Keith Fulton and "Brothers of the Head"

indieWIRE August 8, 2006

“Lost in La Mancha” directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s “Brothers of the Head” first screened at the Toronto International Film Festival last September (where IFC Films acquired the title), and then made its way to the Berlinale in February. The film is the story of conjoined twins who were taken from obscurity by a 1970s music promoter and groomed into a boy band. Grappling with impossible love, artistic rivalry and a dark inner life, the twins embrace their “freakishness” and spit it back in the form of searing punk rock, and an unsettling glimpse into a relationship that is both beautiful and destructive. Written by Tony Grisoni (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”), IFC Films will open the feature in limited release Friday, July 28. Fulton spent some time answering questions given by indieWIRE about the film and what lead him into this life of film.

(Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in indieWIRE July 24, 2006. “Brothers of the Head” is now playing at Bay Area theaters.)

indieWIRE: Please tell us about yourself and your upbringing.

Keith Fulton: I grew up in a not very interesting suburb of Boston which boasts the world’s first open air shopping mall. I must have been really popular in high school because I remember routinely eating lunch in the bathroom with my best friend.

indieWIRE: What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

Fulton: I suppose that eating lunch in the bathroom led to the kind of stimuli deficit which makes creative thought essential for survival. I wrote poetry from the time I was ten years old until I was in college. I used to make posters for non-existent films, complete with review blurbs. Until I was far older than one should be for this sort of thing, I inhabited an imaginary world hosted by a stuffed chimpanzee named Monkey Leaf who led a kind of civil rights movement for his people, was a maverick film director and the front man of a rock band. I suppose this stuffed monkey was everything I wanted to be, and so far I still lag behind him.

indieWIRE: Did you go to film school?

Fulton: I spent my high school years watching every art and rep house film I could find — and at that time in Cambridge, Mass. there was an incredible array of cinemas, most of which are gone now. I probably saw all of Fellini and Antonio’s films during those years, and they were a huge source of inspiration for purely visual storytelling. I became obsessed with Hal Ashby’s ‘Being There,’ and probably saw it in the theater fifteen times. I think the idea of a main character who is a blank slate appealed to me a lot and continues to inform the kind of narratives that interest me.

I made a bunch of experimental super-8 films in college and then attended an MFA program in film production at Temple University. Temple’s program encouraged its students to learn all aspects of film production and did not follow the industry model at all. There was no structure where you played at being ‘the director,’ ‘the writer,’ or ‘the producer,’ an approach which I think is unhealthy. There’s enough time to experience the hierarchy of film business later on, and I think the most important education you can have if you want to direct films is to learn every aspect of the process. Temple also had a strong documentary focus at the time and a lot of students including myself were making documentary/fiction hybrids.

indieWIRE: What are your biggest creative influences?

Fulton: The so-called New German Cinema of the ’70s is probably my favorite —- Fassbinder, Wenders, and Herzog. Wenders’ ‘Alice in the Cities’ is one of the most beautiful films I know — it’s almost purely atmospheric, very little dialogue, existential in a refreshingly unpretentious way. The relationship between the main character and the little girl is extremely moving, even in the absence of much plot, exposition, or conventional act structure. Also Herzog’s ‘Heart of Glass,’ the film where much of the cast apparently underwent hypnosis. I’m not sure if the hypnosis bit is apocryphal, but I’ve never seen such an alarming and bizarre acting style in any other film, and I love it when films capture the emotional awkwardness of real life. Unexplained, microscopic views of people’s behavior have the effect of rendering the mundane surreal and ineffable. Also, Herzog’s ‘Kaspar Hauser,’ another tabula rasa tale.

In the documentary realm, I’m a huge fan of the Maysles Brothers generally, and specifically ‘Salesman,’ a documentary that rivals the best fiction films for its rich drama and character development.

indieWIRE: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for ‘Brothers of the Head?’

Fulton: I hate to say it, but the biggest challenge for ‘Brothers of the Head’ has been probably been in the marketing, because the movie doesn’t have any celebrities in it, and because we were working with a documentary form in a non-satirical way. People expect fictional documentaries to be comedies—like Christopher Guest’s movies (of which I’m a fan). With ‘Brothers,’ we were trying to use the documentary style in an unsettling and purely dramatic way, and it’s been a bit frustrating that people can’t avoid using the term ‘mockumentary’ to describe it. Mockumentaries are parodies, and while ‘Brothers’ has some laughs, I like to think of it more as a gothic rock-u-drama. Like a documentary collaboration between David Lynch and David Cronenberg.

indieWIRE: What is your definition of ‘independent film’?
Fulton: I think that this notion has become very difficult to define. It used to describe films that were made outside the studio system and without the same kinds of pressures that movies made within that system face. I think of Spike Lee’s early films and Robert Rodriguez paying for everything with a credit card. Now it seems to me that the same pressures apply to so-called independent films to stack the cast with as many celebrities as you can get and with an equal number of executive producers. It sounds really hateful, but now I actually use the word ‘indie’ as a negative. It usually means to me a family drama with the same actors who were in the last family drama with a title that sounds unusual but which will be explained by the time the film is over.

I know there are films which still break the mold, and which are ‘independent’ in the original sense, but it seems less and less likely that such films will gain distribution. I really feel that the film business tends to sorely underestimate its audience, and that is actually a very idealistic negative statement.

indieWIRE: What are some of your recent favorite films?

Fulton: A recent favorite is a Hungarian film called ‘Hukkle,’ a murder mystery with no dialogue. An elegantly staged fiction film with raw materials that seem entirely culled from real life. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

indieWIRE: What are your interests outside of film?

Fulton: I have no interests besides hanging out at my local bar, daydreaming, and playing with my three year-old neighbor, Primo. When he’s old enough, we’ll go the bar together.

My friend Charlie Wurmfeld lent me his didgeridoo, and I’m thinking of making a hobby out of that.I need to quit smoking to do this.

indieWIRE: How do you define success as a filmmaker? What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

Fulton: I measure my success as a filmmaker by the fact that my movies are being seen and by the fact that I’ve found people — producers, financiers, and distributors — who are willing to risk their investments on material which I consider to be fairly bold and experimental. My goal and my hope is that I will continue to find such people. It’s honestly enough of a goal to just have the privilege of making another film.