Your method of filmmaking is somewhat fascinating, giving a big break to many aspiring performers and aspiring filmmakers without experience who quite often cannot even get on a regular set even to get an autograph. How successful is your method of giving aspiring talent a foot in the door?
A number of actors got their start with me and went onto bigger things. Postell Pringle, the star of my latest feature, just had a bit on “Law and Order”. John Knox from “Run for Cover” played several characters on that show. Stan Carp, the gangster in “Unsavory Characters”, played a similar role in “The Sopranos”. Mike McCleery from “Space Avenger” has appeared in recent features. I always tell aspiring actors to work as production assistants on low budget movies to get their foot in the door. For example, becoming part of the casting department will make you an insider rather than an outsider. Performers who have production experience are better actors since they understand the process.
You also said that you utilise crew members and interns as extras and credited bit parts in your films. That must be a huge incentive.
Sure. In fact, I have them all sign a release form so in a bind, they can be extras. If they fit a particular bit role, they might get some speaking lines.
What would you describe as your strengths as an accomplished independent filmmaker?
I guess my strength is that I get a ‘bang for my buck’. I try to get a lot on screen with limited funds. I also like to do something different visually in each production utilizing Technicolor, 3-D, black and white and other formats. If I had the money, I’d shoot a movie in 65mm.
You are a genius when it comes to processes; I would go so far as calling you the Stanley Kubrick of low-budget cinema.
That is certainly a very generous comparison and comment.
Let’s talk about your latest film “Soft Money”.
The story concerns a sinister millionaire who hires three professional thieves to rob his own bank. There’s a safety deposit box he wants removed that contains a million in cash. After pulling off the heist, the millionaire cheats them out of their share. They plot revenge on him and get their opportunity when they discover the millionaire is funding a crooked politician running on a ‘campaign finance reform’ platform using the stolen cash as soft money. There are numerous plot twists and a surprise ending. WABC radio’s Curtis Sliwa has a featured role as a commentator. The story is a non-partisan satire that lampoons both parties and American politics in general. This picture contains a hip score by Andrew Nixon and Seth Wright.
I recently reviewed your latest feature Soft Money for Film Threat which I think is a modish paradox to say the least. You have re-worked an overdone genre and taken an original stab at it.
What’s interesting about this production is that it took on a life of it’s own during the shoot. We originally were just going go make a caper film with a plot twist. After we edited a rough cut and showed it to a class at Technical Career Institute in NYC, the students seemed to think we needed to set up the politician up front. So, we went back and filmed a mock commercial for the candidate which starts the film. It made an interesting pre-credit sequence. We also shot footage of WABC radio’s Curtis Sliwa, as a commentator. Using left over sound bytes and interviews, we created the end credit montage which inter-cuts them with the title roll. By the time we were finished, the movie had become a political satire within the heist film genre.
For those who don’t know, can you define the term “Soft Money”?
Soft Money is money donated to political parties for ‘party building’ so it’s less regulated than money given directly to a candidate. If the term ‘party building’ sounds a bit vague, it is which is why people take advantage of it. Throughout US history, there have been attempts at campaign finance reform which included limiting the amount an individual can give to candidates. Of course people figured out ways around this by forming PACs (Political Action Committees) which organize a group of people who donate small sums of money but collectively represent a large amount of cash and voting block. In our story, the politician has formed a new party and is secretly using stolen bank cash as Soft Money. I hope the film doesn’t give some politicians any ideas…
I was really impressed with every one of the performances in the film. In fact overall I would say that as an ensemble, this is the best cast you have ever worked with. Completely even across the board. I was particularly taken by newcomer Jennifer Horng who played Valerie Casey in the film. What a discovery!
Yes, Jennifer seems to be making the greatest impact. A number of other people have commented on her too as have the college students I test screened the film for. I was going to use her for my next film too if she’s available. She’s Canadian and here in the US on a work program.
Will you ever shoot on DV (Digital Video)? Or are you a traditionalist?
I will shoot on 35mm until the format is eliminated. Then I’ll leave this medium and become a full time writer. I have no interest in shooting anything on videotape be it digital or analog. I don’t like the quality when it’s outputted to film or DVD. You can’t do much with digital as a shooting medium since its contrast ratio and exposure index are so limited. Film Noir lighting would be difficult if not impossible for example. Contemporary film stock has a very wide latitude for creative lighting which can be successfully transferred to DVD. You cannot generate the same results by using digital formats during production. The other trouble with digital media is it’s not archival and degrades over time. Current low fade Estar motion picture stock is a better storage medium for the long term.
