Q: How did you meet Stephen C. Stewart and at what point in the relationship did you learn about his script and decide to produce it? How did Crispin become involved?
A: I met Steve through 2 local (Salt Lake City) filmmakers (C. Larry Roberts and Diane Orr) in the early 80’s I believe Diane had done a documentary on Steve and his activism for a local news station. I also believe that Diane had long hair and I imagine Steve probably would show up at their office on occasion and tell them about his idea for a movie. Steve could and did use a typewriter but it was a long laborious process so Larry contacted me to write up Steve’s script so they could read it. I would go over to Steve’s apartment a couple times a week and write up this story Steve had in his head. After awhile maybe a month or so, Steve and I met with Larry and I read the script out loud. Larry was an experimental filmmaker who influenced me greatly, particularly at that time in my life, but at the time he and Diane were doing interesting documentaries and though Larry loved the idea of Steve’s story, he said that he and Diane couldn't help Steve make the film. So I asked if he’d mind if I helped Steve. Of coarse he didn't, and Steve was glad his idea wasn’t dead.
I met Crispin several years later, again through the same man, Larry when he was working in Los Angeles. Crispin and I worked together on another project (based on one of Crispin’s books) in Salt Lake. It was during this time that I told Crispin about the Steve story and all the problems involved in making it. Crispin read the script and liked it and wanted to produce it Steve and I welcomed the idea.
Q: What attracted you to the story Stephen tells in the script?
Initially, I really liked Steve, and as I sat there listening to him tell the story I was amazed at the frank and pure fantasy elements, the absurdity of the scenario Steve was writing stunned me. it was like folk or outsider art, it was delusional and aberrant and most importantly, authentic.
Q: What changes did you have to make in the script to adapt it to the screen? Did Stephen agree with all of those choices?
Well, just between us, the script was always just a vehicle for Steve. Hhe initially based the story on the crime dramas he was seeing on TV at the time, casting himself as the villain/hero driven to crime by society’s intolerance of the handicapped. Steve obviously did have sincere opinions and feelings regarding this intolerance, but it became clear to me early on that his real passion was his fetish and the experiences that the film would afford him as an actor. To be clear, Steve did not see the film solely as a means to sexual experiences, rather I’m certain, Steve was always aware of the scale of the film making process and he wanted to be a part of the social intricacies. He wanted to meet and bond with people, in essence Steve was looking for friends all working towards a common end, an end that Steve was the center of.
The original script had scores of victims up 9 or 10 at one time and there was much more police intrigue. I spent many hours over the early years meeting with Steve trying to work out the delicacies of a mystery which never rang true and ultimately i accepted the realization that was not the real story. Steve’s heart was not in writing a crime drama, rather he was telling me his fantasy.
Steve was very amicable to the edited script outside of a few key elements Steve wasn’t overly concerned about the films structure. He just wanted to make a film.
Q: Was Stephen always the actor you had in mind to play himself?
Early on I asked Steve if he saw someone else playing the role, he was adamant that only he could/would star in the film and that if we dared try cast anyone else in the role he would have to take actions.
Q: How much of the script is autobiographical for Stephen?
Not much. Maybe a few instances… snippets about life in the nursing home. However, there was a lot of Steve’s desires in the film. Not that he had rampant murder on the mind that was just a formula for him to fable his story around, nor was he that sexual, though a life of imprisonment in a wheelchair had created a lot of pent up desire. But he also had a strong need for a relationship with a worthy other.
Q: What was it like working with someone who has cerebral palsy in light of his physical limitations and the fact that he is hard to understand when he speaks? What was the mode of communication that worked the best for you?
Steve was a joy to work with. There were problems and added difficulties, such as his mobility, health, bodily functions, feeding -- really just his physical limitations, however his mental and emotional attitudes were phenomenal, he seemed tireless always pleasant, eager to converse with everyone all the time and a notorious prankster, comedian. His sense of humor was non-stop and his concentration always very sharp. Steve’s joke telling was often surreal. When he told a joke sometimes the listener would have to ask Steve to repeat the punch line several times before it could be understood and in the process killing the impetus of the joke, but creating an absurd exchange. My favorite example of this type of exchange was told to me by Gyll in wardrobe. When Steve was in the hospital at the end of his life, after he had decided to go off life support, Gyll came into the hospital room and asked Steve how he felt. Steve weakly responded something Gyll did not understand, so he asked him to repeat it, which Steve did weakly. Gyll looked puzzled and Steve repeated it again. Finally Gyll understood, Steve is saying “with my hands.” Everyone talked to Steve, because Steve approached everyone openly with honest desire to make friends.
Q: What was the impact of Stephen’s failing health on the production?
Well there was a certain sense of urgency, however we were all working as hard as we could anyway. I naively felt Steve was immortal. In the past, Steve had fallen off of platforms, sitting naked in the middle of a pond in freezing weather in all kinds of extreme physical hardships. He really was one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known.
Q: Can you talk about the aesthetics of the film? Your decision to shoot on sets instead of a real city street for example? The artificiality of shooting a driving scene in studio?
One of the daunting aspects of the film, when I first thought of making it, was the innumerable locations. Over the 20+ years before we made the film, I slowly came to realize my love and preference of shooting on the stage. Currently I see little or no reason to ever shoot on location. This is an aesthetic I have strong feelings about. All of my art over the last 15 or so years has been on sets. And Steve’s story was the perfect film to shoot exclusively on stage. Though the individual sets were not that stylized, there was, in each room, a theme that I would try to emphasize. For instance, in Margit’s living room I wanted to see acres of red carpet. So much carpet you could never have seen that much on location. I felt it gave the scene an unsettling theatrical sensation, like someone was watching…
The driving scenes i think we were going to shoot as rear projections, but I believe for some reason or another it didn't work. Mmuch more challenging are exterior scenes done on stage, in this film I relied on backdrops that I painted and a sense of disbelief. I remember that at the outset we wanted the audience to be aware that they were looking at sets. With that axiom in mind I was given great freedom.
Q: Can you discuss the realization of the production design.
There were several limitations that I was aware of at the start. I knew the size of my space, the number of sets that needed to be available at the same time, based on the various actors availability. And I knew that inasmuch as no one was being paid, I would have to be able to build everything myself. There are always a lot of volunteers when a project starts and almost none when it ends.
Q: Can you speak about some of your other casting decisions and any interesting stories attached these decisions?
My warehouse was located in a poor part of town. At the closet supermarket worked an interesting looking man with an interesting speaking voice. I had shopped there for years and mentioned him to Crispin who promptly went over and convinced him to act in the film.
Q: If you had to specify a genre or genres that categorize this film, what would you say?
A: I have always seen the film as absurdly experimental, there was great humor in the casting of Steve as a romantic lead, but that was just at the surface, as there was an underlying anger, frustration and despair as well. Then there was the sense of documentary, because we knew the suspension of disbelief would never actually occur. We were aware that Steve, as well as the character he played, would play a central part of the story. I believe it is a unique formula for a narrative subject.
Q: What would you say was the biggest challenge in making this film?
I think the largest obstacle was the coming to terms with the fact we were going to make an epic fulfillment of another's fantasy that I felt had no end like a TV soap opera. Would we be able to fulfill ours and Steve’s expectations? I believe we exceeded them and in ways we had not anticipated. A case in point would be Steve’s death. The film would have been a different film had Steve not died.
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