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The Interviews

  Norman Korpi
May 9, 2003

    Norman is most widely recognized as being an alum of MTV's THE REAL WORLD - NEW YORK, but he's much more than that.  He's also an acclaimed artist, a fan of the Burning Man Festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert and he recently became a filmmaker.
    Here's what he had to say about THE REAL WORLD, being an artist, and his new film THE WEDDING VIDEO - which is a satire of reality shows, cast with former members of THE REAL WORLD.

KATHY:  You wrote, acted in and directed THE WEDDING VIDEO, which I have to say is a very interesting film.

NORMAN:  Oh thank you very much.

What was your initial inspiration for it?

    Well, you know it's kind of funny.  The initial inspiration for it was a horror film.  They have the same structure, the stories were identical to a horror film but unfortunatly we didn't have a billion and a half dollars to do what we wanted to do so it came down to we had around ten thousand dollars so we reshaped the entire landscape of how to really tell a story about conception and reality and facilitating how the characters in THE REAL WORLD are different from the characters in the real world.
    So like the real world it was dictated to money.  It was like, okay, this is what you have, this is what you can make from it.
    Being an artist, I'm always up for a challenge.  To figure out how to create something from nothing.  And it's interesting to have all these limitations - what kind of a project and what kind of a product will come out of it.  We're ecstatic and very pleased that we were able to do all this with ten thousand dollars.

It is a distinctly reality based format - did you work from a detailed script or was the storyline and dialogue mostly ad-libbed?

    This story was a hybrid.  You know it was a very compact story - I had very definite ideas about what needed to happen and then I allowed the performers to perform and create their own characters because I wanted them to be a part of this project.  It's a bold step to make your own public persona, especially something that's perceived as you the real person.  I think each one of us from THE REAL WORLD was edited down and became characters and we're definitely reacting to that and we're kind of making fun and making light of it.  The show was so successful and reality became such a appetite for America that all we can really do is laugh at it.  To turn it around and make something from it.  All the cast has an ownership on the project.  So something like this would be a vehicle for them to actually get back a little bit of what had been exploited from them.
Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?

    You know, I'm an artist and that's what I really love about Burning Man.  Alot of my artistic talents take the form of painting, sculpture, photography and I also like to invent things.   The biggest thing that I like to do is that I'm a visionary.  I like to create a vision.  I don't really see a separation between photography, filmmaking, even accounting.  I'm more of an entrepeneur and I was in a position that I was like wow, I had all these resources with film, television, media and alot of creative people around me, what kind of project should I make or pitch to have happen?
    So, it's interesting that the first time that I saw the film, you know I've always been a painter, so working on a wall I never know people's reactions but when we had the film in a theatre they laughed and they reacted and they believed in the story.  It was a magical moment for me.  I'm not a performing artist, I've never been on stage. I'm not a trained actor but to be able to receive all that interest and excitement and emotion from an audience was really overwhelming.  It caught me off guard.  It really did.
    There's about like two other films I would like to tackle whether I would direct them or creatively produce them is, you know, to be determined.  I mean it's so fortunate that you get a film out there.  It's been extremely hard for us to get our film reviewed or have people look at it or take it seriously.  You know it's a real priveledged environment to get a film out there.
    You know, I don't know if I could do another four years under the same context but I really believe in this project and I believe in what the cast did and with Heather B's performance.  I mean, she's an incredible talent and after we went out there and said lets just try this project and see where it goes.  After I started to capture how talented she is, I mean I would give her something like thirteen pages of dialogue on the streets and she would take the dialogue, look at it, understand what I was saying and then give me more than what I had given her.  So that's a case in where I would write or act out almost an hour before what the cast was doing and they would say okay let me do my job and I would do it.  I would rewrite them.  Like from my experience when I was a production designer when I did alot of Mattel commercials I would watch as the director would direct children and they would really just feed the lines to the children right off the side of the camera and I felt like, you know, if you really studied that could be anybody.  You could feed them lines too.  So that's what I'm doing.  Looking to see if it's a believeable performance from Rachel or Heather and then feed them their lines.  They really didn't have to do the work of memorizing or any of that kind of stuff.  I would do all the work for them and I would really protect them in the edits until they were comfortable.  They're all really comfortable in front of the camera.

