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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Crispin Glover Talks DIY Film Promotion

Hollywood outsider brings movie, slide show to the Oriental

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In a breakout role, Crispin Glover brought a bizarre, nervy energy to the character George McFly in 1985’s Back to the Future, but in the decades since, he’s kept Hollywood at a distance, periodically taking on bit roles that play off his image as an eccentric—including appearances in Charlie’s Angels, Willard and this year’s Alice in Wonderland and Hot Tub Time Machine—and using the money he makes to fund his own projects, like his many self-published books or the confrontational art films he directs. Glover refuses to release his movies on DVD. Instead he tours behind them, pairing his screenings with quirky slide shows compiled from his books and Q&A sessions.

Glover’s latest film is It is Fine. Everything is Fine!, a thematic sequel to 2005’s surreal What Is It?, which starred many actors with Down syndrome. The second installment in a planned trilogy, It is Fine was written by and stars Steven C. Stewart, a Utah writer who loosely based the fantastical script on his experiences suffering cerebral palsy, including 10 years he spent wrongly confined to a nursing home after his speech impediment was mistaken as a sign of mental retardation. Stewart died in 2001, one month after shooting wrapped on the film.

In advance of his 7 p.m. appearance Thursday, April 22 at the Oriental Theatre, Glover talked to the Shepherd Express via e-mail about his films, his unique business model and the importance of breaking taboos.

How much satisfaction do you get from commercial film work these days? At this point in your career, is it something you do solely to fund your own ventures?

After Charlie’s Angels came out it did very well financially and was good for my acting career. I started getting better roles that also paid better and I could continue using that money to finance my films that I am so truly passionate about. I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in and look at acting as a craft that I am helping other filmmakers to accomplish what it is that they want to do. Usually filmmakers have hired me because there is something they have felt would be interesting to accomplish with using me in their film and usually I can try to do something interesting as an actor. If for some reason the director is not truly interested in doing something that I personally find interesting with the character then I can console myself that with the money I am making to be in their production I can help to fund my own films that I am so truly passionate about. Usually, though, I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well such as recent happy film work such as in Time Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Hot Tub Time Machine.

How did you come up with the idea for your multi-media tours?

I definitely have been aware of utilizing the fact that I am known from work in the corporate media I have done in the last 25 years or so. This is something I rely on for when I go on tour with my films. It lets me go to various places and have the local media cover the fact that I will be performing either “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show I” or “Crispin Hellion Glover’s all new Big Slide Show.” These are one-hour live dramatic narration of eight different books (Part I) or six different books (Part II), which are profusely illustrated and projected as I go through them. Then I show the film, have a Q and A with the audience and after that a book signing. As I funded the films I knew that this is how I would recoup my investment, even if it a slow process.

How has your slide show evolved over the years?

The books are taken from old books from the 1800’s that have been changed in to different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs. When I first started publishing the books in 1987, people said I should have book readings. But the book are so heavily illustrated and they way the illustrations are used within the books they help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visually representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary. It took a while but in 1993 I started performing what I used to call “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Side Show.”

Why do you choose not to release your films on DVD?

The benefits are that I am in control of the distribution and personally supervise the monetary intake of the films that I am touring with. I also control piracy in this way because digital copy of this film is stolen material and highly prosecutable. It can be enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows, as there is no corporate intermediary. The drawbacks are that a significant amount of time and energy to promote and travel and perform the shows. Also the amount of people seeing the films is much smaller than if I were to distribute the films in a more traditional sense.

How did you discover Steven C. Stewart? What drew you to his script?

I will start with writing about the first part of the trilogy What Is It? is not a film about Down’s Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in film making. Specifically, anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable is necessarily excised or the film will not be corporately funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture because it is the very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair looks up at the screen and thinks to their self, “Is this right what I am watching? Is this wrong what I am watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have made this? What is it?”—and that is the title of the film. What is it that is taboo in the culture? What does it mean that taboo has been ubiquitously excised in this culture’s media? What does it mean to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in its media? It is a bad thing because when questions are not being asked because these kinds of questions are when people are having a truly educational experience. For the culture to not be able to ask questions leads towards a non educational experience and that is what is happening in this culture. This stupefies this culture and that is of course a bad thing. So What Is It? is a direct reaction to the contents this culture’s media. I would like people to think for themselves.

