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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Niche bitch: Foundas on foundering films

In a dauntingly articulate entry in Slate’s year-end Movie Club, Scott Foundas (in conversation with David Edelstein, Scott Foundas, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and A.O. Scott) addresses a number of pics and stats (especially Munich), and makes these painful points about the current state of audiences for independent film: “As David Ehrenstein pointed out in an excellent and scrupulously researched LA Weekly article earlier this year, champagne corks now pop in distributors’ offices if a foreign-language picture crosses the $500,000 mark at the U.S. box office, while most foreign titles don’t manage to gross even one-tenth of that amount. I wish I could say the depressing news stopped there, but it doesn’t. Independent American films—by which I mean the real thing and not the pseudo-independents produced by the studio-owned subsidiary divisions—are hardly faring any better… Debra Granik’s superb Down to the Bone (with its award-winning lead performance by Vera Farmiga) took nearly two years to find a distributor and has earned all of $25,000 since opening in limited release one month ago, while Lodge Kerrigan’s equally excellent Keane (backed by a relatively larger marketing campaign) has barely squeaked past $33,000. And what we critics say scarcely seems to matter. Both Down to the Bone and Keane had stellar reviews (as, for that matter, did The Intruder; Good Morning, Night; and The Weeping Meadow), yet taken together, all five films didn’t attract as many moviegoers over the entire courses of their runs as flocked to Brokeback Mountain in its first week on a single Los Angeles screen…
“When Happy Here and Now—a Michael Almereyda film [pictured] I like even more than his William Eggleston documentary—finally opened in Los Angeles after three years on its distributor’s shelf (and after repeated extolling of its virtues in print by myself and other critics), it grossed $700 in its first (and only) weekend, which sort of gives a whole new meaning to the term “niche audience.”

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon