tv Earth Focus LINKTV November 8, 2018 9:00am-9:31am PST
action. spike lee. aahhh! no one's gonna say, "we're gonna take a chance on you." i never thought that would happen. so out of frustration, i wrote "reservoir dogs." hollywood is not very alluring to me. i am not susceptible to swimming pools and porsches. i got a '79 chevy. it's runnin' good. i'm a film outlaw, and i think that's a good thing to be. annenberg media ♪ and: with additional funding from these foundations and individuals:
and by: and the annual financial support of: hello, i'm john lithgow. welcome to "american cinema." at the edge of hollywood and beyond, new filmmakers are making some of the most interesting films in america today, films that have made hollywood stand up and watch. these filmmakers work against great odds on shoestring budgets. if they succeeed, they can get a chance to make hollywood pictures, like quentin tarantino and "pulp fiction."
but going hollywood has its price, one that some of these filmmakers won't pay. in this program, narrated by frances mcdormand, we will look at some visions from "the edge." aaahh! (big band music playing) independent films are the most important there are in the usa. they're the lifeblood of the industry. they set the new standards and the trends, and they have the wildest ideas and most interesting stories. and they're usually the best of the pictures in the country. you're not mr. purple. some other guy is mr. purple. you're mr. pink. these independent directors have their own vision and they want to create a movie that reflects their vision. that's the most important thing. (julie dash) i think we're all a little bit crazy.
i think all of us have been traumatized by something and then we have this need, this obsession to tell stories and to rework the world within our own guidelines. (upbeat music playing) certain independent filmmakers are independent because they can't make movies they want to make within the studio system. (upbeat music playing) aaahh! if the movies work, and they make a profit, then the studios are going to be saying, "hey, why don't you make a movie for us?" "we want that money that you made for those guys." (narrator) in mainstream hollywood, a picture averages $42 million in production and marketing. an independent film can cost a fraction of that amount.
in order to survive, major studios have to produce films that appeal to a mass audience. but independent filmmakers with lower budgets can take risks that hollywood won't, producing films that are original. how independent films are made varies, but filmmakers on the edge of hollywood all have one overriding desire: make films on their own terms. it is very, very difficult for something new to come from within hollywood. it's almost impossible. i think it has to come from the margins. action, spike lee. (narrator) made with a final budget of approximately $175,000, "she's gotta have it," spike lee's first feature film, received national attention. the breadth and scope of it seemed like a whole new voice,
black, white or any color. and in the world of black film there hadn't been anything except for michael schultz working from the exploitation, "blaxploitation days" up to "krush groove," just around the time "she's gotta have it" screened. there was nobody else in black filmmaking community, in hollywood or elsewhere doing anything. so he basically had the field entirely to himself. he invented a field that had, like, disappeared. he reinvented it. black america's been waiting for this film a long time. they never saw black people kissing or making love. even the big black stars, eddie murphy, richard pryor, they don't have none of that stuff in their films. it seems that men aren't taught to be in touch with themselves, with their true feelings, but the things they say, weak. you so fine, baby, i'll drink a tub of your bath water. i just want to rock your world.
baby, it's got to be you and me. please, baby, please, baby, please. (narrator) his second film, "school daze," an ambitious musical about class and social distinction within the african-american community garnered his first studio deal with columbia pictures. lee followed "school daze" with "do the right thing," "mo' better blues," and "jungle fever." although his budgets escalated, lee continued to explore the cultural and sociopolitical diversity of african-americans. his 1989 release, "do the right thing," explored racism in a way never before seen in hollywood. you're lucky the black man has a loving heart. i'm outta here. (overlapping dialogue) -- i'm a righteous black man or you'd be in serious trouble. (overlapping dialogue) move back to massachusetts.
