Interview with author Bret Easton Ellis and producer Braxton Pope (VICE. Feb. 2013).


 To read the actual professional published interview at VICE Magazine, CLICK HERE. Below I have pasted the tons of interesting leftover material from that interview, wherein  Bret Easton Ellis and Braxton Pope discuss their new movie The Canyons, plus Bret’s reputation, Lindsay Lohan, paprazzi, Lindsay Lohan, porn star James Deen, Lindsay Lohan, modern novelists, and Lindsay Lohan. Interview after this clip from the Braxton Pope produced Kevin Spacey film, Shrink:

ON WHETHER OR NOT BRET EASTON ELLIS IS “NICE”

Bret’s persona doesn’t make him seem easy to befriend. How did you two fellows meet, Braxton?

Braxton Pope: I had produced a Showtime pilot with author Jonathan Ames (“Bored to Death”) in New York and have always been interested in contemporary fiction as source material for movies, so when Ames told me he was friends with Bret, I had him arrange a meeting. Bret was someone I instantly liked, and was surprised because he’s a very empathic person, he listens carefully and he doesn’t have the level of solipsism and narcissism socially that so many artists have. He’s actually a really good friend to me. And he’s such an interesting thinker about culture, as a creator and a consumer, we just started talking every day about movies and books and music and found it very easy to collaborate with one another. We now have this production company together, Sodium Fox. He is very, very nice. I give him shit about it all the time because you have this image of him as this provocateur and dark soul in his writing, then when you meet him he’s very magnanimous and kind. There’s a huge disjunction between Bret the authorial persona and the human.

Bret, it sounds like Braxton is saying you are “nice.”

Bret Easton Ellis: Yes. I am a very nice guy. Might not come off that way in the Twitterverse, or because of my work’s subject matters and the narrators I am drawn to. We also have a very surface-oriented culture that is incredibly sincere and very self-pitying and – increasingly I find – people can’t make those leaps between between what an author writes and his own persona. I’ve gotten in trouble I guess – I don’t know if I consider it trouble or not but – they have this idea about me as a bad boy and a provocateur in social media or novels. For example The Canyons, a lot of people have already painted with the Bret Easton Ellis brand: seedy, violent, sexual, nasty cold people doing nasty cold things to each other. All of which is true but I am not drawn to those people in real life.

Is Ellis just one of those people who gets on the keyboard or twitter and gets…mean. Does he just drink a lot or?

Pope: He does drink, no question [laughs]. I think there are times when his melancholy plus alcohol probably brings out a certain candor that rankles people. But his honesty also makes his Twitter very interesting and creates a big following. It’s more interesting to hear what he really thinks about XYZ movie than to read other people who – because Hollywood is such a small community – are simply going to prop up whatever has come out.

People aren’t super honest on social media partly because they’re afraid of doors shutting in their face. Has his “meanness” limited him in any way, you think?

Pope: Only in the past few years has he switches focus to screenplays. But he gets a lot of deals. He’s a successful, well-compensated screenwriter, and sought after. That was one issue I had with the NYTimes magazine: [in the cutline beneath the photo] they made it seem like Schrader was over the hill and having a hard time finding financing. It denoted this desperation.

Bret, have you gotten the impression that doors shut in your face because people don’t want to involved with a mean person?

Ellis: I would assume I have, but I can’t offer you any concrete evidence because no one is going to say that. But those doors…the way Braxton and I are now making movies, I don’t think it’s so dependent on those doors anymore. There’s nothing I can do to not be authentic in a very transparent world. It’s interesting to see how Hollywood deals with this transparency that is slowly edging out everything. I don’t think I know anyone in their mid 20s who has any kind of issue of problems with social media and how you express yourself on it; I am living with someone who is muhc younger than me and I see how all of his friends react and express themselves and what they post. Then I see my friends who are in their 40s and it’s a very different situation, this notion of holding onto a kind of privacy that isn’t going to exist much longer.

ON WHAT ‘THE CANYONS’ ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE

Since no one has seen The Canyons, describe your favorite part of the flick?

Pope: Paul Schrader has sort of a meditative pacing and quality. He has a discerning eye and visual sensibility — I like that. James Deen and Lindsay Lohan give very compelling performances. The opportunity to see them play off one another is intrinsically interesting.

