Breaking Away From Mainstream Filmmaking with Writer-Director Allison Anders

Allison Anders talks about the state of film, music and creativity in the modern day. Artists in the entertainment business and the struggle of punk-minded artists with and without the support of the mainstream is explored, as we go through years of Los Angeles music and movie history.

Guest Bio

Allison Anders is a Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker. In 1995 she was the recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant” and in 2002 she won a George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished achievement and meritorious service for her semi-autobiographical film Things Behind the Sun. From the release of her acclaimed first feature, Border Radio (1989; co-written and co-directed with Kurt Voss) through the recent critical and popular success of Things Behind the Sun, Anders has established a body of work that is innovative in its visual and sound style and marked by ensemble acting and strong women characters. Her films as writer-director also include Gas Food Lodging (1992), Mi Vida Loca (1993), Grace of My Heart (1996), and Sugar Town (1999; co-directed with Kurt Voss). Anders’ films have premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival and at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, and retrospectives of her work have been held in Thessaloniki, Greece; Sheffield, England; and at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic. At UCSB she teaches courses including rock ‘n’ roll films, autobiographic writing, and music supervision.

Independent filmmaker Allison Anders discusses the state of film, music and other creative arts and reflects on her experience in the Los Angeles punk scene and breaking into the business with her first movie, Border Radio.

On the current state of cinema, Allison gives her grim opinion, “sad, sad!”  “Here’s the problem, like with music, you now have the capacity to make this stuff really cheaply,” she said.

“You can make it, you can go do it yourself – you know DIY was never more fully realized – than in this age right now with technology. And you’ve got crowd funding so you can go onKickstarterIndiegogo, and can all do that stuff – fund your projects – your record, your art, your film, your web series, whatever.”

She says that traditionally, artists have always had a love-hate relationship with the business side of the entertainment world, and now many realize they needed that support structure to achieve a certain level of success.

“You needed producers, you needed studios, you needed distributors, you needed a press that puts you in the context of a movement.”

She says the things that made it possible for the punk rock and indie film movements to happen in the past are no longer in place. “There’s a kind of lethargy that happens with the artist.”

In terms of the independent film business, Allison said she doesn’t think there’s been a major single influence since Quentin Tarantino fundamentally changed the landscape through the ‘90s.

She talks about getting her first feature Border Radio off the ground with only $2,000, which ended up starring punk rocker/actor Chris D.

“Slowly we realized that film noir is really hard, we didn’t know how to do that. So it kind of turned into this crazy, madcap story.”

The film – which tells the story of three musicians who take money owed to them from a gig and flee to Mexico – got good reviews and made it into some festivals. “What’s happened since that time, it’s really grown more into a cult favorite.”

Allison also speaks about getting to know her first mentor in the business, independent film icon Wim Wenders. “Wim seemed connected to pop culture in a way that was interesting. So I thought, the things this guy says is exactly what I want to do – the way that he talked about film – and the way he talked about scenes and actors.”

She said she was immensely impressed with Wenders’ 1980 docudrama Lightning Over Water. “Something about the honesty, it was the most kind of raw experience that I had – and I just fell in love with the film, and I thought this is the path.”

So she wrote him a fan letter and tracked down his agent to make sure the letter got to him. After following up with the agency, she managed to get Wenders’ home phone number in New York and gave him a call and has remained in touch through the years.

“I went and studied under him on Paris, Texas, so it was kind of amazing. He called me up one day and said, ‘Allison, it’s Wim, I’m coming to Los Angeles, I wonder if you can find time to show me your film – so it was my first film at UCLA.”

Allison said Wim loved her film – even though it was just a student project – and even gave her tips on the script.

“So I said ‘Wim, I won this grant’… and I showed it to him and said, ‘Yeah, it’s to study under you on Paris, Texas,’ because I had lied and said he’d invited me,” she jokes. “So I told him I told them he’d invited me. And so he kind of got this far away look and he goes, ‘Well then, I guess you’re going to have to come.’”

Watch the full interview to also hear Allison talk about working with Harry Dean Stanton on the set of Paris, Texas, as well as the large role music plays in her work and life.