Lucky Bastard is a found footage film about a fan who is invited to have sex with his favorite porn star on camera. But shortly after the fan arrives on set, it becomes very clear very quickly that this whole setup is a bad idea. I found the film to be an unnerving and brazen experiment of a tired idea. The bulk of Lucky Bastard takes place in a house that is used for actual porn shoots. The set is rigged with dozens of cameras, leaving every area of the house documented. Much of the footage in Lucky Bastard comes from these stationary cameras, thereby giving the tired found footage motif a nice, organic twist. I dug the film when I saw it, but it wasn’t until last week that I became engrossed by the process in which Lucky Bastard was made and released.
|Betsy Rue and Jay Paulson in Lucky Bastard|
I stumbled across this sub-genre of porn where fans are invited to have sex with porn stars, and I couldn’t believe it was real. I can see why these videos could be titillating – the whole idea of an average guy who has Tori Black in his lap – but, at the same time, the websites dedicated to these videos often make fun of the guys, or the guys are kind of creepy and weird. It just seemed so fraught with tension. So I was driving one day and I thought what if one of these scenes turned into a nightmare? What if it turned into bloodshed? And if it was shot by porn cameras it could, for once, be a found footage movie that made sense of the fact that everything was actually being filmed. I can’t stand found footage movies when they go find Bigfoot and the first person gets killed and everyone else is running away, but they’re still filming.
So when I mentioned this type of porn and the idea of this movie to my writing and business partner, he thought it was fantastic and was right on the cusp of detailing so many problems of our culture. It was very fertile as an idea, and it was something we could make ourselves and have fun with.
Much of the film is very intense and shocking. What was the attitude like on set and during production?
It was a very smooth shoot. No real problems at all. A friend of mine, Jim Wynorski, is a legend of exploitation cinema. And he’s always told me that if I ever wanted to make a micro-budget film, he’d teach me how to do it. Jim makes a lot of monster movies for the Syfy Channel, but he also makes soft core erotica films for Cinemax. My partner for Lucky Bastard, [co-writer and director] Robert Nathan, comes from very high-end television. He’s worked on Law & Order, ER – he’s spent 20 years doing the classiest network television. So this was our filmmaking experiment. The story was conceived as a very real human drama, but we shot it quickly like an exploitation film with real pros from that world. I mean, Jim is a wizard. And we were lucky, we had terrific actors who were drawn to the crazy material, because it was fun and different and challenging. It was a 10 day shoot and beyond the trivial things that go wrong on any movie, it was a very smooth shoot.
And then moving into post-production…
That was very smooth as well. We loved our editor, Tony Randel, one of Jim’s go-to guys. It was a great movie-making experience. We were all very proud of the film and the story we told.
|Jay Paulson as Dave G.|
Well, first of all, the MPAA was totally nice. That’s one of the things people don’t expect. They’re made out to be this sort of Bogeyman, but all the personnel are very easy to get along with. They answer their own phones. Institutionally they are very conservative in the way they rate movies, and I think they’re overly reactive towards sex and “lifestyle issues”—anything that would upset the South or so-called “Heartland.” They’re overly forgiving of violence, especially goreless violence like in say, Man of Steel, where you’re killing millions of people, but it’s sort of off camera, so who cares? That’s the MPAA’s stance. And it’s confusing. There are so many things that get you an NC-17 rating, but if you’re a television show, nobody cares. The things the MPAA said earned Lucky Bastard an NC-17 rating are things that are in nearly every episode of Girls, or True Blood or Game of Thrones.
But look, if you’re determined to get an R rating, then you can get an R rating. You haggle and cut the film, send it back to them, haggle and cut some more. You play the game. It’s a negotiation. But what does tend to happen is that it changes your movie. You end up showing fleeting glimpses of something, then cutting away. And by only showing those fleeting glimpses, you’re stigmatizing the event. So a graphic sex scene – when you cut away from it so quickly, you’re making the act seem dirty, even though the artistic point you’re trying to convey is that it’s not dirty. So we knew very early on in this process that recutting Lucky Bastard to get an R rating would completely change the ideology of the movie.
