Kelley Baker Talks The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide
Becoming more involved in the local film scene here in Portland, Oregon, which has become a hot spot for both television and film productions with the aggressive tax incentives offered by the state, I had heard Kelley Baker's name mentioned numerous times but had never met him even though we were operating in the same circles.
I knew he was a veteran sound designer who worked with fellow Portland resident Gus Van Sant on My Own Private Idaho, Finding Forrester, Good Will Hunting, and the Psycho redux and that he had also worked on the acclaimed Todd Haynes film Far From Heaven. I also knew he was a filmmaker in his own right, having written and directed three feature films – Birddog, Kicking Bird and Gas Cafe – as well as several award-winning short films.
But what I really wanted to know about was all this “Angry Filmmaker” business I kept hearing about. What the hell was he angry about? And why, with all of his Hollywood connections, would he rather make his films the hard way – raising his own cash, struggling to procure every dime, using his own money to self-distribute – when it would be so much easier to use that network of colleagues to nail down financing for higher budgets and wider distribution deals?
So, when I heard he was giving a lecture at the Northwest Film Center School of Film about his self-distribution model, which sounded like a perfect lecture for an independent horror filmmaker such as myself to attend, I was interested to meet Kelley and find out what his deal was.
As I was heading to the event, I had pretty much made up my mind he was going to turn out to be one of the local artsy fartsy pukes that litter the Portland film scene. The kind that only finds cinematic value in esoteric films about society's injustices. The kind that think Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers is a fucking masterpiece, then turn their nose up when you mention Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava or Juan Piquer Simon's Pieces.
Yeah... that's surely who this Kelley Baker guy was going to be.
And then I met him... and was proven completely wrong. Instead of the art house guy reeking of patchouli and b.o., I met a genuine filmmaker who has a passion for film, the filmmaking process, and a sincere desire to help other independent filmmakers bring their dreams to fruition. Not dreams of making it in Hollywood mind you, but rather the dream of actually making your movie.
After the lecture, I knew right away this was someone whose ideas I had to bring to the independent filmmakers in the horror community. His advice is sound, his ideas proven through his own track record of success, and his low budget filmmaking and distribution model, detailed in his book The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide: Part I - Making the Extreme No Budget Film (review here), is one that lends itself perfectly to the independent horror film - a genre with a built-in fan base that is always willing to watch the works of independent filmmakers since it's from the ranks of independent cinema a lot of the films we consider to be classics have come from.
After reading his book, I asked Kelley to sit down and share his thoughts on independent filmmaking, the status of the independent film and how no budget horror filmmakers can benefit from his model.
Dread Central: While there have been some good books on writing and filmmaking by people like Sydney Lumet and William Goldman – people with proven track records – there are an awful lot of them written by people who haven't really had success in what they're writing about. Syd Field is one that comes to mind --
Kelley Baker: Syd's never made a movie!
DC: Right! And there are a lot of others I could name. So, my question is, you've actually had success as a filmmaker, you've worked on some big films, you're making your movies – why write the book?
KB: I think I was really, really frustrated with what's happened in the so-called independent film world. When I saw a lot of the shit that was really going down, I realized a lot of people don't really know a lot about it. And I thought “You know what? I'm an insider and people need to know what's going on.” When I made Birddog the biggest knock against it, and why nobody wanted to distribute it, was because there was nobody famous in it. Fuck that. It was a good story. And ten years ago, they would have snapped-up independent movies with a good story in a minute. But now the independent film world is star driven. And it's bullshit. True independent filmmakers can't afford name actors. So there's no bitterness and no whining, but there's anger about what's happened. And I think so many people live with the idea – “I'm going to make a movie that's going to get into Sundance and then all my troubles are over.” And that ain't gonna' happen. And I just thought look, you've got all this experience, you've been doing this for years – write it down. And a number of my friends had been bothering me for a long time to write it down. We had all sorts of optional titles, but this was the cleanest one we could come up with.
DC: The book definitely has an anti-Hollywood slant to it, to put it lightly, but you've been the benefactor of having worked on some rather successful Hollywood movies. Isn't that kind of biting the hand that feeds you? Have you given-up on Hollywood?
KB: There's a big difference between Hollywood and the independent film scene. I don't have a problem with Hollywood, per se', I have a problem with a few filmmakers there because they're empty. You know – Cameron, Michael Bay, they've got nothing to say. But, Hollywood has never ever claimed to be more than what it says it is. It's a business. It's not show-art it's show business. The only difference between a town like LA and Detroit, is that in Detroit they build stuff we can actually use. But they're both factory towns. Because that's their mentality in the film business down there. We're cranking out television series, we're cranking out movies to get to the theaters. So I don't have much of a problem with Hollywood as I do with the so-called independent film scene. Because when you have the Miramaxes, the Fine Lines and the Weinsteins and all that shit – those are people who want to be Hollywood. And I get tired of those people who play at the five or six million dollar “little indie” films that already have distribution lined-up with a major or a mini-major. And being involved in some of those films in the past I saw a lot of decisions being made that were not necessarily in the best interest of the film. But it was all what the filmmakers were being told by the studios or the higher-ups who were paying for it. Everyone always talks about having “final cut”. Do you know what “final cut” really means in the business? It means that, yes, the Director has final say over what this film is going to be – content and everything. But the Director does not have final say over the marketing or the publicity. And there are studios and studio people who say “We think you need to make these changes.” And you can stick to your guns and say “No. This is my vision, this is what's going to happen.” And then they'll say “You know, we're having some financial problems here and your publicity and marketing budget is getting cut. And, actually, there's probably going to be no premiere and we're probably going to open in one theater in New York on a Tuesday. And there won't be any ads either. Buuut, if you make these changes we still might be able to find some money. And if you don' think that happens you are naïve. So, final cut doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot. And I've had that explained to me by a few of the filmmakers I was working with over the years.