Rusty White: Give our readers a little background info on yourself.
Steve Balderson: I was born in Wamego Kansas. This part of Kansas is really pretty. It has a lot of hills and the prairies. I was raised here. We moved to a nearby city, Manhattan when I was in high school. I went to Cal Arts in Valencia, California for film school. I left after three and a half years to come back to Kansas to make "Pep Squad."
I think the first time I started working with videos, I was under 10. We had a video camera and I would always make my family be the characters in them. My sister, Brooke (EI Note: the bitch high priestess in "Pep Squad") would be a part of them at whatever age she was, 2 or 3. My brother Scott who was a year younger than her would always be the "dead body" or the villain. My mom really loved "Dynasty" so I was raised actually watching "Dynasty" and re-enacting the wedding massacre repeatedly.
RW: You parents didn't think to get you any psychological help from that?
SB: Hell no!
RW: That's good to hear.
SB: Instead of playing house or doctor like the normal kids, we had the epic saga of this family we invented that was full of murder and intrigue and blackmail. Of course we were so young that we didn't know that that was absolutely insane. But, damnit, it was a lot of fun, I think.
I think confrontation and dialogue are much more powerful than a gun.
SB: Yes, when I dropped out of film school and needed to figure out how to actually make a film, I did hire a consultant who had experience. That was Eric Sherman who played the principal in "Pep Squad." He and my father were the ones who led the process, for the business plan and things like that. My dad has done a lot of really great things in his business, and knew very little about the film industry. Though now, through working with me, and guiding me, I think he knows more about what's going on than a lot of people in Hollywood. Just because he comes at it from a business stance instead of as someone involved creatively. I knew I needed his help in raising money for the film. I didn't know how one goes about it, but I knew that he knew because he had done it before in a variety of projects: museums and art houses and things like that. He was extremely important in raising the funds to renovate the Columbia Theater here in town. So, raising funds for a film, while a little different, because the community can't really participate in, or is fleeting, or is there later on. It's really strange. I don't know why anyone would want to invest in a film, which is strange, because those are the very people I need to support me. For whatever reason it worked. We were able to approach a lot of local business men. They were a collection of really interesting people. None of them had ever invested in a motion picture before, or seen any part of the making of one. Since this was one of the first features shot in this part of Kansas, all these people got to come by and be involved in it. The local support was one of the best parts. We would set up catering in the neighbors yard and they would say "Just patch into our electricity and use our plumbing. We don't care." It was so neat because everyone was working together.
RW: Speaking of budget, the film has a very expensive look. It is very well shot and looks better than many Hollywood films. There's not a bad shot in the movie. It is very stylish. What was the budget?
SB: Thank you very much. I think you can do that with no money. I think all it takes is, I think it would seem pointless for me to say 'a vision.' I think a lot of people who look at things forget about color and things like that because there are so many other things going on in the film that you have to worry about at that exact moment. I, personally, am so anal that I have to completely organize things repeatedly. So when I sketch the storyboards for the film, I not only sketch them, I put them in an editing layout. I retold my storyboards in every way you could. And now, for "FIRECRACKER" I've got maybe five inches thick of notes of how I want it to look. Because I understand that somebody reading it may not understand what I'm saying here, might understand it better if I said it a different way. I do all of this before hand, so by the time I get to the set I can really concentrate on the texture of the image, and where to put the red bulb, and separations of color and stuff like that.
But our budget for "PEP SQUAD," getting back to your original question was including marketing, travel, advertising and food and housing was less than $500,000.
RW: That's impressive. I watched the 30th Anniversary DVD of Easy Rider this weekend. Dennis Hopper did the commentary track. He talked about the budget of that film being $350,000. You look at the quality of that film and ask "How could somebody make film like that today for that amount?" Well, you've done it.
SB: Well I think you can based on preparation and planning. Kansas is a right to work state, so the crew didn't have to be union. That certainly helped us because we couldn't have afforded it otherwise. The actors worked for hardly anything. In fact my sister, who would have made about $800.00 for the entire shoot, waived her salary. Little things like that really helped us. Now, doing "FIRECRACKER" though, it would be pretty damn impossible to do it for that amount. Unless I convinced everybody to do a deferred payment or something like that. But once I get into the SAG rules, it totally changes the spectrum. It could be made for a $1,000,000 perhaps, but that is pushing it. There are so many luxuries that people spend money on when they are making a film. I believe that the money you spend in the movie, should be money you see on the screen when you are sitting in the theater. If you can't see it, if an audience member can't see it, then why spend the money. Certainly it is important for everyone to be fed and housed properly, and make sure they are safe, and healthy and comfortable, but you don't need 17 trailers or these luxuries.
THEY tell Me that I have to live there in order to do it. That I have to play the games, and do what is expected of me in order to have success. I say that you don't have to do that anymore. I can live in Ohio, I can live in Canada, I can live in Kansas, or Florida or Texas and still make films. The only thing that makes me not able to make films is simply not making them.
RW: Have you set a date to start rolling on "FIRECRACKER"?
