Zoran Lisinac On ‘Along the Roadside’, the Pains of Indie Distribution
At the 2013 Mill Valley Film Festival, I talked to Zoran Lisinac, a first-time indie filmmaker who had just premiered his film, Along the Roadside. It’s a road movie with heart and humor about a young man from the Bay Area (Iman Crosson) and a colorblind German tourist (Angelina Häntsch) who, through unlikely circumstances, end up traveling together from Oakland to Southern California. Their destination is a giant music festival, but the journey that takes them there transforms them in ways neither saw coming. The film also stars Michael Madsen who plays a strange trailer park mafioso mechanic of some sort, because…Michael Madsen.
Since the last time I met with Zoran, the movie’s played at 14 festivals, and last year he signed a distribution deal for both domestic and foreign release. I caught up with Zoran to talk about the long road the movie’s taken to get to this point, what lessons he learned since we last spoke, his new film, Uploading, whether the film has had an impact in his home country of Serbia, and much more.
As a bonus, I also talked to one of the actors from the film, Danny Grozdich, a YouTube star who plays Mitts, a loose cannon method actor the duo meet on the road. At Mill Valley, I met him and wrote in a piece that he was a “charming, goofy fellow.”
Along the Roadside is available now on metakwon.com, VOD, and in select Best Buy and Barnes & Nobles stores.
It’s been about a year-and-a-half since I’ve talked to you about Along the Roadside.
Yeah, man. It’s been quite a ride. It premiered at Mill Valley in 2013 when I saw you, and since then it’s played at, like, 14 more festivals. We signed a distribution deal back in April 2014 for domestic distribution and for foreign distribution last May. We signed with Osiris Entertainment, and they’re taking the movie to Cannes this May, which is pretty cool. What we didn’t know going in was how long it takes for a fucking film to be delivered! We asked if the movie could come out last summer, and they were like, “Ehhhh….depends how fast you can deliver it.” Deliver it? What do you guys need? Then the marathon started. We needed to export the movie in a certain way, they needed seven different tracks, subtitles…and that’s just part of it. There were legal things, fights about the art, lots of stuff. The whole process took a while, and then they needed to find us a slot. It’s been a long stretch, so we’re happy it’s finally out, at least in the US.
Has it screened in Serbia?
It showed at a festival there. It was the very first screening we had publicly, back in 2013. They flew five of us there, including Michael Madsen. It was pretty scary. We had no idea how the people would react. Luckily it was great and they liked it. But after that festival, after every other public screening I would go back and shrink the film, make it shorter. I think I took out about one minute after every screening, so I ended up taking out 15 minutes of film by the end of the festival run. It’s a school for the future. Right now I’m scouting for our new film, called Uploading. It stars Timothy DelaGhetto, who’s really big on YouTube.
Right! You told me about it last time we talked. The one with all the YouTube stars.
That’s right. We’re actually in preproduction now. But my point was, now I know to screen this new film to as many people as possible! [laughs] We’re going to approach distributors before we even premiere it. Hopefully this one won’t take a year-and-a-half to come out!
The last time we spoke you talked about how you wished Serbia were a more progressive country, more open to different cultures. Has there been any conversation going on about your film? Has it helped make any change?
I’m happy that the film recently just showed there on TV in February. It was on national television. Younger kids really loved it and connected with it, whereas some of the older people thought we pushed the envelope a little too far for them. I’m happy that the youth of Serbia are more open-minded and embraced the film. I give the Internet props for that.
I don’t like all these hate crimes that have been happening in the US in the last couple months. It’s really fucking sad. I don’t know how to politicize this film. I don’t know who looks at it that way, but it actually tackles that [issue]. It’s partially a comedy, so I don’t know if people take it that seriously. I remember at Mill Valley we opened a day before 12 Years a Slave, and we were put in a similar category of films that tackled racism. 12 Years a Slave deals with it head-on, but Along the Roadside kinda pokes at it. [laughs]
Tell me more about how Uploading is shaping up.
It tells the story of a guy who becomes a vlogger after all the doors in Hollywood close on him as an actor. He falls back on YouTube and over time builds an audience. It’s kind of a coming-of-age story, but in a modern-day society where it’s that period of waiting for something to happen, to materialize. That’s why it’s called Uploading. It’s that in-between time. It’s really about relationships in modern-day society and how these invisible fans are just as real, or sometimes even more real, than real-life connections. YouTubers’ work affects people all over the world, and I think it’s really special.
