- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

John Waters' words drip with envy when he talks about mainstream motion pictures. No, the auteur behind the puerile "Pink Flamingos" doesn't want to helm the next "Austin Powers" sequel.

Mr. Waters simply marvels at the Hollywood marketing machine that convinces filmgoers they cannot dislike the product being churned out.

"They're brainwashed," he says of today's audiences. "I'm jealous. I wish could do that."

Independent films face a more demanding crowd.

"An independent film is daring you to like it," he says. "It has to be really good."

Mr. Waters knows a thing or two about the independent film genre. He trafficked in tightly budgeted affairs long before they became the darlings of the Hollywood elite. Before "Memento" and "You Can Count on Me" there was the outrageous "Female Trouble" and "Mondo Trasho."

Mr. Waters will be flying in from the Broadway premiere of "Hairspray" to show his support for renegade filmmakers at the second annual Georgetown Independent Film Festival, where he is the guest of honor at a fund-raiser on Friday at the festival's theatre, next to Blues Alley on Wisconsin Avenue NW. Entrance fees will vary wildly, depending on a guest's attire. Those wearing three pink items, in homage to Mr. Water's notoriously repulsive classic, pay a $25 entrance fee. Anyone wearing two pink items must pay $500, while those without a hint of pink must cough up $1,000.

While Mr. Waters' more recent films have enjoyed big name stars think Melanie Griffith and Kathleen Turner when their careers still sizzled his brand of moviemaking eschews big budgets for tighter control over the finished product.

Today's independent films, the Baltimore native says, are in "shaky shape."

The director lays part of the blame on the audience.

"The ticket buyers don't have as much nerve today," he says. "It's amazing when a film comes out and it's controversial and young people don't want to see it."

He sees the lines blurring between independent and studio films, though through his eccentric filter that fusion isn't necessarily a message of doom.

Movie studios are setting up "classics" divisions to support less commercial products, he says. And when an independent film strikes a chord with the public, the monetary rewards are enormous.

"[After] 'Blair Witch,' every studio is looking for the next 'freakoid film,'" he says. "It's much more open now."

In Hollywood, he argues, all you need is to be successful. Or, at least appear to be and the producers will open their wallets for your next film.

The modest success of his 1988 film "Hairspray" the only time all the studios wanted to make my next movie, he says gave him access to bigger budgets and stars.

He used that clout to create "Cry Baby" (1990) and "Serial Mom" (1994), but all the trailers, trucks and extra bucks didn't make the moviemaking process any easier.

"It moves slower and there's more pressure," he says of big-budget shoots. "All movies are hard to make. [Having a bigger budget] made it more complicated."

Some will argue that as Mr. Waters' film budgets grew, his willingness to shock shrunk.

He laughs away any thought of a kinder, gentler filmmaker.

"'Serial Mom' asked you to root for a serial killer," he says in what sounds like a practiced defense.

But how outrageous can a filmmaker be if one of his works is about to boogie-woogie on Broadway?

So far, he is pleased with "Hairspray," the Broadway musical set to debut later this week.

"It's very faithful to the John Waters moral values," says the filmmaker, who has served as a very hands-on consultant on the project at the creator's request.

"They bent over backward to have me involved in it," he says.

All of New York is buzzing that the show could be a "Producers" size hit. Such talk is dandy, he says, but premature.

"Anything can happen in the theater," he says. "The buzz is certainly good. You always fear the New York critics will say, 'I'll be the one to say it's good.'"

He flashes little fear that the subject matter will be found offensive by today's Broadway audiences.

"They're mostly chubby, they have a sense of humor and they know a gay person," he says of the typical theatergoer.


WHAT: An Evening with John Waters

WHERE: The Georgetown Independent Film Festival Theatre, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday

TICKETS: $25 if wearing three pink items, $500 if wearing two pink items and $1,000 if no pink items are worn. Tickets can be bought at Movie Madness, 1083 Thomas Jefferson St. or by calling 202/337-7064.


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