Spit Take: How a Long Island Hustler & Petty Thief Didn’t Make it in the Movie Biz – By Bob Freville
Spit Take: n.
A visual gimmick used in film and on stage where a person is surprised or taken aback by another’s actions or words while drinking, and spits or sputters that liquid.
THE DIRGE OF SUB-HUMAN REFLECTION,
UNDERSTANDING YOUR PERSONAL VAASTU
IN A GODLESS ARTISTIC SINKHOLE
It was, most likely, odious karma that KO’d my chance at a fruitful career in this turbid machine we call the Film Industry. Knocking over a Korean deli to bankroll an avant-garde film shoot was the Karmic faux-pas and, it would seem, the model for the general hustler style that marred all of my future endeavors.
I was barely twenty-one years old when I set off to make my first film in Cleveland, Ohio. The only film school I had attended was Glenn Andreiev’s “Crash Course in Digital Filmmaking,” a shoddy bargain basement three-day “class” at Huntington’s famed Ma & Pa indie house Cinema Arts Centre, where my tuition money earned me face time with a no-name Long Island filmmaker whose syllabus consisted of listing five to ten famous “indie” films on paper and having me check off the ones I had seen.
“You saw Blair Witch?” he asked, sweating profusely and eyeballing me like a prison yard Breaker of Mountain Backs.
“What did you think of it?”
“I didn’t really care for it. Didn’t really live up to the hype.”
His eyes fell southbound and he let out a long, “Ooooh,” of disapproval. Clearly I didn’t measure up to his idea of what indie film should mean. But never the matter since I had nothing to gain from endearing myself to him, outside of a “cameo appearance” in his shitty homegrown espionage flick, a cameo that would be “deleted” due to “some grime or gook on the lens.”
It went on like this for two days, with Glenn showing me how to edit together clips from an old Planet of the Apes installment on an effete Moviola deck that no one in the industry even used any more since H’wood had long since gone digital and adapted things like Avid (the platform that was, at the time, the gold standard of non-linear editing software).
Ultimately I was told to go home after only one day of “hands-on” training on his silly “thriller,” most likely because I had witnessed his utter lack of directorial skills (pointing the camera and calling action with nary another word of support) and had had the choad to jump in and suggest how one of his “veteran actors” (crusty theater thespians oozing ear hair and general decrepitude) should deliver a line. They were “wrapping early,” he told me—even though I looked over my shoulder as I was going and saw my two or three classmates still standing by his side—and I should go home and wait for his call. They would be resuming “principal photography” in another couple of days, just as soon as he had arranged for “aerial photog” (see: bribing the local news network to take him and a novice camera man up in Chopper 4).
Only the phone call never came and neither, it is worth mentioning, did the Certificate of Completion that my tuition and time on the movie were supposed to earn me. What followed was something not at all out of the ordinary in the realm of low-to-no-budget movie-making—the director’s number at the Cinema Arts Centre was disengaged and/or he was never there to answer it; Repeated messages for him to return my call went unaddressed, and every contact number I could find for him online emerged as a dead end.
That was when I was a precocious sixteen-year old who had dropped out of high school to freelance for the local newspaper triumvirate and get a jump start on my “break in the Arts.” It wasn’t until my twenties that I heard from Glenn again. Picking up a copy of the Library-issued Cinema Arts Centre monthly calendar/newsletter (a time table of their screening line-up), I flipped to the rear pages and saw a very familiar ad–”NOTED FILMMAKER GLENN ANDREIEV Presents CRASH COURSE IN DIGITAL FILMMAKING—ENROLLMENT OPEN!!”
I called the number in the ad, on a whim, and managed to get ole Andreiev on the wire. He stuttered and stammered through much of the convo which largely consisted of me, rather sarcastically, referencing his failure to get me my Certificate. I told him how nice it was to see that he was making another movie.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, if you’re accepting tuition for your class again that must mean you’re in need of another budget, right? What is it this time? Werewolves with Uzis? Political intrigue on the course of a Nassau County golf range?”
