Blake Fitzpatrick is the founder of Monumental Pictures, an independent studio devoted to “quality independent film production in an age of repetition and mediocrity.” Beginning his directing career in low budget horror with 1999’s Cannibal Cult, he now has five feature films to his name including his latest, The Death of Hollywood. This noir inspired black comedy follows a frustrated screenwriter who rediscovers his passion for film (after kidnapping and impersonating the very producer that killed his career, of course).
Having worked in just about every aspect of filmmaking from acting to editing to makeup effects, Blake Fitzpatrick is a passionate, hardworking, and talented young filmmaker with a definite point of view on the current state of independent cinema and what it takes to maintain personal vision in the industry.
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EI: Can you describe the inspiration behind The Death of Hollywood?
BF: I wrote a screenplay and basically got screwed over by a major studio. That experience coupled with some heavy classic cinema influences became the concept of the film.
EI: How exactly does one make a full length feature film on an incredibly low budget?
BF: With lots of luck and determination. One also finds it beneficial to not spend money on things that cannot be acquired for free. You’ve just got to be resourceful. Pre-production is probably the most important way to make a movie for nothing. If it doesn’t work on paper, you can fix it for free without leaving the room.
EI: During the writing process, are you actively thinking about what can and can’t be filmed due to budgetary restrictions? Does it directly affect the direction of your plot?
BF: Never. If you do this you restrict yourself from creating what’s true. I make sure never to think about the budget or the production for that matter while writing because the story and characters are what matter; not how they are brought to the screen. Once the script is done you have to become creative and figure out ways to pull things off. Some things work; others don’t and need to be re-worked; but I don’t worry about it until pre-production.
EI: What did making The Death of Hollywood teach you as a filmmaker?
BF: The importance of patience; on and off the set.
EI: I noticed that you generally produce the films you direct. Why did you pass the reins to Aaron Hollingsworth for The Death of Hollywood, and was the experience any different for you?
BF: Well, technically I did produce it, but I grow so tired of having my name attributed to every single aspect involved in production. It seems so narcissistic; I could really care less if people knew how I worked on a film or that I even did it at all; all that matters to me is that they see the film. I met Aaron while we were casting the movie. He has an incredible talent for socializing and putting people at ease; so he was brought on as a location scout initially. After an impeccable job of finding every single location the script called for, for free too mind you, I felt he deserved the credit for his hard-work. He also wrote one of the funniest songs in the film.
EI: Your cast seems to be having an enjoyable time filming The Death of Hollywood. Can you describe your relationship with your actors and crew during the filming process?
BF: Always professional, but we make time to joke so things don’t get uncomfortable. It’s important that everyone is at ease on a set because that is crucial for a creative environment.
EI: You’ve worked with both established actors and unknowns. Do you find yourself taking different approaches with veterans and newcomers?
BF: Absolutely. With pros it’s no nonsense. We show up, we nail out the takes. Most of the time; depending on the age or background experience of the performer your main concern is usually the comfort zone of the actor/actress. There are a number of different ways you can get them comfortable; but the main goal is to make them feel safe and sound; calm and collective. That’s the only way you are going to get a solid performance out of them. This takes more time with non-professionals, but it can be done. As they say; time is money; and that’s especially true on a film set.
EI: How did you cast lead actor Philip Denver?
BF: Philip came to a cattle call we held for the movie and just happened to be one of the very talented people to read and completely stand out to me as embodying one of the roles. Immediately after he read I knew that he would play Joe and Harry. He was my first choice. Sometimes you just know who’s going to work.
EI: The final ten minutes or so of The Death of Hollywood take on a much darker and more violent tone. What inspired this stylistic choice?
BF: Since the film starts at the end, the gradual transcendence back to drunken apathy was inevitable. But I didn’t want the sleazy producer or his morally inept counterparts to walk away unscathed. Sure they had destroyed Joe’s professional career, but just as it happens in real life, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t get their comeuppance. It was crucial to level the playing field, because we need to watch Joe overcome his obstacles and begin writing again at the end. The only way the semi-victory works is when the antagonists do get what’s coming to them. The message is that we don’t need Hollywood to write good material. We just need to WRITE. It is a manifesto to writers and film-makers everywhere.
EI: How do you go about utilizing music for your films?
BF: Generally while penning the screenplay the multitude of different emotions the characters feel are experienced by the writer. I basically place myself in the mind of the character or the feeling of a particular scene and hear a song that I’ve heard before and it made me feel that distinctive way. If I haven’t heard a song before that made me feel that certain way, I have to make it; and that’s where having an intuitive composer such as John who knows how I think to translate those feelings into music comes in handy.
EI: As a director, you’re not shy about filming in black and white. Are there added challenges in using this style?
BF: In some respects, but in others I would actually say it makes things easier and helps give you focus. Since you don’t have to worry about anything but the frame-line and contrast, it’s like a stripping down a complex machine to the bare essentials, making it easier to concentrate.
EI: How involved are you in acquiring distribution for your films? Is it something you consider during filming?
BF: Very involved; anything from marketing to the package design has to go through me. This is one of the things that sets Monumental Pictures apart from Major Studios; the creative control of the artist.
EI: What are your goals for your production company, Monumental Pictures?
BF: Monumental Pictures was founded as a completely independent production company with the goal of focusing on original art from true artists who are allowed the complete creative freedom to tell their stories the way they want them to be told; without corporate interference. Concepts come first; distribution comes second.
EI: Based on your early experience, do you think it’s standard and/or necessary for young filmmakers to cut their teeth in the horror genre? Do you see yourself returning to the genre in the future?
BF: Everyone has this preconceived notion that the only project you can pull off on a low-budget is a horror movie. While it has been done, I think the majority of people making them miss the definition of the word. I horror movie should be scary, and unless you have a radical new concept or a name attached, the movie will never see the light of day because everyone is making low-budget horror movies. I had wanted to end my work in the genre with a bang; but that obviously was something that didn’t happen and probably won’t happen with the way things are. I find my fascination with the genre has dwindled over the past few years; it was so detrimental to me in my infancy as an artist; but I have grown tired of it and would like to journey into other genres for a while. Who knows; maybe I’ll return. Only time will tell. It would be great if the market wasn’t so over-saturated. If that wasn’t the case, maybe an independent horror movie would actually be viewed by someone every once in a while.
EI: What artists have been particularly inspirational your development as a filmmaker?
BF: Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone, Stanley Kubrick, Sam Peckinpah, Otto Preminger, Woody Allen, Godard, Lynch… This list could go on for days. In other words, the answer for the question is Cinema. Celluloid is and always will be my inspiration.
EI: What do you think is the single biggest challenge to independent filmmakers working today?
BF: Funding. As I pointed out earlier; time is money. If you have money, making a movie is gravy.
EI: What, in your opinion, should every independent filmmaker know before embarking on this career?
BF: Be prepared for a roller coaster ride. There will be lots of ups and downs, but if you work hard and stick to your guns, the pay off at the end of the tunnel will be worth all of the turmoil.
EI: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
BF: It’s called "Insignificant Celluloid." It’s a mockumentary based very loosely on some of the ridiculous situations I found myself in while working on a number of low-budget film sets over the years. The basic premise is a film-maker who gets arrested for photo-copying currency to fund his film. In exchange for the dropping of the charge, the arresting officer is given the lead role in his no-budget zombie film. More information about it and "The Death of Hollywood" can be found at our official site: http://www.monumentalpictures.com