It’s a tough thing to be a supporter of the little guy sometimes. When we’re asked to take a look at new films that are struggling to get seen by the major players (and thus, audiences), we enthusiastically agree every time. After all, a positive blurb here can start a snowball that sees an indie filmmaker’s dreams come true. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Sadly, it doesn’t always work out the way we’d hope – once we’ve seen the film, we have to be honest about it, and such honesty doesn’t always bring hugs and kisses from the folks we were trying to help. Amy Sommer has produced some damn fine documentaries in her time, including Waco: Rules of Engagement and The Jaundiced Eye, which recently played at Sundance. Her first feature film outing, Deadly Little Secrets, is one of those films that we tried to get behind but in the end just couldn’t. In this writer’s opinion, the film has problems. In a second writer’s opinion, the film has problems. So I emailed Amy and let her know the reviews were up, but also that they were not overly complimentary. Coincidentally, another Amy Sommer-produced film, Mama/M.A.M.A, had just played at SXSW and I’d also given that flick a bit of a pan, so I felt bad. I like Amy, and I realize that she’s trying to make films that matter, which is far more than 99.9999993% of people in the film industry attempt, but at the end of the day I have to call it how I see it. I expected her to lose it with me when she saw my reviews but, to her credit, she sucked it up, said she understood the situation and duly thanked me for the exposure, even if it wasn’t the kind of exposure she’d hoped for. And that’s why I decided to hand her a rotten tomato or two and let her open fire on me. What did I miss? What didn’t I get? Let the critic take some criticism for a change!
Amy Sommer on Deadly Little Secrets
Deadly Little Secrets is a low budget erotic thriller based in the world of professional sports, steroids, sexual adventure and paranoia. Switch on the TV any night of the week and you’ll see flicks like it running on HBO and Cinemax; they’re a good way to chuckle your way through a few hours of TV without feeling too mentally stretched. DLS isn’t stinky, but it isn’t grandiose either, in a genre where an original story and average performances really set you at the top of the field. Or at least, that’s what I say.
OZ:. Open forum time - what did I miss in my review? Defend the film! Expose me for the fraud I am!
AS: “…it’s great stuff.” - Chris Parry, Hollywood Bitchslap
Chris, what will you give me not to feature the above in future advertising? Okay, so it’s not American Beauty – so what? It is what it is and should be viewed in its intended context. I think that you took out a lot of your frustrations with this genre in general on my film specifically. That’s a lot of bitchslap for one little film to bear.
“The flick isn’t intended for the Oscars – it’s a titillation flick with a little flesh, a little action, and nothing to think about when it’s done. On that level, it’s great stuff.” Why didn’t you judge it in its context from the start of your review?
OZ: Well, in my own defense, this is a question that is asked of film reviewers time and again. ‘How can you say this was great for its genre yet still pan the thing with your rating’? The answer is simple, at least in my eyes; the rating you give a film should compare it to all films of all time. Citizen Kane, American Beauty, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Birth of a Nation, Van Wilder, Vertigo, the aim of all of these films should ultimately be excellence in every area. In the review itself, I think it’s only fair to mention how the film ranks next to its genre-buddies, but if the rating I gave the film corresponded with that I’d have to give Encino Man 5 stars for being the best Pauly shore movie, or Freddy Got Fingered five stars for being the best of Tom Green’s cinematic work. That’s my line and I’m sticking to it, mm-hmm.
AS: Also, I don’t share your disdain for our cast and think that our editor A.C.E. member Stephen Myers, made some great choices that keep the film humming along. You’re right, the film evolved into something very different from the original script and we may have missed a few logical steps in the process, but we did not make this film as an intellectual exercise – we made it to entertain and I think the film does just that.
OZ: Granted, I was probably harsh on your editor as he can only work with what was shot by the director and DP…But when you originally read the script for Deadly Little Secrets, what did you think would be the ideal outcome for it? Were you looking to make a film that might make some money on TV and DVD and might perhaps get on a few screens, or was the original intention to find a star or two and open wide? If so, could you outline the progression of the pre-production?
AS: We thought that Deadly Little Secrets could make a sexy, sellable thriller on an indie budget so we went for it. The female producers and director liked the fact that Deadly Little Secrets featured strong female leads and lots of male athletes. We envisioned a clever little film that would have legs in home video. Now please, go out and buy a copy. Help to make this dream come true.
OZ: I know we, as critics, pound the heck out of any weakness in casting and production we see, but obviously the reality on the pointy end of the camera is far harder than it is to sit back and critique. Clearly the path from script to final product is a rough one... if you could make DLS again, what would you have changed?
AS: There are too many aspects of this film – and life in general -- that are clear only in hindsight that I can’t list them all. I think that the biggest mistake I made was not buying us more time in pre production. If I had been wiser – like I am now as a result of making Deadly Little Secrets – I would have allowed for more time so that the principal creative team could get to know each other and the material better before the cameras rolled.
OZ: What did DLS cost to make and how did you raise that cash? What are the chances for a profit?
