While 26-year-old Anaheim resident Deniz Michael seemed like a pleasant, sensible fellow when we spoke, you'd have to be at least a little bit insane to make a film like Solitary Fracture. With no film experience at all, unemployed and depressed, Michael decided to put a few years of his life and a lot more money than he had into a black-and-white tragedy about a doughy office drone who loses his job, ends up homeless and slowly descends into dangerous madness.
Michael would also star in the film, and his would be the only face we would see during the entire running time. That's a hell of a burden for an unschooled actor to carry, but it was only the beginning of the miseries he would subject himself to: during the course of the film, he would lose a truly astonishing amount of weight, the better to show his character's despair; during several scenes, he would wander around naked, displaying his unlovely, fleshy physique for all the world to see; he would be shown vomiting, peeing and wiping his butt. And, in the crowing act of masochism, the friendless, luckless, vomiting, peeing, butt-wiping loser he would be portraying would be based all too clearly on himself; the film's Michael Peters is what would happen if every single thing went wrong with Deniz Michael's life.
Michael has literally put his blood, sweat and tears into Solitary Fracture, and the result is one of the most grimly compelling indie pictures I've seen in years. This guy is either a ticking time bomb or the next Lars Von Trier. On Friday, he presents a free screening of the film, the only screening scheduled as of yet. He's paying for it himself. Breaks your heart, huh? Trek up to LA, and get your heart broken some more.
OC Weekly: This film is obviously autobiographical to some extent, but how much? Did you ever live in your car? Have you had mental problems? Deniz Michael: Well, I was never homeless, and I don't know about mental problems . . . but there were some inner demons I worked through in the film. It was partly based on the suicide of some people I'd known in Phoenix. I'd moved out to California, and my dad called to tell me they'd killed themselves within a few days of each other. I started wondering about what they could have gone through, what had gone through their minds leading up to this. The film was inspired by that, along with some of my own situation, my frustrations and disgust with the business world. This must have been a grueling shoot. The subject matter gets so grim, and you lose all that weight, and you show yourself vomiting and all that.
I lost 55 pounds. It was very important to me to do that because whenever I've known people who were deeply depressed, they would lose a lot of weight in a hurry—it was a real telltale sign that something was wrong. Of course, being a perfectionist, I really wish I could have lost a lot more, so the difference would be clearer.
No, you lost plenty—55 pounds! It's a dramatic transformation. How did you do it?
Well, I started bulking up, right around the Christmas before last. I ate a lot of starchy foods. And then I basically went on the Atkins diet. That was really rough; I lost so much weight that it was getting scary. I had to stop before my goal weight because it was affecting my health; I was getting sick all the time. It was a grueling shoot, yeah. There's that stuff in the film where I'm in the hotel, and . . . a lot of that was real. I was broke, I'd maxed out my credit cards and borrowed money from my dad to finish the film, and I was just panicking about getting the thing done. The puking in the film was real. I was just so stressed.
As much hell as you put yourself through, your camera guy deserves some kind of award for all the weeks you two spent in crappy hotels while he filmed you throwing up and everything. Had you know him before this?
Oh, sure, he was an old friend from college. He was great through the whole thing. There was only one time when we had a real problem. It was this dream sequence where I'm naked and digging with a shovel in the middle of nowhere. We filmed that on an Arizona bombing range, and planes were whooshing by overhead. We had flares going so we'd have some light, and he was kinda freaking out, like, "This is insane! We gotta get out of here! They're gonna start dropping bombs on us, and we'll be blown to pieces!"
He stuck by me through all kinds of crazy stuff. We were doing total guerrilla filming and sneaking into churches after hours and stuff like that. We'd wake up and hit the streets of Phoenix at 6 a.m., and cops would cruise up and say, "Hey, what are you boys doing with that camera, huh?"
Has your family seen the film? There's a lot of weird, tense family stuff in this.
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No. I've shown it to very few people, actually. You're the first person I don't know who has given me feedback on it! My relatives are going to fly out for the screening at USC, and I have no idea what's going to happen. There's definitely stuff I'm concerned about; people who know me could easily see a lot of personal things in the film. I figured it was better for them to all see it together, and if they're offended, they can all yell at me once, and we can get it over with.
Given the darkness of the subject matter, this picture could be a hard sell. Anything you'd like to say to people to bring them out to the screening?
Well . . . I'd tell them that if they go see this film, they'll be getting something completely from the heart. It's not your standard Hollywood picture at all; it's a true independent film. If I was only allowed to make only one thing my entire life, I wanted it to be something I truly believed in. So I guess this is my life on the line here.
Solitary Fracture screens at the University of Southern California, George Lucas Building, Room 108, 850 W. 34th St., Los Angeles; solitaryfracture.com. Fri., 8 p.m. Free.