Movie Producers Mark Roberts And Lorena David
I sat down with Lorena David and Mark Roberts at their Kingsize Entertainment office October 22nd. They've produced half a dozen low budget films including 2000's Poor White Trash.
Lorena and Mark met in 1993.
Lorena: "I was a PA [production assistant]. It was my first PA gig and I was very excited. I was on Supermarket Sweep and it was my job to put all the food back. The contestants ran through the grocery store pulling off what they wanted and then I had to put all the food back on the grocery shelves. I also had to take care of the audience which was made up of extras, which was Mark's job."
Mark: "I did extras casting for five years. My company was Enterprise Casting. I started it at age 19, while in college, when someone asked me to work on Three Amigos.
"So I met Lorena and we started talking about, 'I really want to produce.' The same conversation that everyone has while they do a waiter job...
"I had a done a script with some highschool friends called 'Writer's Block.' I started trying to raise money for it while Lorena went to work as a line producer [production manager], for free, on a 35mm shoot called The Glass Chain. She went away for eight weeks to Chicago.
"I then found this guy, Mike Lawrence, who gave me $40,000 to make Writer's Block (as a half-hour pilot)."
Lorena: "I got paid $200 a week to work as line producer so it was a big step up. I got along well with Mark and had so much fun and ate so much food."
Mark: "Needless to say, Writer's Block wasn't a success because we didn't know anything selling a TV series."
Lorena: "Independent television doesn't exist. Independent film does.
"I said, 'Why don't we open up a production company?'"
Mark: "We were kamikazie at the beginning. We had this odd dream at the beginning that we'd make this show and NBC or Comedy Central would go nuts about it."
Lorena: "Not knowing how insular TV is. The key was that we didn't know. Because if you did know, you wouldn't do it. You wouldn't do anything. You'd just be frozen in fear."
Mark: "After our show, Lorena went to work on Perry Mason as a production coordinator, making $700 a week."
Lorena: "Huge money. I even saved up to pay our first rent."
Mark: "She supported us while I ran around trying to do stuff."
Luke: "Are you guys romantically involved?"
Mark: "No, she has a boyfriend."
Lorena: "And he has a girlfriend."
Luke: "Were you ever?"
They smile and look at each other and we all laugh.
Mark: "So we started our production company. And then we decided that we couldn't make money being producers or directors right off the bat."
Lorena: "So we got an AVID [editing system] which was the key. A lot of people try to start a production company... We talked my brother into giving us every credit card he ever got accepted for. We bought an AVID off seven credit cards and a BETA off another one. And we tried to pay the minimums on them. That gave us rent. It was a brilliant move because there were hardly any AVIDs out there."
Mark: "It was probably the most successful time in our business. We were earning $2000 a week. Then in 1995, we saw an ad in the Hollywood Reporter - sketch comedy troop looking writers, directors, producers. It was the Ribbed For Pleasure players doing "Unsafe Sketch." It was five guys, Jennifer Furlong, Lydia Bushfield, Bob Koherr, Doug Van Bebber, Molly O'Leary. We produced a sketch comedy show for them at the Tiffany Theater."
Lorena: "We're going from one non-money maker to another. Mark had to sell his Toyota Corolla for $2500 to finance the publicity for the show."
Mark: "Then we had another meeting and decided to do a feature. Lorena had the idea to do a Quentin Tarantino spoof which became Plump Fiction. Bob Koherr wrote it in four weeks and then directed it for Rhino Records (funded for less than a milllion dollars)."
Lorena: "Now Bob's directing for the Drew Carey Show and Stripmall for Comedy Central. He's in our movie Poor White Trash. We work with everyone from the sketch group still in different capacities."
The movie's tagline: "From the producers who saw "Pulp Fiction", "Reservoir Dogs" and "Braveheart"." Plump Fiction follows the plot of Pulp Fiction, while parodying scenes from other movies.
Mark: "We had a theatrical release in Los Angeles and it showed in 50 theaters. It made $36,000. MDP World Wide sold Plump Fiction foreign."
Lorena: "That's where we learned bigger movies."
Luke: "Why did you take the .75 million dollar offer from Rhino rather than the $1.75 million offer from Trimark?"
Lorena: "Trimark was saying that Mark and I should take our money and walk, and not have any say in the movie again. And everyone told us that Bob would probably be fired within the first week. And we thought, this is not why we're making movies. We're not in it for the money."
Mark laughs: "If that deal came up today..."
Lorena: "With 20-20 hindsight, we probably should've gone with Trimark for perception and distribution."
Luke: "Who distributed Plump Fiction?"
Lorena: "Rhino did it for video and Legacy for theatrical. And MVP did the foreign."
Lorena: "It did better foreign than domestic [gross]."
Mark: "That year  was so magical for us and so quick..."
Lorena: "We thought it was so easy to make a movie."
Mark: "Then we got paid $10,000 a piece which was a lot of money. We both bought cars. We were ready to go studio on everything. And then we sat around for two years waiting to be picked up by a studio. So we did a public affairs program for a local Spanish language channel.
