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Everything’s Game: An Interview with Filmmaker/Historian John Gallagher

John Gallagher on the set of Blue Moon in Central Park.

John Gallagher on the set of Blue Moon in Central Park

By Melissa Webb.

Born in 1955 in Flushing, New York, John Gallagher has been an integral player in New York City cinema and theater for over 30 years. Over the course of his career, he’s served as a director, writer, producer, author, historian, and educator. Notable film-credits include his 1997 cult-classic The Deli, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Long Island International Film Expo, and 2000’s romantic-comedy Blue Moon, which won Best American Feature at the Avignon/New York Film Festival and Best Fantasy Film at Worldfest Houston. His most recent completed film is 2017’s The Networker, a comedy-drama starring Steve Stanulis, William Forsythe, Sean Young, Deborah Twiss, Alycia Reiner, Jeremy Luke, Natalie Knepp, Joe D’Onofrio, Brian Kelly, Samantha Scaffidi and Stephen Baldwin. He is currently working on the feature Sarah Q, a seriocomedy following a girl from the country’s experience at a New York City conservatory as she struggles to become an actress. John has firsthand knowledge of this competitive world through the 20 years he has spent teaching acting; he currently holds a position at the top networking facility in Manhattan, One on One NYC. In fact, the actress starring in Sarah Q’s title role, Emmy James, is an alumnus of one of John’s classes there.

In addition to his filmmaking and theater-work (he has directed the plays East of Evil, starring Frank Vincent, Tony Sirico and Vincent Pastore; Punk City, starring Ronald Maccone; and Unspeakable Ways, starring Tony Sirico, for the West Bank Theatre in Manhattan), he continues adding to his oeuvre of published written works. His latest finished work, Nothing Sacred: The Cinema of William Wellman, is a 700-page volume that includes some 1000 images. It can be pre-ordered through December 5, 2017, and will available after the New Year. (More information here). Gallagher is also currently writing a biography entitled Hollywood’s Forgotten Master: The Life and Times of Tay Garnett. 

Despite how busy he is, John took some time to talk with me about his films, his writings, his life, and his future projects. It was an in-depth and enlightening discussion that provides some insight into the legendary director’s creative process, while also painting a vivid picture of a man who truly loves his work.

You’ve been working in the realm of film (be it behind the camera, writing books and articles, or teaching others) for the greater part of your adult-life. I wanted to start this interview by asking a little about your background before you made your directorial debut with Beach House in 1982. What led to making film your life’s work? What (or who) were your primary influences? What kind of education or training did you receive?

JG portraitGrowing up in New York, and later suburban Philadelphia, I became fascinated with vintage American cinema, and through my Sicilian grandmother, the classic Italian neo-realist films. In those pre-VCR days, I did well in school so my parents would let me set the alarm for 2 a.m. to watch Duck Soup or Beau Geste on TV. Million Dollar Movie was a major part of my life, with films from the RKO library (King Kong, The Informer, Citizen Kane, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) broadcast five times a week each. I was also an avid “Monster Kid,” obsessed with the Universal horror movies and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Starting at age seven I would tape record the credits and note details about films of the ‘30s and ‘40s on index cards, so by the time I was in my early teens I had unintentionally given myself an encyclopedic knowledge of our film legacy. It wasn’t long before I realized I liked a lot of movies by the same directors (Ford, Wellman, Walsh, Capra, Vidor, Garnett, McCarey, LaCava, among others), making me aware that there was a guiding creative hand behind these films – and becoming influences for me to this day. When I was thirteen, Andrew Sarris published his seminal The American Cinema and though I disagreed with some of his opinions, it was a treasure trove of info about directors I’d been studying throughout my childhood. When I was eleven, I started making Super 8mm shorts starring my kid brother Vinny and continued through high school, although by then I was casting the prettiest girls in school! I went to film school at Emerson College in Boston, where I graduated to 16mm, started a film society to show double bills (Wellman’s A Star is Born and Wyler’s Dead End, Corman’s The Wild Angels and The Trip), and created a film journal called Grand Illusions (cited for excellence in American Film magazine), interviewing filmmakers like Francois Truffaut, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, Elia Kazan, Arthur Penn, Robert Wise and Tay Garnett. It also got me free screenings of new movies and review copies of the latest film books, a trick I learned from my idol Peter Bogdanovich, the first American to succeed as both filmmaker and film historian.

