From the VENT! Vault: Interview with Filmmaker Larry Fessenden

I recently unearthed this candid Q&A* I did back in the late ’90s with acclaimed indie director Larry Fessenden (Wendigo, The Last Winter, Depraved). He continues to be one of the most unique and intriguing voices in horror cinema. The interview is also a fascinating glimpse into the wild NYC indie arts scene of the ’80s/’90s.

Larry Fessenden is one of those do-it-himself filmmakers who also does it on his own terms. He believes in his vision, and he is not very prone to compromising it. While he continues to broaden and refine his cinematic technique working under his production company banner Glass Eye Pix, he is always resolute in that he is the creator, whether he’s making a movie for $500,000 or for $5,000. His talents were recognized in 1997 when he won the prestigious Someone to Watch Independent Spirit Award for his second feature film Habit, as well as earning a Best Director nomination. Yet Larry Fessenden shows how such accolades or accomplishments do not subsequently mean a filmmaker will be courted by film festivals or distributors. He also demonstrates the pragmatic, albeit morbid, value of relatives leaving you money after they die.

VENT!: How did you get started as a filmmaker?

LARRY FESSENDEN: I did a lot of acting in high school, and I thought I would be an actor. Then I got a Super 8mm camera and got really turned on to how the camera can participate in a scene. I was very into handheld camera and doing these glorious camera moves, and that just became my whole concept of directing. I made a lot of Super 8mm shorts back in the ’70s. At the time, wanting to be a film director was still a very out-there idea, so I just quietly conceived of how I would go about it. I got kicked out of the prep school I went to where I’d done mostly acting and some theatre directing. After I got my General Equivalency Diploma (GED), all I wanted to do was go to NYU because I wanted to be back in New York. I had these three Super 8mm movies that I had made, and I went to the dean there, the head of the film program, and showed those to him and I got in.

NYU had a lot of these 16mm classes where you basically make these short little films, which I had already been doing in Super 8mm. I went upstairs to the video department, and up there they had no idea what to do with video. This was long before MTV. They just had these old black & white Beta cameras. It was the 1/2” format that came before VHS, called Beta 1. I realized I could do anything there, and that’s when I started making feature-length videos, and I did a weekly half-hour TV show with a friend of mine. I made Habit as a video in 1981. It was a 70-minute psychological drama about a guy who thinks he’s falling in love with a vampire while he’s really drinking himself silly. I did a couple of other feature-length movies in video and got a lot of great experience shooting those.

VENT!: Did you use that early video version of Habit to raise money to make the film version? 

LARRY FESSENDEN: No. To be honest, it was not very commercial and would not have been a very inspiring piece to any kind of investor because it was very slow-moving, very existential. The way I financed the new Habit was with money my grandfather left me. I had shopped the script briefly to a couple of local studios, and as soon as I started getting feedback on it I knew they were going to be resistant to certain elements. Because I had this money in place, and because I had spent a whole year-and-a-half working on someone else’s movie as an editor, writer and actor, I was determined to make the movie myself that fall. I said I’d rather make it cheaply with a small crew than wait for a year to be disappointed, and still be told to rewrite it. That’s a tenet that I stick with: Learn the art of filmmaking by doing it, but don’t get all swept up in a lot of costs until you know that you have something to say and that maybe it’s going to be worth somebody else paying for it.   

VENT!: How valuable was film school for you overall?

LARRY FESSENDEN: What I got out of it was the equipment and the incredible amounts of hours I put on their equipment, begging for and borrowing cameras and all their stuff over the weekends. I always had my own concepts of moviemaking. My mentors, my real teachers, were Scorsese and Polanski, the films that I saw in the theater. I had perfectly good teachers at NYU, but I can’t really remember any of them except the ones who gave me the freedom to just do my stuff. I had my own agenda, and I was going way beyond the call of duty, way beyond any assignment. I really didn’t even go to the classes. I was very self-motivated, and very self-made, in that way. Whatever tuition my parents paid was worth it because I used all that equipment, especially their video stuff. I just took full advantage. That’s typically my advice: shoot video and learn how you want to make movies. Learn your process. I don’t know what they’ll teach you in school except maybe how to play by the rules, which is something that might be worth knowing, but I never learned that.

