By Jonathan Marlow
September 20, 2005 - 3:48 PM PDT
JM: I know that you're coming back to San Francisco for RESFEST in late September to show Thumbsucker and Architecture of Reassurance. I think that it's a good thing.
MM: I love it. It's so much more organic than something like Sundance or whatever. So much more homemade and so much more grassroots and so many more interesting, weird people see your stuff. As a filmmaker, I tell all the other filmmakers out there, get in RES. Because it gets shown so much more and so many different, weird people see it. They worked really hard and have forever. I'm totally pro-RES.
JM: Sundance is geographically based and it's up to people, if they're so driven, to go out and see if they can participate. With RES, obviously, it's a touring festival, so you're not locked into one city. It actually changes slightly from city to city as well. You can reach a larger audience and, for many folks, it's the largest audience that they're ever going to receive for their work.
MM: People like me are sort of in a place of privilege now. They show a lot of younger people. As far as the design thing, I've purposefully disassociated my "design-self" from my "film-self." The part of me that wants to do film is the part of me that wants to tell stories, deal with emotions, deal with people. The screenplay that I'm working on now finally has a graphic element to it. I didn't want to be one of these graphics people doing motion graphics. I did everything I could to almost create a schism between the two.
JM: That definitely surprised me about Paperboys. I expected either the influence of your music video work or your graphic design work and it was not that at all. Obviously that's conscious. It's not accidental.
MM: That's not why I was doing it. I think you can get lumped into something. I saw so many people get lumped in. Once you get caught into motion graphics, it's hard to be a content provider and not a content manipulator. From the beginning, I could smell that. I had to be a content provider. Also, I'm not really that good at all that stuff. Graphic design-wise, I'm a total Luddite. I use Quark Express. I'm a retard. That's my strength. I'm not good at it. The ideas have to be kind of interesting or... my limitations are always in the part that I nestle myself up to make something. Every time I get my RES Magazine, I look at the DVD. The Shynola guys are my favorite things to watch, but I don't really think of myself in the same group in the same way. I've done some graphic-y things, graphic videos, but I'm not like those people. This next film I'm excited to kind of reintegrate... it'll be kind of like a reunion of my "design-self" and "film-self." If it works out, if I end up keeping it in the film.
JM: When do you hope to go into production on that?
MM: I don't know. I've got to finish the script. I'm gunning for next year sometime.
JM: If you're not part of the "RES group" proper...
MM: Well, I think RES is more diverse than that...
JM: I think that you're right. Outside perception is different than the reality. Then are you part of the skateboarder-turned-filmmaker group?
MM: This is my problem in life. I don't like being in a group. So I get... so I'm a multiple hybrid to the point of being a little hard to define. In all of them, I feel great affinity. The skater, the whole Aaron Rose/Alleged Gallery/Beautiful Losers thing... I'm part of that, but at the same time, I feel like I'm just on the edge of it. If you even go to the Beautiful Losers show, I really feel like my work is just on the edge, tied with a rope. I know those people, I'm great friends with them and I admire them greatly. Same thing with Shynola and all those different kinds of people, Paperrad... I love it, totally. I go seek it out myself but I'm tied to an even longer rope to that stuff. In general, I sort of have a hard time feeling on the team. It's weird; my interests are kind of varied, even within myself. In my own room, I have all these different parts that play around with each other. Sometimes it's confusing, sometimes it's what fuels everything. I can't control it. I tried. I can't. I tried to be narrower. It doesn't work.
JM: I don't believe that you have any great attraction to the whole "celebrity" distraction. Yet, from the hubbub of Sundance, you immediately were off to the Berlinale, with the red carpet, Keanu Reeves and all that nonsense. You're trying to work around the edges of these sorts of barriers as well?
MM: Like the big Hollywood world?
MM: That's the weird thing about film. Film is on a much bigger public scale than everything else I've done before, which is what makes it great. You can enter the public sphere, in a way. From art school, the reason I didn't make traditional art in galleries and museums is because it was too off the "white castle" kind of rarified world. Me and a bunch of my friends got into graphics or anything that was public because we wanted to be in the public sphere. When I first saw one of my posters on Broadway, I was like, "I made it, I did it! All these people I don't know that aren't in the art world from all different walks of life are looking at my stuff and most of them are passing it by, but some of them... it's affecting them." Especially coming from art school, I was like, "I made it!" That need; that little bit of heroin has just been growing.
Now when I think of Thumbsucker being in Encino or Fresno or even in downtown Los Angeles, I have the same buzz. "Wow." What a privilege to get to communicate with people you don't know and people that you wouldn't actually get to meet in the confines of your normal life. The price for that is that you have to play the game a little bit to get the money to be in that world. That's something I'm really struggling with and have no great answers for and am not in any kind of position of knowing about, but at the beginning of making Thumbsucker, I wasn't like, "Yeah, I'm going to get Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn, Benjamin Bratt and all these people." It was only after years of not getting financing and years of acquiring all these actors that really liked the script. It had its own life in the afterworld. Actors would talk to each other and agents would talk to each other. The calls I would be getting would just keep increasing and name value would just be growing and, simultaneously, trying to get money would just be failing and failing and "no" and "no" and "no." Every financier and distributor in North America and Europe said, "No." So I was over.
JM: "We tried."
MM: Yeah. That's a pretty fucked place to be. You've worked on the thing forever. It's not like you're going to go get a new one right away. Luckily, these other people started calling or started being interested that I liked... You meet Keanu and there's not a more humble, straight forward, easy to talk to, sincere person. I was like, "I feel totally comfortable with this person I'm meeting with." Vince Vaughn, a totally different kind of person, but I got the sense, like, "Oh, he gets what I'm trying to do." You know what I mean? In that relationship, I was very happy and honored to have him and he treated me so nicely that I felt great and the work I did with him felt great.
Entering this kooky world, I don't feel great about or I have great qualms about, or being part of the market and having to think about the market. I'm not into it. I don't see Thumbsucker as the diving board to, "Okay, the next one's 15 million and the one after that's 20 million." If anything, I'm going down. I'm seeing al-Qaeda as a great business model. How low can I go? How cheap can I make the next one for?
JM: So this new script will be very grassroots and organic in its creation?
MM: Yeah, it might even be shot at my house. It might be really down.
"Film is a conversation between you and people via a screen."
"I've purposefully disassociated my 'design-self' from my 'film-self.'""I'm really into surprise and corruption of purity."
"I just got so hypnotized by that film."
"I don't have a lot of hopes for the system."
back to past articles
In addition to his persistence in acquiring obscure films for GreenCine, Marlow is a writer, filmmaker, curator and occasional critic. Not necessarily in that order. He is also a dedicated skeptic.
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