SB: We were looking at Spring. Edward Furlong is supposed to be in "Terminator 3," though now, he's been dropped from that project, for whatever reason, I'm not sure. So that schedule has opened up, but we have Debbie Harry to consider. "Blondie" is getting back together for their first world tour since their reunion album. If she goes on tour, then I really want to wait until Debbie can do it, or do it before. I really don't know what their schedule is.
SB: It takes them. On one hand, working here and not living there allows me absolute clarity. Because I can sit here, and I'm the only person that is making a film here. There is nobody else around who is obsessed with the culture of Hollywood, and the stars and people with names. Nobody here is driven by that, so on the one hand it allows me to work all day long, and at the end of the day, I stop working, no matter what I'm doing. At 7 o'clock I put everything away that has anything to do with movies or creativity and I go and I live. I have life, so I can spend time with my family, or make dinner and I the quality of life I really want in order to focus on what I need to do during the day and do what I'm supposed to do on this earth. If I lived in LA, I think I wouldn't be able to focus as well, because a lot of the game playing and back-stabbing, the typical stuff people think of when they see "Project Green Light" on TV, that is actually how it is. I don't know if I would like that very much. It certainly wouldn't make me very happy. In fact, the longest time I spent there since I left school was when we were doing post on "PEP SQUAD" For the life of me I didn't understand why we weren't doing it in Vancouver. There are other places in the world that make films. It's not just centered in Hollywood. Part of the problem with me and them is that, THEY tell Me that I have to live there in order to do it. That I have to play the games, and do what is expected of me in order to have success. I say that you don't have to do that anymore. I can live in Ohio, I can live in Canada, I can live in Kansas, or Florida or Texas and still make films. The only thing that makes me not able to make films is simply not making them. You can do that anywhere now.
RW: Do you think Hollywood is afraid that others will get the message?
SB: I think if the industry, I think a lot of the people who move to LA with the hopes and dreams of becoming whatever it is they want to become, buy into the myth that you have to move there to do it. I talk top a lot of kids and young adults who say they want to become an actor, but they say "I can't move to LA because blah, blah, blah" I look at them and say, "You know, they make a lot of movies in Austin Texas. They've mad a lot of movies there lately. Have you ever considered going to Austin Texas instead of LA. Or Chicago or New York. Anyplace that has some kind of community where you could do this and enjoy it?" My second question is "Why are you doing this? Are you doing it to be famous, or are you doing it because you have to?" A lot of times people say "truthfully, I just want to be famous, then there motivations are completely different.
RW: In the "GEN X Dictionary" there is a term "Fame Induced Apathy" which means that everything you do is centered around becoming famous, so in fact you end up doing nothing, because there is nothing about you that would make you famous.
SB: Exactly. Then there is the whole fear of success vs. fear of failure, and a lot of people who are really talented end up never doing anything because they are so afraid of it. I think that for the people who buy into the myth of the Hollywood dream, whatever makes them choose what they choose isn't necessarily true most of the time. I think maybe ten years ago, or twenty years ago, it would be nearly impossible for me to live in Kansas and be a film director. Because we didn't have the technology and the Internet and the way of communication that seems to be instantaneously available now. SO now, I can live here. But back then, I think that is where the myth started. You had to go there, you had to be within…I mean, shit, it takes as long to drive across LA as it does for me to get on a plane and fly there. So, that I can't understand. How someone could drive two and a half hours to go see someone at a meeting when they live there, but…I need to finish a point before I get into that. I think that those people are very frightened when they are dealing with people who don't buy into the myth, and tell them that the myth is just a myth. I've done that a couple of times when I'm talking to agents and I tell them, look for example, originally I wrote the character in "FIRECRACKER" for Edward Furlong, and I called his agent. He said that he wouldn't even read it unless I offered him money. I said "That's like going to buy a car and having to put money down before you can even have a test drive. Number one, how will I even know that he even fits? What if I'm to big for the car? That doesn't even make any sense." So when I tell people some of these things, and I say, "No I'm not going to play the game, we're going to play by my rules." These people get really upset. I'm not doing what I'm supposed to. I challenge their fundamental beliefs. Of course, if you challenge anyone's fundamental beliefs they will always react. So I've learned lately, just to keep it to myself, and sometime in my life I'll write a nice book about it. I think that within the next five years everything will change. A lot of people who are stuck behind their desks in LA and are miserable and unhappy will start to question the fact that they are there and why they came there, and perhaps maybe they'll make alterations in their life to be happier. Who knows.
RW: You may have what happened with "Easy Rider." If "FIRECRACKER" turns out to exceed your wildest expectations, which leaves the people in the board rooms shaking their heads and asking "How did this movie make so much money? And how can we make lightning strike twice." We ended up with a bunch of studio produced films that tried to capture the magic of "Easy Rider."
SB: I think that the people in the industry who are business men, who think like business men, want to look back on their life when they are 85 years old and say "Damn, I made $100,000,000!" I want to look back when I'm 85 and say "Damn, "FIRECRACKER" was an amazing piece of work, I really liked doing it, or "PEP SQUAD" was really fun, what a great way to start this out." But I think once you tell the business men they can make those millions of dollars, then they will do whatever you want. Unfortunately, I have to get to that point. I can't really call up my friends at MGM and say, "No really! Believe me." Because I have to show them first.