He laughed nervously and begged me to stop. “It’s not what you think. Give me a break.”
“Hey, I’ve given you a break,” I said. “I’ve moved on.”
In truth I hadn’t. In the ensuing years all I had done was get my hands dirty interviewing the shady local Mayoral staff for a paper that rewarded my appreciation for the truth with $125 kill fees. And the wound from my Crash Course still smarted. But I hadn’t attempted to file suit against Mr. Andreiev to win ownership of my Certificate, for no other reason than I was too inept to know where to start with litigation and, for that matter, had no address for the sonovabitch.
“All I want is proof that I attended a film class,” I said. “If it would help I can send along a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope, to make things easier on you.”
“That won’t be necessary,” he said, and promised to get it in the mail “soon.” Then he asked me if I was working on anything. I had just finished the script for what would prove to be my directorial debut, a 30-page avant-garde flick about an unhinged woman who keeps a grown man as a pet on a leash, a 30-page script that would parlay itself into a 60-minute “digital nightmare.”
But I wasn’t about to stench myself any further by compromising the flick’s narrative integrity in a conversation with someone who so obviously hurt for original ideas of his own (most of Andreiev’s “canon” consisted of dime store retreads of bad Seventies films). I told him, “You bet your ass I’m working on something, but I’m not about to tell you about it. Consider it professional caution.”
“Oh please,” he begged again. “Don’t be like that.”
“I know, I know,” I said. “You’re my loveable old proctor. If you can’t trust your professor who can you trust?”
“That’s right,” he said, and then I heard the pen hovering over the notepad.
“Well, Glenn, it’s about thirty pages long and puts your movies to shame. Good day.”
That’s the last time I ever heard from the dude whose big claim to fame was a five-minute segment PBS had run on the “Long Island boy who’s made good.” By “made good,” I guess they meant robbed his neighbors blind in such a way so as to never get himself dragged into small claims court. And it worked. Shrewdly. For all I know, Glenn is still out there, taking small “gifts” for his inane motion pictures’ paltry budgets like a Craigslist concubine collecting “roses.”
Like I said, there wasn’t much to cull from those three short days in Glenn’s company. Most everything he shared with me was stuff I had already learned from borrowing every movie-related book from the Lindenhurst Memorial Library. When he brought out dog-earred black- and-white movie stills from Night of the Living Dead and told me, “These are what indie filmmakers use to promote their pictures,” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at how feeble his schtick was.
But one thing I very obviously took away from the Crash Course was the overall paradigm of Hucksterism inherent in Andreiev’s strategy. If you don’t have a rich uncle or a direct connect to the studios, then you better be prepared to take a page from Spike Lee’s playbook and get your flick made “by any means necessary.” In my case that meant, “by hook or by crook.”
Of Bitches & Hounds was my first flick, an uneven “experimental” mess with a black slave trader, a leading lady in grandma shorts, a drug dealer wearing a ridiculously fake wig and an antagonist who got her jollies violating my leading man with a bloody enema. It was “Art,” or so we assured ourselves, and today it remains the purest of my projects, for no other reason than it was manufactured with love, determination, untainted vision and, most voluminously, an unhealthy dose of twenty-something naivete.
I had budgeted the flick at something like $2,500 and begged, bitched and cajoled my way into the monies by shaking down every family member or friend who was within earshot of my tirades about, “making a calling card that will galvanize the industry.”
Before we could shock the cock off anyone in that industry, though, the money ran out. After only getting a baker’s dozen worth of scenes in the can (or, rather, the mini-tapes of an early mini-DV camcorder) the money pit had run dry and extenuating circumstances left me and my cohorts in cinematic limbo. I returned to Long Island from that State of Aviation where the “film” was being lensed, with tail firmly between legs and eyes cast downward like that douchebag Andreiev.
