Indie Inspiration

Indie Inspiration: Louis CK and the Price of Total Freedom

Over the years I’ve seen Louis CK perform live in intimate bars and comedy clubs in New York and Toronto and I’ve seen him in larger theatres and on TV in his series ‘Lucky Louie‘ and ‘Louie‘. I listen to his concert performances recorded live. I always thought he was funny as hell and capable of great left turns and flights of fancy. Watching and listening to him perform now is like hearing a virtuoso play: he is well and truly in it now; his career; hit his stride; he is now a finely tuned instrument.

It’s very interesting to me that as accomplished a stand up comic as this is also such a talented filmmaker.

Although it’s a weekly half hour comedy, ‘Louie’ is not so much a TV series as much as it is a series of sometimes connected independent films.  That’s not something I’m saying because I can watch an episode and see it as his Cassavetes episode, or watch another that I see as his Woody Allen — this is absolutely what CK is doing, and he’s doing it damn near on his own.

Any half hour that is written, cast and shot in NYC by a director and his on-the-fly-style cinematographer on a RED camera, then edited by same director and delivered for $200K-$300K, is an independent film. He writes the episodes himself and does not have to submit outlines, treatments, or scripts to the company that underwrites the show, nor does he have to take their notes. They wire him the money out of which he pays for everything; he delivers a finished show.

In ‘Louie’, he cast an actress to be his date in an episode, then in a later episode set in his childhood, cast her to play his own mother. Why? Because he liked her work in both parts. His daughters on the show are played by two caucasian blonde girls, but when his ex-wife turns up in later episodes, their mother, she is played by an African-American actress. Why not? CK likes her and found this interesting — but can you imagine this happening if his show had five times the budget and was on network TV? It just wouldn’t.

This freedom he has — this total freedom — is something reserved for the very rich and famous, who can call their shots anywhere, any time — or it’s a privilege reserved for the poor and un-famous, those flying under the radar.

I’ve been working on the script for our next project and an actress I like working with, who had agreed to be part of it, got pregnant and wanted to let me know that if her pregnancy interfered with the shoot, she’d understand if I had to recast her part.

That was very reasonable of her, but I had to point out; why the hell would I want to do that? Although the role I meant for her is not written pregnant, who’s to say she couldn’t be, if the best time to shoot is during her pregnancy? Or after she has the baby, could the character be a new mother with the baby onscreen? Sure, this news meant I had to think about the options of how to handle it in the script, but to me, I’m not interested in recasting that part, I’m interested in working with that specific actress. It’s what I’m always interested in, working with good people and working with what they bring to the table.

It is our total independent status that allows us to work this way, believe me. As a regular working actress, she’s not going to be able to take a baby to set the days she works on a TV show or a commercial shoot. You can’t do that when you’re a regular actor or the Head of Wardrobe or the Property Master, or anything “below the line”. You can do it when you’re a star. Or an Executive Producer.

So what the hell would I be doing, if I engaged in the same approach? Part of what’s so great about doing our own work is that we can do it our own way.
Louis CK certainly understands this, and makes what he wants his own way. And it costs him: he would make double his ‘Louie’ money in personal fees alone if he let his show be dictated to him by a network. But that’s not what’s important to him right now; for various personal and professional reasons, right now he’s enjoying his freedom this way, and it costs him financially. But creatively and personally he’s doing exactly what he wants to be doing.

Think about that the next time you wish you had a big budget for your project.

RECENT Indie Inspiration Posts by Ardent Pictures:
Anthony Dod Mantle and The Celebration
Lena Dunham: Why Not Being Jesus Is Important
Kurt Vonnegut and Making Something Out of Nothing

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