Thursday, February 5, 2009
Richard Glatzer on "Grief"
Once you had the idea, how long did it take to write Grief?
RICHARD GLATZER: I wrote it quickly; it was the easiest script I’ve written. I usually don’t keep journals, but I happened to write down in a little notebook the day that (producer) Ruth Charny suggested thinking about this. It was the end of October in ‘91, and I had a draft of the script by early January ‘92; and I hadn’t even starting thinking about it at the end of October, ‘91. So it was pretty fast.
How did you go about funding the movie?
RICHARD GLATZER: I had about $20,000 saved, and we raised another $20,000 from people who were willing to put up $5,000 investments -- none of which was easy.
I think the gay content helped a little bit, that people felt that it was some sort of community function or something. But it also, obviously, limited the film in terms of people thinking they were ever going to see a lot of money coming back. Ruth put up $5,000; it was mostly little bits and pieces, mostly from friends.
We raised $40,000, and at the same time we were doing that, I put together my cast just by going to Sundance and seeing Craig Chester in Swoon, and meeting people at parties or wherever.
That’s where I met Illeana Douglas. Just as I was leaving -- I hadn’t even spoken to her, really -- and I got my coat and was on the way out the door and suddenly clicked that she was perfect for Leslie. I just went up to her and said, “Hey, you wouldn’t by any chance do some low-budget, independent fag film, would you?”
And she said, “I bet you’re the kind of guy who loves Edgar Ulmer movies.” And I was a big Edgar Ulmer fan, so within a day or two she said, “I’ll do your movie,” as soon as I got her the script.
So I assembled the cast and felt like I had this really great group of people. We’d all been hoping to get more money than $40,000, but there was nothing coming.
Did you write the script with particular actors in mind?
RICHARD GLATZER: No. Alexis Arquette and Jackie Beat I knew from this club I was doing; they both performed there. I was thinking of them as I was writing the script; not from the outset, but as I was writing it, I started to realize that I was hearing Jackie Beat saying these lines.
So by the time I finished the script I definitely had them in mind for those two roles. But it wasn’t like from the beginning I was going to write a role a role for Jackie Beat or write a role for Alexis.
How long did you shoot?
RICHARD GLATZER: We shot for ten days. It was ten days for the bulk of the shooting, and then we did an extra half day in the courtroom. That was our big production value, which of course we made look like shit by deteriorating it. We shot it on film and it looked really good, and then we went and shot it off a monitor.
At the time we didn’t know how it was going to work. And I thought if I shoot it on film, I have the option to use it on film, and if I shoot it on video, then I’m stuck with video. It was basically a half day; we were out of there at three, three thirty.
Do you think there were any advantages to not having a larger budget?
RICHARD GLATZER: I set out to make a movie in one location for financial reasons; I think the whole idea of grieving, and the fact that Mark’s dealing with the death of his boyfriend, to me is so much more interesting indirectly and seen only in the office.
I think if we’d had money to go shoot Mark crying at home, or something -- just because we maybe had the money, and you’d think, “Oh, we have to cover that” -- to me the movie gained its identity and meaning from giving him that sense of privacy and from being limited to the office. That was a budgetary limitation that ended up working in the movie’s favor.
Of course, it probably would have been distributed wider and seen as a more mainstream movie if we’d had more locations -- a lot of running around and all that stuff.
How long did it take to finish the movie?
RICHARD GLATZER: It took forever to post it. We didn’t have enough money; the $40,000 was to shoot it, but we didn’t have anything left to do any of the post. We were trying to raise money and trying to find freebie stuff. This was this UCLA student who had this KEM deck at home and she was synching dailies for us. She let us in there to cut some stuff.
It’s so frustrating when you’ve got this in the can and you want to work on it and you can’t. It took us about a year to edit the thing, getting a few bucks here, a few bucks there and begging favors everywhere. There was a post house near me, an editing facility that would let us go in there for free; they were sympathetic and trying to help us out.
And really the only reason it ever got finished was because Mark Finch, who was the head of the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in San Francisco, saw a rough cut of the film and loved it and said he would give us the closing night if we could finish. So then it was this panic to finish it.
I put up more money -- fool that I was -- in order to finish it. No one was coming up with any money. I made him a personal guarantee that I was going to get the film done, and we had two or three months and there was no money, and so I finally just put the money up.
One last question: Am I nuts, or is the actor who plays The Love Judge doing an impression of Lionel Barrymore?
RICHARD GLATZER: Yes, the Love Judge is doing Lionel Barrymore. You’re the only person who’s ever figured that out.
The actor, Mickey Cottrell (the clean freak in My Own Private Idaho) loves to do shtick. That morning, when we were at the location of the courtroom scene and he’s getting dressed, he said, “You know, I do a really mean Lionel Barrymore.” I said, “Let me hear it.” And he did his Lionel Barrymore. And I said, “That’s perfect, just do that.”
It was perfect, it was just what I wanted -- a curmudgeonly character. But no one else has picked up on it. That’s so funny.