Kelley Baker is one pissed-off dude. The Portland, Oregon-based moviemaker who has worked with some of the best in the business has just released his third feature film, Kicking Bird, produced for little more than what a major Hollywood picture spends on a week’s worth of bagels and Starbucks. He shot it guerilla style—no permits, no permission, no problem—calling in favors like gambling debts.
MM sat him down as he was getting ready to go out on this year’s AngryFilmmaker Tour, his annual foray to inform interested filmies why there’s currently no such thing as “independent film.”
Don Campbell (MM): You always call your tours something catchy. I remember “The Pissed Off In America Tour” and “The Kicking and Screaming Tour.” What’s this one called?
Kelley Baker (KB): This year it’s “The AngryFilmmaker’s IRS Tour.”
MM: You owe money?
KB: It’s all part of my educational process. I was stupid when I made my first feature, Birddog, a few years ago. I had read articles about filmmakers who just said, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” They took money they’d made and put it into their movies. They got distribution deals and were able to pay back their taxes, credit cards, whatever. I thought, I can do that! I have a great script, I was coming off of Good Will Hunting, so I had money and I had all of these contacts who said they would help me get a deal. I made the movie and found out that all sorts of people had been lying to me. I was left with lots of debt that I’m still trying to pay off.
MM: What’s your advice to other moviemakers?
KB: Don’t do what I did. Don’t listen to the media and the so-called “independent” film world. They don’t want your movie. Their idea of “independent” is a $15 million movie with recognizable stars that’s easy to market as an “indie.” God, I hate that word. Make the movie that you want to make and make something that you can afford.
MM: Are there still real independent films out there?
KB: Oh sure. You just have to scramble to find them. Our movies get shown at colleges, microcinemas and music clubs. There are other people touring with their stuff. You just have to look.
MM: What about Sundance?
KB: Sundance started out as this great thing. Now it’s just a place to be seen. They need to take a long look at what they’re doing and blow it up! Reinvent it! Make it about real independents again.
MM: Tell us about Kicking Bird.
KB: Two years ago I sent a letter to 100 friends asking for $100 each to make my new movie. I promised them two “really nice seats” at the premiere. I figured I could make a feature on $10,000. I got half of that and made the thing anyway. We shot in digital video for 18 days and it was great.
MM: You made an entire feature on $5,000?
KB: It was actually closer to $6,000 with post-production and all. We shot digital video. The cast and crew all worked for free. I went to places for my interiors that I knew wouldn’t charge us, and the exteriors I stole. I shot in public places on the weekends, holidays, when I knew no one would be around. We were using schools and parks and we had all of these extras, we staged fights and a couple of track meets. Nobody cared. It was a real guerilla production. Some friends did the music for nothing. We’re releasing a CD, my mix was free and some of my old sound editor friends cut all of the sound for me. It was all hustling and calling in favors. If you look at the movie, there is no way you would ever realize that it was that cheap. We did lots of stuff with extras, too. This was independent filmmaking the way it should be.
MM: Besides touring, how else do you get the word out?
KB: I use the Internet to advertise the tour. I teach workshops, badger video store owners, bug small theaters, whatever it takes.
MM: How did this AngryFilmmaker thing start?
KB: A couple of journalists called me the “self-proclaimed” AngryFilmmaker. An old friend started referring to me as that because of my feelings about the film world and the movies I was making. It stuck. I was smart enough to trademark the name so if anyone wants to call themselves an “angry filmmaker” they’re gonna have to kiss my ass, ’cause I own it!
MM: What makes you so angry?
KB: I’m pissed off by the way that movies are going. Independent film is a fashion statement; it doesn’t mean shit except as a marketing tool or a label. You have people like Sofia Coppola making “independent” movies. Please! What did her daddy do for a living? Then you spend $10 or $15 million on a star, shoot in a foreign country, test the movie in front of audiences. That’s independent? That’s bullshit and all of those people can kiss my ass! I’m sure there are a few people in that independent mainstream who keep some sort of control. I just don’t know who they are, besides maybe John Sayles. They’re mostly a bunch of fakers. I realized that I’m a filmmaker, not a deal maker. So I make movies.
MM: Is digital video a good thing?
KB: It’s great—if you know what you’re doing. Digital video provides us with tools to make things very cheaply, but you still have to have something to say. You can shoot on 35mm or on HD, or whatever. If you have nothing to say and you don’t have a good story, who cares?
MM: What do you see as the future of independent moviemaking?
KB: No future. This “corporate” independent film idea isn’t going away. As it becomes more of a club, outsiders—like the people who started this whole independent thing—will find new ways to get their work out. We want to make good movies and have control over what we make and the stories we tell. We’re independent for a reason. That’s not going to change. If a distributor wants to sign me to a deal, my first question is not about money, it’s about control. I want to have artistic control over my work.
You’re going to be seeing more filmmakers touring with their work. We need to do it to make it all economically possible for us to work. I hope that more microcinemas and small art-house theaters open up. The more venues we have to show our work, the better it is for audiences.
MM: Any last words?
KB: Yeah. Go to my Website www.angryfilmmaker.com and buy my movies. If you run a theater or media art center, book me! I do great shows, and I’m a lot of fun after the screenings.