It took her five years, but writer-director-producer Linda Yellen has finally completed Dennis Hopper‘s final film.
Yellen, whose credits include the 2000 film “The Simian Line” with Lynn Redgrave, was well into production on the indie comedy “The Last Film Festival” in May 2010 when the beloved actor died of prostate cancer. Hopper still had several key shooting days to complete in the lead role as a once-great Hollywood producer stuck in a small-town film festival.
After shelving the project for several years, Yellen was struck by inspiration on how to fix the gaps in the narrative. She raised more than $100,000 on Kickstarter, faced down major technical challenges and earlier this month put the finishing touches on a revised cut of the film, which also stars Jacqueline Bisset, Joseph Cross, Chris Kattan and Leelee Sobieski.
Now she’s ready to shop the project to festivals, sales agents and distributors — and to share an exclusive scene with Hopper and Bisset. (See video above.)
Yellen spoke to TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman about working with Hopper and the long journey to completing his final work.
What is the film about?
This is a great hurrah story of a once-great producer played by Dennis Hopper, Nick Twain, and he’s made the biggest flop of his whole career. It’s his last chance to turn it around. The only place that will take the film is this new festival in a small imaginary town — O-hi, Ohio, where prior to this the biggest thing was having the largest ball of yarn.
So he goes out there, bringing along with him Hollywood’s most desperate — his ex wife, an Italian sex goddess, played by Jackie Bisset in a role like you’ve never seen her — his young girlfriend, played Katrina Bowden (“30 Rock”), and his shallow junior agent, played by Joseph Cross. And he brings the arrogant director of the film.
When they’re there, personalities collide, energies collide with small town behavior.
Did you want Dennis Hopper for this role?
The way it began was seven years ago at Sundance, I met him for the first time. It was a very crowded cocktail party, and as I was talking to him, people kept moving closer to him to listen to every word. I was surprised that he knew my work, and flattered.
I looked around and said, “This is the best film festival in the world. Imagine what it’s like at the worst.” He said, “That’s a great, funny idea, kid. You write it and I’ll do it.”
So I set out to write the script, and sure enough it came together. We had a limited window of time because he was so busy, the other actors were so busy. This was 2010.
He visited Italy and when he came back he said he didn’t feel well. He still had a sequence of scenes to shoot. It was prostate cancer. He went back to L.A. to see what could be done — nothing could be done. So he wasted away in a few months. He died in May 2010.
So you were never able to finish those scenes?
So what did you do?
Dennis’ shadow hung over this. He was very much like the character he plays — as a film maverick. You do everything in your power to protect the film.
Early on, when he died, a lot of really sleazy people wanted to come and release it right away, even though it was unfinished. They wanted to capitalize on his passing, and I wouldn’t do that. So we all went off in different directions, and it languished. I couldn’t figure out how to finish it.
Every so often a Google alert would come up for “Dennis Hopper whatever happened to his final film?” — and I would feel horrible.
You set the film aside for four years?
Yes. Everyone was upset. But what do you do with an incomplete film? And then another producer died.
Finally, a year ago, I saw an article that asked, “Where is this missing film?” I watched (the cut) again and I knew with exact clarity how to finish it.
We knew what to do but we didn’t have the money to do it. So we did a Kickstarter campaign — and it was spectacular the way people all over the world came to the cause. We raised almost $110,000.
How did you write around Dennis being missing?
I think we did a really good job of solving the problems of the holes in the film. He’s so good in it, he’s so alive in it. And I’m very happy and excited by the film.
What was the biggest challenge?
All the digital footage was stored on drives. Those drives don’t connect with editing equipment today. The drives were corrupted and when we had to do the master, we had to transfer every shot by hand using a six-key system of typing so the new technology would read the files from a low-res system. It took a great deal of time for some tech genius in Canada to do that.
It was such a lesson for filmmakers. People need to be aware that obsolescence of technology is happening. One piece of equipment doesn’t speak to another.
Are you going to try and launch the film at a festival?
It’s so new, we want to explore film festivals, sales agents, and of course distributors. I just finished the film last Friday.
What was it like to direct Dennis Hopper?
Because we were on a limited budget, there was a lot of material. One of our first days I gave him eight pages of scenes to do, and that was our only conflict. As soon as I realized that, it was just wonderful. We really saw eye to eye. Neither he nor I wanted to stop for lunch. So we would take long walks during the hour-long lunch break — and we agreed to talk about anything but the movie.
The walks I cherish more than anything.
I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard at anything, and I felt the obligation to protect the film, and protect his memory.