Vittorio Carli's Interview with Movieside Programmer, Rusty Nails.
Chicago-Milwaukee resident Rusty Nails is a powerful force in the Chicago Indy film circuit.
He founded the Movieside Film Festival, which has been showcasing some of the finest independent shorts for the last 6 years (see myspace.com/moviesidefilmfestival).
Rusty's filmmaking resume is equally impressive. He made several interesting short films, including a tribute to New York punk rock band, The Ramones.
His first feature film, Acne, has been described as a black-and-white, '50s, horror sci-fi, B movie, about teenagers whose heads turn into giant zits. Acne is currently available on DVD.
I caught up with Rusty at Kenneth Morrison's legendary bi-annual pig roast event, which is a convergence place for almost every artist, weirdo and freak in the universe (I mean that in a complimentary sense).
Rusty and I did an impromptu guerrilla interview in my car, in which I asked him some questions about his background and career. I later sent him a few supplementary questions about his new film on-line, which he diligently responded to.
Vito: I'm here with the world famous Rusty Nails, at the Pig Roast. I'm going to ask you some basic questions, but feel free to go off in any direction you want. What can you tell us about your early life or childhood?
Rusty: I was born in Burmingham, Alabama. We moved to Minnesota and a bunch of other states. My dad was a cook and my mom studied English. Because the nature of the restaurant business we ended up traveling a bit because that line of work can be a bit unstable. I've been to most every state. I got interested in other cultures and exploring. Exploring is what film is all about. I later moved to Chicago to live with my aunt and to work on films.
VC: Did you have any mentors or influences when you were starting out?
RN: I went to lots of films as a kid. I snuck into a lot of films. I had a million influences. Everything in life influences you: Roman Polanski, Akira Kurasowa, Gus Van Sant, Frank Tashlin, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Maya Deren, Stanley Kubrick, Jean Cocteau, Peter Jackson etc.… I loved punk rock. I was into Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinney, and The Locust. I read JD Salinger, James Joyce, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. I loved the "Twilight Zone" show, "Twin Peaks," "Outer Limits," "Firefly.”
VC: Did you take anything away from the French new wave directors, in terms of technique?
RN: I do love the energy and vitality of the French New Wave. It's my favorite type of film, along with classic screwball comedy and film noir. I'm not interested in copying anyone's style. I tend to work a lot with surrealism in narrative structures with experimental aspects. A while ago I did a video for Arab on Radar that was a tribute to surrealism. With the feature, Acne, I wanted to capture the energy and spirit of French New Wave films. At the same time I wanted it to be homage to film noir and B movies but not to any specific film. So there are many styles in it.
VC: How did Acne come about?
RN: I came up with an idea when I was 16, and I was riding on bus from Minnesota to New York City. I was writing lots of skits on the way. I always wanted to act in movies and I figured the best way to be in them was to write them and make them myself. I came up with the idea of doing a fake pimple commercial. A huge helicopter lands on it and pops it. That's a ridiculous concept but for some reason it stayed with me. I always wanted to film that and to do a 50's B movie style horror film. A Mad Magazine, French New Wave, Film Noir, Horror/Sci-Fi film.
If you see the film, you'll see that there are various story lines that connect into each other. I had a million things to say…that's why there's a lot of layering to the story in the film. It's like when you're in a band; you have your whole life to make your first record then you have to knock off the second one in six months. With Acne there is a lot of stuff in it that I have saved for years to put into my first feature film.
VC: Who came up with the fake product endorsements and companies in Acne?
RN: I did. I feel like that's a very "Mad" magazine inspired element of the movie. I loved "Mad" and “Adbusters” when I was a kid. They always had all those great ads making fun of real products - that concept worked well with the parody aspects of Acne.
VC: Where did the idea for the existentialist banter come from in Acne? Was existentialism a big influence on your life?
RN: I've been interested in existentialism since I found out about it in high school. Read a bunch of Sartre and Camus. That was about the same time period that I was finding out about the French New Wave filmmakers, who were quite obviously influenced by the existentialists, so it was an exciting period of questioning and discovery for me.
I wanted the leads (of Acne) to go into these political dialogues and question what was going on with them in the horror setting because I was sick of seeing teenagers act like fools in horror movies. Teenagers are quite intelligent, and I wanted to make the characters more dynamic. Real people would question why these horrible things were happening to them, they wouldn't sit around screaming and having sex.
VC: There is quite a bit of social commentary and criticism of corporate America in Acne. Do you think film is a good way to raise social consciousness?
RN: I don't know about raising social consciousness. But I think it's good to offer something that maybe makes people question common concepts - shake things up and get the gears going.
VC: Can you tell me about your other film projects?
