CON: Southland Tales
SOUTHLAND TALES PANEL:
Writer/director Richard Kelly
Producer Sean McKittrick
Despite lacing into SOUTHLAND TALES when I saw it screened at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year (you can read my reivew HERE), I was still looking quite forward to Richard Kelly's panel about his upcoming film, if only to hear what he had to say about it all. Funnily enough, as I approached the front of the stage, I noticed Richard himself standing up against the wall, not too far from me. Seemingly approachable, I figured that I'd go over and introduce myself, as I'd never actually met him before.
(extending my hand): "Hey Richard, I'm from JoBlo.com".
Kelly (extending his hand back): "Oh yeah, cool, cool."
Phew! That didn't go all that bad.
I told him that I had seen his film at Cannes, and asked what the status of the film was right now. He replied, "What you saw in Cannes was a 'work in progress'. I'm working on it right now, and once it's done, I'll release it the way that I want it to be." He seemed pretty content about the whole deal, and I didn't want to hog his time, so I asked for a quick picture (which he was gracious enough to allow) and scooted back into my seat.
An asshole and an ambitious filmmaker
As for the panel itself, to be honest with you...it was actually pretty disappointing, especially at first. It started 30 minutes late because they couldn't get a clip of the film to work (Uhhhhm, how about you just go on stage and talk first, in that case?), and then once he got on stage, he didn't really talk much about SOUTHLAND, and instead, brought out about 8 members of a "comedy troupe" called "The Mechanicals", who all have small parts in the film (and I mean real small!).
He seemed to want to deflect the panel over to them ("Some of the most fearless comedians I've ever encountered."), or he simply wasn't comfortable speaking himself, but I'm pretty sure every single person in that audience was there to hear Richard Kelly discuss SOUTHLAND TALES, and not to watch some unknown comedy troupe attempt to crack wise.
Oh, by the way, during the 30-minute wait, Richard stayed near the front of the stage and continued to talk with fans and take pictures with them the whole time. As much as I think his Cannes cut of SOUTHLAND sucked major ball, I will say that the man seemed like a pretty classy dude in real life, and was a LOT better looking (a rich man's Nick Lachey) and (seemingly) more well-adjusted than you might think. Here's a small video of him with some fans.
When the clip was finally shown, it was the scene in which Justin Timberlake's character is walking around an arcade of sorts, lip-synching to The Killers' All These Things That I've Done" (I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier!), as scantily clad nurses dance and jiggle around him. He's also drinking beer and looking at the camera with a deep eye (he also pours the beer all over himself at one point...you go, girl!). The scene is actually one of the only "cool scenes" in the entire film (I even went out of my way to mention it in my review), but it honestly doesn't represent the film in any sort of real way. It's basically a 3-minute music video, while the rest of the movie isn't really musical. I'm not sure why he chose to show this clip of all clips, but there it was.
"K-Fed's an asshole...I said it"
But even though the panel started slow with the emphasis on the comedy group and all, things got back to business when the Q&A began, and fans started to ask more pointed questions, which did lead to some interesting facts, many of which I've listed below.
Kelly said that as difficult as it was for him to get DONNIE DARKO off the ground so many years ago, it was "three times as difficult" to get SOUTHLAND TALES going, particularly because it's so unconventional.
Along with the comedy group called The Mechanicals, many of which originate from the Groundlings, Kelly purposely cast many comedians in his film, because he wanted to paint it like pop art, with it being the end of the world and all. Several present and past "Saturday Night Live" cast members are also in the movie.
Kelly said that the film was inspired by the T.S. Ellliot poem "The Hollow Men", about the end of the world.
Despite rumors to the contrary, both Kelly and McKittrick insisted that the film's budget was under $20M (via the $40-60M that were reported), which is why they were given more freedom to do what they wanted.
Kelly envisioned the entire SOUTHLAND TALES project as a multimedia project of sorts, with the first 3 "chapters" being published as graphic novels, while the film includes the final 3 "chapters". He didn't say that one was required to read the graphic novels in order to understand the film, but having seen the movie, I can only imagine that it would help, as the film as I saw it in Cannes, was as incoherent a film as I've ever seen.
Kelly said that he is a procrastinator by nature (even in college, he'd always wait till the last minute to finish his papers), but that they are presently putting the finishing touches on the 3rd graphic novel. The artist for the series is Brett Weldele. The first graphic novel, entitled "Two Roads Diverge", has already been released, the second graphic novel entitled "Fingerprints" will be released in about 4-5 weeks, and the third novel entitled "The Mechanicals" would be released about 5-6 weeks after that. You should be able to find them in most comic book stores, or click on the covers below to check 'em out on Amazon.com right now.
SOUTHLAND TALES is set in the year 2008, after 2 nuclear bombs have gone off in Texas. Kelly tried to explain some of the film's plotline to the audience at this point, but to be honest with you, it was pretty long-winded and complex, much like the film. There's stuff in there about a new drug called "Karma", alternate fuels, the latest war in Iraq, an underground movement, neo-conservatives, neo-Marxists, porn actresses, movie stars, time-travel and a whole bunch more. He seemed to lose the audience a little as he went on about it. I LOVE the fact that Kelly is ambitious and obviously doesn't like to follow the norm, but everything he tossed into this film could be covered in 3 separate films better. I think he honestly just overshot his reach here. Hopefully I'm wrong and the new "cut" of the film kicks ass though.
