Filmmaking weasels

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 10, 2009

Let me tell you a little story about how history repeats itself….

The first film festival I worked on was the 2006 edition of AFI FEST. And one of the first films I screened and got really excited about was a little documentary called GIRL 27. Directed by David Stenn, the film explored the story of Patricia Douglas, a woman that was raped at an MGM sales convention and through cover-ups, etc. basically had her life destroyed with nary a whiff of acknowledgement, let alone an apology from the studio or the guy who did it even years afterward. It was one of those stories that makes you want to grab a pitch fork and a couple of easy-light torches and make your way (presumably with the other people in the theater) to exact justice on men who have been dead for years.

Now, it wasn’t a perfect film. In fact, in many ways, the film simply served as a delivery system for the director who was much more interested in communicating the fact that he knew Jackie Onassis and actually had voice mail messages from her. Very exciting for him. And maybe his relatives and a few friends of his too.

But probably just him.

Okay – definitely just him.

Still – Patricia Douglas’s story was powerful and we leapt right into working on the PR for the film among other things. Stenn and the production company were thrilled because we were so enthusiastically pushing the film. We loved them and they’d get a lot of attention for themselves and the film and it was all gonna be great.

And then one day – something happened…

There were some problems with lawyers and getting clearances for interviews with Patricia Douglas’s relatives or something like that. We couldn’t really get a clear understanding what the issue was, but what we were fearing was that we might not get to screen the film. I mean, we had already announced that it was playing. We had included it in some feature pieces that were moving forward for the festival. The producers and Stenn were upset because they really wanted it to play at AFI FEST, but their hands were tied. There was no way they would be able to get this thing cleared soon enough.

Not only that, they needed every screener copy they had sent us sent right back to them. Quick! I mean, track them all down! Where were they?! If one escaped it would be disastrous! So we busted our asses getting everything back to them and bemoaned the loss. But what can you do, right?

And then the schedule for Sundance was announced…

And there was GIRL 27.

Huh?

Or, huh. (Depending on how jaded and cynical you were.)

Guess they got those rights issues cleared up just in time so they could make their world premiere at Sundance… Wow, that was some lucky timing right there.

Weasels. Stupid, shortsighted, filmmaking weasels.

Why stupid? Why shortsighted? Because it didn’t have to go down that way. There are a couple of film festivals that cling so desperately to their need to play world premieres that they will inspire this kind of bad filmmaker behavior. See, here’s the deal: Anyone who has any kind of decent sense of self awareness in film festival-land knows exactly where they stand on the film critics’ totem pole and the business totem pole and the filmmakers’ opinion totem pole. So a film getting a chance to play at Sundance and having to bow out because of that idiotic world premiere policy – well, we got it and we get it and as much as it sucked we would have understood.

But they lied.

Weasels.

And because of that, David Stenn better be fucking channeling Alex Gibney and Werner Herzog and Errol Morris combined if his next film ever gets within a 500 square mile radius of any film festival I’m working at. Seriously, dude could send Jackie O in a dusty pillbox hat AND JFK Jr. to personally haunt my ass and I would still be putting my foot down to let that guy back in the house, so to speak.

Because that integrity thing…? That means something to me.

A couple months ago, we planned on playing Lynn Shelton’s cooler than cool HUMPDAY at AFI DALLAS this year. We were tipped off before it even got to Sundance by the in-the-know-and-you-can-trust-their-taste tandem of René Ridinger and Dayan Ballweg and saw it right out of the gate. Loved…it! We told Lynn and Joshua Leonard we wanted the film, they were excited, the film company was excited, we were excited.

And then they got the call from another film festival. A grand daddy, make-your-reservations now film festival.

What are you gonna do?

Well, you get out of the way, congratulate them, and be happy that deserving filmmakers receive a rare day at the beach. But the important thing is – they told us immediately. There was no sudden issues with music rights or a dying uncle or a conflict with a rare provision in the indie filmmaker tax code that suddenly surfaced and then conveniently went away. No – they were transparent. They were truthful. And everyone at AFI DALLAS that saw the film and dealt with them will continue to champion that film and that company.

