Seth Kushner on "Remembering Harvey Pekar"

Today marks the first anniversary of Harvey Pekar's death. Very few people have had as great an influence on my life as Harvey. I was very fortunate to be able to collaborate with him and bring AMERICAN SPLENDOR to the screen.

I was thrilled to be approached by Seth Kushner about his current tribute to Harvey. I offer you a glimpse of it here.

CulturePOP Photocomix was born out of Seth Kushner's desire to fuse his love of photojournalism, personality profile, and comix into a wholly unique form. Through this prism, Kushner has profiled such diverse personalities as toy designer Super Sucklord, author Douglas Rushkoff, comedian/musician Reggie Watts, artist Cynthia Von Buhler and auto-bio comix pioneer, American Splendor's Harvey Pekar, on the one-year anniversary of his death.

Read the whole thing right here. Seth Kushner — shoots portraits for such publications The New York Times Magazine, Time, Newsweek, Businessweek, L'Uomo Vogue and others. Seth's first book, The Brooklynites, was published by powerHouse Books in 2007. Currently, he's working on his next book Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comic Books, coming March 2011.

Remembering Harvey Pekar

Comic Book Resources has a good post on the NY Comic Con event on American Splendor's creator Harvey Pekar. Harvey has been an inspiration for so many people, myself included. Dean Haspiel shared a litte bit more on how our movie came together, and how he introduced me to Harvey.

"I was working as an assistant to [producer] Ted Hope," Haspiel said. "One of my jobs was to pay bills and file things. I came across an 'American Splendor' film script. Rob Schneider was slated to play Pekar, but that didn't happen. I also came across a Chester Brown screenplay. I discovered a bunch of comics and that [Hope] was a fan. I had done two or three one-page stories with Harvey and I felt like I could ask Ted Hope if he was interested in an 'American Splendor' movie. He said 'Sure!' I called up Harvey, and he didn't know who this guy was and what his movies were. He said, 'Sure, have him call me.' A year and a half later was this amazing, Sundance Award-winning movie."

Give the whole post a read.

The Path To American Splendor

Dean Haspiel had Harvey Pekar's wife Joyce Brabner call me. Having long wanted to make a film of Harvey and American Splendor, I optioned the material on the phone. It wasn't so easy for Dean who struggled to get Harvey to let him work for him, and then got in a fight with Harvey when he finally called. Classic Harvey. Check out the video here.

It's Always A Question Of Character: Harvey Pekar & Henry Harrison

Today's Guest Post is by writer/director, Shari Springer Berman.  I got to work with Shari and her partner Bob Pulcini on AMERICAN SPLENDOR, and recently had the pleasure of screening their new film THE EXTRA MAN, opening this weekend. When Ted approached me to write something about THE EXTRA MAN for his very cool website, I was honored but also at a loss. As I am pretty old school, I don’t have much experience with blogging and tweeting. I thought maybe I could use that to my advantage and write something about the golden age of indie film – a time when filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Todd Haynes and David Lynch were inspiring me to study cinema. I would examine how way back in the 80’s and early 90’s, alternative film folks would physically gather in places like the art house cinema, whereas now this community finds each other on websites like Truly Free. But what did this line of thought have to do with my new film? So I nixed that idea and then considered writing about the compromises, frustrations and joys of making a fairly ambitious film on a tiny budget. Unfortunately, we have all read that article before. I was stumped... Then Harvey Pekar sadly passed away last week and I found my inspiration. Of course, it wasn’t the first time I found inspiration from Harvey, and judging from the outpouring of love, condolences and abundant press I was not the only person who felt that way.

