Prince of Queer Camp, Charles Busch, once again titillates audiences with tales of cinematic collectors and dealers and sabotage, oh my! Debuting with a star-studded premiere at Outfest2021, The Sixth Reel blew audiences away at a festive screening.
This interview is part of our “Outfest 2021” coverage. Be sure to check out the other articles and keep an eye out for new content!
“It’s like the bar mitzvah I never had,” co-writer Carl Andress says as he strolls down the red carpet. Starring theater maven Charles Busch and showcasing the talents of Julie Halston, Margaret Cho, Doug Plaut, Tim Daly, Andre De Shields and more, The Sixth Reel is a campy, silly and fun time.
The Sixth Reel also marks one of the final projects from beloved producer Ash Christian. The producer of passion projects like Paper Spiders and Fat Girls (which he also wrote) the award-winning producer left a lasting mark on dozens of projects. Celebrated in touching tributes by loved ones; Thora Birch and Missi Pyle, the film opened with a bittersweet mood. Close friends Ashley Fink (Fat Girls) and Chris Colfer (Glee) were among the several that wore tearful smiles as their dearly missed was remembered fondly. The film was also screened in partnership with SAGE, an organization that focuses on the care of the elder queer community.
The film itself remains a triumphant vision of the production’s hard work. It tells the story of Jimmy (Busch), a down but not out… yet – film memorabilia collector who finds himself in possession of the fabled “sixth reel”. Highly rumored to be the last remaining reel of a Lon Chaney film London After Midnight, the reel is believed to be worth millions of dollars. Money that Jimmy desperately needs (though he is expecting a big check any day now!). Julie Halston is Helen, a matured widow who comes to NY to take care of her uncle’s estate. The uncle that died under Jimmy’s watch. Known for adapting their stage plays to the big screen, the duo of Charles Busch and Carl Andress gathered friends and reached out to people whose voices they heard while writing the script. One surprise casting was Margaret Cho whom they didn’t know before, but always had in mind for the role of Doris, a high-end and cut-throat art dealer who equally loves making deals, antagonizing Jimmy, and hogging the shrimp platter.
I had the opportunity to speak with Busch and Andress on the red carpet about filming in the middle of the pandemic and bringing this special project to screen.
The Geekiary: This film is so, so fun and right up my alley. Kind of tell me how you came to it.
Charles Busch: We hadn’t made a movie in a long long time [since 2006’s A Very Serious Person] and the movies we were trying to make cost about $20M! So I said to Carl we gotta make a movie we can shoot in people’s apartments on the cheap. Then COVID happened and we couldn’t shoot in apartments, so we had to use a studio which turned into a big movie.
Carl Andress: Yeah, when you have parameters it sort of helps you solidify and simplify. We knew we wouldn’t have a big budget so [the film] was going to be about people talking, so what are they talking about? What are the relationships? We based a lot of it on and I wanted to capture a lot of Charles and Julie Halston’s relationship. They’ve done a lot of plays together and I thought it would be really great to capture that on film. They have such a rapport that it would lend itself to a low-budget, small movie about relationships.
Busch: And – regarding the geek world, I’m very familiar with obsessive film collections. It’s a very eccentric and strange world and a ruthless one where people kill for a certain Shirley Jones photograph. So we thought it would be fun to show that sort of passion that some of these people have.
Andress: We sort of liken them to the devil worshipers in Rosemary’s Baby, obsessive you know?
Busch: I think some people would call them film history geeks, but they’re ruthless.
The Geekiary: Well that’s what sets it apart, you have “nerd” and you have “geek” and the difference really comes down to passion. That “Gotta have it” mentality.
Busch: Yeah, yeah, that’s it.
TG: Were any of the memorabilia pieces in the film based on real pieces?
Busch: I have a friend who is a big costume collector and he has Vivienne Leigh’s jacket. I did kind of hint if we could possibly borrow it for the movie and it didn’t go over well!
TG: So he was like, “hmmmm…-”
Busch: “-No!” So we had to make our own approximation. My character’s apartment is filled with a lifetime of collecting so we sort of raided our collections and everyone we knew for all their stuff.
TG: How did the pandemic affect the production and demeanor? How did you keep spirits up?
Andress: Well Margaret was a great example, we were surprised she came on because she had to quarantine two weeks before coming to set. It was October 2020 and safety was our number one concern. We had a Covid guy in making sure we were following all of the guidelines, but everyone was so excited just to be on set and working, we felt very lucky.
Busch: And no one got sick!
Andress: I’m very proud our team kept 80 people COVID free for a month.
Busch: And in October! The height of it, no vaccines, everything. Our COVID policeman, poor guys, at times we just wanted to slug him, he kept saying, ‘Six feet apart, six feet apart!’, but he kept us all safe and we’re very grateful.
The Sixth Reel is truly a fun movie filled with laughs, and fairytale ‘awww’s. Follow Busch’s website for upcoming screening information near you!
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