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SXSW '07 Interview: "Fish Kill Flea" Directors Brian Cassidy, Aaron Hillis & Jennifer Loeber

by Scott Weinberg

The "Fish Kill Flea" Pitch: Once thriving, a dead mall in upstate New York is now home to a ragtag flea market, living proof that the American Dream is in perpetual decay. Blending verite with a stylized wit, this heartbreaking portrait raises questions about our disposable culture through the unfiltered lives of its eccentric community.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
A Eulogy for Shoppers by Shoppers

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you're a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.

JENNIFER: I'm a festival virgin. Be gentle.

BRIAN: Melanie Shatzky and I co-directed a short film that premiered at this year's Sundance called God Provides, then another for Rotterdam called The Delaware Project.

AARON: True story... one trip to SXSW in 1998 convinced me to move cross-country to Austin less than five months later. Now I work in New York as a film critic and partner to a new DVD label, so I attend many festivals throughout the year, including Berlin this past month. But this time it's as a filmmaker, so I'm just giddy with anticipation. Everything's overstimulating and new again.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be "When I grow up I want to be a …" what?

BRIAN: I always wanted to work with gauze. I could never say for sure in what capacity, but I learned at an early age that dreams don't come true—so I gave it up.

JENNIFER: A nurse. But then I found out you have to touch a lot of strangers.

Not including your backyard and your Dad's Handycam, how did you get your real "start" in filmmaking?

JENNIFER: I took some film and video classes in college, and made several thoroughly embarrassing Super-8 films of my roommates performing obscene acts on inanimate objects. I think Fish Kill Flea could be considered my real "start."

AARON: I went to a small film school in Arizona during the late '90s. As you might guess, there wasn't a hotbed of networking in the Phoenix metro area to springboard into, which meant the program was more fun than useful. My first film was a crude Super-8 comedy called Fat Kid Running, and Fish Kill Flea is my first project in almost a decade.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it's on "the festival circuit?"

AARON: I've never been prouder of our collaboration, but the opportunity to share this cinematic oddity with others has been the most incredible feeling. I want to buy everyone a lobster dinner for coming to see our film.

BRIAN: I'm not so sure I feel differently about the film. Which is not to say that I'm not incredibly grateful for having found the validation that festivals offer. I just don't think my perspective on the film has changed much—I know it will over time, but probably for other reasons.

JENNIFER: It's exciting and flattering, but I always thought we had a gem.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?

AARON: Dr. Teeth, mostly for the way he spins language in The Muppet Movie: "Too true. Too true. It is indeed a problem for us to 'probosculate' upon. But it seems to me the frog and the bear are temporarily out of service."

JENNIFER: When I was eight I had a subscription to "Miss Piggy" Magazine. Need I say more?

BRIAN: I've always liked the blue eagle that read the news—he always took himself and his message a bit too seriously and, I believe, suffered greatly for it. I also liked the one that threw boomerang fish…he also suffered, but for different reasons. I like suffering puppets.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?

BRIAN: No. Having now been to some festivals it will probably be unavoidable, but hopefully only as a dull roar in the back of the mind.

JENNIFER: I remember us joking around about what we would wear to Cannes. This was usually while filming in subzero snowstorms with only high fructose corn syrup to keep us alive.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.

AARON: Around Thanksgiving 2004, Brian brought us upstate to check out this peculiar flea market, housed in one tiny end of a dead mall where he used to shop as a kid. That day, we learned Home Depot was planning to have the mall destroyed, so this eccentric neighborhood of vendors was basically going to vanish. Brian was in grad school for photography but had access to DV equipment, so he suggested right then that we shoot a short together before the mall was razed. Months later, as the destruction deadline kept getting postponed, two photographers and a critic had suddenly made a feature film.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?

BRIAN: Give equal attention to sound and picture.

JENNIFER: I learned that just about anyone is approachable (even with an enormous camera pointed at them), and people are twenty times more fascinating than you ever assume they might be.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?

