DVDTalk Interview - Mark Anthony Galluzzo, Director of RSVP
by Phillip Duncan
Mark Anthony Galluzzo decided to play with the thriller genre after his critically acclaimed first film “Trash” was a success and he does just that with R.S.V.P., a witty thriller that combines the spirit of Hitchcock with the self-referential fun of films like Scream. I recently had a chance to talk with Galluzzo about the film. Sporting a good sense of humor and an immense knowledge of the filmmaking process, Galluzzo offered up his thoughts on bullfights, and the pros and cons of working with a studio on a film and brand name directors.
Alfred Hitchcock has been cited as a major inspiration for this film, is that the case, ot did your inspiration come from somewhere else?
Actually it was a combination of the thriller genre or the slasher genre. The “Scream” movies and “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” I want to take those and give them a Hitchcockian twist. So I took the two and blended them together with the irreverent tone of all the slasher films and then tried to put the Hitchcockian tenants into that.
In Hitchcock’s films, you almost always know more as the audience than the characters on-screen know.
What I’m really trying to do is let the audience in on the joke, so to speak. It then creates a lot more tension and a lot more suspense. In our case, we actually went for humor on it too.
Another thing I noticed a lot of in the film and commentary, were references to bull fights. What drew you to that parallel?
Again, it’s going to the thriller / slasher genre. Audiences today know the way a slasher film is going to end, pretty much anyway. Particularly because it’s been done to death and the audiences are getting more sophisticated. They almost understand like a first-year film student, the average filmgoer these days understands the way a film is laid out.
With the bullfight, it was the same thing. Bullfights, you pretty much know exactly what you’re going to see. You’re going to see a bull get killed. It’s a very ritualistic. But, what you’re coming for is the execution of that. The talent with which the bullfighter pulls off the inevitable act of killing the bull, which creates the roar of the crowd and the excitement in it. That’s what I did with this one. I was using the bull by parallel to talk about the thriller genre, to say, “We all know where this is going, let’s just have some fun along the way.” Hopefully we’ll get some applause, so to speak.
You wrote, produced and directed R.S.V.P and did the same with your previous film “Trash.” It that out of necessity or do you want to control every aspect of the film?
It’s half necessity and half that I’m really a hands-on director. I came out of the production world. I started as electrician and a grip. I’ve been a cameraman, soundman and everything. So, I lead on the field, so to speak. On R.S.V.P., with the giant set we had to build and the ensemble cast and other things like that, I’ve gotten to the point where if my films are going to get bigger and better, then I going to have to bring on a partner. It’s too hard to do all three. So I think in the future it will be writer, director and I’ll take the vanity producer credit if I can negotiate it. The nuts and bolts, the three together is a tremendous amount of work and it took it out of me on the last film. I think I weighed about 150 lbs and by the time the film was over I weighed 135 and nearly worked myself to death.
Would you consider directing another person’s script or vice versa?
Definitely. I do a lot of consulting for friends and colleagues on their scripts. I help them out and I always look at any project as how I would make it. That’s just the way my mind works. You could tell me a story right now on the phone and I’d start thinking about ways to shoot it. My next film I am writing and directing, but I’m always open to working with other people.
You mentioned you came from the production end of things. With that background, do you feel it makes it easier to work with the large crew on a film set?
Without a doubt. I watch “Project Greenlight” from time to time and I want to cringe. It’s like the LA Lakers using an Internet auction for someone to be the starting guard for the game. You really have to gain the confidence and trust of the men and women that work for you on set. You have anywhere from 100-200 craftsmen, tradesmen, carpenters, truck drivers, highly skilled electricians and special effects people, you name it and you need to gain their trust. You need to speak to them in a way that they understand that you know what you’re doing. It facilitates communication. It facilitates getting the job done. The more your crew believes in you, the harder they work and the more they’re going to go the extra mile. I think it’s crucial that any person, in any business you’re at—you can have a CEO who’s never been on the shop floor.
What was the process in getting the film made? Did you pitch it to a studio or did they come to you?
Ironically enough, we did approach Lions Gate during pre-production about partnering up with us and they wanted to come in and there was an issue with my investor group, but ultimately at the end of the day we’re with Lions Gate anyway, so it worked out good for us.
As far as financing, when I did “Trash” I had been shooting films as a DP for a while and I got a reputation as a guy who shot for first time directors. Anytime a director showed up and didn’t know what they were doing, I could basically shoot and direct the film for them and protect the producer’s money for them. So I basically got a good reputation for that and eventually one of the producers said to me “hey, you’ve got shorts and you’ve directed before, do you have any scripts?” I had “Trash” and this guy (Todd Feldman) came up with the money before another group of investors and they missed out. After I did “Trash,” they came in and said let’s do your next film and then I did R.S.V.P. with them. I was fortunate, but I was also in the right position and had done the crucial thing. I made some people some money.
You mentioned Project Greenlight, it’s interesting that the directors are having their decisions overpowered by the studio as they try to find an angle to market the film with. Do find that there is less of that on smaller, non-studio financed films?
In some ways, yes that is nice. My next film is a political black comedy called Human Resources and I’m torn. If I go with a studio, I’m going to lose some of the “balls” on it, so to speak, because they’re going to have to find a way to package it to bring it out to 280 million Americans at once and everyone else in the world. It is liberating not to have to go through that. At the same time, the market place is so crowded these days, that without the big corporate machine, the PR people and the advertising dollars, it’s really hard to penetrate into mainstream America and get people to really know who you are.
The marketing cost on a film these days is $30-40 million, on average. Lions Gate’s other film Cabin Fever, that they’re bringing out theatrically, the prints and advertising cost on that alone—my buddy Eli Roth is doing that, we went to NYU together—if you saw the amount of money that they put into purchasing the film compared to the amount of money they put into marketing the film, it’s quite an eye opener.
It’s good enough to get into the battles about changing your material or compromising it, but at the same time to get it out and get it through all the noise you need the money.
Also, at a point, after you get the audience you get the power to get the budget and make the movie you want.
Once you gain the audiences trust, you’re almost like a franchise. Spike Lee and a group of people have that. It’s a Spike Lee film, a Martin Scorsese film. That’s when you become marketable as well, because you gain the audiences trust. That’s the long-term goal.
One last question before we go, in the commentary you mentioned plans for a sequel, is that still being talked about?
Well, unfortunately the three characters that survived the film—Glenn Quinn passed away, Jason Mewes is has some legal issues and is in rehab. He’s in rehab right now and really has to get his life straightened out. The girl Brandy, I don’t even know if she is acting anymore. So it’s one of those things. I suppose we could franchise it and do another film but it have to be a totally different cast you just go, “Oh well, you know, that’s the way it goes audience.”
At the same time, I had fun with the genre. With “Trash” it was a very personal drama. So I wanted to do something that wasn’t personal. I went and did the genre film R.S.V.P. and had fun with it. I did my jazz take on the thriller genre. My next film I want to go back to the personal. This one is political and it means a lot to me. After that I’ll do another one that’s like a romantic comedy or something.
There’s a director I’m think of that does that all the time. He does one for him and then one for the studio.
Spielberg does that all the time. The same year he did Schindler’s List, he did Jurassic Park.
Exactly. That’s the nature of the business. That’s why you fight tooth and nail to get where you want and then you go pay the bills.