EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors who have films screening at the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival.
Director Joe Maggio‘s “Paper Covers Rock” is having its world premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival.” Screening in the Narrative Film Competition, “Rock” covers the story of Sam (Jeannine Kaspar), a troubled young woman who loses custody of her six year-old daughter in the wake of an unsuccessful suicide attempt. indieWIRE talked to Maggio about the film and his goals for the festival.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
My interest in movies came later in life, after graduating from college. I was living in Barcelona with dreams of becoming a great fiction writer. Lacking talent, I was pretty good at finding activities other than writing to keep me busy. In the early 90’s, Barcelona had two great movie houses: the Malda and the Filmoteca. The Malda showed double features for something like 200 pesetas (less than two dollars at the time.) The Filmoteca was even cheaper and had the added benefit that it never closed. They’d do wholesale screenings, like every print of Bergman they could get their hands on, then when they’d gone through all of Bergman, they’d do every print of Fassbinder, and so on. I realized that movies affected me more deeply than fiction and perhaps I should find a way to work in this medium. I moved back to NY, got jobs as a PA, met other young, aspiring filmmakers, wrote some pretty awful high-concept scripts about exotic Japanese detectives operating in parallel universes, then, some time around 1999, discovered the films of John Cassavetes and Mike Leigh, and suddenly realized that I could just write stories about regular people with regular dreams and problems. In 2001 I made my first movie, “Virgil Bliss,” which was release by First Run Features in 2002, and very quickly thereafter my second film, “Milk + Honey,” which was released by Wellspring in 2005.
What was the inspiration for this film?
“Paper Covers Rock” was born of a kind of professional heartbreak. After “Milk + Honey,” I vowed that I would never again make a movie for no money. The creative compromises I was forced to make were just too great, and then a tiny independent film like mine would have to go head to head with gigantic star-laden movies in the theaters and invariably get slaughtered. I can’t compete with Hollywood. So I decided I was going to be patient, take the time and make a “proper” movie with some stars and a substantial budget. I teamed up with a great producer and a great production company, got the actor of my dreams attached and then sat back and watched as money came and went, my actor was savaged as being “unbankable”, and years passed. I started questioning myself and my creative instincts and fell into a pretty deep depression. I thought about becoming a chef. I stopped watching movies. And then, I don’t know how or why, something like a tiny light bulb went on inside of me. I got this idea for a character, a woman, who does something really wrong and because of this can no longer trust her instincts, and everyone around her feeds on this insecurity, even those who think they’re helping. I saw the whole movie unfold in an instant. It would be very simple: the story of a woman who must learn to trust herself again. I wrote the script in just a few days. When I told people I was going to make another tiny movie, self-financed, some of my friends who work in the film business actually tried to discourage me. The common wisdom was that I’d not made anything in over 3 years and it would look bad if I just appeared with another no budget film. “What if it doesn’t get into Sundance?” Some idiot, who shall remain unnamed, actually posited that as a reason why I shouldn’t make the movie. Well, as soon as I started making “Paper Covers Rock”, it was as if the clouds over my head parted and a little bit of light came in. I have a different outlook now. My goal is to be in a state of permanent production, even if it’s just me and a camera alone in my apartment. We shot an entire feature film in one night a few weeks back. It’s called “Euphoria.” It’s about a guy from Cleveland, in NYC on business, who is suddenly imbued with a sense of infinite possibility. I planted actors throughout the city and we (two cameras, sound and two actors) traveled around by subway and taxi, just showing up at people’s apartments at which point the scenes would begin. It was insane.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
I came up with this idea of making a disposable film, an “incidental film” that had no pressure on it to perform at the box office or become a critical darling. As I’ve stated above, I was just so sick of the whole film financing scene. But there is a difference between an incidental film and a movie that’s merely being made in a DIY, no money fashion. I see so many no-budget American indies that, in my opinion, fail miserably because they’re trying desperately to be like the big budget indies that have been successful in recent years. My approach in making “Paper Covers Rock” was a keen awareness that I was making this movie with my own money, I could afford to lose it all, so why not play and have fun? Why not try things out, acting techniques, pacing, narrative experiments, etc? I honestly didn’t care if the final product ever saw the light of day. I still don’t.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project
When I decided to make “Paper Covers Rock”, I had one location, the NYC Aquarium in Coney Island, which to my mind was absolutely essential. I knew someone at the Bronx Zoo, who knew somebody at the aquarium and set up a meeting. Riding the train out to Coney Island, I told myself that if this movie is meant to be, then I’m going to get this location, and if for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, then it’s a sign I’m not meant to make this movie and I have to just let it go and find something else to do. Needless to say, I got the location.
What are your goals for the SXSW Film Festival?
I honestly don’t believe there is anything a filmmaker can do at a festival to alter the destiny of his or her film. If people love the film and some distributor or sales agent thinks they can make a buck off of it, then something will happen. Me hounding the guy at ThinkFilm or leaving thousands of postcards around Austin is at best futile, and possibly even counterproductive. So, my goals for SXSW are to hang with my buddy Clint Jordan, who I miss terribly since he moved to LA. Several of the cast, the editor Seth Anderson, and Sam Bisbee the composer will also be there, so we’re going to have fun in Austin. We’re going to sit back and watch our movie, which we all worked so hard to bring into the world, projected on the big screen, and it’s going to be awesome.