VENT!: What happened after you graduated film school?

LARRY FESSENDEN: It was a possibility to go to graduate school after that, but I chose to use all of that money towards doing production. I bought 3/4” equipment and I started editing for people. I did a lot of performance art, theater groups, actor’s reels, weird fashion stuff, all kinds of low-level editing gigs. I edited Steve Buscemi’s reel when he was a performance artist. That’s what I did for like three or four years. I had then met Heather Woodbury, who was a performance artist and go-go dancer, and I said to her, let’s make a movie together about this life you lead. So we were determined to make this movie called Hollow Venus. At that same time, I was also associated with this other performance artist named David Leslie who’s known as the Impact Addict, and he would jump off of buildings, and light himself on fire, and cover himself with fireworks and run around Chinatown. From ’86 to ’89 he would do these one-time only feats, and we made a little name for ourselves doing these videos documenting them. That started as a paying gig, and eventually I sort of became a partner with him. I also made this epic video called Experienced Movers in ’85, which was a two-and-a-half hour caper movie. We premiered it at the NYC club Danceteria, and we played it all over in the bars here. We would set up like fifteen TVs and just have a big party where we’d charge a little admission and show the movie. I was dreaming of being the next Marty Scorsese, but these were crazy pieces, and I wasn’t aware of how to hook into the real world of movies. 

These things were very often done through Film/Video Arts (a New York-based nonprofit media arts center), or through begging or borrowing. They cost like $5,000 over the course of two or three years, so it was money that you basically could find. My other grandfather died and left me like ten grand, which I spent on Experienced Movers. So I had done all of these video projects with a very cinematic head to them. I then made Hollow Venus, and I finished that in 1989. We shot it in b&w 16mm. It was a very modest production. All I had to do was pay for the film. My technical advisor John Sniado had access to an old guy with a closet full of cameras. John basically loaded the camera for me and I shot it. And he’d do the sound and the lighting. That was two people making that movie, and my wife Beck. I finished it on 3/4” because I once again was not satisfied that it was really good enough to spend the money to make it a film. It’s an hour long, and it was the first time I sent it to festivals. We got into Rotterdam and Montreal and a couple of others, as a video though. It was a little unclear what it was. It was shot on 16mm, but it looked like a video.

At that time I finally got it together to make what I thought would be my first real film, which is called No Telling. (Renamed The Frankenstein Complex because that title translated better in non-English speaking markets.) I got a producer for that, and I raised the money from individual sources. That was a very expensive movie, half a million dollars. It cost more than all my other films combined, including Habit. It was financed by private investors, who were pretty much family, people very close to home. We went out and made the movie in upstate New York. It was a really big project, a real wake-up call for what it’s like to work with a big crew. We shot it on Super 16mm, which I regret. (I don’t ever recommend Super 16mm. I see no point. It’s basically for TV.) 

No Telling is flawed artistically, but ultimately what it suffers from is just the subject matter. It was not commercial. It got all the way to Miramax and Harvey Weinstein watched it. He appeared to be into it, but he said this is a very hard movie to market because it’s basically about animal rights issues and environmental issues. It was very intense, raw and real. We actually sold it to Largo Entertainment very quickly out of the gate, and for a while it looked good, but we started not getting into festivals. When we sent it to a lot of distributors, nobody went for it at all. That was in 1991. That was the year Todd Haynes’ Poison won at Sundance, so that should give you a view as to how festivals were just starting to come into their own. We got into the Boston Film Festival and a couple of others, and some European festivals. We did this European deal, but it was never distributed or bought by video companies here. I’m pleased to say that in September it’ll come out for the first time (domestically) on tape through a company called World Artists, a small company out in L.A. So that’s seven years later. It’s a real testament to patience.  

