Monthly Archives: March 2012

Review of Low Budget Hell by Adam Long in Focus Newspaper

Review of Low Budget Hell
By Adam Long in Focus Newspaper

Writer-director John Waters is well known in cult movie circles for being the man behind such films as Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Polyester, and, of course, Hairspray, to name a few. Waters himself has written several books over the years detailing his life and films but no one in the filmmaker’s inner circle has attempted to offer an alternative version of the events involved in the creation of his films until now.
Robert Maier, who served as a producer/sound man/production manager, among many other things, on the majority of Waters’ early films, has now penned his version of events in the intriguing new book, Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters. It’s a tremendously well written book that will be of interest not only to Waters’ legions of fans but also to those curious about low budget film making during the pre digital era.
The book chronicles Maier’s career from his involvement in Waters’ 1974 film, Female Trouble, all the way up to the 1990 film, Cry Baby. Along the way, Maier takes us on the trip of his lifetime as we journey with him in his struggles to find his footing and establish a career in filmmaking. In his attempts to cut a path in the low budget film world, Maier also manages to cross paths with a high number of notable celebrities. Among them are Johnny Depp, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein (Blondie), Jack Palance Andy Warhol, Tab Hunter, Bill Murray, Sonny Bono, the Coen Brothers, Jean Michel Basquait, and Donald Pleasance. The stories of these encounters provide only a small portion of the book’s pleasures, though, as Maier recounts his attempts to deal with ever escalating film budgets, egotistical Hollywood players, the union, and a myriad host of other problems inherent in the low budget film world.

The book begins with Maier’s fortuitous initial encounter with John Waters as Waters sought to find a crew to assist in shooting the follow up to the film that had put him on the map, the gross out classic, Pink Flamingos. Waters’s plan was to use personnel from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where Maier happened to work. This follow up film would become Female Trouble and Maier would eventually become sound man on the film, giving him some solid film experience in the process. From there, Maier developed a relationship with Bob Shaye, the head of Female Trouble’s distributor, New Line Cinema. This association would land him work on future Waters films and the non Waters film, Alone in the Dark.
The behind the scenes tales of Maier’s work on films such as Desperate Living, the aforementioned Alone in the Dark, Cocaine Cowboys, Hairspray, and House on Sorority Row that fill the bulk of the book, provide the reader with much entertainment. The book is filled with just enough technical detail as to give the reader insight into the problems that low budget filmmakers faced back in the pre digital era without getting carried away with the technical stuff. Maier presents the world of low budget film as a business with little financial rewards and no guarantees that the finished product would even equal half of what was intended by its creators. As a result, one comes away with the feeling that those working behind the scenes on these films had to have a certain love and affection for what they were doing. Thus, the book allows the reader to sympathize with those who sacrificed so much of their personal lives so that viewers like myself would have these labors of love to embrace and enjoys generations later.

Another asset of the book is Maier’s great sense of humor and insight that he brings to the proceedings. He manages to humanize the people and personalize the places that inhabit the stories that fill the book. At 336 pages, it is truly a great book and a worthy addition to any movie fan’s bookshelf. Low Budget Hell can be purchased online at Amazon.com and I highly recommend it for anyone with even a passing interest in low budget filmmaking.

New Review and Interview on Low Budget Hell from the Houston Press

 

 

 

from Art Attack by Jef with One F

Read the original here!

New Review of Low Budget Hell in PopMatters by David Banash

New Review in PopMatters by David Banash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.”  Available on Amazon.com and booksellers around the world.

Business Card from John Waters’ Hairspray 1987

Rummaging around old files today, I spotted this gem.  These cards, made for just a few of the pre-production staff (casting director, Pat Moran, art director, Vince Peranio,  line producer, Robert Maier, and John) were designed by Waters’ wardrobe designer, Van Smith.  They were rushed into print in February, 1987 after months of waiting for Wall Street tycoon, and hopeful executive producer, Stanley Buchthal, to give the go ahead.  With the ’87 savings & loan scandal and  stock market crash, we were very nervous about  committing to the project, until big money for the $ 2 million budget was in the bank.

Since the movie had to be shot in the summer, it was imperative to begin pre-production in early spring.  We had to push Buchthal hard for the $100 to buy the business cards to give some credibility when doing casting calls, location scouts, and union negotiations.   In a way these were little prayer cards that showed the film would go forward.  At that time, it was very unsure and stressed.  Buchthal was a complete unknown to us,  John hadn’t been able to raise money for a film in five years and this might have been the last chance.

