IN MY EARLIEST RECOLLECTION OF Laura Nix, she is leaning out of her window, handing me a post card announcing a screening of the first rough cut of her film, The Politics of Fur. She has just moved into the apartment in front of mine. She is excited; the film, which she made while a graduate student in the Visual Arts Department at the University of California, San Diego, is premiering at a film market in New York.
I didn't know it at the time, but the film wasn't finished. She had shot it in nine days. An independent-film consultant she'd hired to assess her work had gently counseled her not to show it to anyone. And yet she was holding out a dim hope that someone -- a producer, a distributor, anybody -- would believe in her work enough to write her a check.
No one did. "I met people in New York who really loved the project," Laura told me recently. "But all of them were completely frank with me. The market is worse than it's ever been for independent film. It's completely, totally saturated. It's not like in the old days, when making an independent picture had some cachet. Now everybody and their brother goes out and makes an independent film. Less than one in 100 movies made in this country right now gets distributed.
"And here I am at this film market," Laura remembered, "with gazillions of people who are exactly like me. They've all spent their last dime. They've all convinced their family members to give money, and their friends to work for free, and they're all walking around with their sorry-ass post cards and T-shirts trying to get people into their screenings. And everybody's watching their dreams go down a hole.
"It was," she said, "the most depressing thing I'd ever done."
Nearly three years later, I am sitting in my living room with a tape of The Politics of Fur sitting on top of my VCR, trying to muster the courage to watch it. By this time, ä Laura and I have become friends. We have danced at each other's parties; we have looked after each other's pets; we have unwittingly dated the same advertising copywriter. (After having been dumped for "someone more interesting," I recognized the Porsche convertible in the driveway.) For three years, I have watched her go to work each day at the company she started with Jeffrey Schwarz, Automat Pictures, where she produces slick, obliquely subversive documentaries to accompany the DVD releases of movies like Rambo and John Q. On the morning of September 11, I brought her a cup of coffee, learned she didn't drink coffee, and held her hand as CNN broadcast the live, unimaginable news. Given the proximity of our lives, our affectionate neighborly relationship and my overall respect for her intellect, I want to respond to her movie with integrity. I want to be honest. I desperately, feverishly want to like it. And I am morbidly convinced that I won't.
SOMETIME BACK IN MARCH, A MAN NAMED MICHAEL Lumpkin, with whom Laura worked as an associate producer on a documentary about gays in film, The Celluloid Closet, asked her what had happened to The Politics of Fur. Now the director of the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Lumpkin wondered whether he could consider the film for inclusion. "I told him, 'Michael, I haven't finished it,'" Laura recalls. "'I don't know how to finish it. I've run out of money. I can't find any money.'" But she gave him a copy anyway, and he accepted it, along with Automat's documentary Whether You Like It or Not: The Story of Hedwig, about the making of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. In the following weeks, Laura got calls from L.A.'s Outfest and the New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, both asking for prints. The New York festival would happen in mid-June. The movie needed close-ups. It needed exterior shots. It needed re-editing. It needed sound, post-production work, new scenes. Laura had two months.
She called her friends: Adele Horne and Catherine Hollander, two women I'd seen hanging around her place over the years, re-appeared in the driveway, with new recruits Sara Grady and Kerry Tribe, wearing walkie-talkies and serious expressions, asking me to rearrange my potted tomato plants to make room for their dolly tracks and stands. She called in her actresses, Brynn Horrocks, whom her close friend and casting director, Bill Ingram, had met while working in a restaurant, and Katy Selverstone, who has since scored a role in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, both of whom had radically changed their hairstyles since the first shoot. She made the "crucial but necessary decision" to finish the movie on video, knowing that the print would look muddy on the blown-up screen, but also knowing that at somewhere around $10,000, the cost of the film print would be prohibitive. "It broke my heart not to finish it on film," Laura says. "The gray in my hair is all from shooting it on film." But on video, at least The Politics of Fur would exist.