Our guest blogger today is the co-director of the Los Angeles Film Festival feature Pollywogs, T. Arthur Cottam. The film is about confronting intimacy when two adult children who were childhood sweethearts are unexpectedly reunited.
Pollywogs is not the first film I co-directed.
In 11th Grade I was almost expelled by an uptight teacher for putting too many genitalia jokes in a short film I co-directed for my history class about Elliot Ness and The Untouchables. I guess that’s really where my film career began. I had made other shorts using borrowed cameras from my friends, but that was the first time I had constructed a story well enough to be able to effectively offend people without them being distracted by the filmmaking technique (or lack thereof). It was a crucial step, but also a scary one. As an A student, facing expulsion was not an appealing proposition. The principal of the school appreciated the film’s humor and technical prowess, but he unfortunately said I wouldn’t be able to receive any school credit for the project. A crushing blow to be sure, but at least I wasn’t expelled.
Years later I saw Reservoir Dogs. This was a revelation. It was Shakespearean. It had all the elements of an Aristotelian tragedy but with blood, guts and snappy modern-day dialogue. And it was set beautifully and authentically in my home town of Los Angeles. The thing that struck me the most was how daring and unapologetic it was. It affirmed that – despite how my 11th grade history teacher felt – it was OK to combine the winning combination of blood, violence and dirty jokes.
At NYU I saw lots of inspiring films from lots of talented filmmakers and that experience culminated in the creation of a film called Beer Goggles, which I wrote and directed. The film was a statement on homophobia that was sure to disturb and offend those that didn’t understand the concept of satire, irony and edgy humor. Validation came when the film was accepted into several film festivals and was inevitably overshadowed by another boundary-pushing film, the legendary Chirpy by John Goras. If you haven’t heard of it, Chirpy is a 12-minute traditionally animated film that concerns the erotic adventures of a VERY large horse and a small-but-consensual bird. It was raw. It was funny. It was disturbing. It was pornographic. It blew my mind. “You can really get away with ANYTHING in film,” I thought, “and people will praise (or at least recognize) you for it.”
This inspired me to make the improvisational short Pornographic Apathetic, which went on to win 9 awards and screen at over 80 film festivals. Ten years later, it continues to screen at various venues around the world, along with my follow-up short, Filthy Food. Although they were short, experimental comedies, they were also very personal films for me which dealt with taboo subject matter. To be recognized for taking chances with sexual material was extremely gratifying.
I was fortunate enough to win a few cash awards for Pornographic Apathetic and I decided, along with my producing partners Jim Eshom and Kent Hatch, to invest the prize money into making an improvisational feature film called Carbuncle which premiered at the Milan Film Festival. At the time, I was going to the movies every other day, watching retrospectives of Cassavetes and Truffaut, two very different filmmakers. But what inspired me the most was the effective implementation of improvisation by both filmmakers and the meticulous and seemingly effortless stylization by Truffaut. Authenticity and technique became a goal for me in both Carbuncle and in my latest feature film, Objects (currently in post-production).
When I was approached by Karl Jacob to co-direct Pollywogs, I jumped at the chance to develop and direct another improvisational drama dealing with complex sexual themes. I had directed Karl as an actor in Objects and, based on that positive experience, I knew it would be a fruitful collaboration. The sold-out premiere of Pollywogs at the Los Angeles Film Festival affirmed the validity of this decision. Although some of the edgier themes in Pollywogs changed while developing the story, its positive reception provided further validation that following the path of boundary-pushing and making riskier choices in film has it’s benefits. The seeds of which were planted in my head after seeing Miramax’s Reservoir Dogs back in 1992.
These experiences have taught me that if I don’t have a moment of panic at some point in the pre-production process; if I don’t say to myself “I can’t do this film – I’ll be ostracised”, I know that something must be wrong. I must be making choices that are too safe. I must not be challenging myself enough as a creative person. These are the elements that are essential to our growth as artists and essential to the growth of cinema.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering: Despite the teacher’s best efforts, I got an A in that 11th Grade History class. The closest I’ve come to getting “expelled” since then came when my short film Filthy Food was banned from being shown in Italy for 7 years. Coincidentally, the film will be screening next month as part of a special program on sexuality at the Lago Film Festival in Italy.
Gratification. Validation. Affirmation. Thanks Quentin Tarantino and Miramax for the Call To Action.
- Mr. White attempts to calm a severely injured Mr. Orange. In this scene: Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth)
- Eddie heads to the warehouse for damage control, but he doesn't receive a warm welcome. In this scene: Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn), Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Officer Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz)
- Confused and paranoid, Mr. White, Mr. Pink and Mr. Blonde question one another's loyalty. In this scene: Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen)
Pollywogs had two sold-out screenings at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The fest continues until the 23rd. Click here for more info.
T. Arthur Cottom Bio
Vision and style are two skills impossible to teach, and possessed by few. Through his award-winning film and video work, Mr. Cottam has displayed that he has an abundance of both. His thesis film at New York University Film School, entitled BEER GOGGLES, screened at over twenty film festivals including the Chicago and New York Underground Film Festivals and won the Best Editing award at the First Run Film Festival. His follow-up short film, PORNOGRAPHIC APATHETIC, was officially selected to over 80 film festivals around the world and won 9 awards including Best Short Film at the Milan Film Festival. Considered not only a great short film, but a legitimate work of art, PORNOGRAPHIC APATHETIC has been displayed at several museums, including the Kunsthalle in Vienna, Austria. His follow-up short film,
FILTHY FOOD, was broadcast on French television through media giant Canal+. Considered both beautiful and controversial, the film was simultaneously banned in Italy while being declared “one of the most beautiful short films of the last 20 years” by the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, one of the most prestigious short film festivals in the world.
Based on the merits of his short films, Mr. Cottam was commissioned by sought-after music producer Gregg Alexander to co-direct four music videos for the band The Not So Silent Majority along with award-winning filmmaker Evan Richards. One of the videos featured legendary choreographer Debbie Allen and dancers from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy.
Mr. Cottam has also directed the feature-length films CARBUNCLE and OBJECTS. CARBUNCLE premiered to an audience of 1000+ at the Milan Film Festival in Italy where it received rave reviews. OBJECTS is currently in post-production with Misfit Films and is already generating early buzz for its innovative style and controversial subject matter. Mr. Cottam continues to write, direct and produce short films, music videos, web series and feature films.