A few weeks after these cards were made, surprising us all, New Line Cinema entered the picture and bought the whole package from Buchthal, guaranteeing the funding.  John’s company, Madison Films, handed over the production to New Line, and these cards were discarded.

Read about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.”  Available on Amazon.com and booksellers around the world.

Divine Mauled by Press in Violent Scene Cut from Polyester

Many scenes from John Waters’ early films were left on the cutting room floor.  They were great scenes, but Waters was fanatical that his films not exceed 90 minutes.   He thought that comedy could not hold an audience longer than that.  So  many of his scenes are lost to movie-goers of today, but maybe a film professor of the future will  resurrect these lost gems.

This  cut scene from Polyester (1981) occurred  during the riot on  Francine Fishpaw’s (Divine) front lawn.  Divine, already close to mental collapse from a severe drinking problem and mental cruelty inflicted by her husband and his mistress (Mink Stole), tries to escape the chaos by fleeing out the back door.

Two Reporters, hungry for juicy photos chase her, then pin her arms behind her back while colleagues get their close-ups.  It’s an unflattering portrait of the media, which would be quite out-of-character for Waters today.  Hopefully Craig Ferguson will miss these shots.

George Stover, who played one of the reporters (seen on left above;  the other was  Steve Yeager, filmmaker of the Waters bio-doc Divine Trash),  was devastated that the scene was ultimately cut.  It was a good follow-up to his part as Bosley Gravel in Desperate Living.  John told him that New Line made him cut the scene because it was “too noisy and the sound was bad.”  According to Charles Roggero, the editor of Polyester, as well as Female Trouble and Desperate Living, John cut the scene only because he had to reduce the film’s run time to the magical 90 minute limit, and losing this funny scene would not hurt the storyline.

Both are good possibilities.  John’s crowd and fight scenes usually verged on dangerous chaos. Most of the actors were untrained, and the line between reality and acting disintegrated quickly.  They were mostly one-take, so we could move on and calm things down before someone was hurt.

In this scene, which featured our big star, we did not want to risk an injury.  In Hairspray‘s media riot scene (Tilted Acres– cut in the Broadway Show and Travolta movie re-make– because of the negative press portrayal?) an actor was  taken to the hospital when a  an over-zealous reporter smashed a camera into his face.  So John’s instincts about riot scenes, though he loves them dearly,  proved to be accurate.

Read about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.”  Available from Amazon.com and booksellers around the world.

John Waters Backstage Photo During Polyester Filming, August 1980

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This photo of John Waters (middle), Robert Maier, line producer (front), and George Stover, actor (rear) was taken in the basement of the Heavitree Hill home in suburban Baltimore that was Divine’s “home” in the movie “Polyester.”

The basement served as  the low budget film’s greenroom, make-up station, break room, conference room, and production office.  Notice the coffee maker and church-supper sized cans of cheap coffee share the line producer’s desk.  Note the old white Canon calculator on the desk, which appears to be the focus of attention.

I still have the black notebook that my elbow is resting on, which has about 2″ of lined paper filled with scribbled to-do lists, phone numbers, schedules, budgets, and all the other stuff that occupies line producers.  A true artifact that I actually use fairly regularly, sometimes to help Trashy Travels in their research.

Waters, wearing an uncharacteristic blue cable-knit Baltimore-preppy sweater, appears ready to spring out of the chair, but has a fairly calm look on his face.  George Stover watches intently  over Waters’ shoulder.

Since these were pre-computer days, we were probably looking at the 5-panel production scheduling board figuring out how to deal with a change due to bad weather, need to re-shoot a scene, or an actor being unavailable.

Thanks to George Stover for the pic!

Read about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.”  Available on Amazon.com and booksellers around the world.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Underground Artist and Six Million Dollar Man

Jean-Michel Basquiat portrait by Andy Warhol

I lived and worked in downtown New York City in the early 1980s when the arts  were going through big changes.  Andy Warhol was rich, but at a dip in his career.  Hanging out with jet set celebrities at Studio 54 and doing their portraits based on Polaroid snapshots for $50,000, he had become a sell-out to many.  I bought several of his books on a remainder table in a Soho bookstore for a buck each.  They were signed, which John Waters said made them so cheap—Andy signed so many things that his unsigned stuff was worth more than the signed.

I worked with Chris Stein and Debbie Harry—and many others– on the movie, “Downtown 81,” which was mostly a documentary about the downtown underground “no wave,” music scene which sprouted from the angry, apocalyptic near-bankrupt NYC where 3-card Monty dealers and window-washing bums ruled the dirty streets, and the burned out and abandoned South Bronx appeared to be the vision of the future.

