Last week I had the chance to speak with director Adam Rifkin about his horror/comedy, DIRECTOR’S CUT, which was just released on a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. During our conversation, we discussed everything from working closely with Penn Jillette, who penned the script, to using crowdfunding as a tool to finance a film.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Adam, thank you so much for speaking with me today and congrats on all the success with DIRECTOR’S CUT! To start things off, could you tell us a little bit about the film for those who may not be familiar with it?
Adam Rifkin: I can but this becomes a bigger part of the story because going in we knew DIRECTOR’S CUT was going to be a tough sell. It’s a hard movie to explain. Once we finished it and it opened at the Slamdance Film Festival, distributors saw it and liked it but were afraid to touch it. That’s why it sat on the shelf for two years before Dread Central Presents bought it. It’s a very difficult movie to sum up in a digestible way so buyers didn’t know how they would market it.
With that said, I’ll do the best I can in describing it. DIRECTOR’S CUT is about an obsessive film-loving stalker who puts a lot of money into a crowdfunding campaign where he’s bought an all-access pass to the production of a film called Knocked Off. The reason that he bought into this particular campaign is that it stars an actress who he is in love with named Missi Pyle. Once he has gained access to the set, he kidnaps Missi Pyle, steals all of the footage from the film, and takes her and the footage back to his basement-dungeon-movie studio where he shoots additional scenes and forces Missi Pyle to act so that he can become the romantic hero. He then takes all of the footage from the real movie, all of the amateur footage that he’s shot, and he fan edits it all together into a twisted mashup that he calls his Director’s Cut.
Nightmarish Conjurings: When researching this film I had no idea that Penn wrote the screenplay. I had always known of him, and been a fan of his, through his magic acts. How did you two link up and how did the script come about?
AF: He had started writing the script about 10 years ago. He had an idea for a movie that used a director’s commentary track as a narrative device. Penn could tell this story better than I but basically what I’ve heard him say in the past, and what he’s told me, is that he was very intrigued by the comforting nature and the intimacy of the sound of director’s commentaries. The voice being very close to the microphone, the room being very silent – he said the nature of it lulls you into this feeling of that whatever the voice is saying to you is credible as it talks you through the making of this film. He also liked the literary trope of the unreliable narrator and he wanted to take the idea of a director’s commentary and combine it with the unreliable narrator conceit and use the director’s commentary track as a way to basically tell this story.
The way that I came to be involved was because I had directed a film called LOOK (2007), which is a drama about several interweaving stories all shot in the point of view of surveillance cameras. Penn reached out to me on Facebook, we hadn’t met each other but he saw that we had mutual friends, so he sent me a private message and said some very flattering things about LOOK. He did this on a Friday night, so I got the message at around 11:30 pm and I wrote him back and said: “Thank you so much, I’m a fan of yours as well.” I didn’t want to call him on a Friday night, I didn’t think that was appropriate, so I told him to feel free to call me anytime over the weekend and I left him my number in return. As soon as I hit send, two seconds later, my phone rang and it was Penn. He said some very nice things again about my movie and then he said he had written a script called DIRECTOR’S CUT and because of the way he felt about LOOK he felt that I should be the director.
He told me a little bit about it and asked me if I would read it and I said I would be happy to read it. He sent it to me right then via email and I read it immediately. By 3 am we were back on the phone with one another. I said to him that this was such a unique opportunity for a filmmaker because basically, I get to make two movies in one. Not only do I get to make a slick, taut, B-thriller that would be shot in total earnest – you can’t do it as a joke or a spoof – but I also get to shoot this bizarro amateur do-it-yourself camcorder-shot low-rent freak show of a movie and somehow marry them together. That challenge was just way too appealing to me to say no. We were very excited to be working together on the movie but I immediately realized that this was going to be very difficult to get funded. It was sometime soon thereafter, not in that call, but soon after that Penn suggested we try crowdfunding it. We tried it that way and it worked and we raised more money than we were actually looking for which allowed us to make the movie with no studio interference, it was made with total creative freedom.
Nightmarish Conjurings: That actually brings me to my next question which was why you both decided to go the route of crowdfunding – was it primarily because you knew it was going to be a hard sell with studios?
