Thursday, July 16, 2009

David Burton Morris on "Patti Rocks"


We really can't talk about Patti Rocks without talking about the film that came before, Loose Ends. How did that film come about?

MORRIS: I saw Memories of Underdevelopment, a Cuban Film, at the Walker Art Center, and I rushed home to my wife, Victoria, and I said, 'You know, we can make a movie really cheap. I just saw this great movie, it was black and white. If we can scrape together $20,000, we can make a movie.' And so we did. She wrote it. And it shot for two weeks, Loose Ends. That was sort of a calling card. We went to 20-25 film festivals, didn't win anything really, but Roger Ebert discovered us and Vincent Canby and Andrew Sarris and we got all these great notices.

Finally got enough money, in the early 80s, to do a movie called Purple Haze, and that did very well. It won Sundance, and that was our first real movie. It was 35mm, color, we actually a shooting schedule and a budget. And that did very well. And we looked like we were on our way.

I then, subsequently, got fired from two studio pictures and was very unhappy -- we're now talking mid-80s -- and I was thinking about quitting, I was thinking about getting out of the business because I was really unhappy. And I thought back to the only time I had a really good time making a movie was my first film, Loose Ends. And I thought, maybe I should think about writing something for those guys and making it back in Minnesota and sort of re-creating my enthusiasm for making movies.

How did you and the actors create the script?

MORRIS: We did a lot of just riffs on sex. We had another movie in mind. And I had all these long cassette tapes filled with Mulkey and Jenkins riffing on women, and I thought, this is interesting. Somehow I got the idea of putting them in the car, driving all night to see Patti to talk her into having an abortion. I did a first draft and I'd give it to them and we'd tinker with it and do some more improvs. Jenkins lived in Chicago, so we flew there a couple times and do some more improvs, and I'd type that up.

How did you come up with the title?

MORRIS: The way I got the title was interesting. I was at the Chicago Film Festival, on a panel. I was dinner with a group of people from the festival and this woman was sitting next to me. I said, 'What do you do?' She said, 'I sing in a band.' I said, 'What's the name of the band?' She said, 'Patti Rocks.' And I said, 'Oh, that's a really good title.'"

How did you get the financing?

MORRIS: I'd known Sam Grogg, because he was head of the USA Film Festival in Dallas. And he'd started a film company called Film Dallas. So I gave him the script and said, 'What do you think?' He said, 'We'll make it.' It was the easiest thing I've ever done. I wrote it and within a month they'd given me $400,000 to make this movie.

He had very few notes. He just said, 'They have to get out of the car midway through this movie.' I said, 'What do you want them to do? See a flying saucer?' He said, 'I don't know, you'll think of something.'

Did you make any big changes to the script once you got the money?

MORRIS: I wrote it for the summer, because Mulkey's running around in his underwear. But we couldn't get it all together, and we got the money in November, and I said, 'We're going to make the movie. We've got the money, we're going.' And it actually turned into a more interesting film, just because of the look of the snow and Mulkey running around in his underwear in 23 degrees below zero.

I had a lot of fun making the film. We had our problems, obviously, because of the money and the cold, but it just re-enthused me for making movies again.

Did you worry about the subject matter at all?

MORRIS: I thought it was risky, in terms of the subject matter. I didn't know until after it was done how people would react to the language in the picture. The ratings board first gave us an X for language, and that had never happened before. I guess I was just so used to it. Not that I talk that way, but certainly I hear that. I was kind of surprised by the reaction.

When I first started putting this together, I thought people are either going to love or hate this. I had no idea I was going to divide audiences, and it did. And it did. People loved the movie or hated the movie. More people loved it, thank god, than hated it.

At the very few personal appearances I made before the movie, I'd say, 'Some of you people might get uncomfortable during the first two acts of this movie. Just wait, okay?'

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