BRIAN FLEMMING: THE CINEMATIC VAGRANT WHO WOULD BE GOVERNOR

He’s assassinated Bill Gates, made the Bat Boy sing and now Nothing So Strange filmmaker Brian Flemming is getting ready to run as a candidate for California State Governor. With so many interesting projects on his hands, we couldn’t help but want to pick his brain. Brian took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to let us do just that.

What brought about the idea for Nothing So Strange?
I was reading a lot about the assassinations of the 1960s and 70s and wondered what it would be like if we went through a period of history like that again. And it struck me that it might be interesting to do a movie about that–but with the target of the assassination more reflective of our times, with the growing gap between the rich and poor and the class resentment that situation has bred.

Are you making entertainment or are you making cinematic warfare?
There’s a difference?

How many people has Nothing So Strange pissed off?
Not as many as you might think, although Bill Gates, unfortunately, is one of them.

Have you heard anything from Bill Gates?
He has said through a spokesman, “It is very disappointing that a moviemaker would do something like this.” But that was quite a while ago, even before the debut at Slamdance, and he hasn’t said anything since.

I want to be clear that the movie doesn’t criticize Bill Gates. There is no character assassination of him anywhere in the film. The assassination is merely literal.

Has it been difficult getting your films seen?
My first film, Hang Your Dog in the Wind, probably got seen as much as it deserved. It played at several festivals, including one I co-founded myself called Slumdance. It was an uneven effort, and there was a certain awkwardness to it that I am well aware limits its appeal to widespread audiences.

Nothing So Strange is a different story, however. It has had quite a bit of appeal everywhere it has played, and it attracts press like no film I’ve ever been involved with, which is usually very attractive to distributors. But they’ve been shying away from us, and I don’t know why. There was one almost-deal that fell apart when it turned out a certain division of the distribution company was about to get into business with Microsoft. So, ix-nay on the uff-snay ilm-fay.

The good news, however, is that we have strong interest from theatrical exhibitors and DVD retailers, so we’re going to be able to get the film seen on our own by bypassing the distributor middlemen. Although that means we have to do a bit of work learning how to be our own self-distributors, it would probably be unfair to call our challenges “difficult,” considering how utterly impossible the distribution situation is out there for so many good indie films.

There’s so much good stuff at these festivals I go to. And I was an “alumnus” programmer for Slamdance last year and saw a whole lot of films, many of them just great, original pieces of filmmaking. And then you see the tame, boring indie crap that gets released in theaters…it’s depressing. I feel fortunate that Nothing So Strange is going to reach the audiences it is, considering the fate of so many other films.

Is there anything going on with Slumdance?
I don’t think we’ll ever do the festival again. Slumdance is sort of an online experience only these days. Anything a former Vagrant of Slumdance does, whether movie or play or weblog or crime, is considered a Slumdance Experience.

Any chance of “Bat Boy: The Musical” being made into a feature film?
We get inquiries about that literally every week now that musicals are “hot,” but my co-authors Keythe Farley, Larry O’Keefe and I are trying to be very smart about it. We haven’t made a deal with anyone. Unlike the stage productions, of which there have been literally dozens and will be dozens more, we know we’ll only have one shot at the movie, so we want to make sure it gets done right. We’re still looking for just the right situation, the right level of control for us and scale for the production. We’re all aware of how crushed we would be to have a shitty movie made of “Bat Boy,” and have that be out there for all time.

Tell me about the organization Free Cinema. What do interested filmmakers need to do to join?
Free Cinema is similar to Dogme 95, in that it is a rule structure within which to make a film. It has only two rules, however, and they are not aesthetic. The rules are:
1) No money may be spent on the production.
2) The film must be copylefted.

I have this notion that the sudden drop in the realistic minimum requirements to make a feature film (from around $50K to zero) actually means something. I think it means you can cast aside all of the lawyers and “producers” and other meddlesome fucks you usually have to deal with, and you can just get together with some talented friends, have fun while making a movie, then give the copyright away as a distribution tactic. Since there is no money at stake, why not?

Of course, Free Cinema is both filmmaking and activism. Copyright reform is vital to the health of independent media, I think. The Standard Valenti Scripture with regard to copyright is an extremist mentality that benefits Hollywood, not indie artists. I think it is vital for filmmakers to start experimenting with copyright, and not just blindly follow the standard dogma that the big media companies want us to believe is inherently good for artists.

My dream is that there will be an ecosystem of sorts–“free” films (and music and art, etc.) in the sense that you are free to copy them, play with them, incorporate them in your own derivative works, whatever you would like. Freedom. You put your work in, you can “take” whatever you would like out. Of course, Creative Commons and other organizations are already creating this world. Free Cinema would just be a part of it, and would help bring filmmakers into it, as filmmakers often are more crippled by the Standard Valenti Scripture than our counterparts in, say, music and software.

Free Cinema is not yet officially launched, so I don’t know quite what a filmmaker will have to do to “join,” if anything.

Get the rest of the interview in part two of BRIAN FLEMMING: THE CINEMATIC VAGRANT WHO WOULD BE GOVERNOR>>>




Posted on August 5, 2003 in Interviews by

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