Lukas Kendall Talks Lucky Bastard and the NC-17, in select theaters starting this Friday
Lucky Bastard is a "found footage" thriller about a porn website that invites fans to have sex with porn stars. An eager young man named Dave (Jay Paulson) is given a chance to have sex with the fabulous Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue), but everyone gets more than they bargained for...To gruesome results.
Directed and co-written by Robert Nathan, the film is captured by the Lucky Bastard porn cameras for a fresh take on the "found footage" genre. We recently caught up with producer and Robert's writing partner Lukas Kendall to discuss the film, and the decision to go into theaters with an NC-17 rating, which rarely happens nowadays.
Here is our conversation.
This is the first NC-17 rated movie in I don't know how long. Most films re-cut instead of going forth with that dreaded rating. Why did you decided to keep your movie intact and not edit it for a gentler, kinder R rating? The film does deal with the porn industry, so maybe we should expect an NC-17 rating?
Lukas Kendall: I'll give the Pollyanna answer first. We though this was the responsible label. We don't want kids to see this. Before we had it rated, when we were showing it to people, we had to gauge how offended they might be. We'd tell them that it is kind of racy. Now that it's rated, it's an easy way to communicate. Look, its NC-17 so no one under 17 is admitted. It has its own connotations, which are helpful for us. We also thought that being an independent production, it helped elevate the tone of what we did. Because it's a voluntary rating system. It made sense. I don't want to say completely that we want to hide behind that brand. Its what made sense. That's what the rating is made for. I don't know why people run away from it. Except that they make a financial decision that they can't make enough money, and it may exclude children from the audience. But the rating exists for this very purpose. Its so that there are adult movies for adult audiences. We're going to roll the dice and see what happens.
What about when the movie goes to streaming services? Will Netflix run your NC-17 rated movie? Or do you have to re-cut it?
Lukas Kendall: I can't be worried about that. The comparable we've used is Shame. I'm sure you know what it is. The Michael Fassbender sex addict movie. That is on Netflix. You can get that on iTunes. That is also a major release with a major distributor that features some major movie stars. That seems to be the last major NC-17 movie. I'm a little confused about Killer Joe. I thought that was NC-17, but I also did some research, and that seemed to indicate that it went out unrated, because they refused the NC-17. I think that rating was more about violence than sexual content. Shame was a movie that was certainly well respected. It did some business. We think that our movie has the same artistic merit that Shame does. If it's good enough for iTunes and Netflix, then I think our movie should be. We'll find out.
Shame is only available on DVD through Netflix. They don't have it streaming.
Lukas Kendall: That may be the case. I know I've seen it on HBO. We didn't even think about the rating when we wrote or shot the movie. I showed it to a studio. I won't say which one. They were very complimentary. They said, "Frankly, look, I can't put this on 2000 screens." I was talking with the executive. This was before we went and got it rated. He said, "This is almost most certainly an NC-17. Why did you do that?" I said, "In all honesty, it took every effort to make this movie good. We couldn't be diverting effort into anticipating a rating." We wrote it freely with the language we wanted, and the explicitness we wanted. There is no actual sex. I should be very clear about that. There is less sex in our movie than anything you might find on Cinemax at 2 in the morning. But the rating is appropriate. And we'll see what happens.
I don't usually come directly at a filmmaker about their rating. This was the angle they gave me from the press release. This is what I was asked to talk about.
Lukas Kendall: I know. I wrote that press release and we stand by it. We're an independent movie. We're a little too hot to handle. We're getting heat from distributors at festivals because they are concerned about what will happen if they program our movie. They are concerned about a backlash. They are concerned about offending people. So we have to stand up for our movie and do what is best. We thought getting rated was the best thing to do. I'll tell you one little thing that I've learned. Through all the grousing and complaining, there is a whole movie about how the ratings board is to deal with...
Yes, I've seen that one...