I am glad that unlike so many other filmmakers, you are passionate about film, whereas some others don’t care as much. What are your favorite actor, actress, director and film?
I’ve always considered motion pictures a director’s medium. I’m not enamored with movie stars. They are tools of the director. Without good direction, many become indulgent and overact. Look at the late Marlon Brando. Under Kazan or Coppola’s direction he was brilliant. Under other director’s guidance he was hammy. When I go to see a movie, the first thing I look for is who directed it. That’s what interests me the most. If I like a director, I’ll try to see all of his movies and examine themes and techniques. Now if you want me to list some good actors I could mention Sean Connery or Robert De Niro. They gave excellent performances in a number of films although I would not go to see a picture just because they were in it. It would depend who directed it.
If you’d like a list of my all time favorite feature films, here they are in alphabetical order:
“Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (B&W)
“The Adventurers” (Technicolor/Panavision)
“Around the World in 80 Days” (Mike Todd version in Technicolor/Todd AO)
“Ben Hur” (Technicolor/MGM Camera 65)
“Carnival of Souls” (B&W)
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (Eastmancolor/70mm blow up from Panavision)
“Diamonds are Forever” (Technicolor/Panavision)
“Gone with the Wind” (Technicolor)
“The Great Race” (Technicolor/Panavision)
“House of Wax” (3-D version in Eastmancolor)
“Kiss Me Kate” (3-D version in Technicolor)
“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (Technicolor/Ultra Panavision Cinerama)
“Jack and the Beanstalk” (Abbott & Costello version in Super Cinecolor & Sepia)
“Lawrence of Arabia” (Technicolor/Panavision 70)
“Mary Poppins” (Technicolor)
“The Music Man” (Technicolor/Technirama)
“My Fair Lady” (Technicolor/Panavision 70)
“Night of the Living Dead” (B&W)
“North by Northwest” (Technicolor/VistaVision)
“One Eyed Jacks” (Technicolor/VistaVision)
“Psycho” (original of course in B&W)
“Run for Cover” (my own feature in Eastmancolor 3-D)
“The Sand Pebbles” (Eastmancolor/Panavision)
“Singin’ in the Rain” (Technicolor)
“Soft Money” (my own feature in Eastmancolor)
“Space Avenger” (my own feature in Technicolor)
“Star Wars” (Eastmancolor/70mm blow up from Panavision)
“This is Cinerama” (Technicolor/Cinerama)
“The Tingler” (B&W with color tinted sequence)
“Titanic” (Cameron version in Eastmancolor/Super 35)
“2001: A Space Odyssey” (Eastmancolor/70mm Cinerama)
“Unsavory Characters” (my own feature in Eastmancolor & B&W)
“West Side Story” (Technicolor/Panavision 70)
“You Only Live Twice” (Technicolor/Panavision)
“The Wizard of Oz” (Technicolor)
All were pictures I saw on big screens. There are many other films I admire but these are the titles I like to see over and over again, like listening to a good song every once in a while. If I had to list my all time favorite, I’d say it was “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 70mm and Cinerama.
Would you ever go mainstream if the chance was there or are you comfortable now?
I like the autonomy I have in the independent field so I guess I’ll stay where I am. In terms of being comfortable, that is virtually impossible in the film business. It’s a constant struggle to keep up with the changes.
What is next up for after “Soft Money”?
I’m in pre-production of my next feature which will be a psychological horror film.
Finally, what is your advice to aspiring filmmakers?
My advice to aspiring filmmakers is to shoot in 35mm and try to preserve your negative or some pre-print so your work survives. Don’t count on others to do this for you. I also recommend retaining creative control on the production and work with producers, actors and crew who believe in the project and support you. I wish all young filmmakers the best of luck in their endeavors.
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- RICHARD W. HAINES: UNSUNG HERO OF UNSUNG CINEMA
- RICHARD W. HAINES: UNSUNG HERO OF UNSUNG CINEMA
- ROD PULIDO: LIFE ON “THE FLIP SIDE”
- NEAL FREDERICKS TRIBUTE SCREENING OF “EROSION”
- THE MOVIE HERO
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