QT and me

I’m a big fan of this quote…

“I don’t worry. I’m a man who believed that I died twenty years ago. And I live like a man who is dead already. I have no fear whatsoever of anybody or anything.” – Malcolm X

After the Southwest incident, something obviously changed in me. Being fat was always the chink in my armor. But when your biggest insecurity is made public, scrutinized and mocked… you have no more armor. And while living unarmored may seem like an unnerving prospect, it’s proven a fertile earth from which to build something new. And the old reason for doing things – get approval for being special to make it okay that you’re fat – disappears. Now you’re free to do shit just to watch people’s expressions change. Now you’re free to make some motherfucking art!

Back as far as childhood, I’d try to do things just as well as a normie (sometimes even better), but at the end of the day, my gut, thunder-thighs, and child-bearing hips earmarked me as somehow less than others. But what was a curse in youth became a blessing in adulthood. Being fat meant relying on a sense of humor to keep from getting your ass kicked simply for an inability to stop at one Devil Dog. Bugs Bunny never seemed to get beat up, so lots of us fat kids went for the devil-may-care, smartest-rabbit-in-the-room personality. Do that for 10,000 hours across childhood and when you’re in your 20′s – if you apply yourself – you can do it for a living. But it all stems from being different somehow – and not in a way that’s usually celebrated ’til after years of eating shit.

We can recognize our own, we bungled and botched. I’d already purchased and read a xeroxed copy of the Reservoir Dogs screenplay at a Penta Hotel comic book show before seeing the flick, so I suspected Quentin was a kindred spirit. But as I watched grown men in suits dissect the lyrics of a Madonna song and debate the etiquette of tipping in a movie theater that first time in 1991, I knew that – like me – Quentin Tarantino had spent lots of time alone in the dark, dreaming about movies. Different dark room, different movies, same dream.

(A young Fatty McNoFly, Neo, and some random future podcaster at the Munich Film Festival, August 94.)

One of my fondest memories of my film career is seeing Pulp Fiction before even the 1994 Cannes jury, in a theater packed with Harvey’s handpicked tastemakers. The flick was like nothing we’d ever seen before while still being as familiar and comfortable as your favorite jeans (and just as cool). Pulp was thrilling, then mesmerizing, then educational: I walked out of that screening and started redrafting Dogma. Quentin had not only taken it up a notch, he’d also thrilled me with wild tonal changes throughout the narrative. The flick is a roller coaster of a film: funny, then serious, then fucked-up, then iconic, then quietly beautiful. It’s a mind-chigger of a movie: burrows into your cranial hard drive and won’t let you forget it. You see that movie, it’s a part of you forever.

(Me & Mos & Simon & Yasmin Lebon on the Miramax yacht with Quentin’s PULP Palme D’or, Cannes Harbor, May 1994)courtesy of Mark Tusk

There were always boatloads of benefits in being part of the Miramax family – not the least of which was seeing movies first (for free). In 1995, Bob Weinstein invited me to a screening of Dimension’s post-Pulp Quentin/Robert team-up picture, From Dusk ’til Dawn. Quentin had already taught me you could talk about anything in movie dialogue (not solely plot), and he’d already taught me you could fuck with the audience and give ‘em a bunch of different movies at once, and they won’t hate you for it (in fact, they’ll love you). Do something different – stand apart from the rest – and you’ll always have the audience on your side. And even though Dusk wasn’t expected to be much more than a popcorn flick, I was curious if Quentin had anything to teach me this time.

Michael Parks owns the opening of Dusk… and just about any flick he’s in, for that matter. As a fan of performance (I love when actors act), seeing Parks for the first time was akin to discovering masturbation: where has this been all my life? The man delivers dialogue in the least obvious manner and never smells like he’s acting. After the screening, I told Mos “I wanna work with that guy one day…”

It took fifteen years, but Red State finally put me onto a set with the actor who you come to learn is lots of actor’s favorite actor: just as when Radio Raheem walks by, other actors turn down their music and give Parks the right of way. And the legend Parks had been introduced to me by the legend Tarantino.

So when I went up to Quentin’s house last night to watch Red State with him and Parks together, it was akin to going to meeting your girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend – the one she’s still really good friends with. There’s this weird sense you get when you’re sharing space with someone who’s shared space with your boyfriend’s cock or your girlfriend’s holiest of holies – a kind of “How weird – we’ve both been with this person…” general feeling. And there was lots of that last night, after the flick.

But before the flick, we were met in Quentin’s courtyard driveway – where the Pussy Wagon sits parked, forever awaiting Beatrix’s escape. After introducing his friend who was gonna be watching the flick with us, Quentin came clean.

“I’ve already watched Red State,” he chuckled. “I watched it Friday night. By myself.”

At which point everything in me went away but the filmmaker and I asked that all-important question…

“Did you dig it?”

