On a cold winter day in New York City in early December 2010 I strapped my Canon 5D Mark II and a sound recorder around my shoulder, grabbed my tripod and a backpack and set out to shoot my first documentary film. I had some ideas but no real script at first, just my intuition, enthusiasm and a big junk of curiosity to find out more about the unbelievable story, Mark, the subject of the film, told me only one week earlier. He was waiting for me at a coffee shop in the East Village, not far from the place where he spent the nights under most unusual circumstances.
One of the first things he said was an amended quote by Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss but be prepared to live your nightmare!”
Mark and I go back a long way. We met in the late ’80s when we both were modeling for the same agency in Vienna. When we saw each other again in New York many years later he was still a handsome man in his early fifties, well dressed, eloquent and with no sign of decay. In fact, he looked like a millionaire living it up in this town. So it was shocking when he revealed to me that for the last three years he had been sleeping outside on a roof deck underneath a tarp in a sleeping bag. I starred at him slack-jawed and then something clicked and I knew that I wanted to make a film about his life and New York City.
On one of the first days of filming we took the risk to go the roof in bright daylight. Usually Mark would only sneak up there late at night to avoid being seen. We were both very nervous. In the hallway of the building he heard a door opening upstairs, quietly said, “Im gonna leave” and ran towards the exit, with me following right behind him. On our second attempt he opened the door to the roof on the sixth floor and said with an ironic tone in his voice: “This is the view from my living room.” I stepped outside and saw the beautiful skyline of midtown Manhattan. He locked the door behind us and walked to the edge of the building and there it was, seeing it for the first time through the lens of my camera, his secret hideaway.
It was on the other side of an iron fence that cut the roof in half and separated two attached buildings. A small triangular corner, a perfectly protected niche to hide in and stretch out. While I was still in awe he grabbed the edge of the fence, stepped on the ledge of the building and swung himself around to the other side. Then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, he said, “Why don’t you come over so we can get out of here?” So here I am, standing with a bunch of equipment on a roof in the East Village facing a fatal drop down from the sixth floor. I had no choice. I took my stuff and my courage, held on to the fence, closed my eyes for a second and made the move.
“I had many adventures in life but only a few achievements.” Over the course of the next two and a half years I followed Mark around through the city on his daily routine. We went to art openings, fashion shows, fancy restaurants, Halloween parties, the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, a shelter for homeless women where he volunteered to be Santa for their kids, public bathrooms, the gym, his mom’s place in New Jersey and a PS1 event where he suddenly took off all his clothes in front of the museum, maybe to literally show how exposed he really would be when the film came out.
Our journey brought us to the great sights that make New York City such an amazing place, but it also showed me its hidden backyard that is far less glamorous. From my point of view, “HOMME LESS” tells Mark’ incredible story but importantly is also about the underbelly of the American Dream and the hard decisions many people have to make when following their passion today. Mark holds on to his dream with the same tenacity that he grips the iron fence on the roof in front of a fading skyline that for so many has been a symbol for opportunity and success and now vanishes into a great idea of the past.
I shot over 300 hours of footage. It was a very privileged experience and I can’t thank Mark enough for trusting me with his story. It took four years to complete the film with the help of my producers Wolfgang Ramml from Filmhaus Vienna and Karol Martesko-Fenster from Thought Engine in NYC. I’m also very pleased that House of Trims Josh Cramer provided some key insights during the edit and thrilled that Kyle Eastwood and Matt McGuire composed and performed an exceptionally beautiful original jazz score for the film.
So, despite the hard work, the countless hours and the financial difficulties we faced to complete this documentary, I made the right decision when on that cold December day in 2010 I followed my bliss to create “HOMME LESS.”
“HOMME LESS” opens Friday, August 7th at the IFC Center in New York, followed by a national release throughout August, as well as a VOD release timed to the start of New York Fashion Week in mid September. Find out more here.
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