Interview: William H. Macy Talks Directing RUDDERLESS, MPAA, And Co-Starring In Paul Thomas Anderson Films.

[Editor’s Note: This interview was originally published on Twitch Film.]

Deadbeat father. Quiz Kid Donnie Smith. 70’s porn assistant director. Down-on-his luck car salesman who hires the wrong goons to kidnap his wife to collect some ransom money.  These are some of the many prominent characters actor William H. Macy has played on screens big and little. Now he has something new to add to his prolific portfolio: filmmaker. 

Last year, his directorial debut Rudderless had its world premiere at the renowned Sundance Film Festival. It had a small theatrical run and tomorrow it’s available on DVD. I reviewed it while at Sundance and recommend adding this film to your collection. 

Rudderless is a poignant and strangely inspiring movie about loss, pain, and bearing your heart to the world while coming apart at the seams. It stars  Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, Felicity Huffman (Macy’s beautiful and talented wife), Laurence Fishburne, Selena Gomez, and musician Ben Kweller.

Last week I spoke on the phone with Macy about his experience making Rudderless — what worked and what he needed help on, and so forth.

Moreover, we talked about the MPAA, Shameless, and two films he co-starred in that had a huge impact in my life (as well as yours, I’m sure), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia

Chase Whale: Hey Bill, how’s it going? 

William H. Macy: Very well. Very well. 

Excellent. Thanks for sending me a RUDDERLESS poster. Being quoted on it is very special to me. 

Well then congratulations on your excellent taste. (laughs)

Congratulations on making an excellent movie! Let’s go ahead and jump into this before time runs out. One major thing that makes the industry work is folks taking a chance or a leap of faith on others. As an actor you’ve done this with great success regarding acclaimed directors before they got all the acclaim most notably for a then unknown 20-something director with a little movie called BOOGIE NIGHTS. For your directorial debut, what about the RUDDERLESS screenplay made you want it to be your first leap of faith as a filmmaker? 

The short answer is a lot of things fell together at the same time. It’s my experience I read a lot of stuff that I think is worthy of being made that is difficult to get made. It’s tough to get anything made but I read a lot of stuff. I loved the music. I loved that music was such a central part of it because music is a big thing to me. I loved the notion of dealing with violence. Talking about violence from a point of view that I don’t believe has been covered in the past. I thought it was of a size that I could handle. I was a bit naïve on that part. It was a much bigger movie than I thought. I was talking to a friend about shooting on sailboats and he said, “Oh man it’s a nightmare. Avoid it. Don’t do it”. Worse than that is music. But I thought it was a size that I could manage and then finally Keith Kjarval who produced it read the thing and he said “I can get this made” and he did. 

Do you remember the moment when it hit you that you wanted to direct a movie? 

It really wasn’t a moment. I think I turned 50 or maybe when I turned 55 or something like that my wife said, “Well you’re in your 3rd act what do you want to do with your career?”. And with that (then?) my blood ran cold for a while. Third acts are so short.  I think I’ve been coming at it slowly but surely. I love acting and I love the actors purview which is the minutia.  You know we deal with really nanoseconds. Sometimes you’ll do a scene where you really have one little moment and the whole scene is about 40 seconds long. I love that concentrating like that and I love having something difficult to do with 65 people watching you and as soon as you get it right they all get to go home. I love that pressure. Slowly but surely I wanted to be in charge of telling the entire story. I want to tell the whole joke. I want to set it up and throw the punchline myself. Other than thinking of minutes I thought, “Well I want to think about the whole world”. 

Now that you’ve made your first feature what have you learned as a filmmaker after filming wraps that you didn’t know or really think about before shooting?

That’s a great question. I learned a lot about. I had a great lesson about story structure and particularly set-up. I discovered that I thought the audience needed a lot more help getting into the story than they actually do. I shot a lot of stuff on set-up, on background that I ended up not using. I think I knew that somewhere in my DNA, but it was brought home. You know you want to get to the story as fast as you can [but you] really just need a couple of moments to give them their bearings and then you can go off to your story.  In other words, you can say he’s a successful business man. You don’t need four scenes to prove it. Just say it. 

That makes sense. Okay I want to talk a little bit about acting for a moment and then we’ll go back to RUDDERLESS. These are throwback and it kind of goes into taking chances and this and that. Back to BOOGIE NIGHTS. It’s such a filthy, but great story and a lot of amazing actors like yourself took a chance on it when Paul was super young and unknown. Do you remember what it was about the script that made you want to take a chance on starring in the film? 

I was off working some place and I got this script and I read the thing and it was a lot more bold than the final product. I mean he had to tone it down a little bit. I called my agent and I said, “Am I being pranked? This is a porn film”. There was just so much sex in it. He said, “No, no people really like this and you should see his first film which was called Hard Eight…”

Great movie. 