All seemed lost…until, one fateful night, a psychotic friend and I were running around drunk in a tempestuous rainstorm and he decided he wanted to rob a convenience store. With no weapons and no strategy it seemed like an unsound plan, but sometimes serendipity rears its head in the oddest of shapes, and it just so happened that the long and winding road we found ourselves on, on the backstreets of “ghetto-burbia,” (a trashy slum in Suffolk County) housed a very small Korean delicatessan set back from the road some ways and all of its windows dark at this hour of the night.
We didn’t have ski masks or a Gat, but I did carry a pocket knife with me whenever passing through such neighborhoods, and tonight it seemed like it would come in handy. We approached the front of the deli, which was surrounded on all sides by ramshackle sub-urban residences, with severe caution. When we got to the front door I instructed my eager friend to keep an eye peeled through the rain for any sign of life. While he trained his peepers on the tree-lined block I jammed my pocket knife in the lock and tried to jimmy it open. What came next, perhaps, should have been taken as an omen that what we were doing was a mistake—the tip of the knife broke off in the lock and repeated attempts, with soaking wet fingers, to pinch it out failed to yield results.
“Fuck it,” I said. “We tried. It didn’t work. Let’s go.”
Reasoning with a bi-polar schizophrenic with a bellyful of bourbon is a waste of any normal human or moral faculties. “They have a side entrance,” my friend slurred with a whisper. “You can pry off the rest of your blade in that lock.”
So we made our way stealthily through a small gate between the deli and the adjacent house, and tip-toed over to the side door. Before I fucked with the lock I figured I’d give the knob a jiggle, on the off-chance that it might be unlocked. The odds of this were so great that a smarter or more adept crook wouldn’t even have bothered except, maybe, for shits and giggles. But we were novices and, in the end, that seemed like it was for the best.
The knob turned with ease and the door creaked open on its rusted hinges. Our mouths dropped open and we scurried in, my pal pilfering every twelve pack of cheap pilsner he could fit in his backpack while I busied myself with climbing behind the counter and stabbing at the cash register. I couldn’t get it to open, but after a beat, a quick scan of the little cardboard boxes under the counter produced something neither of us would have expected to find—a roll of cash buried haphazardly under a fistful of rubber bands.
We retreated to an expanse of woods less than a block away from the deli and quaffed the life out of several cases of beer while I counted out the money. It was something like six hundred bucks in large bills and it whetted our appetites for more. If the first fumble in the dark had been that easy, surely, another crack at the joint with a flashlight would make for an even bigger windfall.
We crept back through the gate, back through the door and back behind the counter where I dropped down on my knees and started whacking small cigar boxes and Styrofoam cups off tiny shelves along the far wall. Eureka! Another rubber band box with a roll of fifties and enough cartons of cigarettes to keep us in cancer sticks for the rest of the summer…if only we didn’t get righteously blotto that night and smoke off damn near every one of them.
Back to the woods, to drain another twelve pack and leaf through the green stuff like a Mafioso come a-courtin’ an escort or tipping a waiter. It felt amazing to hold so much cash in our hands after years of impecuniousness. This was what I would normally make in a year working dead-end telemarketing gigs and here it was, right in the palms of my hands, for doing nothing other than humoring a stupid friend with irresponsible aims.
What came next is where most anybody would draw the line—By now stone-drunk and high on unfounded hubris, I decided to return for a third round of ransacking. This time my friend erred toward caution, urging me to just stay behind and drink off the rest of our spoils and dance on the wet moss in triumph. But I was determined to have a hefty budget for what was now a guaranteed second round of shooting on my debut film. So I went it alone, lumbered down that long desolate road you usually see in slasher movies, and sidled across the deli’s lawn for that side door.
This time the lights were on in the adjacent house and my stomach sank as I neared the parking lot. My instincts told me to beat a hasty retreat. Get the fuck on. These people are up and they’re probably the proprietors of this pathetic little hut and they may even know karate or at least Pilates, in which case some small Korean woman is likely to lunge out at you in this slippery funk and scissor you to the point of asphyxiation with her super-human thigh muscles. But I couldn’t be reasoned with, not even by myself, so I slunk back into the side of the building and slid behind the counter with peepers pointed at the far wall in search of a Sentrysafe. Nothing.
