Mark Christopher—54: The Director's Cut—4/25/2015

G: So I thought I'd start out by asking what Studio 54 was like when you went in the '80s and then what your experience was like excavating its heydey in your years of research.

MC: Uh yes, so I went in the 80s and sadly was it was a little bit of a shell of its former self in terms of its spirit. It was still beautiful, um, you know that incredible lobby was...was...remained the same through all the decades , um, in fact, the only part of Studio 54 that we shot in was that lobby...

G: Yeah.

MC: And then the exterior of course. Um, so it didn't have the spirit. It was very bridge and tunnel (?) even though I was a very recently arrived Manhattan-ite, and uh, you know, it's just a beautiful space. And so what I had done is a lot of research with obviously bartenders, coat check girls, busboys, but also some famous folk: Paul Schrader was a mentor of mine on this project. And so I just talked to everybody I could. I read everything I could and it's very well documented in photography as well.

G: Mmm hmm.

MC: You know, New York magazine and what-not was an interviewer...and there's so much in those publications, so, um. that was sort of how I excavated it—and also the music because I remember as a kid when that music would come out every week—another great disco song—and it would fill you, you know, with such, you know, just thrill you, and they, and that music is the sort of music that was played at 54. They didn't play really arcane music, you know. It was the popular disco songs, you know, maybe long mixes of them, maybe different things when it's morning music, but they did play that sort of thing.

G: You bring up the music. I guess you produced the soundtrack, right? And uh...

MC: Correct. Yeah.

G: And I've read that a lot of the music in the film was specified in the script and that sort of thing.

MC: Yup.

G: Were there many songs that you wanted and couldn't get, or, what was that process like?

MC: Oh! “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” by Thelma Houston. It was heartbreaking not getting that, but it was just too expensive! I think it was, you know, just an outrageous amount of money and we had a tiny music budget. And so—not a tiny music budget in the original film. So the original film had a healthy music budget, but it was a most favored nations—I don't know if I'm getting too technical—so um, that means that everybody got—we had a certain amount of money for everything, so when Salma sings “You're Just A Love Machine” and “I Won't Work For Nobody But You”, you know? That little—just singing that little bit cost as much, you know, as three minutes of another song. So um, um, it was—yeah—the songs were...many of them were very, very specific and written in the script. Sometimes they didn't get them, so then we'd have to look for others. I had wonderful music supervisors: Cody Moondie and Susan Jacobs in New York. And Cody's just this treasure trove of old disco. And one thing that I wanted very much were songs that weren't, you know, car commercials already. I wanted songs that were, that we would recognize—that were popular, but we didn't, you know--they weren't over-played. So a lot of films—like “Lovin' Is Really My Game” was a much bigger hit after the soundtrack was released than it was in the heydey. Which is another funny thing about disco, by the way. You know, disco only lasted like three years.

G: Yeah. (laughs)

MC: And then disco sex came in 1980.

G: (laughs)

MC: But the disco revival has lasted, thirty-five years?

G: Right. (laughs)

MC: Or twenty years?

G: Yeah.

MC: Something like that? So yeah, so the music was super-important to me because for me it's a character in the movie. It's driving the stories at certain points. It's reflecting what's going on inside the characters, you know, minds.

G: Uh huh.

MC: It's also setting the tones for the—for a particular scene. So it was really difficult to try to find that perfect song for--that would do all of those things--and afford it.

G: Hmm mmm. Shane O'Shea is a fictional character, but, partly inspired at least according to legend by Lenny Mystorm aka Lenny 54 aka Teague you're making a face.

MC: I know Patrick 54.

G: What's that?

MC: I know Patrick 54.

G: Oh Patrick 54.

MC: So it's's a composite. All of them...

G: Right.

MC: All of the characters are a composite of various people. Um...Patrick I think of as one of my major composites. Did I speak to Lenny? Is that true?

G: I don't know (laughs)...I...this is just in online research...

MC: uh huh

G: There's a couple places that say that he...the character's was inspired by him.

MC: Uh oh well...

G: That might be his own doing (laughs)...claiming it...