AARON: Between the three of us, I think our biggest inspirational overlap has been Werner Herzog. To a lesser extent, the Maysles. And in the tiniest corners of the frame, we swiped two or three modernist ideas from Godard and Bresson.

BRIAN: Stroszek (Werner Herzog); Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson); Muhammad Ali, the Greatest (William Klein); Hearts and Minds (Peter Davis); Bananas (Woody Allen); 4 (Ilya Khrzhanovsky); The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Sergio Leone).

JENNIFER: The French New Wave makes me weak in the knees. Also the Czech New Wave. Pretty much any 'wave' of filmmaking. I also have an intense soft spot for Jacques Tati's Playtime and most anything Herzog does. 4 by Ilya Khrzhanovsky is another recent fascination.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?

JENNIFER: I am vehemently anti-cartoon. That said, Paul Giamatti gets my vote.

AARON: Dan Hedaya. Or maybe Werner Herzog.

BRIAN: The Smothers Brothers.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?

AARON: I'd like to remake Larry Cohen's Special Effects, adapt Mark Leyner's The Tetherballs of Bougainville, and sequelize Louis Malle's Black Moon.

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd almost definitely be...

JENNIFER: A photographer! Oh wait, I already am. Film and photography mesh pretty well together, but if I couldn't do either, I'd probably look into the culinary field. Making stuff, I really just enjoy making stuff.

BRIAN: A baseball player, most likely a pitcher.

Who's an actor you'd kill a small dog to work with? (Don't worry; nobody would know.)

AARON: Isild Le Besco. Her face alone is captivating, like a gorgeous alien.

BRIAN: I think that working with a well-known actor would be very difficult. For me it would be a real obstruction, since I would find it hard to craft a plausible fiction with recognizable faces. There are probably more actors that I would kill an animal not to work with.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?

JENNIFER: Criticism is subjective, but I believe vital to the process of making art. If anything, it helps push your work in new directions.

AARON: Extremely, as long as one can discern between an enlightened critic and some hack who simply sees enough movies to write about them. Great critics can read like butter, turn you on to the wildest film treasures, and unlock secrets into how images and sound manipulate us. To me, criticism is one of the last hopes for progressive cinema.

You're told that your next movie must have one "product placement" on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?

BRIAN: Can I pick a bunch?

JENNIFER: Anything involving the biofuel industry. Seriously nerdy, I know, but SUV drivers make me feel lightheaded with rage so why not shill something good for everyone involved?

AARON: I'd be okay promoting Biodiesel fuel, or the Fleshlight.

You're contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that's absolutely integral to the film or you're getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?

JENNIFER: NC-17. Everyone rushes out to see the latest NC-17 depravity anyway, so it's a win-win now, isn't it?

BRIAN: It would depend on how much money I had in the bank.

What's your take on the whole "a film by DIRECTOR" issue? Do you feel it's tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it's cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?

AARON: I know it's a question about authorship, but this really comes down to your take on auteur theory. Some filmmakers deserve that byline because their films are extensions of their singular visions. Uwe Boll, on the other hand, should be forced to share credits with every gaffer, grip and set designer who has to be associated with his cinematic puke.

BRIAN: I believe in the idea that the director/directors are the authors of the film—when I watch a movie that's what I go to see—a personal point of view rather than a film made by committee.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?

AARON: True "independent films" can make for potent and crazy new experiences. They can be alive, unlike the festival wannabes that suck off the Hollywood teat and pretend to be indie after being market-tested within an inch of their lives. If you're coming to SXSW, take advantage and go see funny, sad, weird, uncompromised little movies like ours so you're not just entertained, but surprised and challenged, too.

BRIAN: It will make you sad.


Fish Kill Flea will have its world premiere at the 2007 South by Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information on the film. And check out BSide.com for even more info!

link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=2102
originally posted: 02/23/07 07:04:47
last updated: 03/06/07 17:24:02
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