Ellis: Visually, the most successful scene is the one between James Deen and Lindsay Lohan that takes place by the pool of his Malibu mansion. As written, it was pretty simple: he knows she’s lying to him because he’s had her followed, and she’s beginning to understand this. So it’s two characters, a couple, who know what the truth is and are talking around it. The stage directions were very simple: Christian (James Deen) walks down to the pool and talks to Tara (Lohan), and Paul Schrader shoots it in a way that makes it much more visual, beautiful, epic in a way: the camera follows James’ car into the carport, tracks James through the house to the porch which looks over the Pacific, then it follows him down a massive staircase to the pool where Lindsay is laying. That ended up being my favorite scene, visually. I also really like the opening scene that is very troubled because it has lots of exposition — the main four characters are being introduced — and it was shot in a way that makes it seem slower than it plays on paper.

ON RESPONSES TO ‘THE CANYONS’

When South-By-Southwest gave that quote about its “ugliness and deadness,” I just figured that meant you two must have nailed Bret’s writing. The ugliness and deadness of Bret’s characters is sort of what his fans are drawn to, no?

Pope: Bret writes a specific type of character, so the quote “ugliness and deadness” yeah, I have no issue with that, because it’s translating some of the soul and artistic DNA of Bret onto the screen. Some of the other SXSW quotes were offensive and the fact that they broke festival protocol to comment on it was ridiculous. They could have legitimately just not liked the movie, but there are press and certain film circles who for whatever reason have a view of Lindsay that makes them almost want to punish her. Our movie is very much wrapped up in who she is and her performance; they’re inextricably linked and that influences certain people.

Was that unprecedented that SXSW spoke about the movie like that instead of just giving it a yes or no vote?

Pope: I did talk to our production attorneys about the situation, and as far as I know it was unprecedented. It was extraordinarily lame and inexcusable. Especially since I had a documentary in competition at SXSW, I had a feature film a few years ago that premiered at SXSW, so as an alum it felt like such disrespect and such poor form. Such a breach of protocol.

So was it then challenging to find a distributor after the SXSW debacle?

Pope: It certain didn’t help. But we had William Morris Endeavor sell the movie, and a number of distributors made offers, so it all worked out. We’re extremely happy with Independent Film Channel. I can tell you I was driving to the set of my recent Passion Pit music video, and I was listening to KROQ’s Kevin and Bean Morning Show and they were talking about The Canyons and spending a lot of time discussing the SXSW comment. This very popular radio show is talking about this little indy movie that hasn’t been released; it just isn’t the type of thing that should be on their radar, really. They might talk about a little indy movie once it’s released and done really well, but the fact that I had to spend 20 minutes listening to them recite this criticism from SXSW… It circulated so widely that it did make us concerned for the impact of this rogue comment.

You are now working with French filmmaker Gaspar Noe. What did he think of ‘The Canyons’?

Pope: He thought James Deen was quite good, he thought Lindsay…gave a very strong performance. He thought the title sequence – a panoramic montage of decaying theaters, was really haunting and captivating.  He had other observations, but he liked the film.

ON LINDSAY LOHAN 

But what movie prior to this made you think she was great?

Pope: Well, I have seen a lot of her films and I rewatched Mean Girls right before The Canyons.

Right, but aside from Mean Girls, what other movies has she even done?

Pope: She worked with Robert Altman in Prairie Home Companion. But you’re right, obviously the media fascination exceeds her body of work. Her work has been almost exclusively mainstream studio teen movies. But there is a reason why she was connecting with people and became hugely popular. She is ready to assume the more mature roles with interesting filmmakers. There are just a lot of issues that complicate that process.

The New York Times article says Bret was initially anti-Lohan.

