- When: Monday, October 13, 2008, 7 p.m.
- Where: Liberty Hall Cinema, 644 Massachussets Street, Lawrence
- Cost: $10
- More on this event....
It's safe to say "Watch Out" isn't a movie you'd blindly invite your mother to see.
"My mom, I don't want to have see it," admits Steve Balderson.
That's saying something, considering Balderson directed the film.
"Watch Out," which screens in Lawrence on Monday, is gaining international attention as it is unveiled in a city-by-city tour. But it also might be the film Balderson has made that could outrage the most people in his home state of Kansas.
"There's something in it that will offend everyone," he says.
The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Joseph Suglia. The plot is complex enough that Balderson's Web site offers two different versions of the synopsis. Basically, it's the story of Jonathan Barrows, a bitter narcissist who falls in love with himself ... in the most graphic of ways. According to one synopsis, "He descends into a world of carnivorous priests and Prozac-popping Polish prostitutes and eventually assassinates the world's most popular pop diva."
"The story is impossible to describe," Balderson says. "But it makes people debate what the story is about, which I like. I think of it as sort of a modern version of an 'Alice in Wonderland' story, where there's this character going on a journey, and they encounter crazy people along the way."
Balderson, who lives in Wamego (which is between Topeka and Manhattan), is best known for the 2005 "Firecracker," which was highly praised by Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert.
Balderson was approached last year by Suglia to make a movie version of the novel after Suglia saw "Firecracker" and became a fan. But the filmmaker was hesitant.
"I read it, and it made no sense to me whatsoever," Balderson says. "And I'm not totally illiterate."
But he says a dream on New Year's Day, in which he made the movie, helped him to understand how it might be put together. He immediately signed on to the project.
The film was shot in April and May of this year, using a mix of L.A. and Kansas actors, among others. The lead character, Barrows, is played by Nashville's Matt Riddlehoover, who has been involved in music videos and a popular MySpace-featured film called "To a Tee."
Balderson admits the graphic nature of the project, which includes some nudity and much sexual dialogue, made the set an interesting place to be.
That was clear to Kitty Steffens, a Lawrence resident who plays the role of Bernice, as she spent a day filming her scenes.
She describes the day this way: "Wake up. Drive to Wamego. Pretend to get beaten by an umbrella. Do some knitting. Watch a prostitute try to have sex with a gay man. All in a day's work."
Steffens (who is among several Lawrence residents in the film, including Jon Niccum, Journal-World entertainment editor), says she had some initial hesitation with the film's graphic nature, but those were eased by Balderson.
"Steve had such a clear vision for what he wanted to do, and he's so good at explaining what he wanted to do, that I was instantly calmed," Steffens says. "You have nothing to worry about. He's such an artist and such a professional that you have blind faith in what he can do."
Not about shock
Balderson says, "I don't think it's about the shock, but I think you leave shocked or disgusted" with the film.
So far, in screenings in New York, Chicago and at the Raindance Film Festival in London (where "Watch Out" is nominated for Best International Feature), Balderson says he's learned one thing about audience reactions.
"Nobody's been indifferent," he says. "You either totally love it to the point you're obsessive, or you're throwing things at the screen."
The nature of the film - and Balderson's own experience with his previous movies - led him to a different path for marketing. Instead of signing onto a major distributor, he's choosing to forge his own path in the United States, though he's allowing an outside agency to sell foreign rights.
That means, in the states, he's embarking on a 20-city tour where he'll also be selling DVDs. The official release date for DVDs is Nov. 25.
"That's what I learned when we were doing 'Firecracker,'" Balderson says. "It's what we should have done then. But of course we didn't know, and we would have sold twice as many units and made twice as much money."
His only screening in Kansas or Missouri takes place in Lawrence, which he calls the "hippest place in Kansas, for sure." He's interested in what the local reaction is to the film.
"There are so many ways to interpret what that whole story is," he says, "that it's really fun to hear what people say about it."