I think that within the next five years everything will change. A lot of people who are stuck behind their desks in LA and are miserable and unhappy will start to question the fact that they are there and why they came there, and perhaps maybe they'll make alterations in their life to be happier. Who knows.
RW: Yeah, you have to prove yourself.
SB: Once you get past the idea that you can actually do anything, anywhere as long as you are in a place where you can do these things, figuratively speaking, I think the biggest thing is choice of mind. If I told myself "One day, I want to be a director." I'm telling myself at the same time, "well, I'm not one right now." Instead, I choose to say "I am one." It is much easier to say "I am a film director living in Kansas, than 'I want to be one.'" Even when I was working on Videos I said I was a film director, even though I wasn't working on film. Because the frame of mind is completely different, and then it allows someone to do things. It's like you start at step 5 instead of step 1 and it makes more sense I think, that way. But I think it's hard for people to get to that frame of mind, because for a while I would think, "Maybe Hollywood is right. Maybe I am nothing. Maybe I do have to move there, and who am I to think I can do these things? Especially when I would approach agents and they would tell me "Oh, you have to give us $10,000.00 before we read anything or forget it!" I would think, "Maybe I do." Then I would say "No, no, no" I'm just going to have to do this personably." Because artists relate to one another in a certain way, and I don't need to talk to someone who only understands money. Instead I just need to get to the artists. So I did cast "FIRECRACKER" completely by friendships. The limitations that I had were based on who knew who, and that was pretty much it. How far was I willing to go to get them. In this case it just snowballed. I had Karen Black and then she said "Oh, call James Russo." I called him and he is sitting there having dinner with Debby Harry. Debby, I had originally tried to approach in the beginning, and her manager was a complete asshole. [He] pretty much said, "Oh, Debby doesn't do movies like "FIRECRACKER." And so I told her this when she called. She said "I want to do this," and she hasn't even read the script. I said "I tried to get you this script a year ago and this is what happened." She made him call and apologize.
SB: Yeah. It was really nice, but now he won't talk to me and that whole agency hates me, because they were made to look stupid in front of their client. So, I think that is another step. Anyone who is young and trying to make their way, or older and trying to make their way is going to have a lot more bumpy ride if they go the way people in Hollywood tell you to go. I think it is far easier to just do it non-conventionally.
RW: Was Karen Black the first one to come on board?
SB: Yes. I had always loved her work, but I never even thought of her for the part. I was talking to my friend Eric Sherman, who is my film consultant, and he said "My wife is good friends with Karen Black. Why don't we get her on the phone?" So, we talked and originally she turned me down. She read it and she said, "Oh, this is too much, this is too emotionally draining." She said her character in "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" was so emotionally draining for her, and so imprisoning in her body, and the character in "FIRECRACKER" is just about imprisonment of the soul in the body. She said, "I don't know if I can live through it." So I met with her and we would repeatedly go through it, and I really wanted her to know that it wasn't as dark and dreary as it read. I needed some life force in there to make it what it is, and she said "Oh, all right." I think once she met me and really understood who I was and what I was about it changed the whole thing. Because the perception of the story is really, really dark and gut-wrenching if you read it. I want to tell it in a beautiful way. I love dichotomy. I love using the violent image with the beautiful music. So I really want to photography it really pretty. So, upon hearing these things and seeing my storyboards she said "OK, great, I'll do it." So then I said, "OK, help me figure out who else we can get in it!" And that is where it started.
Debby Harry. Debby, I had originally tried to approach in the beginning, and her manager was a complete asshole. [He] pretty much said, "Oh, Debby doesn't do movies like "FIRECRACKER." And so I told her this when she called. She said "I want to do this," and she hasn't even read the script. I said "I tried to get you this script a year ago and this is what happened." She made him call and apologize.
RW: How did you hook up with Dennis Hopper?
SB: Karen had his FAX number. I sent a FAX. Apparently, my dad sent a letter. Or a series of letters about Kansas. He [Dennis Hopper] actually grew up down the street from my grandmother in Dodge City, Kansas. So we knew he would remember them, because they ran the general store. We said "You know Kansas is insane, you were there. Here's the story, here's the true story. Here's the people we have in the film, and here's the script. So, we sent it to him. Well, we Faxed him and he called and said "Send me the script." And we did. He read it that Friday. He went to the East Coast to see one of his kids. He said he read it back to back twice on that plane. He said it was one of the best things he had ever read. On that Monday or Tuesday when he got back, he wanted us to meet him at his house for morning tea. We were in LA that week, so we went down to his house. The first thing he said was "I want to do this part." That was it. I didn't even have to ask. It was amazing.
RW: What did that feel like?
SB: The feeling was…it was nerve wracking at first, only because I named the character that is based on a true incident "Frank" because of the similarities with his character in "Blue Velvet." It was the most evil name I could think of at the time. I thought, "Oh, he's going to notice that immediately and he's going to be turned off or say 'I'm not going to do Frank again.' " It's a different Frank, but it is a crazy Frank. When he didn't react negatively, I more relieved and then really calm. I was there with my Dad. My Dad is really funny when he gets into those situations. But Dennis' wife was there, and it was really down to earth. It was like being at home and talking to someone from Kansas.
