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Broke and Grounded: A Conversation with “Hav Plenty’s” Chris Cherot

Broke and Grounded: A Conversation with "Hav Plenty's" Chris Cherot

Broke and Grounded: A Conversation with "Hav Plenty's"
Chris Cherot

by Anaye Milligan

Chris Cherot’s first film “Hav Plenty”, one of many thanks to a deal he signed
with Miramax, opened last weekend to mostly positive reviews. Cherot,
who produced, directed, starred, and edited, is being credited for
creating a romantic comedy with an acerbic wit and some meaningful
commentaries about love, life and being an artist in the 90’s. The film
follows Lee Plenty, a starving novelist (Cherot) who enters the rich and
spoiled world of Havalind Savage (Chenoa Maxwell) one fateful New Year’s
Eve. When Miramax asked Cherot to change the film’s ending, fiction and
reality quickly blurred. Cherot talked to indieWIRE about the
Miramax-funded conclusion, his unexpected acting debut, and his own
creative aspirations.

indieWIRE: How have you adjusted to all the attention, the volume of
publicity that you’ve been getting?

Chris Cherot: I’ve got to stay grounded. I can’t get too wrapped up in
that. The best thing about the attention is my work is out there and
that after years of working in total isolation, it’s an affirmation that
I’m no longer working under obscurity — which can kill you in this
business. . . My main focus right now isn’t so much on the attention,
but on making sure my second film gets made and my third film gets made
with the same amount of creative control I had on my first — which
isn’t always guaranteed.

iW: Let me ask you about that specifically, then. I think it was on BET
that you made another comment about how the soundtrack has such a
prominent role that the soundtrack has almost become the star of the
film. And of course, Miramax, had you redo the ending. As far as
creative control, how do you feel about these other people coming in and
having such a strong impact on your work?

Cherot: That’s debatable. I’m not really sure that they had a strong
influence. I definitely think the soundtrack is a major star, is one of
the stars of the film. Out of all the names attached to the film, the
stars are on the soundtrack. I don’t think that the soundtrack had that
much influence on the film, because the film was completed when the
soundtrack was done. I would say that the film had an influence on the
soundtrack, about what type of songs that we laid down there, whether
they where slow songs, or fast songs, or upbeat songs. The film
influenced what direction the soundtrack would go.

As far as Miramax being involved, that ending was always something that
I wanted to write and put on there. I just didn’t do it during my
original shoot, because as an independent, unconnected filmmaker, I
really didn’t have the connections to the high-powered cameos that I
thought I needed. When they came to me suggesting an ending, I’m sure
they were thinking about something else. But this is what I had had
and this what I had come up with and I had presented it to them and
they were very excited about it. So we went for it. I think it’s half
and half. What kind of influence did they have on the film? Well, I
would have been content leaving the film the way it was. They wanted
an ending, so I gave them another version of it. I was willing to go
along with changing the ending, as long as I was able to change it the
way I wanted to change it. So I think it was 50/50. I think “I” worked
with Miramax to make it work.

It’s one of the questions that I’m raising at the end of the film.
Which is although, I’m going for it, and although they seem to go for
it, is this and was this the right direction to go? Should the lead
character have put up more of a fight when they suggested to change the
ending? Should I have put up more of a fight when I was suggested to
change the ending? That’s one of the questions I’m asking and I’m
asking it not because I smugly no the answer and want to see what people
think, I genuinely don’t know. I don’t know concerning the integrity of
filmmaking, did I make the right choice? Did I make the right decision?

iW: Can you tell me a little bit about shooting that ending — the
Miramax-funded ending — verses shooting your own low-budget indie?

Cherot: It was a lot of fun for me. It was one of the reasons why I
didn’t mind doing it. I had come originally from a three week shoot
which was very hectic. We shot 3 weeks straight, 16 hour days, with
only Sundays off. No less than 16 days. Sometimes we were averaging a
20 hour day for our first week. It was rough and it was tight. We did
our preproduction, but it was strenuous shoot. We only had 9 crew
members for the bulk of the shoot. Our 4-5 p.a.’s substituted round the
clock as seconds for each departmental head on our crew. It was tough
for everybody.

