Actor/Film-Maker Crispin Glover to bring his films to Florida, discusses them with the Gargoyle

By Michael Newberger |

You may know him from his roles in blockbusters such as George McFly in “Back to The Future”, the Knave of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland”, or the  villain in “Charlie’s Angels”. Or you may recognize him for his smaller roles in cult films like “Rivers Edge” and “Willard”. However, Crispin Glover not only acts in films, he creates them as well with his own funds and vision.

Glover will be screening his slideshow and films Feb. 18 and 19. at the Sunray Theater, It is Fine! in Gainesville at the Hippodrome on Feb. 21 and It is Fine! in Orlando at the Enzian Feb. 22.

 Instead of simply screening the films, Glover hosts something more akin to a traveling road show: starting with a reading of one of his books accompanied by a slide show, he then screens one of his two films and holds a question and answer session afterwards with the audience.

 The first of the films is “What is it?” a film which he describes on his website as “Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are snails, salt, a pipe and how to get home as tormented by an hubristic racist inner psyche.” The film is also notable for primarily featuring actors with Down’s syndrome, though as he states in the interview he’s quick to clarify it’s not a film about the syndrome itself.

The second film “It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” is told from the point of view of Steven C. Stewart, a man handicapped from severe cerebral palsy and focuses on his subsequent sexual frustrations. The film was actually written and starred in by Stewart, who had been afflicted with the illness his entire life.

The Flagler Gargoyle had a chance to talk to Glover about his two films “What is it?” and “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.”, his previous work in Hollywood, the state of cinema and the touring life among other things.

-How has touring been so far?

This has been year seven of touring now so I have been through a lot of touring. The lifestyle of touring is quite different than not touring. I am getting used to the lifestyle of it and am enjoying it ultimately.

-Do you prefer showing the “It?” films in this tour format as opposed to simply screening them at festivals, etc? Do you think this adds more of a connection with the audiences?

The live aspect of the shows I perform before the films I tour with are not to be underestimated. This is a large part of how I bring audiences in to the theater and a majority of how I recoup is by what is charged for the live show and what I make from selling the books after the shows.

For “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show” I perform a one hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The books are taken from old books from the 1800’s that have been changed in to different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs.

People sometimes get confused as to what “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show (Parts 1&2)” is so now I always let it be known that it is a one hour dramatic narration of eight different profusely illustrated books that I have made over the years. The illustrations from the books are projected behind me as I perform the show. There is a second slide show now that also has 8 books. Part 2 is performed if I have a show with Part 1 of the “IT” trilogy and then on the subsequent night I will perform the second slide show and Part 2 of the “IT” trilogy. The second slide show has been developed over the last several years and the content has changed as it has been developed, but I am very happy with the content of the second slide show now.

The fact that I tour with the film helps the distribution element. I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment for most of the history of the US. It has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element mixed with other media is no longer viable. In fact it is apparent that it is sorely missed. As I funded the films I knew that this is how I would recoup my investment even if it a slow process.

There are benefits and drawbacks about self-distributing my own films.  In this economy it seems like a touring with the live show and showing the films with a book signing is a very good basic safety net for recouping the monies I have invested in the films.

There are benefits in that I am in control of the distribution and personally supervise the monetary intake of the films that I am touring with. I also control piracy in this way because digital copy of this film is stolen material and highly prosecutable. It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. The forum after the show is also not to under-estimated as a very important part of the show for the audience. This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows as there is no corporate intermediary. The drawbacks are that a significant amount of time and energy to promote and travel and perform the shows. Also the amount of people seeing the films is much smaller than if I were to distribute the films in a more traditional sense.

The way I distribute my films is certainly not traditional in the contemporary sense of film distribution but perhaps is very traditional when looking further back at vaudeville era film distribution. If there are any filmmakers that are able to utilize aspects of what I am doing then that is good. It has taken many years to organically develop what I am doing now as far as my distribution goes.

-How did you first come to start writing your books in your style?

I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800’s and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing.

-What made you decide to start getting into producing your own films? And did your prior experience in Hollywood-scale as well as smaller films give you insight into directing?

I had been interested in making films from a young age. I made films as a kid on super8. Certainly working in films as an actor had given me the opportunity to see films being made in many different fashions and I would always try to pick up on technical and artistic elements from people I worked with.

-Have you ever met much controversy for either of the films casting choices?

I am very careful to make it quite clear that “What is it?” is not a film about Down’s Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in film making. Specifically anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable is necessarily excised or the film will not be corporately funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture because it is the very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair looks up at the screen and thinks to their self “Is this right what I am watching? Is this wrong what I am watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have made this? What is it?” -and that is the title of the film.

What is it that is taboo in the culture? What does it mean that taboo has been ubiquitously excised in this culture’s media? What does it mean to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in it’s media? It is a bad thing because when questions are not being asked because these kinds of questions are when people are having a truly educational experience. For the culture to not be able to ask questions leads towards a non-educational experience and that is what is happening in this culture. This stupefies this culture and that is of course a bad thing. So What is it? Is a direct reaction to the contents this culture’s media. I would like people to think for themselves.

-How did you become involved with Mr. Stewart? Usually in popular culture people suffering from something like Cerebral Palsy are treated as sympathetic but the film is a startling departure from that.

The Poster for "It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE."

The Poster for "It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE."

Steven C. Stewart wrote and is the main actor in part two of the trilogy titled “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” I put Steve in to the cast of “What is it?” because he had written this screenplay which I read in 1987. When I turned “What is it?” from a short film in to a feature I realized there were certain thematic elements in the film that related to what Steven C. Stewart’s screenplay dealt with. 