Upon graduating, I heeded the advice of John Milius, who told me to jump start a directing career by making my own movie. At that time (the early ‘80s) an aspiring filmmaker generally made a horror movie or a teen comedy. I chose the latter, and with schoolmate Marino Amoruso fashioned Down the Shore, a PG-13 rock ‘n roll comedy with beer, bikinis and a Romeo and Juliet plotline (such as it was), following a group of Italian-American kids from Brooklyn and preppies from Main Line Philadelphia (milieus I was intimately familiar with from my own upbringing) on summer holiday in Ocean City, New Jersey. With zero connections in the film biz and after being turned down by dozens of potential investors, we found, incredibly, an accountant willing to take a chance on two kids with, as he called it, chutzpah. Fortunately he didn’t read the script and we shot the picture entirely on location in 24 days in 35mm.

There were two distributors interested in Down the Shore: New Line and Troma. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, who held court in their 9th Avenue Troma tenement offices flanked by cases of product placement Schlitz beer (warm), wanted the movie but intended to shoot a scene where crab monsters emerge from the ocean and rape the bikini girls sans bikinis in order to get an R rating.

We went with New Line.

They changed the title to Beach House in a take on Animal House and opened the picture in drive-ins across the land, starting with Dallas, Texas, and Valdosta, Georgia. CBS/Fox took foreign rights, and to this day I still receive the occasional royalty check. I was especially tickled by the words of the New York Daily News’ Phantom of the Movies, who called Beach House “the least obnoxious jiggle caper of the Eighties” and praise from B-movie maven Joe Bob Briggs.

During this period I lived with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert and David Goodman at 208 East 13th Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (the block where much of Taxi Driver was filmed) as they were finishing Evil Dead (working title The Book of the Dead). When the boys were looking for finishing funds I arranged a screening for New Line, who passed, only to buy it at Cannes one year later.

After directing my first feature film, I had the opportunity to work for two indie auteurs: as boom operator on Robert Downey, Sr.’s America, and as assistant director/grip/boom operator on Henry Jaglom’s Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? Bob Downey was a wonderful mentor, and I learned a great deal about improvisational techniques from him. From Jaglom, I learned how not to treat cast and crew. I then wrote and directed two shorts starring college pal Denis Leary (his first films), Kurt Vonnegut’s Long Walk to Forever and Other Men’s Wives (with roommate Raimi as my script supervisor!). These half dozen early films comprise my training, learning the right and wrong ways of my craft. The next phase of my nascent career involved screenwriting, with jobs for 20th Century Fox, Paramount TV, Tribeca Productions, and assorted indie producers of dubious distinction, along with several stints in Hollywood, until I directed and wrote (with the late great Steve James, who also starred) the action movie Street Hunter (with John Leguizamo in his first starring role) for character-of-characters Menahem Golan through Columbia/TriStar. My favorite line from Menahem (in a thick Israeli accent) after he watched dailies: “Gallagher, the acting is wonderful, the direction is wonderful, but it looks like Apocalypse Now!” Me: “Thank you … oh, that’s bad?” Menahem: “You’re giving me a Rolls Royce, my boy, I want a Volkswagen.” The picture was in profit from international sales after just the first week of shooting. Through it all I continued to interview filmmakers past and present, collecting 21 of the interviews in Film Directors on Directing (1989, Praeger), for many years a standard text in many film schools.

Talk a little about the evolution of your films with respect to the evolution of your own life, and of cultural changes. For example, I’m thinking in terms of Beach House’s (1982) focus on teenagers to Blue Moon’s (2000) focus on an older couple and then the differences in the business-world from 1997’s The Deli to 2017’s The Networker. How have your films responded to external societal factors and also to changes within yourself?