RW: I knew Mr. Hopper was from Kansas. I wondered if that had something to do with your contacting him.
SB: There is something I feel about taking Kansan talent, or writing stories about Kansas. I'm obsessed with this place. I think it is amazingly haunting and gorgeous at the same time. When I first sat down and said, "OK, what actors are from Kansas, of course he was on the list." And thought, who else is. There are some weird people from Kansas. There's Elvira. She went to Kansas State. There's Don Johnson and Kirsty Alley from Wichita. I don't remember who else, but there are some weird people from Kansas. Actually, Lou Grant. Who played Lou Grant?
RW: Ed Asner.
SB: He's from Kansas. So, I called him [Asner] up and said, "Do you want to do this?" I sent him the script. His response was that he was so "old now that he can't outrun crime, so he wouldn't want to be in a movie where there was any crime going on." It was hysterical.
RW: You know Kansas Has had some notorious crimes?
SB: Oh, I know.
RW: You mentioned growing up in Manhattan. One of the rare African American mass murderers was from you're town. He got up on a Howard Johnson's in New Orleans back in the 70s and started shooting people. They sent an Army helicopter in to shoot him of the roof.
SB: Oh my God! I didn't know that.
RW: It was back in '71.
SB: Well, I was born is '75, so if anything happened before then I don't know because I was so obsessed with "Dynasty" until about '86 that I lost all track of reality.
RW: Yes, well Joan Collins will have that effect on people.
SB: Yes, she really does.
RW: It seems your family has been behind you 100% since childhood.
RW: Tell me about the book "Issues" you wrote about the experience of making "Pep Squad" with Eric Sherman and your father. I read some excerpts on you're web site, but I stopped to get your take on it. I read enough to know that "here is someone who's is very committed to independent filmmaking..
SB: Well, it was fun because Eric is a Yale grad who is brilliant. His words are brilliant. What he says in a sentence can out do anything I can think of in 10 years. When he would write something about the process (of filmmaking), it would be real analytical. When you compare his experience to mine, which is like this crazy artist who's ordinary life is full of one-liners…it is interesting to go back and forth. And then my dad is writing from the perspective of "Oh my God! Here I am, and my son is doing this and what have I gotten myself into?" So when you read these three perspectives at the same time, it's an amazing combination of stuff. I really wanted to do this for "Firecracker." I started setting the stuff up, but then I thought maybe I should do a documentary and put all of these things up on the screen. I'm still in development, because I personally wouldn't want to do it myself. I don't know who would want to. Who would continually document the process. I don't know what time frame to span. No one lives here who could do it and I don't want to bring someone in to live with me for however long it takes.
RW: Call MTV. Get a "Real World" cast to make the documentary!
SB: That would be good.
RW: How long was the shoot for "Pep Squad"?
SB: "Pep Squad" took 6 weeks.
RW: 6 weeks?
SB: Yeas. The initial script board for "Firecracker" came down to 8 weeks. Though I realized that I had a couple of buffers in there so it could possibly be done in 6 weeks too. Because of the planning I go through.
That was one thing about Kubrick that I could not understand. Because I thought "If he's such a visionary, and he's seriously, this brilliant, why on earth doesn't he know what he wants to use?" I though that didn't make any sense. I mean, anyone can deliver something that matches if they spend two years doing it. Because they'll have absolutely every perception under the sky!
RW: Are you a Hitchcock fan?
RW: I got that impression from the commentary track on "Pep Squad." One thing that impressed me on the commentary track was that you stated that you didn't shoot any coverage.
At Cannes with Roger Corman and Troma's Lloyd Kaufman
RW: I interviewed Ann Gillis once. She played Becky Thatcher in "Tom Sawyer" back in the 30s. She was the voice of Bambi's mother. She retired in the 40s and came out of retirement when she was living in England in the 60s. They needed some American actors for "2001: A Space Oddessy." She played one of the astronauts mothers during the scene where the astronauts get a televised phone call from their parents. She said they did 28 takes, 30 takes. They kept going and going and going. The other actor kept improvising and Stanley would say "sure, try it." This was all for 4 seconds of screen time. She finally got up and said "You have enough footage of me. I'm going back into retirement. Ms. Gillis had the same impression you did. "This guy is a genius? This is chaos!"
