ExtraCouricular: Wadlow film on 1,600 screens

On September 16, when his film Cry Wolf opens on 1,600 screens across the country (including at the downtown Regal Cinema), director Jeff Wadlow won't be celebrating the big day in California or New York.

"Friends asked, 'Don't you want to be in L.A. seeing if there are lines?" Wadlow recalls. "I said, 'No, there's nowhere else I'd want to be but Charlottesville."

A man of his word, on Friday night he'll host a special screening and answer audience questions in UVA's Newcomb Hall to benefit the Virginia Film Festival and UVA's Clinical Care Cancer Center.

Wadlow's local ties run deep. His late mother, State Senator Emily Couric, raised him and his older brother in a Rugby Road home and encouraged her younger son's love of film.

"In seventh grade, she pulled me out of school so I could attend Roger Ebert's shot-by-shot at the Virginia Film Festival," says Wadlow, who now, at 29, sits on the Festival's board and presents a Filmmaking 101 class to would-be directors.

Couric continued to support her son's passion, but she didn't live to see his big break. She died of pancreatic cancer on October 18, 2001, less than three months before he took top prize in the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival Contest.

But the prize, awarded for Living the Lie, a script co-written with Beau Bauman, hardly guaranteed the movie would ever be seen.

"It was actually just a development deal," says Wadlow. In other words, Wadlow and Bauman got $1 million to take the script from paper to screen, but they still had to convince Universal Studios they had a product that would sell.

It wasn't smooth sailing.

"They wanted us to rework the script from page one," says Wadlow. "We didn't want to shoot it until it was right."

The final version, renamed Cry Wolf, has a group of prep school students, inspired by a murder in their town, getting tangled in a deadly game. Shot at the University of Richmond and various other Richmond sites, the story is a modern retelling of Aesop's fable "The Boy Who Cried Wolf."

"While it is a scary film, and horror fans will like it," says Wadlow, "it will have a broader appeal because there's a lot more going on than that. I hope we succeeded in that endeavor and that people will be surprised."

Universal Studio was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

"We had mentors at Universal who said it would have taken $10-15 million" to make the movie, Wadlow says, adding that his success on a shoestring is "due entirely to support we got in Virginia."

That support came in many forms.

Wadlow, who once attended the Governor's School at the University of Richmond, wrote a letter to administrators at the University explaining how important that experience had been.

"They really got behind the project," he says, as did the same crew that worked on Steven Spielberg's remake of War of the Worlds, shot last year near Staunton.

"The fact that they were willing to come and work on our little film was incredible," says Wadlow. But the person he says was most vital to the film's success is Virginia Film Office director Rita McClenny.

"There's a short list of people I'll call if I'm in a jam," he says. "Rita's at the top of that list."

The feeling's mutual.

"He's the best," says McClenny. "He's smart, considerate, sees around corners, he's a very good manager, and he had a great team of people."

Wadlow's persistence paid off when Universal division Rogue Pictures– which also released Shaun of the Dead, Seed of Chucky, and Assault on Precinct 13– agreed to distribute Cry Wolf.

"They realized we made something that exceeded expectations," says Wadlow, who calls Rogue's marketing execs "ruthlessly efficient and savvy about how to market a film like this."

Trailers and TV ads have run, and a "Cry Wolf" game has been set up by AOL at crywolfgame.com.

Wadlow has done his part for publicity as well, including a September 13 appearance on the Today Show, where his aunt, Katie Couric, is cohost.

While the fact that Wadlow has a famous relative at Universal's sister company, NBC, might suggest nepotism, McClenny says that's simply not the case.

"There are lots of examples of people who have access but don't have talent," she says. "He has talent."

L.A.-based Wadlow says he's not living the flashy lifestyle of a famous director– not yet, anyway.

"I live in the same place now," he says, "and my window overlooks a dumpster." Thanks to his regular visits to the East Coast, "My granny refers to me as the poorest bicoastal man in America," he jokes.

No matter how Cry Wolf does in theaters, Wadlow says he'll be okay.

"I actually believe in my heart of hearts that I'm in a win-win situation," he says. The distribution of Cry Wolf, he adds, "sort of guarantees that I will work again."

Jeff Wadlow