Bob and I first met Harvey in 2000 after being asked to do a film adaptation of his landmark comic book series AMERICAN SPLENDOR by none other than Ted Hope himself.  We were intrigued by the idea and loved the material, but Ted warned us we had to meet Harvey first before agreeing to do the film; Harvey was brilliant and fascinating but also a handful. So Bob and I flew out to Cleveland and stayed at the strangest hotel I have ever visited. It was Harvey’s recommendation. Once stately but now shabby, the hotel had peeling paint, bad mattresses and tons of character. It was also mostly populated with cancer patients who were undergoing chemotherapy at the Cleveland Clinic. The lobby was crowded with people pushing IV stands. Harvey later told us that Cole Porter wrote NIGHT AND DAY in the ballroom that was sitting unused on the top floor.  As we soon discovered, the hotel was quintessential Harvey – strange, depressing, magnificent, genuine and all accompanied by a great soundtrack.

Of course, we totally connected with Harvey on that trip. He was the very definition of a working class intellectual and was one of the smartest people I have ever met, not to mention a true artist. Although he might have seemed incredibly down to earth, the truth is he desperately craved recognition.  In spite of his everyman persona, Harvey longed for his work to gain broad appeal, and he was very excited about being the subject of a feature film. He was also very into getting paid lots of “bread.” He still spoke beatnik. During our hectic 24 day shoot, he would show up to the set every day around lunch for free food, good conversation and a nap. There was one insane meta-moment when Harvey actually fell asleep on the prop couch in his set apartment as the electrics were lighting around him. Everyone loved his visits. He inspired us all to do our best work even under the craziest conditions.

Traveling to Sundance, Cannes and the Academy Awards with Harvey, Joyce and Danielle were some of the most memorable experiences of my life. He was captivating in front of any crowd and could go from kvetching to charming in a split second.  He was more impressed with the laundering services in his Cannes hotel than he was with the red carpet on the Croisette.  He was totally bored at the Oscars and was proud to announce that his tuxedo was courtesy of Tuxedo Junction in Cleveland.  During the blackout of 2003 (which apocalyptically happened on SPLENDOR’S opening night in 4 of the 5 cities we were playing in), Harvey was trapped in a midtown Manhattan hotel room.  He obsessively wanted to get back to Cleveland but instead wrote a brilliant comic about his blackout experience that we used as a NEW YORK TIMES ad the following week.

We last saw Harvey for lunch a few months ago and he looked fantastic. He was busy working on lots of new projects and was in great spirits. When he asked what we were working on, we told him about THE EXTRA MAN. It turned out he had read the book (of course) and loved it. And that got me to thinking that Harvey Pekar is a lot like Henry Harrison, the character Jonathan Ames created that Kevin Kline plays in our most recent film. On the surface they are very different, as Henry is an escort to elderly society ladies in New York and Harvey escorted the likes of Toby Radloff around Cleveland.  But they really do have a lot in common. They are philosophers, outsiders and true originals. They are complicated and crabby and authentic and captivating all at the same time.  Henry is as deeply flawed as Harvey and thus, so much more human and real. Neither is always likeable or sympathetic in the Hollywood sense, but one could never argue that they aren’t interesting.  And this is perhaps the very essence of independent cinema. In AMERICAN SPLENDOR, Harvey says, “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” Why shouldn’t movies be the same?

Shari Springer Berman is the Oscar-nominated co-screenwriter / co-filmmaker of the critically acclaimed film, American Splendor. In 2007, Berman and Pulcini adapted and directed the international best-seller THE NANNY DIARIES, staring Scarlett Johansson.  Their third narrative feature, THE EXTRA MAN, starring Kevin Kline, Paul Dano and Katie Holmes will be released this summer.  They are currently in production on their latest film, CINEMA VERITE.

A Producer's Contribution (Part 2 of 3)

Recently on this TrulyFreeFilms blog, Michael Walker of Pangofilms asked why more producers don’t invest in their own movies. This is part two on my attempt to answer Michael.

Walker’s question of why producers don’t invest in their movies brings us back to the perennial problem that most people think that producing is just about raising the money. The first film that I raised the financing for was Hal Hartley’s FLIRT, even though I had already produced about ten films by then. Producing has always been about making the best movie possible and making sure that the audience for it, sees it. The money part of the equation is just the steps needed to get to the making part.

