EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling directors who have films screening at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Screening in the World Documentary Feature Competition, “Guest of Cindy Sherman” is a series of interviews between Paul H-O and press-shy artist Cindy Sherman that began in the early 1990s. During the interviews, H-O, a fixture in the New York art scene, attains not only gains unique access to Sherman’s artistic process, but also develops a romantic attachment to her. Filmed over 15 years, H-O and co-director Tom Donahue have turned in the sessions into a film, adding interviews with a wide array of personalities (including John Waters, Carol Kane and Danny deVito). Both directors talked to indieWIRE about their experience and the film’s screening at Tribeca.
In the Tribeca catalog, TFF programmer David Kwok writes, “‘Guest of Cindy Sherman’ paints a vivid picture of New York art scene increasingly driven by money and fame… The end result is a witty, illuminating look at celebrity, male anxiety, and art.”
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
Since Tom and Paul (I’m speaking for Paul the film guy) share a convoluted view of film and how we became attracted to film, maybe we should say that Tom is a natural to the film genre like a fish to water, and Paul is more of a graphic mixed media specimen. Paul likes TV, art, extreme rock, books, and theater. Tom loves the whole process of filmmaking and Bruce Springsteen. We both found ourselves in film as a means to an end?
What was the inspiration for this film?
Tom had been the editor for HBO’s Spencer Tunick docs, “Naked States” and “Naked World,” and Spencer was my shooter for my cable show on the NY art scene. I told Spencer I had an idea for a documentary using all this archival stock of the art world, and he introduced me to Tom. We looked at some clips I’d pulled and we just started working on ideas right away. That was four years ago. We knew there was a movie there but we couldn’t tell you with precision the specific inspiration for it other than it was art by artists living.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
We had a wealth of life moments on videotape that happened to be of artists, habitats, and their funny ways We worked out a general story arc: boy, girl, boy meets girl, girl is rich and famous, that old bone and then seeked to fill it in – We shot about seventy interviews, culled through lots of archival and followed lots of additional story strands. Paul worked out who could be culled into talking about the the boy and girl, and Tom developed an elaborate quilt of the the basic story, which, by the way, did not have an end.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Money, shattered love and strained relationships, (on every level) and through no doing of their own, lawyers. Let’s just say that it was a planned one year project that we’ve nearly finished in four.
What are your goals for the Tribeca Film Festival?
Show the movie and see how things go.