We also planned to play a documentary called PLAYGROUND. Directed by Libby Spears, the film explored the child sex trade industry. We featured the film in one of our early announcements, even made sure that some outlets printed art from the film because we were so excited to have it on the schedule. On several long lead pitches (magazines that need to write their stories a couple months ahead of time), I pushed PLAYGROUND and Libby to be included. She was getting the full-court press push from us and it was gonna be great to debut what we saw as an “important” film at Dallas.

And then one day – something happened….

There were problems with some clearances with interviews they had conducted for the film. Strange, right? To make it that far in the process and then figure out you neglected to get releases signed by people you interviewed for your film. But wait, maybe it wasn’t that – it might’ve been music rights issues that only pertained to festival play. I mean, that sounds kinda preposterous too, but that’s what they were saying. When we could get them on the phone, that is.

Then the final word came down. We had to drop it from the schedule. It would be a little embarrassing for us, but these things happen sometimes. They were really bummed. We were really disappointed, but what could they do, right? You have to listen to your lawyers in a case like that. We understood.

Today the schedule for Tribeca was announced…

And if I may quote the recently departed Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

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TEN BURNING QUESTIONS – Mark Hartley (NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD)

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 10, 2009

At one point in NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, Mark Hartley’s primer on the history of Australian exploitation films or Oz-ploitation, Quentin Tarantino states that if you grew up watching some of those films that you would believe that there was a desert everywhere and that those deserts were filled with marauding packs of bullies in cars they could never afford just looking for women to rape and guys to beat up.

Whether you know first hand what Tarantino is talking about or whether this is all shiny new information, Hartley’s film is just a flat out fun ride. Soft core films like AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK matched local box office totals with JAWS, films like NEXT OF KIN, PATRICK, LONG WEEKEND and MAD MAX inspired more than a few members of the next wave of filmmakers, and the stories of how those films were made will often leave you astounded that several stunt people didn’t lose their lives in the process. But the proof of Hartley’s convincing “argument” as to the viability of the genre is this: you can not help yourself but make a mental list of film titles to add to your movie library while watching the film. It’s NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, but it’s more than entertaining.


1.   Why did you feel the 40 year history of Ozploitation films deserved such a thorough and arguably “loving” documentary?

It seemed to me that this was really the last bastion of genre cinema in the world that hadn’t been explored in any way. We’ve had fevered examinations of genre films from many other countries – American Grindhouse, English horror, Italian Giallo etc… but “Ozploitation” had never been documented because I don’t think anyone – within or outside of Australia – had ever connected the dots and realized that a wealth of genre films had been made down-under by a select number of prolific individuals (including Brian Trenchard-Smith, Antony I. Ginnane, Richard Franklin and John Lamond).

2. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Greg Mclean, James Wan and Leigh Whannell speak enthusiastically about the influence films like PATRICK, LONG WEEKEND, ROAD GAMES and MAD MAX had on them and their films. Was there someone you spoke to that surprised you with their reaction or even respect for those films?
The thing that I think is really interesting is that in Australia the general public never heard about the success of our genre films because they we’re considered “American Films” and embarrassments to our film culture. We heard about PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK receiving a standing ovation in New York – but what we weren’t told was that “Picnic” was screening in one cinema and Trenchard-Smith’s THE MAN FROM HONG KONG was screening in the same city on 15 screens! So, it was important in NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD to have people like Tarantino inform us that these films found enthusiastic audiences all around the world. It was also important to hear from Whannell, Wan, McLean and Jamie Blanks that these films were inspirational to their generation of Australian filmmakers (maybe more so than our more lauded big screen exports like PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and BREAKER MORANT).

3. In your opinion, what is the most singular contribution Australia has made to the cinematic art form: The vomit shot or the nuns on fire shot?
I think it’s the mouse in the werewolf fetus suit. To understand what I’m talking about, people will have to see the film.

4. Let’s pretend you’re directing the movie about a comatose guy with evil telekinesis powers. Are his eyes open or closed while he controls objects in his vegetative state?
Screenwriter Everett DeRoche and Director Richard Franklin decided that they should be open when they made “PATRICK (1978) – the Italians obviously agreed when they made their own unofficial spaghetti sequel, “PATRICK IS STILL ALIVE” (1980) – so who am I to argue with visionaries of their caliber!