So as a filmmaker what do you think was the greatest obstacle you encountered?  Besides money.

    Yeah, besides money.  In fact, you know, we registered at Bank of America for the wedding because we came down to how can we make a movie around a wedding.  We couldn't guilt our parents into giving us the money for a wedding and not get married.
    For myself, the greatest difficulty was trying to get people to respect your film.  Here we'd put the film together.  We'd worked a year and eight months and edited it on video and how do you convince independent film networks and all these different film festivals to take a video when they're looking for films.
    We felt we had a message.  A message on film about a movie that wasn't a video.  The biggest obstacle was when people would see the film that they wouldn't throw it out of the vcr deck going "What the hell?  What's up with this video, it's bad, it's crazy, I don't get it blah blah blah."  That has been our hugest obstacle.  Most of the kids that happened onto THE REAL WORLD were kind of like you know, middle America, going to Blockbuster, and our audience, in order to get to our audience you have to go through very independent film circles.  It's almost impossible to crack that nut sometimes.  I think because of the gay angle it has allowed us to get into alot of Gay and Lesbian film festivals and be kind of championed.
    Other than that a huge difficulty with that was to connect to like Hollywood and convince them that there is an audience.  As someone who's gone through THE REAL WORLD, you know, I've traveled across the country.  People come up to me and they're really excited.  It was with that information that I took that there were enough people out there.  I have an audience out there and they would want to see this film.  They would understand it a little bit more, or we'd changed their lives and they would emotionally want to connect to our film because we meant something to them at some point.  But how to get it out there is a whole huge amount of work.  It was amazing that TLA, you know, found some kind of little golden nugget and even for them , you know, they're struggling to connect to the larger video market.  Usually when you have a video, it's had a theatrical, it's had alot of attention.  It had people like you review the project but because this is such anunusual creative project it's been somewhat difficult.  You know through the difficulty we're finding people who are going to champion the film and do something with it.
    We're doing this really neat thing and what we're doing on the 21st of May is that in almost 50 states we're going to have a home screening.  So from fans and film festivals people that have come to our website we're sending them a copy of the film to screen for a home screening in their home about two weeks ahead of the release date and we're going to allow them to then go online and talk about the film with their friends and neighbors.

You'll have a message board on your website?

    We're going to be setting up a message board on our website.  We're working with another website through THE REAL WORLD fanbase.

And the address is?

    Some people are just amazing.  There's this kid who has rented a theatre to show the film.  He started out with a theatre that would hold 60 people and then had to rent another theatre that will hold 350.


    Yeah.  350 people.  I mean how did that happen.  I asked how are you going to do that?  and he said don't worry about it I'll pay for it.  Then there's another group in Indiana that are doing their screening in a wedding chapel hall and have a passle of gay marriages, screen the movie and have about 500 people and so we have something like 40 other sights that are holding White Trash dinners and doing all these things to see the film.  And we're hoping that we're creating an independent way of getting the film out there.  There are so many ways for you to believe in your project and make it happen that you can't let Hollywood and these other independent sources like Sundance say no to you.  If you believe strong enough, if you've committed yourself to bring something out to make it happen.  So we're pretty amazed that the two of us, me and my partner Clint Cowen my co-director, could make this happen.
    So we've got alot of different press to link up and go to some of these different places.  We screened at the Philadephia International Film Festival and it wasn't heavily promoted so you know people came in (laughs) and our theatre was full which was great.  And people were dressed up and we got like in the ninety percent like rating of the film festival which shocked me.

Wow, that's great.  Did you have any difficulty getting everyone, the cast members, together in one place at one time?

    We did have to work around alot of people's schedules.  Just that in itself is a testimony.  Most of THE REAL WORLD cast members have their own money and they flew in.  We helped out some other ones that couldn't fly in with their own money, but I worked around a group of people that I felt could potentially benefit from seeing themself in a kind of dramatic role, or see themselves in a role that's different from THE REAL WORLD.  Especially people like Heather B.  A way to recognize her talent and that this could be a doorway and like the film for me this could be a way to direct another project or to choose another project or open a door to present to the public that we weren't just lucky people that won a contest and wound up on THE REAL WORLD.  They actually sought us out because we're very creatively talented people and I wanted to really bring that message out in public.

Your cast, as in THE REAL WORLD, is a very diverse group.

I think that's one of the successes of THE REAL WORLD is it's diversity.  It's a draw to people that they can see other people like themselves on the show and it's different because it's not very easy to have such a diverse group and have it be believeable.  Most scripted films aren't able to capture that.

Do you think overall, that being a REAL WORLD alum has been a positive or a negative experience?

    It's had its positive years and its negative years.  It depends.  Like some years it was re-run and re-run, like for the first five years it was kind of difficult for me.  I was turned into this celebrity without really having the proper talent to back up that celebrity-ism.  I felt kind of naked and kind of awkward.  And I felt that its size had grown to a point where I couldn't control it and I wasn't getting anything from it and I felt that at that point you're being abused.  You know, they're running a business and I don't want to knock them down because they've made a project but the fact that they've become successful and we don't share in that success, it becomes kind of hurtful.  What does it mean when they're successful and I'm not.  It starts to wreck a little havoc with yourself.  It lead me to express that with this project.  I was able to create something where I felt I was commenting on an experience that I had.

If you had an opportunity to go back in time and be offered the opportunity to be a REAL WORLD cast member, would you do it?      

    You know, I don't have any regrets but knowing what the show is, um, I don't know if I would do it again.  When the show was pitched to us, because we had no idea, it was going to be a documentary about seven artists living in New York City.  We didn't know it was going to be a soap opera.  We thought it was going to go into issues of what it's like to be a painter or a musician.  It has that aspect to the show and it has that kind of color to it but it ultimately became more about banking from it.  You know I'm not really too driven to be famous and it  has been difficult.  You know, I grew up in Michigan and it's always been very important for me to create visions for people.  The current path of how the show is is it's very fame oriented and I feel weird to be in that.  I kind of feel like a dolphin who got scooped up a net and I've just been flopping around in there for awhile.

We've got to get you back in the water.

    That's why I thought I'd create this project and throw it out there, hoping to gain a little more visability on it.  We've done a really good job and it's funny that we had this all together last year for about a year and a half at film festivals trying to make that connection and all your bigger companies to let it out theatrically and they went "Oh, no, not a reality movie" and now we've got all these reality movies coming out you know.
    I really think it has a longevity.  A lot of universities have approached us about screening this in the fall and talking to the kids about this is what we did with a limited amount of resources.

Do you still do alot of painting?

    (laughs)  I have an art show with Rosanne Barr tonight.

You do?!

    Yes I do.  It's kind of funny because she's taping a segment of her reality show.  It's at a gallery here in Los Angeles and last spring I sold half the show out and Home Expo, a division of Home Depot, picked up six of my paintings for reproduction.  This other gallery represents my artwork and they place it in television and film sets.  

So, what's next on the horizon for Norman Korpi?

    There's a couple of things on the horizon.  Last year I started working on a play with Heather B which is like an urban Chitty Chitty Bang Bang meets Grease about a crazy car.  It's a story about being second best.  So we're going to see what we can do about that story.  There's also a television pilot that I put together a few months ago that I'm trying to shop around about actors in their first blockbuster films and their first experience.  So it will be a half hour documentaries on them.  It's a very kind of fun, uplifting television show that sort of pokes a little fun at all the documentary shows out there.    

That sounds fun.