"We finally realized that we had ridden Plump as far as we could go. We had some really great meetings and people were willing to meet us but we didn't have anything to sell.
"Then Carlos Gallardo brought us the film Single Action. He directed, we produced. It's not a great movie. He'd already shot a sixty minute movie and we worked on elongating it."
Lorena: "We put in a cool opening title sequence. It was the best part of the movie. We put in big black pages that said the story, to fill up the story holes."
Mark: "We finished the film and we had to sell it. There's a company in town called York Home Video. They're big in the urban market and in the small movie releases. Tanya York liked it. We had no money. We needed $110,000 to finish the movie for our foreign sales. We went to our vendors and asked for 90-days to pay. Tanya paid for the English dub. We got all our friends to do the English voices.
"We made about $47,000 in profit."
Lorena: "We trusted small companies and they all paid us. You can trust big distributors and they don't pay. It was at the tailend of independent films. This was a Spanish language western shot on 16mm. You could never get that kind of money today. Our next film got caught up in quicksand."
Mark: "We got caught up in the excitement. Plump Fiction did well. Single Action, we pulled it out. Next we made Bravo for over $200,000. Lorena directed."
Lorena: "It's my first movie, so you know, it's not very... We had to take over a presidential hacienda for very little money. We had to have rebel forces take over the presidential hacienda and we had no money. But in Mexico, you can make your own squibs. A squib is a little charge that when you shoot somebody, it explodes with a gush like blood. Here you need to hire a fire marshall to be there and specially purchased squibs. In Mexico, all you need is gunpowder, cardboard, and a condom full of blood. I was a big John Rue fan, so I wanted to shoot as many people as possible."
Next Ravi Chopra, from a wealthy family, came to Mark and Lorena with half a million dollars, wanting to make a film about an East L.A. youth center. Kevin Thomas of the LA Times gave the final product a sterling review: "Eastside is a fine example of what can be accomplished in a low-budget genre with imagination and dedication."
Mark: "We like Kevin Thomas. We sent him our next movie and he didn't review it, which was also a big favor. The review of Eastside itself was worth the entire movie for us."
Lorena: "It was a $500,000 review."
Luke: "Did Ravi make his money back?"
Lorena: "Not yet.
"A lot of the people who were interested in investing with us were on the set of Eastside which was smooth. It was calm and happy. People tell me, 'You're the calmest female director I've ever seen.' So they were bummed that they missed the boat and they wanted to invest.
"We met the screenwriter (Michael Addis) for Poor White Trash [rated R] at the Sundance Film Festival. I read his scripts and I realized that he was the best writer I personally knew. He had a William Morris agent who was shopping it to all the studios. When nobody picked it up, I convinced Mark that we should do it. We went into the movie without the full budget."
Mark: "Every step of our career has been telling. This was one of the big hurdles. We'd had many arguments about how we were not making any money. We were making a $1000 a month until this point after being in business for five years. We're looking at each other and saying, 'If this doesn't work, we should just hang it up.'
"We only had $100,000 to make the film but we were going to say that we had the $800,000. We went to new casting director Katy Wallin and a while later Sean Young called and said she wanted to play the lead in the movie. Then the money started coming.
"But each step of the way [of production] we wondered how we were going to meet the payroll for that week.
"We shot it in a tiny trailor park in Benton, Southern Illinois. We shot for four weeks. John Malkovich was born in that town. Two of his cousins worked on the movie.
"We got accepted by a film festival but we didn't win. We couldn't get any of the bigger companies like Artisan to distribute the film. We got close."
Lorena: "They said they were going to make an offer but they never did. It was heartbreaking. Now we're ready for anything. All these experiences add up. Nothing is disheartening or depressing. We put out Poor White Trash in a couple of theaters in L.A.. I think that is important. If you don't have an HBO premiere, or you can't show it, you might as well put it out. And you can send your friends to see it on the big screen.
"Mark hooked up with Kerasotes theater chain in Illinois. I did TV and radio interviews. Hardly anyone shoots in Illinois. We also caused a scandal. The movie was initially called "Goodbye Sunrise" and then we switched it to "Poor White Trash." The people who live in Southern Illinois didn't take that well. They heard about the movie and were excited. Then they heard we changed the title to Poor White Trash and they felt like we'd betrayed them. To them, we purposefully went in, manipulated the situation, and now we're making fun of them. I got hate emails. I replied to every email.
"Finally, we took the movie out there and showed it for free and threw them a little party. I did tons of radio. We did a survey after the movie and 94% didn't care that it was called Poor White Trash. But they were offended by the language [profanity in the film]. All of our films have had bad language.
"As an indy, we're not scared of the language. But our new movie, we're purposefully making sure it is PG13 so it can go to a wider audience."
Mark: "In Illinois, we made $15,000 off one theater one weekend. In theatrical release, it was the most successful thing we'd ever done.
"My girlfriend had a connection to columnist Liz Smith."
Lorena wildly gestures Mark to not tell this story but he ploughs on.
