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November 19, 2007

The Glover Model

Actor/director adapts self-distribution standard for challenging new film

Fine and not-quite-dandy: Steven C. Stewart and Carrie Szlasa in Crispin Glover and David Brothers' It is Fine. EVERYTHING IS FINE! (Photo: David Brothers)

You could easily confuse Crispin Glover with one of the many eccentric characters he is best known for. Tall, thin and dressed in black, his manner catches you off guard: serious at first, then slowly revealing his joviality, a smile always on the verge of cracking through his angular face -- more George McFly than Willard, for sure. He speaks carefully and deliberately about his latest directorial effort, It Is Fine. EVERYTHING IS FINE!, articulating every syllable and rarely using contractions.

It's all calculated; a pretense, perhaps, but an essential one. It's the persona he's created to sell his films -- and himself.

"Years ago I was trying to act in films that psychologically reflected my own interests, but they never did, which was very frustrating," Glover told The Reeler during a recent interview in New York, where It is Fine opens Nov. 21. "Now, by knowing that I'm being paid for acting, of course I know the money that I made I am able to put into these projects I am so passionate about."

Glover’s change of heart comes through in his well-developed business acumen; he looks for a commercial advantage in everything. It is Fine (co-directed by David Brothers) is Glover's second trip behind the camera since 2005, when his debut What is It? confronted viewers with radically cryptic narrative and a range of disabled actors. His follow-up pushes the envelope even further, consisting primarily of the horrendous psycho-sexual fantasies of its late star and writer Steven C. Stewart -- a man severely afflicted by cerebral palsy. Knowing how disconcerting many audience members -- and distributors -- will find the graphic sexuality and disturbing imagery, Glover is distributing the film himself. He sees this as a benefit rather than an obstacle, however. "The wherewithal that I have as a distributor is going to be far greater than any small distributor would have," he said. "I can trust me."

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Glover's breakthrough occurred when he decided to fund his own projects with the money earned while acting in far more mainstream fare. It's hardly a new strategy; John Cassavetes famously did the same thing, predating by 30 years Glover's decision to take roles in films like Charlie's Angels and the recently released Beowulf, helmed by Glover's Back to the Future director and former lawsuit co-defendant Robert Zemeckis. "When I first heard there was interest in me for the film, I did have concerns because of what happened [with Back to the Future]," said Glover. When he refused to appear in Back to the Future Part II, a stand-in with prosthetic nose and cheekbones (along with older footage of Glover) was used instead. Glover successfully sued the producers -- a landmark victory resulting in new Screen Actors Guild rules. "But when I heard about this offer I had already been financing and touring around with What Is It?, so I knew this was a business model I was involved with, and I knew I would be paid my studio rate, so there was no negative element."

An understatement, considering Glover conveniently, and completely on purpose, timed the release of It Is Fine with the release of Beowulf. "There was no way I would be able to get the publicity I'm getting right now if I had just opened the film by itself," he said. "All of these entities that want to speak with me, the reason most of them want to speak with me is because I'm in Beowulf. I knew that would happen and that's fine. It's part of what I'm working with and counting on with working in this way."

When it comes to distribution itself, the similarities with Cassavetes end. "At the time when Cassavetes was distributing his films there were corporate distribution entities that were letting things come across that were esoteric and unusual," Glover said. "But that has stopped. So, in addition to funding my own films, I also have to distribute them."

"There was no negative element": Actor/director Crispin Glover (Photo: Getty Images)

This is where Crispin Glover the businessman stands apart. He tours with the film --literally carrying the reels from city to city in a rolling suitcase. Before each screening he performs his Big Slide Show -- an hour-long dramatic reading featuring visual accompaniment from eight of his art books (also on sale) -- and follows the film with an extensive Q&A. He splits the film's ticket sales 50-50 and, at $10 per ticket, keeps 100 percent of the door for the Big Slide Show, completely eliminating the need for a middle man. "There are smaller distribution companies I could go with," he said, "but those [companies] are notorious for not paying the people that they are supposed to be paying."

The whole thing, according to Glover, is pure performance. "People like to have this true interactive element," he said. "It's really an old tradition and has had an economic viability for well over a couple hundred years." On the other hand, the platform drastically limits the distribution avenues Glover is able to utilize: He recognizes the theatrical limitations of DVD and does not have much faith in online distribution. "At this point, for me, an analog 35mm print has the benefit of having both a large, single-screen, vaudeville-type experience that can happen with live performances and it is not easily pirated the way DVD, or online digital information, can be."

In the future, Glover added, he will plan his films' release model around the content itself. "The thing for me, in distributing the way I'm distributing, it's an insurance," he told me. "It means that if I can keep my budget in a certain realm I feel fairly self-assured I can, over a long time period, recoup the money I've invested. That's very important to me. But, probably the next film I make will not have graphic sexuality in it, so it makes a very different playing field for distribution."



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