Despite all the talk of “community,” indie film is a magnet for the overambitious. Conventional wisdom has it that first-time filmmakers eager to climb the cinematic ladder and/or get Hollywood's attention should make genre pictures (horror or crime) with commercial prospects or feel-good romantic comedies with less commercial potential but some star power. In other words, they should prove they're keen to entertain. Adam Goldstein and Eric Kutner are keen to entertain, but they're too contrarian to do it in the conventional way.
For The Snake, the microbudget digital video feature Goldstein and Kutner are producing in San Francisco (around their day jobs as a cameraman and Web designer, respectively), they made a long list of cinematic tropes they hoped to avoid, which includes crying, finding true love, and chasing after someone at an airport or train station. Goldstein — who also co-wrote, co-directed, and stars in the film — sheepishly admits they've already broken a few of their own rules. Yet the movie still seems pretty uncompromising and uncommercial. In a good way.
The Snake is a dark comedy about an inveterate womanizer in a postfeminist world, complete with a cameo by a screaming Margaret Cho. But Ken, a clueless cad who thinks he's sensitive to the touchy subject of female body image, doesn't transform in the last reel, unlike many feel-good movie endings that let viewers off the hook. “Redemption is not interesting,” Goldstein says. “Being an asshole is interesting.”
By the time Cho's screaming bit rolls around, Ken has become an unholy blend of Alfie, Mr. Pink, and Ratso Rizzo. In a scene shot a few weeks ago at Anú, a comfy, atmospheric bar on the same block of Sixth Street that Rent fake-littered a year and a half ago — the scraggly, unshaven Goldstein directs his “charm” at Cho. Ken unspools a daunting litany of demented logic that peaks with the drunken announcement, “I'm going to puke in this cup, and you're going to come home and fuck me.” “Chivalry is not dead,” Cho replies, not missing a beat, before Goldstein sticks his finger down his throat.
Cho is used to commanding the spotlight as a stand-up comedian and home-video fave, so when Kutner and Goldstein sent her a video invitation to play the female lead, she was intrigued. The duo, who are financing the movie themselves, couldn't make Cho much of an offer, but she was sufficiently impressed to take a tiny role. “They're so smart and funny,” she explains between takes.
Kutner projects that filming will extend into January, which makes Sundance 2008 the obvious target. But he and Goldstein harbor no illusions of overnight stardom. They're just hoping The Snake plays a few festivals, and that some producer sees it and backs their next film. That, apparently, wouldn't break any rules.