Adam Rifkin Talks DIRECTOR’S CUT, The Pitfalls of Crowdfunding, & the Incomparable Missi Pyle
Long-time Dread friends know we’ve radically reshaped ourselves over the past year; in addition to maintaining our mission to curate, educate, and entertain horror fans, we launched Dread Central Presents, the genre-distribution arm of Epic Pictures.
We’ve been proud to bring you a quality catalog of diverse horror offerings like The Lodgers, Imitation Girl, Terrifier, and #Screamers. Our latest release, available on VOD since May 29th, is Director’s Cut. The film is directed by Adam Rifkin and stars Missi Pyle, Penn Jillette, Harry Hamlin, and Hayes MacArthur.
Last week, we brought you Part 1 of our extensive interview with Rifkin; in addition to dishing about how Director’s Cut got rolling, we discussed his directorial debut, The Dark Backward, and his resulting friendship with Bill Paxton. Today, we continue talking about Director’s Cut with specific attention given to the cast and the potential perils of crowdfunding.
The ultimate ‘meta movie’, DIRECTOR’S CUT is an insane, cinematic sleight of hand trick that reflects on itself, much like the stage persona of its co-star and creator, world famous illusionist Penn Jillette. Here, teamed with acclaimed Director Adam Rifkin, Jillette conjures a mind bending, genre defying movie-within-a-movie-mash-up that’s part narrative thriller, part docu-mental-case.
Herbert Blount (Jillette) is a crowdfunding contributor for the new Adam Rifkin feature KNOCKED OFF. Unhappy with the film, he steals the footage and kidnaps actress Missi Pyle to star in his own “director’s cut!”
Adam Rifkin: After talking about my movie Look for a while, he said he had written a script that he had been working on for a number of years called Director’s Cut. One of the things that stood out to me most was he said he wanted to use the concept of the director’s commentary as a narrative device. I’d never heard of that before so I was immediately intrigued.
So he said, “Would you be interested in possibly directing it?” I told him I’d love to read it, even though I usually only direct films I write. I was very opened, because he’s legendarily brilliant, so anything he came up with would be worth checking out.
So he sent me the script right then; I read it immediately and by 3:30 am we were back on the phone together. I thought it was so unusual and so unique, the opportunity was impossible to pass up. I could not see myself saying “No” to something this rare. So I said, “I’m in!” Still, even then, we both knew it would be a difficult film to get funded.
We went back and forth for a while and Penn was the first one to come up with the idea of crowdfunding. He said, “Look, I’m somewhat well known; I have 2M+ Twitter followers; I’ll be the face of the campaign. If we make the money, great! If we don’t and it’s embarrassing, I’ll take the hit.” I said, “Great, let’s go for it!”
So we mounted an aggressive crowdfunding campaign and we both worked really hard. We ended up raising more money than we were looking for, and it worked great! So we were able to make the movie exactly the way we wanted without any compromise.
DC: Since it’s impossible to talk about Director’s Cut without using the term “meta-film”, can you explain to some of our younger viewers, in your own words, exactly what that means?
AR: Meta is a pop term that means something is self-referential. Scream is a great example of a meta-film because it’s a movie about slasher movies and it’s acutely aware of all the tropes, rules, and conventions of this subgenre to the point where it comments on them blatantly, yet still uses them for dramatic effect.
We wanted to take meta to even more extreme levels, so we’ve got all kinds of tropes and conventions that we’re sending up and deconstructing with Director’s Cut. The thing about Director’s Cut is that it’s hard to explain but absolutely easy as hell to understand when you’re watching it is: It’s a movie about a crowd-funder but the movie is also crowdfunded.
We premiered Director’s Cut opening night of Slamdance 2016 and all the distributors who saw the movie loved it. But none of them wanted to distribute it because they said, “We don’t know how to sell it. It’s an impossible movie to explain.” That’s why Dread Central Presents and Epic Pictures are such saviors because they said, “We don’t care that it’s tough to sell. We love the movie. We’re putting it out no matter what.”
AR: They’re the best! So basically, to boil it down, Director’s Cut is a movie about a film obsessed stalker who gains access to a movie set by being one of that film’s crowd-funders. Since he’s not happy with the way the film is unfolding, and because he’s obsessed with the lead actress, he steals all the footage and from the movie while it’s being made, kidnaps the lead actress, re-shoots scenes in his basement studio, and re-casts himself as the lead. He then takes footage from the movie and the movie he’s created in his basement and he cuts them both together into what he believes is the perfect Director’s Cut.
The rules we set up for ourselves were that the movie you’re watching is what our lead character Herbert Blount [Penn] created. The footage he uses, the footage he shoots, the access he had—everything you see has to be something he actually could have created. You couldn’t have made this film 10 years ago because the technology didn’t exist yet, specifically being able to steal a film’s footage by hacking into an FTP site where all the raw footage exists. There was no such thing as a mash-up or a fan-edit in those days. Now that they’re common place, we’re taking full advantage of the ideas and conventions that exists now to make fun of (and have fun with) this bizarro Director’s Cut.
DC: Herbert Blount is such a fascinating character. While I was watching Director’s Cut, I wondered if there actually was an adversarial relationship between you two on set? Were there times when, as a director, you felt you had to give up control of the creative process to accommodate this huge, irrational character?