i was born in brooklyn. aahh! black people know everything about white people. from the time we could think, that's all we see on t.v. that's all on the radio, magazines, movies. we're bombarded with white folks. but conversely i think white america's known little known very little about african-americans. the beauty for spike lee is that he for a number of years, a number of projects, he was able to structure his productions as negative pickups, which basically meant that he could write the rules and he would have to agree to only three things. he would have to agree on we'll make the first one. we'll roll three things into the first one. you have to agree on the budget, the cast, and he'd write the script and then film the script. he'd have to deliver a film with only an "r" rating. and he'd have to make a film that was under 120 minutes. (john pierson) he went over 120 minutes on "jungle fever," but otherwise, has kept his end of the bargain
and they totally left him alone. (siren) get your hands up, put 'em up i said. get your hands up, get your hands up. on "malcolm x" with warner, a lot more money on the line, he still managed to make exactly the movie he wanted. (john pierson) but he's had to put up with a lot more resistance. he's had to fight more fights. you can't gamble in harlem without the white man's okay. (narrator) lee's ambitious "malcolm x" cost over $25 million. (malcolm "x") i say and i say it again, you been had, you been joked. you been hoodwinked, bamboozled and led astray, run amok. there was a point in the film, after we had finished shooting, while we were finishing, where the money was cut off. i wanted to continue working, so i called up michael jordan and magic johnson, prince, janet jackson, tracy chapman,
oprah winfrey, and i just told them the truth: i need money. and they wrote me a check -- all of them. (narrator) 1994 signaled a return to smaller budgets with "crooklyn" a film about growing up in brooklyn in the 1970's. what we wanted to do is to elevate black cinema to what we've done in music, in sports and everything else. we're not at the level yet because we're in our infancy as far as films go. but another 20 years, we're going to produce our duke ellingtons, our own mary beardons, our james baldwins, people of that stature in film. (jim jarmusch) for us in new york at the time, in the late seventies, it was an idea kind of related to the music scene at the time, which was that we are not virtuoso filmmakers,
but we have something we'd like to express. and that desire to express it was more important than having a more professional attitude, or having a lot of experience. (jim jarmusch) when i started thinking about "stranger than paradise," there were severe limitations as far as how much money i could get to make a film like that. (jim stark) "stranger than paradise" cash cost was $160,000, and it grossed many times more than that. jim's pacing was very slow and deliberate. there was a kind of irony in how he approached the world, which was not typical of filmmaking. there's a meandering approach that lets you decide what you thought was important about the story. the style of the movie and the sensibility of it were clearly emanated from the personality of jim jarmusch but also happened to be perfect for the financial circumstances and constraints under which he had to work.
the idea of using actors who are playing characters who are more or less identical to their own new york selves, it was just a complete knockout. after i finished making "stranger than paradise," dino de laurentiis's office called me and asked me to come and meet with him. and i went into his office and he had this huge desk, larger than my apartment it seemed like. and i talked to him for awhile. he was very direct. and he said to me, "why do you make amateur films, as opposed to professional films?" and i asked him, "what is the difference between amateur and professional film?" he said, "a professional film costs at least $5 million." so i still have not yet made a professional film. another part of his filmmaking which i think is important and different from hollywood is that he's always developing and writing a character with a specific actor in mind.
jim had wanted to make a film with tom waits and john lurie trapped together in a confined space. and then when he met roberto, he said, "well, i'm going to take a character like roberto and put that into the same space with them." and roberto played bob much like roberto benini. not you, shorty, it ain't your turn. come on, let's go. but i don't go for 4 days, it's my turn. jim jarmusch might have needed to turn to other money sources, if he hadn't been so embraced from "stranger than paradise" by the world film community. the fact that "stranger," "down by law" and movies since were big hits in countries all over the world, and certainly in france where he's a god.... but in other places as well, enabled him to finance offshore. and that makes it a lot easier for somebody like him
not to even have to be tempted to turn to hollywood. it's hard to find money here without strings attached, because everyone wants to have input into the film and that's not my style. so i've been lucky to find financing outside the u.s. "mystery train" was financed 100 percent from japan. it is kind of odd, although i feel i'm american only kind of coincidentally. hi, goodnight. goodnight. how may i help you? we would like most cheap room please, do you have? all our rooms for two people are the same rates. oh. (speaking japanese) i'm sorry, that is too expensive. jarmusch's relationship with hollywood becomes almost more and more irrelevant.
with each new picture he makes, hollywood becomes more aware that he's not interested in doing it their way, and that what he's doing is just something else and they don't even have to think about him. hollywood is not very alluring to me. i'm not susceptible to being lured by pools and porsches. i got a '79 chevy. i mean, it's running good. (narrator) joel and ethan coen captured critical acclaim with their debut film, "blood simple," a thriller in the tradition of film noir. i saw "blood simple" right when it came out. and it just was a startling picture. (gunshot) (joel silver) they shot a scene in this room where they shot bullet holes and these big shafts of light came in. i make lots of action films so i said, "why didn't i ever think of that?" i've had plenty of gunshots, i never had shafts of light. so i was just really impressed with the first picture
and i thought these guys were really something. (gunshots) (click) we were much more involved on a personal level with people who are making sort of low-budget horror movies, exploitation movies than with any kind of avant-garde, new york art film or anything like that. i mean, we didn't know any of those people, whereas we knew people who were doing exploitation. (joel coen) i had been working as an assistant editor on a horror movie named "evil dead," which is how ethan and i met sam. there's some tools that i found to be very helpful on the making of my films that joel recognized as good, and he's applied them like any craftsman would. (sam raimi) one of them is "shakycam," which is a simple 2-by-4 board and a camera placed in the middle.