I loved that it dealt with the porn industry. I feel like in this country we are so skittish about sex much to our detriment. I look at the MPAA board and the way they rate movies and I just feel like all of those people need therapy. They are allergic to sex which I find to be very good. Even the bad sex I’ve had is pretty good. And yet they are so permissive about violence, ugly pornographic violence. They think our 12 and 14 year olds can see that shit and I think they’re sick. So Paul’s film sort of was a half grapefruit in the face of our morals that way. It told a very interesting story with a good moral code at its core do you know what I mean? They’re really good people. 

Oh yeah absolutely. I really liked how they showed the madness and mayhem that goes behind-the-scenes of it and how it’s not all glitz and glamour. 

Man I saw Hard Eight and I walked out of the theater, it was a screening, and I said, “Dude if you want to direct the Yellow Pages count me in”. 

So going on another one of Paul’s films you starred in one of the best films of the 20th century and the most important film in my life, MAGNOLIA. There’s a rumor that Paul wrote most of the screenplay while at your cabin and I wanted to see if that’s true. 

I know he went up there to do one of his final drafts before going into production. There is usually a bit of a production draft that has to do with mechanics more than art. Yeah he went up to the cabin way out in the wild of Vermont and no one will bother you. 

Regarding an important decoration of your character in MAGNOLIA, if you can remember, how many times did you have to listen to Gabriel’s “Dreams” during shooting? 

I guess I listened to it a lot, didn’t I? Every driving scene, yeah… I thought you first meant that Aimee Mann song…

"Wise Up!"

I just loved that. And I loved his bit where everyone sang a little bit of it. I thought that was so novel. 

Absolutely. “Wise Up” is an amazing song and that’s one of the most fascinating scenes in film history. I could go on and on about that movie, but I know we’re on limited time. So back to RUDDERLESS. You were talking about a little bit of the violence and everything. The film deals with a very sensitive subject, but handles it in a very professional and caring manner. How did you find the right balance with what happens in the beginning all the way with the rest of the story where everything eventually unfolds and plays out? You know some parts are funny. It’s a really good balance of comedy, drama, and honesty. 


Well I have a tendency to go for levity anyway it’s just in my personality. I always look for the joke. I think it’s a truism in this business if you really, really want to get people upset and emotional, get them laughing first. And the opposite is true also. If you want to really land a joke put it in the midst of a rather sad scene and then throw the joke. It sets us up. We knew, Casey, Jeff, and me, we knew that we were really playing with fire. One with subject matter. The big thing was are we trying to explain or excuse the kid and what happened? We went through great pains. There was a re-write late in the shooting where we had Laurence Fishburne say, “They were all somebody’s kid and your boy killed ‘em”. We felt like it just needed to be said. It was just us bending over backwards to make sure we were telling the story we thought we were telling and that it couldn’t be misinterpreted. The thing we were very aware of is that there is a great danger of being manipulative when you have a reveal like that and we moved it farther and farther into the body of the film before the reveal came. I felt compelled to make sure that I told the truth about everything you saw at the funeral and everything. I didn’t want the audience to feel manipulated. As a matter of fact, I wanted them to look back and say, “Oh yeah it was all there. Nobody said it, but it was all there”.  I feel like we succeeded. I know I got raked over the coals by some press and I think they’re wrong. 

That’s gonna happen. Like you said, they’re wrong. I think you did a very…

You know everybody makes mistakes. 

I think you did a very noble job with it. You were saying music is very important to you and music plays a very important part in the film. To me it became its own character. What was the process of building the (hit?) music that they play and most notably what made you want to bring on Ben Kweller? I’m a huge fan of his so it was a great delight, but why Ben? 

Casey Twenter, one of the writers, said “you should see Ben”. This was one of the first casting choices made. I think I saw him at the Wiltern and I heard him play and I said, “Ben I’m doing this movie would you read it?” and he said, “Yeah”. I knew that the chances of me getting 4 accomplished musicians was thin, so Ben was my ringer. And in fact, he really helped the other guys Billy and Anton play but they are not professional musicians. He really helped us a whole lot. The process of finding the music. We hired a musical director named Liz Gallagher and she put the word out in the indie scene. You said it, the music is a character; the kid. So I put the word out that I wanted top songs. I wanted the audience to be able to hum the hook after just one hearing. I wanted them to be complicated. I wanted three parts: a chorus, verse, and a middle eighth as the Beatles called it. I wanted the lyrics to be funny and I wanted them to have irony and I did not want them to be about the movie. I said you can write about anything you want but not about the movie. 

I actually know Casey and he told me to tell you hello because I told him that I was interviewing you today. Speaking of Gallagher because you mentioned the name Gallagher, I just wanted to say congrats on 6th season of SHAMELESS already being picked up. I think it’s one of the greatest television families ever created. The first show where I love and give a damn about every character, congratulations on that. Congratulations on the film. Looking forward to everything you have coming up Bill. Great work. 

