Spit Take: Part 3 – Do the Distribution Limbo! – By Bob Freville

Later this sequence would prove to be one of the single-most propulsive, in the Bretonian sense. With the song “Push” by If Thousands sounding a crushed but evocative accordion dirge, Felicia and Calvin’s trek into nostalgia, the rubble and plastic ray gun pow-pow produces the feeling of being there and living in it with the blood addicts and all the other bottom-feeders that still dwell within that which has been evacuated.

“We should have stayed. Confined.”

Probably I should have stayed confined instead of gambling away more than seven thousand dollars of money hard-earned as a freelance writer and night shift dollar store manager on making a movie…only to give it away for free to the sketchiest exhibitor this side of Kroger Babs or Gerard Damiano. But, alas, that’s what I did, and it’s something many amateur film aspirants would have done in my exact same position.

After Hemo wrapped I hired another deadbeat editor who responded to yet another Craigslist ad. Some lessons have to be learned more than once and, apparently, I had suffered some sort of dissociative fugue that blocked the mordant memory of that Wilbur upheaval. After sinking several hundred dollars and a brand new 1 Terabyte external harddrive into getting the thing spliced together I came to find that the kid with the magic editing software was as reliable as the dude with the magic beans and what I had, for all of our months-long deliberation over every frame, was just what the bean-monger had…Jack.

Fortunately my good friend James Neyman, an Ohio-based auteur who had completed Of Bitches & Hounds for us and directed me in his slasher film (aptly titled The Slasher), stepped into the fray and turned out a picture that almost looked like a real movie…Almost.

But getting people to see a flick that has absolutely no marketing budget is harder than getting your dick wet in a sand storm. My first attempt at getting the movie out there was to show it to Ronna Wallace, the one-time producer of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and current sales rep for indie features. She watched the flick twice and, each time, told me she wasn’t at all sure what to make of it.

“I don’t know whether I love it or hate it,” she said. “And I don’t know if that’s a good thing.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll tell you this much. I watched it with a sixteen-year old and she told me it’s not sexy.”

But of course. This was the Epoch of Twilight and vampires were expected to be suave or, at least, sexy in that Hollister model in deep freeze sort of way. But Hemo wasn’t your Grandmother’s vampire film, it was a movie about two junkies and the blood-fix they chased like the Dragon. If you were anticipating a sensual thrill from watching a baleful spike addict dry-heaving then you were either a moron…Or a sixteen-year old girl.

What Ronna said next was every bit as insulting as the “not sexy” verdict. “I can’t represent something so unpolished. I’m not looking to help people make their calling cards, I’m in business to do business and business has to be liquid. You understand what I mean when I say, ‘liquid?’”

“Yes, of course I know what you mean by liquid,” I said. But I was lying. I no more knew what liquid was than I knew how to cut out shots of my leading man’s flaccid penis in order to make the film more attractive. And, what’s more, I didn’t know how to play by the rules.

Ronna’s first thought, after initially expressing some non-committal interest in the project, was to ask me what the title Hemo meant.

“Well,” I said, after a pause, “It could mean whatever the audience wants it to mean, but I think the word itself is self-explanatory.”

She said nothing, so I clarified. “Hemo…As in hemoglobin?”

“I see,” she said, clearing her throat and sighing. “How about calling it something else? How about, I dunno, how about just calling it ‘Blood?’”

It would be a coon’s age before I would accept the fact that had just made itself as clear as one of those translucent drop cloths used for clean-up by anal-retentive murderers in shows like Showtime’s Dexter.
It was simply too callous to contend with—that, for all the pleasure that they purvey for people like myself who treat NetFlix like a celluloid Methadone clinic, the film industry is utterly out-of-touch and myopic. Not only was “Blood” a title that would be designed for the lowest common denominator…but it was also the very title of a Japanese import that had just been released Stateside while we were shooting Hemo; It had recently released to DVD and Ronna knew nothing about it or, for that matter, the other eight motion pictures that had shared that exact title since 1997.

I didn’t give Ms. Wallace the power to sway me where Hemo’s imprimatur was concerned, but she did get her way that very year and the year after that and, from what I can gather from search results on the always thorough Internet Movie Database, in the year ahead, as four more clueless movie cads go the easy route with the simplest and most accessible word for the crimson ichor. Needless to say Ronna didn’t take us on, but the last time we spoke her head was still reeling from the dirty makeshift construction of my motion picture, shaking her head and thumbing her Jimmy Durante nose and wiping tears from her adumbrated eye circles. Wondering what exactly to make of a movie that refused to pander to a horror crowd any more than it would deign to be a moral message movie.

