'Dave Made a Maze' Writer-Director Bill Watterson Took Inspiration From Experiences He Had in Cleveland

Bill Watterson had tried his hand at a few different things before finding success with the quirky new indie flick Dave Made a Maze, which he co-wrote directed.

Watterson had played in a number of local rock bands before he moved west with aspirations of becoming an actor.

“One of the film’s sound editors worded it more artfully, but she essentially said I failed my way here,” says Watterson in a recent phone interview. Dave Made a Maze opens today for a week-long run at the Cedar Lee Theatre. “I failed as a musician. I worked in film and television and flamed out as an actor. I was writing things here and there and nothing ever went anywhere. I finally just said, ‘I’m going to make a movie.’ It all goes into the same pot. I was beating myself up for all the things I haven’t accomplished but on better days I can say it all went into what we’ve done.”

The film centers on Dave (Nick Thune), an artist who has yet to complete anything significant. When he builds a fort in his apartment, he becomes immersed (you could say lost) in a magical fantasy world that he can’t quite seem to navigate. In the attempt to rescue him, his girlfriend and his filmmaking friends follow him into the maze, documenting their bizarre experiences along the way.

Watterson says that when he was a kid, he used a VHS camera to make movies with a childhood friend. Those whimsical tendencies come across well in his movie, which features the wildly creative sensibilities you find in the work of someone like Michel Gondry (Be Kind Rewind, The Science of Sleep).

“I made a bunch of Ninja action and space invasion movies as a kid,” he says. “It’s come full circle back to this concept of ‘it would be cool if this thing flew into the frame and knocked this other thing over.’ It’s the same stuff we were doing as kids but on a larger scale. My friend John Richards and I made three alien invasion movies with Star Wars figures, a G.I. Joe and a bunch of firecrackers. And I made a Ninja invasion movie in one of the woods around there.”

For Dave Made a Maze, Watterson worked with Steven Sears, who had written a script with a similar concept.

“[Sears' original script] reminded me of this fort that I built with the same dude that I made the alien invasion movies with,” says Watterson. “I had made this fort with sheets and pillows. I left a note for my mom that I was going to my friend’s house for dinner. She didn’t read the note and she saw this structure and freaked out that I got lost. She started tearing the fort apart, yelling, ‘Bill, where are you?’ Steven incorporated some of that into his script and just ran with it. He got the clay on the wheel.”

The ambitious project involved using thousands of square feet of cardboard.

“Making the props was the most fun part,” says Watterson. “Everywhere you looked on set, there was an artist building art. It’s like being in a playpen. We’re making a movie about artists and makers and to have an army of people working on things seemingly out of thin air made it feel like being around magicians.”

Watterson says he’s had more success than anticipated with the movie, which has shown at festivals throughout the world and even picked up a few awards along the way (it won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at Slamdance).

“When you’re on the set, you don’t picture a sold-out screening in Seoul,” he says. “But we always knew this was a word-of-mouth movie. It’s not about our numbers on opening weekend. We’re way too small and way too weird. It’s a movie for the outliers and weirdoes. Either there are more of them than I ever thought, or we tapped into something universal.”

The experience of making the movie and taking it to the festival circuit should help when it comes time to doing the next film, which Watterson says is already in the works.

“I’m so excited to make the next one,” he says. “I’m already thinking about which international festival will be best for the premiere. I’m ready to tackle it again. The next film we wrote is insanely ambitious. I'm sure we won’t have enough time or money, but I’m ready to ratchet it up.”

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
Scroll to read more Movie Reviews & Stories articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.