It’s a ridiculous and unfair process. Those shows I mentioned are a click away in many households. And any kid with a smartphone has access to as much free hardcore pornography as they like. But if you want to show simulated sex in a movie, then you’re stigmatized. I think the MPAA needs to add a soft R rating, call it a “PG-17.” That would be for films with, say, dirty language. And everything else would be an R. The only way a film should get an NC-17 is if it has real, penetrated sex. Everything else should be R.
|Don McManus and Rue|
We’re a hypocritical culture when it comes to pornography. It’s a product that is widely used but rarely discussed by the people who use it, which is understandable. It’s the big, dirty, open secret, and anything that calls attention to it makes people extremely uncomfortable. The characters in our film are mostly normal people with normal problems, who have kids and families and bills. We didn’t stigmatize the porn industry in our film, and I think that made it easy for the MPAA to give us an NC-17.
I really respected that about the movie. It would’ve been so easy for Lucky Bastard to bash the porn industry, but by and large, you depicted it as a seemingly normal profession with normal people.
Well… you’re smarter than the reviewer for Variety, who was the only person I really got upset with. Variety basically hired a film student to do some reviews when they were shorthanded. He did a handful of reviews, making fun of tiny movies that, apparently, Variety thought no one would care about. One of those was our movie and, for all intents and purpose, he called Lucky Bastard the worst movie ever made. And then he went on Twitter and Facebook and Letterboxd to advertise his opinion. And the reason I got upset was that he called the movie homophobic. [Read the original Variety review, and the Letterboxd review by the same author.]
Really? I didn’t get that from the film at all.
It’s crazy. He’s an idiot. First off, our director, Robert Nathan, is gay. He’s been out for 25 years. He was an out, gay television writer back when it could destroy your career. So Robert saw these reviews and hit the roof. And we could only assume that this reviewer felt this way because a few times in the movie, the crazy murderer yells, “Oh so you think I’m a faggot?” And everyone else in the movie says, “What? No.” That was an artistic choice by us, to include that word in the movie. This character is clearly insane, and because he has sexual performance problems, he foolishly assumes that the people on the porn set think he’s gay, which they quickly deny. So when this review called the movie homophobic, it really means this reviewer has interpretive problems, and it shows you where film criticism is at today. But that’s another conversation.
|Rue and Paulson|
We’ve made about $45 distributing the film on Vimeo. And they were no help whatsoever. In fact, it would be near impossible to find Lucky Bastard on Vimeo unless I told you exactly where to find it on the site.
But then you have this random, saving grace in Hulu, where Lucky Bastard is currently streaming for free and has become a hit. How did that happen?
I honestly don’t know. Hulu seems to have a lot of racy content that iTunes does not. Basically, iTunes doesn’t want these kinds of movies. Amazon will take them, because they take anything—for transaction purposes, though not for Amazon Prime’s free streaming. So will Xbox. But Hulu has a young demographic, we think, and a lot of risqué movies have performed very well there. Our film seems to be attractive to that audience. Lucky Bastard is not pornography, but I do think, like porn, people feel icky paying for it. But if it’s free, they’ll watch it forever.
We tried to distribute the movie any number of ways. We had a brief theatrical run, which was very costly—it feels like we spent nearly half our budget just screening it in New York. We tried festivals, we have it hosted online at pay-for-play sites… but it looks like Hulu, the place where you can watch it for free, is what will help us recoup the cost of the film.
It’s ironic that the site Lucky Bastard is streaming on for free is ultimately the site that will earn you the most money.
That’s independent film distribution for you. But I can’t stress this enough: we made exactly the film we wanted to make. That is a priceless experience. The distributors took our film got behind it, and people are watching it and have heard of it. Just getting people to hear about your movie is 90 percent of the battle. We can thank “porn” for one thing—it’s memorable!
All images from www.luckybastardmovie.com
All images from www.luckybastardmovie.com