the Annual Indie Supporter Award for helping first-time directors such as Noah Baumbach (“Kicking and Screaming”) and Neal Jimenez (“The Waterdance”) to get their low-budget movies made. “With studio films, if you have a problem, you can afford the time to work it out,” says Stoltz, 36. “But with independent films, you have five minutes to fix it before you lose your light and all your money. And that leads to interesting solutions and a pressure that’s kind of fun.”
Sixteen years ago, Stoltz launched his career in the studio mainstream with such crowd-pleasing fare as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (his film debut at age 20), “Mask,” and an obligatory John Hughes pit stop “Some Kind of Wonderful.” “I certainly did my share of teen films — that kind of gentle fable that goes down easy, but I was always looking for something a little grimmer,” he says.
Unfortunately, grim indie films were hard to come by in those early days. “In 1982, when I made ‘Fast Times,’ the independent movement was just John Sayles, and he certainly wasn’t looking to use teenage actors,” says Stoltz. “The movement really blossomed in the late ’80s. Thank God.”
Now Stoltz has plenty of opportunities to work with indie directors, and his marquee name can often help them find backers for their movies. It was his casting in “Kicking and Screaming” that convinced a wary Trimark Pictures to fund Baumbach’s debut. “If someone goes up to Eric on the street and gives him a script, he’ll actually read it,” says Baumbach. “His feeling is, ‘Who knows where there’s going to be something good?'”
“Goodness, I would hate for that myth to propagate,” says Stoltz when told of Baumbach’s comment. “Actually, what Noah meant to say was that people come up to me and offer me large piles of money, which I gladly accept.”
Still, it takes more than a great script to get Stoltz to trust a tyro director. “I talk to them and see if I like them as people first, and see how willing they are to collaborate,” he says. “Often, first-timers have directed their scripts so many times in their head that they’re not that open to the natural accidents of everyday filmmaking, which is precisely what I find delightful about making films.”
Though the perks on his indie projects don’t match those of the pricey studio films he still dabbles in (“Rob Roy,” “Anaconda”), Stoltz prefers the extra dedication and hunger — sometimes literal — that comes with working with a slimmer budget. “The food is much better on studio films. But as Fidel Castro can tell you, a well-fed army isn’t going to get up at five in the morning and raid a village,” says Stoltz, who then snorts at his own remark. “Metaphor alert! They should arrest actors for doing that.” And put them in jail, where the food just may be better than that found on an indie set.
For more on the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival:
Wednesday: How to be indie in the land of the studios