and then you get an operator on either end of the board and it acts as a stabilizing element. so it allows you to move the camera cheaply and quickly. you can also rush at objects and go over them and come to a quick stop. (sam raimi) joel used that extensively. it's a very good effect. ooohh! aahh! owww! i remember how i was struck the very first coen film i saw, i saw "blood simple" before it went into release. i saw it at a film festival. it's a terrific genre story. (richard jameson) the guy's out on a country road at night. and he's got a shovel and he's walking along, dragging the shovel on the blacktop road. it's just the kind of noise that a shovel makes, and that sound, in that scene, punctuating the emotions,
punctuating that event in just that way was brilliant. (ethan coen) the fact that we storyboard everything we do grows out of our experience in "blood simple." we didn't have any money to waste, essentially, and we had to be able to talk to the person who was shooting and the person who was designing it about what we were going to see and weren't going to see, so we didn't waste the money that we had. (loud engine roaring) there's something, a lack of heart or emotion, that have prevented the masses from connecting to their films. there's always a certain distance there. but i think "raising arizona" shows that they can make a middle-american comedy people could really get into.
i'll be taking these huggies and whatever cash you got. "no, no, not by the hair on my chinny chin chin," said the little pig. aw, look at that. look at him. "then i'll huff and i'll puff and i'll blow your house in." that son of a bitch. (yelling) you son of a bitch! better hurry it up. when they plan a sequence, i find what they're truly doing is not planning a shot and then another shot, but they're really writing a piece of music, only they're doing it visually. (sam raimi) and they're very aware of the shot's power and impact a wide shot versus a dolly shot. and they're aware of the effect of those shots in sequence, just as a musician would be aware of the flow of the notes and how they would rise and build to a climax.
(climactic music playing) (banging) (machine gun firing) the people writing about films have seen far more than we have and are much more literate in terms of movies than we are. i mean, we all essentially watched cornell wilde movies. (man) we'll hear from that kid and i don't mean a postcard. (john turturro) there's a lot of joel and ethan in there. fish, fresh fish. (john turturro) they're not as much of a pill as "barton fink" is. (woman) let's get to work. it's late, morrie. not anymore, lil, it's early. we were doing a love scene with judy davis and they had written originally there wasn't all this kissing.
and i don't think she ran her hand through her hair and then they wanted to do it a little bit different. and i didn't want to. i said, "listen you guys, i have to defend the writers here." and they were like oh, yeah, well, to hell with the writers. i said, it should be really like he's a virgin and everything. and then we came up, i said, "well how about if, you know, she takes my glasses off, totally undressing me?" he looks like a little raccoon, he's a little scared child. when we saw it in dailies, ethan said, "that's really romantic." so i said, "it could use a little touch of sensitivity before what's going to happen, you know." (narrator) producer joel silver, known for the blockbuster films "lethal weapon" and "beverly hills cop" was attracted to their distinctive style. i'm proud to be involved with joel and ethan.
but i don't look at it as adding to my collection. i look at it as i hope i help them make a great movie, because if it's a great movie, it'll be good for all of us. we started working on "the hudsucker proxy" several years ago with sam raimi, right after "blood simple" as a matter of fact. and we put that aside for awhile. it's been an intervening seven or eight years because it was becoming clear that it was going to be a very expensive movie and not something we could -- probably not something we could realistically make and certainly not something we could make at that point with the kind of control we wanted. (sam raimi) we were doing a rewrite 6 months before production. joel turned to me and said, "the studio wants us to cast somebody that we're not happy with. and they're not approving our choice, so we're not going to make the movie," i thought: that's fine. huh? okay, okay. but they were ready to close down the whole thing because it wasn't exactly how they'd envisioned it.
they told me that and i went crazy. i said, "you have to make this movie. you have to make it. you can't not make this movie. the time is right for this movie, it's now, it's the right movie to make for this moment. you gotta make it." it does help to be able to put some teeth into your position by just saying, "it's take it or leave it and if it's leave it, then so be it and no hard feelings, but we'll do something else." that does help marginally, but it usually boils down to a question of whether or not you're going to be successful in that gambit is a question of how badly they want material. they can say, "i'll make a little movie instead," because they have that ability. i'm glad they're making this. (emcee speaking spanish) (narrator) "hudsucker proxy's" costs were equal to the money made by the most successful independent movie of the 80's,
steven soderbergh's "sex, lies, and videotape." well, i guess it's all downhill from here. i came out of this background of guerrilla independence in which things were made very cheaply. (woman in tv) ann bishop mulhaney. (man) what do you want to talk about? what do you usually talk about -- (man) sex. (steven soderbergh) "sex, lies" i think was a fluke. it's being used as a bench mark in a financial sense. and i think that's a mistake. independent films shouldn't be judged like that. these are films ordinarily that don't cost a lot to make and don't have to make a lot of money. (narrator) soderbergh first drew attention at the sundance film festival, a yearly event held in park city, utah. one of the premiere festivals for american independent films, sundance has a reputation for showcasing unknown talent and attracting the attention of hollywood.