Lukas Kendall: Those are the nicest people. I'm not kidding. They have been the nicest, most accessible people I've dealt with in Hollywood. You call up, you ask a question, and you get an honest answer. Truly. They are the best.
I'm seeing a lot of found footage movies come out, and they are mostly horror. There has been one comedy...
Lukas Kendall: There was Project X...
That's the comedy I'm talking about....There have been a couple of others, like The Virgin Hit, and that Canadian Christmas movie...But they're mostly in the horror genre...
Lukas Kendall: Found footage. We filmed something different. Found footage has mostly been that the camera has captured something extraordinary, and it seems real. Because the camera should not be able to film a poltergeist, or space aliens, or whatever else is being used. That's not what we've done. We did nothing of the sort. I do believe we found a great application for found footage. Which is people filming pornography, and it gets out of hand. It casts the found footage genre in a new light. I won't hide behind the fact that, when you are making a movie for edit on a micro budget, you are looking for something you can do that makes the vision practical. That is in many ways why we came up with it. I'm very happy to see out version of found footage.
It is different. It's a refreshing turn. I like to see people taking this sub-genre and doing something new with it. It's on the verge of over kill. It is already sort of stagnant. Some people abuse the found footage concept. Some of it is unwatchable. I don't want to see 40 minutes of surveillance footage and two mediocre jump scares. Your movie is far removed from that idea and concept.
Lukas Kendall: I hope so. As I started out doing media for this movie, I have never really believed in criticizing other people's movies, or comparing something unfairly. We didn't really watch a lot of these found footage movies for reference. My director did. For technical reasons. To see what some of the angles were, and how the cutting worked. There was a lot of room for us to innovate in the actual filming. My biggest problem with found footage movies is, I don't understand why, after the first person gets killed, they don't turn off the camera and call 911. I don't know why found footage movies don't end at minute 35, when something goes wrong. I don't know why they are still going to such elaborate lengths to film it all. In our film, I think we have a very convincing reason why the cameras are rolling. I did watch the first Paranormal Activity movie. I haven't seen the others. Again, I don't want to criticize the structure of what they did. It's become a very successful franchise.
But their way of structuring is sort of a scam on the audience. They show 50 minutes of nothing footage, and then throw in a couple of scares which don't add up too much. The sequels have used that as a crutch.
Lukas Kendall: People are always interested in what the most expensive movie looks like. And what the least expensive movie looks like. It's interesting. Just because they are different. It seems to be a problem with movies, in this age of explicit visual effects, how to give the audience something new. We very much like the movie how it plays theatrically and to an audience. We are prepared right now for our film to only play in theaters. I think that what we did, that worked for us, we came up with the concept and the story first. The execution came from that. The content and the story did emerge organically from what we could afford. The whole thing starts with my good friend Jim Wynorski. You probably know who he is...
Not by name...
Lukas Kendall: Jim Wynorski. If you look him up, he's made like ninety movies in the last twenty-five years. He started with Roger Corman. He is a B movie exploitation filmmaker. He just makes movies one after another, and they are on Cinemax or the SYFY channel. He is a legend in his field. He is a friend of mine. He is a good guy. Years ago, he said, "If you want to make a movie, lets do it. I could write it. You could write it. We could make it ourselves. Its fun." So, we started out with that DIY mindset. It all started from there. When I had this idea for a movie, when I stumbled across this Internet porn that people had been making, I though it was so uncomfortable and bizarre. The idea that this could go very wrong popped into my mind. And it seemed like the perfect idea for a movie.
Maybe I saw the wrong trailer. But it seems like you could have sold the film on that idea alone. The trailer I saw gave a lot of the film away...
Lukas Kendall: We're making a new trailer. Our movie is not a secret about what happens. It's about how it unfolds. You know that in every single episode of Columbo he's going to get the guy. It's just how it happens. This is a bit of a different paradigm. We did feel that the trailer may have given away a little too much. But we're working on a different trailer. You probably saw the trailer where the actress is speaking directly to the camera.
