Max Makowski's "The Pigeon Egg Strategy": Serendipity and
by A. G. Basoli
There was a low persistent buzz on Max Makowski’s black and white,
micro-budget “The Pigeon Egg Strategy” at Sundance earlier this year.
After some traveling on the festival circuit, from SXSW to most recently
the Hamptons, this unique and original film, found its pathway to
theatrical release with Cinematheque — an independently operated chain
of theaters throughout the United States. Self-distribution is the name
of the game and Max Makowski, director and writer, of this
absurdist-comedy recounts here the ins and outs of the process, as well
as shooting in Hong Kong with a crew of pornographers, an international
cast and the priceless assistance of some serious serendipity.
“The Pigeon Egg Strategy” will have its theatrical debut on October 29th
in Cleveland and will screen later in New York.
indieWIRE: One of the striking aspects of your film is that there was a
really international feel to it. And no matter where they were from, all
the characters converged at a certain point, and they all had something
Max Makowski: It’s serendipity. Life is based more on that than
iW: How close is that to your experience?
Makowski: I don’t know how many times it happened to me that I called
someone and they were on the phone with somebody I went to school with
or who used to be my friend or someone I have known. The connections
happen especially internationally. . . I am Brazilian with an American
accent, but Spanish was more my primary language than English, and I was
living in Hong Kong. The more international you go, the more you find
yourself explaining. . .
iW: That there are no boundaries per se.
Makowski: And the same socially, a waiter is never only a waiter. He
may have a connection with someone entirely different than himself. You
can’t pigeon-hole people.
iW: Which explain the title “The Pigeon Egg Strategy.”
Makowski: It’s an extensive title.
iW: So you’re saying that there are no boundaries, but there are ties
that connect people directly?
Makowski: Yeah, let’s say for the sake of argument — if there is a
fourth dimension in the sense of time being the 4th dimension where
temporality, the past doesn’t even exist: it’s totally banal. If I were
to walk in and out of this room and sit down here and then leave and
then somebody else did the same, in the fourth dimension we’d be in the
same place at the same time. In the 4th dimension we’d both be
occupying the same space, now if we could comprehend the idea of an
eternal now, we’d see that in a weird way we are all connected, even to,
for example, wherever our ancestors were 4000 years ago. That’s one way
of explain things the other way is the idea of coincidence. Coincidence
is a word we have created to explain one thing that makes things happen
for reasons we don’t know. The unexplained events that are apropos we
call coincidence. There’s an Arab saying: I trust in Allah but I still
tie my camel. In other words I trust in fate, in the will of god, but
I make sure that I take care of my side of things.
iW: Where have you lived, what other countries?
Makowski: I was born in Brazil, then England, then Philippines, then
Peru, then Bahrain, then America in Massachusetts, then Germany, and
iW: How many languages do you speak?
iW: That’s it?
Makowski: I can manage some basic German, and very very basic
Chinese…if you sit down with me for two hours I’ll manage to say I
like theater. . .
iW: How did you end up shooting in Hong Kong?
Makowski: I lived overseas my whole life. My parents had been living
there so I knew Hong Kong. When I was deciding to do film as a career I
had a list of priorities work wise and when I wrote the script a list of
priorities aesthetic wise. The list of priorities work-wise was that I
wanted to work in a country that had a high learning curve in film,
where they knew film. Tasmania, for example, would have been a good
place to shoot but they import everybody. Hong Kong, India, Europe and
the USA and Canada and Japan are probably the top six places where films
are made on a mass level – major major level. So that was one priority.
That was the first priority, the second priority was I wanted a place
where I could hire people for cheap. The film industry to me at this
point is rather awkward, I didn’t know anybody here, I couldn’t have
gotten my friends to help, with the money that I raised I could only
shoot in Honk Kong or India, and I also didn’t want a place where film
is glamorous. There filmmaking is on the same level as prostitution. My
friends who are filmmakers in Honk Kong get real estate licenses so when
they go to dinner and they present a business card that says they’re in
real estate. In Hong Kong, if you say you’re in film you’re regarded on
the same level as a prostitute and you literally are, because it’s the
most horrible dirty industry there.
iW: Most pornographic films get done there.
Makowski: Yeah. My whole crew was from pornography.
iW: That’s funny, because there’s no kissing, no nudity, and no
gratuitous violence in your film.
Makowski: Yeah, nobody in my crew read the script except for the
assistant director, so the crew was walking around on set wondering ‘so
when are the sex scenes?’.
iW: They must have been totally intrigued by this novelty. ‘Oh my god,
everybody is dressed, no women.’
Makowski: Right, there’s only one woman in the film and then she
leaves. They were like “That’s it???!”
iW: Where did you do the casting?
Makowski: I tried in Hong Kong originally, but then I switched
everything in New York. Out of about 400 applications I auditioned,
about 225 people of which I would say 200 were amazing actors, but of
which only five fit the role or actually they brought something to the
role. I rewrote some of the characters like Other -the silly brother –
and Rutledge, the killer. They were intended for actors who looked
different, but they gave such a good audition that I decided to keep
them and change the script.
iW: So you flew them out to Hong Kong.
Makowski: Yeah, it was in my budget. And Rachel, the writer.
iW: How did you meet her?
Makowski: That was serendipity too, I happened to walk out of the
audition studio right when she walked in, but she had come in for
another film audition that was going on in the other studio…she told
me later she was on the bus going home and saw the audition in Backstage
and didn’t feel like going, but when she looked up she saw she was right
on the block where the audition was at, so she said “all right,” but
when she got in they had already left, so she read for me, and I hired
iW: It makes perfect sense, you went out to meet her. And how did you
finance the film?