AS: We raised the money from private investors who, like producers, think that everything costs too much. Think Films and Main Line Releasing – the domestic and international distributors respectively – have done a terrific job getting the film out there so I do hold out hope for a decent revenue stream even if the original investment is never fully recouped.
OZ: I think everyone I've spoken to who has seen the film has had great things to say about Dina Meyer, yet she doesn't seem to be making the mark on Hollywood that she should. What gives?
AS: Why Chris, you don’t think that starring in Deadly Little Secrets is Dina’s ticket to stardom? I’m shocked, simply shocked.
OZ: Sarcasm from a producer? I’m shocked, simply shocked!
AS: There are so many parts of the stardom equation that it is hard to pinpoint what gives so I can’t really answer your question. I hope that one day the right part at the right time with the right exposure will give Dina her star platform. She is an exceptional talent and I believe that, that time will come. However, in the mean time, she is a working actress which ain’t too shabby in this town populated by gorgeous waiters and waitresses.
All of the cast – including Craig Sheffer, as well as Dylan Walsh, Dina Meyer, Michele Hicks, Roger Cross and Rene Rivera -- are talented actors and cool people which is a treat – and a relief!
OZ: What audience segment do you think will completely love DLS? Who would you really like to be reaching?
AS: I would like to reach anyone who can afford to buy the VHS or DVD of the film – and all of those acquisition executives. Don’t listen to the critics, listen to me and to those hormones – watch our movie; it’s fun and sexy!
But seriously here is my pitch: Anyone in search of a good looking film to veg out with in front of the television set will be pleasantly surprised by the production value and performances. Nuke some popcorn and enjoy the ride of DLS. It may not be ‘great art’, but it can make for a great evening.
OZ: I’d concur with that. It’s hard not to watch a Craig Sheffer flick without a smirk on your face. The dude is so much ham and cheese, and there are some amusing moments in this flick. I’ll say it again, as a titillating 90 minutes plus of straight to video stuff, Deadly Little Secrets is good stuff. And there is a big audience of people out there who dig that kind of thing a lot more than I, so let’s move on to the documentaries.
Amy Sommer on Mama/MAMA
Mama/M.A.M.A. is a documentary that I didn’t want to dislike. The subject matter is important, it’s disturbing in all the right ways, provocative in all the right ways, but ultimately I thought the director, Nonny de la Peña, had dropped the ball by getting too close to the subjects of her film and going too deep into areas that are of little importance to those watching. Granted, that might have been because the more digging she did, the more startling information she found out about other aspects of the story that would need another documentary to fully go into. But I came out of the film feeling like it was on cruise control for the first hour, then when the really incredible things started being exposed, it was over. Others disagree with me, but others (especially those seated behind me in the theater) are of a similar frame of mind – there was a good film in all this that we never got to see. Or at least, that’s my opinion.
OZ: Obviously making a documentary is far different from making a feature film - as a producer what's been your primary involvement in Mama?
AS: Whether the film is a documentary or a feature it has to tell a story. Documentaries don’t have the road map of a script so you have to rely on the director and editor to bring together all of the stories into a cohesive whole in the edit room. With Mama/M.A.M.A. we had over one hundred and twenty hours of footage from which to cull a one hundred minute film.
I think that the role of the producer in this process – besides the logistical and financial ones – is to serve as perspective because no matter how talented a director and editor are they get too close to their subjects. I allowed for enough time in the edit room so that we had time to screen various cuts of the film for friends and family. I am blessed with a great team. Our debates, while heated, were respectful and so made the film better.
OZ: When you started out with Mama, did you have a narrative (for want of a better word) laid out, or did you make discoveries during the production that changed your tack?
AS: We establish the parameters of the documentary and then let the story reveal itself. Originally, we hoped to explore the history and validity of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP) through one transatlantic couple’s struggle. As time passed, we found that their lives and our focus changed as we learned more information. As a result, we chose three different stories to take us through the legal and medical maze that is MSbP.
When we started, we never expected that the children’s medication would play such a large role in MSbP. Now it is both in the film and a focus of our continued research.
OZ: How do you decide when to finish your documentary and stop accruing information - surely, like a painting, you could just keep going and going and going...?
AS: Documentaries are about real people. These people continue living even after we stop filming so we never stop gathering information. With Mama/M.A.M.A. we knew that we would generate controversy and so we continue to research several of the issues discussed in the film. Nonny de la Peña is hoping to write a book on MSbP. She had to leave much of the story on the edit room floor. She has subsequently discovered a trove of information requiring detailed explanation that doesn’t lend itself to film.
It’s the passion of the people with whom I am blessed to work that makes documentary filmmaking a challenge and a joy. Regardless of what you think of the film, the subjects that we tackle make you think and in this genre, being provocative is the highest compliment.
OZ: As a documentary-maker, do you look at something like Bowling For Columbine, which obviously breaks many of the rules of the genre by setting up shots, faking scenes, taking a definite point of view going in and adding dialogue in post, with any kind of derision?
