❉ Underground filmmaker & founder of the PINK8 film manifesto and the Straight-Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival.
We Are Cult‘s James Gent chats with underground filmmaker & founder of the PINK8 film manifesto and the Straight-Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival, Fabrizio Federico about his work including his latest film, ‘Teddy Bears Live Forever’.
“I loved the idea of making films with no experience, I relied on extreme punk DIY ethos. It was like getting my first box of dayglo crayons, who cares if no one likes it let’s just make it anyways!”
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I was named after the assassin ‘Fabrizio’ in The Godfather, he’s the one who blew up Michael Corleone’s wife with a car bomb, and the first film I fell in love with as a kid was Gremlins so I’ve always preferred mischievous characters ‘cos it’s in my blood. But we moved a lot as a family, from England to Italy then finally to America ending up near Salem village which was a very strange place to grow up. We’d go to graveyards and listen to the cats talk to the graves, or go for palm readings and witch portal parties, I loved the mystical, paranormal environment there. As teenagers we’d also drive up to Harvard University and throw eggs at the rich kids on weekends if we were in a jokey mood, then I learnt guitar and played in alternative bands, the best one I was in was called Ochmoneks, I had a brilliant time in America, shame about Columbine though.
How did your love for film get sparked?
If you’re a creative person than cinema is the biggest playground, because it incorporates everything sound, vision, writing, painting you name it. It’s a very sexy form of self-expression and it has a special alchemy too which reminds me of voodoo, it’s very fascinating and exhilarating when everything gels. In Italy I’d watch Fellini, Pasolini, Paolo Villaggio comedies and Spaghetti Westerns. At one point as a kid I even instigated my gang to re-enacted the ex-president bank robbers from Point Break, I was Ronald Regan. I loved the idea of making films with no experience, I relied on extreme punk DIY ethos. It was like getting my first box of dayglo crayons, who cares if no one likes it let’s just make it anyways!
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
Mainly cult midnight movies but editing-wise I love the Sex Pistols film The Great Rock & Roll Swindle, which is completely out of control, Wild side by Donald Cammell has an insane flow to it also, Julien Donkey Boy was a beautiful film, or those early Andy Warhol films starring Edie Sedgwick. Basically movies with no structure, I’m a DJ Director so I’m after a sublime chaos. I quite like old existential Robert Mitchum movies, Reefer Madness and 60’s LSD films. Gangster films too, White Boy Rick was great. I hated Bohemian Rhapsody; if you want to watch a real rock movie see Oliver Stone’s The Doors, that was very fresh when it came out. But anything from weird Jamaican cinema to banned North Korean films.
What made you pursue film making?
Eventually I was deported from America because after 9/11 they cracked down on immigration, so I ended up alone back in England and wanted a new challenge, I’d always been into weird underground movies; Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie made me want to make a feature film at any cost, so I found a bunch of street superstars such as prostitutes, homeless folk, a pimp, an ex ping-pong champion and just loads of random people and in 2011 I finished Black Biscuit. I shot it on a Fisher Price toy camera, mobile phones and anything else I could get my hands on, from that the PINK8 Manifesto was born which is way more hardcore than Dogme 95, that’s child’s play compared to PINK8. But I had a big boost from Amy Winehouse who I met in a kitchen backstage at Glastonbury festival, I told her about my new film and she told me to keep my legs open.
Is it harder to get started or to keep going?
I found it very easy to start I couldn’t wait to get on set and start experimenting, I only use improvisation, I’ve still never used a script and my cast don’t even know what the film’s premise is when we’re shooting, it’s more exciting that way, some of the cast would get really stressed out about not knowing where they were going but I thrive on that, it gives the performances a real authenticity. Then I can layer the performances and give the film a focus and a climax. Cinema should be marbles, so what if the lights are on but nobody’s home.
It is said that there are only six stories. Maybe twelve. It’s all been done before. And we have seen it all. What do you do to keep it fresh? Is there anything that you specifically try to subvert or avoid or rebel against in your work to keep it original?
When I’m editing I like to blindfold myself and just mix & match random footage together, or I’d only eat yogurt and weed for breakfast, which would give me a trippy adrenaline feeling and put me in the trance-like mood, so now I’m a wizard. Anthropology and conspiracy books, or cartoons like South Park and Casper are great. I want my films to be a mix of Disney and the Occult. There’s a lot of subliminal backwards messages in my movies from people such as Ali, Mother Theresa, Charles Manson, Jim Jones, JFK but I collect ideas from everywhere. It’s a brain stew of concepts, sky’s the limit if you keep an open mind. Or travelling helps, I love deserts and waterfalls, I went to Dracula’s castle for my birthday.
What obstacles did you face when you were starting out?
Well, I was broke so money was the main obstacle, but I became a nude life model and went from door to door asking for £1, but the film only cost about £200-500 which is a micro-budget considering it’s a feature film. Now if I need money for a movie I go to a bank and I tell them that I need a loan for a car which always works. Also a lot of my cast would either be sectioned or arrested which would screw up the film’s continuity or the police would show up because I never had a permit and they would confiscate my footage, things like that would happen all the time and I would start throwing things around on set like Christian Bale, you have to be tough to be a director but my Italian temper would get the better of me. Now I see being on set as a circus which calms me down and makes me cheery.