SB: There's planned chaos too. I bet he probably did know exactly what he would use in the beginning. I bet he just did it. I can't speculate because I never met the man, but I can't conceive of shooting something that way. That would be like admitting to myself that I didn't have a clear vision. Of course my vision isn't absolutely 100% in the clarity realm, but it's real close because I'm certain of what I see in my head. I can't imagine going against myself, going against my interpretation to make sure I have everything I might need. I think the other extreme from Kubrick is David Lynch. Lynch has a vision, but it is so disjointed that it always looks like a dream. Not just "Mulholland Drive" or "Lost Highway" but all his work. It is always like a dream. If you look at a dream which is maybe steps 1 through 10 and the only things you capture are steps 1, 3, 4, 7, 8 and 10 and your mind makes sense of those missing steps. You could look back on it and say "Oh, I make sense of this." It goes from one point to the next and by the end of the dream you say "Oh well, this happened even though you might not have dreamt it at all. I think his work is like that. I think that is deliberate on his part. I think it is the absolute opposite of what Kubrick did. David Lynch will take half as much footage and be completely satisfied because it makes sense afterwards, when you go back and relive the movie. The problem with that is I don't think the audience gets the change. Either they don't want to analyze it or think about it. They don't let themselves enjoy it. I love Hitchcock because he did, he was a fine middle ground. He was able to take things, ideas and stories that were made from collaborative committees, stories that weren't coming from him, but he was able to take his vision and apply it to that. That's what I think I'll do. I hope I do. Take something that everyone can enjoy, be it the stupid people who just want entertainment or can't let themselves want something they can think about all the way to the people that are very analytical and really read into everything. Every color, every shape and the geometry of the structure of the frame and all these things. If you can do an image that has all of those things covered, then you are right down the middle. I think Hitchcock did that. I think I took to doing those things when I was in college. I had a mentor, Hartmut Bitomsky. He encouraged me with an independent study program. He had me go and review each of Hitchcock's films. I would do scene structures and over view diagrams and art layouts for all of the sets and take it back to him and we would talk about it. It was completely outside of my schooling. It had nothing to do with grades or anything like that. I got more education out of that than from anything else I did. Just watching Hitchcock's films. Because they are so obvious, what he's doing. If you stop and watch it three times, you know, that one scene and you say "OK, why is he doing that? Why is the camera there?" Well, because that's where he saw it!
If you look at my storyboards, it reads like a comic book. Like a graphic novel. It's in editing form. You can turn the pages and there's the script right next to the sketches. The movie is completely finished. I edited it and it's all done in my head. All we have to do now is make it.
RW: Hitchcock always said that he actually hated the process of making the movie because by the time the cameras started rolling the movie was finished for him. He had done what you did, the storyboard was already laid out. Did you have those feelings?
SB: Well, I'm having it now. I did have in "Pep Squad." But it was another shape. When we got on the set and I was shooting my sister and it was the very first shot of celluloid that I would ever make in my entire life, it was a shot of my sister being photographed in my mother's house. It was the moment where everything fit. Brooke did her lines. It was so powerful that I nearly fainted. There was such an energy, a charge in the room. She peeked her vocals, so that the person doing the sound said she went off the vocal range, wherever it was. There was no way they could capture her voice. It was weird. There was some supernatural stuff going on. The sound man asked if we could do it again. I said "No, we can never do that again." I was talking mostly from experience and not necessarily from the actual making of it. When that happened and it became a reality, then where do you go from there? You can go back and relive it. It became so magical because all those pictures and all those drawings and all those words were real. They became something that was in this world and not just in my brain. It was so relieving to get them out of there. And get them off the papers and now there're moving and people can experience them. On "Firecracker," I did the same thing. I did it more animated this time. If you look at my storyboards, it reads like a comic book. Like a graphic novel. It's in editing form. You can turn the pages and there's the script right next to the sketches. The movie is completely finished. I edited it and it's all done in my head. All we have to do now is make it. When the new producer's development guy calls me with script notes, I panic. "What the hell do you mean? The movie is already finished!" What do you mean you have to have me explain this? I was really up set for a while. We fought about it for a while. He could not understand how I conceived this visually. People that are more verbal or auditory have a problem understanding necessarily that people are visual and not auditory. For me, basically I can make a film without using a script. I think the script is worthless. If you're visual director and visual storyteller, it first comes in pictures. The whole process of "Firecracker" came to me in pictures long before I sat down and wrote the script. The words on the papers were descriptions of my storyboards. It was almost done in reverse of the way a lot of people are use to. It's frustration for me because they won't see that. That's just me being reactionary. I keep saying "well of course they won't see it because usually people go down the path walking forward instead of backward, like me. It's not their fault that they don't get it." I stop reacting. It is kind of tough to do that much preparation before hand. When you change one thing, then all the shots on the other side of it have to be restructured.
RW: Like a jig-saw puzzle, let's cut this corner, let's round this corner off that would affect five other pieces.
SB: Yes, exactly. It's certainly been a challenge. I can't wait until I do something that is not from, like I'm in line to direct the "Museum Guard" which is the film based on the book by Howard Norman. I really think I'm going to do it. The only problem is I think David Mamet wants to do it too. I don't want to be going up against him. I really want to do that because it didn't come from me and it didn't come from my soul. It's already been conceived by someone else. It might be kind of fun to envision a story that I have no connection to. It's like I'm sort of the surrogate mother but it's not really my child.
RW: I would think that would be the most challenging thing to do. I've done some screenwriting. I had an uncle in the record business, he optioned "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and sent me like an 8-page treatment and asked me to do the screenplay for it. To me that was challenging because up to that point everything I had written came from my own experience or issues or whatever. Collaborating back and forth with someone else, it was very educational. To me that was a challenge. I had no emotional chip, like in a poker game, other than this thing might sell and I might get my other stuff done. That would be a challenge.
