When we last spoke with writer/ director John Waters in 2007 ("John Waters on the mainstreaming of gay culture"), his next film was going to be a Christmas movie called Fruitcake. That still hasn't happened, but the Pink Flamingos director has the next-best thing planned: A John Waters Christmas at the Carolina Theatre, which he describes as "a self-help show to get any creative neurotic through the Christmas holidays." Waters, who published his memoir Role Models earlier this year, answered a few questions for us about the current state of filmmaking, his late muse Divine and whether he'd do another stage musical after the success of Hairspray and the bomb of Cry-Baby.
Independent Weekly: I'd like to ask about the current state of independent film and doing smaller projects.
John Waters: Well, it's not going to be a very upbeat article if you talk about that. Right now, every studio is looking for the John Waters that made people nervous. They're looking for kids who've shot a film on their cell phone for $30,000 that they spent on credit cards that they're going to buy for $100,000, and spend $900,000 fixing it up and buying music rights.
That's great for kids, but I don't want to go backwards. I've spent the last 10 to 15 years making small, modestly budgeted movies, which used to cost about $5 million. There's a lot of movie stars in them, a lot of characters.
I got a great development deal for Fruitcake at New Line, but when I turned it in, the New Line I knew was no longer there and had become something radically different.
I'm not whining! I'm just telling you that's how things are in film. I've had many careers, and they're all about telling stories. I just tell the next story in whichever way I can tell it.
Are there any young filmmakers you like, or what do you make of the so-called mumblecore movement?
That word is stunning. I'm not a fan of mumblecore. I still go to movies all the time, and I'm a fan of movies, and I don't care how old the people making them are, or if they have a big budget or a low budget. I just want to be surprised. If it's a feel-bad movie, I feel good anyway—why should a movie make you feel good? I don't like it when I feel like a movie's trying to make you feel good. I'm suspicious of those kinds of movies.
Also of note is that 3-D is quite big these days—something you've been using for years.
The 3-D movies I liked best were Avatar and Jackass 3D. Mostly, I figured I've already done a genre special-effects movie, so what I'm waiting for right now is Avatar-quality 3-D for home porn. That is what I'm very much looking forward to.
Do you think it's actually possible to make any money doing a small, independently produced film these days?
Oh, sure—look at the people who did the first Paranormal Activity! And I mean, they only made a few hundred thousand, because they sold it to someone else. But a few hundred thousand for your first movie—what an achievement!
And what do you make of new distribution methods, such as YouTube and Hulu?
I'm against all of them! The Internet has made every business I'm in make no money. I recognize it's never going to go back. I use Hulu, but at the same time, I don't understand the capitalist thinking of giving something away and asking people to go back and pay for it. They never will.
A guest question: "This comes from a 51-year-old straight white male: As you have paved the way for underground filmmakers, Divine paved the way for drag queen entertainers. How do you think Divine would feel today if he could see how acceptable drag queen entertainers have become by the industry? Also, do you feel Divine has ever been given proper credit for opening up the drag queen industry to everyone, even straight, 51-year-old white males?"
Well, a lot of straight 51-year-olds are drag queens. If you do a survey of transvestites, there's probably a lot more heteros than homos. They just dress badly. Really gay drag queens don't dress like Tootsie on a bummer.
I think Divine did change drag queens, because he did it with irony. The drag queens hated Divine at the beginning, because he made fun of being a drag queen. He was wearing clothes that a fat person in real life would never wear.
What do you make of the Triangle?
To be honest, everywhere's the same, thanks to the Internet. The kids in Raleigh/ Durham and their parents are just like the kids on the Upper East Side or Iowa. Everyone's cool. You don't have to leave where you were born to find an arts scene, and that's good. The only thing I complain about is that at the airport, all the stores are the same. But now, with the Internet, with Netflix, you can live a hundred miles from anywhere and see everything.
Would you do another stage musical?
I liked Cry-Baby, even though it didn't do very good, though it's supposedly coming back in St. Louis. But if I had to do a musical ... I'd do Serial Mom.