LA to Omaha and Back with Dan Mirvish

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By Jonathan Marlow

LA to Omaha

Renegade filmmaker and Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish has made a musical comedy about real estate. Film Threat calls Open House (more) "a funny, fast-paced and above all very unique film." Jonathan Marlow asks him about his Oscar campaign, starting a film festival and the film scene in Nebraska.

You were part of the graduate film program at the University of Southern California. How was that experience?

That was a frustrating learning experience. The year I got there was the year that they had started some new curriculum. So we called ourselves the "guinea pig class." We were there the same year as the riots in South Central, right across the street from campus, so all of us were affected by that. There was a lot of gunfire and looting... and that was just among the students.

Badoom-tscch...

And then our best professor there turned out to be an axe murderer, which really was the case.

Interesting.

So it was kind of a challenging time and I've since come to appreciate that every film school is a bit of a struggle and from great struggle comes art or at least productivity. So by my third year there, I had spent a lot of money doing these shorts. Even at USC, they're actually kind of subsidized by the school but they still wind up spending a lot of money making shorts and I was seeing... you know, a lot of them weren't very good, but even the good ones, people would go to meetings with them afterwards in Hollywood and people would say, "Well, that's great, kid, now let us know when you've done a feature." For someone who just blew 100 grand on a short, you'd be like, "What?"

So I thought, "You know what? If I'm going to have some guy in a suit tell me that anyway, I may as well make a feature, you know, and just cut to the chase." I saw some obscure loophole in the USC bylaws that allowed me to make a feature-length film that would count as my thesis and that I would still be able to own the rights to, which is kind of a big sticking point about USC. USC usually owns the rights to most of the features - most of the shorts, there are no features. Anyway, I found the one loophole. I like loopholes. But what was involved was endless work with the script that I had and shooting in Nebraska, where I wouldn't have been able to use any USC equipment, facilities, not even a pencil sharpener, which suited me okay. I was shooting in Nebraska anyway. Panavision gave us free editing equipment, Paramount gave us a free edit suite to cut the film on and we wound up cutting on old upright moviolas from the 30s.

I want to talk a bit about your first feature film experience. By that, of course, I'm talking of American Kickboxer 2.

Ah, there you go, you are delving into the...

Obviously Omaha was a more formative experience.

Well, you'd be surprised, though. The whole reason I could make an Omaha (The Movie) was because I worked on American Kickboxer 2, which of course at the time was known as Blood Kin. The lab in the Philippines kept getting our dailies confused with another film called One-Armed Executioner, which we always thought must've been a much more fun film to work on. Kickboxer was this bizarre movie where I found a notice on a bulletin board on campus saying, "Interns needed for terrorist filmmaking." I'd heard of gorilla filmmaking; I'd never heard of terrorist filmmaking.

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