Independent Filmmaking has always been a great interest of mine, so I recently checked out 2008’s So You Want Michael Madsen? for that reason. Well, to be honest, it was also the title that caught my eye. I’m a big fan of Madsen and the idea that his work in indie film might be the focus was reason enough for me to rent it.
The film is basically a look into one of the major hurtles for most independent directors and producers – How to get “name“ actors in your film. When I say name, I don’t generally mean famous. Famous is a term that I believe applies to the stars on magazine covers. People that everyone knows the name of, even if they haven’t ever checked out their films. By name, I mean actors that to the industry, have a marketable profile based on the amount of film and t.v. credits on their resume. Distributors want to be able to attach someone that an audience might know to sell your film. If you’ve got an all new cast, it’s very hard to get a distributor to take a look at it. So filmmakers are always stuck with the problem of attracting someone who a Distributor might find bankable. But being an indie filmmaker, and generally an outsider, how does one get a name interested? That is what director Stan Harrington sets out to answer in this documentary.
The film is an interesting experiment as not only does Harrington try to answer the question of his film by interviewing a number of actors that have been known to sell indie films by their involvement, but he also benefits by having each of them in his movie. But talking to the people that distributors want to see in your movie, he’s essentially made his project more desirable and more likely to get distributed. That in itself makes the concept of the doc interesting. What doesn’t help is that this point is alluded to on many occasions throughout the film. In fact, the director is “called out” on this repeatedly, from his crew to the subjects themselves. But the focus still remains on the idea of making your indie feature more desirable.
I stressed earlier about how name actors did not mean famous actors and that is a point I stress because if your purpose for watching this film is to hear A-list actors talk about their indie experiences, you won’t find that here. Every actor (with the exception of Madsen) is a known actor, but not a famous one. Both John Saxon and Holland Taylor have been around for years and have a multitude of credits. But the general public wouldn’t recognize their names. It isn’t until you see their faces where you go, “Oh, I know them. They’re from….” insert film or t.v. show you saw them in. The other actors featured have less notoriety. Doug Hutchison (The Green Mile), Paula Jai Parker (Hustle and Flow) and Adrian Zmed (T.J. Hooker) might have their own fan clubs, but the average audience wouldn’t know who they were. So the film is good in that it focuses on the type of name that distributors are expecting from small time filmmakers and that generally would not be who you think of. The interviews with these actors are pretty in depth and go over why an actor would be interested in your project, what avenues to attempt to contact them, and when and how to approach them. The film also presents a few organizations that may be able to help you as well. If you are a filmmaker, there is info here for you. It might be a tad dated, but it’s still useful.
The major problem with this film is it’s attempt at a thru-line story for Harrington. Like many documentarians these days, Stan decides to make himself the focal point of his documentary. He’s trying to be the audience’s “in” to understanding the film. This involves his journey on getting the big interview for the film. In the beginning, he has his heart set on talking with Harvey Keitel. After failing to find a way to contact him, he gets a lead through a friend on how to speak with Madsen. This becomes the main plot of the final act of the film. This is a great story to build you film around. The problem lies in the execution. There are many scenes that feel like re-enactments of what “might” have went down in Harrington’s attempts to contact Madsen. They could be real moments, but they do not feel authentic when watching the film. Thankfully, the phony feeling dissipates when Madsen hits the screen. His interview feels very real and his presence is strongly felt. He gives answers that feel honest, and while the interview is very basic in nature, Michael brings a level of excitement to the film that was missing for the first 50 minutes or so. He is by far the best thing in the film and rightly so. You name you’re movie So You Want Michael Madsen?, he better be the best thing. But is he worth the wait?
The film is only 65 minutes long, but it feels like an eternity before any excitement enters this picture. There are points in the various interviews that are interesting, but not very compelling. It’s too short a film to feel this slow.
I feel that while some fimmakers might find this film valuable, most will not be impressed by it’s dragging narrative and mid level production values. I will say that I am happy to have watched this film soley because it brought 2 or 3 Madsen films to my attention that I had no idea about, including Strength and Honor, which I plan to watch in the near future (perhaps a future Rentals Under the Radar will come of that one).
Overall, I give this film a slightly passing grade. It’s not worth buying, but if you’re a new filmmaker, it might be worth renting. So You Want Michael Madsen? is an alright documentary, but when you give the flick a title as awesome as this, it’s gotta have more to back it up. The main fact is that I wanted Michael Madsen and they delivered on that much, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!