“What are you trying to do with this?” she had asked me. It was like asking Jackson Pollock what he was trying to say by hurling globs of paint at a canvas. I had no simple answer. It was Dionysian catharsis, was the best I could come up with—a cheap and mean example of Apollo and Dionysus colliding on the camera in a fit of that moral deliberation Saucey Sack had written about in his review of my first film. I was exploring the potentiality of vampires, a figure of popular mythology known for their decadent Romanticism, going through the rigors of withdrawal that seemed inevitable to someone who knew what it was like to thirst for something that was in short supply and hard to come by on an Island devoid of life.

“I don’t get it.” Well, neither do I, and that’s probably what inspired me to make the movie in the first place, as a way of working it all out for the world to see. Only the world…would never see it.

After Wallace passed on representing the flick I went at it solo, peddling the film myself in any way a stone-broke part-time retail manager could. It so happened the dollar store I worked at was located in the same set of strip malls that housed New York’s # 1 Independently-Owned Record Store, and I would leave free market-ready DVD copies of the movie in their public “Take One” bin, alongside flyers for speak-easy punk rock performances at Long Island dive bars, and advertisements for open positions in garage bands, in hopes that someone would see the film and dig on it enough to start blogging about it or whatever the fuck people do on their computers these days besides bitch about how much better a $50 million movie could be “if only…” I should have known better.

When I wasn’t punting screeners of Hemo at indifferent teenagers at gigs like Vans Warped Tour I was submitting it to all the major (and many obscure or minor) film festivals, but each submission was greeted with form rejection letters or no acknowledgment at all. Except for one.

Roberto Rizzo was the Founder and Director of a new film festival called NYIFF, the New York International Film Festival. It was a new fest that seemed structure not unlike those chapbook publishing shindigs where the artist pays to have their work showcased in a book the world will never see but gets the rare and exciting opportunity to fly out to a far-flung banquet hall to hear Florence Henderson (the “star” guest) read their work aloud for a room of their fellow desperate and doom-struck artistes.

Nevertheless a friend had referred him to me and, since this friend was appearing in Rizzo’s own film (which was, of course, appearing in the most coveted screening spot on the festival’s time-table), Rizzo was willing to give Hemo a look-see. The only problem was, Rizzo’s broken English was worse and more garbled than any off-the-boat Nigerian grease monkey in East New York, so when he told me, “Don’t worry about an entry fee, I’m sure I like it,” I assumed that meant we were guaranteed a spot on the line-up. Finally! Nepotism wafts my way, I remembering thinking.

Several weeks went by without word as I ironed my finest pin-stripe dress clothes and prepared a tiny paean to my paragon cast and “crew,” but nothing came through my Inbox since Rizzo’s first harried message. His preliminary email reply should have given me pause.

“This Festival is Driving ME Crazy,” he had written. “Is the first time in my life I’m Working…”

How does a man wrangle Award-winning thespian Martin Landau to premiere a picture at his neophyte film festival without having worked a day in his life? Omerta prevents us from pondering this any further, but I can guess…And the answers to that question can surely be found in something like Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher series or the notorious Italian indie Gomorrah.

Eventually I received another one of those ever-popular form rejection letters, this one sent as a document labeled “N: Homo.” That wasn’t a typo, on my part or on Rizzo’s. And then “N” stood for his ruling on my flick. The fledgling film festival of the disorganized and jar-goggled guido would not be showcasing my efforts.

After years of grinding away at this shit I couldn’t help but respond poorly to this kind of insult or oversight. So I wrote back to him. My message of 6/10/10 read,

“Hi Roberto,

I’m curious if you even watched the film in question, considering that you call it ‘Homo,’ when the title is, in fact, ‘Hemo.’

Thanks for your support.

Best Wishes,
Bob Freville”

Rizzo’s mangled and incoherent response was almost worth the letdown. Roberto wrote, in an e-mail reply that was so enjoyable to read that I ended up using it in our screener DVD insert,

“Sorry for the E

“tWE DID Watched, we saw Steve Dash with subtitles……?????????!!!!
We saw you killing your neighbor drinking blood, getting because yo u didn’t have more blood in your Freezer, Smoking like a crazy, You have 2 ecounters with Steve by your door, then you have 2 more and then you kill him for the blood then there are many victims in your apartment dead, then you in the Supermarkert, or whatever, walking and she has a discussion with a woman who pushes her etc etc in the PArk when she talks to the vampire you with steve by the water seating in a bench, you attacking your first victims
you sucking the blood of her, you having sex several times etc
I know all the movie.