Film is the compromise between art and commerce. How has your art been shaped by both the money you have had or not had? Do you create with budget limitations in mind?
Not really because I never wanted to make CGI Blockbuster movies, I’ve always preferred fucked up low-budget movies, they are more personal. I shoot when I want because I’m also the film’s producer so it’s very simple that way, I can do what I want, when I want without a big budget studio ruining my vibe. I’m more interested in capturing moods and creating a seductive power through textures, so the last thing I need is a load of company men mutilating my creative cauldron, that’s the beauty of cinema verité.
Can you talk a little bit about some of the specific challenges you faced on your latest film, ‘Teddy Bears Live Forever’?
It was more personal challenges that I faced when I was making Teddy Bears, my marriage was breaking down and I felt like I was losing my mind, one day I even took a shower while holding an umbrella over my head, I was in a very toxic place. I’m a method director and the material was pretty dark in that film so it was rubbing off on me. The movies about an “it girl” with multiple personality disorder and I’m schizophrenic anyway so it was a bad combination, but a really interesting zen-diary style film came out of it.
Who is/was Jett Hollywood?
Jett was inspired by David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, why should rock stars have all the fun with alter egos? So, I created a filmmaker from Mars who would make two films and then commit cinema suicide. I wrote a suicide note put it online which went viral on Buzzfeed and Jett disappeared, he did a “Reggie Perrin” as it’s called when you vanish into thin air. Some people even said he was abducted by UFOs.
This year I created a filmmaker called Blimp Chopsocky because I love Frank Sidebottom so much, I decided to make a camcorder head. I wanted to create the first performance/artist filmmaker. He’d look good on the cover of Time magazine. He’s a fan of Snowball drinks, badges & John Waters films. Blimp was born on the floor of an Off-License convenience store, he loves leeks and only uses a cheque book to pay for everything, even his bread and cakes. He used to work in a Zoo, he decided to become a filmmaker after seeing Tom Hanks fall down the stairs in a Birmingham hotel. In his spare time he writes love poems to Emma Stone.
Is the film business fair? Why or why not? How do you make the apparatus work for you?
No it’s not fair at all, it’s very ruthless and shallow but it is a business and most businessmen don’t understand real art, which is okay, I get it, but I’m quite happy being the film industry’s Van Gogh. I get people emailing me saying that I inspire them to make a film which is enough for me, plus I don’t think the Oscars give away awards to filmmakers whose movies provoke riots.
Is it possible to sell out? What would that mean to you and would you like it to happen or not?
Only if you’re doing something you completely hate, if I was making a complete piece of shit cop-buddy movie with Bruce Willis, that would be selling out to me. If you hate what your doing but you’re still doing it then that’s “selling out”, actually that’s worse than selling your soul.
What role, if any, have film festivals played in your life so far? Are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?
They aren’t necessary, I only ever wanted to get into the Raindance Film Festival and that was the last festival I was in, but I haven’t bothered applying to any other festivals, their platform is out of date in the 21st century. I run the online filmfest called Straight Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival, it’s free, all the filmmakers have to do is upload their movie onto either YouTube or Vimeo and then for 7 days we screen the films from the website. It’s so simple and then the filmmakers get an international audience, that’s what misrule cinema’s about, creating a generation gap in this fish-faced business.
Are you on social media and do you use it in your work?
Yes, social media is a great tool, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of naïve cinematographers out there who get jealous of film directors, which is pretty funny, but if anyone wants to make a film now’s the time to do it, they really have no excuses anymore. Make the most of social media while it’s still free free, advertising a film is even more expensive than making it! I’m proud of my films so I like sharing them with audiences anyway I can, magazines, TV, carpark flyering, it’s always a joy to meet freaky arthouse audiences or to piss off mainstream ones.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into filmmaking?
Yes, don’t feel like you have to go to University to study cinema, it’s a waste of time and instead of getting into debt why not use that money to make your debut feature film. It’s a lot more fun then sitting around in class. Time is precious.
Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?
I record the soundtracks to my movies under the name MAO, I recorded an album called Graveyard Music up at Aleister Crowley’s haunted Boleskine House. I took home a souvenir chair, which moves around by itself, once in a while I draw but when I’m not making movies I’m a beach bum and I sun worship. You can become a bit of a hermit when you’re spending a year editing all that footage, it’s very intense.
What are you working on at the minute? Do you have any upcoming projects?
Currently on an untitled film about a variety act who gets a #1 Pop Hit in Yemen called ”Yeah Man”. It’s about showbusiness entertainers such as George Formby, Charlie Chuck, Edward Barton & John Otway. It will be surreal and messy.
How can our readers discover more about you and you work?
Here you go – http://fabriziofederico.co.uk/ Merry Christmas!
❉ James Gent has contributed to several acclaimed publications devoted to cult and popular television including 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die and is the co-editor of Me and The Starman, coming soon in 2019.