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Elston Gunn Interviews Lilly Bright About JT LeRoy And Learns THE HEART Ain't The Only Thing Deceitful!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

Elston Gunn’s been doing some interesting work for us lately, searching out some fascinating corners of what’s going on in film right now and doing some really interesting interviews. I guess I was under a rock when the whole JT LeRoy thing broke, so this one was genuinely informative for me. Check it out:

Literary options and books adapted into films make up a large percentage of business in Hollywood. Authors sometimes become iconic figures celebrities want to hang out with, companies want to turn their work into movies and the world wants to mythicize. Rare is the instance where the author doesn't really exist, but it happens. At least, it did in this case. Producer Lilly Bright of Curiously Bright Entertainment came aboard the film adaptation of JT LeRoy's THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS ready to break into producing and get involved in a raw, emotional movie with autobiographical overtones by a hot new young cult writer. The film, about a young boy and his truck stop prostitute mother, was written and directed by Asia Argento. Weeks before the film's release New York Magazine broke the news that "JT LeRoy" was an elaborate hoax by a writer - some theories state group of writers - or one could suppose, at the very least, a pseudonym. Nonetheless, someone got some stories published, a film made from one of them and miscellaneous creative work along the way. (LeRoy was also credited for his involvement on Gus Van Sant's ELEPHANT and hired to be a contributing writer for DEADWOOD.) This year the value of truth in published works marketed as autobiographical is a controversial debate. Bright answers questions about this and the film which is released on DVD this week, as well as her merchandising company BrightLab Inc. and upcoming film projects.

[Elston Gunn]: How did you get involved with this film? Who brought it to you?

[Lilly Bright]: At the time when I moved to Los Angeles, 2003, my one friend in L.A., Tricia van Klaveren, being in the business herself and knowing I was looking to get into producing, brought the project to me. She was familiar with my taste in cinema and the kinds of projects i would be attracted to. One of the things I was looking for was a project that took place or was based in West Virginia, having been born and raised there myself. THE HEART IS DECEITFUL - both the book and the film - took place in West Virginia. Little did i know there was this hoax behind the whole thing. Laura Albert, aka JT LeRoy, never even stepped foot in West Virginia!!

[EG]: This was Asia Argento's first U.S. feature and you shot it in Knoxville, TN. How did the shoot go? Were there any problems?

[LB]: This was Asia's second directorial debut. Her first film was SCARLET DIVA. The shoot was... ummm... well, imagine the character Asia played, Sarah, also directing a film... it was a magical process and it was a psychotic ride. And then a big financing piece fell thru in the middle of principle photography.

[EG]: You had an interesting cast and were the boys, Jimmy Bennett, Dylan and Cole Sprouse, up for anything? Pretty dark stuff for such young guys.

[LB]: Jimmy and the Sprouse twins are some of the most talented and precocious child actors out there today. Jimmy knew nothing about the subject material. He's just an incredibly talented actor, has an incredible access to his emotions and that's what Asia would use to get him in to the role. She works wonderfully well with kids. I think it helps that she has a daughter herself. The Sprouse twins knew a little bit more about the material; they were eleven and you can't hide the subject matter from them even if you tried. They just have this ability to separate real from un-real. They know when they're acting. It's pretend, make believe, and it was a really fun shoot for all of them.

[EG]: How do you respond to the critics, many of which called the film "daring" but also said the film was "sadistic," "unwatchable" and a "horror show?" Do you think of the movie as an arthouse horror film?

[LB]: I think this is Asia's version of a horror film, yes. That's not all it is, but, being the daughter of one of the most - if not the most - famous horror film director's ever, it's in her blood and training. Originally, Asia was inspired by the book, though, which a lot of the reviewers seemed to forget or not take notice of. She was inspired by a work of fiction! She related to the material on a very personal level, had no idea who JT LeRoy was and frankly didn't care at the time she was deciding to pursue the project. It's only "unwatchable" if you're one of those afraid of the dark. [EG]: So, in the weeks before the film is released news breaks that JT LeRoy, author of the "autobiographical" book the film is based on, doesn't exist. Were you in denial or simply angry? Did you automatically go into PR mode? What happened?

[LB]: Funny you say that... yes, i went directly into PR mode. During that entire month, I was on the phone so much fielding calls and figuring out what we were going to do that my cell phone battery would have to be re-charged three times a day. It was ridiculous, and crazy, and fun trying to find the way to position the film and maybe capitalize on the scandal.

