While filmmakers have long been pointing the cameras back at themselves in self-reflexive meditations on the Hollywood machine, rarely have the results of such a film proved as ironic as they have for writer-director Tom DiCillo. For in his case, it took a scathing satire of the independent film scene to propel him to the front of the indie ranks and, possibly, to the role of new Hollywood player.
DiCillo had been cutting his teeth on film as a cinematographer throughout the 1980s, working on several independent films including Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” which clearly aided in forming DiCillo’s indie aesthetic. “Jim opened up to the world the possibility of making entertaining, personal films. Prior to ‘Stranger Than Paradise,’ the only person who was doing it was John Sayles,” DiCillo says.
While DiCillo’s directorial debut was 1992’s “Johnny Suede,” with then-emerging star Brad Pitt, it was 1995’s “Living in Oblivion,” which DiCillo describes as “a film that came out of my deepest and darkest frustrations about the film business,” that won massive critical praise, festival awards and even something of a cult following. It also gave DiCillo the opportunity to direct the comedy “Box of Moonlight,” the film he’d been struggling to make for five years.
The combination of “Oblivion” and John Turturro starrer “Moonlight,” which has been making the festival rounds and will be released tomorrow by Trimark along with a “Making-of” book, in turn paved the way for “The Real Blonde,” a satiric comedy with an ensemble cast including Matthew Modine, Catherine Keener, Kathleen Turner and Christopher Lloyd. The Lakeshore production, to be distributed domestically by Paramount later this year, is significant for DiCillo in that it represents a step toward the major studios, as well as working on something other than a shoestring budget.
‘Blonde’ on a big budget
” ‘The Real Blonde’ was $10 million, and in some ways it felt like an absolute luxury,” DiCillo says. “The money enables you to do some things that you could never do on a low-budget film; to stop and look around and say to everybody: ‘You know, I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to look at this scene, and I’ve got to work with the actors.’ ”
For a filmmaker who has always worked in the auteurist myth-making arena of independent film, DiCillo’s view of directorial control over his first major studio-released picture is surprisingly realistic. “The more money you’re given for a film, the more people’s opinions you have to pretend to listen to,” he says. “In my case I had to fight some battles, and I had to fight them really hard. Ninety-nine percent of them I won, and 1% I lost. It’s still my film, with some tiny compromises. It’s hard to say that, but on the other hand, they did give me $10 million.”