sujewa films nyc

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Return of Rick Schmidt - An Interview Re: Tears of Bankers Screening on 9/4/12 in NYC

Rick Schmidt, veteran indie filmmaker, director of 25 features, author of "Feature Filmmaking At Used Car Prices", is coming back to NYC after a 12 year absence to show his new movie Tears of Bankers at NewFilmmakers/Anthology Film Archives on 9/4/12.  Here is an interview with Schmidt about indie film, Tears of Bankers, and several related items.  He's got a lot of interesting things to say:
Sujewa:  Rick, how do you feel about returning to NYC to show your new movie Tears of Bankers?  And when was the last time that you screened a movie in NYC?  Share any interesting information about that event.
Rick:  Well, for starters it's 2000 that I've had a show in NYC –  when IFFM at Angelica showed my collaborative Chetzemoka's Curse (Dogme No. 10) at the market.  And that was one of those irritating experiences where buyers, filmmakers, and fest people duck in and out all through a screening, which is pretty unpleasant.  Even though I got a good plug in Variety it didn't help get the feature placed somewhere that time.   But it's always the same hill to climb.  You've got to worry about the quality of the image, and sound levels, audience showing up. and people liking the movie.   I wrote in my 'Used-Car' filmmaking book how the person I was staying with in a Bowery loft in the mid-1970s had gotten herself repeatedly more drunk as I dropped off prints of my first feature (A Man, a Woman, and a Killer, co-directed with my then roommate Wayne Wang), and reported back the rejections, because she was sure that I wouldn't ever get a NY premiere!  When I informed her about the week run I'd been offered at the Bleecker St. Cinema she was dumbfounded.  So here I am again, against the odds I guess!   I'm excited to go at it again in NY!
Sujewa:  Tell us a little about your new movie Tears of Bankers?  Why did you pick the theme?
Rick:  Maybe it picked me.  As a low-income American I fought the good fight of trying to keep a mortgage going, resorting to writing credit card checks to make the monthly nut.  But of course the wall was coming.  I sold our house on the Washington state coast of Port Townsend, in August, 2005, just before the crash.  So not surprising that the theme of foreclosure was still high on my mind.  In TEARS a B&B owner, Barry, is hoping to get a bailout loan from the banks, but has kept his financial meltdown secret from his wife.  I'm almost embarrassed to say that I did the same thing...My wife was shocked when she learned that all my book advances/sales and high-paid filmmaker gigs didn't add up to a secure life that included having a house.  So this TEARS movie is a razor-edged way to relive my own debacle and make some sense of it on an emotional level.  This country's economic structure  isn't designed for people like artists, who earn sporadically.  It wants ALL your energy & time, 40+ hours a week, so you can buy the beehive you inhabit a few hours before going to bed, to repeat the same work the following day.  What can I say?  I always imagine Europe is more artist-friendly, but it's a little late for me and my artist wife to go 'expat!'
Sujewa:  What was the production process like on ToB?
Rick:  The best way to answer this is explain that I've been doing improv features for almost 40 years (yeah...I'm old!), beginning with MWK and solving problems in the editing room. (I edited that first feature over a year's period before I could get two scenes to go anywhere, make ANY sense!).  So my process has mutated, from having partial scripts, to adding real-life stories/interests, to collaborating with people off the street for Feature Workshop movies (shooting five days, editing for five, to finish a feature), to finally just trusting that without virtually anything nailed down, a movie will come.   I'm willing to try and let a story bubble up by placing myself at a location.  And I have to trust that actors (non-actors) will show up (out of the blue, often...) and reveal their truths, and that what they say and do will lead to more definite scenes, story lines, even plot points if I just listen closely enough to what I'm shooting.
