I recently watched a short documentary on Tobe Hooper. Tobe's a part of that awesome little group of directors who made the most important horror films of the end of the 20th Century (this fraternity includes George Romero, Wes Craven, and John Carpenter) and were rewarded with mediocre careers (well, Craven figured out how to get some mainstream bucks on a consistent basis) and then, to add the old insult to the old injury, in the 2000s, Hollywood remade all of their films and raked in big bucks, never once understanding what ingredient made the originals so great to begin with. That ingredient, of course, was poverty. John Carpenter's budget for Halloween was, pardon the pun, monstrous for that group. He had 320,000 dollars. That probably amounts to the budgets on Night of the Living Dead, Last House on the Left, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre combined (it doesn't, but it sure sounds amazing, doesn't it?) So anyway, Texas Chainsaw was a small film, shot on 16mm in a brutal Texas summer. Gunnar Hansen claims that in the final shots of him waving the chainsaw around in the morning sun, he was imagining cutting up Tobe Hooper for all the hell he had been put through during the shoot. I doubt, however, that Gunnar ever said anything on the set while they were shooting. Mr. Hansen, I'm sure, was aware that they were on a tight, tight budget, and worked like a trooper, giving everything he had, to make sure the film came together.
Making a feature movie is tough work. Trust me. On my second film, Beverly Hills Massacre, the budget was probably about the same as the budget on the original Night of the Living Dead. Mind you, BHM was shot forty years after NotLD. It was a low, low budget affair. Most producers who make films for that little provide the cast and crew with "hot pockets" for meals and, if they're lucky, their cast and crew understand the financial limitations. Not so on my set. I had a little gang of actresses (and one actor who might as well have been called an actress) who decided, upon seeing the second night that we were feeding them El Pollo Loco again, that they were going to shift into bitch-mode and poison my set. Their fearless leader, a no-talent actress who was hired simply because we knew she'd show her tits on film, began to complain about things like 'warm humus.' Now, she was lucky there was any goddamn humus on the set to begin with. Whether it was warm or not was of no concern to the bigger goal of shooting and completing a feature-length film. Her problem, quite honestly, was that she felt she deserved more. She had done a cameo in the big budget film Beerfest (hired, once again, to show her tits on film). That little experience, being a nude extra in a large film, put the notion in her head that she deserved a trailer and a staff of make up and costume people to follow her around and keep her touched up every second of the day. The fact that no such luxury existed made her furious. And so she began to question the producer, then she began to question me. Anyone who has worked on a film set knows that harmony among the cast and crew is essential. If one person poisons the set, the atmosphere becomes war-like and instead of a group of artists collaborating to bring a project to completion, you end up with a group of nasty, squabbling rodents showing up for work every day only because they have been contracted to be there (I had a similar problem on my first film, Mr. Id, which eventually led to my walking off the set. In that case, however, it was the director of photography who poisoned the set. The danger can come from anywhere!)
I only bring this up as a reminder to anyone working on a grassroots-level project to understand the difference between mainstream and independent art. Things are not done "by the book" in an independent circumstance. That's what makes independent art different and groundbreaking. That's the pay off for not, well, being paid off right away.
Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017, Part III: Linda L. Richards - *Linda L. Richards is a journalist, photographer, and the author of 15 books, including three series of novels featuring strong female protagonists. She is...
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