INTERVIEW — “Finders Keepers” Directors Clay Tweel & Bryan Carberry
When they say this is a true story, they’re not pulling your leg. Darkly funny and surprisingly heartfelt, real-life tabloid story turned documentary, “Finders Keepers” follows two men and their bizarre custody battle over a severed foot.
“It’s just F**kery and Shenanigans!” -Marion, (Wood’s Sister and unofficial winner of Best Quote and Alternate Film Title)
When recovering addict and amputee, John Wood repeatedly failed to pay the rent on his Maiden, North Carolina storage unit, all of its contents were sold at auction. Looking for a deal, local haggler and self-proclaimed entrepreneur, Shannon Whisnant purchased Wood’s grill only to find Wood’s mummified foot inside. After Whisnant’s hilarious 911 call gets picked up by the media, he claims “Finders Keepers” and clings to his rightfully purchased five-toed ticket to fame, but not if Wood has anything to say about it.
The directors were tasked with establishing both men’s reasons for wanting a rotting appendage. That’s the meat of the story (pun intended); their claim. I had the pleasure to speak to directors Clay Tweel and Bryan Carberry about their film and the moral and legal implications to such a strange foot fight.
Tweel and Carberry: “It’s a battle about possession, and so to try and clarify where the leg was at all times became important.”
The film cleverly uses animation to keep track of the foot’s whereabouts throughout the film.
Tweel and Carberry: “Producer Seth Gordon was the one who thought that the graphic was a good idea to put in there – just to kind of help the audience track where the leg was and who had it.”
The filmmakers build the tension by not showing the foot until more than halfway through the film, and even then, it was of a brief photograph.
Tweel and Carberry: “The whole 82 minutes is devoted to this foot that these two guys want, so I think the longer we could delay it, the more sacred it became.”
Both men’s true justifications for wanting the foot do not immediately present themselves. The film relies on local Maiden witness and family testimony, as well as existing media reports to paint a clearer picture of Wood and Whisnant’s motivations.
Tweel and Carberry: “This is a story where we’re going to be able to really profile both of these guys and go deep into their stories in a way that will let you empathize with both of them. And I think that’s what we strive for in a lot of our movies: empathize with your characters, try to understand their points of view and get to the heart of why people do what they do and that’ll make the most interesting and rich story.
Throughout the film, the audience’s perception of both men interchanges between sympathy and antipathy. There is no clear hero or villain, rather Wood and Whisnant are presented (without bias or ridicule) as real people with human flaws making desperate choices. They are colorful characters, but not caricatures. They never feel lampooned for their bizarre circumstances even though the temptation must have been present to go for the cheap laughs and steer the film into a comedic satire on the culture of fame and addiction.
Tweel and Carberry: “The tone is definitely a challenge we had to face editorially. John and Shannon legitimately are funny dudes. They are charming and quirky.” “We were trying to be very responsible about not ever poking too much fun at them and not crossing that line of exploitation.”
The filmmakers also did a solid job in selling the emotional connection Wood has to his amputated foot. He wants it back not just for the obvious reasons of it being his own flesh but for the fact that (to him) it represents the memory of his accident and is the centerpiece of an intended memorial to his lost father.
“It’s a funny story, but its born of tragedy.” -Wood’s Mother
John Wood lost his infamous foot in a plane crash that claimed the life of his father – an accident he blames himself for – and his survivor’s remorse reignites his drug dependency.
Meanwhile, Wood’s foot became Shannon Whisnant’s claim to fame. It defined his local persona: “The Foot Man” (or “Foot” for short). It became a tourist attraction he charged locals to see ($3 a peek, $1 for kids). Shannon found his 15 minutes of fame, and he was not ready to let it go. Possession is nine-tenths of the law and to get it back, Wood would have to pry his cold, dead foot from Whisnant’s cold, dead fingers.
Producer Ed Cunningham (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters), found the story back in 2008 and brought it to Tweel and Carberry to document or adapt into a film. While they went with a documentary after a successful Kickstarter campaign, the story absolutely lends itself to other formats. If Finders Keepers were to get dramatized, I asked who they would dream-cast as Wood and Whisnant?
Tweel and Carberry: “We are in some talks to adapt this into a scripted feature. I think my dream Whisnant would be Danny McBride.”
McBride would be perfect (John Goodman would also be a great choice). I also suggested reuniting a different missing limb movie by pitching the stars of “Kingpin” with Woody Harrelson as Wood and the elusive Randy Quaid as Whisnant.
At the film’s conclusion, both Whisnant and Wood are at opposite ends of the spectrum. One man has overcome his addiction, while the other has become its slave. The war over a foot was a catalyst for change within the two men. Life lessons were learned and second chances were made. As much as they may have gotten off on the wrong foot, Wood and Whisnant part with a sense of shared gratitude towards their rivalry.
Tweel and Carberry: “The heart of this film is… it’s a two person story. You can’t tell this story without John and you can’t without Shannon.”
From the moment they first meet toe-to-toe in the parking lot of a Dollar General, Wood and Whisnant are great adversaries. Their strange battle over a human leg begins at a storage unit auction, travels through a Wendy’s drive-thru window, appears on a German talk show and ends on the courtroom set of TV’s Judge Mathis. Their real-life story plays out like a dark comedy that’s knee-deep in controversy. However, this is more than a story about a foot. This is a tale of addiction and redemption, of what once was lost but now is found.
As far as making any more foot-puns, I’m stumped. 4/5
“Finders Keepers” is in select theaters now and available on VOD.
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