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Gregg Araki: “The worst reason to make a film is just to go out and make one”

Gregg Araki: "The worst reason to make a film is just to go out and make one"

Director Gregg Araki is an indie film stalwart, with films dating back into the ’80s with “The Long Weekend (O’Despair)” and into the ’90s with “The Living End,” “Totally F***ed Up,” “The Doom Generation,” “Nowhere” and more. This century, he recruited Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Mysterious Skin” and the likes of Anna Faris, John Krasinski and Adam Brody in “Smiley Face” and Juno Temple in last year’s “Kaboom.”

But it all started back in 1987 with “Three Bewildered People in the Night,” a film Araki recalls he “had to make,” financing the $5K budget himself. The film revolves around a trio of young lovers who sort through their angst and despair in a late-night coffee shop. The film is the subject of Outfest‘s U.S. premiere screening of a new high-definition transfer July 10 as part of its Legacy Project.

Gregg Araki will attend the Outfest screening of “Three Bewildered People in the Night” July 10 at the Directors Guild Theater in Los Angeles.

Below, Araki shares with iW his thoughts on first films generally, and what “should drive” would-be filmmakers to plunge into making movies, recalling why he took on “Bewildered People.” He also gives his take on the state of the indie biz in the past two decades and also gives a shout-out to indieWIRE on the occasion of its 15th anniversary this month…

This is my own personal philosophy about first films. I think first-time filmmakers should make a film when they’re ready to make a film and when they have a film that they’re dying to make. I think the worst reason to make a film is just to go out and make one — or because you want to go to Sundance, or you want to be like Quentin Tarantino. The reason to make a film is because you have a story you want to tell, you have something you really, really want to say.

And that to me is what was so striking about “Three Bewildered People in the Night,” that it came from a place of almost desperation. I was just so desperate to make this movie. This was way back in the old days of indie filmmaking. The whole movie cost like five grand. I kind of financed it out of my own pocket. It’s really a trip to watch it, like a time machine for me — going back to what my life was like when I made that movie. It takes me back to a much more naive and innocent time. The movie is really cool in that way.

I find people’s first films so fascinating. For instance, Gus Van Sant’s “Mala Noche” or Rick Linklater’s super-8 feature that he made before “Slacker” are really interesting to watch because there is so much in that first film, so much of the director’s passion and sheer will to get it made. And I think that that’s so important for a first-time filmmaker.

When I made “Three Bewildered People,” I was in my angst-ridden 20s. When I was in Toronto for a retrospective of my work, they had one Q&A night where they showed clips of all of my movies back-to-back and we talked about each one. It was amazing for me to look back at all the movies put together. As a person and a filmmaker, I’ve changed so much. And for me, particularly because my movies are all so personal, they really capture where my head is at, at the time I’m making them. So it was really a trip to see the progression and see all the different phases and mindsets, the things that were affecting me when I made the movie. To me, that is one of the coolest things about making films.

Independent film, particularly in the United States, goes through cycles of boom years and lean years. It’s just like the economy. We went through a very hard patch a few years ago when the economy crashed, all the money dried up and all the companies were going out of business. It seems like there’s been a little bit of a renaissance and things are coming back, which is always good news for filmmakers.

But my experience in making movies, is that it’s always been a struggle; it’s never been easy. I think that to be an independent filmmaker you have to have a certain amount of tenacity and stubbornness. And the passion to keep doing it in the face adversity, to overcome a lot of obstacles.

There’s so much excitement and so much interesting work being done. I think that’s really cool, and it’s great that indieWIRE has been around for 15 years to keep their finger on the pulse beat and keep everybody informed about everything that’s going on. It’s great that the indie film community is still thriving, still growing and still going strong.

[Below is the trailer for the TIFF Bell Lightbox series looking at Araki’s work in Toronto, which he refers to in this article.]

[Brian Brooks contributed to this article]

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