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The ‘World’ at his fingertips

‘Cadia: The World Within’ is the latest flick from Philly's Cedric Gegel

‘Cadia: The World Within’ tells the story of three 14-year-olds whose journey into a mystical realm teaches them about grace, love, doubt, and the nature of good versus evil. | Image: screenshot from Cadia: The World Within

“When this world began, it existed only in my head.”

“To know that so many people will be able to see this film and celebrate the incredible work of this brilliant cast and crew, the talented artists that brought the world of Cadia out of my head and into reality, is incredibly humbling and special to me,” says Cedric Gegel, writer and director of “Cadia: The World Within” and current resident of Philadelphia.

“Cadia: The World Within” features Corbin Bernsen (“LA Law,” “Major League,” “Psych”) and James Phelps (Fred Weasley of the “Harry Potter” film series) and was recently released on Amazon Prime and Vudu. Check out cadiafilm.com for more information.

The movie tells the story of Matthew, David and Renee Addams, three 14-year-olds whose journey into a mystical realm teaches them about grace, love, doubt, and the nature of good versus evil. ‘Cadia’ makes for an entertaining and emotionally uplifting fantasy, one that provides hope and encourages philosophical discussion on how we interact with the world around us.

PW recently caught up with Gegel to talk about his career and the film. 

Talk a little about your early interest in film. When did you know you wanted a career as a writer and director?

I got started with acting. I think a lot of my early interest in acting came from my family, who were really into shows and movies like “I Love Lucy” and “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Sound of Music.” I had done musicals in high school back in northwest Ohio, and when I got to college at Capital University, I auditioned for some of the plays for fun. Some of the students that were in those plays were also in the film program, and before long I found myself on student film sets. 

I sort of tangentially absorbed a lot of the things I didn’t know about filmmaking by being an actor, and I found myself wanting to learn more and trying writing a short film or two. Thankfully, the students and professors at Capital were really giving with their knowledge, and I tried to soak it all up as much as possible. I found that I loved telling stories and that film was the lens through which I wanted to tell them. 

How did you come up with the concept and storyline for “Cadia: The World Within”? Did the film turn out the way you thought it would?

The base concept came when I was in “The Addams Family Musical” back in fall 2015. Keegan, Carly, and Tanner Sells, who are the leads in the film, were in the musical with me, and the actor playing Uncle Fester, Chris Johnson, and I would come up with movie ideas to entertain them during the downtime. “Cadia” was an amalgamation of sorts between “Narnia” and “Spiderwick” and a lot of the fantasy stories I grew up loving. 

After my spring 2017 graduation, I moved to Michigan to work at Camp Arcadia (which the world of the film is named after), where I would lead hikes every day through the forests and along the beaches of Lake Michigan. After working six days a week, I would go to local coffee shops and just spend hours writing and working on the story and expanding the world.

We shot the film in summer 2018. It was a grueling 13-day shoot, which is not very much time at all in the film world, and we were shooting in mid-July, so most days were in the 90-degree range. As a result, there were some scenes that I wish I could have back, but again – I think any creative project is a learning process, and this was no exception. There was a steep learning curve for me, and ultimately, I’m extremely grateful for the brilliant cast and crew I had around me that could compensate for my many weaknesses. 

When I think of that, in retrospect, I’m beyond proud of this film. I don’t think it turned out the way I thought it would. It’s less sweeping and grand than I necessarily expected, but I think, in turn, it is much more intimate and honest and pure, in a sense. The performances are so candid and everyone on the project bought into the story we were telling, and I think that jumps off the screen in a very unique way.

I think the film benefited from becoming what it did instead of my initial, largely naive vision. It’s much more relatable and enjoyable now. I also got to write David, Renee, and Matthew, the Sells’ characters, as they themselves were growing up, so the performances from the three of them are quite true and real, which is very fun to see. I’m so proud of them.

Did the pandemic and all of its closures impact production in any way? Did it delay the release?