VENT!: Did No Telling make its money back?

LARRY FESSENDEN: We recouped a little money on foreign, but it was basically a total loss. It was picked up by IRS Media, which does foreign sales, but it was picked up by an individual there and he moved companies three times. Now he’s at Largo. So technically it was with IRS Media, then it went to Odyssey, and then it went to Largo, but it’s really with this guy who signed it. I saw checks for that for several years later, but it got tied up in litigation because he kept moving, and I didn’t even see the kind of money that it made for him or for whatever companies he was with. So, on the one hand, No Telling did make its money back, but not for me and not for my people. It was definitely a disappointment, and all I can hope for now is that it will be seen. 

Then I thought, maybe acting. I met Kelly Reichardt and she was making a movie called River of Grass. She had all kinds of financing options, but eventually she needed to make it for very little money. I think it cost $50,000 to shoot on location down in Florida. She cast me as one of the two leads, and I was also able to give advice because I had made so many movies on so many different budgets. Eventually I was asked to edit it. Since they sort of ran out of money, we ended up cutting this feature on my 3/4” equipment which I still had from years ago. That was a very clunky and fun experience, truly a labor of love. We worked on it for like seven months. When we finally finished the movie, it did very well critically. It went to Sundance and Berlin, and it won various prizes and Independent Spirit Award nominations. That was very empowering to see a movie made for so little.

All of this led me to my old favorite story, Habit. I thought, that’s the movie I want to make. I could do it cheaply in New York because I knew this town, and I knew how to shoot for very little. And I knew I had this money that my other grandfather left me. I’ve had this good fortune of not having to suffer through a lot of time raising money. In a way, it makes a lot of my stories irrelevant because I had the financing that most people have to go out and find. As I said, I shopped Habit around briefly, and I got a vibe that despite the success of River of Grass, I was not associated with it, even though I knew how much I contributed. There were no coattails there, so I was on my own again. That’s when I called my friend Dayton Taylor who had worked on No Telling and I said, “Do you want to produce this? Can we make this movie for $50,000?” I wrote the script very quickly in about three months and I invited him to a reading. On paper, it was pretty startling. It had wolves, and it had a boat, and people hanging out of windows. I said to Dayton, “I know how to do it for this amount. If you can help me, let’s go for it.” 

So we set out and our scheme was to assemble a crew of volunteers. The thing that had aggravated me about making No Telling was that I had this good crew, who were getting paid, but they were very hung up on their hours. I didn’t feel the kind of passion that I had been accustomed to from all my previous stuff where I would carry all the lights and carry the boxes, where I had worked out of a passion, and free drinks. When I made No Telling, it was a very formal setup because I had the responsibility of a large crew. Not to diss any of these people, but I just didn’t feel the passion. And they weren’t necessarily so experienced. I think a lot of them had worked on short format stuff where you go in for three days to do a rock video and you give it your all. But when you gotta show up every day for five or six weeks on location, and there’s special effects and actors’ egos and rain and mud and problems with the generator, these guys just didn’t have it in them. Rather than have the humility to appreciate that they were in this together, they were pulling things like, “Our lunch is half an hour late.” And I’m like, “Well, fuck, give me my shot. I’m doing the best I can for your lunch.” 

On River of Grass, it was a small crew again, and I could envision this is how I would like to make films. That’s what I set out to do with Habit, to just get as few people as possible. And I had said to Dayton, “We gotta pay them something.” And he said, “I got a better idea. We won’t pay them anything, so they can never say they weren’t paid enough.” They would only be there out of love for the project. For me, that was great, because I can inspire people to be committed. 