It’s a good season. Wait until you see it. Man, I finish big in this season too. 

Awesome I can’t wait.  Well thanks a lot for your time and looking forward to everything in the future. 

Thank you, Chase. Say hello to Casey for me if you see him before I do and thank you for your support man. Thank you for being there. 

Absolutely. Thank you for making a great film. 

I’m going to try to do another one.

Looking forward to it!

Rudderless is now available on DVD.

My Nominations for the 2014 Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards

The Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association award winners will be announced on December 15th. Here are my nominations. 

[Note: I missed our Selma screening before the voting deadline due to a family emergency.]

Best Picture
1. Birdman
2. Blue Ruin
3. Boyhood
4. Whiplash
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
6. Wild Tales
7. Mr. Turner
8. A Most Violent year
9. The Imitation Game
10. Foxcatcher

Best Director
1. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
2. Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
3. Christopher Nolan (Interstellar)
4. Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

5. Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin)

Best Actor
1. Michael Keaton (Birdman)
2. Macon Blair (Blue Ruin)
3. Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
4. Jack O’Connell (Starred Up, Unbroken)
5. Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner)

Best Actress
1. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night; The Immigrant)
2. Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
3. Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
4. Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
5. Jenny Slate (Obvious Child)

Best Supporting Actor
1. J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
2. Edward Norton (Birdman)
3. Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher)

Best Supporting Actress
1. Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
2. Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Grand Budapest Hotel)
3. Emma Stone (Birdman)

Best Foreign Language Film
1. Wild Tales
2. The Raid 2
3. Ida
4. Winter Sleep
5. Starred Up

Best Documentary
1. Life Itself
2. Citizenfour
3. The Great Invisible

Best Animated Film
1. The Lego Movie

Best Screenplay
1. Birdman

Best Cinematography
1. Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman)

Best Musical Score
1. Interstellar

Russell Smith Award (pick one below)
Force Majeure

Dallas! Come See 'LOCKE' With Me, Followed By A Q&A With Writer/Director Steven Knight


Longest title ever — apologies. 

This Thursday, A24 is will have LOCKE’s writer and director Steven Knight (writer, David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES) in Dallas for a Q&A following a screening of a the film. The moderator? Yours truly. 

Want to go? Below is your free ticket to ride. Print it out and bring it with you to the theater. Heads up — it’s first-come, first-serve, so get there early. A good hour should work. (There’s a bar, so you and your +1 can trade off going in for a drink.)

See you there, move lovers!


Interview: 'Blue Ruin' writer/director JEREMY SAULNIER and star MACON BLAIR


[Editor’s Note: This interview was originally published on Film Threat.]

Blue Ruin is the biggest success story to come out of (Warning: pun ahead) the blue this year. Tapped out on funding to finish the film, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier took to Kickstarter. Shortly after, he met his goal of $35K (and a few grand more). After he finished the final cut of the film, it went on to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival Director’s Fortnight, where it won the FIPRESCI Award (fun tidbit: winning this prestigious prize puts Saulnier in the same company as Paul Thomas Anderson, Jean-Luc Godard, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick, Aki Kaurismäki, Pedro Almodóvar and Michael Haneke, to name a few(. That’s a pretty damn good start if you ask me.

Blue Ruin started making the festival rounds and it’s all I heard about after it screened at Fantastic Fest. “Blue Ruin! You must see Blue Ruin!” pounded Twitter. Walking into it blind, I finally got my chance to see it at Sundance. This unconventional revenge movie is so violent and relentlessly suspenseful… if you can sit through it and not have that holy-shit-something-insane-is-about-to-happen squint on your face once during one of its extreme scenes, dear reader, you’re a lot tougher than I. 

A day before moving from New York, I interviewed Saulnier and star Macon Blair (who’s performance is staggeringly batshit-crazy good). We talked about the usual interview stuff — the making of Blue Ruin, taking a financial leap of faith, Kickstarter, eating croissants, etc. — but I got a lot of good answers out of them and this is perhaps one of the best interviews I’ve ever done. Enjoy. 

First off, I want to congratulate you for making curmudgeon Buzz McCallister from Home Alone do something awesome, and for allowing Jan Brady to let off some steam for being the middle sister. That was a lot of fun to watch. 
Jeremy Saulnier: Seriously. [laughs]

On a more serious note, one of the most admirable things about how the violence in Blue Ruin is handled is that it’s not glorified. Dwight knows what he’s doing is wrong and immoral. How did you balance the extreme violence and make that message clear when you were writing the screenplay?
Jeremy: It was certain a delicate balance and it came through this connection with the movies of my youth and exploitation films I love and the current state of, well, my current emotional state, and it happened to coincide with gun violence in America that made me sick to my stomach. So, I thought I didn’t want to abandon the roots all together, so I would probably still do amazing make-up effects and do a sort of technical showcase, but that violence had to be grounded in character and emotion so that when life is lost in Blue Ruin, it didn’t go down easy, and it was very tough to stomach for me, for Dwight the protagonist and the audience. So we weren’t all celebrating and cheering any time someone would die. It wasn’t, there’s no one-liners that come after or before death. It’s just awkward and grounded and blunt-force. But also I stay true to that rule that it had to be tied to emotion and the audience. It had to have an effect on the audience that was worthwhile to the narrative, not just to the…

Macon Blair: Gore score.