“I loved it! That’s why I’m…”

I didn’t let him finish. I just hugged him as hard as I could.

You see, Quentin’s was the only review that was ever gonna matter. Red State was inspired by the man’s work, his casting choices, his daring Pulp Fiction-tonal shifts. I’ve told the audiences at every stop on the Red State USA Tour “I didn’t want to make a Kevin Smith movie this time. This time, I wanted to make a movie that was Quentin Tarantino by way of the Coen Brothers.” And to have Quentin not only watch the flick, but also dig it enough to watch it again in the span of 24 hours?

That’s graduation day, folks. Ain’t no reason for me to continue in this business past Hit Somebody because I scored the respect of a Grand Master.

He said it stands beside Chasing Amy as his favorite of mine, and then said “Your words coming out of Parks was perfect.” He loved that he never knew where it was going. He just plain loved it – which was all that’d ever matter to the guy who made the film, who often pondered “What would Quentin do?” before executing a shot, an edit, a keystroke or even before eating lunch on set.

“Well we really don’t have to watch it again now…” I started to say.

“No, I wanna watch it again,” he countered. “And I wanna show Rhia.”

Quentin’s friend nodded, offering “He’s been talking about it all day.”

You think that’s nirvana for any filmmaker – knowing your artistic better is willing to watch your flick twice within 72 hours? You’ll never know true, pure bliss as a filmmaker until you’ve sat beside Quentin, watching your own flick. As we all know, the man loves movies.

Tarantino is the most interactive audience member on the planet. He makes a home screening feel like a full house at the multiplex. Even in a room of four, he will make you feel like you’re screening at The Palais. It’s not an act and it’s certainly no hustle: he watches movies like he makes them – with pure, unadulterated joy over the concept of storytelling.

This screening had the added bonus, the heightened effect, of having Parks with us there in the room: two dudes who love an actor so much, they’re geeking out over every little nuance, eye-shift, grumble and song. This is the only person in the world who’d ever appreciate Michael’s Abin Cooper performance on the same level I do. As he watched Parks act, Quentin communicated exactly what I felt and feel every day we shot and every time I watch Red State: Michael Parks is the single greatest living actor on the planet, and he should be working lots more.

After the credits, we talked about how weird it was that Harvey didn’t make Red State, as it’s clearly a “Miramax” flick, intended to invoke the golden age of the mini-major, right down to The Harvey Boys logo…

Quentin offered some soothing insight into the Weinstein Red State-passover, as even he’d felt the confusing sting of the Brothers doing a blank-face when they twice passed on Hostel (a flick with his name on it). Miramax was often called “the house that Quentin built” by Harvey himself. If Harvey and Bob could pass on the guy who built their house, they could certainly say no to the mooch smoking dope with his friends in the back pool house.

After that, we talked about the touring we’ve already done, as well as the Mom-and-Pop Theater Tour we’re working on for our next outing. He compared our self-distribution experiment to an old grindhouse release, at which point I told him why it felt so familiar: back in 1997, he’d actually suggested it himself (as you can read at the end of this piece).

We eventually made our way into the living room, where the world’s biggest movie fan then did something that touched me more than his praise for the flick…

He produced a video cassette.

In Quentin’s house, this is a wholly remarkable feat unto itself based on the amount of stuff he’s got piled up: old movies posters, DVDs, Laser Discs, VHS tapes, lunch-boxes, toys, jukeboxes, artwork, film prints. He lives like Arthur.

But the video cassette he pulled was nothing short of magical: a relic from an old world and the seed of what was to come for him, and then later, even me.

“This is my ‘Best of Michael Parks’ tape. See?” he asked, holding out the decades-old VHS cassette that still bore a faded label delineating it as such. “I made it back in the 80s, after I re-discovered him in this amazing TV movie called Club Life. Well, the movie’s not amazing, but Michael is – so I taped his best scenes. A few years later, he did the best work of his career in The China Lake Murders – and I’ve got scenes from that and Spiker – where he plays a soccer coach.”

“Volleyball,” Michael added, rolling a cigarette.

“Right! Volleyball. Duh. But you’ve gotta see it if he’s gonna play a hockey coach for you.”

You think you’re a movie geek until you talk movies with Quentin. He’s very much like Jason Mewes, inasmuch as he’ll find the good in anything. As he played his favorite scenes, I remembered using my Dad’s tape recorder to snag the audio from JAWS when it finally ran on ABC (long before the days of cable or home video). This was a kindred spirit: the dude who made a mix-tape of one of his favorite actors best moments in movies nobody – not even the filmmakers themselves – likely remember. You start to see the beauty hidden within the cheese. Nothing about even a 80′s exploitation TV movie is dismissed without fair, comprehensive (and seemingly obsessive) consideration.