Dayton hooked me up with this director of photography (DP) Frank DeMarco. Our original concept, Dayton’s and mine, was since we knew what we wanted, we’d just have a swing crew. We wouldn’t even need the same DP. We’d light it in a certain way, we’d have a certain look that we’re after, and we would art direct and find locations. We wouldn’t even care who shoots the damn thing because our vision was so clear. I think it was a deliberately self-protectively arrogant point of view. When we told this to Frank, he said, “That is the most ludicrous thing I ever heard. Why don’t you just have a swing director for that matter?” But it all worked in our favor because he sort of rose to the challenge and said, “That’s bullshit. Let me do the whole thing.” When he read the script, he was like, “This is great. I got scenes in a car, in the country, on a beach. I got wolves, I got night scenes, day scenes. This is a whole résumé right here.” So it was ideal for him, and I think as we all started working together it became clear that we had similar cinematic ideas in mind. I think I gave him the right blend of freedom and the confidence that I also knew exactly what I wanted. 

The other crew members we also got through volunteer work. We invited people to join us on the project, and if they couldn’t stay the whole time, we’d then find other people. What was nice was, with that openness came these real commitments. We basically made the movie with seven people altogether, including me and Dayton. Of course, we would bring in swing crews for bigger shoots, but it was a really intimate production. And I fed them well. I’d send them out to Italian restaurants, or we’d have sushi, and that was where the money was spent. I tried to be as open and relaxed as possible in terms of people’s schedules. Occasionally I would beg them, “Can we please go all night?” and very often they would say sure, because they knew what was at stake. To me, what was important was that there would be a warmth and a dedication in the making of this movie. I was sure that it would give the movie a soul. I feel that very soul was denied my film No Telling because there was just not the right vibe on the set. I think that stuff is intangible, and it really can translate into something. 

VENT!: What were the advantages of shooting a $500,000 film over a $50,000 one?

LARRY FESSENDEN: I don’t think that having a lot of money helped No Telling. In fact, it made everybody feel like they weren’t getting paid enough. I think, especially in the beginning, you should be able to have the passion to get people to work for free, or for whatever your trade-off is. With Habit, everybody is owed that money as deferments, and I’ve paid them as soon as money came in. I still work very cheaply after ten years, and I don’t get it when people feel like they can’t do something because they don’t have a fancy camera, or they don’t have this or that. I think you have to learn to use what you have, to do what you can with the finances you can muster up. Let’s face it, Habit shouldn’t have cost $50,000. A million dollars would have been a nice budget for that, but I wasn’t gonna wait around and blame it on the lack of money. (Habit was shot for $50,000. Total budget to make a 16mm print was $140,000. By the time it was blown up to 35mm, it had cost $200,000.) I waited a year-and-a-half to blow up Habit because I wanted to see what was going on with it. I always imagined a company would buy the movie and they would blow it up. And I was aware that the movie wasn’t perfect, so I even allowed for a little re-trimming, but nobody bit. So I actually did both those things: I trimmed the movie a little, and I redid some of the sound, and I blew it up. That’s why it cost an extra $60,000 for the entire (blow-up) process.

VENT!: Did you have any relationship with the Independent Feature Project (IFP) prior to winning the Someone To Watch Spirit Award? Did winning the award help you?

LARRY FESSENDEN: I had never met those guys in my life. In my case, this one guy, Bob Hawk, happened to like Habit. He’s a consultant on films, and he’s now a producer, and he’s also a scout for Sundance and for a number of other things. He was aware of Kelly Reichardt’s movie River of Grass, so he saw my movie purely as a tape. I didn’t employ him to be my consultant, and I didn’t seek him out and think, he’ll get me to IFP. But Bob’s the one who brought Habit to IFP’s attention when they were looking around for “someone to watch.” They never heard of me, so they requested my video and I think they were surprised that they were so unaware of this movie. So it was by sheer chance. It was by no connection or handshake or anything that I ever made. My advice is to show your movie to as many people as you can in the industry, and find your advocates. 

Winning the award didn’t change anybody’s mind about whether they’d make money off of Habit. It didn’t put me further on the map. I didn’t get into People magazine. The sad thing is that the Spirit Awards, as much as they matter to the independent film community, are still not entirely public. If you put that on your poster, it doesn’t really register with the average theatergoer. How can we change the stakes so things don’t have to make so much money just to have been a worthwhile effort? What I’m looking for is some other distribution venue so that your movie doesn’t have to make millions and millions of dollars to justify itself. The truth is, if I made half a million dollars on Habit, it would have all been paid for and we’d all be happy. Most movies would be considered a failure to make that much, but actually I would have more than broken even.    