i remember sort of seeing steven soderbergh around before the screenings of "sex, lies, and videotape" in sundance and no one knew who this guy was. he was having dinner alone. i just want to ask you a few questions like, why do you tape women talking about sex? huh? (todd mccarthy) and suddenly the next day, redford and sydney pollack and universal and everyone is just calling him up. i don't find turning the tables very interesting. well, i do. tell me why, graham. why? his life is never going to be the same again. after that one screening, it all changes like that. a lot of people approached me about doing things at a lot of different places, which was interesting. i chose to make "kafka" which i had read many years ago and decided i was going to cash in my orange ticket. (piano music playing) (clicking of typewriter)
"kafka" just appealed to me because it was different from "sex, lies." radically different. it would take me out of the country, so i wouldn't have anybody watching me. it could be made independently. oh, kafka, will we see you in the cabaret? (steven soderbergh) i knew physically it would be a very difficult film to make, and i wanted that because "sex, lies" had been so easy. what are you working on? oh, a man who wakes up and finds he's a giant insect. (steven soderbergh) its commercial failure was interesting, it almost didn't count. within the hollywood community the people who saw the movie seemed to like it well enough and respected the filmmaking. the fact that it was an independent movie almost made it not count as a blemish because it wasn't their money, so they didn't care. (slow music and heaving breathing)
(steven soderbergh) now that it appears that there might be money to be made from independent-type films, there's certainly more people looking toward that end. not necessarily on the filmmaking side, but on the distributor's side and producer's side, resulting in mca and polygram forming this new division to deal with the film i'm making "king of the hill," which they think is not necessarily a specialty film, but not necessarily something to be dumped in 1200 theatres. they're doing it because they think there is money to be made doing that and that's why. it's not some overriding belief in film as art. and that's fine. you know, ever since vinnie got the vcr, every night he's been bringing home a different dirty video. (narrator) in the late 1980's nancy savoca emerged as one of a select few
women filmmakers in america to receive critical acclaim. savoca created true-to-life characterizations of women and italian-americans seldom seen on the screen. they pee through that thing, you know what i mean? so? animals. the script was written right after i graduated from college. and i just assumed that it would get done right away. i thought it was a great script, that i was a great director. and we would get it done. what happened on graduation is reality hits really hard about how difficult it is to get something like this off the ground and how much money is needed. so literally from the time the script was written until we started shooting was six years. what happened? what happened? donna, please, we can't help you if you don't tell us.
(crying) no one can help me. donna, just tell us what happened, please. (crying) he wants to go out with his friends tonight. when "true love" won at the sundance film festival, we got an incredible amount of interest. you bang your head against the wall so many times you keep banging your head, the wall's not there anymore. everything opened up quickly. and we took meetings and were very excited but what was interesting at the end is we found out that in order to get into the system, then there are certain things that you need to do. and to this day, i mean, i'm just not sure how much i can make myself fit into the system. (man) devotion to one's family is more pleasing in god's eyes.
(narrator) nancy savoca's "household saints" depicts a young woman's religious journey. (lily taylor) you don't sit around waiting for miracles, because then you come to expect some big announcement to let you know that a miracle is on its way. (nancy savoca) we did go out with a script but it was rejected basically because it's not a topic many people want to deal with. and we ended up doing it independently, mainly because we just couldn't find somebody to back it. independent filmmaking is a really wonderful thing, but the harsh reality of it is that it gives you less money when you're working outside of the studio system and you suffer for it. there's a lot of compromising and you lose a lot of things. but you gain creative control. at this point it's the only way i can get creative control. if someone's giving me money, i'll take it. but at the same time i want the creative control. and that's the battle. (upbeat music playing) (narrator) with "reservoir dogs," quentin tarantino's use
of sharp dialogue and graphic violence created a sensation at the 1992 cannes, turino and sundance film festivals. i just didn't think i was ever going to deal my way in. "you know, we're going to take a chance on you, kid." i just never thought that would ever happen. so out of frustration, i wrote "reservoir dogs," i had just sold a script so i decided to take that money and make the movie with that. i was going to shoot "reservoir dogs" for $30,000, 16-millimeter, black and white. that's why it takes place in one room. i begged him and begged him to let me raise more money, and he refused. no, no, no, no, i've heard that before, forget it, no way. no one's ever going to give me a chance and no. and he was saying this to me, i'm like, oh, man, but just let me, like, go raise some money, please. and finally after a long time of negotiating, he goes, "all right, give me two months with it. you can wait three months to make your home movie."