Slacker 2011: Spencer Parsons Introduces an iPhone to the Fingerhut

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Slacker 2011 from Spencer Parsons

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund (TFPF). As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project -- check out our interviews so far.

Today's interview is with Spencer Parsons, an Austin filmmaker who is currently working at Northwestern University in Chicago as an Assistant Professor. His work includes the feature I'll Come Running, which received two TFPF grants and played Austin Film Festival in 2008; and the short Once and Future Asshole, which played SXSW 2005 (the cast includes Chris Doubek and Jonny Mars).

An interesting aside: Kyle Henry is another Austinite teaching at Northwestern, and in 1999, Parsons edited Henry's short doc University, Inc., about the corporatization of The University of Texas ... which featured an interview with Linklater.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you reshoot?

Spencer Parsons: Scene 2.

What made you interested in re-creating this particular scene?

Oddly, it's the only scene in the movie that I would even consider remaking, so I guess I lucked out. The biggest reason it appealed, is what's happened to the main location for the scene in the intervening years. It used to be a really funky little neighborhood house in West Campus (dubbed "the Fingerhut" because of a finger-pointing hand that used to be painted onto the side), but then developers came along and turned it into some kind of fake '50s diner that pretty much immediately went out of business. And then I think there was a Panda Express or other Chinese food chain in there for a while, which also failed. Finally, a Quizno's moved in, and that's what really made me want to do it because I thought it would be pretty odd to have a guy who just ran over one of his parents come back around the block to grab a sandwich from some corporate chain. Except when we scouted the location, it turned out the Quizno's had gone out of business too! I guess the old Fingerhut is haunted by the invisible hand.* [footnote at end of interview]

At the time when I was first approached about it, I thought it would be cool to have Rick Linklater play the "Roadkill" in the scene, because that's pretty much the only role that the original director should play in a remake of his own film, and the fact that Rick had lived in the fingerhut at the time that he made the movie sort of brought everything full-circle. Or it would have, because Rick (rightly, I might add) had zero interest in being in this movie. Even as thematically and intertextually resonant roadkill. Or maybe especially as same. So the two things that most inspired me when I first thought about it -- Rick and Quizno's -- were out! But you know, it's perfect because that's Austin. You know the old Bud Shrake line, "No matter when you arrive in Austin, you just missed it." And I think that pretty much goes for indie filmmaking, too.

What do you think your challenges have been in re-visiting this scene?

In terms of what the scene is about, pretty much every element of the original action that I could go with would be anachronistic or dated or impossible in some way, which was great, because it meant then i could just take elements from the original scene and rearrange them into something completely different. For instance, in the original, after the scene's main character commits vehicular homicide, he does this kind of religious ritual that involves running an old Super 8 movie loop of himself as a kid being pushed around on a Big Wheel by his now-dead mom. So I was thinking about it, and having a Super 8 movie in my scene now was only making sense to me as something really quirky or nostalgic or self-consciously retro. To which my only valid aesthetic response is, "Fuck that shit."

But the miracle of smart phones made it possible to take two important elements from the original scene and mash them together, where the telephone and the Super 8 movie can be the same device. When I figured that out, I decided that I wanted my segment to be like an iPhone ad made by a late-career Luis Bunuel. So then living up to that became the biggest challenge. Of course I failed, but I hope it's an interesting failure.

Did you work on any of the other scenes by other filmmakers in addition to your own?

Alas, no. I live and work in Chicago now so that I can afford to be an Austin filmmaker, though I did keep in touch with some other folks who made scenes, and I really enjoyed hearing the blow-by-blow of how things went for them.

Could you share any connections or memories related to the original Slacker you might have?

I have a keen memory of seeing the trailer for Slacker in 1991 at the Drexel North, a great independent movie theater in Columbus, Ohio, that subsequently lost its lease and was turned into a Rite-Aid. Even before the trailer got to the Madonna Pap Smear gag, I knew this would be a movie for me. My favorite thing in Slacker these days is spotting the campaign billboard for Ron Paul in the background of the scene where Louis Mackey's Old Anarchist is introduced.

Can you tell us about any projects you're working on now/next?

I am currently editing a crazy horror film I directed in Austin this past spring, produced by Jason Wehling, Jonny Mars and Jesse Lyda with Arts + Labor, and I'm really excited about it, can't wait for it to be ready to show. I am also working on another long-term project that I've been shooting on-and-off for the past year in Indiana and the Chicago area. It's called Pilgrims, and involves a road trip to John Wayne's birthplace in Iowa and the things that go wrong along the way. Sort of a Midwestern. In addition to Chicago folks, there are some great Austin actors in it, like Heather Kafka and Ashley Rae Spillers and Sonny Davis, and it's being shot by Drew Daniels, a great Austin cinematographer who shot my Slacker scene. Since I'll be doing a United States Artists fundraiser for more shooting and editing soon, I'll shut up about it now, because everybody will be completely sick of hearing about it before too long.

*Full-disclosure/plug-for-local business: we shot our "Fingerhut" interiors in the dining room of Simply Fit, Austin-owned-and-operated sellers of delicious, healthy foods, located in the upstairs part of the house, whereas the unfortunate run of chain-store failures have all been located in the downstairs. Simply Fit was really friendly, offered a great view of the "crime scene" that really makes one of our shots, and I cannot emphasize strongly enough that they did nothing to deserve exclusion from the above account of how my Slacker 2011 scene came to be, except offering a real-life complication to my telling of the story that would have interfered with the dubious "point" I was making and messed up my joke about the invisible hand and stuff. So mea culpa, and I hope you can understand that this sort of behavior on my part is a bad habit picked up from writing screenplays and making movies.

[Photo courtesy of Spencer Parsons]