Ben Gazzara in Blue Moon

With Ben Gazzara on the set of Blue Moon

This is an excellent question, one which I have never considered before. I can only note that I was barely out of my teens when I did Beach House, and by the time I made Blue Moon had lived several lives, with the usual experiences of life, love, loss, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, like all lives. It took me 20 years to get to the point where I could do a presumably good job on Blue Moon, directing icons like Ben Gazzara and Rita Moreno in what’s considered some of their best work, recognizing new talent and casting a young actor named Zach Braff, and dealing in the film with how we can so often take for granted the people we love and who love us.

After Beach House and Street Hunter, movies inspired by other movies instead of real life, I directed three Off-Broadway plays. Instead of hiding behind the camera like many rookie directors, I was able to focus on performance and text, and gained tremendous directorial confidence, enough to write and direct the feature Men Lie, shot in only eleven days. Every single line of dialogue was something I had heard in real life and it was my first truthful work. It won many awards on the festival circuit, got great critical acclaim, and enjoyed a theatrical release. It’s the movie that made me feel that I was coming into my own as a filmmaker. When producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Armageddon) honored us with a screening and reception on the Paramount lot, I felt I had arrived – though in reality I was simply flavor of the week, getting a Hollywood agent and manager, and offers for movies I wouldn’t watch let alone make. So, back to New York City and real life. The world has changed so much since The Deli was released in 1997. One reason it’s found such a warm, lasting place in people’s hearts is that it reminds so many of a more innocent time, what New York was like before 9/11. It’s become a cult movie, and it’s been amazing to see it screened theatrically for its 15th anniversary at the Soho International Film Festival and its 20th this past summer at the Long Island International Film Expo to overwhelming audience response. The cast is remarkable, with Frank Vincent, Tony Sirico, Michael Imperioli and Vinny Pastore two years before The Sopranos, Gretchen Mol in her first starring role, Chris Noth before Sex and the City, Ice T before Law and Order SVU, Debi Mazar before Entourage, Michael Badalucco before The Practice, and Heather Matarazzo just after Welcome to the Dollhouse. The Deli was shot for $700,000 in 35mm in 18 days; The Networker (launched September 12 from Sony’s The Orchard) was made for a fraction of that budget, filmed in just 15 days, a feat possible only because of the digital revolution that began a decade ago. Every film reflects in some way the personality and soul of the director, and I feel my pictures are no exception. From Beach House at 22 to The Networker at 60, they can’t but help reflect my life experiences and growth (I hope!) as an artist.

Your upcoming feature, Sarah Q, is about a young girl’s time spent at a New York conservatory trying to become an actress. A poster for the film has this provocative (semi-terrifyingly funny?) tagline: “The halls of an acting school can be as mean as the streets of NYC.” What is the tone of this film? Does it follow observations you’ve had from your time as an educator? How would you describe the climate of the acting-world in the city?