RN: I'm also making a documentary called Highway Robbery, about a 60-year-old blind veteran/cowboy in Rockford Illinois. His land is being taken away from him in a quick-take action, which is a sped up version of eminent domain. They take his 17 acres of farmland and make an unnecessary highway over his land, which contains a Native American burial ground. That's a complete 180 from Acne. I'm also working on Dead On: The Life and Cinema of George A. Romero. Highway Robbery is almost done. Since Acne was finished I've made numerous short films, including God is Dad, Hit The Lights, The Breakneck Kid, and The Last, The Lost and we’re working on This Dying Vacation.
VC: How did punk expand your horizons?
RN: When I was 13, I started to go to punk shows in Minnesota, and suddenly I had friends - a sense of community - I had music, which challenged the basic construct of society values and capitalism.
VC: Did you also find a similar sense of community in the indie film scene?
RN: My mother gave me a camera to film with, but I didn't have any kind of a venue where I could meet other filmmakers. I wasn't interested or ready to be in a community to meet other filmmakers. I was just getting into seeing films. The film community I first got into (were) people going to old movie theaters and seeing films at libraries and schools. Mainly I was going to see films and that's how my film education started.
VC: Can you discuss Movieside?
RN: The Movieside Festival happens once a month and it shows independent, underground, intelligent or funny narrative films, and avant garde films. We try to make it inexpensive and we try to avoid some of the regular racist, sexist and homophobic stuff that you see in lots of independent films. We want to make it accessible to someone off the street. Many film fests have an exclusive air about them - we try to be the festival that everyday people off the street feel comfortable coming to, in that we are welcoming to people who might want to try something different.
VC: Can you tell me about your lecturing?
RN: I was teaching some directing classes at Arlington Heights High, and at a co-op in Detroit where they had something called Film Fanatics. I may be teaching a class about guerrilla filmmaking techniques or low budget filmmaking, some kind of independent film basics class.
VC: Do you read film criticism or read reviews?
RN: Sure, it's fun. Yes, it's like getting together with friends. Talking about movies. The main thing is to remember they're only opinions. I like Shelia Miles' writing, also magazines like “Rue Morgue Magazine” and "Salon.com."
VC: How did you meet John Waters?
RN: I'd been going to the Sundance festival to meet other filmmakers and see films. We were hanging out in the lobby of a hotel and one of my friends told me John Waters was in the lobby. When we came down he was gone. We ran into him later and talked to him. Then, I called him and told him I had a script I'd like him to read. He asked him to tell him about it and he said it sounded interesting and he invited me to go with him to the Sundance Awards. I ended up going with him, Patricia Arquette, and a French critic. Stockard Channing sat in front of us. He spoke at the awards. He offered me a lifesaver. I kept it and I may frame it someday. He's a great guy. He's really funny and has a lot of great stories.
VC: Is there anyone you'd like to work with?
RN: I love working with the crew and cast members I've been working with for the last couple of years. I like Jim Jarmusch, Guy Maddin, Jean-Luc Godard and Lars Von Trier. I like Gus Van Sant. I don't necessarily want to work with other directors - maybe I'd love to go and watch them direct - or in some cases I would love to write for some directors. There are two new directors I really like, Katrina Boswell and Michelle Vitne. If you get a chance, check them out.
VC: Who are some of the people that you have worked with that you have a special rapport with?
RN: Well there's a lot. I first got into film because of the sense of community; my crew and actors, my cinematographer, Mark Willmer, and Cheryl Letigne, who is often the assistant cinematographer. Stephanie Burnham and Steve Ahearns - basically everyone I ever worked with. We have a mini-no-money repertory company, like Francis Ford Coppola had with American Zoetrope and Kevin Smith has with his crew.
VC: How did you get Jim Jarmusch to participate in the Movieside Festival?
RN: I met had him a bunch of years ago in Texas at a film festival and said I would like to bring him to Chicago. He seemed interested and gave me his office number and I stayed in contact, and as Movieside started to grow, and we were able to bring in sponsors, I felt getting Jim could be a reality. I stayed in contact with his assistant for a while and finally found a spot in his schedule that worked and we built one of our anniversaries around his schedule. It's just ironic that his schedule fit into the same time period of our anniversary.
VC: What's your favorite Jarmusch film and why?
RN: Down by Law. The black and white photography is beautiful. The comedy is great. The story is simple enough for anyone to film but classic enough that only one person could. I also like Broken Flowers and Stranger Than Paradise.
VC: What upcoming projects are you involved in?
RN: On August 14, we are doing the Terror in the Aisles 6 at The Portage Theater with John Harrison (director of Clive Barker's Book of Blood & Tales From The Darkside: The Movie). We'll be showing the theatrical premiere of his new film,"Clive Barker's Book of Blood" as well as Tales From The Darkside: The Movie and Creepshow (John composed the music for Creepshow & Day of the Dead). The Music Box Massacre 6 will be coming up in October. Dead On: The Life and Cinema of George A. Romero should be done in the next year so it will be on DVD. We will probably have a big release party for that.
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