AF: We knew this movie was going to be impossible to get funded through traditional means. I mean if you think it’s a difficult movie to explain, you should have read the script (laughs). To a person whose job it is to fund films, they wouldn’t have known what the hell they were reading so we knew there was no other alternative. If we wanted to make this movie we had to figure out a unique way to get it made so crowdfunding was the perfect tool. It wasn’t until we started crowdfunding the movie that that aspect became a part of the script. The original draft did not have that character as a crowdfunder so that organically worked its way into the story. Now you look at the movie and I don’t think you could imagine the story without it being a crowdfunder story, but the original draft wasn’t.
Some could argue that this film is a cautionary tale against crowdfunding because you never know who you’re going to be inviting into your world, but we actually had a very fabulous experience crowdfunding the movie. All of our crowdfunders have been really, really cool people, many of them have become our good friends as a result. Making good on all the fulfillments is a challenge and that is something we are still doing and obviously happy to be doing it. We had about 6000 crowdfunders so that’s a lot of T-shirts and Blu-rays to send out – the shipping alone takes a giant chunk out of the budget of the movie that otherwise would be on screen. These are things you have to take into consideration when you decide to go into a crowdfunding situation.
Nightmarish Conjurings: The film is filled with so many great actors such as Missi Pyle and Harry Hamlin as well as a slew of fantastic cameos from Lin Shaye, Gilbert Gottfried, and Penn’s partner in all things magic, Teller. How did you go about casting for the roles and did you have certain people already in mind?
AR: Well, Penn wrote Teller’s role for Teller and he wrote him the biggest monologue in the movie which I thought was hilarious. I had worked with Lin Shaye a few times before so I called Lin and said please come and be a part of this movie. Gilbert was somebody that Penn was very close with and I had actually worked with Gilbert in the past as well, so we both reached out to him. Neither one of us knew Missi but we just fell in love with her, honestly, we were fans of hers. Prior to Missi coming on board, and she knows this so I’m not speaking out of school when I say this, we had been approaching other actors to play the lead role. The original draft of the script was a much more straight horror film. Herbert’s character, played by Penn, was much sinister and he would torture the woman he kidnapped and force her to act in this movie. There was no humor in it all, it was brutal. Some of the other actors we were talking to seemed appropriate to make the movie that way, but when we met with Missi she was just so light and funny and lovable that we pretty much agreed right away that it would not be fun to watch her get tortured. Instead, it would be much more fun to watch her be revered and loved and obsessed over and that’s when Penn’s character became much less of a monster and much more of a misunderstood monster. We sort of adopted the Phantom of the Opera paradigm if you will, that out of his love for this woman he’ll go to any lengths to win her affection back. In DIRECTOR’S CUT, he’s making her the perfect movie where he’s starring her in the perfect role and he gets to play the romantic lead and shoot the movie in the best way possible. In his mind, he’s doing this out of love and romance. Even though his methods are completely ill-conceived, I think it makes him a more likeable character even though he’s a creep.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Last, but not least, do you have any projects you are working on that we should be keeping our eyes out for?
AR: Earlier this year a film I made came out called THE LAST MOVIE STAR. It’s a drama that I wrote specifically for Burt Reynolds to play the lead in. As a kid, Burt Reynolds was always my hero and I always thought that not only was he a great movie star but a brilliant actor who never got his due as an actor because his movie-star persona always overshadowed his acting. I rolled the dice and wrote this script for him where he would get to play a character where he really got to sink his teeth into something dramatic. I submitted it to Burt through his manager and I said to the manager to tell Burt that if he doesn’t want to make this movie, I’m not making this movie. The manager said he would send it to him but couldn’t promise that he would agree to do it, but the next day I got a call from Burt himself saying he loved the script and he was in. We got to make this movie together and his performance in it is truly brilliant and I’m excited for people to check it out. It came out theatrically earlier in the year and it is now available on Amazon Prime and all the other VOD platforms as well as Blu-ray.
DIRECTOR’S CUT is now available to own on Blu-ray/DVD Combo and can be purchased HERE.