Lukas Kendall: Maybe because we're not marketing executives, but this has been a very difficult film for us to create a trailer for. There is so much exposition that we need to communicate. We need to inform audiences that we are in the world of Internet porn. Then we have to give them a twist on what happens. There are two or three big chunks of exposition that we have to put into the trailer. It's been a delicate thing for us to construct. One of the things we learned is, in the movie itself, you don't get an explanation of what the Lucky Bastard website is. It's not exactly on camera. The best explanation of it comes from a person off camera. It just made it a little bit more difficult, because you don't have that footage of someone saying what the website is. It happens when that voice is off-camera. That means the audience is looking at someone else, and it takes them an extra second to process what they are hearing, in terms of what they are seeing. That may be more technical for you, but its something we've grappled with.
It just seemed to me like some of the surprises are given away. I'm sure there is much more to the story than what we see...
Lukas Kendall: There is a lot to the movie...I am really looking forward to people seeing the movie so that they get a sense of some of the humor, and some of the social commentary aspect of it. I hope its social commentary that doesn't become medicinal. The bitter medicine version of social commentary. I hope ours is a more organic and provocative social commentary about what our culture is going through with our views of pornography, and sexuality, and humiliation, and entertainment...As we call it...It struck us both, Robert Nathan and I... We both wrote it...That this is something in the culture right now. All of these talent shows were people go on and sing off key, and they are told they are the worst singer of all time. It seems like a Faustian bargain that people make, to get on TV and then be humiliated. It just seemed so coarsening. And distasteful, just personally...I'm not saying it shouldn't exist. For me, personally, I just find it so hard to watch. I think people feel in the back of their minds, that there is something not quite right about this aspect of the culture. It speaks to a problem that we have, that this is so popular. Then you look at the accessibility of pornography in our culture, and it's astonishing. When we showed our movie to an agency with the intent of them representing the movie for sales, they passed because of the content. One of the things they said was, "I was very uncomfortable with the rape scene." We had to say, "Which one?" So that may tell you something about our movie. But you can Google on your phone, "Rape Porn", and a million links come up...Not a million, but a sufficient number of links come up. If you or I were so inclined right now, with our phone, we could pull up an Internet porn video of someone pretending to rape a woman.
And there is no lock on it. The youngest kid can get to that video, if they know what to look for.
Lukas Kendall: Now, this becomes a complicated conversation. I do believe in the first amendment. I do believe people have a right to make these things. There is a very difficult argument for whether women should be allowed to make art or pornography that is, frankly, degrading to women. If you believe women are in control of their bodies, then they are in control of their bodies. They should be able to make whatever they want to make. At the same time, frankly, it is offensive, and its very disturbing, but its there. People are making this stuff, you have to imagine, around the clock. You know it. It seems like this unspoken truth that this stuff is forever on the internet. Who knows who is making it and who is watching it? Its just one of those things that we accept because its part of the world. I'm always upset when I have to throw away Styrofoam, but sometime I have to do it. It goes in a hole, it gets buried. Its an awful, environmental thing that you can't do anything about, because its part of modern life. I don't want to compare pornography to throwing out Styrofoam. I'm probably getting a little off track. It's a huge issue. If our movie makes people consider this, than I'm glad.
That's what you are after with this movie?
Lukas Kendall: We're after having a film that reaches an audience. And engages an audience. And is hopefully successful. It is challenging. We didn't realize how far outside the mainstream we were. But apparently we are quite outside the mainstream when it comes to the Hollywood apparatus. But the audiences thus far, who have seen the movie, have related to it. We are very happy. This is a good experiment. I truly don't know what is going to happen.
Opening Friday, April 5, 2013 at Vintage Cinemas' Los Feliz 3 Cinemas, 1822 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90027, (323) 664-2169. Daily showtimes 1:30, 4:15, 7:30 and 9:45 pm. For more information: