Wilfred Prager's darkest effort finds Prague the backdrop to a haunting look at the personal struggles of one actor's rise to fame, his fall from grace, and then the making of the TV movie of his life's story.
It is a story of artistic struggle, the commercial versus the artistic, and it is this struggle which typifies Indie filmmaking in general. Starring Prague's premier MC and stand-up comic David O'Kelly, prefessional extra James Babson and a host of others, coming together through love, passion for the art and the chaos of producing an independent film with a small budget and no Hollywood stars.
Independent film has now become so popular it drives decisions made in Hollywood, not the other way around. In fact, Disney, Warner Brothers, and Universal Pictures have acquired the independent distributors Miramax, New Line, and October Films, and many big-name actors would give their eyeteeth to be in a film premiering at Sundance, just because of the "independent film" mystique. So what if so many of them are awful?
Making a good movie is a difficult task. You must have a good story, an excellent script and terrific actors; money or access to thousands of dollars of in-kind donations; passion and a singular tunnel vision that compels you to make the film with whatever resources you can muster. It seems everyone wants to claim their ultra-low-budget film was made for less money and more insanity.
But beyond the romance and hype lies the fact that the chances of producing an ultra-low-budget film that will actually get distribution are slim. To raise post production funding, develop distributor interest, and see the film all the way to the festivals, the popcorn and the big screen requires some serious determination.
We spoke with some of the actors during the hectic filming of My Beautiful Demon, and had the chance to witness the struggle first hand. When the movie begins production, everyone is high and elated, and struggling to find their true positions in the company, as James Babson explains, "In a typical movie situation, there's kind of a hierarchy, there's a definite order; the director, the first AD, and down and down. With this film, everybody's kinda doing everything, I mean, the directors giving us cigarettes of his own."
He pauses to sip his cappuccino, "A lot of it's just disorganization, And that's part of the problem. I think a lot of the people are just running around, but it's getting done, although it's taking way too much time. In a normal situation you have somebody calling you, telling you where to be and when, and someone will pick you up.
Then you get dressed, there's someone in charge of make-up, wardrobe, boom, boom, everybody has a role, everybody plays their part, all the way up to the director, like clockwork, all the way down to the person driving you, everything is on time.
This is like crazy, the costume designer called me today, asking where are we meeting, calling me! I call someone else and ask where we're meeting at eleven, and they're like 'Oh, I thought we were meeting at three... ' So there's a lot of miscommunication."
But this is understandable, as the typical Indie film has to write, shoot, produce and distribute their film for micro-fractions of the catering budget of buzzbombs like Little Nicky. Enjoying a break from filming with Victoria Flidr, James Babson and Šárka Ullrichová, I got the low down on this interesting new film.
THINK: What is the story about?
VICTORIA: Actually, we don't have an ending yet... the end is missing! (laughs). It's a director's secret.
JAMES: He's not telling anybody, it's kind of funny in a way, it'll keep you informed about what the whole movie's about, it'll take form as we go, which is interesting, coz it reveals slowly what the whole film is about, because we don't really know where we're playing towards yet. There's something about going to the forest where everything turns crazy in the end.
VICTORIA: Nobody knows how it's going to end. I don't know if it's going to be a comedy, or a tragedy, or a drama or thriller, I just don't know.
SARKA: There's a lot of mystery, but I believe in the director's vision, because I've seen the directors work and there's a lot of feeling, it was a fine picture, and even though I didn't understand (because the people spoke French), in a good picture you don't need the words, to get the feeling from it.
VICTORIA: What we are doing here is completely different.
JAMES: There are pieces of this puzzle, and we don't know how they're going to be assembled, to make what picture. We don't know how he's gonna cut where, where what scene goes, there are a lot of different shots here, that depending on how it's set up, it might make a lot of sense.
I didn't see his last film, but apparently his last short film was beautiful. Wilfred Praguer (the director) is a wonderful painter, and I feel a lot of his vision comes from working with the canvas.
THINK: So, what is the story so far?
JAMES: The basic story evolves around this hero, Jim Maclane, an actor who has seen better days. He was famous 10 years before, a huge Hollywood star, an Oscar award winner, who basically goes crazy and started loosing it. And while I don't know what personally happened in this character's life, he lost it, fell from grace. One of those "where are they now?" things.
Along the way, he moved to Prague, started painting, took Tai Chi, became very organic or whatever, basically saying goodbye to the movie business.
Then the screenwriter character, this director Martin, apparently really always liked this guy's acting, and writes a screen play for this actor, wanting to bring him back. The movie is about an ex-actor's fall from grace, so he's writing a movie about this guy's story; he wrote it for Jim. Jim is wondering whether of not if he's interested in playing his own life's story, it seems he is, but we're left wondering if he really is, how committed he really is to this project.
I play this producer guy who's a friend of Martin. I read the script, I like the story, but don't know whether or not Jim, this kinda has-been, is the right man, so I've flown to Prague to see. We start gathering cast members to see if the thing's gonna go, and I may or may not produce this.
I like the story, but Jim worries me, and I have some doubts about the screenplay. So my character is really skeptical, but thinks it could be a winner, 'coz my father was a producer who'd worked with this guy before, and I'm just trying to figure out if I can make a buck off it.
Things get kind of hairy, I say f*ck off, but eventually things start rolling, I leave, there are some love interests going on, things progress, until the end...
THINK: The set and clothing is very nice, very stylish.
JAMES: The girl's beautiful outfits are by Katerina Beloun, and some guy named Roy. Most of it's on loan, except that dress which they had to buy because it will be destroyed in a scene in the forest.
THINK (To Victoria): What about you? You play the actress trying to get the big role?
VICTORIA: Actually, the actress I play, they ask her (Lena, a Scandinavian actress with a name in Hollywood already) to do this movie. She's famous already, and Martin asks her to play in this movie. So I come to Prague, and arrange a party (which we're shooting today), where Lena meets Jim for the first time, and it clicks, they fall in love, and... I don't know the end... (laughs), I know they f*ck in the end.
THINK (To Sarka): And you play one of the love interests?
SARKA: I play a beautiful escort ("not based on my real life story! " laughing) and even though my English is not so good, I can see she plays a part in the unfolding. Being in a foreign film like this, I'm lucky because I can improve my English, I really like the energy, and I like these people (the cast and crew).
VICTORIA: She's so sweet...
THINK: An accent can definitely add flavor to a film, and here we have Americans, Czechs, Scandinavians and Brits, which against the background of Prague seems like it will be a great mix.
JAMES: Many of Hollywood's stars, like Minnie Driver or Nicole Kidman have these accents which they can turn on or off and it adds to their versatility. Speaking English helps of course, but a real accent really adds to the mystique. We all know the American audience finds a European accent very exciting, it has appeal.
SARKA: The language is not so simple in this play. Like in this last scene, I think about my lines, and you can see that they were not all written by a native speaker. Wilfred is French. They are not made for me, when I'm tired, it's hard to keep it all clear, so I have to practice over and over again.
THINK: And the shooting of your dialog went alright today?
SARKA: Yes, perfect. I had a scene, which I learnt, but today, many things changed. Most of the ideas stood, but the director changed the location, and there was more improvisation. When you are able to improvise, then you can be very sincere in your acting. You can make everything when you take your role, very freely.
JAMES: The most important thing for an Independent movie is a good script, yet this script wasn't written by a native English speaker. But the story is really good. The script is understandable, these language issues, 'coz as I said, Wilfred is French, and as actors we have to retool our lines to be more American.
Like when the line says 'you know you're losing your time' which should be 'you're wasting your time' so we've had to fix these small things. A lot of us have to rewrite these ourselves. But as for the non-native speaking actors and actresses, it works, because they're not gonna be speaking perfect English anyhow, but my character, he's from the states, and it wouldn't be too realistic if I speak like a Frenchman.
Finishing our drinks, I said goodbye as they returned to the set for another grueling day of shooting, tired, yet full of hope. "All you need is a dollar and a dream."
So went the ad campaign for the New York State Lottery several years ago, and so goes the mantra of the independent filmmaker today and the low-budget Indie proves nothing beats a good script and a hell of a lot of determination.
A great script is the categorically essential element of any film attempt - period. If you can couple it with indefatigable passion and intensity, with a single-mindedness that no matter what happens, you will get this film made, then you've really got a hand to bet with. And based on this criterion alone, you'll be seeing My Beautiful Demon at the festivals soon.