Interviews

The Filmmaker’s journey (with Sam Auster)

When I’ve reviewed 2002: The Rape of Eden, I’d immediately known I would need to get in touch with the director of that little flick to learn more about him and the movie. You know, you can admire the work of the great directors, Fellini, Kubrick, what have you, but with independent, low/no budget guys, that’s a true fascination and movie lovers’ affair.
I was glad Sam Auster did find some time to answer my questions, so, without any further ado, let’s see what he has to say…

Sam Auster

How did you get into the movie business in first place?
Growing up in the Chicago Illinois area, my goal was to “Change The World”. Therefore I decided I had to become President Of The United States.
However, from a very young age, Movies and Television were always hugely important to me. As a scared little kid, watching the original Star Trek on TV taught me how to be a man…When I would be scared of doing something I’d think to myself, “What would Captain Kirk do”.
Around age 12, I saw DR. STRANGELOVE on TV and it had a huge impact on me. This was before the era of consumer video machines but I was desperate to have some little piece of this incredible movie to hold on to. I took my mother’s tape recorder (which we were never allowed to touch) and held the microphone up to the television speaker and hit record. As luck would have it, I recorded Slim Pickens as Major “King” Kong in the midst of the “Survival Kit Contents Check” sequence. I still have that tape recording.
Anyway then I went to college. I was a Political Science Major and a Film Minor. I was planning to go on to Law School, get into politics and then run for President.
Between Sophmore and Junior Year in college I was chosen to be a legislative intern for a fast-rising Republican in the Illinois State Legislature. My first day as an intern this Legislator sat me down and told me, “Sam, your most important job here this summer is to get me dates with the girls in the internship program”. This from a married man, big on Republican “FAMILY VALUES”. I walked out of his office totally turned off on politics.
Luckily at this point I realized that it wasn’t politics that had changed MY WORLD but MOVIES about politics. Films like DR. STRANGELOVE, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, THE CANDIDATE, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, CHINATOWN, GODFATHER I and II, NETWORK and on and on.
At that point I decided I would be a director. My goal was still the same – To Change The World … but I realized that could be done more completely, more truly and with more honor as a film-maker than as a politician.
So, after college I enrolled in Columbia College Film School in Chicago. Columbia is a great place because all of the instructors were also working professionals in the film and television industry.
About that time I made a short satirical film for some medical students. It was about their Medical School declaring war on the city of Chicago and was (VERY) loosely based on DR. STRANGLELOVE. It was terrible but I learned a lot doing it.
After one semester at Columbia College, a friend of mine, who was working at a small TV station about 75 miles away from Chicago, told me there was an opening for a news cameraman. I had shot some film myself but was in no way prepared to be a news cameraman even at a tiny TV station in a tiny rural TV market. But in the time-honored tradition of “show business” I had connections and due to my friends influence at the TV station, and my gift of BS, I got the job. My first in “the biz”.
I worked my butt off at that little TV station. Shooting news was actually great training for the film-maker I hoped to become. I was shooting film everyday (at that time the General Manager of our TV station refused to pay for the then-new technology, video cameras, saying “videotape is a fad”) and with the News Reporters editing and airing two or three 1 – 2 minute news stories everyday. I covered city council meetings, local elections and the opening of shopping malls but also car crashes and fires as well as the occasional violent crime. I saw life and death and human interest through my camera every day and had to turn it into a watchable and easy to understand narrative film. GREAT TRAINING.
After a year of shooting News I made a short trip out to Los Angeles. A friend of my uncle was in the advertising business in Chicago and he gave me a list of about ten people he knew in the TV Commercial Production business in LA. I called every one of them and tried to meet as many as I could. They all pretty much told me the same thing…I was never going to be a Director shooting news. Somebody told me the fastest way to “become” a director was to write a screenplay that someone wanted to produce. After that screenplay became a hit movie, (easy) then write another great screenplay and insist that you must be the director. Writing this now makes me realize how little I knew about the reality of the film business but (luckily) that didn’t stop me. In short order, I quit my job at the TV station, moved to LA, got a job working as a Production Assistant on TV commercials and started writing screenplays.

Bounty Hunter 2002, a.k.a. 2002: The Rape of Eden cover poster

I am interested in your 1994 movie Bounty Hunter 2002, also known as 2002: The Rape of Eden. For those of us with no knowledge about how the movie business is conducted…can you tell us something about the origin of the movie? Have you been approached as a writer/director, or have you pitched the idea of the movie to various film productions?
My girlfriend at the time was also working in the movie business and was a real go-getter. She was a beauty and could talk to anyone. She wanted to be a producer and I wanted to be a writer/director. I had written probably around ten screenplays at the time and directed and shot several Behind-The-Scenes films about the making of big budget commercials and movies. My girlfriend met a guy who had made a lot of money, as I remember, in the home security alarm business, but wanted to get into the film business. He had 65,000 dollars and he wanted to invest in a movie. She asked me if I could write a script that was in a commercial genre that we could actually shoot and finish and release…all for 65K. I said, SURE! Ahhh, youth. So a friend of mine and I wrote 2002: THE RAPE OF EDEN. “EDEN” had two main characters, was set almost completely outdoors and consisted mainly of one long chase scene through the desert. I directed, my girlfriend produced and another friend shot it. We shot 13 days in the desert outside of Los Angeles. Although it was the time of year of the shortest hours of daylight, we averaged over 50 camera setups per day, got the film finished on time, on budget and it was released later that year.

