Miramax

Interview: Mark Christopher on the Director’s Cut of 54

Was it difficult to restore the cut footage?

We didn’t have an EDL, which is an edit decision list. If you have an EDL, you feed it into the editor and it basically spits out your movie. [After the original release], because I wanted something for me and the actors, I cobbled together a bootleg VHS director’s cut using different video sources so there was no time code, etcetera. So we needed the VHS dailies in order to match them to the bootleg cut. The thing is, most people wouldn’t keep VHS dailies for 17 years, but thank goodness Miramax did. My wonderful post-production supervisor, Nancy Valle, found most of the material—a shrink-wrapped palette with signs saying “marked to be destroyed” in a 90-degree warehouse. She found it just in the nick of time, otherwise there would have been no movie. Then my editor, David Kittredge, matched each shot from these 44 minutes from the VHS dailies. But we didn’t find it all, which is why you see some of those underground-looking shots. Those truly came from underneath my friend’s house in the Hollywood Hills on videotape. I feel like it gives a little taste of the 1970s and I hope that people like that.

How were you able to get the studio interested in releasing the director’s cut?

Somehow the bootleg tape got out there in the world. Also, people had seen earlier cuts [before the original release] and that had a good buzz as well. Then, in 2008, it played at Outfest and it got a really great response. And it played in Italy, in Turin. They oversold the venue and the wonderful Italians, being Italian, had a riot and the police came and locked the doors. So then they put the film on a loop and played it all night so everyone got to see it. These are the sort of stories that helped Miramax see that there was an audience for this movie.

What was it like going back to your earlier work?

It was fascinating because I’ve grown as a filmmaker, so I now know shorthand. I know what can be trimmed and cut more to get my story across. I think when you’re younger you’re more in love with your dailies and it’s harder to cut them. I wouldn’t really say I would want to change anything. You know, maybe I would have had Salma speak more Spanish when she’s freaking out, but in those days we probably weren’t allowed to do that. There’s an old adage: You don’t ever really finish a film, you just abandon it. So I got pretty close to what I wanted before I abandoned it.

As a young filmmaker, were you soured by your first studio experience?

I was offered other movies, but I wanted to go back in to my independent roots. That was a decision that I made at that time. But I’m not really the type to look backward. It was probably the right decision for them, but now, you know, I’d like to do studio films. This experience has been fantastic and I have much thicker skin, shall we say?

What are you most proud of, now that you’ve made the movie you originally intended?

I feel like the film works on a bunch of levels. I think the filmmaker’s responsibility is to draw the audience into a unique universe, and that’s done in many ways—through the writing, the characterization, the casting, through the framing and the movement of the camera, etcetera. And, in particular, in this film, it’s the lighting. Because we’re in a nightclub in the 1970s, it was really important to me that it was really dark, in the way that we all probably experience nightclubs; you see things in flashes of light, or reflected in bubbles or glitter. And so to restore it back to its original dark richness was really important to me and I’ve really done that.

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