Walking the Line With George Hickenlooper

Though he has made a number of other films that range from horror to political drama, the themes of failure and success and the inner workings of the entertainment industry reappears frequently.

 

As a teenager in St. Louis at the dawn of the ’80s, George Hickenlooper was part of a consortium of guerilla filmmakers who called themselves “The Splicers,” making short films with 8mm cameras that starred friends and family. The group consisted of Hickenlooper, James Gunn, Bill Boll, Tim Gallaher, Steve Goedde, and Chris Curtis. They may not have known it then, but this was just the beginning.

James Gunn went on to write a successful book and a number of Hollywood scripts, including Scooby Doo and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Chris Carter has gone on to a successful career in the music industry. Bill Boll made his directorial debut with April Is My Religion in 2002. And Hickenlooper went on to a long career of acclaimed films. His most recent effort, a new documentary called Mayor of the Sunset Strip, sold for $1.3 million to First Look Media, which makes it the second highest documentary sale in history (behind Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine).

Hickenlooper’s first real breakthrough came with Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), which documented Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Eleanor Coppola had seen a rough cut of Hickenlooper’s concurrent Picture This: The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City, Texas and asked Hickenlooper to join the directing and writing teams for the film.
Hickenlooper then began his first dramatic feature, The Killing Box (1993), which was made with the help of several of the original St. Louis “Splicers.” In 1994, he directed the short film, “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade,” which starred Billy Bob Thornton and was the precursor to the successful feature film, Sling Blade. The short film has a wonderful performance from Thornton and a dark, brooding energy that seems to have been somewhat sterilized in the feature.

Hickenlooper never lost this momentum of his early career. He followed with the dramatic features The Low Life (1995), Persons Unknown (1996), Dogtown (1997), The Big Brass Ring (1999) (shot in L.A. and St. Louis), and The Man from Elysian Fields (2001). He has also directed a couple more documentaries: Monte Hellman: American Auteur and the recent Mayor of the Sunset Strip.

Hickenlooper walks the line between independent film and Hollywood. His feature films are often produced with modest budgets and are rarely sold to the public as blockbusters, but they consistently win awards at festivals and enjoy good distribution. Meanwhile, his documentaries are widely respected; clearly, the impressive price tag of Mayor of the Sunset Strip is proof of that.

It is interesting to note that Hickenlooper’s documentaries are all on the subject of filmmakers, actors, and entertainers. It is no coincidence; he turned his eye inward for the semi-autobiographical film, The Low Life, about a repressed, Yale-educated writer trying to cope with living in L.A., and in Dogtown he explores the life of a failed actor returning to his small hometown. Though he has made a number of other films that range from horror to political drama, the themes of failure and success and the inner workings of the entertainment industry reappears frequently.

Despite the implicit misgivings contained in his body of work, Hickenlooper is clearly a local boy who made good. But to all you aspiring local filmmakers, I have the following words. He was born in St. Louis and lived here for much of his youth (he went to SLU High), but his story is much like that of many people who end up making it in Hollywood—he moved there with nothing but talent and a dream.

This was shortly after graduating from Yale in 1984. He crashed at a friend’s parent’s house and worked a number of menial jobs to get by for a while. Then he landed his first set job as a PA for the legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman. Hickenlooper relates how one day on the set, Corman pulls him aside and tells him that there is a situation and he needs Hickenlooper to do something very important. Thinking that this is going to be the day, Hickenlooper awaits his assignment eagerly. Corman says, “My gardener is sick and I need you to go to my house and mow my lawn.”

Of course, sooner or later, one thing led to another and the rest is history. But this is the kind of story that one expects to hear about trying to make it in Hollywood. Hickenlooper himself admits that Hollywood is vicious and that you have to slit a few throats to make it big. He jokes that he might have been more successful had he done so himself. But he also makes it clear that L.A. is where you have to be if you want to make a career out of film. Some of his friends, he says, tried to make it in New York instead but ended up in L.A. anyway.

As far as St. Louis is concerned, Hickenlooper suggests that it would be foolish to think that one could build a serious film career here. You have to be where the resources, the money, and the talent are, he says. But it is certainly possible to be a regional filmmaker—and there are advantages to that, particularly if film is not your primary occupation. Hickenlooper still loves St. Louis and keeps in touch with the local filmmaking scene through hometown friends such as director Bill Boll and screenwriter Brian Hohlfeld.

So if you’ve got what it takes to be a hometown hero, follow the example of George Hickenlooper and “The Splicers.” St. Louis is a great place to explore ideas, get experience, and make connections with like-minded artists. And when you’re ready—go out and conquer. Also, when you’re finally famous, be sure to bring one of your big productions to St. Louis—for old times’ sake.