Some other major influences on Kelly and SOUTHLAND include Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler (specifically "Kiss Me Deadly") and obviously Philip K. Dick.
When someone asked Kelly what "genre" SOUTHLAND belonged to, he said that it was very hard to say and that he didn't envy a video-store clerk who would be required to place the film in a specific section, but if he had to say, he would say SCIENCE-FICTION first, then COMEDY/SATIRE and finally, MUSICAL (which I personally don't "get", because in the cut that I saw in Cannes, there were only 2 musical sing-a-long scenes). Ultimately though, he said the film was a mix of many different genres.
I'd hit it
Another reason that Kelly said that he wrote such a political project was because he wanted to engage younger viewers to discuss some of the many serious issues happening in the world today. Admirable, to be sure.
The score in the film is by Moby, and not by Trent Reznor, as had been rumored in some parts.
The DONNIE DARKO questions started as well, including the possibility of a comic book based on the film, or maybe even some graphic novels? Kelly tried to be diplomatic in his response, but ultimately said something along the lines of, "I've moved on with my life." He said that he just wanted to keep moving forward and that he is already started to put the beginning touches on his next film (more on that below).
In terms of where they're at with SOUTHLAND TALES right now, Kelly re-iterated what he had told me earlier which was that the cut shown in Cannes was a "work in progress" (we were never told this while we were in Cannes, but let's just "go with it" for now), and that they had basically run out of time and money at the time, so they just showed it that way. They are presently working with Sony Pictures, who purchased the rights to distribute the film in North America, and said that "We're still finding the film now", after which, Sony will look at it and decide when to release it. The bottom line for now is that nobody still knows when the film will be released. Kelly added that the cut that will ultimately be released will be "the film that I always wanted to make."
I'd hit that too
Someone got up to ask Kelly what influences his bizarre and often unconventional stories, and Kelly joked: "Mental illness." He then said that it was basically the things that go through most people's minds like "fear, anxiety and depression."
When asked about his admiration of auteur Stanley Kubrick, Kelly gushed and said that he believed him to be the "greatest filmmaker who ever lived." and commended his commitment and vision in all of his movies. He said that he also greatly admired the man's supreme attention to detail and how he managed to never compromise his work or see it corrupted. "He was a pure artist." Kelly then added, "I hope that I can continue to make the films that I want to make. I'd like to release at least 10 of these before I keel over." Kelly also named 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY as one of his favorite movies of all-time, and said that the narrator in BARRY LYNDON influenced his own narrator in SOUTHLAND TALES.
When writer/director Kevin Smith was brought up (Smith recorded a commentary track with Kelly for DONNIE DARKO's DVD), Kelly said that Smith actually had a part in SOUTHLAND as a character named Simon Theory, a veteran of the first war in Iraq. He said that Smith would be unrecognizable to many, as he is playing a 55-year old man, and had to endure 6 hours of prosthetics/make-up (not to mention the fact that he had to shave his trade-mark beard). He praised Smith's work in the film, and also said that Smith himself put up the money to finance his SOUTHLAND graphic novels, and that he was, simply, "A great human being to whom I owe a lot."
The man, the myth, the beard
Someone brought up the ultra-weirdo fan who flipped out on Kelly at the Comic Con a couple of years earlier (see our coverage of that panel HERE), and Kelly confirmed that the man was apparently just an "actor" who his buddies had hired to play that prank on him. Kelly took it all in stride, included the bit on the DARKO DVD, and even gave the guy a part in SOUTHLAND. The actor's name is Darryl Donaldson.
When asked about future projects, Kelly said that he had been offered many "mainstream" projects and that he'd actually love to do them. He mentioned that he'd be interested in doing a "comic book movie", and even went as far as to say that he'd love to do "one movie a year from now on." He said that if one of his own "personal movies" wasn't coming together, he'd be more than willing to make other movies in the meantime, action, romantic comedy, whatever. When asked if he would do a studio film, he replied, "I'd do a studio job, absolutely!". He then said that he would like still have a little "science-fiction" in all of his movies, even if he were to do a romantic comedy.
To that end, Kelly announced that his next project would be a film called THE BOX, about which you can read more HERE.
When asked about which he preferred, writing or directing, Kelly was specific in his response and said that even though he enjoys writing and it "pays the bills", he ultimately thought that it was a very "lonely" process, and that he much preferred directing, as he gets to talk with people that way, and collaborate, etc...
Now while I certainly don't want to put words in Kelly's mouth, he ultimately sounded a little tired of both DARKO and SOUTHLAND, and really just wanted to move on and start banging out some other films. It felt like the two experiences had really been rough on the guy, and he just wanted to experience a couple of "easier" projects. This is just MY OPINION though, he didn't say anything to confirm this...it's just the "feel" that I got. Then again, I was hungover.
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