Graffiti was the hot new art form, so had to be in the artiest movie of the time.  I didn’t pay much attention to it.  I wasn’t an art collector.  I had bought a few things from Baltimore artists in the Waters crowd, not as an art investor, but because they were close to starving, and I had a steady job.

Jean-Michel Basquiat was the star of Downtown 81, because he was a tireless tagger of the New York landscape with his notorious “SAMO” which was sprayed in white on countless downtown structures and vehicles.  It was cheap publicity, and gained him notoriety, that  held some promise of publicity for the no-budget no-wave movie producers.

I was in the art world, and it was interesting to see how it worked—and still does work.  I bought a painting from Basquiat after his nearly continual hounding me to be a customer.  He thought I was a rich man because I had a loft in Soho (small and rented cheap through a friend), and owned expensive movie equipment.  He wasn’t dumb.  He knew that rich people were the ones who bought art, and should be cultivated.  His art was primitive, nearly on a kindergarten level if you were unkind.  Several on the movie crew had bought paintings, not from love of his talent, but to get him off their backs.  To me, Jean-Michel was a greater piece of work than his paintings, and promised that if he would just get off my back, when the movie was over, I’d bring my wife up to his place and buy something.

Chris Stein and Debbie Harry fervently promoted Basquiat.  They had bought many of his works, but a successful artist needs more than one patron, and at the time they were not big, rich stars like Mick Jagger and John Lennon.  They encouraged me to add to my meager collection, if only for an investment.  They confided they were working on big uptown names, because the key to an artist’s success was simply to get rich and famous people to buy their work.  Nothing else mattered.  You could have the crappiest gallery and the worst reviews, but if Halston or Elizabeth Taylor bought one of your works, you were platinum.  Those were the kinds of people Chris and Debbie were working on.  It was a different level from me, but in the meantime, a couple hundred bucks would help keep Jean-Michel off the streets, and his fire burning.

When the movie finished, my wife and I visited Basquiat’s tiny, cluttered apartment off Houston Street.  I only wanted the painting which was in the movie.  He was reluctant to sell, but I was spending 100 hard-earned dollars, which would probably be $1,000 today, and I had little hope of ever seeing a return.  Carrying it home, I was embarrassed that someone might think I had painted it, not to mention what they’d think knowing I’d paid the equivalent of $1,000 for it.

Soon after, Jean-Michel was scooped up by Andy Warhol as a young prodigy, and through Andy’s uptown connections he skyrocketed.  At his first Soho show, I was astounded to see that Jean-Michel’s paintings sold for $2,500, less than six months after I had paid $100 for mine.  I’d never made such a smart investment, and vowed to hold onto it forever.

I moved 5 or 6 times in that period, and always trucked the painting along, mainly as a souvenir of the time and place, and figuring it might be worth a couple thousand dollars too.   It was a painting/collage dotted with scraps of crayon-streaked paper stuck on while the original paint was drying.  Occasionally they’d fall off and I’d randomly paste them back on with Elmer’s glue.

When the work was, to my great surprise, appraised for $10,000, I insured it, but in the tough economic times of the late ‘80s, I felt it had reached its max value.  The downtown Manhattan art scene was being replaced by yuppies, and Jean-Michel was no longer the critics’ or upper Westsider’s darling.  I was also in financial hot water at the time, and decided to sell the painting through Sotheby’s in New York.  It sold for close to $10,000 and after commission I netted $7,500.  It got me out of debt, and my credit cards re-instated.  It was a pretty slick exit from Low Budget Hell.  Or so I thought.

A portion of Jean-Michel's painting that I bought and sold-- too early, alas.

A few weeks ago, the AP ran a story that a Basquiat similar to mine was valued at $6 million.  I choked on my oatmeal.  So un- fathomable, but it’s repeated in the art world every day.  I look at my old friend and colleague, John Waters’ simple doctored prints of photographs that sell for $11,000 each.  Is the value in the work, or in what a few wealthy (some say crazy) people and friends can afford to risk?  Will Waters’ work be worth millions in thirty years?  Probably.  Considering who his friends are, if I had 11 grand to spare, I’d buy one tomorrow.

“Farrah Fawcett” by John Waters (1 of 8 prints) asking price $11,000 from ArtBrokerage.com

Read about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.”  Available on Amazon.com and booksellers around the world.