So when I finally came around to shooting the Miramax-funded ending, I
had an extensive crew. I got to choose the cast I wanted for the
cameos. We had a surplus of crew members and everybody was eager to
work and knew where we were going with this film. And that’s not always
the case. There is always a high level of uncertainty and doubt on
independent film because no one knows what they’re working on. No one
knows what’s going to happen to the project that they’re working on.
The incentive was there on that second shoot, the morale was a lot
higher, the schedule was so much easier — maybe a 10 hour day and it
wasn’t even a fight to get the budget that I wanted. It was an
excellent prelude for me with working with Miramax. If this is what
it’s going to be like than I’m going to love it.

iW: How do you think this film is going to help your career?

Cherot: I think that “Hav Plenty” has done what it can do for my career,
which is open the door. Whether people like it or don’t like it, its
established me as a filmmaker. And will afford me an opportunity to
continue to function as filmmaker and make more films. I don’t really
see it as a career-maker, but I definitely don’t see it as a
career-breaker either. I think it’s a stepping stone towards higher and
better things. Given the resources that I had, I think I did the best
job I could do with “Hav Plenty.” However, I do not think it is the
best thing that I have inside of me.

iW: How did you come up with the title “Hav Plenty” and specifically,
how did that relate to the biblical quote in the beginning?

Cherot: I wanted to point to the suggestion of how these characters
should end up or will end up or what will happen to these characters
outside of the time line of this film. What will happen to them? I
think the title suggests this, not just because of what it means “Hav
Plenty”, but specifically this is someone’s name. This is what her name
would be if and/or when they get married. I wanted to point in that
direction, that this was meant to be, and supposed to happen, that
they’re relationship was supposed to happen. And the biblical quote. .
. I read every day and that quote was something that I came across one
day a long time ago and I feel that it embodies the essence of the film;
it’s a one line TV guide pitch of what the film is about. I think every
character in this film is dealing with heartache and pain to a certain
degree and they deal with it in certain ways and none of them are all
too sure on the correct way to deal with it.

iW: Let me ask about your acting in the film. I read that it wasn’t
your original plan to play the lead. Was there part of you that was
excited to jump into those shoes?

Cherot: I was never excited about it. To this day, I think, one of the
disadvantages, for me, is that I’ll never be able to watch this movie
and enjoy it the way I wanted to enjoy it because I’m in it. I wasn’t
my first choice. Basically, I don’t like watching myself up there. . .
I know I’m not actor. There are certain parts when I watch this movie,
I am reminded of the clumsiness that I felt while shooting it. Although
that clumsiness may not come across on screen, I am reminded of it. The
fact that most people seem to buy my acting is one of the most pleasant
of surprises.

iW: What’s another pleasant surprise?

Cherot: The editing. I didn’t think that I would enjoy the editing. I
had never edited anything before and watching this come together,
watching this piece together, was like watching a building being put
together. I was building something from scratch. It was one of the
most fulfilling sensations for me to know that I was building this with
my own hands.

iW: I heard you make a comment about going from a broke, unknown
filmmaker to a broke, known filmmaker. First off, why are you still

Cherot: The first time, independent low budget filmmaker who basically
makes a mark for himself by financing a film with his own money, really
doesn’t make much of a profit. He’ll make enough to break even, but
really the main point of the film is to establish himself as a filmmaker
and open that door for his career. That’s all you expect from it.
Cause really that’s all you expect from it. It’s rare that you’ll ever
see a million dollar return on a first film like this one. You don’t
see a true profit until you finish paying everybody back which is
usually, by your third film.

[Anaye Milligan is a screenwriter who works in Brooklyn and is one of
the producers of “Floating,” which screened at the Seattle International
Film Festival and L.A.’s Outfest.]

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