about the way their lives had turned out. And they're tired of being that way! They've been stuck that way for the last 10 years, since they graduated high school. They want to be happy, they want to feel elevated—so they set about doing that, they set about Being Awesome and what it means to feel awesome.”

Allen’s own process of discovery mirrored the characters, and ultimately led to his redemption. “As soon as I started writing it, it was kind of throughout that process that I started really owning who I was, and appreciating who I was.”

Shot in Allen’s hometown of Memphis, Tenn. the film’s color and lighting evoke hope, and reflect what the characters are striving toward, rather than the depressed state of mind where they began. Very few dramas explore the inner-life of men, or their perspective and feelings over relationship breakups, marriage struggles, divorce, career stagnation, and achieving purpose and direction in life. As Allen explored his own inner self and life, he allowed his Being Awesome characters to do the same, charting the emotional journey of both men in a winsome, engaging, and authentic manner.

The independent succeeds in building an accurate portrait of the challenges, fears, and struggles men face toward owning their true self and building honest and integrous bonds with each other.

The film took five years and a village to write, produce, and edit. “In between I was working on some other projects too. For a while we were trying to get the money together, and we were waiting to get the money together, and eventually it was like I don't want to wait anymore!”

Allen relied on credit and the kindness of friends to see the project through to completion. “I saved up as much as I could, got rid of my apartment so I could crash around for a while. I bounced around for about two years so I could have extra money.”

The independent made its world premiere in 2013 at the Indie Memphis Film Festival, taking home the Hometowner Narrative Feature Award. The film went on to win the Ron Tibbett Audience Award at the February Oxford Film Festival in Oxford, Miss., then went on to be a featured selection at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in Dubuque, Iowa, and the Dances with Films Festival in Los Angeles.

Even with all the positive accolades and audience response, for Allen the most rewarding part of the process was the community that was brought together through the pre-production, production, and post-production of the film. “Writing something, then I give it to people I really want to work with—people I love, people that I'm close to. And then I find other great people that I haven't met before and I bring them on board. When people respond intensely and passionately to something that just started as a thought in your head, and you work your ass off to get it down and get it out there, and it means something to them, and then we all come together and have a great time doing it, and work really hard, that's always the most rewarding part. Absolutely.”

Allen mounted Open Dialogue Productions with producing partner Gabe Arredondo, and other friends and colleagues to keep producing quality and accessible entertainment that stirs audience loyalty and response. Now that he’s gotten his awesomeness back, Allen and Open Dialogue are preparing for the 2015 festival rounds. “We're going to have two ready for festival rounds next year. A drama called We Got Lucky that I'm writing-directing-editing-producing, and we're shooting a new one called Bad, Bad, Men this August. I'm really excited about getting those out there, and I've got about seven other projects lined up.”

In the ‘90s the term for getting your grove on—or back—was called “mojo”. Perhaps the millennium will be the age of “awesome.” Allen is looking forward to spearheading that movement. “My vision for the future is to keep telling stories, keep pushing it, keep challenging ourselves, and keep letting our community grow. That extends to our cast and crew, but also to audiences. We want to keep getting our work out there.

“In whatever way I can, I want to feel a little more connected and a little more understood. However I can.”

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