VENT!: How do you deal with lawyers and agents?

LARRY FESSENDEN: Another horror story with Habit is when we finally did sign with a foreign distributor. It was the only one that would show any interest in it. My lawyer thought of putting in a clause saying that after four months we’ll all reassess if it’s going well. Anyway, this distributor ripped us off from start to finish. Two years later, another company showed interest in doing the video, and they wanted foreign rights to make it worth their while. So we had to unhitch from our wretched foreign company. It’s taken a year, and we’re still battling with them. We can’t do anything with this other company until this stuff is cleared up. It’s lucky we have this four-month clause because, even though they violated it, at least we can say it’s clearly written there. You really need a lawyer when you get into contractual things. I’m lucky to have a very good one who works hard, and he’s been with me since No Telling

I never had an agent or a manager. Because I had certain financial advantages, I’ve not been as hungry for any work as some people are. So I haven’t done just any old TV gigs or whatever else for which you would need an agent to be constantly pushing you. My feeling is, I just don’t need another person who won’t call me back. I’d rather not have that aggravation. That is, until somebody says, “I can make some money with Fessenden.” I eagerly would love someone to advise me on a career, but I don’t need to be just another guy whom they don’t care about, so I’ve avoided that. There are reasons to get one, but I don’t see why you’d want a bad agent.

VENT!: Do you recommend sending video copies of your film to distributors?

LARRY FESSENDEN: I don’t recommend it, because I don’t think half of them saw my movie. Basically, you can be guaranteed your tape is sitting on a desk somewhere, and as soon as another one comes in it’s going to be underneath that. But what else can you do? That, unfortunately, was my scheme. I never set up my own industry screenings because I was afraid no one would come, and I didn’t want to spend that kind of money to be degraded. What you really need is to be in festivals that people pay attention to. My overall caution is, don’t believe everything you read. There’s a couple of great success stories of people who came from nothing and made it overnight. Everyone else is getting into debt and beating their heads against the wall. That’s the reality of filmmaking that I’ve experienced.

VENT!: What was your experience with Habit at the film festivals?

LARRY FESSENDEN: I applied to a number of the festivals: Telluride, Montreal, and Chicago, and Sundance was on the horizon. When we didn’t get into Montreal, we realized we’d premiere at Sundance if we had the good fortune. And then it got down to the wire and we were invited to Chicago. I started writing these letters to Sundance saying we’d be more than happy to forego Chicago in favor of Sundance. You always hear that it’s good to begin a dialogue with Sundance or wherever, to sort of try to feel them out. Anyway, they were very unresponsive and eventually I said, “Fuck it, I’m gonna just go to Chicago.” From the Chicago hotel, I wrote a letter to Sundance saying I had gone ahead with Chicago because they kindly invited me and I didn’t know what Sundance was up to. I had hoped that they would still consider our movie. So we did Chicago, and Dayton had a way to film critic Roger Ebert through email. We invited Ebert to come to the screening, and he came. He seemed to like the movie, and he wrote a nice small paragraph (which we of course cherished for a year) saying Habit was a strong, bleak film. 

We didn’t get into Sundance, or Berlin, or Telluride. Now I’m getting a little panicky. I decided to pay to go to the Berlin (European) Film Market because we needed to get moving. We went with this guy who has this racket where you pay him and he has a booth there. So we did that, and it was fun, but not much came of it. We did go to a couple of German festivals based on the Berlin screening, but otherwise nobody was interested, no foreign buyers, no nothing. It was very disappointing. 

