At least, that’s what the people behind Lucky Bastard are hoping for. The film hits VOD today, and is definitely one of the better films I’ve seen this year.
Lucky Bastard is a very candid look at the world of pornography when the cameras turn off. It’s filled with heartache, insecurities, and most of all, cash. It shows us an inside look of people that view sex as a job and how out of place that makes them in the world (as well as how out of place the world is in theirs). In the film, a “lucky bastard” Dave G. is chosen to do a scene with his favorite starlet, Ashley Saint. After a less than exemplary shoot, Dave G. lets explodes in a fit of rage that nobody expected. I liked the film quite a bit, and you can read my full review HERE.
Lucky Bastard hits VOD today, and it is definitely worth a look. I recently caught up with writers Robert Nathan and Lukas Kendall (Robert also directs.) to discuss the film, and they were gracious enough to answer a few questions about their film.
ST: Lucky Bastard presents a side of pornography that few people see. Reality or caricature?
Lukas: I don’t think it’s fair to call it either one. It’s storytelling. It hopefully feels “real” but is by necessity designed to express a narrative; it has to be a caricature to some extent though that word is typically used as a negative. One thing we’ll take credit for is that our characters are not at all “precious” about what they are doing. A lot of movies involving pornography seemed to be so worried about offending people that they become very stuffy and phony. And it’s silly, because I’d venture for the men in the audience (and probably many women too), they’ve seen tons of porn and know exactly what real porn is like. So why should we censor ourselves on behalf of some outdated notion that porn is shocking? There is, for better or for worse, untold hours of “BTS” (behind-the-scenes) porn footage you can see on websites, where porn performers are walking around naked and talking about sex in a very crude but also matter-of-fact way—because for them, it’s the workplace. We watched a lot of that for reference, and I’d venture a fair amount of our audience has seen it too. I think all we’ve really done in Lucky Bastard is portray something more along the lines of how it actually is—which we all know to be true anyway.
Robert: The movie presents a version of life in the adult entertainment industry that I think is close to the truth. Lukas mentioned behind-the-scenes footage of performers you see on some websites. Those videos are disorienting. You can watch graphic sex — some of it as extreme as porn can be — and then, suddenly, the performers are facing the camera talking about how they did it. They assure the viewer that the rope on their hands didn’t hurt. They laugh at the absurdity of what they’re doing. We didn’t have to invent the idea of porn performers treating what they do as a job. That’s how many of them see it, and in truth, when you yank conventional morality from the equation, that’s what is. They could be making less money at other jobs. This job happens to pay better because the world’s appetite for pornography is insatiable and because not everybody you meet on the street wants to do it. A lot of people look down on these performers as beneath the rest of us. That’s a kind of snobbery I find morally and intellectually ridiculous. I mean, seriously, think about who brings you internet pornography. The largest corporations in the world, because they’re the ones who deliver your modem and satellite dish. How can anyone get high-and-mighty about porn performers when their work is brought to you by the Fortune 500?
ST: The characters were all sympathetic in their own ways. Their personalities were layered (like an onion). How much of this was scripted, and how much did each actor bring to the role?
Lukas: It was almost entirely scripted but those two things are not an either/or scenario. The actors bring everything to the role; without them, it’s just words on a page. As writers we’re creating a blueprint for the characterization; it’s the actors who make it flesh and blood. They’re speaking the words and executing the directions but they are doing so much more—relating to each other, tracking their performance, solving all sorts of technical and storytelling problems and going deep into themselves in very brave and emotional ways. They are expressing not just text but subtext, constantly and in many ways at once. For example, Casey, played by Catherine Annette, is annoyed at all the attention that goes to Ashley (Betsy Rue); it’s just in the tone of her voice, “What happened to Ashley?” That was something that Catherine picked up, even though Robert and I had not consciously thought of it—or written it into any lines. Catherine found a way to convey it without distracting from anything else. That’s terrific film acting and we got it from the entire cast. I have no doubt the actors could improvise brilliantly, but with such a limited budget and short shooting schedule, everything had to be written well in advance; we didn’t have the time to try to improvise scenes or we’d still be in the cutting room trying to figure it all out. There are a handful of improvised lines in the film—things that just happened, like Ashley (Betsy) blurting out, “Josh! Get yourself together!”—and a number of lines or line changes that were suggested by the actors in rehearsals, but I’d say almost all of the dialogue was written.
Robert: What Lukas described is one of the great miracles and mysteries of movie making. It’s often said that some movie or another would have been great but was “miscast.” What does that really mean? It means that the actor chosen for the role can’t make us believe they’re the character, not an actor playing the character. In Lucky Bastard the actors are so extraordinary that the audience forgets they’re watching a movie. It’s shocking how many people ask us, “Do those people make porn in real life? Is she (or he) a real porn star?” That’s how subtly persuasive these actors are. They’re so good you think they’re the characters. The layers you see, the depth of humanity you feel on the screen may well be on the page, but without actors who can realize the script’s potential the words, as Lukas says, are just that — words on a page. For those old enough to remember who Laurence Olivier is, ask yourself: would you have believed him as Don Corleone in The Godfather? That’s who the studio wanted. That’s called miscasting. Instead they had the right actor, the right genius, in Marlon Brando, who left all of us feeling as if we knew Don Corleone. I watch Betsy Rue and she’s so brilliant I almost forget she’s playing a part that has nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, to do with who she is as a person. She’s one of the best actors I’ve worked with in twenty years. For my money she should be a household name.