Lorena: "Mark, stop."
Mark: "And my girlfriend suggested that we get a column in there that says there's a bidding war on Poor White Trash between Paramount and New Line. And I said, no, I don't want to lie. Well, have you sent it to Paramount and New Line? Well, yeah. Then there's a bidding war. So all of a sudden one morning, she calls me at 6AM, to say that it is in the column and it is the main thing. The headline was, 'Young Film In Bidding War.' It said that the talk of the town in Aspen was a bidding war between Paramount and New Line and everyone wants it. And my name was mentioned.
"The phone rang off the hook all day. The USA Network called wanting to see it. 'Why aren't we in the bidding war?' Needless to say, it didn't work out for us because none of them picked it up. It created a whole bunch of buzz and it may have been overhyped and people ended up realizing that it was set up."
Lorena: "The film is really close to being good enough. It has a great cast and great story and we're learning. It has mistakes in it."
Mark: "We've tried everything as an independent company. That was one of the ultimate things that we tried that didn't work out in our favor. But it did get everyone to notice. And it was the first time that we sold a film to HBO and Showtime."
Luke: "Mark's friend Michael Lawrence gets the credit of "Executive Producer" for Poor White Trash. Which means he did what?"
Lorena: "He funds it."
Mark: "Michael had been with us for a long time and he deserved his credit after all this time. He was the liason between all the investors."
Lorena: "In between all these movies, we made shorts. I did a short on menstruation "A Friend Comes To Visit." It was a pet project of mine, my favorite project. It came close to what I envisioned but distribution-wise, it's been pathetic."
Luke: "I don't understand why there isn't a big demand out there for menstruation documentaries."
Lorena: "We had animation. It talks about sex. I tried to bring the subject out. Half the population has it and we try to hide it. So we asked about sex and we asked all ages and it's pretty raunchy. You can't have sex talk in it if it's educational and you can't have smoking or cussing. The only people smoking in the thing are the highschool kids.
Mark: "As a result of Poor White Trash, we met a company that turned into Filmstar. They had been raising money for oil and gas for 20 years. They decided to get into show business. They're going to let us run all the operations for filmmaking and they will raise the money for all of our work. We're closing down Kingsize Entertainment and we're going to work as executive vice-presidents of Filmstar.
"They want us to function as we have for our entire career, just with a little more money and peace of mind.
"The Courier, the film Lorie just did, is the first of a bunch of films we'll be doing for them. We screened it at the Egyptian Theater last Tuesday. We were going to do a film called Third Eagle, which was based on a takeover of the president's airplane by terrorists. We ended up shelving that.
"Our next film is Extreme Dating, which Lorie will direct."
Lorena: "It's an action comedy about these four 20-somethings who decide that the way to really fall in love is to be put into an extreme situation with the person you love. So they lock Lindsay, a girl, with the guy she likes, into a storage cabinent. Then they fake a kidnapping of Troy and Amy. But they hired ex-cons to do it who've decided to follow through on the kidnapping for real. We'll shoot it in January and February, then I'll edit it."
Mark: "During the rough months, when we were low on money, Lorie would edit for Playboy."
Lorie: "I can't tell you the number of credit cards that we opened and paid off."
Mark: "We've been lucky but we're still on the outside looking in. We're still looking into the shop window, hoping we'll be on display some day."
Luke: "Have you had much concern where your money comes from?"
Lorena: "Oh yeah, they're all friends. My brother. We would never suggest that somebody mortgage their house for a project."
Mark: "The difference between us and a lot of independent filmmakers is that Lorie and I are commercially minded. We're not out there making the film we've always wanted to make our whole life. The story of grandmother, and I have to tell it this way. We don't get so involved with our pictures that it is a detriment to our business. We limit ourselves to genre films."
Luke: "Do you socialize a lot with the industry?"
Lorie: "No. We're terrible schmoozers. That's probably our biggest downfall."
Mark: "We're not at the top of anyone's list to be invited to parties."
Lorie: "We didn't have any connections when we came into this business. Mark's an East L.A. boy."
Mark: "I changed my last name to Roberts from Gil de Montes."
Mark: "Our ultimate goal is to make a movie that hits a chord with somebody and gets widely distributed."
Lorie: "We don't want to be Bullfinger when we're 56."
Mark: "We don't want to continue to be Bowfinger."
Lorie: "It's the new Steve Martin movie with Eddie Murphy and Heather Graham. Bowfinger is a low budget filmmaker and now he's 50-something, and if he doesn't make this movie work, it's over for him."
Mark: "So he finds Eddie Murphy, who's the geaky version of a superstar."
Lorie: "Everyone I talk to who is part of the system, a CAA agent or an executive at Warner Brothers, they say we will hate it if we ever get to that [level]. Because we get to make movies we want to make. We decided on Extreme Dating after September 11. And we will make it right away. There's no red tape or executives. We can move quickly. Most directors have been fired off a month at least once so that will happen to me. We've always said that we will look back on these as our best days. When we don't have Sherry Lansing call and fire us."