After being left in financial ruin by a Nashville investment banker nearly 18 years ago, Dan Wilkins dreamed up a multitude of elaborate revenge fantasies to get even with the man who did him wrong, many of which would've landed him in the pokey. Rather than risk jail time, the entrepreneur from Eugene, Oregon, settled on a more benign method of settling the score -- he'd produce an independent movie.
Along with six co-conspirators, Wilkins concocted the down-and-out character of CLEM (an acronym for "Consume Less and Enjoy More," one of the themes of the film) in order to get close enough to his adversary and exact his pound of flesh. After five years of toil (and nearly $1 million spent), the result was Have You Seen CLEM?, which screens this weekend at the Paper Heart.
"After I was sunk, I thought I'd make myself invisible and [get] him to admit how he screwed me and lied," the 58-year-old explains, "and if something bad happened, well, I'd just burn the clothes and no one would know who I was."
Donning a fraying gray wig, bubba teeth, and patch-laden vest, Wilkins looked like a destitute version of Milton from Office Space. The 86-minute-long "docu-dram-edy" is part expos and episode of Punk'd all rolled into one, following CLEM and his homeless skateboarding buddy Jaymo (played by occasional ESPN snowboarding analyst Kris Jamieson) as they travel through 27 states, encountering a rogues' gallery of colorful vagabonds, including street musician and former Tempe resident Sage Gentle-Wing.
Along the way, the pair also confronts unsuspecting pedestrians in hilarious episodes dubbed "CLEMin' Times," recording their reactions with a miniature camera hidden in Wilkins' yellow-tinted sunglasses. During one such vignette, penniless passers-by rebuke his panhandling efforts only to have Wilkins respond by offering them money instead.
"CLEM also hung out on Rodeo Drive trying to pick up girls and raised a little hell there. And the woman who got the nastiest threw me out of her boutique, even though I bought a $60 hat," says Wilkins. "Whenever I put on that CLEM outfit, I literally became Superman. I could've done whatever I wanted, and I was invisible in a sense."
But a funny thing happened on the way to settle the score, as both Wilkins and his character forgave their rival, partly due to the poignant stories of the homeless folk. Wilkins toned down the scripted confrontation by hiring an actor to play the banker, since he didn't want to risk giving the real moneyman a heart attack. When the film was later screened at the Nashville Film Festival, the now-retired nemesis attended and the pair buried the hatchet, which was incorporated into the ending of the film.
"I still got my revenge in a way. I made him infamous, but I also made a friend at the same time," says Wilkins. "It's like you got your cake and got to eat it, too, and everyone lived happily ever after." Fade out. Roll credits.