Ellis: I thought she carried too much baggage and that this would become the Lindsay Lohan show, and I didn’t know where that was going to get us. I didn’t know what was positive about any of this. But in the audition she was better than my first choice which was Leslie Coutterand, this unknown French actress who was great in the audition, though she did have the handicap of a heavy French accent, which I thought would maybe mess up the film, but I thought we could work with it. Lindsay though, kind of blew it out of the water. And Braxton as a producer believed she’d bring in another audience for this movie. There’s a chance she’ll take it past a New York, L.A. crowd, since the curiosity factor is a lot bigger. Truth be told, that is what’s happened: Lindsay Lohan has put the movie on the map in a way it wouldn’t have been otherwise, whether that’s good or bad. Yeah, she has a lot of personal baggage, but she is a very good actress who delivers. So I was wrong!

At some point in the beginning she didn’t show up when promised and Schrader fired her. But you, Braxton, were the person who made that phonecall. The NYT piece makes it seem like y’all were just scaring her straight though, before giving her another chance. Was firing her just a tactic?

Pope: From my perspective I wasn’t ever trying to manipulate her or the situation, or coming from any place that wasn’t forthright and transparent – that was a huge part of our mission statement with this move. So much of Hollywood is critical and treacherous – I don’t even wanna get into the insanity of how people deal with you and the things you have to go through, which just makes things inordinately arduous. But because we were controlling this movie, I just wanted to be transparent and straight forward. I understood Schrader’s perspective. Paul’s strict Calvinist upbringing and his approach means he’s a very serious guy.

The NYTimes article made it seem like she was doing this small movie because no other movie would insure her.

Pope: It can be a little difficult to get smaller films bonded. I don’t know in truth the status of her bondability, her insurability, but we didn’t have a bond on this movie. If one of our lead actors filmed half the movie then something happened, there was no insurance policy that would give us money to recast and reshoot. We woulda just been out. In our case if some disaster would have befallen us, that would have been it.

In Lindsay’s heyday, I was an extra on her movie “Just My Luck” and she wouldn’t practice her lines with the cast, she had a stand-in do all her blocking. So it was interesting to read that she did a screen test for you and everything. 

Pope: Normally, with someone at her level, you just have to make an offer and they won’t do any tests. Either you want them or you don’t. But when we met with her she had a script with a lot of handwritten notes and it was clearly a character that resonated with her. We offered her a smaller role and she said she wanted to play the lead.

How much of the money you raised went to pay for Lindsay Lohan’s reported $46,000 hotel bill and $600 sushi lunch?

Pope: We didn’t cover any of her hotel bills. Those are charges she incurred. The sushi, production got stuck with the tab. Although I will say that Lindsay, when we were in Malibu, we went to Nobu and she bought sushi for everybody. So perhaps the karmic scales were balanced. But she has been one of the reasons why there has been a tremendous amount of interest in the movie and when you’re doing something DIY that’s so modestly budgeted you’re looking for ways to be heard above the chatter. But it was not a decision about ‘Oh, Lindsay’s gonna bring us all this publicity.’

But aren’t you at least worried people will walk out of the movie not even remembering what her character’s name was? At this point it’s almost like having Hulk Hogan in your movie…

Ellis: That’s how I watch movies anyway. I haven’t watched movies for so long, having been involved in the business since I was a kid. Like I watched Silver Linings Playbook  and think “Jennifer Lawrence is great.” Or “Bradley Cooper is great.” And when I talk about the film I am talking about them. It’s the language of movies now; I am rarely talking about characters; I’m usually talking about the actor or the actress. If people don’t disappear into the film because it’s Lindsay instead of an unknown…meh. It’s apples and oranges. Maybe it’s a problem. It’s not something that troubles me.

ON PAPRAZZI

With no money in the budget for trailers even, it seems you’d have a hard time keeping away the paparazzi, no?

Pope: That was a legit concern. But a lot of our locations were interior. And we were moving locations quite a bit so they had a hard time homing in on us. They did figure out when we were shooting at Café Med on Sunset Blvd. — we were kind of out in the open, and they did find us quite quickly there. They were disruptive during one outdoor mall sequence but we knew that guerrilla filmmaking in a public place with someone as big as Lindsay would be a roll of the dice. But even when we filmed at my house, we had paparazzi jumping up the high cinderblock wall in my yard; you would just see their heads pop up. And when Lindsay left in her Porsche after she wrapped for the day, they were literally making these wild U-turns on a busy street and forcing cars to slam on their brakes or careen off into driveways. Right in front of my house there were almost three different accidents because they just have no regard.

