Everett Lewis, creator of "Skin and Bone," on How to
Hustle and Self-Distribute a Film
by Aaron Krach
If you’re going to film school in Southern California, you’ve probably
heard of Everett Lewis. He is currently teaching at three locations:
USC, Chapman College and “a little place in Hollywood.” Those out of
film school will be hearing a lot about him soon, as two of his films
are set to be released. “Skin & Bone” opened in New York at the Quad
Cinema on September 25th and a second film, “An Ambush of Ghosts” should
open sometime this winter. “An Ambush of Ghosts” won Director of
Photography Judy Irola the Sundance Film Festival cinematography award
“Skin & Bone” follows a motley band of male hustlers and their female
pimp through the treachery of hustling in Hollywood. Coming after films
like, “Hustler White” and “johns,” comparisons are inevitable, but
unnecessary. “Skin & Bone,” which was almost exclusively funded by Lewis
over several years, is a no-budget film with an edge. What starts out
caustic and humorous turns dark and sadistic. Call it “Dangerous
Liaisons,” Los Angeles style. It is obvious that Lewis had no higher
authority (Hollywood or Indiewood) to report to. “Skin & Bones” is very
much his own film.
Everett Lewis spoke with indieWIRE by phone from his office at Chapman
College. Too busy to travel, he is nonetheless distributing the film
himself with some help from Jour de Fete Films.
indieWIRE: Even though it’s a no-budget film, you have paid for most of
it yourself. How did you come up with the money?
Everett Lewis: For “Skin & Bone,” I was making money from scripts I had
written for minor studios. I don’t know what the deal was but I had some
money. It’s so bizarre, ’cause I don’t know quite where the money for
that came from. Oh yeah, I got some jobs by accident and some money
showed up. It’s seems whenever I need money, jobs show up. Last year I
had five jobs which paid for the sound and stuff. But now I need to find
another job to pay for negative cutting and a print.
iW: As your third feature, how did you end up distributing it yourself?
Lewis: I made “The Natural History of Parking Lots,” then this, then “An
Ambush of Ghosts,” which is supposedly going to come out this year.
Strand handles “Parking Lot.” They were going to handle “Skin & Bone,”
but somewhere along the line I just decided I was going to do it myself.
I’m doing it with Jour de Fete. I’m handling New York and L.A. and
they’re doing the rest of the country. Alliance, in Canada, helped me
finish it. They came in with a minor amount of money to finish it. We’ve
done some foreign sales. It’s been released in England and Germany.
iW: There is no writer credited — was the film improvised?
Lewis: A couple years ago, I started improvising this film. It was going
to be seventy, one-minute shots. It was quite different. I wanted Barry
Wyatt for the lead, but he couldn’t do it. So when Barry came in for a
part named Harry, he did such an interesting job as this Harry
character, that I sort of abandoned it. I shot some more, but realized I
was much more interested in Harry than what I had started. After a year
of improvising, we would shoot and look at it. So with all these
improvised scenes, I started writing some script scenarios. Then it
evolved into what it is now, which is pretty much scripted. It just took
a long time to get there.
I was very intrigued by the way Charlie Chaplin worked, which was very
different than the way people work now. He would shoot something, and
since he owned his studio, he would shoot it and look at it and shoot it
again. No one knew what the story was going to be except him, until it
was over. He would shoot a scene like 70 times, until he figured out
what the hell he was doing. The documentary about this, “Unknown
Chaplin” is really marvelous. They found all his out-takes in
Switzerland. So that was my model. Unfortunately it never got as good as
iW: How do you answer critics that inevitably compare “Skin & Bone” to
other L.A. hustler pics?
Lewis: This whole project has taken considerably longer than it should
have. When I started, there were no hustler movies and now there’s a
whole genre. One reason I started the film was because I had never seen
a movie about a male hustler. One of the things I want to do and
continue to do, is do things I haven’t seen.
iW: The visual style of the film is unique; extremely quick
cross-cutting, black and white, monochromatic footage and full color,
even the sound. How much of that was planned and what came through
Lewis: It’s funny, cause “Skin & Bone” is very transitional for me. I’ve
been doing this stuff and nothing has come out. If you watch “Parking
Lots,” it’s very Bressonian on purpose; long takes, simple shots,
minimal coverage. This film came in between that and another style which
is more fussy or evolved, using more elements of cinema, more movement.
“Ambush” is an opera, with music. I got “In the Nursery” to do the score
which may be too much, but it’s in almost every scene. It’s very big
The theory originally was that the fantasies are in black and white, the
reality is in color and then I could blur that. That did have to be
scripted, although originally that came from the improvised stuff being
shot in black and white for cost reasons. By the end it’s very confused.
iW: There is a recurring comparison between the hustlers and actors in
Hollywood. How personal was that element for you?
Lewis: I did have a bad experience. But really it’s a metaphor of
getting killed. Obviously it’s a melodramatic take, but I felt very
abused. There were two goals for this film and in a way, I succeeded all
too well. If the whole film was like the first half it would have a
bigger chance for financial success. But then at the same time I was
really into Feminist film theory, based on the apparatus of cinema,
which is how people look at it. There is a triangular relationship
between the audience, the person in the film and the person making the
film. To me, “Skin & Bone” is an extreme exploration of that. For me,
I’ve been collecting Bruce of L.A. photos and such a part of gay
experience is about looking. The movies that seem to do well have
something to look at. I was sort of trying to examine that.
iW: The film is divided into two halves; the funny, sexy part and then
everything gets darker and starts spinning out of control.
Lewis: I wanted to get the viewer shocked and interested. I wanted them
to like the characters and then I wanted them to deal with the
implications of what their doing in cinematic turns. Which is to say if
you’re watching this person, you’re a voyeur and engaging in voyeuristic
activity; which may or may not be healthy, but certainly has
consequences. Which in this case are terminal, but not really cause I’m
pointing out all the time that it’s just a movie. I always think it’s
funny, but maybe I’m just sick.