There was no more loot to pinch. The gravy train had dried up. As I rose to my feet headlights penetrated the panes of glass in front of me and I threw myself back down on the dusty tile floors.
“You pushed it,” I said to myself. “And now you’re going to face the consequences.” My hypothalamus swelled with visions of vicious ninjas swarming the perimeter of the building and coming down from the ceiling on rip cords with throwing stars held aloft, or a dragnet of cops busting down the door with the knife tip still wedged inside the lock and coming at me with tear gas and bazookas.
None of this was forthcoming. The headlights happened to belong to a tractor trailer with “Newsday” painted on its hull. And the driver had dumped a pile of morning editions at the foot of the door and had already turned tail and shuffled back to the cab when I peeked over the windowsill.
I rushed back to the woods and thanked my lucky stars (of which there weren’t many on that dreary gray morning) that I was safe, that my wrists were still free of cuffs, that all had gone, more or less, right. When I had sobered up some, regret set in and I thought of returning the money, but then I got a call from my cast about the movie and remembered that I had an obligation, to them and to myself, to finish what we had started, “by any means necessary.”
The Statute of Limitations allows me to talk about this now, but even if I had been able to back then, nobody would have heard me sing that particular song. Because it was far too embarrassing to have to admit that the only way I was able to bankroll my own movie was to take advantage of a stranger’s sense of basic human goodness. Maybe that door had been left unlocked by simple oversight rather than error of judgment, but either way, the result was the same: I had stolen from the little man, small-time Middle American hayseeds who didn’t stand a chance of getting out from under the debt I had caused in the way a corporate store would have in the same situation. And years later, when the film was rejected by every festival I submitted it to, and I learned how thoroughly my inexperience had handicapped the project’s destiny, my feelings worsened that much more—Because I knew then that what I had done was rob Peter to pay Paul. I started out broke as a joke and, when the flick was finished, I still had no money and neither did those poor Koreans.
This was the Karma I leveled on my own head and, as you will see in the subsequent pages, it has followed me like a heinous hex ever since.
THE BANE OF THE MANGING BITCH-HOUND
Of Bitches & Hounds wrapped photog in May of 2004. The first heinous haruspex that pointed to Karmic backlash occurred when I took our raw footage back to New York and attempted to mount Post-production. My co-producer Jake McGee, the man who suffered my skewed vision and spent three-plus weeks on scabrous knees with his gooch gone dragging along gravel paths (as protagonist “The Pooch”), wrote about this cinematic cluster-fuck for GetUnderground.com, the now-defunct sister site of Kotori Magazine, in an article ironically-entitled “Decency.”
In his bitterly comic screed, Jake said, “He [Bob Freville] found an editor- we’ll call him Wilbur for libel purposes- whose resume was more than promising. The guy was enthusiastic, definitely had the know-how, and was willing to work with us for dirt-cheap.
“He initially contacted Freville in February 2005, in response to an ad posted in Craigslist. Freville met up with him, found him to be a promising asset, and decided to give Wilbur the job. Unfortunately, Freville felt he could trust the fella enough to give him the Master copies of the tapes (with any luck, a strong lesson was learned there). It was almost understandable, since it costs money to copy the tapes to begin with, and with an absurdly small budget, literally every penny counts.
“After some time went by, Bob contacted Wilbur, asking how things were going along. Apparently, Wilbur had found himself on some more respectable (and lucrative) projects, and therefore had not had the time to work on ours. Even so, he promised Freville that he would ‘this weekend,’ and so things went for several months.
“Then Freville stopped hearing anything from Wilbur. No response to his many calls and emails. Not a damn thing. Wilbur had seemingly vanished.
“Eventually, Freville managed to get in touch with Wilbur, but several months had already past, and Wilbur had done nothing with our film. So, we decided to merely get it back from him, get the tapes to me, and I would edit them myself, learning how to do it as I went along, much like Shane Carruth did with Primer.