Macon, you’re the actor committing revenge and your character knows what he’s doing is wrong and immoral. How did you bring that mood to your character without overplaying the message?
Macon: I think we just, any sort of thought about message or theme or anything like that was discussed and handled months before we got to set and we’re shooting and, when we were shooting, we just kind of put all of that aside and it was all about hitting particular story beats and keeping everything very real and never trying to play anything as deliberately funny or deliberately awkward. Just trying to have it be like, sort of Jeremy’s catch phrase but a sort of motto he went back to a lot was, what would you do… like me, or him or any one person who isn’t an action movie star in these kind of situations. Would you be careful, would you be hesitant, would you… you know, all of those things that normally you might not see and, in a B-movie, a pulpy movie with tough guys doing tough guy things, and so we weren’t really thinking about a message or what it means about this or that, it was just about how is this real person going to behave when he’s in a stall with a guy with a knife who is trying to choke him and let it exist only on those terms. Any other meaning or value will take care of itself later on.

Jeremy: You know, and I was very competent with what we’re…  he’s compelled more by a desperate need for closure and deep emotion and sorrow, not blood lust. So he’s reluctant from the beginning, and I think that helps the character to arrive at a line where he’s not a badass and he doesn’t have evil intentions, and his intentions become perverted throughout the film as the downward spiral. He started from noble intentions, as comical as that sounds.

Dwight’s story on why he ditched his sister, vanished and went vagrant remains a mystery, why do you think this was important to leave out this part of his story?
Jeremy: I wanted to rely on the audience more, and I was just personally embracing the fact that we didn’t have the financiers or distributors on board from the beginning, to keep the vision pure and protect the audience and let them do some work and fill in the gaps. Now there was a detailed history that we established for Dwight with an almost year-by-year timeline, and Macon and I were aware of this, of course, and we had each character in their own journey in their perspective. The rule was the characters could never talk to the audience, they could only talk amongst themselves. There are scenes with tons of exposition just between Dwight and Teddy, and it’s native to that environment because it’s in an actual interrogation scene at gunpoint, and there’s clear motivation and the need for information and to extract it.

And there were even other scenes, like the diner scene had a lot more exposition in there, and we touched upon a history between Dwight and his estranged sister and their parents who were murdered 17 years prior. In the edit we had all of that in there about handling the estate, and what has been going on for the last several years, or decades rather, with Dwight’s sister, but it simply detracted from the scene because, when we cut for pure emotion, it had a lot more weight and it just worked better. It was just one of those decisions where you can’t really actually justify, but when you watch it played out, it speaks volumes as to what these two actors, Macon and Amy Hargreaves, bring to a role that can get bogged down in exposition; it hurts the story and it deflated the tension. I think a lot of this movie is about exploring how much more weight can be applied on certain things when they’re not revealed, and the audience can fill in the gaps on their own. 

I also think the unknown is a lot more terrifying, which is why Michael Meyers is my favorite of the slasher guys — we never know why, he’s just pure evil.
Jeremy: Which is why [Rob Zombie’s] remake was kind of problematic.

Macon: I hated it!

Jeremy: It’s just a guy with a rough childhood.

So Macon, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character look so menacing one minute, and ready to apologize to a butterfly if he hurt its feelings the next. How did you get into the right mindset to switch from one emotion to the other so quickly?!
Macon: [laughs] I don’t think we thought about it in terms of switching from one mindset to another, it was just Dwight was very fearful and hesitant and uncertain about what he was doing, even when it’s putting a knife into somebody’s head. Jeremy was saying he felt compelled to do that, but he wasn’t diving into it. I think a lot of that might be just the visuals, costumes, big scraggly beard, and just looking a little crazy. Beneath all that is the same sort of rabbit-y, little awesome guy that is making all these wrong choices and saying “I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot!” stretched out over the whole movie.

But yeah, the beard and the beach bum clothes: it certainly suggests a certain type of menacing thing that’s probably not there. Even when I was just walking around looking like people do, I would go in the stores and others would look at me a little closer and I would have to go out of my way to be like, “Now I’m taking out my money because I’m only going to pay for this bottle of milk and I’m not going to steal anything and everyone can relax.”

