THE world of celebrity is always happy to publicise the success stories, but rarely does it highlight the struggles of independent artists.
Now, thanks to director Jeff Santo, those tough times are there for all to see in an eye-opening and ultimately inspiring documentary Off the Boulevard that lifts the lid on those unwilling to compromise.
Meet the musicians – Nick Nicholson and Keith Jackson. Then there’s the actors – Senal Budimlic and David Della Rocco. Add the comedian – Bob Rubin. Then there’s the writer/director – Troy Duffy.
These are guys who have attempted to become mainstream successes in their chosen fields yet have been shafted one way or another during that journey.
However, rather than playing the victim card or acting down-trodden, they’ve taken the independent route to getting their names into the public domain, regardless of the difficulties they’ve encountered.
Rubin has been on the North American comedy circuit for 26 years without ever becoming a celebrity – not that it rankles with him. He’s just happy to be making people laugh with his own off-beat brand of humour.
Senal and Della Rocca haven’t had their struggles to seek either. Senal fled war-torn Bosnia, arriving in the US because he had seen the country watching American movies and thinking it ‘looked nice’, while Della Rocca starred in cult movie The Boondock Saints before turning to substitute teaching as the acting jobs dried up.
The musicians have also seen their efforts go unnoticed (in the main) by going it alone, without the help of a label. And who can blame them after hearing about Jackson’s trials and tribulations – despite 14 albums as part of pioneering group Shock Therapy. Meanwhile, country singer Nicholson is surprisingly positive despite learning that radio play is at a minimum because a publicist didn’t do their job properly when requesting radio airplay.
But the most jaw-dropping story comes from Duffy’s experiences.
Back in the late 90s, he wrote the script for a little film known as The Boondock Saints. After a battle to acquire the rights, Miramax bought the script. Duffy made it known he wanted to direct it, but the film was then shelved. When he finally got around to making it, he done so on half the original budget.
Despite their being no engine behind The Boondock Saints, Duffy used the last of the money from Miramax to put it into five cinemas. But things took off when a deal was struck with Blockbuster to exclusively release the film in February 2000.
The Boondock Saints went on to rake in $150million, but Duffy hasn’t seen one cent from any of the takings.
Rumours were created of a fall-out with Harvey Weinstein – which Duffy has denied – while ‘friends’ took advantage of the situation by creating a documentary having a go at the film-maker.
But he’s not bitter. He says he’s learned from the experience.
Even documentary maker – and narrator – Jeff Santo has fallen victim a brutal industry.
His 1997 debut movie Liar’s Poker cost $1m to make. It grossed $4m. He and his investors seen just $100k of that. He remains positive and determined to make his films HIS way. And he’s even taken on the role of a teacher at film-making school where he tells aspiring movie-makers the truth, regardless of how off-putting it may be.
Off The Boulevard is an eye-opening look into industries that are all too often glamorised and seen by many naive kids as a way to make a quick buck and become a celebrity.
The reality is in stark contrast to the way many media outlets portray it.
What this documentary does show is the heart, hard work and effort required just to make ends meet by those who are doing it for the love of the craft rather than the money.
Some sceptics might assume these guys are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Why not compromise if it’ll help them become mainstream? Well, if anything, their experiences with the bigwigs and studio executives will show just how ruthless it can be. No wonder they do it their own way.
With interludes from the likes of Peter Fonda (Easy Rider) and Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), the documentary is given added gravitas by giants in their own field.
The passion shown by these artists is a real inspiration to those wanting to make it as a star. But it’s also a warning sign to anyone who believes it comes easily.
As Vedder says: “Being independent means nothing gets in the way of the art.”
It can’t be said any more succinctly.
The DVD is available exclusively at santofilms.com and the digital download and rental versions are now available on Amazon.com