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Sunday, February 23, 2014

An Interview with the Team Behind LUCKY BASTARD

Robert Nathan (Director, Co-Writer, Executive Producer), Lukas Kendall (Co-Writer, Executive Producer) and Jim Wynorski (Producer, Unit Production Manager).
Photo courtesy of CAVU Pictures
An Interview with the Team Behind 
By Joshua Handler

In honor of the release of their new film Lucky Bastard, I sat down to talk with executive producer, co-writer, and director Robert Nathan, and executive producer, co-writer Lukas Kendall.  Lucky Bastard tells the story of Mike, a porn producer, and Ashley, a porn actress, who invite a fan in to have sex with Ashley after an online competition.  Things don't go well.  Lucky Bastard is currently in theaters.  The following excerpts of the interview have been edited for readability:

According to Lukas Kendall, executive producer/writer of Lucky Bastard, websites like the ones advertised in the film actually exist; ones where fans have sex with porn stars.  "I thought this is so sleazy and at some point I got the idea: what if that turned into...a crime?  [Y]ou excuse for the found footage to exist, which is what I always hate the most about found footage," said Kendall.  Nathan immediately took to the idea and what they could say about our culture.

Nathan was struck by how "completely ordinary" the guys participating in the videos were.  "But you then think about them and think, what kind of a person would say, 'I'd like to have sex with a porn star, I'd like to have it recorded, and I'd it to be on the Internet'?"

The film was cast in three weeks.  Don McManus didn't audition for the role of Mike.  Instead, he met with the filmmakers over lunch and a connection was immediately made.  "The minute we met him, you could feel the character coming out of him, he understood it so well that there wasn't even a question that this actor was the guy to do it," said Nathan.  Nathan echoed what Ti West said about directing in his Q&A after The Sacrament: cast the movie right and you have to worry about little else.

According to Kendall, the actors were just recognizable enough for people to know that this wasn't actually real found footage.  Yet, as Nathan said, they're not THAT well-known so people won't be taken out of the movie.  "From the beginning we've said it's a movie," said Kendall.  Nathan didn't think it was necessary to try to tell the audience it was real.  As I said in my review, the acting is so good that I forgot I was watching a movie half way through anyway.  

Nathan said that the illusion of found footage movies has never worked for him.  Legendary low-budget producer Jim Wynorski and Kendall have been friends for years.  Wynorski produced Lucky Bastard.  The film was shot in 10 days ("We shot a movie on a television schedule," said Nathan) with a skeleton crew, and "...the entire crew came from Jim Wynorski," said Kendall.  When discussing how it was possible to shoot a large amount of script pages in a single day, Nathan explained that "[t]his is a movie about people talking" which doesn't take half as much time as a film with a large amount of special effects.

To Kendall and Nathan, Lucky Bastard was never just an exploitation film.  Kendall said that "We figured out an idea for a film that could be a exploitation film while also commenting on exploitation."  For them, Lucky Bastard isn't even a found-footage movie; "It's a documentary that...they found the footage of."

As with any film that deals with exploitation, the film has inspired a myriad of audience reactions.  The two say that people "see what [they] want to see."  According to Kendall, some couldn't look past the sex and violence.  "Some people say, 'I don't know why they went so far.'  Other people say, 'why didn't they go far enough?'  If [audiences are] smart, they're gonna think, 'Why would anyone want to watch any duration of this [sex and violence] so why are they making this?'  Well, because someone wants to watch it.  Once you start asking those questions then you're actually analyzing a culture and you become like that David Foster Wallace speech.  It's [two] fish swimming in water, so one fish says to the other, 'What's water'.  You don't know what we're in until something snaps you out of it." 

When people complain that the fake rape at the beginning goes on too long, Nathan adds, "we're trying to remind the audience of something and not just shock them.  We're trying to remind them of something they don't want to know.  That this culture makes a lot of rape pornography.  The culture is soaked in it, and we run away from the truth if we pretend it doesn't exist.  What does that say about the culture?  That people are entertained by rape?  We're blinded by how disturbing pornography actually is."  Nathan adds, "[Pornography] is the ultimate hypocrisy.  Everyone disapproves of it, but hundreds of millions of dollars of it are sold every year.  It's...'I hate all the people who make it because they're bad people but I'll forget they're bad people when I go and buy it.'  It is the microcosm of hypocrisy in America."

One of the most amazing of Lucky Bastard's accomplishments is its ability to show the porn actors and creators as real people.  "We will not let you, as filmmakers, feel superior to these people," states Nathan.  "You want to feel superior to them because you think they're bad people because they make pornography.  Guess what, you're no better than they are.  They're just making a living like you."  Lucky Bastard never judges its characters and never eroticizes the sex. "Pornography isn't sexy.  Making it isn't sexy, it's a job.  [A]ll of the sex would not be about sex, it would be kind of funny...because the performers are bored.  It's like, 'Can I do this scene and go home?'  My kids are waiting, let's just get the sex out of the way because I've got to make a living today.  So the sex is purposefully not played for eroticism."  In a similar manner, the violence in the film isn't glorified because Nathan is disgusted by the amount of violence shown in movies with no suffering depicted.  If the violence was to be shown in the film, it would show the resulting suffering.  Every act of violence in Lucky Bastard is shown as something horrific, but it is always "pedestrian."

In addition to being horrified with the violence in films, Nathan is disgusted with another American obsession: humiliation.  "I could not watch the first five episodes of American Idol.  Here we have people who can't sing, who are an embarrassment, and we make fun of them in front of the entire country.  To me that's the sign of a sick culture.  This is unhealthy.  It does not happen in Europe.  It's an American product.  If you look at all the talent shows in Europe, they don't start off with untalented people.  The whole undertone of the picture is 'we're gonna make fun of this guy and we're going to make money off of him.'  If the audience even gets a piece of that and how disturbing that is, then we'll learn something about ourselves; that we like that and we shouldn't."

Many people associate the NC-17 rating with "dirty" movies, but as proven time and again, the films given that rating are never any "dirtier" than R-rated films.  Lucky Bastard is a prime example of that.  The decision to keep the NC-17 rating the movie received was a conscious decision on the filmmakers' part.  Kendall felt that keeping the rating was "the only honest thing to do."  He adds, "People think the NC-17 movie is gonna...melt peoples faces...but then it never happens 'cause its still just a movie."  If you look at Lucky Bastard, nothing is gratuitous.  All of the nudity was discussed with the actors and frontal nudity was only used when completely necessary.

While Lucky Bastard has a lot stacked against it, Kendall believes that the film will be okay in the long run.  He says, "[Pornography]...has one function: masturbation.  And masturbation makes everyone uncomfortable.  It's human and that reality...will make people not buy tickets to our movie, but we don't care because they'll get it on VOD.  The business is changing, the world is changing.  We weren't afraid to be past the cutting edge because we think the culture will catch up to us and we'll be positioned with a serious artistic statement...."  I hope he's correct.

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