Sarah Q, co-scripted from my story with Joe Benedetto, is a pet labor of love, a serio-comic tale based on my 20 years of teaching film acting and on-camera improvisation, beginning at Shetler Studios, continuing to this day at Marc Isaacman’s One on One NYC, and including a five-year stint at a well-known Manhattan acting conservatory. I formulated my teaching approach at Shetler, and have had an incredibly fulfilling experience at One on One since day one, with so many grateful for learning show biz reality from a working filmmaker. Actors must audition to get into the program, and every single actor I’ve ever taught there, numbering in the thousands by now, has been superb. Indeed they constitute the core of NYC’s acting community, constantly working in film and TV. The conservatory, on the other hand, admits anyone who can pay tuition, resulting in wildly variable students, some wonderful, extremely talented artists infused with all-important humility, some who “drank the Kool-Aid” and developed an absurd sense of entitlement fostered by certain faculty. I sponsored 40 international students there with visas, got dozens cast in films and theatre, offered guidance for their career futures, but only a handful of the 125 students I taught there are working actors today. There are some fantastic conservatories in New York, particularly William Esper and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but Sarah Q is based to a degree on my observations of the institute where I taught. The title character is a naïve 18-year-old from a small town who comes to study at a New York conservatory and ends up getting into every kind of conceivable trouble, in and out of school. Sadly I’ve known many young actors over the years full of promise, who fell victim to various temptations or their own I’m-a-star egos, ultimately forced to forsake their dreams. Fortunately my young stars of Sarah Q – Emmy James, Samantha Scaffidi, Josette Dwyer, Tamara Skylar Jones, Makaela Shealy, Kelly Driscoll, Patricia Yeazell, Dominick LaRuffa, Jr., almost all from my One on One classes – are among the best and most professional young talents I’ve ever had the privilege of directing. I’m credited with an “eye for talent,” having discovered or worked in significant early roles with Leguizamo and Leary, Gretchen Mol and Amanda Peet, Vinny Pastore and Matt Lillard among others, and I predict with full confidence that my Sarah Q youngsters will make their marks in this business in a big way. I like to surround new talent with experienced pros, and the rest of the cast includes two Oscar nominees (Burt Young, Sally Kirkland), four Sopranos stars (Tony Sirico, Vinny Pastore, Federico Castelluccio, William DeMeo) and some of my favorites (Lucie Pohl, Steve Stanulis, Joey D’Onofrio, Garry Pastore, Kelsey O’Brien, Stefano Da Fre, Maggie Wagner, Sarah Seeds, Randall Krongard, Doug Plaut, Heidi Kristoffer, Ari Barkan, Natalie Wetta, Shing Ka, Jaime Zevallos, Steve Arons, Lo Freidenstine, Eden Wright).

Speaking of New York City, it’s a big part of your background and factors into many of your films. In Beach House and Blue Moon, characters retreat from it on vacations for a little while. In The Deli, we see the everyday life of a small-business owner in the city. Talk a little about New York as a backdrop, or even as more of a character or tangible presence in your films. How has the city influenced your work? What does it mean to you in terms of your creative potential?

With Ice-T on the set of The Deli.

With Ice-T on the set of The Deli

I tell my students that the greatest movie in the world is happening right outside on the streets of New York. The energy, the diversity, the excitement of the city is palpable. Yes, it can periodically fry your brain, but I’ve always found that after a couple days out of town I can’t wait to get back for more. It is quite simply the greatest movie set in the world, benefiting even the lowest budget indie.

I also tell my actors about Dustin Hoffman’s struggle to “find” his Ratso Rizzo character for Midnight Cowboy, until he saw a real life Ratso jaywalking, slamming his hand on a car and yelling “Hey, I’m walkin’ here!” Hoffman followed “Ratso” for blocks and found his character.

My NYC films are greatly appreciated in Europe, and I do indeed treat the urban backdrop as a character in these movies. This is especially true of Sam, a feature rom-com I labored on for five years with Nick Brooks. Nick and I scripted from his story, I produced with Nick (his directorial debut), I brought on Sibyl Santiago as a producer, and cast much of the movie. Nick’s dad Mel Brooks was our Executive Producer and it was a gift to get to know him over those five years, with Nick, Mel and I sharing our love of Pre-Code movies, Mel sharing stories about his movies and his early days with Sid Caesar, Harry Cohn and Jerry Lewis. Mel also offered some of the best directorial advice ever to Nick and I: “Sit down as much as possible on the set!” Sam is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and on the usual streaming sites.

In addition to the more abstract relationship characters have to the city, your films explore relationships between characters (mother-son in The Deli, husband-wife in Blue Moon, father-son and mother-daughter in The Networker, etc). There’s also the interesting element of struggling family-run businesses in both The Deli and The Networker. Talk a little about these types of familial relationships and the importance of interaction between characters in your films.

William Forsythe in The Networker.

William Forsythe in The Networker

With my half-Sicilian, one-quarter Italian, one-quarter Irish heritage, family has always been very important to me. I remain extremely close to my beloved parents and call them literally every day. The very first day of my professional life, about to direct the first scene of Beach House, a softball game, thrilled we’d actually made it into production. I proudly called “Action!” when I noticed two people crossing the outfield, waving and calling “Hi, honey!” It was my Mom and Dad, visiting to wish me luck! Later, in Blue Moon, I cast them at party guests, clinking champagne glasses, and they’ve attended all the premieres of my work. I’m extremely blessed to have such a loving, supportive family, and am painfully aware that this is not the case for everyone.