It’s a new kind of relationship that didn’t exist ten years ago, you know? You can actually have a meaningful relationship with people across the world through the Internet. It explores that relationship, but also how messy it gets when real life relationships become neglected. The [main character] is broke, so he finds a job being rented as a friend on a company called FriendForRent.com. He rents himself to this socially inept game developer who has money, but doesn’t have real-life friends.
I had not seen Along the Roadside when we last met, but now I have and I enjoyed it. The lead actress, Angelina Häntsch, is very charming.
She’s a theater actress in Germany. There are a couple of people in Germany who auditioned for that part, and one of the people was this huge star. She won Best Actress at Berlin a couple of years ago. She auditioned and didn’t get the part. She didn’t feel right for the character, although she’s a great actress. Instead, we gave it to Angelina because she fit the bill. I’m really happy with what we got as a director. As a producer, my brother will forever scratch his head saying, “Man, if we had that famous actress the movie probably would have killed in Germany!” [laughs] There are compromises you have to make.
What did you think of the guy who plays Mitts?
Danny? I met him while back at Mill Valley and I wrote a piece and called him goofy!
He was so funny when I met him that I called him a “goofy fellow” in my piece, but after watching the film…Okay, I never laugh out loud when I’m by myself for some reason, but he made me laugh in the film. He’s hilarious.
He was hard to control, though. We’re friends, so it’s cool, but let me put it this way: he definitely worked around the lines. His energy comes across, and it works. Whenever we show the film, the scene when he whacks a guy for no fucking reason with a bottle—an innocent bystander—he gets a huge laugh. That’s how I know people aren’t asleep! The funny thing about him is, he graduated from law school and just said, “This isn’t for me,” and became a YouTube vlogger. To this day, his mom isn’t talking to him. [laughs]
After my chat with Zoran, I gave Danny Grozdich, the “goofy fellow” himself, a call to see what he thought of his director’s comments. He’s in the picture below, which I took when I met the guys at Mill Valley in 2013. Guess which one’s him.
I just had a great conversation with Zoran, and I have to say I’m a fan of yours after watching your performance in the movie.
Very cool! It’s better than the alternative, you know? “We’ve got nothing to talk about because you suck!”
We met over a year ago in Mill Valley, and I remember thinking you were a wacky guy, so I wrote a piece saying that you were goofy. I just watched the film recently for the first time, and I never laugh out loud when I’m alone, but you made me laugh pretty fucking hard.
That’s great! You’re feeding an ego that’s already too big. Making the movie was literally the greatest thing that’s ever come my way. I do a thing on the Internet called The Gradual Report, and I basically point a camera at my face and be funny. I have 970 videos online right now. I’ve been going at that since 2007, and I’ve got 147 million views across those videos. I started out as a stand-up comedian and…well, now that’s not true. I started out as a lawyer.
Zoran just told me that. That’s crazy.
Yeah. For a solid week a pushed that ball up the hill, and then I was like, “This can’t be life.” YouTube was invented in 2007, and I started putting stuff on YouTube because I thought I was better than everyone. One thing led to another, and here I am.
How did you hook up with Zoran?
Zoran and I are both Serbian. It’s a really small country, and when you run into someone from there, it’s like running into someone from your own neighborhood. It’s not a deep connection or anything, but it’s like, “Crazy! We’re from that same tiny spot in the world.” Zoran was looking for locations for the scene with Michael Madsen with this guy, Mitch. My mom lives in Palm Springs, so Mitch thought she might know of a place. My mom was like, “My son’s an actor!” Zoran looked at my YouTube stuff, and he said, “You were born to play Mitts.” I think Zoran told me it was the third biggest role in the script at first, and then he told me it was the fifth biggest. Then the sixth. Whatever, man! I come out okay. I’ll be fine.
I love when you smash that bottle over that poor guy’s head for no reason.
That was Zoran’s idea. The guy was an extra, and they told him he’d get a line. He was like, “My moment!” Then they told him he was going to get a bottle smashed over his head. It was made of sugar, so he thought it wouldn’t hurt at all. But apparently it does hurt! They told me the bottles were 50 bucks a piece, and we had two of them. “Don’t hold back, make sure it breaks,” they told me. So I just destroy this bottle on this guy’s head, and he hits the floor! He was really pissed. “You hit me too hard!” It wasn’t supposed to hurt, but he was really mad at me.
The movie got into a film festival in L.A., and the guy came to it. And they cut his line! The one line he had! I see him and say hi, and he just looks at me and doesn’t say a word. Just turns around and walks away. I told Zoran, “That guy’s still pissed at me!” and he said, “Yeah. We cut his line, too, so that probably didn’t help.”