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Walking the Line With George Hickenlooper

As a teenager in St. Louis at the dawn of the ’80s, George Hickenlooper was part of a consortium of guerilla filmmakers who called themselves “The Splicers,” making short films with 8mm cameras that starred friends and family. The group consisted of Hickenlooper, James Gunn, Bill Boll, Tim Gallaher, Steve Goedde, and Chris Curtis. They may not have known it then, but this was just the beginning.

James Gunn went on to write a successful book and a number of Hollywood scripts, including Scooby Doo and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Chris Carter has gone on to a successful career in the music industry. Bill Boll made his directorial debut with April Is My Religion in 2002. And Hickenlooper went on to a long career of acclaimed films. His most recent effort, a new documentary called Mayor of the Sunset Strip, sold for $1.3 million to First Look Media, which makes it the second highest documentary sale in history (behind Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine).

Hickenlooper’s first real breakthrough came with Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), which documented Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Eleanor Coppola had seen a rough cut of Hickenlooper’s concurrent Picture This: The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City, Texas and asked Hickenlooper to join the directing and writing teams for the film.
Hickenlooper then began his first dramatic feature, The Killing Box (1993), which was made with the help of several of the original St. Louis “Splicers.” In 1994, he directed the short film, “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade,” which starred Billy Bob Thornton and was the precursor to the successful feature film, Sling Blade. The short film has a wonderful performance from Thornton and a dark, brooding energy that seems to have been somewhat sterilized in the feature.

Hickenlooper never lost this momentum of his early career. He followed with the dramatic features The Low Life (1995), Persons Unknown (1996), Dogtown (1997), The Big Brass Ring (1999) (shot in L.A. and St. Louis), and The Man from Elysian Fields (2001). He has also directed a couple more documentaries: Monte Hellman: American Auteur and the recent Mayor of the Sunset Strip.

Hickenlooper walks the line between independent film and Hollywood. His feature films are often produced with modest budgets and are rarely sold to the public as blockbusters, but they consistently win awards at festivals and enjoy good distribution. Meanwhile, his documentaries are widely respected; clearly, the impressive price tag of Mayor of the Sunset Strip is proof of that.

It is interesting to note that Hickenlooper’s documentaries are all on the subject of filmmakers, actors, and entertainers. It is no coincidence; he turned his eye inward for the semi-autobiographical film, The Low Life, about a repressed, Yale-educated writer trying to cope with living in L.A., and in Dogtown he explores the life of a failed actor returning to his small hometown. Though he has made a number of other films that range from horror to political drama, the themes of failure and success and the inner workings of the entertainment industry reappears frequently.

Despite the implicit misgivings contained in his body of work, Hickenlooper is clearly a local boy who made good. But to all you aspiring local filmmakers, I have the following words. He was born in St. Louis and lived here for much of his youth (he went to SLU High), but his story is much like that of many people who end up making it in Hollywood—he moved there with nothing but talent and a dream.

This was shortly after graduating from Yale in 1984. He crashed at a friend’s parent’s house and worked a number of menial jobs to get by for a while. Then he landed his first set job as a PA for the legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman. Hickenlooper relates how one day on the set, Corman pulls him aside and tells him that there is a situation and he needs Hickenlooper to do something very important. Thinking that this is going to be the day, Hickenlooper awaits his assignment eagerly. Corman says, “My gardener is sick and I need you to go to my house and mow my lawn.”

Of course, sooner or later, one thing led to another and the rest is history. But this is the kind of story that one expects to hear about trying to make it in Hollywood. Hickenlooper himself admits that Hollywood is vicious and that you have to slit a few throats to make it big. He jokes that he might have been more successful had he done so himself. But he also makes it clear that L.A. is where you have to be if you want to make a career out of film. Some of his friends, he says, tried to make it in New York instead but ended up in L.A. anyway.

As far as St. Louis is concerned, Hickenlooper suggests that it would be foolish to think that one could build a serious film career here. You have to be where the resources, the money, and the talent are, he says. But it is certainly possible to be a regional filmmaker—and there are advantages to that, particularly if film is not your primary occupation. Hickenlooper still loves St. Louis and keeps in touch with the local filmmaking scene through hometown friends such as director Bill Boll and screenwriter Brian Hohlfeld.