AS: Roger and Me was an inspiration to me as a documentary filmmaker. [Michael] Moore took us along on his journey when he took on corporate America. I love that film. However, Moore’s powerful presence both on and off screen has taken over his subsequent work. I believe that he now approaches his work with an agenda allowing his opinions to trump debate and discovery. While this makes for provocative filmmaking, I don’t think that the audience can share the same sense of discovery and honesty that was the backbone of Roger and Me.
Granted, there is a certain amount of artifice created by the filmmaking process itself. However, Moore pushes the artifice farther than I am comfortable doing. He makes himself the focus of the film using the subject matter as a mere platform on which to express his world view. I am grateful to him for putting documentaries on the map; he has made it easier for fellow documentarians to make a living in the genre.
OZ: Looking back on Mama, is there anything you'd have done differently?
AS: I wouldn’t have okayed shooting the film in PAL Digi Beta because the added resolution was not worth the post production hassles.
OZ: How's the response been - from audiences and subjects?
AS: The reaction has been intense which I think is a great compliment for a documentary film. Julie Patrick and her family were in the audience during a screening at The Florida Film Festival. The Patricks said that that the film turned out better than they thought it would which was a terrific compliment. Our subjects extend themselves by inviting our camera to probe painful parts of their lives and we aim to do their stories justice and not betray their faith in us.
Several teary eyed women came up and hugged Nonny after a screening while others yelled at us. At a Q&A session after a screening we had a terrific debate with several medical students. It’s been amazing and it’s only just begun. Love it or hate it, people become very involved in the film. At the very least, I hope that we have opened up a provocative can of worms that will help us to influence popular debate and sell the film.
Amy Sommer on Film in General
OZ: What the hell? DLS and Mama could not be any more different (without puppetry of the penis being involved). What drew you to such a wide variety of projects?
AS: I am proud of my documentary work: Waco: The Rules of Engagement, The Jaundiced Eye and Mama/M.A.M.A. I focus on civil liberties because protecting the right to live freely and disagree loudly is essential to the ideal that is America. I like tackling difficult subject matters that inspire debate and while some reviewers may take issue with the way that the information is presented, no one can deny that documentaries often tackle issues that are ignored elsewhere.
I was attracted to Deadly Little Secrets for more commercial reasons and because of the strength of the female characters in it. While it didn’t work as originally intended, it was my second film and taught me a lot that has made my subsequent feature film work stronger.
OZ: An alien lands on planet earth and tells you they want to be a producer. You have one paragraph to educate them or be sizzled with a laser. Go.
AS: A producer is to a film as a general contractor is to a house (just more ego and less butt crack.)
Both producers and general contractors complain about paper work, talk to lawyers constantly and are rumored to yell frequently. Now please, turn the laser to hair removal mode and stop telling me about this great script that you have back on your planet.
OZ: The typical view of producers from Joe Public is that they're the guys always talking into a cellphone and that they don't actually do anything but pick up the Oscar. Lay some truth on us.
AS: Well, in addition to incessant cell phone chatter, let’s not forget email, lattes, shaking assistants and random outbursts of self-importance. All are essential tools of our trade.
We need the lattes so that we can stay awake long enough to chatter, type and yell so that the film gets going, stays going and gets gone to an audience. We need assistance because there are far too many details for one person to keep track of and allow ourselves a few bursts of self-importance because as soon as the film is a hit everyone lines up ahead of us to take credit for the success and lay the blame on us for failure.
OZ: How do you find a project that you decide to devote a year or two of your life on. Do you get harassed by script reps, do you get whopping great piles of mail do churn through, is it all word of mouth?
AS: Getting material of any sort is about listening to any words from any mouth. By listening to an insurance broker, we got the FLIR footage that became our first documentary, Waco: The Rules of Engagement. By having coffee with a journalist who “wanted to direct” we found the story of a wrongfully convicted child abuser which became The Jaundiced Eye. Hollywood, like life, is about relationships and relationships are about listening.
OZ: If you could turn back time, would you have done it all over?
AS: Since you’ve made it through my ramblings -- thanks for taking the time to do so – I ask that you indulge me for just a few more sentences while I share the big lesson that Deadly Little Secrets and Mama/MAMA taught me. Don’t listen to your fear – there is no reason to be so damned scared! Yes, scary things happen (have you read what Chris Parry and Brian McKay said about these films?), but, if you base your choices on fear, you will do dumb things like not fix script problems… leave the wrong thing on the editing room floor. Deadly Little Secrets would have been a better film had I listened to my gut instead of deferring to the voices of others out of fear.
Listening to your gut instead of your fear will make you a better filmmaker and far more interesting party guest. I was fearful of bad reviews but look at how well this one has turned out!
OZ: Thanks Amy.
AS: You’re welcome. I appreciate your support of independent film even if you aren’t thrilled by these examples of it.
OZ: Actually, we just put up a very complimentary review of The Jaundiced Eye (http://hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7493), and if anyone’s interested in grabbing a copy of Deadly Little Secrets, you can find it at Amazon.com for just over $20 (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000083C5Q/hollywoodbitchsl/ref=no-sim/002-0142543-6467240). Pony up some dollars and tell us what you think.
link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=722
originally posted: 04/10/03 17:01:57
last updated: 12/30/03 15:56:14