This Memorial Day weekend, I’ll be attending Comicpalooza – The Texas International Comic Con, probably the largest four-day pop-culture event in Texas. This year’s convention includes more than 2,000 hours of programming comprising science fiction, fantasy, sports, video games, technology, role-playing games, music, film, television, and comic books. Guests include artists, actors, athletes, authors, gamers, and musicians from a whole range of genres. Some of the headliners include Academy Award-nominee Jeremy Renner (Avengers: Age of Ultron, American Hustle, The Hurt Locker), Colbie Smulders (Avengers: Age of Ultron, How I Met Your Mother), Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter, Captain America: The First Avenger), Chloe Bennet (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Summer Glau (Firefly, Serenity).
Other notable guests will include comic book legend Stan Lee, George Takei (Star Trek), and many of the cast members from the hit television show, Gotham. Additionally, Comicpalooza has brought in a slew of independent filmmakers such as Paul Bright, Amir Valinia, Michelle Mower, Mel House, Joe Grisaffi, Larry Wade Carrell, and Jackie Earle Haley. The day before the show started, I had the opportunity to sit down with film director Paul Bright. Besides screening many of his previous films over the weekend, Paul has chosen to premiere his new film, Long Term Parking, at this year’s Comicpalooza. He will also be participating in some panels over the course of the weekend highlighting the basics of independent filmmaking. As the writer, director, producer, and editor of all his films, he is distinctively qualified to help a new generation of aspiring filmmakers. After a pleasant conversation about the uniqueness of southern sweet tea, Sonic Drive-In ice, living on all coasts, as well as the benefits of growing your own farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, we got down to a interesting discussion about his career and films
Randy Krinsky: There’s a lot of buzz around here today over the premiere of your new film, Long Term Parking.
Paul Bright: Well, great! Cool, yeah, I’m delighted that it’s coming here to Comicpalooza.
RK: I read that you got your start in the business when you ran a theater company. How did you make the transition to features?
PB: I was growing up in Los Angeles. I was discovered as an actor at sixteen, and it was really a discovery. I wasn’t looking for it and an agent actually found me and started sending me to auditions. I got hired right away, and at that time I was primarily shooting commercials. So, I stayed in Los Angeles until I was twenty-three, and all I’d ever done in my life was acting; being in front of the camera. I didn’t have any other real world experiences. But I decided I didn’t want to stay within the Hollywood culture because I didn’t really like the way the Hollywood culture treats people.
RK: I’ve heard that quite a bit.
PB: So, then I moved all over the country trying to discover what else I could do with myself that would be fulfilling. In my mid-30s, I was living in Lockhart, Texas. There was a community theater in Lockhart, and they were doing things like “Little Women” and Neil Simon comedies. I volunteered for that, and, you know, bless their hearts, they’re sweet people, but at that time, the artistic director had never actually seen a play. So after a year of volunteering for them, some of the other people in that theater came with me and we started another theater two blocks up the street, in a town of 10000 people. So now there are two theater companies! What we wanted to do with our theater company, which I ran for three years, was to bring in plays that had just closed on Broadway, that had just been published. I was bringing in stuff that I thought was higher intellectually; challenging stuff. So we were doing avant-garde theater, we were doing controversial plays; hard-hitting gritty stuff, not family theater. Our audiences weren’t coming from Lockhart, they were coming from Austin, San Marcos, and Bastrop, and from all around. So we were drawing in people from a big area. After three years, I realized that there was no way, because there were no corporations in Lockhart, there was no real way to get corporate funding. I also realized that we were putting out ten to eleven productions a year; I figured in one year’s time, I could make a feature film that ultimately more people would see than in a full season of shows. So I resigned from the theater and they, a couple of years later, merged back in with the old community theater so they could do “Little Women” again. But unfortunately they took my theater name and merged it with the community theater, and I was like, “why did you do that!”
Anyway, So I made a feature film. I had no idea if anyone would ever see it. It turns out it sold extremely well for that niche, for that market, which was a big surprise. So the distributor then made this deal with me, saying “I’ll distribute anything you make,” and what a dream! What filmmaker has a distributor say that to them? So I started making a movie a year, and now Long Term Parking is my 8th feature film in ten years time.
RK: The independent film world has come a long way.
PB: Of course, the whole distribution world has changed a lot too. DVD’s don’t sell like they used to, so a lot of the distribution is coming through online streaming. As an independent filmmaker, I now have to do hybrid distribution deals which means I sell specific rights to a specific distributor for something unique: like, you do DVD’s for Germany, you do streaming for England, as opposed to just a blanket contract.
RK: I suppose you have to do that nowadays with the way the business has evolved.
PB: Well, you actually do because distributors can’t cover it all anyway and you’re going to get a lousy deal unless you are very specific about what you’re giving away rights to.
RK: Let’s talk about Long Term Parking. How did this project come about?
