David Wagstaff is a director, screenwriter, and composer who is currently raising money to complete his film titled “Judith” which is currently in post-production.

David has a robust background in literature, theater, music and dance as well as filmmaking. “Judith” is his fourth movie. David has directed more than twenty plays; six of which he also wrote. He has also created seven albums in his three-decade career as a singer and songwriter and studied dance under Toshiko Nomyoka, a renowned Japanese choreographer who appears in “Judith.” David is also anticipating the release of his book or short stories—titled “Pollen”—in the Spring of 2019.

David discussed all of these remarkable creative endeavors via an exclusive interview on August 29, 2018.

Writing, music, theater, and films

Meagan Meehan (MM): You're a very creative person, so which medium—music, writing, directing—appealed to you first?

David Wagstaff (DW): At five years old I was walking down a dirt road, alone. For some reason I said, aloud, “He walked down the road.” And I thought to myself, “I’m a writer.” It was a career choice by a five-year-old, and I’ve never questioned it. With all I do, the words come first. The love of my life is the English language.

MM: How did you break into the music industry and what inspires your songs and lyrics?

DW: My first wife bought me a guitar and I began immediately to write words to go with my terrible guitar playing.

Shortly thereafter, my lyrics were featured on two of Bill Harkleroad’s albums on Virgin records. My love of performance took over and I formed Los Dudes with guitarist Bobby O. We recruited the best musicians available and played the Hollywood club circuit in the eighties. We released an album on Reptyle records and had a bit of a hit entitled “Frisbees from Hell.” Since then I’ve recorded five solo albums.

MM: How did you get into theater and how do you decide which plays to produce?

DW: I walked into Cedar Street Theater, in Lancaster California, with one of my plays in hand, and announced that I wanted to direct it in their theater. They knew me from my music and said, “Okay.” It was an absurdist play called “The Vehicle.” I found that I loved to direct, so I continued.

I’ve directed everything from Hamlet to Mamet. But I’ve decided to only direct plays that I have written myself from here on.

MM: You have written six plays, so what are they about?

DW: My newest is “Sweet Iago,” an adaptation of “Othello” in which Iago, the chief military strategist at the Pentagon, has been replaced by Cassia, a female robot. Then there’s “One Glass,” covering the fifty-year marriage of an interracial couple. “Harry Sharpe is Dead” is about a Vietnam vet with an unusual teaching style. I would say my plays are about intense human relationships, yet the theme is always one of hope. I believe in the ultimate goodness of people.

MM: You have made four films, so what is each one about and have you a favorite?

DW: I am an autodidact, that is, I am self-taught in most things I do. So, my first film, “The Sky,” was about a rock band in the sixties. It was feature-length and I made if for $250. My friends who were filmmakers said “David, don’t do this. It will be terrible.” They were right. It was so terrible it couldn’t be edited. Then I got hired by a playwright to turn her play into a screenplay. When I finished she said why don’t you produce it too. We shot it, but our director was arrested and sentenced for some despicable things and the DA confiscated his entire film library and we never saw the footage again. Undeterred, I made a third feature length film, “Coyotes in Heaven,” for $750. I am proud of this one, but let’s just say you can tell it was made for $750.

All this took place over a period of years while I was doing many other things. But I was relentless. I founded my own film school with myself as the only student and the only teacher. I embraced every failure as a valuable experience. And I loved it. I gave myself a degree because I sure as hell knew, after all of this, how to make a low budget film. Then came “Judith.”

New movie, dancing, and short stories

MM: Can you tell us a bit about “Judith” and why it’s proving hard to get funding?

DW: With “Judith” I had, for the first time, a real crew, an extremely talented DP, Joaquim Pojol, and professional actors. When Joaquim and I joined forces, I put up $7,500 of my own money and we shot it. Now, when you look at this film, you will never guess it was shot for $7,500.

My degree from Wagstaff Film School paid off. And, of course, Joquim had The Red and he worked for free. He brought a wonderful crew up from LA and we found the perfect woman, Kelsey Tucker, to play Judith. But we don’t want to cut any corners in post-production. We need every penny of the $15,000 we’re raising for the movie. We’ve been up on Indiegogo for a week and we’ve raised 20% of it. Yet it really is a challenge, as it a good chunk of money, as they say. So, we deeply appreciate those who’ve contributed and those who will. So exciting though--so exciting.

MM: You also dance, so how did you meet Toshiko Nomyoka and what is her role in “Judith”?

DW: Years ago, when I first came to Portland, I danced with Toshiko’s troupe.

We have been best friends ever since. She moved away for a while, but when she returned we resumed work immediately. She’s actually taught me far more than dance. She plays the Sibyl in “Judith,” a dancing oracle. Her performance will give you goosebumps.

MM: You’re anticipating the 2019 release of a book of short stories, so what are they about, what inspired them, and how did you find the publisher?

DW: The stories were written over a span of decades, yet they have in common the themes of love, eros and the sheer thrill of being alive. Quiet Lion Press is owned by Brian Christopher, an editor and musician I’ve known a long while. I sent him the stories and he said, “I love them and we will publish them.” Brian is also an excellent editor.

MM: What are your greatest hopes for the future of your career as a composer, writer, director, and producer and what are you working on right now?

DW: My greatest hope is to live to be a hundred and eleven. I love everything I do and I want to continue for as long as I can. Fortunately, I’m healthy as a wild goat. Right now, I’m working on a new script, a new album, and a documentary about Toshiko Namioka. There has never been a better time to be alive than now!