5. Would you agree that a young Nicole Kidman “isn’t werewolf enough?”
I think the key word here is “young”. Our Nic (as Aussies affectionately like to call her) is so versatile now that she’s added rubber noses to her repertoire that I’m sure she could play a werewolf in her sleep (but possibly quite easier, a Vampire!).


6. What should every director remember to do before it’s too late?
Set him/herself on fire to prove to your lead actor that he/she should do the same for the sake of your film… and cast Ozploitation’s greatest heavy, Roger Ward, in your film.


7. Of the various legends of Oz-ploitation you spoke to (John Lamond, Anthony I. Ginnane, Brian Trenchard-Smith, etc.) Who was the most entertaining interview for you personally?

To be honest, all of the interviewees were entertaining. Certainly the most emotional interview I conducted was with director Richard Franklin (PATRICK, ROADGAMES). I first met Richard soon after he directed PSYCHO II. I was in my early teens and I invited him to give a talk at my high school. I stayed in touch and we became friends. Richard was incredibly supportive during the 10-year period it took to get NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD financed. Just after we finally raised our money he told me that he had cancer. He said that he would not live to see my film – but he would not let me down. True to his word, Richard allowed us to interview him. He was paralyzed from the waist down and in excruciating pain, but he put on a brave face and struggled through his final on-camera interview. Sadly Richard passed away less than three weeks later. It was at this point I realized that NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD was more than a rag tag bunch of maverick filmmakers telling funny anecdotes – it was going to be the final word on this extraordinary period of filmmaking in Australia told by the guys (and girls) who were there in the trenches. NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD is fondly dedicated to Richard.

8. Tarantino says that, “No one shoots a car the way Aussies do.” Why would you agree with that statement?

If you look at the car chase films that were coming out of Hollywood at the time of MAD MAX and MIDNITE SPARES they were slapstick demolition derby pictures like SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and THE CANNONBALL RUN. The Australian car chase films certainly were more dynamic – tougher, grittier and I imagine a helluva lot more dangerous in their derring-do stunt work. The cars were shot wide angle with the camera close to the ground and with the lens inches away from the bumper. Throw in a hostile environment like the outback and you have an iconic shot that Australian cinema can proudly claim as it’s own.

9. Popcorn or candy?
Hot dogs.

10. Since you are now as much of an authority of Ozploitation as anyone after completing the film: Name your five favorite films in that genre and explain why.
THE MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975)
Asia’s Steve McQueen, Jimmy Wang Yu, and Australia’s very own James Bond, George Lazenby, go head to head in director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s down-under kung fu classic. I dare any audience to find a car chase with more camera rigs or a martial arts sequence with more kicks to the groin!

LONG WEEKEND (1978)
A bickering couple on vacation discover what happens when you disrespect the Australian bush in this taut, atmospheric “mother nature goes ape-shit” thriller from prolific Ozploitation scribe Everett DeRoche and journeyman director Colin Eggleston.

MAD MAX (1979)
Doctor turned amateur filmmaker, George Miller, battled a non-existent budget and a weary non-believing crew on the outskirts of Melbourne to bring his post apocalyptic revenge thriller to the drive-in screen.  On release, cars quickly became stars – and in my humble opinion, the level and style of automobile action featured in MAD MAX has never been equaled.

ROADGAMES (1981)
REAR WINDOW set in a truck! US imports Stacy Keach and Jamie-Lee Curtis play a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a serial killer across the desolate Nullarbor desert in this smart, suspenseful and finely crafted thriller from director Richard Franklin (affectionately dubbed by Curtis “Australia’s Alfred Hitchcock”).

TURKEY SHOOT (1982)
What started out as a serious (but action-packed) Orwellian cautionary tale was pushed into high-camp overdrive by director Brian Trenchard-Smith and producer Antony I. Ginnane when a large chunk of change vanished from the financing a week before shooting. “Stunts are expensive – but blood is cheap” – so Turkey Shoot transformed into a blood and thunder splatter spectacle that 25+ years later still has to be seen to be believed.

NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD screens at 10:00PM April 2 @ Landmark’s Magnolia 3