How Penn Jillette magicked up the 'insane' meta-movie Director's Cut
Film to be released by new Epic Pictures label Dread Central Presents
Entertainment Weekly can exclusively reveal that the Penn Jillette-written Director’s Cut will be released by Epic Pictures through it new label Dread Central Presents, probably in the spring of 2018. What we cannot do, however, is succinctly sum up this bizarre film, which also stars the famed magician as well as Missi Pyle, Harry Hamlin, Lin Shaye, and Hayes MacArthur. Fortunately, director Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City) recently jumped on the phone with your writer to do just that.
“Well, we’ve been trying to figure out how to distill it down to a one-liner, so, here’s my best attempt,” says the filmmaker. “Director’s Cut is a movie about a film-obsessed stalker, who is played by Penn Jillette and is fixated on his favorite actress, Missi Pyle. He gains access to the set of her current film by contributing to that movie’s crowdfunding campaign. Once on-set, he kidnaps her, steals all of the footage from the film, and, in his dungeon-movie studio, he films additional scenes of the movie, casting himself opposite his captive leading lady as the romantic hero. He takes footage from the real film, and footage from his amateur production, and cuts them all together into his version of a director’s cut.”
Jillette himself is happy to admit this is not your average boy-meets-girl tale.
“Well, I wrote a crazy movie, just an insane movie,” he says. “It was an intellectual challenge, to see if I could justify two plotlines, running simultaneously, and have it be believable. I wrote a movie that was too weird for anybody. I went around and pitched it to several studios, and they all made the proper decision that they shouldn’t do it. I put it on the shelf as a very strange exercise. I loved the idea and I loved the way I saw the movie in my head. But I put it aside completely until someone recommended to me that I see a movie called Look by Adam Rifkin. I saw the movie and thought it was the greatest movie of the 21st century. I couldn’t believe how good it was. I saw it on a Friday night, about midnight, went to Facebook, and at 1 a.m. I wrote to Adam Rifkin and introduced myself. I said, ‘I love the movie Look, I want to have sex with you, you’re the greatest person alive.’ I called him at 2 a.m., and we chatted, and I said, ‘I’ve got this script that I think you might like.’ At 4 a.m. we had decided to do it.”
To finance the film, Jillette and Rifkin launched a crowdfunding campaign, ultimately raising over $1.1 million. “I said to Adam, ‘I can’t sell this thing, and your name doesn’t help at all, but I really want to make it,'” recalls Jillette. “Crowdfunding was hitting. I said, ‘We can make this movie, we only have to please the people that give us money. If we can get money from 5,000 people, and please 5,000 people, we’ve done it perfectly.'”
Rifkin admits that attracting actors to the project was a challenge. “In the initial meeting with people, we were met with a lot of blank stares,” says the director. “But, that said, because of Penn’s body of work, and because people know he’s a brilliant guy, and because of my passion for wanting to be a part of it, somehow we managed to talk everybody into it. And then, once people had signed on, everybody was a total sport and rolled with the punches. You know, there were many times when it was very confusing shooting the movie. Is this the movie within the movie? Is this the movie that Penn is shooting? How does this fit together? I mean, even Penn was getting confused at some point and he wrote it. But everybody was just game and that’s what made it super fun to me. The film gave me the chance to direct two movies in one. I get to make a slick sort of B-thriller — I love slick B-thrillers — and I also get to make this wacko, amateur movie as though it were shot by this mentally deranged cineaste in his basement. And I get to intercut them both together. It was a real fun exercise, getting to explore both styles of filmmaking in one movie.”
“Adam did a fabulous job, and because there was no studio, there was absolutely no compromise,” says Jillette. “We made exactly the movie we wanted to make. We did the Slamdance Festival and it did really well and it played a few other places. [Then] we ended up in the situation where we went back and tried to sell it to the very group of people that turned it down before. But finally a company came to us that loves the movie and wants to put it out.”
That company was Epic Pictures via Dread Central Presents, a so-far mostly horror-centric operation whose upcoming releases include the killer clown film Terrifier and Imitation Girl, which stars Darling actress Lauren Ashley Carter.
“It’s a very, very weird film and has scared off distributors from day one,” says Rifkin. “So, that’s why it’s just such a fantastic twist of fate that [the horror film website] Dread Central and Epic Pictures teamed up to create Dread Central Presents at the perfect time for this movie. They are not at all afraid of how hard of a movie this is to sell. They are embracing that this is a tough sell because they think that that’s part of the fun of creating a brand. So, more power to them for rolling the dice and taking on our crazy little film.”