SXSW 2013: Peter Hall and John Gholson, Critics Becoming the Critiqued (Part Three)

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SXSW 2013

By John Gholson

[Editor's note: This is part three of a three-part conversation between Austin film writers John Gholson and Peter Hall about what happens when film bloggers (and critics, journalists, columnists, etc.) move into filmmaking. Please read part one and part two if you haven't already.]

John Gholson: With Zero Charisma, the reviews are out -- they're not mentioning me. Film School Rejects mentioned me in their review, at the end, in a quasi-disclaimer kind of a thing. Scott Beggs didn't know I was in it when he sat down to watch and review it, but other than that, no one's doing me any favors by drawing attention to my performance in their reviews, and I know a lot of the people reviewing it. It's not like they're patting me on the back or anything.

What was the greatest Grow Up, Tony Phillips moment at SXSW?

Peter Hall: Maybe one of the surprises at the premiere was seeing people who were there that I didn't expect to be there -- like the Evil Dead director [Fede Alvarez] came and watched it. I didn't talk to him, but, hey, the director of Evil Dead was at our movie! Some web personalities that I don't know -- Film Critic Hulk -- I don't know whether he liked the movie or not. I haven't seen any reactions. I guess seeing the turnout was the most interesting thing and seeing that it was somewhat consistent throughout the festival.

I had this big fear that we were going to fill the first screening and then no one would come to the second and third because they were in venues that were out of the way, but they were all mostly full. That was the biggest surprise -- that people continued to come and see the movie. What about you?

SXSW 2013

Gholson: I had to come home and process it. I couldn't talk about it there, right after Zero Charisma, and I don't know how much I've talked to you about this, but one of my big points of contention with the directors -- they were concerned, because of my leg health and because I walk with a limp -- was that they wanted me to wear arm braces during my scenes in the film. I was really resistant to wear those arm crutches. I wanted to walk under my own steam, and for a lot of the movie, I'm on a stool. Since there's not a lot of me walking anyway, I wanted to walk on my own, and they were insistent that I use the crutches. They didn't want my limp to be called into question, so ... ultimately, I'm hired to do the job they asked me to do, so I did it.

And the funny thing is, immediately after the first screening I attended, the person who was standing by the door as I was leaving, right when I came out, there was this lady, and she took me aside and she said, "Good job ... I just wanted to thank you because when I saw you with those arm crutches I thought they were going to make a joke out of it, and it was going to be some gag. I didn't know you were actually handicapped." And she told me she had cerebral palsy and that she'd acted for 20 years. "It was really great to see someone disabled on the big screen without someone calling attention to it or making a joke out of it or mentioning it at all. I'm very thankful that your handicap wasn't part of it."

For me, I don't think of myself as disabled, and when I was there at the screening, I was walking around and stuff, so it was tough for me to process at that moment. I'd fought against it so hard. I didn't want it at all. It's so strange to me that that particular thing touched that lady in such a way, yet it was something that I'd fought and it was something that I didn't want. I don't want to think of myself as disabled. I don't even know if I am. I know that I got my handicapped tags pretty much the same week I was cast in the film, and that was a big part of it -- let me be capable, let me be physically capable in your movie, because I'm already hearing from doctors, "Here's your handicapped tag. It's not going to get any better. It's degenerative. It's gonna get worse."

My thought was "I want to be in this movie able-bodied," and now the fact that I wasn't had actually affected someone's viewing of the film, how they see the film, and their enjoyment of the film. I have no real response to what she said, but that by far will make me certainly reconsider anything that a director asks me to do that I'm resistant against.

Hall: Have you told the directors this?

Gholson: No, I haven't told Katie and Andrew [Zero Charisma directors Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews] this story. I wanted to tell them at the third screening, and I never got the chance. I'm glad I didn't because I'm still not capable of telling this story without crying. I guess they'll find out when they read this.

Hall: I'm glad that happened. What do you expect to happen with this film?

Gholson: I moved out to Austin in 1998 to be an actor, and it's funny how many people I took by surprise, and it's not that my role is so big or that I'm so great. I'm in the movie maybe 10-15 minutes, and it's not like I have a bunch of heavy lifting to do in any of my scenes, but I don't think people knew I could do it at all. So, people who have known me for three or four years were suddenly saying, "I didn't know you could act!" And I'm thinking -- it's what I moved out here for in the first place!

The success of the film, for me, personally, it's a nice bit of artistic validation and it makes me want to get back out there and audition more, try to get in more things, do more things. It'd been a long time. I do about a project a year, but I should aim to do three projects a year. As for the film itself, I don't know. Andrew addressed the distribution question at the screenings, but the details were vague. What about Grow Up, Tony Phillips?

Grow Up, Tony Phillips posterHall: I don't know. I hope someone buys the movie, but the biggest thing I want to come from the festival and the movie is proof that Paul [Gandersman, who also produced Grow Up, Tony Phillips] and I can do it -- that we can produce movies. One of the biggest validations for me so far has been that anyone who mentions it says that it's the most pure Emily Hagins movie yet. You can clearly see her personality in every thing in there because one of our goals was to make Emily's movie, not a Peter and Paul movie, which I'm sure we'll do down the line.

It's been validating to see ... I never felt right taking any credit for My Sucky Teen Romance. My name on the movie was a kind gesture from the other producers, but I never felt right taking any credit for it. This is the first feature that I was involved with from literally the beginning of the script stages. Emily had a short film that she brought to Paul and me, and I didn't think it worked as a short film. I didn't want to make it as a short, but if she turned it into a feature, then we could do it.

So, from beginning to end, Grow Up, Tony Phillips had my involvement. so part of being proud of the movie is the validation that I can figure this stuff out. Whether it can become a career or not depends on whether it returns any money, but it was personal validation. For a long time I wanted to make movies. I wasn't very good at it in my early twenties, but I continued to pursue it anyway. I was very proud of No Way Out, the first short that we did, but it wasn't on the scale of this, and even with that short, I wasn't as fully involved. It's good to see the process through, from beginning to end and say, "We can make a movie."

[Epilogue from Jette: Elizabeth reviewed Grow Up, Tony Phillips for Slackerwood because J.C. De Leon was an associate producer on the film, Rod Paddock was an extra, Mike Saulters is friends with many people involved, I used to work with Peter Hall at Movies.com and several of us contributed to the film's Kickstarter campaign. Not to mention that producer Paul Gandersman was a Slackerwood photographer for awhile. I wouldn't review Rewind This! because I currently work with one of the producers. On the other hand, I'm reviewing Computer Chess despite the fact that one of my former coworkers acts in it, and I reviewed Zero Charisma although Gholson is a former Movies.com colleague. What do you think -- should critics recuse themselves from movies where they are acquaintances with the filmmakers or cast? Is a disclaimer enough? Where's the line? I'd love to hear your thoughts.]

[Photo credit: Zero Charisma Q&A at SXSW, with John Gholson third from left, and Filmmakers at Zero Charisma screening, both by J. Kernion.]