A response to CD Grams “Are you building a community or a club” -Lessons to be learned from Sundance.

I wrote this in response to Chris Grams Opensuorce.com post about  building a “community”…or a “club”…

Thought it was worth reposting here…

The Sundance Example. – how initiatives can go from helping to hurting a market and economy… if they are not weary of the self-reinforcing clique.

This reminds me of one of my biggest lessons as a producer of content. My first film was in competition at Sundance at the close of the 90’s…the first film I worked on in 92 brought me their for the first time. Redford started to shine a spotlight on what became a new economy for the entertainment industry “indie film”… but the organization he created that helped birth this new economy…soon became a closed market with the Sundance Institute becoming like a gatekeeper that was not incredibly different than any clique …and instead of supporting an entire community of indie film…they became the “thumbs up and thumbs down” gatekeepers… soon an industry that could have been wide in it’s breadth was asphyxiated by the exclusivity of a community run by self-reinforcing gate keepers. Go look at the numbers of how many films in the last 15 years were in competition at the festival whose filmmakers didn’t go through the Sundance lab, have a celebrity, was friends with the fabulous Institute employees themselves.
An initiative whose goal was to raise INDEPENDENT filmmakers became self coiled and instead raised only independent filmmakers who were dependent on the Sundance film festival to give them a thumbs up or down.

There is a better way to develop a market that is wide and shallowly supportive of many… inclusive and creates a wider market dependent on competition and not the selectivity of initially well intentioned organizations whose scale has grown to reinforce their need to be important for its own sake rather than the purpose it was created for.

As we go further into convergence on the web …we see this same mistaken community structure taking the same path. An organization or community that said something cool in the beginning becomes self important and scaled… weighted down by it’s own size and influence and in so doing blocks a larger economy from growing …and as we saw with indie film… sustaining itself into stagnation.

It was the reason I left NBC and all that behind… the best thing for our economy right now is that the channels, tools and content that stir retail and industry that the web should become …can not become restricted pipes…via anti-net neutrality, corporate behemoths or self-important industry gatekeepers.

sorry for the rant…very important to me.

The day my face was broken. Lessons from guerilla filming enthusiasm gone wrong.

People often ask me about the day my skull was fractured during filming of Pariah.  I thought I would just recount the events that lead to having my face fractured by a mob …on the set, in the middle of the public on Hollywood Blvd. ….in the middle of a sunny afternoon day.

On the first day of filming the independent film, Pariah, I was attacked in the middle of a shot by a mob of young kids and tourists on Hollywood Blvd. who fractured my cheek with a chain because they thought I was a real neo-Nazi skinhead.

Let me step back,  Randy Kret, the director, and I had known each other for some time…from back at my Tower Video and Classical annex days.  I had just gotten some attention for Leaving Las Vegas when he wrote the part of “DaveLee” (dumb, I know, to allow that to happen but I,  as the story will show,…am/was sometimes a “too” enthusiastic actor in conferring realism in the process).

I had just gone home to Boston for the first time in 4.5 years of struggle.  This was because I had lost myself in the search for the golden carrot that was Hollywood.  I was attempting to regain my emotional and ethical footing.  During the time I was home, my Grampy Joe had a heart attack and my grandmother called me to drive him.  He would not allow it… so I sat in the passenger seat, while he, in his 90’s (and just having had a heart attack) drove us to the hospital.  I tell that story because that is an example of who I am… often when told will do what he is told… ..until I don’t.

During the time my Grandfather was in the hospital I started doing the research on playing a member of the 4th Reich and Aryan Nation.  I would go into my Grandfather’s hospital room with my shaved head…just to see his smile and reaction.  He was proud of me and I felt proud after Leaving Las Vegas and this my first lead (be it a tiny little underground guerrilla film) that I was achieving skill at what I had spent my life doing.

I read everything I could and knew this would be a tremendously difficult role because I had NOTHING in common with this epithet spewing hate monger who was so angry.

When I flew back to LA I crashed at a friend Steve’s house…who turned down a different role in the film…(because he didn’t want to shave his head ..lol).

I also think he turned down the film after one incident seeing me and Randy go do research by visiting a music store that was rumored to be run by the 4th reich just off Hollywood Blvd.  We dressed as full on skinheads.  Bald head, red suspenders, rolled jeans, doc maartens…   Randy’s wife (who was one of the producers) went too.  She went first to scope out the store but when she went in and asked about “neo-Nazi” interest… they chased her out …following her all the way to her car… denying any awareness.

So Randy and I went back the next day.  It was a dilapidated old music store that sold a lot of Ska paraphernalia and punk and metal.  There were old glass cases…and several men hanging out around the front door.  When we walked in (Randy with a buzz cut and me turtle shell bald) they were drawn to us with smiles and like moths.  Almost immediately Randy asked if they had any 4th Reich stuff… The man behind the counter said

“are you down with the movement?”