I was in denial when the New York Magazine article came out, but once the New York Times broke the story on Jan 9th, I couldn't deny any more... and they quoted me!! I was too busy being concerned about how we would position the film now that the scandal had broken that I didn't have time to be angry. I was in shock and wonder, and was crossing my fingers that this would end up being a good thing for the film in terms of all the exposure it was getting.

People were really flipping out though, mainly the press. All any one wanted to talk about though was James Frey, which is actually the most boring "hoax." He was basically a guy that sat in a room and wrote a bunch of crap and called it a "memoir." The JT thing was not only celebrity endorsed, but it was something that they had managed to pull off for over a decade! Now that's art!

[EG]: Do you think some of THE HEART IS DECEITFUL's critical backlash was due to the hoax?

[LB]: Well, we'll never really know, but I do think it was very unfair and unintelligent for critics to say a film of a story based on a hoax is pointless. Asia was inspired by the material as a work of fiction, the producers option the material as a work of fiction, it stands alone as a fictional story; what made it slightly more sympathetic and redemptive was the autobiographical reference. It's still a film, a story which requires the viewer to go into discomfort zones, which I personally think is brave and exciting particularly in a world - specifically the U.S. - where we are spoiled with comfort and numb to pain.

That being said, there was a redemptive factor when it was supposedly based on a true story. For some, the story still is true in what it represents, so it doesn't matter. It's still prescient and courageous film making, which is what inspires me most.

[EG]: People like Winona Ryder and Michael Pitt, both of whom are in the film, also had befriended "him." Did everyone just call each other and exchange their shock? Did you see an effect on people involved with the film and "JT's" crowd?

[LB]: Everyone was affecting differently. The JT street fans were honestly hurt and betrayed. The celebrity following was kind of applauding the whole act..."Warhol would have LOVED this!!" The gay literati were very offended, particularly with the abuse of HIV and manipulation of friends and public to gain notoriety. Us producers and those involved directly with the film were stunned and were looking at it all thru the eyes of opportunity that it might provide the film as well as future spin-off projects, AND all the producers were very much appalled at the news that JT had used the whole AIDS thing to draw sympathy and favors. We had never heard anything about that until the NY TIMES article broke. That was upsetting and unacceptable. I was anxiously waiting to see what move "they" - the JT Camp - would make in response. An apology would have been appropriate, but instead we got NOTHING, which was the most frustrating of all. I never understood why they didn't use the opportunity to come clean. That would have been the most respectable thing to do, and would have probably salvaged what was left of a career.

[EG]: Were you worried that this film, your first at that, might not be released as a result?

[LB]: Never. Palm Pictures is an amazing company to work with. They supported this film from the moment it premiered in Cannes '04. This was a very exciting project for them to acquire and it was never a dull moment in their offices from the on-set of working on this project. I worked closely with the team there, and they would always say this was the most exciting project they had ever worked on. Palm loved the film as Asia's film; the existence or non-existence of JT LeRoy had nothing to do with their decision to back the project. Actually, I think we were all grateful that the release date had been pushed from November '05 to March '06. It would have looked silly to have promoted a film as autobiographically based and then to have it revealed as a hoax.

[EG]: I would think in some respects that JT's non-existence would come as a relief to many in that now we know the tragedies in this story didn't really happen to this guy you thought was real. True?

[LB]: No. What people have a hard time grasping - because it's such a brutal truth - is that this story IS true. It is a universal story and it shows a life lived by many children and young adults. We hate looking at child abuse and neglect. It pushed EVERYONE's buttons, which is exactly the reason why we should be examining it. Asia was extremely courageous to bring this material to the screen. It presents a world we would rather not see, but that exists. I grew up in West Virginia and can personally attest to the living conditions shown in the film. The social system and child care system is completely out of whack and alignment with principles. I have had so many social workers and those that work in the judicial system come up to me after screenings of the film and pour their hearts out to me about how real this film portrays the worlds they are out there fighting to change and reform.

I don't think it does anyone good to now relax and think this story - because it came out of a literary hoax - does not exist. It most certainly does. It's a glimpse into the underbelly of America. We're too busy with war abroad to take note.

[EG]: Do you know if there are still plans to turn LeRoy's SARAH into a film?

