Oh, I forgot to mention; one of the reasons the financiers agreed to my cast was that I cut 2 million dollars out of the budget. For all you aspiring director/producer types out there let me clue you in to something. There is only one way to do this; cut shooting days. How do you cut enough shooting days to cut 2 million dollars? Cut the script.
So, I cut 15 pages and rewrote to smooth out the holes. Frankly, I think that last draft shocked the script into its best form. I ended up shooting the entire film, and a full-length music video in 25 days.
The rest of the cast had fallen miraculously into place. Gina Gershon as Toby’s sexpot manager, Cinque Lee (Spike’s brother) as the director of a serial killer reality show called Slice of Life, David Wain and Callie Thorne as K’harma’s publicists, Kevin Corrigan as Les’ only friend and Elvis Costello as himself in a celebrity cameo after David Bowie, Sylvester Stallone, Donald Trump and Paul McCartney turned us down.
The schedule was intense. We were moving so fast I couldn’t lose focus for a second. I was literally making 200 decisions a day—thank god more right ones than wrong ones. As terrifying as it was the rush was also exhilarating, like driving 100 miles an hour along the edge of a cliff.
I had designed the film as a kind of contemporary fable. Toby was the lost innocent wandering through the wilderness of NYC. Les was the troll he meets under the bridge that he must make a deal with to get across and K’harma was the lonely princess Toby has to help redeem her soul. This fable aspect helped me and the production team find the look of the film. Les’ grungy apartment became subterranean, with wall murals of forest glades and stuffed animals sitting around. I was shown a book of taxidermy rentals and was told on our tight budget I could only afford three. I chose a squirrel, a deer and a jackelope; the mythical antlered rabbit from the Arizona deserts.
In contrast, K’harma’s celebrity world needed to have a rich, seductive luster. For all her scenes we kept the camera (35mm) on a dolly and saturated the scenes with light. For Les’ scenes cinematographer Frank DeMarco designed a looser, handheld style that nonetheless had a strong sense of purpose. The handheld camera allowed for great interplay between Steve and Michael. Although all the scenes were completely scripted when actors like these are revved up and working in high gear they come up with many intuitive elements of behavior that could never be written.
I knew this spontaneity was crucial to Delirious. Two main film influences were Midnight Cowboy and A Hard Day’s Night. Both films have a raw vibrancy that lives even today. On some of my previous films I felt that the pressure of filming took away some of my joy in being on the set. During the six years it took me to get the film together I’d made a vow to myself that if I ever did get on the set again I would put my soul into this movie. I would enjoy myself, no matter what. I would strive to create some joyful, living moment every time the camera rolled.
One of those moments came when I found out halfway through the shoot that Michael Pitt thought the jackelope was real.