SB: But, I think a fun one.RW: Oh yes. Anything that does not kill you but make you stronger. You seem to have a self- confidence that I don't see that often. It could be with my profession of dealing with poor folks who are criminals who have no self-confidence. That's why they're out there doing what they're doing. It's very refreshing and I think it shows in your work.
SB: Well, thank you. I think that sometimes, I used to have a self-confidence that was really in your face and unflattering. I didn't like it. I didn't like who I was. I can't understand now who that person was. When I was younger and just getting ready to go the College and I was still in High School and just making all these feature videos, I was doing them for completely the wrong reasons. I didn't like myself. I didn't like the messages that the world was telling me that I had to do this. I had to be this way. I had to look this way. It was really shallow and superficial and really gross. I would make these videos just so that I can be in the papers. Just so I could get this acclaim and all this other stuff. When I was in school, I woke up on April 23, 1995 or 1996, I sat down at my computer and I wrote "Pep Squad" in 4 days. I got up. I looked in the mirror. I was me. I actually felt really good about me for the first time in my life. I realize, you know, I can follow my dream and do what I need to do from my own backyard in Kansas and not have to feel these things and not have to live up to them. Who am I'm living up to, the neighbors or myself? I took the same self-confidence that I had before but then I focused it for the right reasons. Those were well I'm here on earth to do this. I love my family. I love people. I love helping people but I also have some vision to share with them. Hopefully they will encourage other people to things differently. And hopefully they will like the journey I take them on. That's pretty much it. When I look out on the world now, I say, why wouldn't I. I don't feel threaten by what people think of me because I understand that everyone's perception is different. If they look at me and see one thing. They may look at someone else and see another. It had nothing to do with me. It only had to do with them and their vision, as well as mine. When I got the understanding of perception and how no two people on earth see the same thing in the same way. I think it just really allowed me to focus more. Which is weird for me to say that out loud.
RW: No, it makes sense. It's, you know, as you grow part of you…I can tie it into what I read on your Web-site today about you shedding your skin.
SB: Oh, my God, that's right.
RW: Tell me about you shedding your skin?
SB: Yeah, that was weird. I had to have been ten or eleven. I woke up one day. I always had eczema, very dry skin. Now it's completely different than when I was really younger. It's not noticeable. When I was younger, I would be playing in the back yard and get dirty and all that stuff. It would get aggravated. I thought that's what it was. So, I went to the school. I didn't think about it, the next day my whole skin started, you know, it was very scaly, real scaly, like weird scaly. I went to school again, I was sitting in the classroom, it had to have been third grade, no fourth grade, I'm trying to remember exactly, I was in the fourth grade. I took my left arm and I remember getting my hand under my skin and peeling it off. Like "V: The Mini-Series." Underneath was fresh new skin. It was the weirdest thing. I did it all over my body. Everywhere on my body except my face shed. My fingernails grew out. I had a ridge in my fingernail that marked when it happened. My fingernail grew out much stronger on the other side of this ridge than what it was before. So now I have these little knives for my fingernails. We went to the doctors and stuff. I never had a fever the entire time. They didn't know what it was.
RW: It just struck me, as to how you were trying to do everything for the wrong reason in high school. When you woke up. It's like you are mature. In one of your E-mails you said "I'm a different person then the guy who made "Pep Squad."
SB: I enjoy growing as person. Today the feelings I have, I'm able to have adult relationships. I think that's the biggest thing. Growing from the party kid from College, who enjoyed watching TV and making movies like "Pep-Squad." I couldn't have an adult relationship. I was a different person. Now that I spent a little more time with my family, I bought a house in Wamego. I'm a homeowner and suddenly I'm almost 30. Well not really, I'm just 26 but it's coming quickly, my adulthood. I look at life in a less bitter way that when I was younger; than when I made "Pep Squad." I don't see the world that way anymore. I'm not that jaded about it. Like when Cherry (from "Pep Squad") had barriers, her way was to shoot them. I wanted to do that. Brook is playing me in that movie. That's what I felt like when I was in school. Like, you can't make a movie from Kansas. I'm like, fuck you, I can too. I would kick them in the face and shoot them. That's how I felt. Now when I look back, I say God you must be miserable. I look at someone and say like why are you so mean to people? You know to the barriers that stood in my way. I just don't even give them the time to react to them. I just focus on what I need to and I deal with that in a good way. I think that's really beneficial to "Firecracker." I don't think I would have been prepared to do it then. I had the story in my head long before I made "Pep Squad" because I knew it had happened. My family always talked about it since it was the true story that happen. My aunt was actually there in alley when the dug up the body. I've always known of this story and I always was addicted to it and I loved it. But I think the emotion that I have learn, like, I experienced some emotions in the last 2 1/2 years that I never knew existed. I think I had to go through that in order to deliver the emotion on this film. It's highly emotional and highly mature or adult like. I don't think I would have been able to otherwise. I like changing. Who knows, in a few more years I may out grown that and I be learning or focusing on new things and broadening my education.
RW: On your Web-site you give a lot of factual background information about the case "Firecracker" is based on. You have a lot of documentation and interviews. Are you afraid that you may be giving away too much to the public so that when the movie comes out, people might say "Well I know what happens because I read the Web-site"?