That’s what I meant about firing her: if she wears the wrong shoes, people write about it. So god forbid she gets fired from a movie.

Pope: At one point while shooting she went outside in jean shorts and suddenly it was all over the world, people critiquing her. Just so bizarre. Anything having to do with Lindsay is so touchy. It just blows up across the blogosphere. So in talking about her I try to be very careful because I don’t want it to be misconstrued. I wanted this movie to be, for her, a sort of reintroduction in an adult role. I wanted this to be a boost to her career, not a black eye.

ON ‘THE CANYONS’ FUNDING ETC.

Utilizing Kickstarter for a film with huge stars is sort of a first. What Hollywood “firsts” has The Canyons accomplished?

Pope: I don’t think it’s any single component; it’s the confluence of a bunch of new media devices and methods: crowd-funding, and using Facebook and Twitter, and an online casting service called “Let It Cast” while also featuring two artists the profile of Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader.

Ellis: The social media aspect is the publicity, that is where your advertising dollars go. You don’t need advertising dollars anymore; you just make people aware of the movie via social media. It’s increasingly a no-brainer. I can’t imagine I would ever go into a major studio project again. I have flirted with it. But life is too short.

One of the Kickstarter rewards was, for $3,000 someone gets to go work out with you and your trainer in the gym, Bret. That seems kind of odd.

Ellis: It does. It’s gonna be a really easy workout [laughs]. It’s really not strenuous at all. We’ll see how that goes. I think we sold two or three of those.

So you work out, and I heard you’ve become an early riser.

Ellis: I’ve been changing my routine lately. I’m kind of on the same schedule as most people now. My boyfriend started getting up early. He recently got off drugs last fall, pills, and decided to become a health nut. So he was getting up really early and doing yoga and working on his blogs and stuff. His lifestyle permeated mine and became symbiotic in a way and I found myself going to sleep early and getting up early and just being more healthy than I used to be.

Have you all started acting out the Kickstarter pledges yet?

Pope: Well not really, a lot of the packages include signed artwork, which we wouldn’t have until we found a distributor to generate those marketing materials. Later this Spring and into early summer we’ll start, in a couple months. We have been required to watch some movies and then tweet reactions because the donors wanted to time them with the movies’ release. Bret and I have seen some independent films and have tweeted about them.

The fact that people who have an extra five grand to donate to your Kickstarter sitting around writing novels…I don’t know why that seems strange to me. Rich people write novels?

Ellis: I have to say that I think I met a couple of the people who did that donation – they were invited to the wrap party last summer – and my feeling from them was that they really didn’t have a lot of money, because of what their jobs were, my sense was that this was kind of a sacrifice for them, but something that was kind of exciting, so they got the money together. Even though the lagtime between the donation and the time I read them is about a year-and-a-half, which was explained in the Kickstarter. I could have read them really wrong but… With the workout donation, I did have the feeling that those kids had money.

Once Braxton cast Lindsay Lohan, didn’t you just think, “Well fuck Kickstarter, let’s do it big then”?

Ellis: No, never. We were always going to make it with Kickstarter money, and our own money. We always wanted to shoot it for $150K and then do post for $90k, and we were not going to invite anyone else. It was never going to be a Lindsay Lohan movie and she came in way into the casting process. We thought we were going to cast it off the internet; people uploading auditionsWe had no money and needed people who wanted to be part of it; they had to want to, and they had to accept $100-a-day. Lindsay got the part based on being the best actress we saw. She kind of blew it away and was so committed to it.

Pope: With this package, perhaps we could have just gotten traditional financing. Of course Lindsay complicates that because bond issues and insurance issues. But ultimately we wanted to tell the story with our sensibilities and didn’t want to jump through any casting hoops or ask a studio’s permission, or get approvals from anyone. We just wanted whoever we thought was best for any individual role. That’s what happened with James Deen and Lindsay.

ON SELF-FUNDING, KICKSTARTER, AND SELF-PUBLISHING

In the publishing world, self-funding is stigmatized as an admission of failure. Has that changed at all?