AR: No. Penn is a consummate showbusiness professional. He loved this idea and handed it off to me. He doesn’t fancy himself a director in real-life at all. He entrusted me with the entire production. So everything you see involving Herbert Blount’s character taking over the set of the movie I’m directing, and the chaos that ensues, is completely crafted by the two of us together.
DC: Since crowdfunding is at the crux of the film, can you talk a bit about how the practice of crowdfunding is changing the industry?
AR: Getting independent movies made is hard no matter what, because they’re expensive. Getting any movie made is hard because even small movies are expensive. So if there are alternative opportunities for getting films funded, it’s good for everybody. The things that’s great about crowdfunding is your going directly to the fans of this would-be movie and saying, “Instead of buying a ticket when the movie’s done, why don’t you buy in now, so your support actually gets the movie made?” It’s a roll of the dice for everybody because you might get a ticket and a t-shirt for a movie you eventually hate. But, really, you could say the same thing about any movie. So, I think it’s a great opportunity get movies made that might otherwise never come to fruition. And it’s a great opportunity for fans of a particular filmmaker, actor, or idea to get a movie made that they want to see, something that otherwise might never have the opportunity to see the light of day.
DC: Director’s Cut is so funny, but it suggests there might be some legitimate pitfalls to crowdfunding. I’m curious if you or Penn actually had some relatable experiences with these potential crowdfunding perils?
AR: Any time you raise money to make a movie there are always challenges involved with those unique circumstances. So, yes, crowdfunding has a unique set of challenges as well. We had over 6,000 supporters who we wanted to keep happy and fulfill our promises to. That’s a lot of t-shirts and grab bags and DVD’s to get out. That’s a lot of money that doesn’t go on screen, you know? But we know that going in, that a certain percentage of the money goes back to the crowd-funders, and that’s cool. I Have no problem with that.
Because we’ve been making movies for a long time, we understand how slowly the gears turn; how nearly impossible it is to get a film made, much less seen. But sometimes the crowd-funders get frustrated that things take so long, and I wish I had foreseen this going into the crowdfunding arena. I wish I had been clearer [with crowd-funders] that we hope the film will get made and released as soon as possible, but it doesn’t always work that way.
For example, we opened the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival. Now, we would have loved to have sold it to a big studio and seen it released a few months later, but it didn’t happen that way. So we spent 2 years looking for a way to get the film released, and the crowd-funders spend that whole time wondering what the hell is taking so long. Most everybody understood and we did our best to keep everyone informed with updates, but unless you’re in “the business” and have been for a while, it’s hard to fathom that it really does take this long—but it does. And so, now that we do have these fabulous distributors and Director’s Cut is finally being released the crowd-funders have been fantastic; the response has been tremendous with everyone saying “It was worth the wait”.
Still, I wish I had prepared them from the beginning about how long this could take.
DC: With crowdfunding becoming such a popular, even necessary component of indie filmmaking, I know a lot of aspiring up-and-comers will appreciate your insights.
AR: I would definitely crowdfund a movie again. I would just be clear going in about every possible scenario.
AR: Absolutely. I will say that Missi Pyle changed the whole tone and tenor of the movie just by accepting the role. The first draft of the script was more of a straight-up horror film; the character Hebert was more meanspirited; he kidnapped someone and tortured them and it was a much more brutal story. We pursued several other actresses for the role and fully intended to go in that direction. But when Missi Pyle accepted the role and we met her, she was just so funny. She’s so sweet and exudes this lighthearted sweetness, we decided it just wouldn’t be fun watching her being brutalized. We felt instead it would be much more fitting to have Herbert be madly in love with her. He’s staking her because he loves her and really wants to star in a movie with her, as opposed to wanting to destroy her. Herbert changed from a brutal killer to something of an oafish Phantom of the Opera, madly in love with his Christine. Missi changed the style, feel, and in many ways the entire genre of Director’s Cut, and working with her was an absolute blast. And she did something I can’t imagine any other actress doing: She played so may different versions of himself in one movie and they all are distinct. Even when she’s about to die, it’s totally believable and she’s still doing it in a way that’s funny.
Hayes MacArthur is an actor I’ve worked with several times before and I think he’s super charming and super funny. I can’t believe he’s not a bigger star at this moment. I think he way out Ryan-Reynolds Ryan Reynolds in my opinion. He was a blast and I’m so glad he came on.
Harry Hamlin is an icon. I mean, Clash of the Titan—come on! And, by the way, he’s so good looking still it’s a joke. You look at him and it’s like he’s been Photoshoped into your field of vision. You can’t believe this is a real person in his 60s.
And Lin Shaye I’ve worked with before; she’s just absolutely the coolest. She loves cool projects and I’m so glad she’s enjoying a career Renaissance right now.
Everyone was game for something unusual. Everyone knew it was something of a risk and had no idea how it would turn out. Everyone was a total sport and trusted that, no matter what, it was going to be fun to do. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate their trust in me and Penn. And I will tell you, working with Penn has been a dream. He’s brilliant and funny and a blast just to hang with and now, we’ve become really good friends.
DC: Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to tell our readers about before I let you go?
AR: I’d love for people to check out The Last Movie Star with Burt Reynolds that just came out thanks to A24. It’s as polar opposite to Director’s Cut as a movie could possibly be, so I’d say they’d make a perfect double feature.
Director’s Cut is available on VOD; a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack is available for pre-sale on Epic Pictures website for 14.99. Order your copy, HERE.