ST: As this was your first time directing (Robert) and the first screenplay for both of you, what was it like behind the scenes?
Lukas: This is my only movie so I have little to compare it to, but creatively it was heaven. We had Jim Wynorski, a legend of exploitation cinema, as our producer, and a brilliant DP in Clay Westervelt—and Robert spent two decades often being the guy on television shows supervising the director—so everything was very well organized and geared towards what we could practically accomplish in the time allotted. There were little mishaps here and there, and anxieties about finishing on time, but no real catastrophes, and a great collegial spirit of working together on something that was fun and interesting. The entire cast was there because they wanted to be so there was no diva behavior. It was a little weird working in a house used for actual porn and trying to explain that no, this wasn’t a porn movie, it was just about porn—but in the end, everything had to be done so fast, there wasn’t time to be distracted by anything. There was too much work to get done.
Robert: People making movies and TV talk about “happy” and “unhappy” sets. On some sets everybody is miserable and hates making the picture. Lucky Bastard, despite grueling days, was a happy set. The actors and the crew were working for far below their regular fees because they wanted to be making this movie. Jim Wynorski made sure that every day ran smoothly and that we had what we needed to get the work done. So everybody was giving it his or her absolute best. I hadn’t directed before but I’d seen directors who wanted to shoot themselves — with a gun, not a camera — when facing a temperamental actor or crew member. I’m the luckiest guy alive. It’s my first time directing and the entire cast and crew were doing everything they could to make my life easier. Clay Westervelt was fearless. He had a vision and would try anything to realize it. Anything I asked of the actors, any emotional shift in the dialogue they would try. Not one of them complained, and they easily could have. I apologized at one point to Jay Paulson, who plays the abused Dave G., for the speed of what we were doing. We had to hit the ground running every day. But actors need time to do their best work and I felt terrible for what I was asking of Jay. What did he say? “No, it’s fine, really, don’t worry about it, it’s kind of a challenge to do it under pressure.” And despite the time constraints Jay delivers a performance that takes your breath away. Don McManus worked so hard I thought the part would kill him. It’s a brutal, demanding role. It was taking a physical toll on him. But this is an actor who gives you everything he has artistically and emotionally — and then he gives you more. Some days I would look up at the sky and say thank you. I don’t know who I was saying it to but I was grateful to the universe for what was happening around me.
ST: Robert, how was the transition from television to film?
Robert: It wasn’t as agonizing as I anticipated. The creative difference was being the director instead of the guy standing behind the director. As a producer I’m paying attention to a million things going on at the same time. I’m constantly looking at my watch. “Are we going to make the day?” As a director I needed to let Lukas and Jim worry about those things and pay close attention to only one thing: performance. Are the performances what we need? Do we have every moment right? Without performances nothing else matters. Normally I might have to worry about coverage. I never did. With Clay I knew we’d leave with the footage we needed. Sometimes Jim would tell us we were missing an angle we ought to have. So mostly I could forget about the camera. I was a little thrown by the budget difference. On a television series you have three people to do every job. On a low-budget independent film you have one person doing three jobs. Also, as Clay pointed out with a laugh, on a higher budget production the food is better. But for the most part I hardly noticed a difference between making this movie and making television. We were shooting the equivalent of a standard television schedule so I was used to the page count we had to do each day. Most TV shows spend about half the time on fixed sets — the hospital, office, spaceship, whatever. We spent half the schedule on one set. Of course there’s one very big difference. When a television episode is terrible the director usually takes the fall. If this picture was terrible, for the first time that would be me.
ST: Lukas, you founded the magazine (now website) filmscoremonthly.com. If you could compile a soundtrack to Lucky Bastard, what would it include?
Lukas: Oddly, Lucky Bastard has no score at all, and only one short piece of classical piano source music (which we reprise for the end credits) which Robert picked as it’s one of his favorite pieces. That certainly helped for the budget, and the aesthetic works for the picture—a kind of cinema verité or theatrical naturalism. It solved one other problem: I know dozens of great composers from my time at Film Score Monthly, and this way I didn’t have to pick only one of them for the music! If I were making a companion-type of mix album, I honestly don’t know what I’d include. I like that we made a 94 minute movie that is watchable without music; I think that’s a testament to our actors.
LUCKY BASTARD is available on most major cable / satellite/ telco systems such as DirecTV, Time Warner, Cox, Brighthouse, AT&T U-verse, Verizon FiOS, and many others. The film is also available on IVOD/broadband platforms like Amazon Instant, Google Play, Microsoft Xbox, and Sony Playstation.