That’s funny. 
Macon: And I will say as far as the character of Dwight is when the film starts, he’s been carrying this trauma for almost two decades; he is much more focused up to a certain point and methodical in some ways, but when we get to reel number two and the whole revenge scenario, you think might it’d be the slow burner and might culminate at the end, as it usually does and the credits will roll… it’s abruptly completed and it derails the audience and Dwight. So Dwight was never intending to live past the encounter in the bar bathroom. So from then on, it is about the shift in Dwight because his motivations, and this compulsion to do this one thing he’s been carrying for seventeen years, evaporates. So he’s left in this sort of surreal limbo, and he’s clinging onto things and acting a little more rowdy because he’s confused, the world keeps turning and now he has to explore the unforeseen blowback and consequences of his actions. That’s sort of when we hit the uncharted territory, and it impacts Dwight as well. He’s trying to sort of undo what he did?

Most revenge thrillers, the anti-hero is confident throughout the film. In Blue Ruin, Dwight is terrified, bumbling, and is the most unconventional character to get revenge ever portrayed on screen. Since this would be new to audiences, why did you feel confident that it would work?
Jeremy: Well, just because we hadn’t seen it before, and it was a nice little opportunity for us to explore uncharted territory. That being said, a lot of it was by necessity. 

Macon: We couldn’t go the other way with it.

Jeremy: We were going to go kind of serious and get a badass action hero or a badass action star to be in our movie. Because we like traditional dark crime movies and genre films, but it was about having these worlds collide. The films we wanted to make, we couldn’t afford to do so we had to downscale it, and thrust one of us inside it, and embrace that and now we’ve got in there where it’s like a nice release for the audience and ourselves. So we weren’t compromising, we were just embracing the fact that we couldn’t support spectacle, we couldn’t afford two weeks to shoot one action sequence. We would have to just make this not an enemy, but embrace it early on and construct the narrative around our limitations. And I do think, and I’ve said this before, Blue Ruin is so much about the scenes that would normally be cut out of a regular action movie. It’s about minutia and details and having a… solid trajectory derailed by random occurrences and unforeseen consequences. So I think for us it was just fun to explore consequences. 

We touched a little bit on funding before. Getting this film funded was a gutsy success story – can you share how it come together for the readers?
Jeremy: It has been stated Blue Ruin was never actually funded. There was no actual financing that was secured to green light the film. Its entirety is sort of hodgepodge and bit-by-bit. We failed to get traditional financing early on and we immediately retreated. Luckily, we had already anticipated that, because as a collective we’re proud of our body of work but no one has really ever come in to finance these things.  We always had self-funding or going to friends and family. So knowing there’s no chance in Hell at making a movie past the summer of 2012 that was self-funded, because he had a son on the way or a daughter. So we had this weird time where we couldn’t wait for people to come in or pitch to their people or this or that, we have to go either way, so as soon as we failed to get the million dollar budget, Plan B kicked in immediately, because there was this closing window of time.

Anyway, my wife put in her retirement account. she liquidated it completely. I followed suit. Then we did Kickstarter, to bridge the gap from where we were to where we had to be to fully fund just production and then payroll. So that was 160k to actually shoot Blue Ruin. With my credit card standing by, we ended up in more than six figures of debt on that, but there was no proper accounting going on. The movie has to be made: period. We were completely reckless about our approach to funding, and going all in and then some. I went in to negative net worth to get this thing done. The film had to be made period. We will clean up this mess down the line.

So we shot the movie after we sort of submitted to Sundance in 2013; we didn’t get in. We stopped, came to an abrupt halt, went back to our day jobs, saved up 5k to shoot the hospital scene. So we saved our money to just blow it. Then, during the spring of 2013, we decided to get back up and raise a little bit of more money. Just again, been back to our day jobs. And I, I didn’t give a shit. I was, whatever we couldn’t afford? Credit card. I had over $100,000 on my Amex card. And you know there was a possible scenario that was looming which was if we did get into a top tier film festival, we would just have to, my wife and I, sell our house and move. Period. And luckily before that happened we were accepted into Cannes.

Once we got into that festival, the assessment of our outcome changed dramatically. We went even further into debt to finish it off in time. But when you know you’re going to be premiering in Cannes, it’s such a modest budget. You can’t guarantee it, but you can safely assume you’ll make your money back. So, yeah, it was always funded in steps, never the proper way, and always in reckless abandonment.

But also I will say I waited six years from my previous film to do it again, and it was certainly reckless and aggressive to just make this film happen no matter what in the year 2012, but it was also about I had been biding my time and been very patient for six years straight. That was as important as being aggressive, it was like knowing when not to make a movie, which was six years leading up to it. But when we went, we went all in and went aggressive, and in that time period, cameras got from “we could only afford standard definition” to beautiful HD quality and would blow up to a big screen.