This one guy who saw the screening came to me and said, “This movie has good qualities. We’ll take it and we’ll recut it.” He wanted to cut about twenty minutes, and he would pay for the cuts and buy the whole thing. He wanted all worldwide rights. He was ready to just write that down on a napkin right there. What he didn’t understand was I was there with one of my associate producers who was also a lawyer. What he also didn’t understand was that I had been making movies for fifteen years and I didn’t particularly want to be talked to that way. He didn’t show any respect that, whether they were right or wrong, I had made some actual choices. It wasn’t about me just whipping this into shape and selling it off to fucking Korea. So I said to him, “I’m not interested. I don’t want to have a relationship with you.” I blew that deal, but I have no regrets.

Finally I got into the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival. That was great, though I might add, at the same time we got into the New York Underground Film Festival, which was equally as exciting. They’re actually simultaneous, so I got into this whole stink about which to go to. Both of these festivals are dear friends now for their own reasons, but it was unfortunate that I was asked to make a choice. I had the same problem with GenArt and Walter Reade. It certainly is aggravating to have to make a choice about which festival to be in when you just assume be in both and hope you do well. There is all this politicking going on behind the festivals, and all a filmmaker wants to do is get his movie seen. I chose the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, which was a nice screening but no real business came of it, and I went to the Walter Reade Independents Night. That was a very good experience showing it there, but everybody was at the Cannes Film Festival, so no industry types saw it with this really enthusiastic audience. It’s just ironic that filmmakers depend on showing their movies, and these festivals are concerned with who’s going to show what first while our lives are hanging in the lurch.  

I’ve been shopping Habit to over thirty or forty distributors, to all the Sonys and Miramaxes and Octobers, on down to the smallest companies. I thought I could sell off foreign rights, and I’m not exaggerating when I say fifty or sixty foreign companies got tapes, all with the little Roger Ebert quote. This was a year now that the movie’s been out, and I was actually getting severely depressed. One thing that’s very obvious is the other two Lower East Side vampire movies that had preceded mine, Nadja and The Addiction, did not do well at the boxoffice, and I think they certainly scared off the distributors, and might have even scared off some of the festivals. And a lot of people said that Habit was difficult to market. 

Next Christmas came, and the movie was essentially dead in the water, but I still believed in it. Then I got a call from Dan Mirvish of the Slamdance Film Festival, who I had met in Germany. He told me to submit my movie for the festival, so I did. He fought for it, but they felt it was already too old. Then, lo and behold, Slumdance was created. I sent it out there, almost on a lark to keep Habit alive, to let it play in Park City once. So it played in Slumdance, and, because I was mentioned in some bit of press, this guy who had seen Habit in Chicago was reminded of my film. He runs Facets, which is one of the great video distributors in this nation, and they also have a theater upstairs that had played River of Grass. He said, “Let me open your movie.” And I said, “Why not?” We prepared to open in March, first for a week-long run to see what would happen. About then I got in touch with my friend Mike Ellenbogen, who had been a crew member on No Telling and then had gone to Albany to run a short film festival for three years. He was feeling restless up there, so I said, “Come on down, Mike. We’ll distribute Habit. We’ll be our own distributors, since no one else will do it.” So Mike came down in January and that’s when we plotted for this March opening of Habit at Facets. 

At that time, out of the blue comes a phone call from this guy Peter Broderick, and he said they were considering me for this Someone To Watch Independent Spirit Award. In March of ’97, we opened the movie on a Friday night in Chicago. We got all our reviews, and they were all positive. Then I flew from Chicago to L.A. and on Saturday morning I got this award (for which I also received $20,000). So I took the fucking movie, with all these fucking nice reviews and this fucking award, and I sent it to all the distributors all over again. And nobody was fucking interested. 

So me and Mike said we were going to do it ourselves, and we plotted to then open it in the Fall. We spent the next six months calling exhibitors. We decided to open in New York and L.A., get those reviews, and then spread out. We had a pretty good opening on Halloween in L.A. at the Laemmle Theatre. We were there for two weeks. And we opened at Cinema Village in New York in November. 