It did. We were in the process of lining up our release, and we had even started the very beginning of a marketing push, but unfortunately, everything ground to a halt. The industry was pretty much shut down for everyone. Even though we were delayed for several months, I think we were exceptionally lucky to get a release, especially since there aren’t too many films coming out right now. Hopefully audiences will be willing to take a look at an indie fantasy film that beat the odds and made it.

‘Cadia: The World Within’ is streaming now on Amazon Prime and Vudu. | Image: screenshot from Cadia: The World Within

Independent filmmakers always face a lot of hurdles the big studios don’t. What were some of the challenges you overcame while making this film?

You’re so right. Lots of hurdles. Laps and laps of hurdles. Frankly, the fact that any movie can get made is a miracle, because there are just so many moving parts that are required to fall perfectly into place, and for indie films, most of those moving parts are out of your control. We operated on a significantly smaller budget than most films – and certainly any studio films – do, which meant that we had to make the most of our shooting dates, because every day is money.

It took careful planning, flexibility, and teamwork to get all the logistics in place. We were blessed to get several investors that believed in the story and what we were trying to do, which helped us land big-name talents like Corbin Bernsen and James Phelps.

For a lot of indie films, that’s the biggest hurdle. Can you get a name that can attract an audience? People want to see actors they like. For me, as a “Psych” and a “Harry Potter” fan, signing Corbin and James was a huge step, and we immediately saw an increase in interest in the film. Of course, it helps that James and Corbin are both exceptionally gifted actors and wonderful people.

We also signed Nicky Buggs, who appeared in “The Secret Life of Bees,” and had veteran indie actors John Wells and Rick Montgomery Jr join the cast. I think – and maybe this is my own bias, as an actor, talking – that an indie cast has to be good for an audience to be interested. 

Even with them, though, we still had to actually make it. We had a mixture of levels of experience on the cast and crew, and there’s a lot of pressure in making a feature-length film, especially in 13 days. Filming was usually 12 hours a day, but the production team was often pulling 18-hour days. I even got heatstroke one day, during the battle scene, so we had to restructure the whole day.

Then we had to find a composer, which is an oft-overlooked detail in film. Can you imagine a fantasy film without excellent music? It wouldn’t go over very well. We were really, really blessed to work with Erick Schroder, who is an amazing composer. Ultimately, indie films succeed because the people that made them care about them and care about each other. 

Indie films can only be born from intense collaboration, hard work, attention to detail, and a devastatingly large amount of pure dumb luck.

What’s ahead for you? New projects? Waiting for things to open up again?

Who knows? That’s the exciting thing about this industry. It’s also the worst part about it. Ambiguity isn’t my favorite thing, but I’ve learned to lean into it.

I moved here because my wife, Sarah, started graduate school, so we aren’t quite sure what’s ahead long-term. I’m really glad she chose to go to school here. Philly’s home right now, and I’m finding myself growing very attached to the vibrancy and enthusiasm that is so central to this city. I’ve really enjoyed being here, even if it has been hampered by COVID-19, and the talent here is outstanding. I can’t wait to meet more artists in the area and see what projects are coming. 

That’s been the best part of moving to the East Coast – there are so many gifted people here that I wouldn’t have met if I was still living in Ohio. I love Ohio, mind you, and always will, but meeting passionate and gifted actors and filmmakers and writers and whatnot is always such an exciting thing. In the meantime, though, I’ll be writing, auditioning, and taking as many trips to the beautiful local forests and mountains as possible.

I’ve got a film that I wrote and will be directing coming up that I’m really excited about. It’s a feature about mental health and religion, and I hope it sparks some meaningful discussions. We held a table read pre-COVID that featured some awesome Philly-area talent. We’ve got some great big-name actors already attached, and we’re currently working on getting a few more on board and securing the financing.

I’m also currently writing another feature film, which is a coming-of-age drama/comedy, as well as collaborating with someone on a musical film and co-writing a comedy television pilot with two wonderful writers from New York City. As an actor, I’ll be entering production soon on “Window With a View,” a horror flick in Kentucky, and I’ve got a few other projects circling overhead. We’ll see where the wind takes me. Whatever is ahead, I’m excited for it.

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  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.

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