With the film already being classified as a cult hit and you won an award at Cannes, what do you think this says about the future of Kickstarter?
Jeremy: I have no idea what that says about the future of Kickstarter! But I will say, for us, we used it in a very traditional way. Whereas, we needed a kickstart; we only asked people to come in after we were maxed out. So it was about bridging the gap between future and reality of making this movie or not. And honestly, back before the arguments about Kickstarter for me… what’s so great about Kickstarter is that it’s crowd funding. It’s democratized, it’s voluntary. So if people want to fund a Zach Braff movie, by all means! I mean, of course people will sort of player hate on millionaires asking others for money…

I think if Zach Braff would have just been like “Fuck all y’all, I’m keeping the money for myself,” people would have donated anyway. 
Jeremy: Honestly, it’s tougher now that they’ve changed the rules about the FCC and equity, because if we had 400 people getting infinitesimal residual checks, it would be more than we could support. We were just extremely grateful, and for us the value was, we could have actually raised that much money, but having that show of support, and having that crowd behind you, and also having a crowd behind you that you had to answer to, was key in our journey because we had to shade the conversation and pitch the movie and sell it though to other people, and in doing so we sold it through to ourselves. So, I mean, I’m grateful. Now, shipping rewards could be a pain in the ass. Again, we have to do these things to get it done and I don’t know about in the future. Macon, do you have anything to say about that?

Macon: I’m not the guy to ask about trends or anything like that; Jeremy and I were hesitant and kind of embarrassed about asking other people for money. But it was the difference between able to pay our crew or not pay our crew. Which means makes make the movie or not make the movie. And the other thing too was that it was really helpful in terms of being forced a self-assessment. If you are going to be maxing out your own credit card is one thing, but if you’re going to go out to the public and say, “Can I get like $20 bucks from a couple hundred of you,” then you really have to look and see is this worthwhile what we’re doing. Does this make sense? Is our approach credible?” Jeremy produced this pitch video that was sort of the vetting process of what are we talking about trying to do here. Are we just making it up as we go, or is there a design and a plan and a goal and a place where people feel like they are going to give their money to the movie. It’s not just going to be because we had a dream, we want to make a movie because there’s a very precise plan in place that hopefully will result in a movie that people would want to watch. 

Jeremy: I think you just cracked it. I think what it was, that self-assessment, and pitching to ourselves. Because when Macon and I were forced to look at our project from the financer’s perspective and say, “Would we give one million dollars to Macon and Jeremy to make this off beat revenge movie?” The answer was “no.” But then we finished the Kickstarter process; Macon ran most of that site, he did most of the groundwork and manages that stuff. Then we were forced to do this pitch video when we saw our project realized on that Kickstarter page we created. We said, “Does this have anything? Would we be willing ourselves to spend $35 dollars or $1,000 dollars or $5,000 dollars on this project to see it realized?” The answer was a resounding “yes.” I think, by making the commitment smaller and giving ourselves that self-assessment and yes, we wouldn’t give a million bucks, but we would certainly give a much smaller amount to just roll the dice. I think the power of Kickstarter is reducing the risk and expanding the amount of people it can support; it is a lot more feasible.

You’ve been in a few films and witnessed first-hand this successful funding story. Being no stranger to writing yourself, any chance we’ll ever get to see your graphic novel Hellcity brought to the silver screen?
Macon: I’m working on it! I’m working on it. I mean who knows, I keep bringing it up to the managers and agents and it’s going around. It actually started as a screenplay and everybody was like, this is ridiculous, this will never be a movie. And so my buddy Rick Spears had a comic company at the time, said we’ll do a comic book. Like Terry Gilliam style weirdo detective story with monsters in it, but I don’t know. But it’s something I keep my fingers crossed about but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

I’ll cross my torso and fingers as well. Question for you both. Answer at the same time. I’ll do the 1, 2, 3 and you both answer: In the end, after all the people he’s murdered, do you think Dwight becomes a villain too?
Both: No!

Jeremy: I had a hard time with [the finale]. I really fell in love with Dwight during the process.  But he has his faults for sure. But his intentions were pure. He did the best he could. 

Movie Review: 'Blue Ruin'


[Editor’s Note: This review was originally written and posted at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.]

Revenge is a dish best served with a knife, a crossbow and semi-automatic rifles in Jeremy Saulnier’s bloody and brilliant sophomore feature, Blue Ruin.

When Blue Ruin opens, a drifter named Dwight (Mason Blair) is coasting through life on a beach. He’s dirty, living on a steady diet of trashcan food, and his face looks as if it’s never felt a clean shave. He breaks into houses just to take a bath, however his presence shows he’s not a bad or harmful man — he’s just trying to survive. Things aren’t so bad, this bum has built a home and life for himself at a place where things are simple and uncomplicated.

