They say the entertainment industry isn’t for the faint of heart. How did you decide to pursue a career as a filmmaker instead of going in a different direction?
I’m always very wary. I don’t know if the statistics are still the same, but all of a sudden it became hip to be a director and there were film schools everywhere. It became the decision to make, a career choice. You could be a lawyer or a doctor or a “director” but I was like, “I don’t want to be any of these people.” The kind of movies I like are usually made by people who are a little obsessed with getting this thing done that they will bypass any kind of logic to get this up on the screen. So that would be my answer to that.
If you had to cite one person as a professional influence, who would that be and why?
So, I would say that’s one person that I keep going back to. You’re always tempted on all sides and there’s that cliché of “the devil you know,” right? So, when the devil comes to offer you something, it’s not a horrible person who you don’t trust at all. It’s usually very seductive and very appealing, so you see why people fall for things so easily. To me, a person like Pedro is a really good example of remembering that you can do this from an individual standpoint and it’s okay if they don’t understand it yet. Just make sure that, at the end of the day, it’s your career you had and not somebody else’s.
You’re currently in the middle of a trilogy of films. What originally sparked the idea for this project?
The idea for this trilogy and it’s a trilogy with a wink, but I will explain in a moment. I was cleaning my closet and I came across this theme for a script that I had written years ago that didn’t really fit in that script. It was a 10-page long scene, very dialog heavy. It consisted of two women getting ready to go for a night out and I thought that I could probably get a digital camera. I’m not a digital camera kind of guy. I’m this little film purist guy but I was thinking to myself. David Lynch went and made a little empire and look, that was just for him. There’s going to be a way of making a movie just for you.
And so I said “maybe I can make a little short film, grab a couple of actresses and shoot this and have a 10-minute piece.” But if I do it I thought, well, I’d better do it right. I’ve got to get the right hair and makeup and get a proper cameraman and so we assembled this crew of six or seven people and it came together so easy I thought well, it seems like a waste of everybody’s energy to just put everything together for just one day of shooting, maybe I should write nine more of these vignettes and kind of tie them together and see if we can just make a movie for no money and a lot of good intentions. [laughs]
And so that’s where “Women in Trouble” came from and that was the movie that was shot in 10 days and made with about 16 people total including cast, crew, everything, and we made it through. Since these are vignettes of these characters we’re just basically seeing a little glimpse of them, it would be interesting to explore these characters further in between people’s real jobs and maybe we can get the company of actors back together once a year and do what graphic novels are allowed to do. You can have a character be a big part of one story here and be a smaller character here and just move them around. Our novels do that all the time and so that’s where “Elektra Luxx” came from. “Women in Trouble” is not a movie that requires a sequel. But it seems to me that everything is a trilogy. I don’t know if George Lucas always had plans on “Star Wars” being a trilogy or whatever it’s called now. [laughs] So when I have been asked, they said, “So what’s up with your next movie?” I said, “Well, it’s part of a trilogy,” and so I wrote another day in the life of these characters that revolves this time more around the character of Elektra Luxx, hence the name.
And there’s a third installment written called “Women in Ecstasy.” These movies are completely different. “Elektra Luxx” is not “Women In Trouble” yet it is about all these women in trouble and it’s the same thing with “Women in Ecstasy,” which is a completely different type of movie than “Elektra Luxx”.
The characters are pretty robust in the film. What was it about “Elektra Luxx” that intrigued you as a character to make this second film? Was there something that really made her stand out?
Well, I’d say that the characters of both Elektra and Holly Rocket, the character played by Adrianne Palicki, I was interested in these women who are in the sex industry but are trying to get out of the sex industry, who are taking the steps to reinvent themselves. In a way it’s a play on the age-old hooker with a heart of gold in Hollywood movies. I was interested in grabbing these market types or stereotypes as you go on and saying, “Well, okay. How do we see the other side of this person?” not just for the “they’re human.” Of course, they’re human beings but how do we, in today’s world, show what would they be from an optimistic non-cynical standpoint. I think that’s the cue of these movies are very non-cynical or trying to be cool for cool mistakes.
