Deep SIFF: Meet Monica Velour
"Basically, I told her I want to blow Samantha Jones into tiny little pieces" Keith Bearden, the writer and director of the often very funny new film Meet Monica Velour told me in an interview. By "her", he was, of course, referring to Kim Catrall, who plays Samantha Jones in the now much-maligned "Sex and the City" franchise and who plays the title character in his debut film that recently played at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Monica Velour is a has-been porn star, who may have been remembered for Saturday Night Beaver or Hooked on Hookers, although chances are, she's not remembered at all. She's living in a trailer park in Indiana somewhere and her life is a mess. Sadly, there are few skills that porn stars can take that will help them re-enter the job field and Monica wants to escape the live she has while regaining her former fame. It's like Sunset Boulevard, if, instead of Norma Desmond saying "I'm still big, it's the pictures that got small," she starred in a gangbang.
While the film mostly works as a comedy, its inspiration is rooted in a sad reality. I asked Bearden what was the inspiration for Monica Velour and he told me "I also used to be a film journalist and I interviewed a retired porn star who I thought had done a lot of B-action movies under a different name. She e-mailed me back and said 'no, that wasn't me but I love my fans and for $200, you can spend the night with me on my houseboat in Sausolito'. I thought that 'wow, so that's what happens. $200 so you can spend the night with her becuase that's the only way she can make a living.'" He also added, "right around that time there was Ginger Lynn, who was this huge porn star and she made people millionaires and she was reported as selling her underwear on the internet to raise money to pay for her kid's medical treatment. I thought 'here's some sad things that nobody's writing about'. Porno at that time was a multi-billion dollar industry, bigger than the NFL, opera and Broadway combined. Where's the actor's side? Where's the ugly side? You might think it's all fun, but nothing's all fun and it has a really ugly side."
Having Catrall as the star made a huge difference in getting the film made, Bearden told me. "Having her on board was everything. Kim having a big, big fan base around the world was very important to getting this film made. If we made it with a Broadway actor, or an unknown, it would have never happened. That's the reality of the movie business, especially with a first-time director," he said. He also told me he had a big reservation about casting his star. "The big issue was that I thought she was too pretty for the part. I told her that she's going to have to look bad, older, she's going to need to gain weight. I told her initially I wanted her to gain about 50 lbs and she said only under a doctor's supervision would she and we couldn't afford a doctor. I think she gained 20-25 pounds. She was completely on board with all of that," he said.
Tobe is the other central character to the film. He's a seventeen year old kid who is an obsessive fan of her movies. He's awkward, looks like Napolean Dynamite and has a crappy job running a hotdog truck. He runs into an unusual happenstance when a junk collector offers to buy his truck and lives in Indiana somewhere and sees on the Internet that Monica is appearing at a strip club in the middle of nowhere in the same state. It sets off a sort of unlikely friendship and unrequited romance.
Bearden based the character of Tobe on a Northwest actor who starred in one of his first short films. He told me, "The inspiration for the character of Tobe definitely came from this kid named Dylan Cole, who was the star of The Raftman's Razor, one of my first short films. We had an open casting call and we shot that film in Seattle and Eastern Washington. He showed up in the middle of the summer in a three-piece suit with a big pompadour. He immediately told me his idols were Dean Martin and Sylvester Stallone, who he said was a genius. He was seventeen and a beautiful kid and I looked at him and thought 'you are one weird fucking kid,' just like Monica tells Tobe in the movie. As I got to know this kid more, he was this hot house flower. He never had a girlfriend, he was a virgin. He loved pop culture, a lot of older stuff. I think we live in a society where there are more opportunities to dive into pop culture than ever with the internet and DVDs; everything just co-exists." He went on to say, "as an adult, I didn't realize there were still eighteen year-old virgins. Also, what happens when you have a kid like that and has this fantasy of what women are like and when the harsh reality of that Wizard of Oz fantasy comes into his face?"
The movie is set half in Auburn (Tobe's home) and Indiana (Monica's), but it was filmed in Michigan exclusively. He said he wanted to film at least part of it locally, "as a former Washingtonian, I would have loved to have film the film half in Washington and half in Indiana but that isn't realistic. Plus, much of suburban America is identical: it's cute houses and places to get Subway sandwiches." The location wasn't essential, though. "It's really about two people in non-descript parts of the world," he noted.
Although the film was a low-budget, character-driven comedy, he did see the positive effects on the community. "A woman who has one line in my movie e-mailed me recently to say, and this is a year and a half, two-years later, 'thank you for starting me on my movie career, I no longer have a day job, I'm a professional actress living in my hometown in Michigan'. She's a working SAG actress in Michigan and it's astonishing," he noted and gave another example, "the woman who did the makeup in this movie, she was a twenty year old girl who worked in a salon, she's a full time makeup artist now." He concluded by adding "arts is a fantastic way to employ people... I love bringing the arts industry to people who really need it."
One of the unfortunate realities of making smaller movies is that it is very difficult to get people to see them. Bearden said he hoped to land a distribution deal in the near future and have the film garner a theatrical run in the fall but warned "if you only go see Avatar, it's all you're fucking going to get. I had trouble getting $2 million to make this movie and that's the effects team's lunch budget on Avatar."
A few moments later, he noted "no one wants to look at themselves and say 'I'm Monica' or 'I'm Tobe,' 'I'm this flawed fuckup who is still beautiful.'"