On a warm spring day in 2000, when I was working as a writer for Paramount Studios, a young guy named Lukas Kendall walked into my office. He was not long out of college and wanted to be a writer. It was quickly evident that he had an agile and inventive imagination—and that he was a lot smarter than I was. Soon we became friends and collaborators. Now we’ve made our first film together.
When Lukas first mentioned the idea for LUCKY BASTARD, it immediately resonated for me as rich with possibility. The world of pornography has always struck me as particularly representative of a confusion in the American soul, a confusion about sex and sexual fantasies that springs from the American Puritan tradition. For Americans, sex is dirty; even if we destigmatize it with the words “making love,” we’re still uncomfortable because we can’t figure out where love and sex meet. As a consequence, unlike most Europeans, many of us pretend that pornography is by definition bad and that the people who make it are by definition bad people. The problem, of course, is that we all know how huge the pornography business is. It’s said to be four or five times the size of the Hollywood filmmaking machine. This means that a lot of people are condemning the porn business while also buying its products. Therein lies the heart of our reason for wanting to make this movie. By setting it inside this industry we could write a story that, as far as we could tell, hadn’t been told before. We would make a movie about people you expect to be bad but aren’t, people who turn out to be the opposite of how they are usually portrayed. We would write realistically about porn makers as ordinary people, except that before going home to make dinner for their kids they do things like either shoot or have sex on camera.
I won’t pretend that we didn’t have an agenda. We do. LUCKY BASTARD asks the audience to accept their common humanity with people they would otherwise think worthy only of contempt. The movie’s characters aren’t perfect or always lovable. They’re flawed—sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes mean, sometimes kind and generous. Just like us. So the movie tries to remind us that these people, whose job is to fulfill other people’s sexual fantasies, wake up each day and, like you and me, go to work. They know how the world looks at them but they’ve made a choice to earn the best living they can and not worry too much about what other people think. The movie asks you, the viewer, to accept these people as your neighbors, as people you run into at the dry cleaner’s, not as depraved creatures with damaged lives and empty hearts. You may think there’s something wrong with them for making violent “rape porn.” If there is, it seems to me that there’s something much more wrong with the men who buy it.
LUCKY BASTARD also gave us the opportunity to write about one of the darker phenomena our country creates: humiliation as entertainment. We regularly turn on the TV and watch men and women being humiliated for profit. I won’t mention the shows by name, but you’ve seen them—the ones where people are induced to enter a talent contest just so they can be made fun of, the ones where people go on dates so they can be made to look clumsy and stupid. When in LUCKY BASTARD an outsider comes into the filmmaking family, he knows he’ll be subject to humiliation. But he participates anyway because, like the people we see humiliated on our LCDs, it offers him a thrill he can’t get any other way. That’s the swap: he gets the thrill, but the price is that he’s turned into a joke. When the joke turns nasty, he—not surprisingly—turns nasty, too. Our hope as filmmakers is that the audience stops to think about a culture of paid humiliation, about the ease with which our whole society turns into a fifth-grade playground.
Although a first-time director, I knew the central rule of movie-making. I had heard gifted directors say it in interview after interview. “Cast it right and everything else takes care of itself.” In that department I was fortunate beyond belief. A group of brilliant actors wanted to be in this movie and they showed up on the set with their craft, their discipline and their art in high gear. To work with great actors is to witness a miracle. You think you know what’s on the page and suddenly it becomes something else right in front of you, something surprising and more powerful that you dreamed it would be. The cast of LUCKY BASTARD made the characters so vividly alive that I sometimes had to remind myself they were actors, not the characters they were playing. I was equally fortunate to work with Clay Westervelt, the movie’s extraordinary cinematographer, who created a filmmaking grammar that makes the movie-as-documentary feel entirely new, and with Tony Randel, a brilliant editor who has also done almost every other job in filmmaking, among them producer, director, writer, and cinematographer. The movie’s on-set producer—what we used to call a line producer—is the legendary Jim Wynorski, who has produced 156 movies and directed 90, and who made this movie happen at the most fundamental level: he found our cinematographer and our editor; he made sure the director shot the work necessary to cut the movie; and he badgered the director into staying on schedule.
While we were making LUCKY BASTARD I didn’t think about whether we were in the mainstream of independent filmmaking or out on its far edge. But I don’t want anyone to think that our purpose was to offend them. I’m not unaware that the movie disturbs people. But what I hope is that it disturbs them in the way we intended—that it makes the audience think about who they are and about the culture in which all of us live.
Los Angeles, California