Sunday, September 21, 2014

Mark Borchardt, American Movie

I watched American Movie again, the documentary about Mark Borchardt. It reportedly covers a two year period, his setting out to make a feature called Northwestern. He has no money. We see him go through his mail. He has tax collectors after him, companies are threatening to sue him. He has a paper route at one point. He can't get money from his father to make the movie, so he works to raise money from his elderly uncle who is in bad health.

Borchardt's brothers are interviewed. One says that he would be best suited to working in a factory. They figured he would end up as a stalker. One mentions that he would tell them that he was going to get rich and would a millionaire some day, and that this just made them feel sorry for him. He had made little slasher films as a kid, and one said he couldn't figure out what appeal his movies would have with the public since he was having to compete with Hollywood.

The poor guy's situation seems hopeless. He had struggled with alcoholism and had been a pothead.

He starts production on Northwestern, realizes he's going to fail and decides to complete a short film he had started several years earlier called "Coven", about a guy who discovers that his AA group is actually a coven of devil worshipers----but he's a drug addict and a drunk, so his perceptions may be terribly skewed.

His plan is to sell 3,000 videocassettes of "Coven". This will make him enough money to produce the next movie, Northwestern.

I read an interview with him after American Movie came out. It sounded like he was on his way to selling that many cassettes of "Coven". But he had sold only 100 cassettes before the documentary was released, and a couple thousand after American Movie came out.

I was looking at Amazon after that. I looked at Robert Rodriguez's old book, Rebel Without a Crew, about the making of El Mariachi. I was able to read a little of it on the website.

In some ways, Rodriguez was in the same boat as Borchardt. He was studying film at a university far from Hollywood. He had worked two jobs while attending school. He wanted to make movies and would have to do it without money.
But Borchardt worked on his movie in the most public way possible. He was in his home town. His family and friends were all involved and a camera crew was there filming the whole thing. Rodriguez, on the other hand, left the country, filmed in Mexico, paid for it himself, and, as he put it, wanted to be able to "fail quietly". 

Rodriguez got his script completed, although he was making an action film---Borchardt's feature, Northwestern, seemed to be a drama. Rodriguez had a more realistic plan to make his money back---to sell the film to a Spanish language video distributor. Borchardt was going for self-distribution for "Coven"---I'm not sure if he could have done anything else with a short film.

Rodriguez just went out and did it. Maybe it was because he was in college and did this for his summer vacation. He had a strict time limit. He wanted to be able to come back to school, and when people asked what he did over the summer, tell them he made a foreign film.

I thought it sounded like Borchardt could do it. He wasn't shy. He got a cast together and had done this sort of thing before---he won an award for doing a Halloween radio play that's broadcast every year. He should have made the movie while he was in college competing with classmates.

But I look on "Coven" is his only director's credit. He's gotten a lot of work as an actor though, appearing with his friend, Mike Shank, on Family Guy and on David Letterman. He was clutching at straws when he made his movie, looking for a way out of his problems, and "Coven" provided it, just not in the way Borchardt originally planned.

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