Robyn Rosenkrantz and Michael Glover are the consummate traveling art machine. For nearly 30 years, they have been traveling the world as Bright Blue Gorilla, performing concerts, showcasing their independent films, selling their CDs and DVDs, and maintaining their operation with the aid of the people they’ve met along the way. As Bright Blue Gorilla, they have produced a dozen CDs, six feature films, and they’ve just returned to L.A. to continue a tour they started in Europe three months ago.
Tomorrow, Bright Blue Gorilla will be appearing at The Frida Cinema, where they will perform a concert, screen their latest film, Mr. Rudolpho’s Jubilee, and conduct a Q&A session following the film’s screening. In advance of their appearance, the Weekly had a chance to catch up with Rosenkrantz and Glover to talk about their filmmaking model, shooting in Europe on a shoestring budget, and what audiences can expect to experience at one of their shows.
OC Weekly (Scott Feinblatt): To what extent have you guys shifted your focus from music production to film production, or is it all just sort of wound up together as your creative output?
Michael Glover: It definitely goes together. We still do a lot of music because of the movies. Every movie we have quite a lot of songs in it; for example, in this new film Mr. Rudolpho's Jubilee, we're the Greek chorus in the film. I wrote us in as that, and we're sort of telling the story to the audience through song, throughout the movie...and then there's always the incidental music and all kinds of things, so there's quite a lot of music still.
Robyn Rosenkrantz: With this movie, we have a soundtrack as well, that we sell at the shows because there was so much music in the movie.
Mr. Rudolpho's Jubilee was made with the participation of 300 artists from 36 countries. How did you corral that many artists from so many different places to collaborate with you?
Glover: Well, we've been touring for 27 years, starting as musicians, then in the past 10 or 12 years with movies, we have met so many great people over the years that it's not hard to get a great collection of artists.
Rosenkrantz: Yeah, it's so easy to meet new people when you travel, and especially when you're doing shows...and there are so many talented artists in so many different countries, and every couple years we try to bring 'em all together [to do] a film together.
To what extent is it a fully funded project that you get investors for versus grabbing your resources and your friends and making a movie?
Glover: We've noticed for us, since we're a touring act, that we've reached a level with it sort of like sharecropping. We make enough money on every movie to make another movie. That's kind of how it works.
Rosenkrantz: It's a lifestyle. [laughs]
Glover: You make your crop, you sell it, and you make enough to proceed for the next crop. It's kind of at that level, so it's not excessively profitable, but we make enough to pay for the movie we just made and to make another one. So it's self-perpetuating, which was really the most important thing to me, as the director (I write 'em and direct 'em). I had an idea when we first started that it has to be repeatable; it has to be a repeatable formula because I've met so many directors that have just done one picture and just been so burned out by it and so destroyed by that process that they never make another one.
Rosenkrantz: [Also, regarding funding] we really work as an artist collective, where everybody will get a percent of the profits of the film. It was kind of a neat way to work because everybody was there because they wanted to be, and they believed in the story. That really creates an inspiring and fun atmosphere on set; I mean, everybody works really hard, but we have a lot of laughs on set…[all] the money really goes to feeding people and the equipment, so that's kind of how we do it. Everybody's really coming together because they believe in art.
Glover: Even our movie star — we had a German movie star, Christiane Paul — she also just joined the collective and was a part of it in that way. I was reading a book right before I wrote this script, about D.W. Griffith; it's a nice book by Lillian [Gish], and she talks about how everybody on the set, in the early days — these are the first commercial films made — and everybody on the set got $5 a day. Everybody. The actors, the actresses, the camera guy. It was like this egalitarian thing, and he didn't differentiate between the main actress and, like, waiter guy walking behind her. I thought that was kind of interesting; she said there was really a great attitude on the set. Everybody felt like they were equals and they really just wanted to make a special thing. So I try to create some modern version of that. That's why we did the collective.
Sounds like a fun production model; where does it go from there?
Glover: We take the movie on tour to cinemas. We play 40, 50, 60, 100 cinemas over the course of a year, and also, in between the cinemas, we do like pop-up screenings at people's houses. We really try to just generate as much income back from the movie ourselves, as we can. That's what we did before we got a distributor, and now we’ve had a distributor for the past two films. That's helped a lot because now we have a team of people that are also trying to make money with the movie; they're out there looking for deals and TV things, and airline stuff and all this sort of thing.
Yeah, I was going to ask about distribution. I saw that your previous film, Go with Le Flo is on Netflix. Through what other channels can your work be seen?
Rosenkrantz: The distributor we're working with, Under the Milky Way, they're real experts in iTunes and Amazon, you know the whole VoD [Video on Demand], that's really their specialty. So, it's pretty neat, you can actually see our films worldwide now, which is kind of neat for low-budget, indie filmmaking — that it's actually getting seen. Most filmmakers, you know, the only way to get your film seen is through film festivals, but since we're also a band, as Michael was saying: "You know what, let's take our movies on tour just like we did with our CDs, and we'll play shows; and we'll sell our CDs and DVDs at the shows.” One of our fans in Holland is the manager of a very cool art house cinema. He kind of came up with the idea: "Hey you guys, why don't you show your movie at our cinema and come play a concert?" And that was from our very first movie, six movies ago. So it was pretty neat that he opened the doors to us, and we've been doing it that way ever since.