While sleeping in his rusty, old and beaten-up blue Bonneville, Dwight gets a surprise visit from the local sheriff (who seems to know him really well). She tells him that a man from his past has just been released from prison, and from the deer in headlights look on his face, we know this isn’t a man Dwight wants to exchange presents with on Christmas. And as his eyes turn from scared to sad to pain to anger, he sticks a sharp knife five inches deep into his enemies’ skull (not a spoiler). It quickly becomes clear that these two won’t be playing Go Fish together anytime soon, either. During the scuffle, Dwight abandons his car, which is registered to his sister’s house, at the crime scene. Things, as they say, don’t go exactly as planned, and Dwight’s fiery rampage of revenge has only just begun.

What makes Dwight the perfect, unconventional anti-hero is the ambitious size of his bite — he’s short, skinny, has never held a gun in his life, and would probably apologize to a butterfly if he hurt its feelings. Blair completely embodies Dwight and brings him to life with subtle, but fierce, intensity. During a scene in which he’s stuck in a house, outnumbered and outgunned, you can feel Dwight’s anxiety and anger vibrate through him — boom, acting! As his violent tale of revenge takes a dramatic — and at times, comedic — turn, Blair’s portrayal of Dwight displays a level of commitment that’s admirable; in fact, this commitment demands that we root for him all the way to the bitter, brutal end.

Revenge breathes a new life in Jeremy Saulnier’s script. The film is very violent, but Saulnier manages to avoid glorifying revenge or bloodshed. Actually, he shows how terrifying, unnerving, sad and awful it is to kill a man. Dwight’s boyish innocence is gone, yet he still doesn’t know what he’s doing, still doesn’t want to do what he’s doing, and still knows he’s not doing a good thing — but feels compelled to protect the only family left in his life, at whatever cost. This relentless drive is what makes Blue Ruin one of the best shoot-‘em-up-until-they-are-all-dead-dead-dead revenge quests, ever.  

New York, I Love You, But I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane


Often people ask me if I’ve lost my mind, and normally the answer is yes, but this time it’s a little different. For the last few weeks, I’ve been telling folks close to me that I’m leaving New York and moving back to my hometown, Dallas, TX. Then I get that deer-in-headlights have-you-lost-your-fucking-mind look. I’m used to that look, so let me explain.

Being a film critic / journalist / blogger / whatever-you-want-to-call-me has afforded me the ability to travel and live around the world. I’ve been to France, Germany, London and Canada, and lived in Los Angeles and New York back-to-back, respectively. As a writer, I’ve covered Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, LAFF, TIFF, AFI, DIFF, AFF, Comic-Con, and every film festival I’ve ever dreamed of covering (a lot of IFFs, I’ll tell you that much). This sounds awesome as I type it — and I’m extremely grateful for it all — but I’m not sure how many are aware how lonely it can get traveling solo and moving around so much. When Gordon and the Whale was alive and kicking, I had a second family and a lot of us attended festivals together. Once I shut that down, life took its course as it tends to do and everyone (thankfully) went on to bigger and badder things. GATW afforded all of us that and it makes me incredibly happy to know it.

Moving and traveling did reward me with meeting the weirdest, wildest and most wonderful people working in the industry today. But the fact remained, I hardly saw people outside of a movie theater or festival party (which I tend to avoid these days so I can focus on writing). And let me be the first (or second, or whatever number) to tell you that making new friends in a new environment isn’t easy at 31 when your idea of “fun” is going to bed at 9:30pm every night. Oof.

On June 10, 2012, something profoundly amazing happened in my life: my sister had a baby girl. (If you are keeping score, that would make me a proud uncle.) This didn’t change my life as much as I tried damned hard to let it do (life is funny, sometimes), but it did make me realize how important family is (being thousands of miles away and having a new family member tends to have that effect on you). I was living in Los Angeles at the time of Rylan’s birth, did not like living there, and decided to give The City of Dreams a shot. Maybe it’ll kick that old feeling of loneliness in one of those Manhattan sewer gutters creatures call home. But since I’ve become more of a homebody these days, “go out and make friends, dude” hasn’t been easy — anxiety has a funny way of sneaking up on you and playing dirty little tricks. It also doesn’t help that I enjoy spending most of my time going to a theater to watch and then review a movie, or watching a screener (or multiple screeners) at home. (Calling all ladies who like to watch a lot of movies — I am single. And I like kittens and puppies.)

Back to living in New York: things kicked off great — I started working in indie film distribution (a dream) at Cinedigm and fell in love with the city. [Note: Cinedigm let me go around Christmas, along with several other employees (our positions were “eliminated”) when the company merged with another, bigger one. Oy.] I hate driving, so the subway system was a huge selling point. I remember tweeting on my first day in the city that I was going to spend the rest of my life here. New York is definitely a city of dreams and the coolest place I’ve ever visited and lived. But (there’s always a “but” in these stories, isnt there?) after a while, I still felt like there was still something missing in my life (technically, a job if us girls are being honest here). I knew weeks ahead of time I was not going to be at Cinedigm much longer (last one in, first one out, right?), but I got to return to doing what makes me happy: writing. Fun fact: I never wanted to be a writer (all of my English teachers could and would attest to that), but with Gordon and the Whale, I fell into it. Now it’s something I can’t let go of and I’m really lucky there are people out there who want to know what I have to say and sites out there who want what I have to say.