[LB]: I know that Steve Shainberg, who is a friend, has the rights. I'm not sure what they're planning on doing with the property now that the hoax has been exposed. It's a great book though, so I hope they do something.

[EG]: What can we expect from the DVD and when is it coming out?

[LB]: The DVD is actually pretty amazing. Great extras, exclusives, never before seen photos and footage, commentary track from Asia, and a collector's edition book included in every dvd, showcasing Mick Rock photography. It's released June 6, 2006. 6/6/06.

[EG]: While you were making the film did you already plan what you were going to do with the DVD?

[LB]: No, and I regret that, although I was not in charge at that stage nor foreseeing the DVD stage. It was my first film so I was not familiar with the process. Luckily, we had tons of behind the scenes footage and I worked my butt off in delivering valuable pieces to Palm. And now the DVD is fantastic and a collectable.

[EG]: Let's talk a little bit about BrightLab Inc. It's a brand new boutique film merchandising company for independent film merchandise. Do you feel there's a market there that hasn't yet been tapped?

[LB]: Yes. Correct. The conception of BrightLab came from the deal I struck with Palm Pictures for North American distribution. In that deal, I negotiated to retain the merchandising rights for the film. Being in the indie film world for a bit, I noticed that merchandise was an ancillary that rarely went exploited, often sat unused. People don't think about creative ways to market and merchandise particular films. Of course, not every film has merchandising opportunities, and the ones that do are still more often than not untouched. I kept seeing a gap between the creativity that goes into making a film and the creativity that goes into marketing a film. Certain films are screaming to be branded. The visibility of independent cinema is increasing at a rate not known to studio films these days. It's actually very exciting.

After I found out that a very established perfumist out of San Francisco had created a scent inspired by the book, THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS, I tracked her down and, following the use of using samples of the perfume to market and sell THE HEART, I obtained the exclusive packaging and distribution rights for the perfume. This started helping me see outside of the box of a film just being a film. Some films are bigger than a theatrical play. They are personal pieces to many people. I think tasteful and stylish merchandise allows filmgoers and lovers of independent cinema ways to support material and stories that they love and relate to. I obviously feel very passionate about this. I aspire to create an additional revenue stream for filmmakers and distributors by creating sell-thru merchandise that goes along with a films' marketing and promotional strategy. Eventually, BrightLab will be a distributor's best friend, as proper merchandise only creates more visibility for a film and will prolong the life of a film.

[EG]: What different kinds of things are you going to offer? Any merchandising plans for your next film, LYING?

[LB]: Currently, I am offering quality tee shirts, tank tops, girls underwear, perfume, and posters. My next project is the film, BLACKBALLED: THE BOBBY DUKES STORY, which is a mockumentary on paintball. It stars Rob Corddry from THE DAILY SHOW. It's hysterical. LYING isn't really a film with merchandising opportunities. I have a couple other projects in the curtains, and am always looking for new projects, too.

[EG]: Speaking of LYING, congratulations on the premiere at the Director's Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Interesting to see Chloe Sevigny, Jena Malone and Leelee Sobieski, three of our finest young actresses, working together onscreen. How did this project come about? [LB]: I met M Blash one year ago at the Cannes film festival along with my producing partner, Molly Hassell. We literally met in a sidewalk cafe in Cannes. A mutual friend of ours knew M from a film festival in Portland, Oregon, and we just happened by that cafe where M was meeting with this friend of mine. We hit it off instantly. It was this magical moment where we could just feel something good was going to come out of the meeting. It wasn't until a few weeks after Cannes that M passed the LYING script to Molly. Things started falling into place. He told us Chloe wanted to take the lead, and after that... well, everything came together in a matter of weeks. With Chloe, Jena, and Leelee, the financing lined up and we were in principal photography by early October. And then one year later, we're all back in Cannes with a project that was conceived less than a year earlier. M's great. I hope to work with him again.

[EG]: You're also producing LONDON FIELDS. How is that coming along? Is David Cronenberg still attached to direct?

[LB]: Yes. Cronenberg is still attached and says it will be his next project after the one he is doing now for Focus Features. It's coming along. It's a great project and a dream to be working with Cronenberg.

Check out BrightLab Inc. and Curiously Bright online.

Elston Gunn

Thanks, man. Great read.

"Moriarty" out.

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