These women are saying, “We don’t want to be on sale anymore.” And they both do it different ways. Elektra is actually a person that, despite coming from the porn industry, she’s actually seemingly very centered and grounded. Everybody comes to her asking things of her and she has nobody to turn to because she knows nobody. Her closest friend is probably the Virgin Mary, and that’s wrought with all sorts of Catholic guilt and complicated issues if you’re a sex industry performer. Holly Rocket, the Adrianne Palicki character, is a person who is considered by most people to be very dumb and she’s not really dumb and in this movie she’s actually taking strides toward being an adult.
And then there’s the Joseph Gordon-Levitt character, Bert Rodriguez, who sort of completes this triangle as a sex blogger. We might assume is a sleazy kind of sad sack character but he’s sort of this hopeless romantic who just really looks up to these women in the way that film geeks like myself look to 1950s European movies or Dario Argento movies or robots or something like that. I think there’s something about the culture of the internet and everybody being so separated from each other but finding little groups where they share the same identities as other people. That is what this movie is investigating in a way.
Having said all that, that sounds terribly pretencious, but the truth is that it’s a comedy and it’s a very over-the-top movie. It’s a delve-into melodrama and ridiculousness as long as the emotions remain real and that was a very tricky tone because people either absolutely understand it or people just hate it and we’re okay with that. It was easy to say, “Yeah. Let’s put a musical number in it. Yeah, let’s put a black and white soap opera-like flashback sequence in it.” We are not unaware that there’s a sort of kitchen sink approach to it. That is precisely what we’re trying to go.
You’ve worked with Carla Gugino on several projects now. What did she bring to the table as an actress for a project such as this?
The shortest answer is that she can do anything and I think once you establish a company of actors, there’s usually a center to that company of actors and Carla is that. For me, it’s very appealing to work with people who you see a side to them that casting directors or other directors might not know. So if I say to Carla, “For this movie you need to play twins, one has a lisp and in another sequence you need to do a song and dance number,” and she says, “Yes, great. I can do that!” that is extremely valuable when you’re working with very little money and shooting in 15 days.
So I think, when you’re off to make a movie, it makes sense to surround yourself with people that have your back and who are excited about the chance to do things that other people don’t see them as doing. So a lot of these actresses, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Adrianne Palicki, have then dual roles when they get to play the girlfriend in a movie or the good girl or the bad girl, but there’s not a lot of in-betweens so it’s very exciting for them to be able to have scenes where they’re allowed to develop character.
As a director, what was the biggest challenge on “Elektra Luxx” for you?
I think definitely it’s the lack of budget. [laughs] Definitely the lack of budget, the 15-day shoot, shooting on video even though she didn’t say anything bad about video because I am someone that just loves to shoot on film and trying to, despite the fact that we are working with such limited means, making the women look good because oftentimes bad on video . Video makes you look even worse than what you really look like. It’s hyper-real.
I’d say the limitations were a lot but you do you have a script where you have to rely on character and dialog to tell your story and you have no distractions that you kept going there. You have no explosions; you have no car chases; you have no other things you can do so it really puts a lot on the actors and a lot of the dialog. You could either go for that ride or you really do not go for that ride.
And again I repeat without trying to sound defensive, we’re okay with that. We weren’t trying to make a movie for everybody. We’re trying to make a movie for a very particular sort of film-savvy crowd who is open to watching something that deals with gender politics and deals with sexuality and is not overly concerned as to whether it’s okay to do that. The audience we don’t want are the people who are saying, “Well, it’s a sexist. It’s just wrong.” or “It’s just exploitation!” There are many art forms–photography, music, culture that sexuality is a big component of and it’s not an accident that the author left there. It’s actually what you want to talk about and we’re trying to do that in a way that’s entertaining.
What can you tell us about “Girl Walks Into a Bar”?
