DIY FILMMAKERS: ROCKY COLLINS’ “PANTS ON FIRE”

“Pants on Fire” is the feature debut of award-winning documentarian Rocky Collins. In making “Pants on Fire,” a black comedy about adultery, Collins calls on his years of experience working with real people and multi-layered, morally complex stories. This hilarious – yet painfully realistic – romp of erotic indecisiveness and marital dysfunction boasts a script that has been compared to the classics of “Wilder or Mankiewics” (scholar Jeanine Basinger) or “Sturges and Bunuel” (LAIFF festival programmer Tom Harris). “Pants on Fire” premiered at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival.
[ SO, WHAT’S YOUR STORY? ] ^ I’m from Maine, land of the laconic, a State stuck off by itself in the exact opposite end of the country from Los Angeles. Growing up there may have added just a bit to an air of detached irony, of which I’ve been accused. My first job out of college was working on John Waters’ “Polyester” (video assist, assistant editor) and that experience definitely taught me a lot about the independent film world and spinning an outsider’s observations on society into subversive gold. ^
[ WHAT DOES THE TITLE MEAN? ] ^ It’s a fairly obvious (to English speakers anyway) reference to honesty, with sexual, and perhaps childish connotations. We call this film ‘a refreshingly realistic film about some very childish grownups.’ I actually came up with the title before the plot – in the true Roger Corman tradition. I really wanted to do a film on honesty, and I wanted to be honest with myself by examining dishonesty I see every day… between couples and regarding sex, which are issues almost nobody I know (including me) has an easy time being straightforward about. I think “reality” is sort of an underused source of inspiration these days. I mean, it’s real easy to do a hard-hitting black comedy about hit men or mobsters. A couple of my favorite movies are about mobsters and hit men, but I think it’s time for a hiatus. I think there were more films made about hit men last year than there are actual hit men. ^
[ BUDGET, SCHEDULE? ] ^ The film was made entirely with private investors’ money and in-kind contributions. I can’t tell you how much, but under $2 million. We shot for 28 days in the suburbs of New York. We edited on my own DVision. ^
[ DID YOU HAVE TO SACRIFICE ANYTHING BECAUSE OF THE BUDGET? ] ^ Not really because I wrote the film with the budget in mind. I wanted and needed a rich and multi-layered story, and I’ve learned from years of making films for PBS and cable how to get a lot of information and nuance into a few words. I’ve learned how to make every single sentence mean at least two things simultaneously, and how to put the words at odds with what you are seeing on the screen. One of the things I hear most often about this film is that it really sticks with people; they keep thinking about it long after it’s over. One mark of a great movie, I feel, is that it makes you look at the world a bit defferently when you come out of the theater than you did when you went in. ^
[ WHY DID YOU DO IT?] ^ I had to. I’m one of those people who has wanted and needed to make a fictional feature film since I was 14 or so. Yet I also needed to earn money over the years, so I became one of those people stuck in the velvet trap, making good money making documentary films. They were great, intelligent projects, and every place I went I met people whose dream it was to do to what I was doing: intelligent documentaries for PBS. So it was actually quite a traumatic upheaval in my personal, professional and financial life to say “I NEED to make a dramatic feature film.” I put more on the line to make this film than any twenty-something. It would have been easier in some ways to do when I was younger, but, in other ways, I’m happy I waited because I know it’s a better film for the experience I’ve had. ^
[ WHAT’S THE CURRENT STATUS OF THE FILM? ] ^ All the advice and feedback we’ve gotten pointed to one thing. Go for a great festival birth and try to make a splash there. With a film like this in particular – with no stars, and in no real standard genre – the distributors are going to need to see the reviews and the crowd reactions before they buy. ^
[ ANY ADVICE OR PEARLS OF BRILLIANT FILMMAKING WISDOM? ] ^ Be nice to the people who are doing things for free for you. Remember that everyone just wants to do a good job, so help them. Thank them for their creativity and give them credit and use their creativity in your movie. Get LOTS of help, not only making the film but all the way through the release, which can take years. But politely stick to your guns: If you know something isn’t working, fix it; you only have one chance, and everyone is looking to you to drive the machine. ^
[ WAS IT WORTH IT? ] ^ Yes, it was the greatest year of my life creatively. And I’m just one of those sick individuals who isn’t happy unless he’s creatively busy. But at the same time it was the hardest year of my life, and it was hard for everyone who knows me. I put every penny I had on the screen, and I’m just now starting to get paying work again after a year living on savings. And, let’s be honest, that’s tough. No one should deceive themselves how hard that is. Be sure to get your life and your family and your living situation totally solid before you start. ^
[WHAT NEXT? ] ^ A producer at Columbia is interested in my new script, “Brooklyn Heights” which is an updated “Wuthering Heights with a black Heathcliff. And I’m writing a children’s’ film for the Executive Producer on “Pants on Fire,” Ann Biester-Deane.
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Posted on July 6, 1998 in Interviews by
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