PB: Long Term Parking is adapted from a novel by Mark Kearby. Mike had actually contacted me, asking me to turn it into a screenplay for him. I wrote the screenplay while I was living in New York. Mike Kearby is known as a writer of cowboy-western novels. So this a completely different genre. His fan base is not the fan base for this irreverent mafia-mobster-kind-of-movie, with you know, sex and people getting killed. He shopped it around Hollywood and in the first two minutes of the film, a dog gets killed. Well, in Hollywood, that is just like death; you don’t kill a dog in the first two minutes of a movie, that’s how you alienate your entire audience. So after shopping it around for a couple of years, I basically said to him, you know why don’t I just make this film for you. We shot it in Smithville, Texas. I brought in actors from New York, that I’d known in New York. We had an actor from Los Angeles, a couple down from Dallas, one came down from Oklahoma; I was bringing in people from all over. I didn’t hold auditions for this because I knew in my mind exactly who would be the right fit. There were a couple that I auditioned just by getting to know them and talking with them. They were the people that I hadn’t met before but otherwise, I knew most of them and I said, please come make this film. This was a Screen Actors Guild film, so this is a union contract movie. You have a bigger budget because you’re complying with all the union rules. It was an interesting shoot. The original story that we adapted from takes place in Fort Worth. I didn’t have contacts in Fort Worth, but I did have contacts in Smithville, in the Austin area, because I’d been living in the area previously. There were locations in Smithville that passed perfectly for Fort Worth. On the very last day that I was here in Texas filming, I drove up to Fort Worth and took exterior shots that I then intercut into the film, to make it seem more like we were actually in Fort Worth. The first couple of days that we were filming, this is in early December, it was a hot 85 degrees, sunny skies, I mean, it’s perfect summer-time weather. Then a northern comes in and it is so cold, I mean so cold. Of course, we’re trying to film a scene where our leading male and leading female actors are screwing in the back of a car with the doors open, right! She’s hardly wearing any clothes at all for this entire scene. We would do takes and then someone would cover her up with a jacket so that she wouldn’t be shivering between takes. I’m cutting all this footage together and I’m going, does it look like its cold, no, it looks okay, nobody will know! Nobody will know that it was 35 degrees!
RK: That’s the peril of shooing in Texas! Had you have been in Fort Worth, it would have been freezing.
PB: Yeah, they had ice storms! But you know, Texas weather changes daily.
RK: Or, multiple times a day!
PB: But it was a great shoot, a lot of fun. The cast was totally awesome.
RK: That’s good. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been hearing a lot of positive things. Especially since your previous film have received so many positive reviews, especially Angora Ranch. Being your first film and it’s got such good reviews, that has to feel good.
PB: Angora Ranch was interesting because when it first came out, the initial reviews, what viewers were saying, was that they hated it; it was terrible!
PB: They hated it! Man, I got so depressed. I was like, oh my God, I just made this disastrous movie. Well, what happened with Angora Ranch was that it hadn’t quite found the right audience yet. So what I’ve learned as a filmmaker is that nobody is going to love every movie they see. There are going to be people who are going to see this movie tomorrow night and they are going to hate it, and I know that, it’s okay. I didn’t make this movie for them. I made this movie for people who get the joke! Who find it absolutely hysterical. It’s alright when that happens. The deal with Angora Ranch was that, and this was last year, someone that I didn’t know was watching the movie and he contacts me through Facebook; he finds me through Facebook. He tells me that he loves this movie; it’s his comfort film. He then starts sending me a check every month, automatically drawn from his bank account to support my filmmaking.
PB: Right?! So, a couple of months after he started doing this, I get a phone call on a Sunday morning and it was his daughter. He had just died two hours before. And she’s calling me and says that I’m the first person she’s calling because I meant so much to her dad, and I’d never met this man at all. It was my film that had touched him. That was the message; films really can have a powerful impact on the way people perceive their lives, or how they get through the day, or all those things. That was a really, really valuable tool to learn that power is actually there within filmmaking. The irony is, I don’t think Long Term Parking is going to change anybody’s life, but man if it gives them a good hour and half of entertainment, I’m thrilled!
RK: True, they aren’t all going to be “AFI Top 100.”
PB: Yeah, right, but Angora Ranch had emotional moments between the dad and the son; there’s a lot of family-related issues.
RK: It’s a great film. Well now you’ve made, in your eight films, you worked in science fiction, action, comedy, documentary…
PB: I’m actually in pre-production on a feature-length documentary, but I’ve done a short film documentary.
RK: You’ve done a little bit of everything. You’re pretty well-rounded. Do you have a favorite?
PB: No. I know filmmakers who make the same movie over and over again. I have no interest in making the same movie over. If I’ve already told the story then there is no reason to change the names and location and shoot it again. I’m much more interested in telling stories that show a different perspective on life that other people might not have seen or experienced. There’s actually an underlying theme in all my films which is about hypocrisy and that hypocrisy is the root of all evil. There’s a sense that some people say certain things but they don’t actually behave in the way that they speak. If anything, it doesn’t matter what kind of genre I use to get there, to tell that story, I much rather prefer to try to get people to think about the world differently than they’ve believed or perceived it to be.