Makowski: Serendipity again. I was working at NBC, CNBC and one day I
had this vision: you’re never going to be smart enough, experienced
enough, rich enough or secure enough. You’re only going to be able to
do the film when you do it. Very simple. And only when you take that
step into the uncomfortable.
I realized I was complaining about my job. I had chosen to be this, a
promo producer at NBC. I did it, that was it. So I said that’s it, I
quit. I’m going to quit NBC and make my film. So I quit NBC and I went
to Germany and my father set up a meeting with people in finances,
banking. He’d heard of film financing. I went five years ago and
talked and I was just doing it for my Dad. They wanted, initially,
these German Investment Bankers, wanted to fund a film for like 11-12
million dollars and I said instead of making one movie at 11 mil why
don’t you make one at eleven million and one at 100K or quarter mil,
this way you’re going to have two films and if the low budget one makes
money , you make money or if it is accepted you get a good will for your
company. And they said to me ‘you can’t make a film for less than a
million dollars’ and I said purely for the sake of argument: ‘no you CAN
make a movie for less than a million and I can prove it purely as an
exercise and I broke down my script and they said OKAY here’s the
money. I wasn’t even pitching the idea. If I hadn’t been so
belligerent trying to make my point it probably wouldn’t have happened.
If I hadn’t had the “I’ll show you” attitude.
iW: How long did it take you to complete the film from the time you
wrote the script to principal photography and to when you finished
Makowski: Three years. The writing was in 1994. I filmed in ‘96 and
final sound was December 17, 1997.
iW: Right on time for Sundance.
Makowski: Yeah, actually Sundance got a rough cut. It was weird
it was less than a year ago that I got in. It was actually – my first
filming day was November, 24 1996 and I got the call from Sundance on
November, 24 1997. To the day of my first camera shot.
iW: So what happened after Sundance?
Makowski: Actually the film had already been rejected by eight
festivals, so I had no expectations to be accepted at Sundance. They
put me in the Frontiers section which according to them is the most
prestigious at Sundance. When I got there I was like wow, Sundance:
tickets were sold out, like for most films but then they gave me an
extra screening because people were asking and not only that, if I wore
my cap people recognized me in the street. So I was like this is
great. Everybody one inch away from the festival had no idea about my
film when I left the festival it was like I was never there. I just
learned that there is an actual work element in festivals, just because
people liked the film it doesn’t mean you have created a reality, it
means that you had a buzz in the festival. Stop. You can’t extrapolate
that. I went to South By Southwest after that, then Cleveland than
Philadelphia and this weekend is in Kudzu, near Athens Georgia, used to
be called the Athens film festival. There used to be three Athens film
festivals, one in Ohio and one in Greece, so they changed it two years
ago. Kudzu is a moss… So now I’m doing my own distribution.
iW: Tell me about it.
Makowski: Yeah I’m working with these people Cinematheque, they’re like
a boutique operation. The difference between them and the, you know,
like the Nickelodeon is that the Nickelodeon people, they don’t
advertise: they do nothing. It’s the production that advertises. At
Cinematheque, they do their own advertising and I found out I am getting
a better deal than a friend whose film was picked up by a distribution
company. I am making more money than he
was because the distribution company had to cover press and advertising,
so he’d only start seeing money when they were making a profit. What I
make with Cinematheques is 50 and 35% of the receipts at the door. They
pay for shipping and they do the P&A so my cost is zero.
iW: Your cost is zero and you get money from the door?
Makowski: I’ve made two percent of my budget back so far and it’s only
played in three houses.
iW: So you’re starting to pay the investors back?
Makowski: The way it works with them is that they own me, not my film.
So even these Nike commercials I did, they get the money back.
Basically with them it was put your money where the mouth is, if you had
175 thousand dollars, actually 150 thousand. . .
iW: That was the budget of the film?
Makowski: Yeah, the entire budget, not just in the can but including my
flight to Sundance and back. But the deal was if you had the money,
would you finance it yourself? And my answer was yes I would. So the
deal was whatever money I make directly from my work in film television
and media goes to them until the film is paid back.
iW: Who inspired you to make movies?
Makowski: I’m glad you asked that. Because probably more than any one
else who has inspired me and the one person I never credited for it, is
Plato. Plato’s “Republic.”
iW: That’s a little dated, don’t you think?
Makowski: The best things in life are. In school I actually wrote a
paper about it that instead of being the dissertation was in the form of
the next chapter of Plato’s “Republic” so that was one thing I really
connected to. The other thing is “Waiting for Godot”. . . I tend to be
very linear. When I read waiting for Godot I totally understood it, and
I was ‘oh my god there is this absurd world you can create out there and
there are no rules!’ I can’t say the same thing about Brecht. I was
never really into film, there are movies I like but never any filmmaker
or screenwriter that influenced me. I’ve never seen that many films. I
was into theater.
iW: What’s next?
Makowski: I’ve just signed a deal with a company Media Financial Boston
to make a 2 to 7 million feature, minimum two. I have artistic
freedom, I have to write the script still and I have a few ideas, again
I would like, not to be a moralist, but I would like to leave out all
profanity, gratuitous sex, violence and rude words. I would like to do a
mainstream movie for adults. And again it’s not because of moral issues,
it’s just that I think it’s nice when you’re watching a film and you
realize that you’re not missing anything just because you don’t have
those things. It’s like being a comedian — it’s very hard to be funny
without using foul language and the whole thing.