SB: No, but I'm also structuring it (the web-site) in such a way that it's not that I'm leaving everything important out, but I'm leaving a hell of a lot out.
SB: Well there are elements in the movie that I fictionalized slightly. Most of it has to do with time. In real life we span a time difference that, maybe lasted three month between the time when he disappeared to when they dug up the body. In the film, I shorten that to about, well I don't put time in my work, I keep it sort of timeless. The days are irrelevant. The year is irrelevant. I think it only spans two weeks in my fictional way.
RW: Talk a little more about perception and trust?
SB: I'm learning how to trust these people with my vision. I know they get it. I know they somewhat see it. I don't think they see it to the degree that I do. But that's OK, I understand that no one will until they see it. You can't believe what someone tells you until you see it on the screen. Truth be told, a lot of people find it hard to believe that Karen Black is gorgeous. They continually photograph her in scary ways. When I tell people, no, no, no, it's like Marlene Dietrich in "Touch of Evil." Picture that and put Karen Black in your mind. It's real hard to do that. I think you have to just wait and see it. And live it. In order to say, "oh you're right."
RW: I see what you are saying. There are a couple of movies she was dropped dead gorgeous in them.
SB: I think after she did "Trilogy of Terror" other people have wanted her to be insane and crazy looking. They forgot that she's actually attractive, in real life.
I loved Lost Highway. I went to the première. I remember when I went to the bathroom, Kevin Spacey was at the urinal saying "What the hell was that movie about?"
RW: You have Debbie Harry also. I'm just totally amazed by her in "Videodrome." It's such a totally bizarre movie. With one of those images that you can't shake from your head: her putting a cigarette out on her breast. She's brave.
SB: Yes, she's neat. I really liked her in "Heavy."
RW: I didn't see that.
SB: Oh, it's good. It's really weird, with Liz Tyler and Shelly Winters.
RW: That's a dynamic trio.
SB: It was a really low budge like Sundance hit or something. It's real sad. Debbie plays this small town waitress that has the look of how I want her to look in "Firecracker." Just sort of plain looking even though she is Debbie Harry and gorgeous. It's a real interesting movie.
RW: I have to check that one out. Do you have some favorite films you would like to recommend? That you think have not reached the audience they should have.
SB: It's weird with movies, the first thing that comes to mind, I really enjoyed, but it's really ridiculous, it's the movie "Clue" from the 80's. With Tim Curry as the butler, the timing in that movie is brilliant. "Paper Moon" is always a good one, with Tatum and Ryan O'Neal. I think a lot of people don't remember that one.
RW: I love Madeline Kahn in that. "Scoot on over and let Mommy sit up front with her big breasts." You mentioned "Lost Highway," when I interviewed Curtis Harrington that was the one he really recommended.
SB: I loved Lost Highway. I went to the première. I remember when I went to the bathroom, Kevin Spacey was at the urinal saying "What the hell was that movie about?" I didn't know that there was that much more to get. It was so weird, like no one understood what was going on. I though the first 20 minutes of that movie was brilliant, with the video tape.
RW: Kevin Spacey at the urinal?
SB: It was funny.
RW: Gives a new meaning to the word throne.
RW: He's one of my favorite actors. You never know what he's going to do. I still think the best thing he did were the audition tapes on "Saturday Night Live" where Jack Lemmon, Walter Mathau and Christopher Walken was trying out for "Star Wars."
SB: I loved "Nurse Betty."
RW: Yes, nice, demonic, funny and wholesome at the same time.
SB: I would say I was shocked when I saw that movie because the cover of it looked uncanny like the cover of the art work for "Bridget Jone's Diary." When I rented it, I said "Oh, a light headed comedy." When I got home, I see them stabbing this man and shooting him. I'm like, "what the fuck?" Then, I'm addicted to it, I can't believed this just happen. I've got to call every one I know and tell them to watch this movie. Of course, I did and they all had seen it. I was the only one left out on what it was really all about. It was wonderful.
RW: Isn't that a strange feeling? I done that before. Some movie was, in addition of being a great movie a cultural phenomenal and you see it 4 months later on video. You come up to the water cooler, it's like talking about the Super Bowl in May.
SB: And everybody wonders what are you doing with your life.
RW: Yeah, I know. Damn ,I missed it. I'm not hip anymore.
RW: I saw that on TV when I was about 6 or 7 and that just about warped me. I just did not get it. As a child, there's no way in the world you would know what it's really about. You know, these cannibal kids at the end. Seeing it as an adult and realizing, or trying to have a better understanding, considering it was Tennessee Williams, what it's really about, the psychologically impact. It's an amazing piece of work that still holds up today.
SB: You know what else does, "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner." When I first watched it, I didn't notice of course all the things I do now. But you know, our culture really hasn't caught up to that. They have with the bi-racial relationships, but I don't think they have in a way that that film confronted in the plain of field of confrontation. They were right up front and honest with their fears. They admitted to each other their fears and confronted it together. I don't think we still do that.
RW: No, that's one of the reasons I love "White Man Can't Jump." It takes a racist white guy and a racist black guy and puts them in a situation where they say exactly what they feel about each other without killing each other. I found that despite the comedy and everything else that's involved, it hit that issue. From that point of view, I think it's a very serious movie in that it allows people to vocalize and get their anger out. Without guns popping out of their waistband and people dead on the playground.