Sam Auster (left)

What did inspire you to come up with the post-apocalyptical theme for the movie? If I remember correctly, the first half of the 1990s were not really rich on post-apo themes, was that a reason? Or something different altogether?
I had always had an affinity for the Post-Apocalyptic Genre. THE ROAD WARRIOR (Mad Max II) had really impressed me and showed that you could do something fun, kinky, action-packed AND meaningful.
In LA in the early 90’s AIDS awareness was really coming to the fore…Magic Johnson had just revealed that he was an AIDS sufferer. I wrote copy for a trailer for “EDEN” (that the releasing company tossed out, THE FOOLS) that ended with the line “Where do you hide from the plague?” In 1992, when we were writing the film. in LA, the appocalypse we were riffing on in the post-appocalyptic world of RAPE OF EDEN was AIDS.
We postulated in the VO that opens the film that everyone was wrong…AIDS was actually easy to catch, and everyone, or ALMOST everyone, actually had it and would die from it. Therefore the most valuable thing on earth was an un-infected female human.

How do you view the success of the movie? From today’s perspective, would you do it differently, given the budget and the possibilities of the time?

When I look back at ANY FILM I’ve done in the past, all I see is the mistakes and what I would’ve, could’ve, should’ve done differently. Ahhh well.
Given the budget, we did pretty well.
We had a female-led rock band lined up that had a great song with very relevant lyrics. It would’ve given “EDEN” an important added dimension and turbo-charged our marketing. The band was supposed to appear in the bounty hunter bar scene. Not sure how or why that fell through the cracks – Probably because I didn’t push hard enough to make it happen. I used to be a nicer guy back then but that can get in the way of making things happen in our beloved movie business. But, being a jerk can also get in the way…it’s a fine line to walk and I’m better at walking it now than I was then. Also there was a Uninfected Female Auction scene that we didn’t shoot, probably for budgetary reasons but would have upped our salability and release potential. We also had some scenes of a post-appocalyptic LA that would have expanded the scope of the film but didn’t make the cut because they were directed so poorly and looked like crap.

I was trying to get some info on Phil Nordell, who plays the Bounty Hunter, do you keep in touch with him, or did he completely disappear from the showbiz?
I am in touch with Phil who is a great guy who now has a big time real estate business and actually writes, directs and stars in his own commercials. I like to think I inspired that in him. Although Phil’s not acting at this time, I just pitched him on the idea of “getting the band back together” and doing a RAPE OF EDEN sequel featuring an aging Bounty Hunter who has to go on one last mission to free his Young Adult Daughter from the female gladiator games where though she reigns supreme, she is actually the prisoner (and mistress) of the ruthless Boss of all the flesh dealers.

Sam Auster (left)

You are a versatile person…a writer, a producer, a director and a camera guy. Which post/job does appeal to you the most and why?
I love EVERY aspect of film-making. There is something different to love about every stage of the process.
Shooting the film is, in a certain way, the most fun. There’s all the toys to play with. Orson Welles called a film set the biggest train set any little boy could have to play with. It’s funny because one time my mother said, “Sam, you enjoyed being 13 so much you decided never to grow up.” Also shooting is great for ego fulfillment…on the set, the Director is the star. You’re the captain of the ship. But on the other hand if the scene sucks or something goes wrong it’s all on you as well. Sometimes during the shoot I’ll say I have to go to the Honeywagon (the toilet) but I really just want to have 3 minutes where 12 people aren’t asking me questions.
The edit process is also very satisfying as you see all these disparate shots you’ve filmed come together and bring your characters to life and tell the story.
If I HAD to pick one job…and thank god I don’t…I’d probably pick writing. It’s the most pure. It’s you and the ideas. You are creating the world and you’re never losing the light or dealing with cranky actors or picture vehicle breaks down or the dog won’t do the stunt he did 10 times without a hitch in rehearsal.
When the writing is going well it’s the most satisfying, most powerful feeling in the world.
The worst part of the process is chasing the money to make the film. It’s also the most important from the standpoint of actually making a movie. 90% of your time is spent going to meetings where you are chasing the money and (at most) 10% of your time is spent actually film-making. Nobody ever tells you this horrible reality in film school.

You last flick was the short Her First Black Guy in 2015….quite a long time ago…any plans to bring something new in 2020?
I have been doing a lot of politcial film-making in the past few years. I have made TV and Social media spots for a number of Democratic Congressional Candidates and several documentary shorts for environmental activist organizations.
It allows me to wed my twin passions of Film-making and Politics.
But I am also always writing. In fact I just finished the first two episodes of TROUBLEMAKER, a series I hope to get started on this year. It’s based on the memoir (by the same name) of Bill Zimmerman who was a leading anti-Vietnam war activist. It’s an amazing chronicle of the LONG 60’s (1958 -1975) a period of resistance with astounding relevance to our present era of RESISTANCE.
I am also in development on TRANS AM 1970 about the year when the Big Four Automakers in the U.S. hired the greatest racing drivers in the world to drive Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds and Javelins on race tracks all over the U.S., making blood sport and chasing big bucks market share while Vietnam rages and campuses and cities go up in flames. Big fun.

And that would be all, many thanks for your time, Mr. Auster!
Thanks for your questions, Rudolf. Keep in touch.

Website: http://www.austerproductions.tv/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AusterProductions/

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Rudolf Schütz

A father to two little perpetuum mobiles called kids, Rudolf is a main force behind The Rubber Axe webzine, a bookworm, musick lover and a movie fan - not to mention his virgin forays into the comics and board/card games.

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