Colin West's filmmaking dreams come to life in new movie 'Linoleum'
The writer, director and Columbus native's latest movie, starring Jim Gaffigan and Rhea Seehorn, will debut locally this week at the Southern Theatre via the inaugural Cinema Columbus Film Festival
In Colin West’s early teens, all of his friends began playing soccer at Upper Arlington High School, but West didn’t make the team. He was devastated, lonely.
At the time, his mom offered some very mom-like advice, encouraging West to go to the neighborhood library and find some good books to read during his newfound downtime. West acquiesced, but instead of escaping into novels, he stumbled upon the library’s video section and began checking out armfuls of VHS tapes and DVDs, discovering iconic filmmakers like Spike Lee, Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa, falling more in love with film each time the credits rolled.
One movie, in particular, stood out: “Pi,” the debut feature film from director Darren Aronofsky, best known for movies like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan.” West loved “Pi” so much that he found Aronofsky’s email and sent the director a note. “He wrote back and was like, ‘Cool, man!’ And he gave me some tips on writing screenplays and stuff. We had a few exchanges, and when I wrote my first feature at 16, it was a total rip-off of ‘Pi,’” West said recently by phone. “But it was really inspiring, because [Aronofsky] was this person that I really looked up to, and he was making this thing. … I think it made me realize that [filmmaking] could be an actual career path, because this person that I had exchanges with was doing it.”
West found a group of similarly film-obsessed buddies in Upper Arlington and began making goofy remakes of "Indiana Jones" and "Lord of the Rings" movies. After graduating in 2005, he took a detour and studied sculpture and painting at Ohio State, then worked for Columbus artist Ann Hamilton before leaving for Los Angeles to pursue narrative filmmaking, eventually getting an MFA in Film & TV Production from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. Now, nearly 20 years after getting cut from the soccer team, West’s filmmaking dreams are coming to fruition.
Last year saw the release of “Double Walker,” a horror film directed by West and shot in Columbus, and last month, “Linoleum,” a movie West wrote and directed, debuted at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. The sci-fi drama, which stars comedian Jim Gaffigan, Rhea Seehorn (“Better Call Saul,” “Veep”) and Amy Hargreaves (“They/Them/Us,” “Homeland”), also features the work of seven Upper Arlington High School grads, including West’s class of 2005 buddies Chadd Harbold and Chad Simpson as producers. The film will debut locally at the Southern Theatre on Wednesday, April 27, at 7 p.m. as part of the inaugural Cinema Columbus Film Festival. After the screening, West will participate in a Q&A session alongside Simpson and Hargreaves.
When West wrote the first draft of “Linoleum” in 2015, he knew he wanted to make a love story inspired by his grandparents, but over time, the more conventional flashbacks gave way to surrealist flourishes, though the film’s emotional center remained the same. “The sci-fi stuff is just the trailer stuff. That's what gets people in the door,” West said. “At its core, it's a multi-generational love story.”
“Linoleum” centers around Cameron (Gaffigan), the host of a failing, low-budget science TV show for kids, who begins to witness bizarre events in the fictional Dayton, Ohio, suburb of Fairview Heights. While trying to navigate a rocky relationship with his wife, Erin (Seehorn), Cam sees large objects falling from the sky. A strange woman appears on his lawn. His new neighbor looks like a bizarro version of himself. Meanwhile, in an attempt to make good on a childhood dream to do “something fantastic,” Cam decides to build a rocket in his garage.
“Bill Nye is a big, big inspiration for the movie — this children's science TV show host bringing the fantastic to kids, who already innately believe in the fantastic. And then somehow, as adults, we transition into, ‘Oh, things need to be much more grounded and serious.’ They have to make sense and everything has to be rational,” West said. “It’s this struggle, I think, as an adult, and especially as an artist, to go back to your fantastic childhood self. I think that this narrative was kind of about that — believing in that dream and harking back to childhood and this innocence.”
West drew on his own teen filmmaking dreams while writing the script, but he also hoped to show how day-to-day occurrences and relationships can lead to beautiful discoveries and otherworldly places. In fact, the film’s title is meant to reference the idea of “seeing the fantastic within the everyday,” West said.
The script also changed based on ideas from Gaffigan, Seehorn and the other actors. “I really like to consider actors to be the department heads of their character,” West said. “It's a very collaborative effort with the actors. I don’t come in and just tell them what to do and what's good and what's bad.”
In addition to the creative challenges, filming in upstate New York in October and November of 2020 — the pre-vaccine COVID era — required extreme caution and logistical hurdles involving testing and quarantining. Even extras had to arrive early and quarantine in a hotel, and actors had to be local since traveling across state lines required two weeks of quarantine.
But the hard work paid off, especially in recent weeks as West has watched the movie with audiences at film festivals in Austin, Seattle and Cleveland. The film’s poignant, moving climax, in particular, tends to elicit emotional responses from viewers. “Seeing other people and hearing the sniffles... it was impactful to feel other people feeling it,” West said, adding that the recent response in a packed Cleveland theater made him wonder if “we should hand out tissues before the screening.”
Depicting what West described as “the tapestry of a life,” the final section of "Linoleum” was the trickiest to get right. “We spent more than half the time doing our edit on the last 20 minutes of the movie, just because it's so delicate, so careful. Everything has to be wrapped up in this emotional way,” he said.
When the film debuted at SXSW in Austin, one particular moment brought everything full circle for West, and it had nothing to do with press junkets or critics’ reviews or glitzy photo shoots alongside Gaffigan, Seehorn and others.
“This kid came up to me after the screening, and he was really nervous, like, shaking-in-his-boots nervous. And he was like, 'If I could have just a moment of your time, Mr. West. I really liked your movie, and I really want to make movies. Can you give me some advice?’ And my mind was kind of blown,” said West, who again took inspiration from Aronofsky, encouraging the young fan and passing along his email. “It just came back around, and I felt really good about it.”