Consequently familial relationships are integral to my work: Judith Malina and Mike Starr in The Deli, Ben Gazzara and Rita Moreno in Blue Moon, Victor Argo, Peggy Gormley, Frank Vincent and Doug DeLuca in Men Lie, and the family in The Networker (Steve Stanulis, William Forsythe, Sean Young, Natalie Knepp, Alysia Reiner, Jeremy Luke). I’ve always tried to create a feeling of family on my sets – we’ve had two marriages, three broken engagements, and a lost virginity on my pictures (a hazard of location filming!)

You’ve been making films for a long time, over 30 years! There have been significant shifts and changes within the technological realm throughout these decades. Tell us how you’ve dealt with changes in film-technology. What can you do with your medium now that you weren’t able to do in the 80s or 90s? How has your process been altered?

My first five features as director – Beach House, Street Hunter, Men Lie, The Deli, Blue Moon – were all shot on 35mm by veteran DP’s Craig DiBona, A. S. C., Phil Parmet, Bob Lechterman and Peter Stein (who now teaches cinematography at NYU), all incredible artists who taught me so much. We edited on upright Moviolas, then flatbed Steenbecks. On Blue Moon we had the special luxury of projected film dailies, while editing digitally with one of the greats, Craig McKay, A.C.E. (Oscar-nominated for Reds and The Silence of the Lambs), and another great teacher. The main difference between then and now is that the digital revolution has made it much less expensive to make movies, to the point that my friend Sean Baker famously shot Tangerine on his I-Phone. We used to edit and mix at expensive facilities like Sound One but today we edit and mix in my editor Alex Yew’s apartment, watching different cuts via email! While I miss running into major filmmakers coming out of screening film dailies at Technicolor, or bumping into the likes of Scorsese and Schrader working on post at Sound One, as indies we’re just able to do so much more work today. Despite the technological advances, there are still three things that remain constant in producing quality work regardless of budget – writing, directing, acting.

Scanning through your filmography, it seems like you’ve been constantly either directing, writing, or producing films (sometimes working on multiple projects simultaneously) from the 80s until now. Has there ever been a lull in your work? What do you do with that time: write, teach, travel? How do you balance such an intense workload?

Mama Scorsese on the set of Men Lie

Mama Scorsese on the set of Men Lie

I long ago accepted the fact that I’m a workaholic overachiever! Thankfully, I’ve pretty much been working since I started in the business. Of course like every filmmaker there have been many heartbreakingly unrealized projects. Virtually everything I’ve done with the exception of Street Hunter has come from private equity financing, so much time is spent pounding the pavements for investors. In 2003, frustrated by the failure to raise funding for one movie, I announced to my acting class, “We have no money. Let’s make a movie.” We worked out story and characters that night in class, put it out to the universe that we were making a film, and lo and behold, money started to materialize in dribs and drabs. We made the feature, a romantic comedy called Cupidity, a 100% improvisational feature a la Curb Your Enthusiasm, and enjoyed a healthy festival run and many awards. As far as free time, it’s spent enjoying friends, watching movies, listening to music, writing, and private coaching. Travel over the years has been limited to film festivals where our work has screened: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, and dozens of locales in the USA. Since I tend to work 24/7, I try to take at least one day off per week.

You’ve worked on a lot of feature-length films, but you’ve also made quite a few shorts. Talk about the differences between longer and shorter films, both in regards to the process and also to what types of elements you primarily focus on with each format. What are the pros and cons of each?