It seems like until the late ‘80’s producing was solely the province of the wealthy and privileged. Up until then it also seemed like those that could pursue producing in this country, had to do it the Hollywood way – which meant that if you succeeded presumably you quickly became more wealthy and privileged. Producing will never be a secure profession in America, but it is open to those who are willing to work at it and have something to offer – not just the wealthy and privileged.

I don’t have money to offer – and never expect to – but my partners and I do make considerable investments in all our films. When we consider taking on a new project, we anticipate it will be a three-year commitment at the very least. Although we have had projects like AMERICAN SPLENDOR that only go through a few drafts (and go on to get nominated for the Academy Award), we also figure that each project will have a minimum of fifteen drafts. Some have forty or more. Each draft represent reading time, discussion, notes, and generally a fair amount of emotion. The scripts themselves require research through books, websites, and other movies -- more time, more energy, and more thought.  Even AMERICAN SPLENDOR was something that I had spent years developing before I brought to the writers, having already shot footage on Harvey & Joyce, secured the Letterman tapes, committed to a hybrid structure, and decided on the central theme of the project -- when Bob & Shari walked into the office they were like a dream come true, the perfect peg to fill the hole: a couple who had written bio pics and made docs on off-center pop culture.

A producer gets no glory for the films they create and make. A producer’s name is rarely recalled for the work that others have enjoyed. A producer is the one that each side looks to for solutions, and thus one that has to sacrifice to bring satisfaction. When the film works, it has no bearing for the producer on future rewards, as it will the actors, directors, and writers. When things go well for a producer, it means more people seek them out, more people expect them to pick up the tab. The producers I know are creative collaborators who put their heart and soul into their projects, but never achieve the ownership that might lift their savings into real levels of security.

The demands on a producer don’t change due to their limited finances however. Each project is also a relationship, or rather several. The filmmakers, investors, and collaborators all have real needs and need thoughtful attention. The forays that we make to investors, cast, crew, distributors, critics, and fans all depend on different relationships that we have put considerable time and effort into. If we are going to survive, theses other relationships will need to extend far past the singular film. How well we service these relationships will directly reflect what fruit we can bring to subsequent projects. Each new film is a risk, where all this historic good will, this capital we have raised, is tested and re-valued.

Where The Paths May Lead You

I watched graphic artist & writer Dean Haspiel on the Artist To Artist series that BRIC has this morning.   In a lot of ways Dean is responsible for my making American Splendor.  Back before he was the recognized great artist he is today, he was our receptionist on The Ice Storm.  As we both shared a love for underground comics, it was only a matter of time that Harvey Pekar came up.  The years went by and Dean did some drawing for Harvey and told him and Joyce of my dream of making an American Splendor movie.  One night, late as it was, my phone rang.  Joyce was on the other end and my journey began.

Dean's just done me another pleasure, by introducing me to the work of photographer Seth Kushner, the other artist on the Artist To Artist show, and the man behind this great portrait of Harvey, shot just last week.

Seth has done a lot of great portraits and whole bunch of the indie film scene.  You should check them all out but here's a nice taste to get you started.

You check out Seth's book The Brooklynites here.  He's working now on a book of photos of NYC Graphic Novel scene, Graphic NYC (and hence his connection with Dean).

Harvey Pekar: The Jazz Opera

Wow!  Harvey live on the internet in a jazz opera!  Joyce too!  Check out the website here.  It's going to stream live on January 31st, at 8P EST.  Don't miss it.  And what a great title: LEAVE ME ALONE!

Harvey is one of our top national resources.  He has been an inspiration for me for over twenty five years.  If you haven't watched American Splendor multiple times, there's something wrong with you.  He would have a top spot if there was a These Are Those Heroes list.
Someday I will write the post that he deserves, but meanwhile just mark your calenders.