My heart dropped.  We said yes and gave this pre-planned story about how we had been kicked out of our homes in Northern Cali, SF area and had just moved down here.

The man behind the counter reached down to a second shelf and pulled out a mass platter of swastika’s, eagle’s, Nazi badges… and laid them before us on the counter.

The two gentleman that were at the door stepped closer.  One of them said with a big ass smile “Man, shit, you can’t dress like that around here…You’ll get killed”

Another said,( the taller skinnier one) to me “Man, where’s your Tats?”

Suddenly I realized we were missing a big piece of the puzzle.  I forget what I said for a reason but he immediately pulled out a card …hand drawn with his designs, his number and his name…”Jack Hammer”…

wtf.

Seriously that was his name. He gestured and touched my arm…I can still feel it to this day.

“I can do work on you. I’d love to… you’d probably do anything huh?”

I nervously said “yeah”

He said “look at mine”… and showed me his knuckles one with S-K-I-N and the other with H-E-A-D on them.

He was still impressed with how I was dressed.  He starts talking about the Museum of Tolerance and what “bull shit” it is.  And how he went to prison on attempted murder for almost killing a black man for 10 years.

He then says “how about this one”

He turns, lifts up his shirt and shows me his entire back is a giant tattoo of a skin head lifting a black man’s head up and slicing it off.

I, if I had not realized it before, realized then we needed to leave.  Jack Hammer and the other gentleman invited us to some concert.  Jack H reaffirming to me to call him.

When we got in the car… I was visibly shaken.  Randy was visibly excited.

“Can you fucking believe that…scary crazy man”

…and…

“Give me that card I want to give it to the other actors”

It was at this moment that Randy and I’s relationship changed.

I said No and he got angry.

I am not giving them this card that is stupid

He then went down a litany of actors he knows that I admire and told me how “they would go hang out with this guy”  How Malkovich spent time in a prison for a role…

Missing the irony of guards and bars surrounding that event.

On the first day of filming we were to shoot a scene of the real reactions to real people watching me walk down Hollywood Blvd. in full regalia.  Tats this time…from head to toe.  Swastikas on my chest…a giant iron cross on my back…no shirt… red suspenders etc.

The camera car was going to go from one side street and drive by me walking by myself through the tourists and then meet me on the next side street.  The AD’s being on either end and out of the shot.

As I was sitting there waiting to start I turned to Randy and said “Do you think this is safe?” Having seen the impression we had left on a man that went to prison for attempted murder and had THAT tattoo on his back…I thought suddenly…this might be dumb.

Randy got frustrated…I was the ballsy actor… He just wanted to worry about the sound and the shot… becaus e that is what most indie directors fall into.  Over directing the actor…or ignoring them. “I cast you because you can do this job”… I compare it to jumping off the high dive as a kid with a line of other kids behind you.  You just have to suck it up and do your job.  So when they called action I went…not seeing that the camera van got held up at the light.

People all bolted eyes on me as I passed.  About fifty feet in …a third of the way down the block maybe…I hear shouts from behind me…

“Mein Kampf sucks…Hitler sucks you fucking prick”  and boots running.

The next thing I know those voices were right behind me… a hand spun me around…and a chain came slamming up my face.  Blood flew across the sidewalk…and a mob mentality took over.  The crew was running to jump in.

I was saying”I’m an actor!  I’m an actor! This is Hollywood!”  The tattoos are fake!”

But the young strung out kids were intensely fucked up on something as well.  A woman who I took as a tourist stepped in and spit on my face.  At this point…the crew jumped in and got me in the camera car.  But the crowd was out of control and wanted blood.  One of them literally jumping on the hood of the camera van.

They took me to the hospital … I remember family not really worrying about it as if it was just the bizarre world I lived in now.  To this day I realize it was such an extraordinary event, people have a hard time grasping what happened.  Unfortunately that should have taught me the lesson that this film would be plagued with issues like this.  David Ward (who was murdered after filming) was stabbed in the head because what was supposed to be a prop knife turned out to be a real one…the other producer’s wife..I head butted and without rehearsals clocked her stumbling… and it went on…

What is the result… a film that should of…could have had exemplary scenes…had bad acting in some because people grew nervous .

When I did Leaving Las Vegas Mike Figgis taught me I could frickin fly …go balistic if I wanted…he made me feel secure that he was not going to let anything happen.

What happened in the comparison between the two…is lesson #1 in filmmaking.  Make your actors feel safe.  …in every way.  Period.  Yes, some of our greatest directors didn’t do this…but they had the ability to reshoot and reshoot and reshoot a shot… until bits could be edited together.  Indie filmmakers I would argue don’t play Russian roulette…take care of your actors.

FYI after my face was all screwed up …we rearranged the schedule and since my character got more and more beaten up we shot backwards as my wounds healed.