The great thing about a short is it doesn’t need a linear through line like most features. A short can have a beginning, a middle and an end, or just the middle, just the beginning, or just the end, or any combination thereof. The key is telling your story with great economy and brevity. I like directing shorts because it exercises your creative instrument, I can work with new actors – usually actors I’ve met in class – and I can do them quickly, exhibiting in film fests all over the world: Beautiful, and the winner is …, and I Love You (75 actors in five minutes), all available on YouTube., screened all over the world. When I was offered my most recent short We Remember, I happily accepted because I don’t get to direct drama as much as I’d like. To date it has played in 36 festivals and won 20 awards, including four for Best Director. I don’t really find much of a difference between features and shorts, although the short films I’ve directed tend to focus mostly on performance. Shorts are also a good way to develop material — Sarah Q actually began life as a 30-page short screenplay before I decided to make it a feature.

In addition to your filmmaking, you’re also well-known for writing about films and other filmmakers. Film Directors on Directing (1989) is a collection of interviews you conducted with a variety of filmmakers, such as Francois Truffaut and Wim Wenders. What do you get out of conducting interviews? As a filmmaker, how does the discussion with other directors change your perspective or aid in your own work? What’s the process you use when compiling your list of questions?

Because my interview subjects know I’m a filmmaker they have always been most candid and generous, and their knowledge, experience and advice has been invaluable in my own work. I’ve always prepared very carefully for interviews, revisiting the films I want to ask about. It’s truly a gift to be able to ask Dennis Hopper and Mark Rydell to describe exactly what Method Acting is, to challenge Hopper to cry on the spot (which he did, demonstrating sense memory), to ask Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction, 9 ½ Weeks) how he directs sex scenes – “with humor,” said he), to discuss Billy Wilder with Marty Scorsese, to have Steven Spielberg give you a list of his nearly 100 influences, to hear Gena Rowlands reveal hitherto untold techniques making films with her husband John Cassavetes, to get stories from Jean Reno about working with 11-year-old Natalie Portman in Leon/The Professional. With veteran artists (Lee Marvin, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche) and silent screen stars (Patsy Ruth Miller, William Bakewell), my childhood cinephilia paid off handsomely as I asked a question about a particular director, only to be told, “Jesus, how the hell do you know about him? Nobody’s mentioned him to me in 40 years!” Many of my interviews are available on YouTube.

A book you wrote, Nothing Sacred: The Cinema of William Wellman, was recently published, and another is in the works – Hollywood’s Forgotten Master: The Life and Times of Tay Garnett. Throughout your career, you’ve also published many shorter articles. With so much film knowledge, how do you go about deciding what topic merits an entire book versus what you want to write a short article about? What’s the process of writing a book like for you (conducting research and the like)? How does it compare to making a film?

nothing sacred cover white namesThe Wellman book, co-authored with my dear friend, prolific Frank Thompson, is an epic, 900-page, full color limited edition coffee table book which we are publishing after the New Year through pre-orders (www.menwithwingspress.com). The Garnett book is also complete and currently being shopped to publishers (Film International published my chapter on his Her Man on June 14 of this year: “When Tay Garnett Met Frankie and Johnnie”), and I’ve had the pleasure of full cooperation from Tay’s daughter Tiela Aldon Garnett, a friend since I began the book in the ‘80s. I’m a big believer in primary research – it’s so much easier today with the internet to consult runs of period trade magazines instead of physically visiting archives and libraries. Both books have been in the works for nearly all of my adult life, researching and writing in my spare time. Whenever I’m in Los Angeles I pore through Special Collections (daily production reports, memos) at USC, UCLA, the Academy library; when The Deli world premiered at SXSW in Austin, I was at the door of the Ransom Library every morning at 9 a.m. to dive into the sprawling Selznick archives. I also had to track down the movies I hadn’t seen, many of which resided at the Library of Congress or in the Upper West Side apartment of the late William K. Everson, a pre-eminent and exceedingly generous historian. Among other titles, he loaned me the only print of a rare 1927 silent, White Gold, written by Garnett, and I transported it home to my downtown apartment one night on the subway, guarding it with my life. I wrote a monograph on Victor Fleming for Frank Thompson’s Between Action and Cut and intended to expand it to a book, but when I learned the great Mike Sragow was working on a Fleming bio (Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master), I knew his would be the definitive work and I happily gave him all my research. I had also been researching Raoul Walsh for years and similarly donated my findings to Marilyn Moss for her Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director. The San Sebastian Film Festival commissioned a book from me on Gregory LaCava, affording me the opportunity for a memorable interview with Katharine Hepburn; to date only published in Spain, I hope to eventually prepare an English-language edition). One of the great pleasures of working on these subjects has been watching and re-watching their films, further feeding my cinematic appetite, and making me a better director by studying these masters. It has also enabled me to interview such legends as Henry Fonda, Lee Marvin, Maureen O’Sullivan, Loretta Young, Lloyd Nolan, Irene Dunne, Robert Preston, Fay Wray, David Niven, and many more. I have many other subjects for further research I would like to eventually write about in shorter pieces – Lewis Milestone, Alexander Hall, William Seiter, Wesley Ruggles. Richard Boleslawski, exceptional directors yet to receive their critical due.

