11 February 2012

Low Budget Hell - Book Review

Reprint of a review originally featured on Urban Times (http://www.theurbn.com/2011/10/low-budget-hell-book-review/)

So I’m one of those people that watch a movie and then watch the credits go by totally amazed by the number of people and titles involved in the process.  Admittedly my children have drastically reduced the range of titles I get to watch, but did you realize that it took like 800 people to make the first Curious George movie?  Anyway… I never really bothered to think about how much work those people listed on the credits might be responsible for or how cutthroat the industry that they work in might be, but I have a new found respect the whole process of movie making after reading Robert Maier’s Low Budget Hell Making Underground Movies with John Waters

Maier explains his love/hate relationship with low budget film making through his remarkable journey as a crewmember and producer in the early days of John Waters’s career as filmmaker.  At times brutally honest, most of the time riveting and funny - Maier talks about his own journey alongside Waters’s rise to fame and the simultaneous progressions in their careers.  The book maintains an amazing level of detail into the production process (and the difficulties that came along with that process).  Maier manages to impart the reader with a plethora of knowledge about the mechanics of movie-making without interrupting the narrative of his personal experience.

Picking up after Waters’s release of Pink Flamingos (1979) Maier explains his role in low budget movie-making hell and the struggles that came with the territory.  He also unfurls a fascinating story about the intersection of his career and that of Waters which continues until the release of Cry-Baby (1990).  The storyline keeps it interesting with vignettes about stolen (borrowed) movie equipment, helicopter near crashes, union bullying, shady project funders, artistic debates and Hollywood production company antics.  This is the inside line on low-budget moviemaking.  If you’re an outsider to the movie industry, you won’t watch another movie the same way.

Maier’s memoir is interesting because of the balance that it strikes in telling his own story and in explaining Waters’s rise to notoriety.  John Waters has been somewhat relegated to the margins of cult and “trash art” filmmaking and I have to admit that I had never seen a John Water’s movie prior to starting Low Budget Hell (I’ve since watched A Dirty Shame – which might not be a purist Water’s film but insightful and entertaining in a trashy, social critique kind of way nonetheless).  Maier defines who Waters was when they worked together and contrasts that personification to what he has become today .  As a side note, if you start the book a John Waters novice, you’ll have a solid appreciation for the vision behind his films which goes a long way toward providing the necessary perspective.  I’ll also make another side note that John Waters is not really as important as the comparison that he provides in Maier’s memoir.  In other words, Waters simply serves as the visionary behind looking to produce a specific product and Maier provides background on the nuts, bolts, sweat, and blood that make that vision happen.  It’s a great read and it provides a level of inside knowledge that you’re unlikely to encounter elsewhere.  I enjoyed the dive into movie history and understanding the soul-crushing work it takes to make a movie happen.

Check out the book's Low Budget Hell's Facebook page for more information.

You can find the print version here or the Kindle edition here.

In order to be completely forthright, I must admit that I went through segments of basic training and deployed to Afghanistan with Maier’s son (Evan), and he was gracious enough to take a very intoxicated me to my first post-deployment American breakfast upon our return to the states.  He and his wife have also been kind enough to let my whole family crash at their house during our travels…  that all being said he writes a great book.