MC: That may his own doing. And there was more than one bisexual bartender behind that bar let-me-tell-you, so, uh, yeah...

G: (laughs)

MC: Exactly.

G: So uh, the Director's Cut is really the story of a love triangle amongst the characters played by Ryan Phillipe, Breckin Myer and Salma Hayek, um, and the bisexuality really enables the drama of the Director's Cut in a way that it was excised for the theatrical version. But I also wonder if in the late nineties you felt at all hamstrung from word one in depicting homosexuality in a film that would get a wide release, you know, um, if you made it today, do you think it would for lack of a better phrase be yet “more gay”, for example? Or has Hollywood not really changed that much in its willingness to go there?

MC: That's a really good question, and um, yeah, why don't you answer that?

(Both laugh)

MC: You probably know more than I do! You know it's so tricky. Hollywood is Hollywood. It hasn't changed a lot in 100 years or 115 years or however long? Um...they started making, you know when movies moved from Jersey to Hollywood, so um, a lot of things haven't changed. You know, there's a certain amount of conservatism in a lot of things, um, re-cuts have been going on since the Dawn of Time, and you know, being taken away from the directors, and so there's nothing new in all of that. Um, but uh, you know, one interesting thing about the bisex...uh why I think this movie is hitting so well right now, especially at festivals, and you know, hopefully now with the release is that the, you know, the LGBT, you know?

G: Yeah.

MC: The “L” and the “G” got a good start, you know?

G: Yeah. (laughs)

MC: the nineties, right, with the New Queer Cinema, and then the 'T's are having their heydey now, right?

G: Yeah, right.

MC: ...With all the “trans” things. And I've been going to festivals where there are just wonderful trans movies and then there's my movie there and I realize 'cause I'm the 'B'.

G: Yeah. (laughs)

MC: You never see the 'B'. When have we seen a movie about a bisexual?
G: Yeah.

MC: Never for some reason. It's been a tough row to hoe. And I think in an interesting way it's the trans films that are helping this film hit in such an interesting way.

G: Mmm hmm. Uh, so when Miramax purchased your partial script there was (at least the way I understand it) what was the script like at that stage and what was your pitch like for the film?

MC: So I really didn't pitch the film. I wrote it. So I wrote it on spec and gave it to Jonathan King who now produced the Director's Cut. He was a very young executive there and he loved it and he took it and he got them to buy it and then they asked me um, you know, I said, I did the rewrites and I didn't, if they wanted to hire another director that would be fine because I was fresh out of film school, but they said “no” they wanted me to direct it because of the success of my farm movie “Alkali, Iowa”, which by the way, won the Teddy that got Berlin started and you know has given me that history in Berlin, and um, so they wanted me to direct it, and I went for it. It was a much bigger movie than I would have wanted to be for my first feature, but once they said 'yes' I, you know, jumped in.

G: Yeah.

MC: And did it.

G: Well, I was thinking you know the history of the movie is so interesting, and just making a movie to begin with is stressful and making a movie of this kind of...scale, I guess? In re-creating historical moments is yet more complicated, and then the subject matter. It just seems like it would be indescribably stressful for a first time feature filmmaker, but yet what I've read it seems to have not rally been that much that way for you.

MC: No no. Actually, I mean the subject matter wasn't stressful for me at all by any means because I had done gay shorts...

G: Right.

MC: So that was a part of it. And it wasn't for the actors either. They were like, you know...they liked the characters and they liked what the characters were doing, so, uh, that wasn't an issue. In terms of there being, you know, 400 extras and many movie stars, and you know, and having 12 cast, and, you know, all in one place at one time and have an old lady drop dead and film the death scene, yes, now...

(Both laugh)

MC:...these are quite (laughing) ambitious things for a first time filmmaker...

G: No children but a few farm animals, right?...

MC: there was a girl...

G: Oh...

MC: There is a ten-year-old girl.

G: Oh right. Yeah. That's night.