Not only do you make films and write books, but you program a well-known independent Film Festival in Europe, Internationales Filmfest Oldenburg. What are your goals when programming the fest? What do you hope to accomplish? What exactly does your role as “programmer” consist of?

I’ve participated in literally hundreds of film festivals, great, good, bad and awful. Oldenburg is the festival that is most dear to my heart. I’ve been screening my work since the very first year (1994), and festival director Torsten Neumann has become my brother. The best festivals not only host today’s exceptional films, but honor the past with retrospectives and career achievement honors. Oldenburg honorees have included Ben Gazzara, Mira Sorvino, Matthew Modine, Stacy Keach, Deborah Kara Unger, Jim McBride, Michael Wadleigh, Larry Clark, Timothy Bottoms, Nicolas Cage, and this year, indie giant Edward Pressman. It’s a remarkable and intimate five days every September where longtime friendships are forged. Another bonus – exposure here has resulted in sales of my work to German TV. Yet another bonus – ten years of hanging out there with Seymour Cassel. As NYC programmer, I recommend selections to Torsten, knowing the kind of work that is most appreciated by the festival – original, innovative, cutting edge. Oldenburg gets thousands of submissions so I try to be highly selective in my recommendations.

I know we’ve already talked about Sarah Q and your upcoming biography on Tay Garnett, but to wrap up I was wondering if you could tell us a little about any other projects you’re currently working on, and what your future plans are. Do you intend to keep making films or focus more on your writings? Or maybe…take some time off?

Again, since to me none of this is work, any time off would be spent watching and re-watching movies – recently I feasted on a homemade King Vidor festival, watching a dozen of his pictures, some of which I hadn’t seen in decades. I don’t know how to shut my brain off so no doubt new movie ideas will inevitably be spawned. Beyond Sarah Q, I am deeply involved in active pre-production on a drama I was offered called Heavy Shadows by writer-producers Paul Mammano and Shing Ka (with whom I’m also involved on Sarah Q), starring Jerry O’Connell. Meredith Ross, a former student and Cupidity co-star, has written a phenomenal thriller called Jealous Moon I would love to do, with three exceptional lead roles. I have horror (Mafiosi Undead) and action (The Last Hero) franchises in development, along with a contemporary version of Euripides’ The Medea, and especially a feature version of Lucie Pohl’s internationally acclaimed solo show Hi, Hitler which I am writing with Lucie; we’ll produce, she’ll star, I’ll direct. She is brilliant. I’d also like to develop a movie for Taylor Black; like Lucie she is an extraordinarily versatile actor with big things in her future. And I was just offered an extremely exciting project to direct, a fantastic script that ties in thematically with my previous work, starring an A-list actor I adore … so the projects keep coming, and whatever gets funded first gets made first. Despite the blood, sweat and tears of independent filmmaking, you’re always just one call or email away from The Next Movie. I’ve been asked by a publisher to detail my experiences in a memoir called Confessions of an Indie Filmmaker … but I still have more pictures to make before I spill those beans!

Melissa Webb is an editorial assistant for Film International and received her MA in English from Rutgers University-Camden in January 2017. She helps program the Reel East Film Festival.

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