Dan Davies remembers the moment he knew he wanted to work in the film industry. It was 1977, and he sat in the Rosa Theatre in his hometown of Waupaca, watching “Star Wars.”
“I remember pointing up there and saying, ‘I’d really like to do that someday,'” he said.
As the movie came to an end, the audience broke into applause. And that solidified things for him.
More than 30 years later, Davies returned to the Rosa Theatre. This time, it was for the last theatrical showings of a movie that he wrote, starred in and helped produce. The movie was “Ed Gein, The Musical.”
For the past two years, Davies has traveled throughout the country with the film. Last weekend, it had its Waupaca premiere. The movie, made with a $9,000 budget, is slated to have its national television premiere on Sunday, Sept. 4, on “Off Beat Cinema” on the Retro Television Network. A national DVD drop is also scheduled.
Davies, who grew up in Waupaca and graduated from high school here in 1983, knows the title of the film is controversial.
“Like it or not, we have a connection with Ed Gein,” he said. “I grew up with stories about him.”
“Ed Gein, The Musical” is a 92-minute musical, comedy, horror movie filmed in Wisconsin and based on Gein, the killer and grave robber from Plainfield.
Gein was arrested in 1957. His crimes resulted in national and international coverage, and became the subject of numerous books and films including, “Psycho,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Silence of the Lambs,” and “Deranged.”
Davies wrote the film and stars as Gein.
Growing up about 20 miles from Plainfield, Davies said his grandfather and the arresting sheriff were at one time best friends.
“He (his grandfather) was actually very close to all of the Waushara County deputies. My grandma knew and bought school supplies from Bernice Worden, the lady he (Gein) murdered just before his arrest. I’m not some outsider from LA or New York doing an exploitative film on this horrible man. The movie has been getting some really great laughs, and people really enjoy the original and parodied music, but our film is really a psychological treatise on how this man became a monster.”
The producers at DaviesRussell Studios, of Appleton, felt its variation of this often told tale would be singularly unique and very watchable.
Davies and business partner Steve Russell started the company in 2007, and Russell, who directed and co-produced, said their story does not glorify Gein or his actions, or demean his victims, but uses the music and dark comedy as a vehicle to tell the story with truth and a fair amount of accuracy.
“We know the subject matter is very controversial as evidenced by all of our national TV, radio and print coverage, but people really have to see the movie first and then decide for themselves,” he said.
It was about 15 years ago that Davies first thought about doing a film about Gein.
In March 2009, Davies started the screenplay and two months later, filming began.
The original premiere was on Jan. 2, 2010, at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley. “We had over 800 people,” he said.
In the last year, the movie has played at 40 different theaters in about nine different states, with more than 450 showings.
“We wanted to do a comedy-musical with no swear words, no nudity and implied violence. We were able to do it,” he said.
To get the showings, “screeners” were sent to theaters. Davies then followed up with numerous phone calls.
“About 98 percent of them loved it and wanted it,” he said. “It’s been neat. It’s been a ride. It’s become an opportunity now to be attached to more movies.”
Among them is the Western “Slade,” an upcoming project of Academy Awards winner Michael Blake (“Dances with Wolves”).
“He (Blake) saw it when it (the Ed Gein film) played in South Dakota,” Davies said. “We struck up a friendship. I flew out to Tucson to his ranch. He basically said I’m the lead in it (“Slade”).
Blake wrote “Slade” several years after “Dances with Wolves” and originally sold it for half a million. “It optioned back to him,” Davies said.
Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe and Viggo Mortensen were all slated to play the lead in “Slade,” but now Davies is set to.
The goal, he says, is for filming to begin late this year or early in 2012. Filming will take place in South Dakota and New Mexico with “some very, very short scenes in Wisconsin,” he said.
For Davies, a project like this is something he has been waiting for more than 20 years.
During his high school years, he had leads in the school’s musicals.
He said the late Gerald Knoepfel, who taught at Waupaca High School, was one of his biggest influences.
Davies said that during his senior year of high school, Knoepfel sat him down and said, “You’re fairly talented at this. You could maybe do this as a living.”
Davies double majored in political science and English at UW-La Crosse, and then worked and traveled, occasionally performing to keep it in his system.
Along with Knoepfel, Davies says his parents and grandparents were his biggest supporters.
“Neither Gerry or my mom got to see ‘Ed Gein.’ They both passed away before it premiered. I think both of them would have gotten a kick out of it,” Davies said.
He said it was nice to finish the theatrical showings in his hometown.
“I’m real blessed. I’m real fortunate with everything,” Davies said. “I have so many opportunities going ahead.”