“What are these movies?” and “Why should I care?” are two great questions. And if I were selling anything here, I might try and answer them the way you’d expect. But I’m not selling anything.
My name is Donovan Sykes. I cut movies.
As a kid, I loved stumbling across movies on television—the Saturday matinees, the movies of the week. I loved taking a chance on a movie at the Great Escape because the cassette sleeve looked cool. I didn’t know what fan magazines were until I got ahold of Fangoria, Starlog, and Premiere much later. I didn’t understand anything about the history of movies, not even the studio promotional stuff. I never knew what they were until I watched them, and even then I sometimes didn’t understand what I’d seen. I wasn’t literate in that way, and you could argue that I’m still not. I do know when I’m in love.
Finding a movie that speaks to me is still like meeting someone for the first time who becomes an old friend. Movies are always there, waiting for you to hit Play and find out if you’re right for each other. Sometimes they’re right for right now, and sometimes you have to come back later. Then there are times when you both just have to pretend you never met. That’s okay.
You’ve stumbled across a no-budget trove of five short films and two features—all written, produced, and directed by two guys who met at Watkins Film School. Of these seven, I cut six. One of the features is only 45 minutes, but that’s good enough for AMPAS, AFI, and BFI to call it a feature. SAG wants features to be 75 for reasons to do with union pay rates, while the Centre National de la Cinematographie says it’s got to be shot on 35mm and run a minimum of 58 minutes and 29 seconds, so I guess none of the animals in this digital zoo are going to fuckin’ France anytime soon. That’s okay too. Anyway, it’s a feature.
There’s also a trailer for a proposed film I still think has legs if the two guys can ever get their shit wrapped tight again. See if you agree.
These are mostly movies about bad people—or, to my mind, just people who have trouble with the normative life. They catch that bad luck we’ve all come to know, and they make bad decisions like we all have, particularly when they encounter worse people. It’s then, when they’re down and desperate and not smart enough or lucky enough to find the exit, that they have to try and crash their way out. The characters in these films do a lot of crashing. If there’s a theme that connects this small body of work, it’s loss and how pain from loss gets transferred (fairly or unfairly) or goes unresolved until it bursts inside us.
And sex and violence—they’re also about those.
If you think the production values are cheap, that’s because they are, but only for lack of money. There’s plenty of care, effort, ingenuity, and the application of skills. Not everybody has a negative pickup deal, you feel me? But for every story you have about how you bought your way out of a problem, I have twelve stories I heard about how the rotating cast of beautiful maniacs on this crew found a way to get what was needed for the story, usually for free, always with a will.
The actors did the same, going full bore, trusting the two guys completely even when they hadn’t really earned it. I spent years staring at these actors’ faces. If they thought they were in a no-budget dog that wasn’t worth the effort, they didn’t let on. As a viewer, sometimes the best part about movie stars is that I can hit Stop, and they stop. I somehow never forget about the cushy trailers and catered food waiting for them off-screen. Our actors ate pizza on the floor of somebody’s living room. They left it all on the field for love of the game, if you can believe it. Sometimes I still can’t.
The cast and crew of these movies shot as high as they could, with full commitment. I’d like to buy them all drinks right now at the Red Door Saloon. They battled through adversity and brought me treasure to sew together.
I never got to meet any of them. I let the two guys talk me into appearing in one film, as an extra in the Decades scene in Muse. I’m the one drinking beer. Never introduced myself to the cast or crew. Only Suicide Clyde had me pegged as something other than a family friend, I think. We gave each other the nod across the distance and went back to doing our jobs.
Maybe I’ll meet them one day. Maybe it’ll have to be enough to let them know I love them here, on this site that’s fallen into an archival state, though not yet into disrepair. Happy enough, maybe, that they can come here, remember what they did, and know I appreciate it. I hope they all won out in life.
We tried to make art. If you think we didn’t, let’s just pretend we never met. It’s okay with me.
If you think we succeeded, stick around. This town keeps reinventing itself, and when the two guys are finished fucking around with their straight jobs, maybe they’ll follow suit.
—Donovan Sykes, from the plywood piano table at the Red Door Saloon, somewhere in time