This studio was ready to release "Pep Squad." The weekend we were going to sign the stuff Columbine happen. They said "Sorry, never mind." Everybody just backed away. Then they released their own versions. "Jawbreaker" and "Teaching Mrs. Tingle."
SB: I think confrontation and dialogue are much more powerful than a gun.
RW: That's one thing I hate when I'm watching a movie. Where they build up to something like that. Either the writer or the director did not have the balls to follow through on it. They don't have the conversation. It's like "OK what happened here?"
SB: Well, that goes against everything in "Pep Squad." The person who I was when I thought of that said "OK, well here's confrontation. Now I will deal with it by removing it, instead of really confronting it. I really don't think Cherry confronted her fears in that movie. I think she rid the fears. She shot them. That really wasn't just the brightest idea. Then they came back to haunt her. That's like you denied it. If you deny it and bury it under the rug, one of these days it will come back and haunt you harder. You really have to just hit it straight on.
RW: I don't know if this was your intention, but in the last scene with the flag burning behind her, the image that was invoked was Gloria Swanson coming down the stairs in "Sunset Blvd." She was totally whacked out. In her own little paradise and she's going to the Rubber Room for the rest of her life but she's happy.
SB: At that moment, there's no where else to go. You are in absolute bliss. Like everything is just gone.
RW: Did you get a lot of grief from folks because of the school violence?
SB: It was weird because we shot it before the rash of school violence happen in our country. The only reason I was able to think of that, besides it had been done in "Heathers" was because of what I was feeling. The kids at Columbine who did that in their trench coats, I know how they felt. I was treated that way. I'm not saying that I agree with them because I think their actions were completely appalling, but I understand their emotional make up. Once you're repeatedly push people down, they're going to get so lost and confused and insane they're not going to know which way is right or wrong. They can't think of anything right because the whole world has been telling them forever that they're freaks and they don't fit in. That's all they have to do. In order for me to deal with that, from what I experienced in High School and in College, I was shunned in College because I was the only normal one. I didn't have purple hair. I didn't wear earrings. I didn't walk around naked. I didn't fornicate in the hallway, which was acceptable by the way. People at that school thought you always have the power to turn around and walk away. You could do drugs. You could have sex in the hallway and run around naked because as long as you're not hurting anyone it's your own life. Since I didn't do any of those things, I was an outcast. In High School in Kansas, I was the freak kid because from the perception, I acted like the kids from College. Then I get the College, finally thinking I can fit in and they call me a moron farm boy. I'm like what? All those emotions in me made me do "Pep Squad" because I had to deal with that or I would have done that in real life. Of course, I knew that was incorrect and wrong and not very good to take someone else's life so I didn't. The school violence thing then started and of course no one would want to touch the movie. In fact, we were in negotiation with one of the majors to release it. This was after a couple of studios had said no because there was no stars. This studio was ready to do it. The weekend we were going to sign the stuff Columbine happen. They said "Sorry, never mind." Everybody just backed away. Then they released their own versions. "Jawbreaker" and "Teaching Mrs. Tingle."
RW: I like the section on your Web page called "Sincerest Form of Flattery."
SB: Well, it's true. Several legal people told us we have enough to sue. I've never really believed in that. I though, "Well, instead of wasting the money because, number one if you sue somebody that huge and they have their own team of legal people, we'll be in court so long we will be bankrupt and then what will we do.
RW: Like, Art Buckwald and " Coming to America." That it was his script idea. He proved they stole his script idea. Paramount claims the movie made no money. Buckwald dies before he sees a penny.
SB: Well anyway, I took that feeling and I said I'm not going to do sue. So, I decided to put all my energy into making more films. I have a friend now who is now the Senior VP at MGM/UA. She said it is no secret in the industry what happened with "Pep Squad." Everybody knows. That's why if I call, everybody, including Harvey Weinstein's office, will call me back within a half hour. It occurred to me, the only thing they don't expect me to do is continue to make movies. That's all I got to do.
RW: That may be a chip you can play too. We will make it up to you seeing how we bent you over without the benefit of a KY. This time well be a little kinder. You're going to get a reach around this time. That's how they are.
SB: That's how it felt. Then only reason I will play the game is so I can expose it later. People don't know about it. It's like this "Project Green Light," I love it because they're so evil and so gross. People don't realize because it like this gorgeous place, Hollywood. The myth is everybody looks like Sharon Stone. Everybody behaves like Madonna. They all get money like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then you get there its not like that at all. I can't wait to tell world, even though I think they've been told repeatedly. I think that a part of them doesn't want to see how it is.RW: I'm a big horror movie fan. There's a movie where everything was an illusion. It wasn't until the end that you could see the cobwebs and how the people were. How decrepit and decayed.
SB: "Carnival of Souls."
EI: Yeah, it was made in Kansas.
SB: I don't know if they had cobweb but it was along this line. She was dead the whole way though the movie.
RW: Or, "Dead and Buried" with Jack Albertson, James Farentino, and Robert Englund. Everybody in the town was dead and they didn't realize it out until the end.