And all the while, good ol’ Michael was like the guest star in a married couple’s threesome: all praise, attention and cock-suckery were bestowed upon him by a pair of filmmakers (one great, one trying) who absolutely adore him. Scene after scene on that tape, it didn’t matter what the caliber of flick on display was considered to be, Parks dropped science. I’ll never forget watching Michael watch himself on Quentin’s big TV – seeing his life flash before his eyes without that pesky bother of having to draw a final breath. In a time when no one cared a tin whistle for an acting talent as staggering as his, Quentin didn’t carry merely a torch for Michael Parks – he carried the entire Chicago Fire. And because he did, one day, I got to make the best film I’ve made to date. And that’s no longer just my opinion: that’s coming from the only guy I really wanted to impress with this flick.

As a filmmaker and an artist, Quentin has always been, for lack of a better expression, a role model. He showed me it was okay to write dialogue about pop culture, which allowed me to write movie dialogue about other movie dialogue – the language of my cine-centric world. He showed me it was okay to let characters ramble and pontificate. He showed me it was okay to mix comedy and jaw-dropping, scene-stopping violence in a movie. He showed me Michael Parks. And over a decade prior, he gave me an idea of taking what I do one step further by taking my flick directly to the audience myself. So when I said “I’m so glad you dig it,” and Quentin quickly shot back “I don’t just dig this movie, I love this movie, okay?”

That’s all I could ever really hope for from Red State, isn’t it? Literally nothing else that happens to the movie will ever matter as much as that. I have no fear whatsoever of anybody or anything.

But sadly, this art form is also a commercial business – and there are those who’ll never grade the movie on a scale that matters (the man for whom this movie was made loves this movie), choosing instead to grade it on the least interesting, least creative aspect of the medium: what it cost and what it’s made. Dollars, not sense.

Here’s some boring fucking bullshit that’s not about art and should really only matter to you if you’ve got skin in Red State game. If you’re not one of the two investing parties in the flick, feel free to stop reading; because all the cool shit about me meeting with my cinematic Pai Mei and walking away a better warrior for it is now done. Now it’s onto just stale ol’ bizzzzzzz-ness stuff.

Over the course of the 15 shows of the Red State USA Tour, we made almost one million dollars from ticket and merchandise sales. A few times, we had the highest per screen average in the country. We started out with a record-making show at Radio City Music Hall and went on to average 1100 people per screening. Had we booked ourselves into smaller houses, we could’ve SOLD OUT every show; but being in the larger houses cost us nothing extra.

And apparently, we managed to pull 1100 a night solely from our podcasts: when asked nightly if they heard about the show from a show at SModcast.com, an overwhelming 85/90% of the audience indicated yes (Jon swears it was 100% in Seattle). That bodes well for SIR.

You take what we made on the tour, you add that to the $1.5mil we’ve pulled in from foreign sales thus far (with a few big territories yet to sell). Add to that $3mil we’re on the verge of closing for all North American distribution rights excluding theatrical (which means VOD/HomeVideo/PayTV/Streaming).

The flick cost $5mil to make, but $4mil after the California tax incentive. One of the only things Jon and I promised the Red State investors in exchange for letting us handle American theatrical distribution ourselves was that their $4mil would be covered as soon as possible – something very few other production entities can promise or even offer. Invest a million dollars in almost any production, and you rarely if ever get your money back within five years, let alone the one year it’s looking like it’s gonna take for our guys to make their money back.

Add up all those figures above and you’ll notice our gains are higher than our spending. And without any dopey marketing figures to have to recoup, once we close the aforementioned deals (which Jonn Sloss & LawCo are working to close as we speak), simple math dictates Red State is in the black – long before any wide release. That’s music to the ears of any investor who only put up their money in September.

Ta-da!

Y’know what else is kinda sweet? Those $3million in deals I was talking about? That only materialized because our little movie went out and performed well. See, any idiot can lie and write hyperbolically (and high scholastically) about a movie’s future and its maker’s sanity all they want at 20,000 feet. But in the real world, when movie and maker put asses in seats and money in the bank – all without spending anything on marketing? I don’t know what the technical business term is for it, but I’m pretty sure it’s not “imploding”.

But like I said: this business bullshit should only be important to the investors, really. Well… maybe it’s an important point of pride for me and Jon, too: being in the black without spending a dime and before we go wide was one of our biggest dreams and goals – the “Imagine if…” we wanted to desperately make true. And once those deals close, we will have whimsied a reality and shown that The Harvey Boys are a financially responsible filmmaking unit that can make quality entertainment that puts asses in seats and gets you your investment back fucking fast. But like I said: none of this bizzzzz-ness should matter to anyone…

Unless you’re interested in investing in a hockey movie.

And just so this love letter of a blog doesn’t end on a money-oriented note…

Quentin is in as the first guest on SMovieMakers when we relaunch at The Lovitz!

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