MARK BORCHARDT'S LIFE was going nowhere. Growing up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood on the northwest side of Milwaukee, he found his life spinning out of control through alcoholism and unrealized dreams. Having discovered Super 8 filmmaking at age 14, and inspired by the glorious low-budget horror movies of George Romero, he began making movies like The More the Scarier I-IV, Rocketship 101, I Blow Up, The Mad Doctor's Monster, A Great Mistake, and Let There Be Light. He had found his calling -- but that didn't mean his life would get any easier.

In 1994, he taught himself how to use 16mm film equipment and started making Coven [rhymes with "woven," not "oven"], and writing the script for the autobiographical feature Northwestern. After he had shot half of Coven, the project disintegrated, thanks in part to too much drinking and partying. But he couldn't let it go. In order to raise money to shoot Northwestern, he decided he needed to finish Coven and sell 3,000 copies at $14.95 a pop. He threw himself back into the project with renewed determination. "My life was going nowhere," he recalls, "and I was just desperate. I had to break out of it, and I used Coven to do that."

Around that time, he met Chris Smith. Smith, just finishing his first feature, American Job, fell into a conversation with Borchardt. "I was interested in what Mark was up to," says Smith, "but more than that, I was excited about his charisma. His energy and his passion to make this movie were equally exciting." Smith decided to make a documentary about Borchardt's trying to make Northwestern. The result is American Movie, a funny and inspiring film about overcoming obstacles in your life and your environment in order to realize your dream.

I sat down with these directors to talk about their projects, and walked away impressed by both of them and their potential.


What did you think of these guys when they approached you?

MARK: I was all for it, instantaneously. I had seen some of Chris' short films, I knew that he was really serious, that he was going somewhere.


I'm guessing you also saw it as a good sales opportunity. Get your name out there.

MARK: No, that was prior to the germination of all of this stuff. It could have been just a little short film he was doing.


Which do you think has turned your life around more: finishing Coven, or being in American Movie?

Mark: You know, that's a pretty damn good question, but I think both of them. Each one is integral to the other; I see it as a 50-50 split. Coven obviously can't do what American Movie can do, but if it wasn't for Coven there wouldn't be an American Movie. So it's like the chicken and the egg, man.

CHRIS: But which one has affected your life more?

MARK: If somebody put a gun to my head, I'd say Coven, because I believe that with all of my heart. That was prior to American Movie. You see what I'm saying?

CHRIS: I don't doubt it. I'm just curious.


Did being part of this project help inspire you to finish Coven, or were you already on that track?

MARK: I was already on that track. I didn't feel like I was responsible to them.


How did the production of American Movie affect the making of Coven?

MARK: To me, what they [the crew of American Movie ] were was a straight comfort zone, something most people would never have. When you're making a film, it's really lonely and frustrating. I mean, it really is. And to have somebody that has some parallel ties to you, in the same lonely, frustrating situation, questioning themselves and all of that stuff -- what a comfort zone, man. What an outer embryo, man.


One of the great people in the movie is your Uncle Bill. He seems really sharp and funny.

MARK: That was a blessing that Chris and Sarah [Price, the producer] documented.


He left you money for Northwestern. Then there's profits from this? How does that work.? Do you know yet?

MARK: That's a Chris and Sarah question.

CHRIS: I have no problem answering. You're the one who doesn't want people to know anything. Do you care? In Seattle?

MARK: I talk about money all day.

CHRIS: I thought you told me you didn't want me to say anything, in Milwaukee.

MARK: That's exactly correct. But we're in Seattle.

CHRIS: You told me specifically, "Don't let anyone know I'm getting money," because your friends are gonna be coming to your doorstep.

MARK: Damn right. In Milwaukee, right. That's what I mean, but I mean not for press-wise.

CHRIS: They don't read national stuff, right?

MARK: They wouldn't know up from down on that.

CHRIS: Basically, Sarah, me, and Mark are all getting the same percentage. Mark's kids get a percentage of the profits. His girlfriend, the mother of his kids. It's being split up between everybody. We haven't paid anybody yet because we haven't gotten all the money in, but once we figure out how much is left over, then everyone will get a check. Half of the money goes to the investment side, and half goes to the creative side.


What did you learn from each other, as filmmakers?

MARK: I just learned about those two, that they're the real deal. Not only are they professional, but they have a vision that's beyond most people. Most people would use all that time and effort to make some stupid-ass car chase film, but they said -- no, check it out -- they said, "Screw that, we'll make something interesting about this dude," and they really follow up on it and never quit, man.

CHRIS: And what did I learn about filmmaking from Mark?

MARK: Not a damn thing.

CHRIS: No, no I did. I actually learned -- well, I haven't learned it yet, but what I think... I mean, I'm not a bad person, and for the most part, I'm okay to be around, but I did lose my ability to keep things cool a few times. Mark had his mother shooting for him, he had his kid shooting for him, and they would invariably make mistakes. He would get internally frustrated, but I never saw him yell at anybody or make anybody feel bad. It's a respect that you have for people who are helping you work on your projects, and Mark had that respect at all times. For me, that's the best thing I learned.

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