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In the first part of my conversation with documentarian
Jeffrey Schwarz, we chatted about SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY, as
well as his FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET documentaries. In
this installment, we discuss the passing of New Line, the obstacles for indie
filmmakers, and Divine!
FANG: On another subject, I think the destruction of New
Line Cinema is the biggest blow to the horror genre of the last, oh, twenty
years. The fact that New Line is gone is a tragedy to me.
SCHWARZ: I agree with you. I mean, it still exists, there’s
still a New Line. But no Bob Shaye.
FANG: Exactly. I mean, they’re so tied. For good or for bad,
he really was that company. I just feel like that’s a real darn shame.
SCHWARZ: Well, it is a darn shame, they had a quite a rich
legacy. The movies are still there, the movies are still up on the shelf. But
the personality of the studio was Bob Shaye and all the people he surrounded
himself with, and the history. That was a forty year history right there. And
they’re still making movies, but they don’t have…there’s like a staff of seven
people there. I’m not even sure why it exists at this point. I’m glad it
exists. The name is still out there, [but] it’s basically Warner Brothers now.
FANG: I guess I could see it coming when it got super meta
during NEW NIGHTMARE, when the film became about the studio. Which I loved, but
to me it was sort of the signal that perhaps Icarus is flying a little too
SCHWARZ: It’s all about shareholders, it’s all about stock
prices, it’s all about stuff we don’t care so much about, but that have the
impact on why things happen. I don’t think it had anything to do with the
quality of films, or the profitability of films. I mean, come on, as soon as
New Line closed, they had one of their biggest hits with SEX AND THE CITY. It
wasn’t about their generating revenue; it was about these big studios reining
in their independent arms. They virtually closed down all the independent arms
of the studios.
We have a big problem among the independently-minded
filmmakers. Who’s going to put out your movie? Who’s going to pay for your
movie, and who’s going to distribute your movie? So the genre is really hurting
because we only have a few players left. Most great horror films, as you know,
come from a bunch of kids who want to make a movie. All your favorites, I’m
sure, and my favorites are home grown movies like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or
REANIMATOR or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Could that happen now? I don’t know. I
think the filmmakers would have to do all the leg work, and really have to do a
roadshow with it. I can’t think of any real classics from the last ten or
fifteen years on the level of REANIMATOR.
FANG: How do I want to put this? There are the big hits that
are homegrown, like BLAIR WITCH or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, things like that that
explode. But I can’t think of one small movie that has, quote unquote,
production value that got big.
SCHWARZ: Yeah, maybe like CABIN FEVER, maybe something like
that. I don’t know. It’s just really, really difficult right now for anybody
trying to make anything independent. I don’t know how it’s all going to shake
out. Like, where’s the next Kevin Smith going to come from? Even for somebody
like him, it’s really difficult for filmmakers to be nurtured, or to make a
breakout movie. It does happen, but it’s very, very rare.
FANG: Unfortunately it’s “Oh, you made a movie for $50,000?
Here, make another movie for $50,000.”
SCHWARZ: PARANORMAL was made for nothing – I mean, the sound
mix cost more than the movie itself. What did the studio do? They created a
division to make microbudget features. So the studios are in this game now.
They know they can pick up a movie for nothing, but they have to market it. You
can make a movie for $100,000 and it can be brilliant, but you’re gonna spend
twenty times that on marketing, and no indie filmmaker can afford that. I
thought the PARANORMAL campaign was kind of genius. The movie is what it is,
but I loved the campaign. The thing was just sort of discovered lying around
somewhere and you had to call the theater to tell them you wanted to see it – I
thought that was good, old school (marketing). That’s classic exploitation
film. It can still be done. It’s really hard to know what the upside—with DVDs,
it would be a big DVD sale. But that doesn’t exist anymore. So where’s the
economic incentive for somebody to make a low budget movie? I don’t know how
people do it.
FANG: Well, some of us don’t any more. Changing gears a bit,
let’s talk about your Divine documentary.
SCHWARZ: Yes! I AM DIVINE is in production. The movie is
authorized by Divine’s mom (before she passed away, we did an interview with
her) and by John Waters; we got the blessing of the Pope of Trash himself. I
wouldn’t have moved forward without his blessing. Divine has so many fans all
around the world, and I’ve been really encouraged by all the feedback we’ve
been getting from the fans. This is a movie made by fans for fans, and it’s
gonna be great. Hopefully, that will be out on the festival circuit sometime
FANG: Did you find you had to do more of a song and dance to
get people to talk to you due to Bernard Jay’s book, NOT SIMPLY DIVINE, being
so reviled by everyone?
SCHWARZ: I don’t know Bernard Jay personally, but I do know
that after Divine died the book came out, and Divine wasn’t around to refute
any of it. And I guess he won’t be around to refute any of my (film), either.
But the main thing in getting people to talk to you is trust, and I try to make
movies that make these people into heroes. William Castle is a hero. Divine is
a hero. Especially now – it’s the ultimate “It Gets Better” video. Divine has
the last laugh on all those people who picked on him in high school. I want to
make a really entertaining, hilarious, touching, poignant, ridiculous,
over-the-top documentary. I like to say I make documentaries for people who
don’t normally watch documentaries.
Today there really isn’t a big distinction now in the
culture between a doc and a feature. People will pay money to go see a
documentary in the theater. You just have to hook into a great story and a great
character that people are going to respond to. There are the Divine fans that
are already out there who worship and adore John Waters films and Divine, and
there’s this whole new generation who this might be new to them. That actually,
is really exciting; to kind of bring the John Waters aesthetic and Divine’s
aesthetic and life into the 21st century.
FANG: If a documentary about Vogue (THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE) or
Joan Rivers (JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK) can open in theaters, why not a
SCHWARZ: Yes, exactly. Divine ate shit, so we don’t have to.
FANG: You just had a doc open to some really great reviews –
VITO, about Vito Russo who wrote, among other things, THE CELLULOID CLOSET.
SCHWARZ: There’s actually some appeal there for horror fans.
We do talk in the film about Vito’s take on how gay and lesbian characters in
the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, when they appeared, there were a lot of horror movie
conventions around their appearances. Aside from actually being vampires and
murderers, they’re usually a sinister presence in a lot of films.
FANG: So there are some scholarly genre references.
SCHWARZ: Yes, scholarly genre reference.
FANG: [Laughs] I just made that up.
(For more of Jeffrey Schwarz’s work, check out Automat
Pictures, the I AM DIVINE page, the I AM DIVINE Fundraising page and the SPINE TINGLER: THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY page.
TO BE CONTINUED
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