So if you’ve got what it takes to be a hometown hero, follow the example of George Hickenlooper and “The Splicers.” St. Louis is a great place to explore ideas, get experience, and make connections with like-minded artists. And when you’re ready—go out and conquer. Also, when you’re finally famous, be sure to bring one of your big productions to St. Louis—for old times’ sake.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Walking the Line With George Hickenlooper

As a teenager in St. Louis at the dawn of the ’80s, George Hickenlooper was part of a consortium of guerilla filmmakers who called themselves “The Splicers,” making short films with 8mm cameras that starred friends and family. The group consisted of Hickenlooper, James Gunn, Bill Boll, Tim Gallaher, Steve Goedde, and Chris Curtis. They may not have known it then, but this was just the beginning.

James Gunn went on to write a successful book and a number of Hollywood scripts, including Scooby Doo and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Chris Carter has gone on to a successful career in the music industry. Bill Boll made his directorial debut with April Is My Religion in 2002. And Hickenlooper went on to a long career of acclaimed films. His most recent effort, a new documentary called Mayor of the Sunset Strip, sold for $1.3 million to First Look Media, which makes it the second highest documentary sale in history (behind Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine).

Hickenlooper’s first real breakthrough came with Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), which documented Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Eleanor Coppola had seen a rough cut of Hickenlooper’s concurrent Picture This: The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City, Texas and asked Hickenlooper to join the directing and writing teams for the film.
Hickenlooper then began his first dramatic feature, The Killing Box (1993), which was made with the help of several of the original St. Louis “Splicers.” In 1994, he directed the short film, “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade,” which starred Billy Bob Thornton and was the precursor to the successful feature film, Sling Blade. The short film has a wonderful performance from Thornton and a dark, brooding energy that seems to have been somewhat sterilized in the feature.

Hickenlooper never lost this momentum of his early career. He followed with the dramatic features The Low Life (1995), Persons Unknown (1996), Dogtown (1997), The Big Brass Ring (1999) (shot in L.A. and St. Louis), and The Man from Elysian Fields (2001). He has also directed a couple more documentaries: Monte Hellman: American Auteur and the recent Mayor of the Sunset Strip.

Hickenlooper walks the line between independent film and Hollywood. His feature films are often produced with modest budgets and are rarely sold to the public as blockbusters, but they consistently win awards at festivals and enjoy good distribution. Meanwhile, his documentaries are widely respected; clearly, the impressive price tag of Mayor of the Sunset Strip is proof of that.

It is interesting to note that Hickenlooper’s documentaries are all on the subject of filmmakers, actors, and entertainers. It is no coincidence; he turned his eye inward for the semi-autobiographical film, The Low Life, about a repressed, Yale-educated writer trying to cope with living in L.A., and in Dogtown he explores the life of a failed actor returning to his small hometown. Though he has made a number of other films that range from horror to political drama, the themes of failure and success and the inner workings of the entertainment industry reappears frequently.

Despite the implicit misgivings contained in his body of work, Hickenlooper is clearly a local boy who made good. But to all you aspiring local filmmakers, I have the following words. He was born in St. Louis and lived here for much of his youth (he went to SLU High), but his story is much like that of many people who end up making it in Hollywood—he moved there with nothing but talent and a dream.

This was shortly after graduating from Yale in 1984. He crashed at a friend’s parent’s house and worked a number of menial jobs to get by for a while. Then he landed his first set job as a PA for the legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman. Hickenlooper relates how one day on the set, Corman pulls him aside and tells him that there is a situation and he needs Hickenlooper to do something very important. Thinking that this is going to be the day, Hickenlooper awaits his assignment eagerly. Corman says, “My gardener is sick and I need you to go to my house and mow my lawn.”

Of course, sooner or later, one thing led to another and the rest is history. But this is the kind of story that one expects to hear about trying to make it in Hollywood. Hickenlooper himself admits that Hollywood is vicious and that you have to slit a few throats to make it big. He jokes that he might have been more successful had he done so himself. But he also makes it clear that L.A. is where you have to be if you want to make a career out of film. Some of his friends, he says, tried to make it in New York instead but ended up in L.A. anyway.

As far as St. Louis is concerned, Hickenlooper suggests that it would be foolish to think that one could build a serious film career here. You have to be where the resources, the money, and the talent are, he says. But it is certainly possible to be a regional filmmaker—and there are advantages to that, particularly if film is not your primary occupation. Hickenlooper still loves St. Louis and keeps in touch with the local filmmaking scene through hometown friends such as director Bill Boll and screenwriter Brian Hohlfeld.

So if you’ve got what it takes to be a hometown hero, follow the example of George Hickenlooper and “The Splicers.” St. Louis is a great place to explore ideas, get experience, and make connections with like-minded artists. And when you’re ready—go out and conquer. Also, when you’re finally famous, be sure to bring one of your big productions to St. Louis—for old times’ sake.

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