But then I started watching Rylan grow up from the sidelines — in photos and videos, and man it sucks. Never thought I’d say this, but it was really tough to leave when I visited home. Moving around so much has made me realize family is so, so important to have in my life. Additionally, every time I come home to visit Dallas, I visit with friends I’ve made through skateboarding, college, and Gordon and the Whale, and I feel alive again. So it was kind of a no-brainer moving back to Dallas would happen, eventually. And so this is what I’m doing now. So long, Big Apple, thanks for letting me nibble a little bit.


As you read this, I am on a plane heading back to the Lonestar State, where I’ll get to pester (I mean love, of course) my family, be the coolest uncle ever (I will fight you if you try to be a cooler uncle than me, but you must be under five feet tall), and be around the people who’ve really, honestly, truly inspired me to push myself harder.

I’m still going to write, review films, and interview the big, bright minds in independent film — word slinging is what I know best. Another thing I’m very excited to share it that I finally got my foot in the door with festival programming (something I believe I’m good at and hope to do full-time some day), and I will be attending all of the great festivals that have privileged me with a press or industry badge, but the biggest reward of all is now I get to come home in an area very close to my family. It took me a few years to learn this (I can be a little stubborn, you know), but it’s what will make me the happiest. This is the right decision. Now if I could just convince a lady that charm comes with the crazy, I’ll be set. (Would you really expect me to not end this on some funny self-deprecating joke? C’mon!)



Movie Review: 'THE VISITOR' Returns From 1979 to Peck Out Your Eyes and Make You Like It


Good vs. evil! Abortion! Potty-mouthed asshole children! Frank Nero as Jesus? Frank Nero as Jesus! Shelly Winters power-slaps! How to fight off bullies on the ice skating rink! Lance Henrikson getting his ass kicked by a plastic falcon! This is The Visitor, a super low budget horror film from 1979.

There’s a lot of fun going on in The Visitor, but I really couldn’t tell you what it’s about. It’s a bizarre circus of magic and mayhem, and stars Sam Peckinpah (director of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and The Wild Bunch), Lance Henriksen (Aliens), Glenn Ford (Clark Kent’s dad in Superman 1979), Franco Nero (Django) Shelley Winters (The Poseidon Adventure, Lolita, Night of the Hunter) and John Huston (The Maltese Falcon) as people of good and bad higher power trying to get inside the head of and brainwash an 8-year-old girl with telekinesis powers and an attitude that will put any Hollywood diva to shame. Things will go one of two ways: 1) good or 2) the opposite of good.

Most of the plot doesn’t make any sense and it’s hard to say who’s on whose side (good versus evil thing). If you read the back of the Blu-ray or DVD box, it’ll tell you this eight-year-old is needed to take control of the world — so God (Peckinpah, I think) and the Devil (a collective of foes including Henriksen) duke it out on earth while the girl wrecks the place in her own little telekinesis asshole way (putting a heavy emphasis on asshole).

A lot of people bitched about The Visitor when it originally released in 1979. Why? People like to bitch. The eerily attractive poster (see below) was frustratingly misleading (that freakish eyeball never appears in the movie, dammit) and the writer and producer, Italian-American filmmaker Ovidio G. Assonitis, was known for ripping off highly acclaimed Hollywood horror — The Visitor bleeds The Omen and The Exorcist. Anyway, it quickly overstayed its welcome and went away until Tim League and Drafthouse Films (the coolest cinematic megaphone for reviving old repertory gems) brought it back from its dusty grave. And Wallah! This out-of-towner has a new, permanent home.

Even though it’s cheap, senseless, and just odd, it’s a good film. Why? Because I was entertained. I laughed, loved the corny visual effects, and was entertained from beginning to end — that’s the purpose of a movie, right? The Visitor is truly one of the most absurd movies to come out of the heavily experimental decade in film—the 1970s—but it’s also a lot of fun.

There are some really bonkers, balls-to-the-wall, and gloriously harsh scenes that’ll keep your focus if you start to zone out. One that stands above most is when Shelley Winters really slaps the shit out of Telekinesis Girl (Paige Conner) for being a little asshole. I read that the slaps were real and, in fact, every parent should show their kids that scene when they are disobeying.

With good versus bad, God against Satan, right and wrong: The Visitor is stuffed like a fat turkey with symbolism throughout the film. Is there a moral? Sure. Never trust an eight-year-old to save the world.


                                      Original poster from 1979