One thing that’s important to point out is that I paid for all this. I used the money wisely because there was a limited amount, but this isn’t a story of how I found all these people to invest in it. I was the investor, and I don’t really know how to recommend self-distribution to someone who doesn’t have access to twenty or thirty grand in addition to what it cost to make the movie. You need to make postcards, to make posters, and make decisions about whether you’re going to poster in each city, which can cost three grand in itself (per city). When I say we spent money on the release, it’s really just for the marketing. We did a 35mm trailer, and you’d be amazed how expensive ads are. It’s a painful decision every time you say we’re going to pay for that extra inch in the Houston Chronicle

VENT!: Do you four wall theaters (i.e., the distributor guarantees a rental fee to the exhibitor regardless of the film’s boxoffice revenue)?

LARRY FESSENDEN: Mike Ellenbogen works very hard to strike these deals with the theaters, but we have never four walled. That’s a matter of principle. The theaters have taken us because they thought they could make some money on the film, and some of them have. They are, in essence, our distributors. In a sense, they invest in us to see what our picture can do for them. You have a deal, sometimes it’s 40/60%, and sometimes you change it over the course of the run. So it’s like a teeny partnership, and that’s been a great experience because Mike and I now have a vision of what distribution is like. It makes you a little more sympathetic to the kind of gut-wrenching decisions that these theater owners have to make. They’ve got to pay their bills. They’re putting out a lot of money–and they lose a lot of money–on some of the smaller movies. We had two weeks booked at the Cinema Village. After a lackluster review in the New York Times, we had to share our second week with another movie. Although our numbers started going up because word-of-mouth was okay on Habit, the Cinema had already committed to another film. So it’s all just a balancing act, and it matters what the press says. You start to see how difficult the distribution business is, and why Titanic does matter to everybody because it’s putting people back into the black, while little films, that we all might think there should be more of, are just breaking everybody’s bank account.

So I put this money in, and the way I saw it was I was investing in my career. I could either have eaten the $200,000 that I spent on Habit and just go back to being nobody. Or I could say, this is a good movie, and I can get some more reviews and attention if I invest yet more and get it seen. All of this is to see if I can raise money for my next movie. So I’m still investing in my career, but you can’t sustain that, and I’ll never know if it’ll pay off. I have a video deal with Fox Lorber, which is fabulous, but there’s very little money associated with it. And I still owe my crew. All the money I made from my Someone To Watch Award I gave them, and so will the very small advance I got from Fox Lorber. And they may make some foreign sales, and that might bring in a little something, but creative accounting is an enemy of every independent filmmaker.

So I’ve now started hustling for money. I first went to the companies that did advocate Habit, and pitched my new project to someone there. But when you approach a movie company, you’re dealing with more than one person. You may have somebody who really loves your film and actually thinks you’re a bankable dude, but then there are three other guys who say it’s going to be tough to market. Very often, you may win over the distributor, but not the foreign sales guy, or maybe the video guy likes you but they don’t like you up in marketing. It’s completely arbitrary.  

I go to these companies with my new pitch, and, if they’re enthusiastic about it, they take the script and put it in this thing called coverage, which might as well be a paper shredder in my opinion. That’s where these writers read it, and they write a synopsis, and then they grade it. You’re getting graded by your “peers,” and I don’t know who these people are. Are they nice guys, or are they bitter writers? That’s what I imagine they are, and your life is dependent on them. So I call into question the whole idea of coverage. Obviously, there has to be a technique with which decisions are made, but I wish, as anybody does, to be in a position where you can say, “Trust me with this. It’s going to be great.” Until then, I’ll just keep hammering away.

I make original films, I’ve beared the financial burden all these years, I know how to work cheaply because I’ve been paying for it myself, so give me some money and I can make a great film. That’s my pitch. And, of course, who would believe me? But that’s my conviction, that I could be a great filmmaker, and I think I’ve paid my dues. I feel like I’ve proved I could do great stuff without the support of the industry, so imagine what I could achieve with its support.

*Interview first appeared in VENT!: The Online Magazine for Disgruntled Filmmakers

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