EXCLUSIVE: If a film festival not only rejects your film but publicly declares there is “an ugliness and a deadness to it,” and it’s not about zombies, well them’s fighting words. After all, filmmakers submit to festivals dreaming of raves, publicity and distribution deals. Paul Schrader‘s latest film The Canyons is not a zombie film, and he is more than a little pissed that an unnamed SXSW “insider” trashed the Lindsay Lohan-starrer to Hollywood Reporter, which attributed the rejection to “quality issues.”
So forgive the heralded Taxi Driver scribe if he goes a little Travis Bickle on SXSW and its director, Janet Pierson.
“This was outrageous,” Schrader tells me. “Confidentiality is sacrosanct in the festival submission process and this was amateur hour. I’ve been around it a long time and you cannot get responsible people to even say they saw the film, if it isn’t in the festival. We received a private apology, but I didn’t get a public one. The first excuse that came from Janet Pierson was really lame, basically saying, we didn’t do it. It was Nixonian in nature. In the second go-around, she said, well, it was done, but it will never happen again. The irony is, it came in an article about the SXSW schedule, and the headline is about the film that isn’t in the festival.”
I reached out to Pierson, who’s ramping up her festival, but took a moment to give Schrader the apology he was seeking. “This was a total mistake,” she said. “When films are submitted here, it’s a safe place and there’s a real cone of silence. This was a terrible mistake on our part, we feel terrible about it, we apologized to the filmmakers. It should never have happened, it never happened before, and we don’t expect it to ever happen again.” The insider who bashed the film has been disciplined for the breach, Pierson said.
For The Canyons, this is just the latest stop in a long tour of media madness. Schrader’s film stars Lohan and James Deen, the latter an actor whose resume includes such recent credits as Wet Tits, Gangbanged 5 and Anal Plungers. The tagline is youth, glamor, sex and Los Angeles, circa 2012 and the film was scripted by a controversial writer who for the purposes of Deadline, I’ll list under the nom de guerre Vol d’Emort. Then there were three phony trailers Schrader made and released on the web. “One is a 60s exploitation film, one a 50s black and white melodrama, and the third is a 30s comedy, and they are all bogus,” Schrader said. “That was my idea. People were trying to get images of the movie, I didn’t want to set the characterization of the movie in stone, so I figured, lets make some false trailers, and keep them guessing. The first one got a million hits.”
We brought a lot of this on ourselves,” Schrader acknowledges. “We are provocateurs, James is an adult star, and Lindsay is a media magnet. We didn’t go into this blindly.” He said the fest thrashing hasn’t hurt distributor appetite for the film, noting that three are bidding and another is expected to. With the names and the nudity that Steven Soderbergh promised in a recent internet boast, this seems like the kind of multi-platform title that makes those distributors lustful. “Some of them say, I wish you hadn’t done all this stuff, but on the other hand it has gotten us to the place where they can exploit this.”
It certainly is media catnip; I can’t recall writing this many words about a movie that cost less than $100,000 to make. Schrader said even he underestimated the media frenzy surrounding a leading lady, who, he acknowledges, was high maintenance, not unlike a lot of film actors. He adds that despite any drama, they finished on time and on schedule. But while Lohan a few years ago was a breakout young star commanding $7 million a picture, her oddball parents and appearance in more courtrooms than films lately has now made everything she touches a media maelstrom.
“It all has to do with the head-spinning effect of Lindsay on traditionally sober media,” Schrader says. “When confronted with the gale force winds of Lindsay Lohan, people just can’t resist the impulse.” He mentioned a recent New York Times article (which also was unkind to his movie). “It’s that Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Chris Brown thing. They just can’t stop themselves from unloading and judging. It’s a terrible fishbowl existence for Lindsay, even if she is responsible for a good part of it,” Schrader says.
The hope is that moviegoers will be as interested in Lohan as media vultures like me. Not that Schrader, producer Braxton Pope and their partners need a blockbuster to make money here.
“We have $90,000 in this film,” he says. “We have $170,000 from Kickstarter, which we don’t have to pay back, and about $200,000 in deferments. Lindsay, Braxton, Bret and I each own a quarter of this, and Lindsay was essentially an equity partner. We’re showing the film to distributors, we have multiple offers, and before too long we’ll have a distribution plan and we’ll be out of the DIY business.”
Schrader now thinks that snubs from SXSW and Sundance (which he said also rejected The Canyons) might well be the best thing to have happened for the movie. “I think if we had taken a more humble profile, we’d probably be in these festivals, but it turns out it was a good thing we weren’t at Sundance,” he tells me. “There would have been this huge blow back of publicity and we wouldn’t have been able to monetize it for four months. What we came to realize is that people go to Sundance to get a profile, and we already had a profile. What we want to do is capitalize on that, and not blow it by showing the film and then not be able to take advantage.
“Take this year’s Sundance, for example,” he says. “Over 10,000 films were submitted, and maybe you’ll hear of six or seven of them, and maybe three or four will make money. As soon as we make our distribution deal, we’ll already be in profit.”
Despite that, he’s still pissed at SXSW. “In this new media world, you have to feed the media monster,” Schrader acknowledges. “When you sow the wind, and you have to, you reap the whirlwind. If you don’t sow the wind, how do you get your head up above the 10,000 other films just like yours that are being made right now? The result is you risk a very lively whirlwind coming back at you. But when it comes from a festival like this, that is appalling, a real shocker.”
WME Global is selling the movie.