MC: Yeah, my little...there's a ten-year-old girl at the disco in fact when you see her dacning she's dancing on someone's shoulders and I think those are mine. But that's my Hitchcock. I'm in the scene where the little girl's dancing. But yeah Steve Rebello loved to toss the salad and liked a variety of people so you could be a plumber. You could be a ten-year-old girl. You could be an old lady, you know. A Princess Grace. He was always trying to toss the salad and create that mix there on the dance floor. So um--yeah some of those big, giant scenes were really—especially the first night of Shane going to the Club, and uh, and uh the Amy Stewart character sings uh “Knock On Wood”.

G: Mmm. Mmm

MC: That was a giant production. That came in early. Now we shot the Amy Stewart performance first and it was just, you know, us and the crew shooting her up on the bridge, um the extras weren't there yet.

G: Huh uh.

MC: and um it was really kind of revelatory when she came out in her costume, and the you know the dancing boys with hardly any costume and it um just liked clicked and Miramax was so thrilled, and that, you know we started shooting ____________ (?) on that and everything. And then I think the next day or whenever we had to shoot the audience and Shane in that audience and his performance in that audience, and you know, we had a crane and all that. So I remember that being the most difficult production thing. But that, you know, I would just put my hat on that said “I Know What I'm Doing”

G: Right.

MC: And pretend (laughs) and it seemed to work.

G: Uh-huh (laughs).

MC: But other that that I loved—at a certain point I'd say by the end when Shane is drug out through all those extras and thrown out onto the street?

G: Yeah.

MC: Once you—when you're making a movie and we had an eight week shoot so this would have been, you know several weeks into shooting at the disco, um, a movie can sort of take on a life of its own and that's because of how you've been working with your DP and your actors , and your, you know and how your DP's been working with the gaffer and if it's a well-oiled machine it can kind of take off on its own so that big, crazy, insane scene at the end of the movie was actually pretty easy believe it or not.

G: Mmm hmm..Yeah.

MC: So...

G: So it's a tale that's all this time (?) that movies with grit and edge to them just are probably doomed to the...

MC: ...the scissors...

G: ...well to the test screening process for starters,, right? Like you're never going to emerge from one of those if you have a movie with edge or grit and get probably happy numbers it seems like...and

MC: Right.

G: So what were the discussions like around that? Was there any kind of sanity about it? Or was it sort of just reactionary that led to the perceived need for re-shoots on the part of the studio?

MC: Well so I have always felt that test screenings were blunt instruments especially when this is a specialized know, so, yeah I don't we have to, you know...test screenings can be helpful...

G: Right.

MC: But they're blunt instruments.

G: Yeah. What was the nature of the re-shoots? To what extent, if any, were you involved or were you excluded from that process?

MC: Um no we did them.

G: Yeah you...did them.

MC: Yeah yeah. The cast and I did them. Yeah.

G: Yeah. Huh uh.

MC: And so that's one thing, you know, this movie has a lot of fans and what we call “55”...

G: Right right..

MC:--the movie that came out in 1998 has a lot of fans and you know I'm excited that you know it has such a big fan base and that's one of the reasons we're in the position to actually make the director's cut, so...

G: Yeah.

MC: So you know. This is Ryan and Breckin and Salma and Neve and I made both versions, so...

G: Right. know...

G: Yeah...I guess one of the things that strikes me is interesting and you mentioned movie stars, and to an extent that's true but at the time in a way were an unproven director and Mike Myers was famous but he had never really done a dramatic role like this and Ryan and Breckin were quite young and Salma was I guess probably in a way the most experienced of the cast.

MC: Neve was.

G: Oh Neve was. Yeah, okay Neve,

MC: And then Mike I mean because he had been on SNL so he was in front of the camera constantly, yeah.

G: uh so I don't know. It seems like know Miramax is the producer of your first film and Harvey Weinstein is on the one hand scoring like the brass ring and on the other hand it's kind of this double-edged sword there...well, he has that kind of reputation for getting his hands in, right?

MC: Well the thing is when someone gives you eight million dollars they get to do it...tell you what to do sometimes, you know? (laughs)

G: (laughs)

MC: It's like as my mother said “Make sure you think Harvey” so...

