'Wander' Trailer Gives First Look at Aaron Eckhart as Paranoid Private Investigator (Exclusive)

Credit: VMI International
Aaron Eckhart and director April Mullen

April Mullen tells The Hollywood Reporter how she completed the U.S. indie thriller also starring Tommy Lee Jones while her cast and creative team worked at a distance and digitally during the coronavirus pandemic.

VMI Worldwide has dropped the first trailer to April Mullen's conspiracy thriller Wander, which includes a first look at Aaron Eckhart as a mentally unstable private investigator probing a death in a small town that links to cause of his daughter's death.

"I got hired to investigate a murder, possible cover up, for reasons yet unknown. I pushed and they tried to kill me. My family paid the price," Eckhart's character says at one point during the trailer. The indie, shot in New Mexico, also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Graham and Katheryn Winnick and explores the themes of government control, immigration policy and chip technology.

And just before Wander is shopped at Cannes' virtual market this week, Mullen told The Hollywood Reporter how she and her creative team completed post production on her film just as the coronavirus spread upended the Hollywood film industry in March.

"We were just locking the picture, and we really didn't know what would happen, because it happened so fast, where businesses had shut down and there was no solution in place on how to finish the picture," Mullen said of the production catastrophe. Putting the finishing touches on Wander called for new uses of digital platforms and software during post-production while the COVID-19 crisis kept everyone locked down in their homes.

Mullen worked remotely from Niagara Falls, Ontario, while longtime post partners REDLAB, Urban Post and editor Luke Higginson were in Toronto and composer Alexandra Mackenzie was in Montreal. Together they worked at a distance and digitally to design the score, edit, oversee the sound mix, color correction, visual effects and sound design ahead of a a final approval and print.

“It’s a whole new world. We were able to come together through this difficult time and create from a distance," Mullen recalls.

Mullen remembers at her darkest hour, soon after her film and the wider industry shut down amid the pandemic, being told by Tim Doiron, her long-time producer at Wango Films and the screenwriter for Wander, that the film could be completed. But Doiron warned she couldn't physically work alongside the colorist and the sound mixer in an edit suite.

"I'd never done remote color correction in my life. It was a completely different experience," she recalled, as a series of social distancing measures, aided by new digital technologies and communication apps kicked into gear. It helped that Mullen had worked before with the colorist, Walt Biljan at REDLAB in Toronto, which reopened its doors for Wander.

Mullen and Biljan began to work together virtually using Clearview Flex, an app that allows real-time collaboration on editing and visual effects from any location and on any device. And Mulllen's computer screen, also hooked up to her giant TV screen, was synched with a color calibrator supplied by REDLAB.

"I watched in real time the colorist color the picture on my full screen," she remembers. As that screen mimicked the color screen at REDLAB, Google Hangout allowed communication with Biljan, producer Doiron and other creative working from their home bases. "They were all at their homes and sharing the same screen as the colorist, which was completely new and foreign, but it worked really well," Mullen says.

For the sound mix, Urban Post had two mixers working in separate suites linked up for collaboration, who were also able to communicate virtually with Mullen. Another challenge was replacing or fixing the dialogue in Wander, a post production process that can make or break a movie and was complicated by Mullen's lead cast sheltering at home across the globe.

"Normally, you're working in the room with the actor. You have to match the picture and the audio. And the actor has to go back to their performance and bring the same emotions forward from before," Mullen said of the stakes involved. Having to innovate yet again, Mullen and her team arranged for Eckhart to re-record dialogue while in a studio facility.

He was isolated from engineers behind glass barriers and used separate entrances. Mullen and Eckhart used Facetime and Skype to see and hear one another. "Normally, our session would have run round around two hours. But working remotely, our session was six hours. He's the lead of the film, so there was a lot of ADR to do," Mullen recounts.

Winnick's session was held in a studio in Santa Monica, while Tommy Lee Jones fixed his lines from Texas. For the rest of the film's cast, Mullen improvised a digital ADR app so actors using iPhones and iPads could watch a clip of the film and view the same barcode to receive cues on when to speak.

"All the actors were excited that we found a way for them to be safe and protected and where they could work and act during COVID. And they were excited to see the film moving forward and remaining still connected to me," the director explains. Now that VMI Worldwide is shopping Wander at Cannes, does Mullen see her improvised remote workflow to complete her thriller surviving the pandemic?

"I do wonder how much of this system will change, now that new protocols have been set in place to work remotely during post production. There are benefits in terms of travel and travel days maybe actors aren't available for ADR because they're shooting another film. That may be way for the future," she argues.

And without a top-end home studio for sound mixing with surround sound speakers, Mullen doesn't see how you can sign off on a feature "where you get to hear the rumbling thunder from the left and you hear the sirens from the right — I feel that needs to be done in person as well."

Another ritual denied to Mullen while working remotely was being able to congratulate her post production team in person after they completed their work. "I missed doing a high-five with everyone at the end, because the finish line on a movie is such a big deal when we're finally finished," she insists.

Wander is produced by Doiron, Andre Relis, Chad Verdi, Mary Aloe, Doug Falconer and James Van Der Woerd. Christelle Conan is executive producing.

View the trailer below.