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Penn Jillette is a man obsessed with what's beneath the surface of things. He and his silent partner Teller have been shining a light on the secrets of magic for decades on stage and screen. Their controversial series Penn & Teller: Bullshit made debunking its full-time mission. Even their latest doc Tim's Vermeer demystified, offering a solid and fascinating argument about how the Dutch master must have painted. So we should expect nothing less of Jillette's upcoming dip into horror, Director's Cut.
Jillette made some details of the film very public when the project began crowd-funding. In the video viewable below, he entreated his fans to chip in so he could go from "your mom's favorite atheist" to the kind of guy who inspires nightmares.
Recently, I had the chance to talk to Jillette about Director's Cut, and he surprised me by confessing it's not just a crowd-funded movie, but also "a crowd-funded movie about crowd-funding." Yup, he's going meta. He explained:
"The bad guy in the movie is a crowd-funder. So, one of the people on the site, who’s crowd-funding and writing about crowd-funding is the villain in the movie, played by me. And I am fascinated by supposedly found footage movies. I love The Blair Witch Project, I loved the way that movie happened on the internet, as opposed to happening in the theater. And crowd-funding came along and I thought, wouldn’t it be great (to tie that into a film)…
Asked how crowdfunding is changing the movie industry, Jillette offered:
"I mean, Zach Braff is kind of denying, he’s not really embracing it, and Adam Corrola is just kind of going tangental to it. The crowd-funding is this, oh, this is just a different way, we want crowd funding to be as invisible as the studio is or less visible than the studio is. This movie, we are, from the opening scene, I think the first word that I say in the voiceover is the word crowd-funding. It really embraces it. I also, I think crowd-funding is just fabulous, from both sides. The reason this movie is crowd-funding is I would invest in stuff, invest is not the right word, but I would donate to stuff. I just love it. I love the, there’s this thing that happens in sports that I never understood where people from say we’re in the Superbowl, I always go, 'What do you mean you’re in the Superbowl? You’re going to be playing?' I never understood that team thing, but with crowd-funding, I really do go, 'Hey we’re inventing a new kind of phone.'"
As to where the production is at now, they are currently casting for the female lead. To Jillette, the film's star/writer/producer, this is the film's most crucial component:
"Everybody else in the movie, every part in the movie, a zillion people can do, but the lead, really she is the hero and she’s also the victim and she’s on the screen all the time, and she has to play really herself in three different levels. She plays in the movie (Director's Cut), in another movie (the fictional one shot within the film), then in another movie (the one shot by Jillette's deranged fan). She has to be just really smart and really understand it. We’ve got people who’ve been very interested, then we’ve kind of gotten cold feet. It’s really her movie. It’s very odd to write a movie for someone and then have to cast it. I realize everybody does that, but in my life, I write stuff for myself. So I know who’s going to do it, but it’s very odd to write something to have so clear, and it’s also really hard, I mean whoever we get to do that, will really be working her ass off."
Whoever this yet-to-be-cast leading lady may be, she will likely have a long list of illustrious co-stars, many of whom are friends of Jillette. Carrot Top and Glenn Beck and Neil Gaiman, Joel Grey, Ron Jeremy and more made appearances in the crowd-funding campaign, and Jillette is confident some will return for Director's Cut cameos. He says:
"Some of those people will be popping in. I haven’t talked to him yet, but I’m sure we’ll have Teller pop in, and you know, certainly Gilbert Godfried and a few other people. Yeah, there will be cameos all through. You know, the other thing that’s so strange is that a lot of the crowd-funding people are in it, playing crowd-funding people, which is really great. There’s all sorts of scenes where the director is up in front of 50 people who have crowd-funded the movie, and those people will be played by 50 people who crowd-funded the movie."