G: Yeah right. (laughs) Good point. And so and I think to me it seems like something of a win-win today for the Director's Cut to come out and to have this added revenue. You'll oftentimes hear these things come out of the studios about “oh, we're not...we're really scraping by...we're not really making that much money on these things but the shelf life can be such a boon I think in the long term especially with something like this.

MC: Yeah I'm very excited. I think I've been lucky to make things with a lot of shelf life. In fact I think I just got a check for Alkali, Iowa, which I made twenty years ago so the residuals have been good and it's um, yeah this movie has had a good shelf life and now hopefully will have even a longer one so.

G: So the original theatrical cut was about 92 minutes, right?

MC: You tell me.

G: Okay, Yeah I think that's what the flyer said. I think so.

MC: (laughs) That could be. Yes. (laughs)

G: Then this BluRay came out about three years ago...

MC: Mmm hmm.

G: ...that is actually I only realized this in the last 24 hours, is actually an extended version of the theatrical cut so there's this sort of medium thing...

MC: Right.

G: I wonder how that happened. How did that come about?

MC: Well, so there's several versions of the movie. There's the movie that came out domestically which was the VHS and then the DVD might have had a little more added to it, and then it went to Europe and the French version was a little different, and then there's the Extended Cut. And these are the cuts that I know about. So there were many cuts of this movie and I wasn't involved in any of them. But I was involved with this one.

G: Right, right. (laughs). So I want to talk about that a little bit. So the--finding the footage and maximizing the footage. Can you talk a bit about that? You had to utilize difference sources from the original negative, I guess to actually video—like a video reference cut or something?

MC: Yes. So we found most of the there...I think it's just over 45 minutes of original material that we restored to the film and pulled out the approx. 30 minutes of re-shoots so of those 45 minutes we found almost all the negative, but it's a 17-year-old movie, right? Ans um, so the parts that we couldn't find a negative we found on various video sources and we would pick and choose, you know, should we use a D-2 or should we use a digi-beta or should we use a VHS? And oddly, the strangest thing, and thank goodness Miramax kept those VHS tapes...

G: (laughs)

MC: ...we, I think we used mostly VHS and up-resed that because in the end it was grainy but it looked better then up-resing the other—um those other dead video things. Nobody even knows what a D-2 is now.

G: Yeah. (laughs)

MC: But um that was supposed to be the highest standard and for some reason that did not hold up well. Um But yeah—and now—you know, they're like um I don't know if I mentioned this—I kind of I think they're kind of wonderful battle scars in the movie.

G: Yeah.

MC: You can tell it's a restoration...

G: Yeah.

MC: “...and it has a seventies feel to it.

G: Yeah. It's very watchable people should now. It's not at all distracting and it does kind of add to the texture of the movie, I think.

MC: Great. That's a great way to put it. Yes it adds to the texture of the movie. And it is only a few shots by the way, too. And frankly there were other things where it just didn't add to the texture and so we had to completely lose it. So there were moments that aren't there. I only did that in the proper places where I felt like it would add to the texture. I'm stealing that line, thank you.

G: Oh yeah. Sure. You got it. (both laugh)

G: I did notice very rarely but the little stutters in the footage. What's the technical background on that?

MC: Okay so there Nancy Valley the post production supervisor actually had to find the negative trims...

G: Hmm. Oh right.

MC: So some could be 48 frames or 2 seconds long, and she had to find these little trims that had to be then added back...had to be spliced back onto what was existing from the extended cut. And in the case of Ryan with the garbage bag in the beginning I think it's in three pieces so you see little jumps there and the jump is there because when the negative was cut you lose at least one frame sometimes depending what the negative cutter did you lose others. So that had to get remarried or re-spliced digitally and then it needed to be treated by a machine called the flame. I'm sure the techies out there are gonna love that I called the flame a machine but the flame helped with the jumps. So the jumps would have been much more extreme without that process.

G: Yeah yeah yeah. It's amazing what you can do now. Does anything in the Director's Cut remain from the re-shoots? Is the Disco Dottie drugstore scene...was that a re-shoot or was that in...

MC: No no that's all original. The only thing that is from the 1998 release I think we have four shots that total about six seconds.

