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SxSW 2017 Interview: RAMBLIN' FREAK director Parker Smith

by Jason Whyte

"The story goes, I was trying to make a movie about driving around the country so I bought an older camcorder on eBay. It came in the mail and inside of it was a tape from the previous owner, the man with the world's biggest biceps, Gregg Valentino. So then, instead of driving around with nowhere to go, I packed up my minivan and took off from Austin, Texas to upstate New York to find him. I also brought my cat along for the ride. The film then focuses on the common ground I am forced to find between Gregg and I in order to understand why I of all people would be the one to buy his camera." Director, cinematographer, editor and SUBJECT Parker Smith on RAMBLIN' FREAK which screens at the 2017 South By Southwest Conference.

Congratulations on your film playing in Austin at SxSW this year! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

I have lived in Austin for three years but I have never been able to attend the festival. The city explodes with visitors and the restaurant where I work has always been too slammed to allow anybody to take off. Luckily, this year they took exception on me and I am going to be free most of the week to enjoy the festivities. But not entirely free; I'll actually have a shift delivering tacos the morning of my premiere. I will be off in time to attend though. I would never miss something like that.

That is probably the best response to that question I have ever heard. So how did you get into the filmmaking biz?

For a long time I have been ashamed to admit that I never finished college, but now that my film is at SXSW I feel proud to admit that I'm a three-time film school dropout. This movie is only the second thing I have made that has sound- the first being my intern video for the Austin Film Society.

Although you explained the process a bit in the introduction, how did it all come together for you?

It was inspired by a long string of things going wrong, mostly failed relationships and unfinished short films. I wanted to pack up my minivan and leave life forever, driving around the country until I figured out what to do with myself. The problem with my plan was that I was stuck with my one-year-old cat, Cat, and knew I couldn't give him up just so I could drive around and wallow in self-pity. So instead I drastically scaled down my timeline for wandering and turned the project into a movie in order to better justify my actions, both to myself and to my parents. I was gearing up for the drive and trying to find the right destination when Gregg's tape fell from the sky and into my life.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

This movie was fueled by passion. I knew once I saw the footage of Gregg that I had no choice but to see through to the end of the journey. In order to grease the wheels I had to rack up a lot of debt, taking on two credit cards a pretty hefty auto loan. From there on out it was just driving and shooting, gas station cappuccinos and fast food hamburgers.

What was your biggest challenge with making the movie, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

One of the biggest hurdles came two days after I got the go-ahead from Gregg to drive up and meet him. I was out in west Texas, trying to film a music video, when my minivan blew up in the middle of the desert. We were 400 miles from home and I had to leave the van behind. The only reason we were able to make it back that same day is because by chance there was a family from Austin heading to the same mechanic to pick up an RV they left behind in a similar situation the week prior. We begged them for a ride back. This, I should mention, all happened on my 24th birthday. Once back in Austin I had to scramble to find the proper replacement for my dead minivan.

The most rewarding moment came, I think, when the film got into SXSW. I felt as though I had been validated, and that the last two years of my life had not been spent in vain.

I am about to get technical, but tell me about how you shot the film!

The camera I bought from Gregg was an old Pansonic DVX-100B that shot on MiniDV. I quickly picked up a duplicate and some shotgun mics that mounted onto the camera body. I can't remember if this is just how I shot or if I had planned it this way, but part of the style of the film is that I'm sometimes a bumbling idiot. You've got cameras falling over, not being color balanced, stuff like that. But it's all very endearing, I hope.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

I live in Austin, so to have the film premiere here is a dream come true. I want to break into the local filmmaking scene so there's really no better way to do that than by showing at SXSW.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

I would love for it to play festivals forever, as long as I'm able to travel around and attend the screenings.

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

I went to school in Colorado so one year we took a class trip into the mountains for the Telluride Film Festival. It's a cinephile dream. You wander around a small little mountain town and bump into Werner Herzog, bump into Francis Ford Coppola, see a film at the top of a ski lift, stuff like that. I had the such an incredible weekend there my sophomore year of college, which I came back I was unable to adjust to reality. That was the first time I dropped out of film school. So I would say Telluride.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive during a movie?

I used to have to do this as a job, so I have no problem getting out of my seat and telling people to shut up.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Buy a camera and start shooting. It's that simple.

And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I saw Asghar Farhadi's A SEPARATION the last night of Telluride. I thought about it non-stop for the entire six-hour drive home. It's incredible. He's incredible.

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview as part of our coverage of SxSW 2017. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas taking place March 10-18. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/10/17 06:13:39
last updated: 03/10/17 06:18:16
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