“Again, Wilbur consistently flaked out. He promised to meet Freville several times, but to no avail. He stopped returning Freville’s calls, and when Bob was able to catch up with Wilbur, the latter would say something along the lines of, ‘Oh! I was just getting ready to call you.’ You know, that whole pile of rubbish.
“By the time July rolled around, I decided to contact Wilbur myself. I have experience in tracking people down, as well as an aggressive nature when it comes to getting business taken care of. While I generally think of myself as an easy-going lad, when it comes to business, I will get downright shrewd when I need to.
“I have sharp instincts when it comes to business, no doubt stemming from being brought up in a business environment. So, I knew that my first line of action should be a cordial one, a professional move, but still direct.”
Jake’s sharp instincts lead him to write a firm letter to Wilbur, in which he spelled out, in no uncertain terms, that we intended to look elsewhere for the edit and wanted return of our eight mini-DV tapes. Weeks went by and no word was received from the cat, so Jake sharpened his talons and prepared to go to the mat for our little film. He tracked down a number for the dude’s day gig and talked to his employer, left a message to apply occupational pressure, and waited.
Still we heard nothing. It was blatantly apparent that we were getting face-fucked aggressively by a total stranger whose only sizzling resume catch-all was the work he had supposedly done on some behind-the-scenes Eminem video that nobody could locate anywhere, whether on Amazon or on the MTV! Television time-table. This guttersnipe was galoshes deep in his own bovine excrement and we couldn’t even get a handle on his whereabouts to throw him a beating.
Jake met with a lawyer he had on retainer and began exploring our legal options. “Sure enough,” he wrote. “My attorney said that there was little I could do, and no matter what course of action I took in that fashion, money would be needed, and I was not in a position for a gamble like that. We had no guarantee of winning, especially since Wilbur had never agreed to anything in writing (another lesson to be learned).”
The next move was going to be gnarly as a hooker with Hepatitis and a chancred vag. Jake intended on driving out to the Island with his do-good stick and hunting Wilbur down himself. At the eleventh hour the tapes arrived on his doorstep, just as he was on his way home from dropping another stern epistolary warning in the mail. Violence hadn’t been necessary, after all, but in the long run it might have made for a better legacy for Of Bitches & Hounds.
Although the pic won some interesting accolades from colleagues and critics (Kotori’s own Saucey Sack said of our DVD screener, “With in-your-face moral deliberation…Nascent director Bob Freville presents a story…with visceral S&M scenes telling the sordid tale.”), no Festival would take it on nor any distributor.
I was told by Gregory Hatanka, President of Cinema Epoch and then-director of the underground freakshow Mad Cowgirl that ‘Bitches’ “is effective as a horror-art film,” but that the short running time, mini-DV format and lack of name actors were all handicaps that prevented him from doing anything with it. To read between the lines of what the industry types had to say on the subject, I should, for all intent and purposes, burn the godforsaken flick rather than try and get it released.
At the height of Kotori Magazine’s powers I had a short-lived column called Emergence of a Paradigm and it’s a funny moniker to note now since Indiewood and, more ubiquitously, H’wood, are notorious for jumping on the innovation bandwagon during the final drum roll; It takes years for the Film Industry to adapt what creative pioneers come up with at the dawn of a new technology. In 2007 it was not a smooth move to be submitting a digitally-shot flick with amateur actors to an indie studio and expecting them to pick it up. But by 2011, Hatanaka’s own Cinema Epoch (among countless others) had distributed a multitude of “films” manufactured in this very vein. We were the first to the party and, also, the first to be asked to leave.
Today Of Bitches & Hounds has become a smash cult phenomenon thanks to legendary Berkley performance artist Frank Moore, his Eroplay website and the eager underground film zealots at Berkeley Public Access Television. The picture can be watched, in its entirety, as part of Moore’s Intimate Theater.