G: Yeah.

MC: That's it and ones like you know some hands in the air and you know the other ones and the this and the that...we just liked them so...

G: uh I wanted to ask about some of the people from the 54 era who appear in the film like Lauren Hutton, and Elio Fiorucci, Michael York, Sela Ward and what they brought to the table.

MC: Oh well first of all, Michael York brought a lot to the table and it's not just that he was there. Was he there for sure?

G: (laughs)

MC: The other three were for sure. The important thing about Michael York is this. We'll start with him. That this movie—that the prototype for this movie, a real inspiration for me is the movie Cabaret. It's about a world on edge, you know, that's ready to cave in. It's a decadent world. And that was really—54 and the Weimer Republic 1933 Berlin shared that. And so I do a few homages in the movie--in 54 to Cabaret, and one of those homages is casting Michael York and the great selfish thing was that he got to tell me lots and lots of stories about what it was like shooting that movie by my hero Bob Fosse. And so it was terrific to have him there. And in terms of Lauren Hutton you know I don't think Lauren would mind me saying I don't think she was very impressed with 54, you know. But she loved the movie and loved doing the movie but I don't think she loved it there. Sela did. Sela loved going and she was a model at the time—a girl from the South. And uh Elio Fiorucci? He's a delight to work with as you can tell. He was a lot of fun.

G: So what exactly is the future of 54? I've heard it bandied that it's going to get a digital release. What does that mean? Does it mean cable and VOD? Does it mean there's potential for a new BluRay?

MC: It's VOD, right? (question asked to publicist) Yeah. It's basically Itunes and VOD, etc. etc. etc., right?”

Publicist: Digital HD and On Demand.

G: Yeah so like on Demand, on people's cable systems and also online, I guess, huh?.

MC: Right. Exactly. Yeah.

G: Well I hope that it continues to gather buzz and there might be another home video release because I think there could be a market for that.

MC: Yeah that would be wonderful.

G: So can you talk a little bit about what you have going on now? I think're doing this thing called Berlin for Warner Brothers, right? Is that a TV pilot?

MC: More Berlin all the time. So this movie premiered at Berlin. It's based on Cabaret and now I'm writing a series called Berlin. So this is with Warner Brothers at Warner Horizon and it is a dark, one-hour drama, kind of thriller set in 1941 Berlin.

G: Is there anything in the TV landscape that you would compare it to, like is it sort of Boardwalk Empire-esque?

MC: Wow I am so bad at comps. What would I say? It's its own thing but it is very much of the dark one-hour drama that you would see on HBO/Showtime. Yeah. Exactly. That feel—that vibe.

G: And then I read you were also doing a pilot for Miramax? Is that true?

MC: Uh huh. Yes.

G: Can you say anything about what that's about?

MC: We're still like...I've been so busy doing this right now. I owe them some pitches. So yeah

G: (laughs) Oh I see. Okay cool.

MC: Exactly. Yes. And yes they're coming soon: Miramax. (laughs)

G: (laughs) So going back to the original editing process of the film: were you consulted during that process, like after the re-shoots or were sort of locked out?

MC: In the editing process?

G: Yeah.

MC: I was involved for awhile. Yeah.

G: I guess the last question I'll ask just because it's on my list here. This is one of those projects that just by random coincidence had a sort of twin in the market at the time: The Last Days of Disco.

MC: Right.

G: They're very different films, obviously. And I think that one isn't doesn't get as nearly as close to capturing the feel of Studio 54 and maybe that wasn't even the intention, but what's it like kind of jocky-ing around another movie that it feels like it's sort of in your territory a little bit? And there was something of a race to get—like that one beat 54 to the screen by a few months, right?

MC: You know I never felt any threat...or any...I was aware of the film and I've been aware of the film but it really seemed know, some people probably are more aware of that film than mine and others more mine than that one. Whit's a nice guy I can tell you that (both laugh) We'd meet at parties and say “where are you with the movie?” (both laugh).

G: All right, very good. Well, it's been great talking to you. Thanks.

MC: Okay. Great. Thanks. Bye.