'Four Boxes' comes home

Four Boxes
'Four Boxes' is the web site at the center of Wyatt McDill's story, which he describes as a "'Rear Window' for the Internet Age."
Image courtesy Lake Street Productions

Director Wyatt McDill describes "Four Boxes" as a "'Rear Window' for the internet age."

Yet unlike the Hitchcock classic where a man believes he is witnessing a crime out his apartment window, McDill says "Four Boxes" is about people watching web cams, and seeing things they can't always trust.

McDill and Huber
"Four Boxes" director Wyatt McDill and producer Megan Huber.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"It can be manipulated," he says. "You don't know where it was filmed, when it was filmed, if what you are seeing is real."

The story is about two guys who make an unsavory living clearing out the houses of people who have died leaving no next of kin. They also get an unhealthy charge out of going through what they find including the laptop in one house.

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"Trevor! Check it out! This guy has seen 'Four Boxes!'" one of them says.

He describes how a woman has set up hidden cameras in her apartment so people can watch over the internet. However, she has moved away, leaving the cameras running.

"You are there, and people are watching your movie, and they are laughing where you hoped they would laugh, and they are jumping where you hoped they would jump. It was extremely satisfying."

The two men begin watching and see the ominous activities of a new tenant who seems to be gathering weapons.

As time passes, the man on screen's behavior gets stranger and more threatening. The watchers don't know what to do, and get sucked in with deadly consequences.

Producer Meagan Huber says "Four Boxes" came about because of a simple plan. "It started with the idea that we wanted to make a movie that we could actually make," she says.

Huber and McDill had done commercials and music videos. They knew if they wanted to fulfill their dream of making a feature they would needed a compelling story with very few locations and a very small cast.

"Wyatt took those ideas and came up with a very clever creative script," says Huber.

The film has several twists, and McDill says he thinks it even changes genres a couple of times.

McDill was able to convince Justin Kirk, who stars in the show "Weeds," to take one of the lead roles. McDill and Kirk became friends at the Children's Theater twenty years ago.

Sam Rosen, Terryn Westbrook, and Justin Kirk, play the lead characters in "Four Boxes."
Image courtesy Lake Street Productions

They also brought in Sam Rosen, another Minneapolis actor now working on the coasts. Then, just five days before the shoot, they found their third main actor, Terryn Westbrook. She heightens the tension as a woman who is the fiancee of one of the watchers and ex-girlfriend of the other.

In late 2007 they began shooting in a house in Rosemount. McDill admits didn't start well.

"I was freaked out that the City of Rosemount was going to close us down because the first day we got inspected to see if it was going to work out," McDill says.

"Someone called," Huber says. "You know neighbors," she laughs. Having satisfied the city and the neighbors they shot the film in about two weeks.

It took a year to edit and then the film got it's premier at South By Southwest a few weeks ago. There were three screenings and Huber says it was wild watching people watching their film.

"You are there, and people are watching your movie, and they are laughing where you hoped they would laugh, and they are jumping where you hoped they would jump. It was extremely satisfying."

The characters in "Four Boxes" decide this man they see on the web site should be called Havoc.
Image courtesy Lake Street Productions

"We've gotten good feedback on the film, and some people hate it and some people love it. No-one is milquetoast about it, and that's a good sign," says McDill.

Wyatt McDill says the film's major twists seem to upset some audience members, while others enjoy what he calls the intellectual gotcha.

He says the local premier at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival is psychically very important because in a way the film is coming home, to the group of people who actually made it.

"I think we were lucky because we were able to exploit a lot of people's desire to be more creative in their jobs, but the creativity is here, and the passion is here, and now all we need are the film projects."

In addition to the MSPIFF screening, McDill and Huber are seeking a distributor. They also plan another Twin Cities screening at a later date.