“Do you still think I didn’t Watched your HEMO??”

He had watched it all right and had, apparently, confused me with my asexual leading man. Yes, I had smoked “like a crazy” during the making of this trying picture, but had I sucked the blood of her? No such fuck.

There’s a certain semblance of recognition that comes even from

After laboring over a movie for more than a year even dissent can be gratifying. But you don’t make movies to simply put off foreigners or piss yourself with laughter over their spurious brand of “American talk.” The next step, in lieu of any festival screenings, was to get some grassroots attention by way of “advanced praise.” So I sent off DVD’s to every illiterate Web critic I could lasso into giving the movie a look, and the popular opinion was virtually unanimous. Hemo might be a great movie, if only we had a real budget to play with.

That is the Catch-22 of no-budget filmmaking. You toil over something for longer than it takes for you to afford health insurance and, in the end, after scraping together a feature on a budget of peanuts and pubic hair, you share the movie with bitter film school rejects cum jaded movie reviewers whose central lament is that you should have had more money with which to give your flick high-end production values. Only no producer or high-rolling financier will free up loot for your work until you’ve broken in with a self-financed flick.

One critic wrote of Hemo’s gritty narrative, “If it had added just a layer of warmth, it may have been easier to care about the film’s two leads.” A classic example of the audience totally missing the point. Here we have a flick about the doldrums of drug addiction and the havoc it wreaks on relationships and one’s morality (or lack thereof) and they want it to be a by-the-book love story with heart instead of guts.

The first trick of the low-end no-budge filmmaking trade that any aspirant should learn is how to make a bad review work for you. If a critic says, “This is my biggest pet peeve with indie films: poor sound. I found myself cranking the volume on the TV to hear the dialogue only to be blasted out with the musical score in the next scene,” excerpt the quote in your EPK (Electronic Press Kit) as, “I found myself cranking the volume on the TV,” so that, out of its proper context, the blurb takes on the power of enjoyability. “By God, this guy says he dug on the movie so much he went crazy jacking up the volume on his television set! This movie must be the tits!”

It may be a shameless form of self-advertising, but then, isn’t your personal Facebook profile just as narcissistic and reaching? After all, every time someone Tweets about the dump they took at 10AK isn’t that just a way of telling your every potential follower how hella awesome you are?

These strategies seemed to have worked for us when I was suddenly approached by the Acquisitions Department of Troma Team Releasing, they of exploding watermelon heads and toxic waste nuke-comedy, with an offer to distribute the pic. Their guy told me what every other indie distributor had already said, that there was no money for the purchasing of rights to a first-time film without name actors in it.

“But I have Steve fucking Dash!”

“Who is Steve Dash?”

“Jason fucking Voorhees, that’s who!”

“You mean Kane Hodder?”

I was reluctant to take them up on their offer since my friend Chad Ferrin (director of the Breaking Glass Pictures hit Someone’s Knocking At The Door) had already warned me about their shoddy business practices. After mortgaging his house and selling his motorcycle to raise the budget for his debut feature Unspeakable, Ferrin had signed away the rights for a song to Lloyd Kaufman and Co., only for years to go by and DVD sales to skyrocket without them every sending him so much as a penny.

Unspeakable had come out back in 2000. In the ensuing years Troma had parlayed its reputation as purveyors of “reel independence” into something commensurate to messianic indiedom. They were seen in public with people like Trey Parker and Matt Stone whose college thesis film Cannibal: The Musical was released by Troma and indirectly (very indirectly) lead to their success with South Park. And Kaufman’s 99 cent store William Castle schtick as bow-tied spokesperson had won him roles in a number of Hollywood movies like Neveldine/Taylor’s Gamer. Surely they were making enough money these days to afford their filmmakers better treatment…Right?

The Acquisitions Man-Boy responsible for getting me to sign away worldwide rights to Hemo had promised that a DVD release would be in the works for first quarter 2011, but by April no movement had been made and my movie’s title wasn’t even listed anywhere among the “Coming Soon” nuggets gracing their website’s front page. Most likely because a high-gloss remake of their 1981 shlocker Mother’s Day by Saw franchise director Darren Lynn Bousman had driven Lloyd half-mad with a mind mired in dollar signs. Kaufman churned out a quick pseudo-sequel cheekily titled Father’s Day and that pic was taking precedence over all other forthcoming street dates.