“Girl Walks Into a Bar” is opening South By Southwest and on YouTube March 11th, 2011. Some of the production techniques are similar to “Elektra Luxx” and “Women in Trouble” and a couple of cast members, Carla and Emmanuelle Chriqui. They have nothing to do with “Elektra Luxx” or “Women in Trouble” and it’s a crime comedy that takes place in Los Angeles or one night in 10 different bars, and it was shot with a Canon 70 which is a still camera that actually looks fantastic. You can actually use film lenses and throw focus and it actually looks like a movie. It has a great cast that features Danny Devito, Rosario Dawson, Josh Hartnett, a bunch of people and it’s an experiment in a different — trying to figure out a different way to distribute independent films.
YouTube is a, as far as I see it, marketing and distribution company already set up that reaches the whole world. So, is there a way of making a movie for low enough that if you get a sponsor, it pays for the movie and have the whole world see it. I generally believe that there are audiences hungry for all kinds of movies, but we are being extended a steady diet of Hollywood movies. I’m not against superhero and R-rated horror movies but I think it would be great if we could figure out how to make a black and white film more for very little money so that it’s something that the studio can afford to make and only two or three directors could even pitch without being laughed. But I think that audiences I think would appreciate, so we’re testing this YouTube thing to see if it works.
Seeing that you’re not afraid to take risks and things like that, is there a particular type of film or genre that you might be anxious to tackle in the future using these new technologies and distribution methods?
A black and white film noir!
So, that’s number one on the list, huh?
Yes! I like many, many genres. That’s the thing. I love westerns. I have a western script that I’ve been trying to make for awhile, modern day. The short answer is a lot! [laughs] I think that Hollywood took so long for understandable reasons, but it takes so long to get a movie made from development to getting it made and I don’t know what the average is, but it’s like 10 years or something and I feel like it’s so frustrating. It’s a little bit music in the late 70s when hard rock came out. I feel like there could be an influx of just energy and some of these movies will be a little rough around the edges but what I think is important is to just do it.
How do you think you’ve evolved as a filmmaker since you started out?
I’ve probably gone backwards. That’s an impossible question. I’d say that my favorite thing in movies, and it’s something that at first you’re so worried about the movie not working that it’s harder to find this, is when happy accidents happen. And I think that sounds so corny but I think as you do it more and you get more practice, you get better at setting the stage so that that might happen and recognizing that and going, like, “That is good. Let’s go that way,” instead of saying, “No. That’s not what was scripted. We have to get back on track.”
All of a sudden something happens that is unexpected and that can be magical, and I think more and more we’re in a society where a place with the internet with everything that we know with recording devices. You’re recording this conversation right now. Everything seems to be captured at all times but at least in my experience, if you go see a rock and roll show, it’s completely different over the record. It sounds completely different than if somebody had actually taped that rock and roll show. There’s an energy, an exchange of energy that’s really exciting when it happens in the moment.
So as a director, I think I’ve gotten better at trying to set the stage for those things to happen and obviously, it usually comes from actors. I’m speaking directly about things that happen to actors and their little moments that happen that you’re there to capture.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give to an aspiring filmmaker?
I would say and this is not mine but you don’t need a reason to make your first movie other than to make your first movie, so you should go make it. It will not be the best movie ever made, that has already been made and it will not be the worst movie ever made. Once you get that out of the way, then you should concentrate on making the movies you want to make, not the movies that you can make. And that is much harder or much easier said than done.
Other than the third film in the trilogy, what may be next for you? Do you have anything lining up that you can talk about?
Not that I can talk about. There are a couple of scripts but I’m very superstitious. I feel like if I talked about them, they won’t happen. Yes, I have, like, two or three things that I am at different stages with getting the financing for and whichever one comes through first, that’s what I will do.
That’s going to be great. Awesome. Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans before I let you go?
I would say about “Elektra Luxx” that you do not have to–I’m going to copy this from another ad that I saw, but you do not have to be a Justin Bieber fan to love this movie! [laughs]
Awesome. Sebastian, thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it and we look forward to talking to you again in the future.
All right, man. Thanks so much!