RK: Hypocrisy is indeed rampant in today’s society.
PB: The hypocrisy is stunning. What I have found is that when I have made films that have been harder-hitting, such as Goliad Uprising, people walked out of the screening and I’m just listening to them walkng out and they’re like, wow, what a depressing movie. You don’t want people to walk out terribly depressed, but at the same time, what I was doing was addressing the issue of big brother government being controlled by corporate interests and that big brother government knows more and more about what you are doing at all times, and that they are doing everything they can to influence your attitudes and opinions on social and political issues. A lot people just accept what they are fed by the media or by politicians and they believe what they are told to be the absolute truth; they don’t question it. So, yeah, the subject is depressing.
RK: It’s what you take from it rather than just saying it brought me down. If the viewer took a message from it then you’ve accomplished your goal as a filmmaker, I would say. If you took something from it other than the fact that it was depressing.
PB: Yeah, and I had made a film before that called Altitude Falling, which a lot of people had made the comment that it was a foreshadowing of what is going on more and more with government surveillance. They saw it as what our government could evolve into and become; what our society could evolve into and become. So they would message me and say that they saw it as a wakeup call. So, what you do with that, I don’t know, but those are the kind of responses that I love to hear as a filmmaker because it means people are thinking about the content and that it is having some kind of impact. Bear in mind too that some people have watched Altitude Falling and said, wow, what a terrible movie! And that’s just going to happen with every film.
RK: Earlier you were telling me where you were living, but I had read that you also had a little farm. Where does that fit into a filmmaker’s life?
PB: I live in Oregon now. We’re on very small acreage and we’re in the woodlands, surrounded by timberland and by a meadow on the other side. It’s very quiet, we see the stars at night, when it is not cloudy. It is very, very remote.
RK: How does that fit into your filmmaking? Do you draw inspiration from that, or do you get inspiration elsewhere and then maybe you go there to contemplate on it. How does it fit in? Is that where you get away from film, or does that help you make film?
PB: Hmm, I would say neither. I’ve lived in a lot of places, as you’ve heard me say, and the work that I’m doing I’ve done in all of them. So, even living in this cabin in the woods, I’m still making films, and I’m making videos for the internet, multimedia content. So, I’m still doing just as much work as I would be if I was in Los Angeles, New York, or Austin. It’s just a different setting. It’s funny because that specific place in Oregon reminds me a great deal of southern Colorado, which always felt like home to me. It’s hard to explain but it feels comfortably right; it’s gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. There plenty of water; we don’t have to be concerned with over population because we’re in a place where people won’t be moving into. It’s an ideal place to be.
RK: It has to be way healthier than living here. Now, I know you’re participating in some panels this year at Comicpalooza. What are you going to be involved in?
PB: Mine are all filmmaking panels, so I’ll be talking about how to VLOG; how to do a web-series; how to crowd fund, if you want to fund it by social media; how to find an audience for your movie. I believe that is all the content for my panels.
RK: I know we’re running out of time, but I wanted to ask you about what you thought about the pros and cons of independent filmmaking?
PB: It’s two different worlds. If you’re making a Hollywood studio film, the advantage is that they have a marketing budget behind it so it’s going to get a lot of publicity. The film is going to be distributed to movie theaters around the country; it’ll get DVD sales and it’ll make foreign sales as well. So, ultimately, probably a lot more people will see your film if it’s a Hollywood film than if it’s an indie film. The disadvantage is that you’re really an employee and there are tons and tons of people who are making decisions on how that film is made. They are making decisions about who’s going to be in the cast, deciding whether or not lines of dialogue will be kept. They are overseeing the final edit of the film, usually, and telling you whether or not you can keep scenes in or take scenes out. So what you’re doing is creating a product that a manufacturer makes, and by IRS standards, we are manufacturers, that’s how we’re classified by the IRS. We’re manufacturing a product so that the studio can sell it to the lowest common denominator to get as many people as possible to buy that product. If I’m an independent filmmaker, there is absolutely nobody telling me what I can or cannot put into a film. Even the people who will donate to fund the movie, they have no say as to what goes into it, they already have the gist of what’s going into it, the theme.
RK: They knew what they were buying into before they offered funds.
PB: Correct. They don’t have a voice in the editing, the script or who I cast, or how I choose to film it or any of that at all. So as an independent filmmaker you can really and truly tell the story that you want to tell as best that you can with the funds that you have available.
RK: So true. Very insightful. I really appreciate you sitting down with me.
PB: It’s been my pleasure.
RK: I look forward to your film and hopefully you’ll come back to Houston.
PB: I hope to, thank you!