Ellis: I always believed that and to an extent still do, that great books don’t go unpublished. After being in publishing for 30 years, having friends who couldn’t get published and seeing how the business works and knowing a lot of editors. I don’t know what it’s like now. Maybe it’s different in the last ten years. But it wasn’t like Hollywood where there were great scripts that won’t get made. But I never saw that in publishing. But who is writing novels anymore? If you had this disposable free time to sit down and write a novel, you probably had money. It was probably a white mostly middle-class endeavor. But I am kind of out of the game as far as what’s going with what writers are doing. I certainly know a lot of broke writers who are working on novels…

ON PORN STAR JAMES DEEN

How did you come upon porn star James Deen?

Ellis: Braxton and I share with each other a lot of writers and bands, and we talk about whatever is going on in the culture, so one day he sent me a link some article called “The Porn Star Next Door” about James Deen, who I’d never heard of. We were just starting to make this microbudget movie, and I started to think of ideas and what I wanted to write about at that moment — what were my obsessions in that time and what was I going to be able to get excited enough about to write a script in five or six weeks and have it go straight into production? So I looked at some of James Deen’s work: first the porn scenes, then the non-porn scenes where he had to act. And I noticed there was something very genuine about his work, a sincerity but also a theatricality that really sells his work. It’s there in a way that isn’t for other male porn performers. I thought he was electrifying, and I thought he would be great for the movie that was slowly taking shape in my mind. Because of James I was able to create this role of Christian. I wrote a very detailed outline and on a whim I Tweeted at James – we’d never met – and I said, “Hey you wanna star in a movie I am writing?” And he got back to me and said he’d love to. When I then explained to Braxton and Paul that I wrote the role of Christian for James Deen there was some…some sighing. Some heavy, deep, sighing. And some “That’s really not going to happen.” By then I’d met James and I was even more convinced he could do it. Everyone else who wanted to play Christian was playing it just a little too campy. No one was playing it plainly without actorly flourishes, which is how the role was written. Christian is a blank, and he’s psycho, but everyone else foreshadowed the psycho part of this character too early, and were far too menacing. It needed that boy next door quality with just a hint of the devilish side, which is what I think James had. When James screen tested, even Schrader was surprised.

Does he have what it takes to be a movie star?

Pope: I think there’s no question that if he wanted to pursue mainstream opportunities he would be able to do so. He has an easy charisma and believability, a certain presence on screen. We’ve discussed some other film opportunities in the mainstream arena. There are some people I am introducing him to on the representation side…

How do you think the porn helped him?

Pope: Probably in the same way that some musicians can make the transition and act, doing that amount of adult films makes you less self-conscious and comfortable in front of a crew and cameras. That’s a huge part of being able to act for us, whatever the emotional component is, you have to be able to focus to be able to do that, and if you are self-conscious and worried about all the mechanics of film-making it doesn’t work.

Have you seen his porn work?

Pope: [Laughs, stalls] Well [Laughs again] I’ve seen snippets.

Must be weird to know someone and then see them in a porn.

Pope: I think so much of my Hollywood existence is odd and surreal, like having dinner with Nic Cage in Las Vegas last week, was slightly surreal.

ON TURNING GREAT WRITING INTO MOVIES

Bret, did you move to L.A. to write scripts and make movies?

Ellis: No. I’d always been interested in writing scripts but I never planned to give up writing books and become a screenwriter for hire. The purpose of moving was always to write scripts and produce the ones I wanted to make myself, and those were always small scale independent movies, outside of the system. And that’s all I’ve really worked on. And that’s what Braxton and I are going to do again after The Canyons. We are already in pre-production on another microbudget movie.     

I have a few friends who’ve had movies made of their books but I’ve never met anyone who liked the movie that was made. Since you had such a hand in The Canyons, Bret, do you feel differently about it than you do about other movies based on your writing?

Ellis: I actually like this movie. It was an experiment. It was kind of a mission to see if we could make a movie for very little money and make it look really great because of the technology and see if we could use social media to get the word out, and on that level I really like the movie. It’s not great, but it’s good, and I can stand by it. I don’t know if my other books should have been turned into movies but I also like Roger Avary’s Rules of Attraction. I did an adaptation myself of The Informers which did not turn out that well either, so I would have to say that I like The Canyons, which is actually the first produced script of mine that was an original screenplay.

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