Kurt Voss Interview

Allison Anders and Kurt Voss delight in their return to seat-of-their-pants filmmaking

Allison Anders and Kurt Voss delight in their return to seat-of-their-pants filmmaking

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Both creenwriters and directors, Allison Anders and Kurt Voss have been friends ever since film school, where together they wrote "Border Radio," a rock star on the run romp that was shot in 1998, with the two directing together after they both got their degrees.

Ten years later, after making such notable films as Gas Food Lodging," "Mi Vida Loca" and "Grace of My Heart," Anders reunited with Voss, who had his own success in smaller indies and cable movies, and the pair decided to try to recapture the shoe-string budget spirit that gave life to their careers. Buckling down for a hurry-up filmmaking experience, the result of their efforts is "Sugar Town" -- another music-centric flick about aging rock stars and the women in their lives, which the pair scripted in eight days, filmed in 18 and wrapped for $400,000, tapping friends with nice homes for shooting locations and casting real rock stars as their leads.

John Taylor, late of Duran Duran, was the first onboard. "He's my buddy," says Anders, "and we just prayed that he was gonna be good. We had no idea."

Michael Des Barres (The Power Station), Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet) and John Doe (X) soon joined, starring as former pop icons trying to stage a comeback with a new band and lousy record no label will touch. Surprisingly, as actors they hold their own opposite co-stars like Ally Sheedy, Rosanna Arquette and Beverly D'Angelo. As with Anders largely amateur "Mi Vida Loca," it seems she has a good eye for natural screen talent.

In San Francisco to promote the film, Anders (a jolly woman with a round laugh and bright red hair) and Voss (a wired and wiry fellow who gets up now and again to take laps around the room) share a corner of a mahogany table in a hotel boardroom and have a doodling duel on pads bearing the hotel's logo while we had a good laugh about what we all looked like in the '80s, when the film's stars (and characters) were in their heyday. Then we settled down to talk about the film.

This whole production was kind of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation, wasn't it?

Allison Anders: Boy, it sure was!

Was that one of the goals? Real intense work for a real short time? Or was that just the way it turned out?

Anders: It was pretty much the way it turned out. More than anything we wanted to make a movie we could 100 percent control, creatively. That meant certain sacrifices. The actors didn't have trailers. We had to kick but and get everything done in 18 days. It meant the film editor had no assistants...

So a minimum of Craft Services and Teamsters, right?

Anders: Yeah. (Laughing) I've worked on movies where there's all these people coming and going and I don't even know who they are.

The project came about because you two were kind of reminiscing about film school and underground filmmaking, right?

Anders: Well, we'd (just) sold our first film, "Border Radio," to Sundance Channel, and they had set up an interview (to run with the broadcast) and we realized that we'd made a film (this way) before.

Kurt Voss: Seeing "Border Radio" again, which we'd made as wet behind the ears college graduates, we decided, hey, we did it then with virtually no resources and certainly no idea how to write a script or even how a picture is made. So why not do (the same thing) now? It can only be better. (Then) it was sort of, what actors have we worked with that we can call at home and tell them we're doing this movie...

...and can you be here in a week?

Anders: Exactly! And can you wear your own clothes? (Laughs.)

Voss: So we made a list of actors we had worked with, and a couple we hadn't but wanted to. And when we knew they were available and interested, we wrote a script specifically for them. We looked in our fridge and saw what was there. (He and Anders break into laughter.)

So you made a stew based on who you were working with.

Anders: (Still laughing.) Exactly! Exactly.

Voss: And the fact that we got into the whole music milieu again had as much to do with the fact that we had several musicians on our dream cast list as it did with a desire to deal with pop music again.

At what point did the aging rockers storyline start to form?

Voss: Well, we realized we had a bunch of diverse musicians, but what the hell kind of band would these guys be in together? We couldn't see it. Then we thought, hey, a bunch of desperate guys. We've got this opportunity to do all this stuff about fame, and losing it and hanging on to it, and trying to get it.

So you wrote the script in eight days, and you were shooting less than a month later. Was it just that you were on a roll? Let's make it right now, let's edit it right now?

Anders: Absolutely. I think that's the way you gotta go sometimes...you set a start date and you just go. To a certain extent Wim Wenders (the German director of "Wings of Desire," under whom she apprenticed) also makes movies like that. (With him) it was always like, I might not have all the money yet, but I'm going anyway. I have enough to start, so I'm going.

You worked with Wenders on "Paris, Texas." It's a strange story how that came about, isn't it?

Anders: I chased him around with fan mail for a year and a half. But don't get me wrong. I was not asking for a job. I just wanted him to know who I was.

But it worked!

Anders: It did work! It was really great. He actually did teach me a lot, and continues to be my friend.

Normally, I assume, on other projects, you've written a script, gone back and done another draft, honed characters, added details. Were you worried at all about working from such a raw script?

Anders: Actually, I think it was probably a pretty tight script. It was a structure that allowed us to perfect it pretty quickly. It was a great structure that way. When we were tired of one character, we moved on to the next. We did two drafts. We did the first one, then we did a read-through with the actors, then we made our adjustments from that and we were preparing for the shoot.

Voss: Also the fact that it was kind of a shaggy dog story aided in being able to write it so quickly. We weren't writing a highly plotted mystery or something. That was part of it. We devised it all across the board, keeping in mind the budget and so forth.

Of course, it helps when you have lots of friends that were contributing.

Voss: It would have been impossible unless we were borrowing people's houses to shoot in, etc.

Were you a fan of the bands that spawned your rockers-turned-actors?

Anders: Well, I was a big fan of X. I've probably seen 100 X shows, during their time in the late '70s and early '80s.

Voss: We kind of liked Duran Duran, too, after seeing this documentary about them ("Three To Get Ready"). But initially that was something that her daughter Tiffany tortured us with.

What's your particular interest in making films about music and musicians?

Anders: I keep thinking that it's just being a fan. Music has always been a great solace for me. It's still something that gives me far more joy than movies, I must say. I love movies, too. But somehow music can transport you. There are so many different kinds of experiences you can have with music.Anders and Voss are currently working on another music-centric film called "Things Behind the Sun," with John Taylor, Liam Gallagher of Oasis and his wife, actress Patsy Kensit.

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