It’s late August, and filmmaker friends Allison Anders and Kurt Voss are planning a quick trip to San Francisco, one, says Anders, that will bring them ”full circle.“
”That‘s right,“ Voss agrees, with a mischievous grin. ”I lost my virginity to Allison there in 1981.“ If the revelation isn’t quite the usual PR spiel, Anders and Voss aren‘t the usual indie team. As they talk about their past and about Sugar Town, the lovely new movie they’ve written and directed together, it‘s with the sort of easy warmth that comes only from years of deep friendship. In a way, the movie could have come only from that friendship.
Voss was a 17-year-old high school dropout when he was deflowered by Anders, then a 26-year-old single mother and student. (”I’d be in jail for that now,“ says Anders. ”Mary Kay Le Tourneau!“) They met on a committee to raise money for the people of El Salvador, but somehow the proceeds would always make their way to Ireland‘s 32, the bar up the street. ”We were not good revolutionaries at all,“ says Voss.
But they were good enough filmmakers to be simultaneously accepted by UCLA film school, and ambitious enough to make Border Radio, the rock & roll proto-indie they shot in ’87 with their classmate Dean Lent. Although the couple broke up not long after Border Radio, their paths have since run in close proximity. Anders spent the ‘90s making her confessional indie melodramas Gas Food Lodging and Mi Vida Loca, and the studio picture Grace of My Heart. Voss got into low-budget action pictures and indie features such as Horseplayer and The Pass. Although Anders has had the higher-profile career, that fact bothers Voss only when his role in Sugar Town is overlooked. ”Allison is always gracious enough to react on my behalf,“ he says. Indeed, Anders had insisted that Voss be part of this interview.
Sugar Town’s assured and mellow storytelling makes a fitting bookend to the ragged glory of Border Radio. ”Together,“ says Anders, ”we‘ve been through the whole type of experience you can have in indie film.“ It was nostalgia for the freedom of their film-school days and a reaction to the present that inspired Sugar Town. Voss had had a contract canceled when the Asian market bottomed out, and Anders found herself caught in the casting game when Hugh Grant, who’d signed on to play Paul McCartney in her autobiographical project Paul Is Dead, dropped out, essentially killing the film before it got off the ground.
”In our mutual frustration,“ says Voss, ”we said, ‘Oh, we should do what we did out of film school, just shoot a movie.’ We‘d done it before and hopefully learned a few things since — like the basics of dramatic construction.“ After securing financing from British Channel Four Films, they tracked down actors with whom they’d already worked — Ally Sheedy with Voss, for example, Duran Duran bassist John Taylor with Anders, John Doe with both — and those with whom they wanted to, including Rosanna Arquette, Beverly D‘Angelo and Mexican actress Lumi Cavazos. When the cast was in place, the pair wrote their script around the actors. It took eight days. ”There’s almost no departure from the script,“ says Anders. ”A few scenes here and there are gone, but pretty much what you see is what we wrote.“
About a group of rock musicians — some on the way up, some facing the fade — and their friends and lovers, Sugar Town flirts with industry machinations but ultimately unfolds into a tribute to love and family, a lyrical nod to the inevitable mellowing of rock‘s once-wild creatures. ”We wanted to do something cutting-edge,“ Voss says sardonically, ”and the movie ends up affirming family values. We didn’t consciously set out to do that, but our real agenda burst through.“
Shooting was brisk, so it was only while editing that Anders and Voss realized they‘d pulled off their objective. ”When we were cutting, we had this kind of free-floating anxiety,“ recalls Anders. ”We couldn’t figure out what it was. Then we realized it was fear that someone was gonna come in and start telling us what to do.“
This month Voss will join Anders in London, where she‘s been working on a memoir, to write and direct a film that stars John Taylor as a past-his-peak rock idol. Oasis singer Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit, who’s married to him, are also in place. Then there are plans for another script the two wrote together, Things Behind the Sun, which Voss would like to do as a digital project. But first, there‘s that trip up north.