Repeated inquiries about when Hemo would drop were met with empty promises about, “Just another couple months,” and, “We’re really back up, but we’re on it.” Until, in June of that Year of the Tiger, Acquisitions Bitch unceremoniously dumped my movie on YouTube (something I could have done myself) for $2.99, as the first title in a new online distribution covenant struck between the reaction video platform and Troma Video. Now every mutant with a kink for dancing fat and naked to “I’m Sexy & I Know It” could view my flick for the price he or she would normally pay for a tube of K-Y or a barf bag built for repeat viewings of 2 Girls One Cup. If only Troma had bothered to publicize the release anywhere. Alas, a link to the page could not be found even on their very own website.

Acquisitions Ass had promised “VOD” release on ComCast and similar On-Demand platforms prior to my signing off on the rights, but YouTube distro without fan fare was hardly what I thought he was talking about. When I expressed concern about this, he brushed me off by once again alluding to an eventual DVD date.

So I waited and busied myself with doing spec work on music videos for indie labels and occasionally venting my aggression via puerile anarchic visual collages but nothing could assuage the near-crippling sensation that I was being sodomized by shady clowns with no sense of advertising acumen outside of yucking it up in other people’s shitty no-budget movies in that familiar bow-tie.

Bare bones independent cinema at its rawest and goriest is basically the mission statement that has kept Troma a hot commodity with horror fans, fanatics and hopeful actors and crew. But it’s the money they’ve made on the backs of those fans and artists that has, apparently, maintained their Meatpacking District empire.

I always suspected this, having dealt with them myself when auditioning many years ago for a part in "Toxie 4: Citizen Toxie," being told that I would be playing a retard and that I’d be responsible for my own transportation to a Pougkeepsie, New York, shooting location, and then never hearing from their pimply smarmy “casting directors” ever again. I suspected it again in 2007 when I sent them a screener of ‘Bitches & Hounds’ and got a letter back (presumably from one of their ridiculously bitter and underpaid interns) that, simply, read, “No.”. But I never would have thought them this janky and indecent.

When I couldn’t take Toxie’s purulent treatment of the green motion picture any more I fired off one last frantic demand for details on the DVD release to Acquisitions Gooch.

"Since I haven’t heard from you in regards to my last e-mail (or much of anything solid or reliable in terms of the fate of Hemo) I’d like to know if Troma would relinquish the film rights back to Intrepid Aspirations, LLC, so that we might at least release the film online for free, through other avenues. Thanks to Troma’s impossibly slow maneuvering in terms of the distribution, VOD or otherwise, the time for the film to be relevant in a mass market has, apparently, come and gone. In the months since I signed the rights away to Troma (and waited and waited and waited patiently for word on when it would be released) films such as Daybreakers (and numerous others) have been in and out of theaters and cable circulation, each of them introducing wide audiences to the theme/concepts put forward in Hemo, so that, at this point, the whole vampire-as-stand-in-for-junkies/vampires-walking-in-daylight angle(s) is no longer as innovative as it could have been.

"So all I ask is that you please reply, at your earliest possible convenience, so that we might work something out for 2012. It seems to me that, since no dues were payable on the contract until fiscal year 2011 had elapsed, that 2012 might be the perfect time for you to release the film back into my care, being that no checks need be forthcoming (nor will they be, since those 75 views on YouTube doubtlessly amount to nothing more than recompense for in-house expenses, right?). So why not start the New Year off with a clean slate and be rid of that pesky Mr. Freville who, I can fairly promise, will continue to hound you with long-winded e-mails well into (and beyond) the end of the Mayan calendar. And nobody needs an Inbox choked with passive-aggressive diatribes from a disgruntled underground filmmaker with nothing to do but wonder where he went wrong in entrusting his baby to a distributor notorious for viciously raping its brightest visionaries (see: Chad Ferrin).

"In closing, I’d like to thank you for fulfilling my childhood dream of working with the guys behind exploding watermelon heads and projectile toxic waste ejaculations. But the dream has turned into one of the dullest and longest nightmares and I’d rather none of us have to suffer any further over a film that, clearly, means nothing more to Troma than Mad Dog Morgan and, probably, far less. After all, Kevin ‘Queer Bait’ Petroff is hardly a surrogate for Dennis Hopper’s chops and I’ll be the first to admit that.

"Thank you for your time and I look forward to resolving this matter with you, by hook or by crook. If Troma wants to hold on to the movie in the long run let’s at least hear your plans to promote a movie that has already been out for several months without anyone, beyond my nearest and dearest, having any knowledge of its existence."

I hoped for a decent reply. What I got, of course, was another phony come-on about the eventuality of far-flung distribution replete with mentions of people being able to watch my movie on their iPhones or PS3 consoles.

