FOUR-WALL, Part 2
by Frederick Bailey Directing Mentor, IAFT-LA
Reading Michael Chasin’s blog here last week brought to mind those Billy Jack movies back in the ’70s: Billy Jack (1971) and Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977). Tom Laughlin was writer/director/star.
He couldn’t get distribution, so he four-walled it and made a fortune. Which bank-rolled other projects after that, until he ran out of steam.
But looking at the subject from a different standpoint—
Robert Downey Senior (not Junior) is a director/writer who’s made numerous off-beat movies, including a few of my favorites: Greaser’s Palace (1972), Putney Swope (1969), Sticks and Bones (1973). He’s done some acting too: To Live & Die in L.A. (1985), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Tower Heist (2011).
I don’t know him at all, but our paths have crossed a couple of times. Downey (a Prince) had arranged a private reading of one of his screenplays—I think it was Hugo Pool. A friend of mine, James Hong, was one of the actors, and Jimmy invited me along.
I took the opportunity to chat with Downey and mentioned how much I liked Greaser’s Palace.
He told me that he didn’t four-wall it exactly, but he had a deal with a theatre owner to do a Saturday midnight screening of one of his early movies. (I’m guessing this was in the late ‘60s.) He didn’t attend—he just gave the guy the print.
On Monday he’d call, and the guy would say, “There was only a handful of people here, but it’s such a great movie, let’s give it a try next weekend too.”
Downey got the same story from the guy the next week. And the next.
So the fourth weekend came around, and Downey went to the showing. It was jammed. Couldn’t have squeezed another person in.
Monday morning he called, and the theatre owner repeated the story. “Nobody was there, the movie is great, let’s give it another chance.”
Downey says, “I was there Saturday night.”
The theatre owner’s next line of dialogue: “Let’s settle.”