Drama | Filmmaking | Interviews | New York

Some Filmmakers Can Fly

1 Jan , 2000  

Written by Lorre Fritchy | Posted by:

Robert Kane Pappas talks about his reincarnated feature film romance, 'Some Fish Can Fly.'

The phrase "There’s more than one fish in the sea" has never been truer than in the case of Robert Kane Pappas’ feature film romance, "Some Fish Can Fly." Dissatisfied with the movie’s original version, which he released several years ago, Pappas reconceived the story, streamlined production, and headed back to Ireland and New York City to shoot it again. "Some people thought the first one was okay. I wasn’t one of them," says Pappas. "It wasn’t close enough to what I’d had in mind. I hadn’t told the story yet." I talked to Pappas about fish, financing, and fate surrounding his quest to tell a story in the impure world of filmmaking.

LF: What did you go through at the start of this process in getting the first film made?

PAPPAS: When I first started to tell this story, a guy one year behind me at NYU grad film, Spike Lee, and I were both working on independent films. This is 1986, kind of early in the independent-film thing, when the IFP was new and people were starting to make independent features. I made an opening clip of this film I wrote called "Now I Know" about my real-life relationship that inspired the film. We made a clip of the film in order to finance it, and it worked. It was the first film role for a guy named Campbell Scott. At the time I did not know his parents’ origin, but he was very, very good. So that caused us to get the money to make "Now I Know."

LF: What is your take on why people invest in these films. Why do well-known actors work for less cash to be in these films? What is it about indies?

PAPPAS: I don’t know if it’s all vanity. There are all kinds of subsets of wanting what you can’t have or something that appeals to your vanity that seems to drive people. There are people that are cold bankers and just do certain things a certain way, but for the rest of us, especially in the arts, a lot comes down to the local politics of the people involved. A lot of it is ego, and a lot of it is vanity. This also has something to do with the merchandising or publicizing of a picture. That’s why if there are a bunch of famous actors in a movie, they all worked for scale because everyone else in the film was as famous as them and it wasn’t a step down. It works like that. This layer of human relations and film relations and the pecking order has so much to do with vanity it’s beyond appall. It’s a simple explanation for a lot of really bad decisions, but it’s a true explanation.

LF: You’ve made this movie twice. What do you think drives you, or any artist, to keep at it over and over?

PAPPAS: I think every film I make I have less money and it’s more grueling. If this doesn’t work, it will be like home video. [Laughs] The lead character in "Some Fish Can Fly" is a filmmaker trying to make a movie about his experience with a former love. This is the substance of the film. The subplot of the story is the making of the film that takes place in a different time. The man is a little older, and he’s got another agenda in this film if he can get it on the screen. Why is he making this film? What is the art of it? What is the love there? What’s the secret behind it? What is an artist or writer or anyone in any of the disciplines? Why are they doing this stuff?
     I felt these stories were about the artistic process, what is it that drives someone to do it and do it again. Painters do five paintings, 10, 20 on the same person, but in film we’re like, "That’s The Film, Then Move On." If it was completely off the mark, and you didn’t tell that story; you told a different story. My feeling is that even painters–I don’t care if it’s a drip painting–I think it’s all autobiographical at some level. It’s how you feel; it’s that moment. I really do believe that. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that are just marketing. Almost everything is marketing now. Most of what we see doesn’t fall into the realm of art. The process is we have a marketing and distribution plan first, and the material just fits that. That’s the way we’ve evolved. It’s all plastics and "The Graduate"; it’s all marketing now.

LF: Obviously you don’t feel the studios give the indies any competition in the artistic-process department. Are there any that come close in your opinion?

PAPPAS: The romantic comedies that come out of Hollywood. It’s rare. I haven’t seen that many that…ring true, because romance, the well-made romance, is not like anyone’s real romance if it’s a real romance. But in terms of someone who can deal with tone brilliantly, films that have great tone, in terms of humor, there’s Bill Forsyth from Scotland. He did "Local Hero," "Gregory’s Girl." Forsyth is excellent with tone.

LF: You reportedly had quite a time casting the film. Any tips for other indie filmmakers?

PAPPAS: It’s very hard to audition unknown actors. They don’t have a body of work. You know what you’re getting when you get an actor with three or four leads under their belt, or you’ve seen them in a picture from beginning to end. When you’re dealing with unknowns, a word to the wise for young filmmakers, it’s very difficult to cast. We got involved with casting agents in New York, agents who can turn us into pretzels with the raps they have in terms of pushing clients, who’s going to be seen. Casting is something you can never know enough about. It’s where the game is won, lost. You get a B, a B+, an A; then your film then will have to either make up for it or you’ve nailed it. Casting is everything.

LF: How has the structure of independent filmmaking changed since you started around ’86?

PAPPAS: The deal is that the independent films really do need a substantial advertising budget to compete against the huge releases. That’s why the independent scene has evolved the way it’s evolved, and I’ve been doing the independent scene a dozen years since the beginning of "Now I Know." Harvey Weinstein was running around with a film called "I Heard the Mermaids Singing," you know, and it was a nice little film, but they had nothing on the ball. It’s evolved such that the small players keep going out of business, and a small but stable independent distributor gets swallowed up and becomes a subcompany of one of the majors.
     Twelve years ago, Sundance was a kind of idealistic place, and now you can’t blast the people out of the jobs they have at Sundance. It’s become a club of itself. I’m not being prissy about it, but as the independent scene evolves, they realize you need a bunch of famous actors even if it’s an independent film. Independent films are now cast in terms of packages; if you want to make a film, you must have known actors in it. This is from someone who’s now made it twice and loves the people in the film, but you need famous people now. Nine times out of ten, in order to get an indie film made, you really must have it packaged. How that evolved is astounding. The purity of the independents is really not an issue. It’s a misnomer.

LF: Do you feel you told your story with purity the second time around?

PAPPAS: The stuff of the film, what it’s about, is so true that it carries the movie. Am I satisfied that I told the story? I told it well on one level, and I didn’t tell it that well on another level. But the audience likes it, and I’m still a madman.

LF: What’s next for you?

PAPPAS: I adapted a novel by Tom Berger called "Sneaky People." He wrote "Little Big Man," "Neighbors." I’ll probably be shooting that this summer.

‘Some Fish Can Fly’ is screening at Real Art Ways Theatre in Hartford, CT, on January 19. Call the Theatre at (860) 232-1006 for show times. For more information about the film, visit the Web site at http://www.somefishcanfly.com.

'Some Fish Can Fly' is screening at Real Art Ways Theatre in Hartford, CT, on January 19. Call the Theatre at (860) 232-1006 for show times. For more information about the film, visit the Web site at http://www.somefishcanfly.com.