 Steve had been locked in a nursing home for about ten years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy and he was very difficult to understand. People that were caring for him in the nursing home would derisively call him an “M.R.” short for “Mental Retard”. This is not a nice thing to say to anyone, but Steve was of normal intelligence.

When he did get out he wrote his screenplay. Although it is written in the genre of a murder detective thriller, truths of his own existence come through much more clearly than if he had written it as a standard autobiography. Steve had written his screenplay in in the late 1970’s. I read it in 1987 and as soon as I had read it I knew I had to produce the film.

Steven C. Stewart died within a month after we finished shooting the film. Cerebral palsy is not generative but Steve was 62 when we shot the film. One of Steve’s lungs had collapsed because he had started choking on his own saliva and he got pneumonia.

-Glover went on to describe how he balances acting in Hollywood and creating his own films

I specifically started funding my own films with the money I make from the films I act in when Steven C. Stewart’s lung collapsed in the year 2000, this was around the same time that the first Charlie’s Angels film was coming to me. I realized with the money I made from that film I could put straight in to the Steven C. Stewart film. That is exactly what happened.

I finished acting in Charlie’s Angels and then went to Salt Lake City where Steven C. Stewart lived. I met with Steve and David Brothers with whom I co-directed the film. I went back to LA and acted in a lower budget film for about five weeks and David Brothers started building the sets. Then I went straight back to Salt Lake and we completed shooting the film within about six months in three separate smaller productions. Then Steve died within a month after we finished shooting.

I am relieved to have gotten this film finally completed because ever since I read the screenplay in 1987 I knew I had to produce the film and also produce it correctly. I would not have felt right about myself if I had not gotten Steve’s film made, I would have felt that I had done something wrong and that I had actually done a bad thing if I had not gotten it made. So I am greatly relieved to have completed it especially since I am very pleased with how well the film has turned out.

We shot “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.”  while I was still completing “What is it?” and this is partly why “What is it?” took a long time to complete. I am very proud of the film as I am of “What is it?” I feel It is fine! “EVERYTHING IS FINE.” will probably be the best film I will have anything to do with in my entire career. 

After Charlie’s Angels came out it did very well financially and was good for my acting career. I started getting better roles that also paid better and I could continue using that money to finance my films that I am so truly passionate about.

I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in and look at acting as a craft that I am helping other filmmakers to accomplish what it is that they want to do. Usually filmmakers have hired me because there is something they have felt would be interesting to accomplish with using me in their film and usually I can try to do something interesting as an actor. If for some reason the director is not truly interested in doing something that I personally find interesting with the character then I can console myself that with the money I am making to be in their production I can help to fund my own films that I am so truly passionate about. Usually though I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well.

-Have you ever done any simply to help fund your personal projects?

When I work on a film as an actor I always have a good attitude and want to do the best I can do as an actor and to help make the film be the best it can be. Since the year 2000 I have been utilizing the money I have made as an actor to help make my films. I am grateful to have been in the films that have helped me do that which would include all the films I have acted in since 2000.

-You’ve stated before in interviews that you’re planning on filming a final installment of the It trilogy, what are your plans for the final film? Is there any underlying theme to the three films? And are you working on any other projects to be released in the mean time?

“IT IS MINE.” will not be the next film project that I shoot. There are other projects outside of the trilogy that I will shoot next. The Czech Republic is another culture and another language and I need to build up to complex productions like “What is it?” and the existing sequel “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” “IT IS MINE.” is an even more complex project than those two films were so it will be a while yet for that production. I will step outside of the trilogy for a number of films that deal with different thematic elements.

The sets for my next film productions have started construction. At the same time the sets are being built I am in the process of continuing to develop the screenplay for myself and my father to act in together on these very sets. He is also an actor and that is the next film I am planning to make as a director/producer. This will be the first role I write for myself to act in that will be written as an acting role as opposed to a role that was written for the character I play to merely serve the structure.

But even still on some level I am writing the screenplay to be something that I can afford to make. There are two other projects I am currently developing to shoot on sets at my property in the Czech Republic. The cost of the set building will determine which one I actually shoot next. They will all be relatively affordable yet still cinematically pleasing.

-How do the audiences usually respond during the post-film Q & A?

All audiences have their own mood and it depends on what questions happen to be called upon. Spontaneous discussions and even arguments sometimes erupt amongst audience members with each other during the Q and A session. I consider this to be positive as it means people are having strong thoughtful reactions to the film.

There can be very aggressive questioning in the Q and A after and there can be intellectual and thoughtful conversation it depends on the mood of the audience. I ask people sometimes when I am doing the book signing if the film is what they had expected, and often people say “I expected that the film would be unusua”l and they will often say that it was a lot more than what they expected and they mean that in a very positive way. What people often do not expect is the large amount that there is of the live portion of the show.

-How do audiences compare in the different cities you show them? Are there certain attitudes say in a college town (like Gainesville) that you may not run into in say a larger city like Atlanta?

There can be slight differences regionally. I have actually found that the areas traditionally thought of as being “liberal” can be more vocal about their upset specifically with “What is it?” than audiences in areas that are traditionally thought of as being “conservative.”

 There is actually a larger difference with people outside the borders of the U.S. People in the U.S. tend towards getting more upset with “What Is It?” than people living outside the U.S. ”

It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” gets a more universally approved response worldwide. That has to do with an emotional catharsis that  “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE” operates in. That being said sometimes people can get upset with it…as well.  All of these responses can vary from individual to individual regardless of area of the world.  Often people that come to my shows are looking to see something unusual.

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