Aaron Rose and co-director Joshua Leonard‘s documentary “Beautiful Losers retrospectively celebrates a group of loose-knit American artists and creators. In the 1990s, these artists, including Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills, Barry McGee, Phil Frost, Chris Johanson, Harmony Korine, and Ed Templeton, many of them barely twenty-years old, began their careers by coming together and making art for the sole purpose of their enjoyment of doing so. After debuting at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival, “Beautiful Losers” opens in limited theatrical release this Friday, August 8 at the IFC Center in New York. indieWIRE talked to Rose about the film and is hopes for its release.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career
I never set out to be a filmmaker… I’ve always loved movies and they have had a very profound on my life over the years, but the thought of being a filmmaker wasn’t really one of my dreams when I was young. In the mid-1990s in New York I was introduced to a woman named Makiko Gill, who was a producer at MTV. We got to talking and the offer came in to work with her creating a series of on-air promos for the channel.
That ended up being an amazing experince and I realized then that I had a knack for the process and that II enjoyed it very much. I was 24. After working at MTV I stopped directing and just focused on producing for a number of years. I started a “company” called Alleged Films and I mostly produced short films for artists and fashion designers… but they were all pretty DIY affairs, so I wuld end up shooting stuff and helping with the edit as well. When we started working on “Beautiful Losers,” I hadn’t made any films for while, so in most ways this film was a completely new experience with lots to learn and re-learn. I had help from a lot of great people on this one who really taught me so much.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?
I’m constantly thinking of film ideas. However I learned from this process just how much it takes to make a feature film, so I have to be very sure that any future project I get myself into is something that I can absolutely love. I have to love it enough to hate it actually, becuase a lot of the time you hate the project along the way, and it’s tempting to walk away, but walking away isn’t an option if you really love something…so yes, I have ideas and things I’d like to explore in coming years. I’d like to work with actors and I have some ideas related to narrative works. I also think about starting a production company that would create a platform for more experimental filmmakers, I know so many talented people that just don’t fit into the system and I’d like to help them see their projects to fruition.
How did the idea for “Beautiful Losers” come about?
The film in its current form grew from a museum exhibition annd book that I worked on in the early 1990s. Me and my friend Josh Leonard were just kind of shooting stuff around at openings and stuff thinking that we would eventualy pull it together into something, but not really knowing how that would happen. After some time, actually through a magazine contact I had, we met our current producers and that helped to secure financing and the film really began to take shape. If there was one reason why we thought this would be a film worth making I guess it’s the same as any other film. There was a great story there!! The artists in the film are a really wonderful bunch of people who have really followed their dreams and made life work for them on their own terms. They did it by helping each other, which I personally believe is a very important message and one that gets lost sometimes in the competitive world we live in.
Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film?
One thing that became very clear early on is that this film could have taken a million different directions. It was a very trying process for us at the beginning. As a team we were trying to fit the film into a documentary structure that just didn’t suit the subject matter and the end result over and over again was a boring movie. Eventually we had to come to terms that we had to almost abandon structure and approach the film as a poem. Then it all started to make sense. I owe a valuable debt to our editors Fernando Villena and Lenny Mesina. They had so much to do with how the film eventually came out. They were really open to taking risks and throwing caution to the wind in the editing room. We did that a lot…just trying crazy stuff and crossing our fingers that it would come out nicely. In terms of inspiartions there were just so many.
I loved Penelope Spheeris‘ film “The Decline of Western Civilization,” Bruce Weber‘s Chet Baker documentary “Lets Get Lost” was a big influence too. I like Orson Welles “F for Fake” too. If you look closely you can see elements of that film in “Losers.” I was also very lucky to have two filmmakers, Mike Mills and Harmony Korine, as subjects in the film… both of whom I respect immensely. They really helped me through this process.
What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker?
The basic concept of inspiration and following your heart (and characters who do that) I think will be a repeating theme in any future projects I get into. It’s an important message and I think that if I can bring anything to the world as a creative person, inspiring people to believe in themselves through inspirational stories is probably a good goal. I’m loosely working on ideas for a film about an artist from the 1960s that I respect a lot who had an incredible life, but it’s realy too early to get into it.
What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?
One thing I’ve realized is that from my experience “independent film” just means “bad film” these days. I think at one point that was different, but it seems to me that in the current climate, most independent films are just low-budget mimicries of the same old Hollywood formulas. It’s difficult because there are so many talented filmmakers out there, peple with really fresh and new ideas that I personally feel could bring a minor revolution to the medium of film in the 21st century. However, for those filmakers to get financing they have to follow a structure that might as well be for a studio film. Many times non-traditional concepts don’t fit into that system and that’s too bad. In the end it’s the public who loses, because I know there is a huge audience for these types of films. More than I think anyone in the industry is willing to accept. I feel it’s something that is going to have to be spearheaded from within by the filmmakers themselves…I hope to be a part of that.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
Buy a camera and make a film. It’s a wonderful way to do things. Don’t wait for someone to hand you a career on a platter…that’s boring.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.
There are many. Anytime I can inspire someone it makes me proud. I get lots of cool letters from kids all over the world who tell me that things I’ve worked on have helped them to follow their dreams. An artist can’t ask for more than that.