You shot this film in Germany and Italy. How difficult is it to go from country to country and make a film?
Rosenkrantz: This film was especially a challenge. I always say to Michael, "Write the script like you have money, and you just write the story you want. We're gonna figure out some version of how to shoot this picture.” And so, he wrote it to take place at a villa — the opening of the movie — and I'm like, oh my gosh, now we've got to find a villa. But we ended up through a friend in Florence, actually a musician, an incredible guitar player, [meeting] a lady that owned a villa. So we went to visit her; she didn't speak any English — just Italian — and [our friend] translated. She loved the spirit of how we made the movies, so she said, "Sure you can shoot at the villa. In fact, you can shoot in my private garden." Michael and I were able to stay at the villa and have our base there, but I had to find a place to put up the 14 actors and crew, and it was amazing; our assistant director in Italy, she went online and she ended up finding this incredible villa that slept 14 people, I think 20 minutes away, or a half-hour drive away...
Glover: There's a lot of villas in Tuscany!
Rosenkrantz: There's a lot of villas! And it was only 200 Euro a night [about $225]. The guy gave us a great deal.
Glover: Fourteen people.
Rosenkrantz: Fourteen people! So they were able to stay at this other villa, which was amazing. Then two of our hair and make-up people, and our assistant camera, they drove the equipment truck. They said, "Yeah we'll take a road trip from Berlin to Italy. It sounds exciting!”
Glover: They were nice, very young, excited people just out of film school and out of make-up school, and they were like: "We want a road trip!" So they thought! They jumped in the van in Berlin looking all perky and happy, and then we met them three days later on the other side, and they dragged themselves out of the van like people that had been through war. It was great!
To what extent is there film commission, paperwork, or is all of that off when we get to rural villas and things like that?
Glover: You still have to make a lot of arrangements like that. You have to be smart; you can't just run off and be an idiot, but there's a lot of places that are film friendly. Basically, as long as there are no public safety issues, you can shoot in a lot of places. But there are exceptions, and you always have to be aware of: "What is the situation, and what am I getting into, and what do I need?" We were able to get an artist visa for a year, for Robyn and I, in Berlin so that we could be there and shoot. That was very helpful. That's something that is available to people; it's a great thing that the Germans do. It's a lot easier for an American to get it in Berlin because they still think back to us fondly because we did that Berlin airlift all those years ago — we really kind of saved the city at a certain point. So they've got a soft spot in their hearts for Americans, is what I've been told. And it was very easy for us to get that visa, so we did that, and then the rest of it: you decide what shot it is, what you're doing, we'd talk to local people, we'd talk to the film people and say "What do we need? What do we have to do?" And you do what you've gotta do.
How do American audiences respond to your work versus European audiences?
Glover: The Americans seem to like our stuff. Now I'm talking about a special audience; I'm talking about cinema lovers, the people that would go to an art house cinema. They seem to really get what we're doing because we're referencing other genres and other films, in a way, in the work; there's also an American sense of humor. Even though we spent most of the past 27 years living in Europe, when I write this stuff, it's still sort of got an American tempo and an American comedy aesthetic, so they seem to understand the form. Also, a lot of the film is in a foreign language. This one has a lot in English, but it's also in German and Italian, and that gives it a kind of fun art film feel to it (with those scenes that are subtitled and that are in their original language). So, we've had good response here, and the Europeans also...frankly, it's played well everywhere. It's not for everyone; it's not an Action film, it's not a Horror film. It's sort of a light-hearted genre mix of a bunch of different styles, but I think the redeeming qualities of the movie are that it's a fairly complex story, so it keeps your attention and also it's got a sweetness to it and a nice vibe. One comment we've gotten from every country is they're really happy to take a break from all the heavy darkness that they're experiencing in daily life, now, with all the strange news that we're getting all the time. [They’re happy] just going to this make-believe world where people are kind to each other and where everything works out.
Are there any particulars you’d like to share with OC Weekly readers regarding your show at The Frida Cinema?
Glover: Basically, at the show we're going to play a short concert before the film; we always do that because we love to connect with the audience that way, and there will be a question and answer after. We usually have a pretty lively question and answer session.
Rosenkrantz: Sometimes we even do singalongs! It's a lot of fun!
Glover: Tell [your readers] to warm up their voices before they show up.
Rosenkrantz: [laughing] Also, if they come to the show, they can actually enter a contest to win a part in our next film.
Glover: We've been doing that lately. The "You can be a star contest" we call it. We take four people randomly from the list, and put them in the film somewhere. It's just a fun way to involve people.
So you're shooting the next one in America?
Glover: Well, partly. It's basically sort of an espionage comedy; sort of a spy comedy, and it's going to be shot all around the world, including America. How I'm going to do that on the budget we have, I don't know, but we're figuring that out!
Sounds like you might have to resort to some guerrilla filmmaking!
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Rosenkrantz: Totally guerrilla filmmaking!
Glover: Bright Blue guerrilla filmmaking!
Rosenkrantz: Also, if you can't make the Frida Cinema, we're going to do the Bowers Museum, August 19th. Otherwise we're doing pop-up cinema and house concerts, so we'd love people to connect with us through our website — all of our shows are on our website!
For information about Bright Blue Gorilla's tour, visit their website.