Steven C. Stewart wrote and is the main actor in part two of the trilogy titled It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. I put Steve in to the cast of What Is It? because he had written this screenplay which I read in 1987. When I turned What Is It? from a short film in to a feature I realized there were certain thematic elements in the film that related to what Steven C. Stewart’s screenplay dealt with.  Steve had been locked in a nursing home for about 10 years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy and he was very difficult to understand. People that were caring for him in the nursing home would derisively call him an “M.R.” short for “Mental Retard.” This is not a nice thing to say to anyone, but Steve was of normal intelligence. When he did get out he wrote his screenplay. Although it is written in the genre of a murder detective thriller, truths of his own existence come through much more clearly than if he had written it as a standard autobiography.

When I was 19 I was acting in a film made at the AFI called The Orkly Kid. The character I was playing was based on a person the director had made a documentary about when he was working on a television show in Salt Lake Utah. He was friends with another filmmaker from Salt Lake named Larry Roberts, who had made a documentary on Steven C Stewart when Steve was still not able to get out of the nursing home. When Steve got out of the nursing home, he told Larry that he wanted to make a movie. Larry was an interesting filmmaker, but was older and doing other things, and he introduced Steve to another younger Salt Lake filmmaker that was making unusual movies and said maybe they could work on it together. I had also been shown some of David Brother’s films by Larry and the director of the Orkly Kid. It was around this time that I had been wanting to make a movie from one of my books and I had very much liked David Brother’s movies he was making on video. So I met up with David Brothers and we started making a movie of one of my books called The Backward Swing. We started shooting this on video in 1987—actually this will be the next movie I edit. In any case, while we were working on The Backward Swing, David showed me the script for Everything Is Fine! and as soon as I read it I knew it was a movie I had to produce.

Steven C. Stewart’s own true story was fascinating. and then the beautiful story and the nave, including his fascination of women with long hair, and the graphic violence and sexuality and the revealing truth of his psyche from the screenplay were all combined. There was a specific marriage proposal scene that was the scene I remember reading that made me say, “I have to produce this film.”

Steven C. Stewart died within a month after we finished shooting the film. Cerebral palsy is not generative but Steve was 62 when we shot the film. One of Steve’s lungs had collapsed because he had started choking on his own saliva and he got pneumonia. I specifically started funding my own films with the money I make from the films I acted in when Steven C. Stewart’s lung collapsed in the year 2000; this was around the same time that the first Charlie’s Angels film was coming to me. I realized with the money I made from that film I could put straight in to the Steven C. Stewart film. That is exactly what happened. I finished acting in Charlie’s Angels and then went to Salt Lake City where Steven C. Stewart lived. I met with Steve and David Brothers with whom I co-directed the film. I went back to LA and acted in a lower budget film for about five weeks and David Brothers started building the sets. Then I went straight back to Salt Lake and we completed shooting the film within about six months in three separate smaller productions. Then Steve died within a month after we finished shooting. I am relieved to have gotten this film finally completed because ever since I read the screenplay in 1987 I knew I had to produce the film and also produce it correctly. I would not have felt right about myself if I had not gotten Steve’s film made, I would have felt that I had done something wrong and that I had actually done a bad thing if I had not gotten it made. So I am greatly relieved to have completed it especially since I am very pleased with how well the film has turned out. I feel It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE! will probably be the best film I will have anything to do with in my entire career. 

Was it difficult completely the film after Stewart passed away? How did you make sure his vision remained in tact?

We completed all filming before Steve died. He actually made certain with me that we had enough footage to finish the film. David Brothers and I both were intent on bringing forth what Steve had written. Because Steve wrote it as a fantasy, David and I wanted to make certain that we supported it in the most opulent way and to look closest to a corporately funded and distributed film, but to maintain the emotionally cathartic elements that were apparent in Steve’s original script.

What has the audience response been like to these films? Does the intense nature of the films ever make the Q&A sessions afterward uncomfortable?

What Is It? was premiered at Sundance in 2005 and won best narrative film at the 2005 Ann Arbor film festival and it won the 2005 Sitges International Film Festival Midnight Extreme Award. It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE! was premiered at Sundance in 2007 and won a special mention the 2007 Sitges International Film Festival for New Visions Award. The films deal with taboo subject matter and there can be strong debate and discussion about the subject matter, which was expected, I have happily welcomed and been somewhat surprised by the amount of positive press and reviews both the films have received in the corporate media entities that have written about and reviewed the films.

Spontaneous discussions and even arguments sometimes erupt amongst audience members with each other during the Q and A session. I consider this to be positive as it means people are having strong thoughtful reactions to the film. For the most part people come up to me with extremely positive thoughts about both the films.%u2028

What is the biggest misconception about Crispin Hellion Glover?

The biggest misconception is probably that people may believe I am psychotic as opposed to an organized businessperson.