TEARS took place in a B&B where I'd been housed by the Rome Intl. Film Festival during a screening of my workshop feature, "Rick's Canoe."  I love old houses and the grace and charm of the Claremont House there stuck with me.  So when Barry Norman approached me to produce a feature, my mind returned to that amazing mansion and in particular, the room I'd inhabited.  For starters, I imagined the owner and his wife living there, on the 2nd floor.  But, of course, when I arrived there was NO actor to play the wife.  All leads had fallen away.  I was literally begging the cast, crew, (anyone) to help us get a wife character, and it was already Day-2 out of a five day shoot!  When the stills photographer, Derek Bell, showed up on the set with friend Brittany Hannah, she immediately got the part (and he became drawn in as an actor as well...).  Of course I should mention she was great in the part and hope all agree.  At any rate, being off-kilter like this is a pretty humbling process. You have to keep a flow of events going, moulding ideas and notions into scenes that then build off themselves.  These delicate threads of logic play out during the day, and tend to surprise anew during the morning shower (at least water helps me!).  In Rome, Derek's brother Allen was friends with several of the town's bankers, so we fortunately had access to them as characters.  I like to say that if I could script their 'banker talk' (like we have in TEARS), and could direct actors to be THAT convincing as bankers, I'd be a multi-millionaire film director with a few houses in Malibu.
Anyway, the answer to your question, I think, is that I jumped in with no actors (well, Barry Norman...), no story beyond a premise, no script, no dialogue, no plot points, no time (a 5-day shoot for a feature...), no location beyond the Claremont House B&B, no cinematographer or sound man I'd even talked to before arriving (thanks DP Ron McLellen and K.L. Powers!).  If curious, you can see the results at NewFilmmakers in NYC, at the Courthouse theatre, Anthology Film Archive, Sept. 4th at 9:15PM.  I'll be there that evening, to answer any additional questions about this crazy improv process!
Sujewa:  Are you still a champion for ultra-low budget/used car prices filmmaking?  Is it easier now to make a good independent movie than it was when you first wrote your books?  And how so?
Rick:  When I was on a filmmaking panel at the Olympia Film Festival in the early 2000s the guy next to me said, "Of course we all want bigger budgets."  When I said, "No, I want to go smaller" he just about called me a liar. I was definitely spinning there in the embarrassment zone for a few seconds before filmmaker Caveh Zahedi came to my rescue, saying 'I agree with Rick."  In any case, I'll say,YES, I'm still a believer in small/tiny budgets if that's all you've got.  Around 2003 I shot a feature with a $130 Ebay Sony TRV-10 camera (w/Sony auxiliary mike on a wire mount) while I was at the Ozark Foothills Film Festival in Arkansas, entitled "The Higden Man" (75 min.) for a total budget of $39 (three 1-hour cassettes, and a silk, $7 muumuu dress I found in a thrift store, which just happened to fit a woman I met fifteen minutes later, who agreed to be one of our actors).  I completed all of the  'principle photography' in just a day and a half (editing took another half-year or so) and it's one of my favorites.  So, is it easier to make a movie now?  It's definitely CHEAPER. but frankly, never easy.  I don't care if you've scripted something into oblivion, or are as impulsive as I am, you always have to pay in the edit room, and ultimately make it work.
Sujewa:  What are your thoughts on the overall independent filmmaking and distribution landscape at this point?
Rick:  Regarding DV/internet distribution, I'm beginning to get a very GOOD feeling about it, because of some opportunities that have recently opened up for my work.  While I don't have a crystal ball about this, I'm hoping that a deal I recently signed with New Video for my Sundance flick, "Morgan's Cake," will be productive.  New Video has decided to distribute Sundance films from past Dramatic Competitions of the festival, and my feature filled that bill.  So it should soon be going out on Netflix, Vudu, SundanceNow, Sony X-box, Microsoft – eight venues in all.  Will I earn any $ for myself and my partners/investors/deferred cast/crew?  We'll see.  Obviously my mood has been turned optimistic because of this development.
All I can add is...THE ONLY PROTECTION we artist/filmmakers have is to keep producing our new works and not waste too much time pitching movies/product to the business sector.  They can still reject our movies for their distribution outlets, but nowadays, with
cheap-yet-HD-quality-means-of-production, we can't be stopped from doing our art.
Thanks Rick!  Good luck in NYC on 9/4!
- Sujewa

New blogs for projects by NYC artist Katheryn McGaffigan:
Blog 1

Blog 2

Blog 3

Blog 4

Blog 5

Blog 6

Blog 7

Blog 8

Blog 10 (no blog 9, numbered wrong)

Blog 11

Blog 12

Blog 13

Blog 14

Blog 15

Blog 16


Katheryn McGaffigan 
- NYC artist; actor, musician, writer
- performed in Gogol Bordello
- Harvard graduate

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are a few people that deserve to mentioned in the same breath regarding the true, independent filmmaker - John Cassavetes, Jim Jarmusch, Rick Schmidt, and Caveh Zahidi come to my mind first and foremost.



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