"Hey bob I am sorry for delay We have had our titles moved back for reasons outside of our control Hemp is available for download now and will open in 2 platforms by the year end An premiere on cable through comcast ondemand Soon

"Things are happening and will pick up as we get off this rough patch of titles moving around We appreciate your patience and know the frustration of an indie film maker Call me when I get back from LA on the 16th Sent from my iPhone

He later told me if I had any more questions I could call him but that he would be away at a film convention throughout the month ahead. That was the penultimate nail in their coffin and I could weather it no more.

My response was less than delicate.

"The movie is called Hemo, Matt. And I’m allowing for iPhone typos but not for gross negligence. By the year end means December, which gives you guys more than a month and a half to get your shit together. I relish some signs of organization and I look forward to checking out Father’s Day, if for no other reason than nostalgic interest in what the remake machine has done to the kings of New York independence.

Give me a date whenever you can and please refrain from the "Don’t call us, we’ll call you" shtick. We’re not in Hollywood and Lloyd isn’t Mike Simpson. My cell phone number is doubtlessly on file, somewhere, in a corner, tucked away neatly under stacks of non-nude pictures that were snapped of my leading lady and then never released, to me or any member of the press despite multiple attempts by Intrepid Aspirations and its chief member to disseminate them. That is to say, actually advertise the release of the movie.

When you can rip them from the clutches of one of the unpaid fucktards you guys use as interns and dry them off maybe a small batch could be sent to this e-mail address or Mr. Disgusting at Bloody Disgusting or Ryan at Shock Till You Drop or Will at KillingBoxx?

Muchos gracias,
Bob

This last message and the immediate reaction it elicited taught me yet another lesson about the industry I was never meant to be a part of: Never take it easy on the scumbags. Nail the wicked and shitty to their own crosses and neuter the damned every chance you get.

No sooner had I hit "Send" than my cell phone was ringing. I picked it up and Candy Ass was on the line, stuttering and sobbing, losing his shit completely, struggling to verbalize their intentions to get the film out on DVD pronto. The only problem, he said, was that they had recently fired several interns and were severely backed up.

"We can sympathize with that," I said. "All we ask is that you keep us abreast of any movement on the thing, so I can pimp it out proper."

"Of course, of-of-of course," he replied shakily. "Did you say, ‘We?’"

"You bet we did," I said. "And no worries, Matty. We’ll be waiting."

I hung up and left him to wallow in the funk of my litigious words. When rasslin’ with a retarded cronie of an unscrupulous enterprise always let them think you are more than an army of one. If you are legion chances are your legion have a lawyer in your employ and, in the case of a ramshackle shanty-town studio like Troma, chances are the ones they have on retainer are bargain basement. So the last thing these weemers want is to take to the court room with a cutthroat shyster to rival their own CEO.

That is the last I ever heard from Candy Ass in Acquisitions and, most likely, the last I’ll ever see of him. The odds of him being in the court room when I file suit, later this year, against the Kaufman Brood will be slim to none. Unless, of course, he knows how to leverage his own low-paid gig the proper way.

"You can’t fire me," he’ll cry.

To which Lloyd will doubtlessly reply, "Of course I can! I invented Toxie and Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y.P.D. I walk on the Right hand of God!"

And, if he has any sense left in that pee brain of his, Candy Ass will turn to him, poke him hard in his polka-dot bow-tie and say, with fierce confidence, "You can’t fire someone you’ve never paid!"

Regardless of what happens with the troglodytes at Troma HQ on some dank backstreet in the industrial tundra of Long Island City, the destiny of Hemo is pretty much sealed. After sitting in a holding pattern on YouTube, where Troma discounted it to 99 cents for a 48 hr. Rental, the clamps finally came down to excavate it from its place in the gore gulag. A PR person was hired, a DVD release date was firmly established and my persistence pulled it all off.

While the world waited for the next wave of releases, rabidly devouring whatever muck oozed from their cinematic anus, I waited with baited breath for my chance to pounce. Threats of involving an entertainment lawyer to seize back what was rightfully mine yielded movement and a renewed commitment to get the movie out there.
After lo this many months (years?), the pulp-scented palms of Lloyd Kaufman came out of his crusty coffers with some loot and things got moving.

In December 2012, if you order a copy of Hemo on Amazon (or directly from Troma.com) you will either taste the fruit of my long labor…or you’ll be face-fucked by another advertisement by some ‘loid in a lousy latex Toxic Avenger uniform. Either way the beast has been unleashed and that’s usually all an underground filmmaker can hope for.