[Boston Underground Film Festival] Interviews: Director Orson Oblowitz & Actress Rosemary Hochschild Talk About Their Revenge Thriller The Queen of Hollywood Blvd

The Queen of Hollywood Blvd screens at BUFF on March 23rd

The Queen of Hollywood Blvd, a feature film directed by Orson Oblowitz, is set to appear at the Boston Underground Film Festival

Shot through the lens of writer-director Orson Oblowitz’s self-aware male gaze, The Queen of Hollywood Blvd. is an audacious female-centric revenge flick swathed in faded neon, religious iconography, and leopard prints. The mesmerizing soundtrack spans vintage R&B to Bobby Beausoleil (yes, that Bobby Beausoleil). Even in daylight, it oozes that quintessential Hollywood-After-Dark aesthetic. If you’ve come for blood, breasts, and a bokeh-ed glimpse into Los Angeles’ rapidly disappearing underbelly, you will be wholly satisfied.

If you’ve come for a searing, Fassbinder-esque takedown of capitalism and third-wave feminism, you’re also in the right place. Strip club matriarch Queen Mary (Oblowitz’s real-life mother Rosemary Hochschild) has spent the three decades leaning in. But on her 60th birthday, a gangster from her past informs her the business she built was never actually hers. They’ve also taken her son, Otto (Oblowitz). If she wants to see him again and repay an old “debt,” all she has to do is knock off a snitch and hand over her keys to the club.

The Queen embarks on a survival strategy to save her son and her legacy. She encounters forgotten enemies and visits old friends, notably the ailing, drug-addled Chet — played by genre legend Michael Parks in his final on-screen performance. Desperation mounts and the sun sets, but Queen Mary remains steadfast in refusal of the disposability foisted upon her.

While her steely resolve never falters, the Queen’s unwavering belief in the American Dream crumbles. “I’ve had the opportunity to play businesswoman, teacher, mother, lover, gangster,” she tells her party guests. She’s lived entirely on her own terms — only to discover her biggest mistake was not thanking men for the “opportunity” to meet every demand life made of her. Mary may be the Queen of Hollywood Blvd., but she resides in the mind and experience of every headstrong woman you’ve ever met.

Ahead of BUFF, we had the opportunity to speak with director Orson Oblowitz and actress Rosemary Hochschild about the film.

Orson Oblowitz

TMS: First off, can you provide us with a little bit of background information. Did you always want to be involved in filmmaking? What type of training or schooling did you have?

Orson: My father and mother made underground films in the 80s New York No Wave scene and I think that had a great impact on me. My interest in film evolved from photography which was my first love. I went to Emerson College in Boston, MA and received a BFA in Film and Media studies.

TMSDid you have a lot of support when you decided to get into filmmaking?

OrsonMy dad told me it was a terrible idea and to become a lawyer, hahah. My mom really supported it and eventually when my dad realized i was going to do it no matter what, he came around. He and I have actually worked on several documentaries together which have been great experiences. W

TMS: What’s up with The Queen of Hollywood Boulevard? Besides BUFF, where can people see it? And what do you want them to know about the movie?

OrsonIt is having its world premiere at BUFF and will come out late summer. We are going to do a theatrical run, DVD, streaming, all that good stuff. I want people to know that this film is made with love and blood and that everyone worked extremely hard to make this happen.

TMSWhat was the inspiration behind this story?

OrsonDamn, that's a hard one. In all honestly, I was going through a very contemplative dark moment in my life. My best friend had died and I didn't really know how to deal with it. This film was me trying to exorcise my emotions at the time. As well, it is a pastiche of all my favorite films that had influenced me.

TMSHow long did it take to get out that initial draft?

OrsonI wrote the initial draft in a month. I finished the first draft on my 27th birthday.

TMSHow much did the script change over the course of the next few drafts?

OrsonA lot. It was mercurial all the way through the editing process.

TMSIs there anything you found more challenging when penning the screenplay?

OrsonBeing open minded to critique and notes was definitely a learning experience. But I find that some of the best moments in the film came from people challenging the screenplay and helped it evolve.

TMSThe movie contains an interesting cast of strange and wonderful characters. Where there any real-life inspirations that you drew from when creating them?

OrsonI actually had spent years documenting and photographing characters along Hollywood Blvd. where I live. A lot of the characters were based off real life people I had photographed and inspired me.

TMSHow long of a shoot was it?

Orson14 days

TMSHow did you come about finding and securing your filming locations? What’s the story of the strip club, is that a real location?

OrsonI think we shot over 20 locations for this film. We just did it old school, the city is your stage type of attitude. A lot of rules got bent to make this film happen. I think that energy comes through in the final product. It is definitely a real strip club and there is no place quite like it. My producers and I must have scouted 20-30 strip clubs, It was a trip. I mean we really went into to some seedy joints. I actually found the club we shot in from a friend's Instagram account. My DP Luke Hanlein and I drove over there and in my broken Spanish we offered them cash to secure the dates for the location.

TMSRosemary Hochschild is terrific as Queen Mary. How was she ultimately cast? Was there anyone else that you had in mind initially for the role?

OrsonHaha, the film was written for her...I mean...She is my mother. There's a lot of our personal history in there. I'm sure Freud would have a field day with this film, haha. She absolutely killed the role though. I'm so impressed with her performance. She exceeded all expectations.

TMSHow were the other main actors selected?

OrsonIt was a very organic process. To be honest living in LA, you are surrounded by immense talent. Besides the role of Grace, we didn't really hold auditions. Ana Mulvoy Ten came in and just blew us away. She is such a pro. For some of the other roles we just cold called the actors. I have been a Roger Guenveur Smith fan since I saw Do The Right Thing and especially his one man show as Huey Newton, So it was such an honor when he said yes. I'll never forget when he first spoke his lines, it was literally the voice in my head when I wrote the script. Jon Lindstrom is an old friend and he came aboard, same with Jon Sklaroff. Ella Thomas read the script and we met and she just really got the role. Christa Fuller is a friend of mine and she reprises her role from The Madonna and The Dragon, which her late husband Sam Fuller made. One of my all time heroes.

TMSThis was Michael Parks final role and it’s both sad and wonderful seeing him on the screen. Can you talk a little about his performance and how he came to appear in the film.

OrsonJon Sklaroff is writing partners with Michael's son James. He sent Parks the script, Parks called me up and said "No." because the character originally sang and he couldn't sing at the time for health reasons. (I still have the voicemail of him turning me down saved.) So I rewrote the part using the reality of the situation, that he couldn't sing anymore. Parks said Yes. I mean, that one day filming Michael Parks is the highlight of my whole artistic career. What a beast of an actor. So sensitive and strong. I could go on for days. I'm honored. The crew was tearing up at a point watching him perform.

TMSDid you adjust any of the script after the actors were there?

OrsonOh yes definitely. They all brought their own elements to the film. I'm really open minded about that stuff. I don't want the script to feel stale.

TMSIn terms of directing choices, anyone that you try to emulate? Or ones that have influenced you?

OrsonHaha, I mean there's so many. William Friedkin, Sam Fuller, Fritz Lang, Fassbinder, Argento are some of them. But honestly at a point all the influences go out the window and I just am trying to keep my head above water and make our day.

TMSThe film has a very gritty style reminiscent of exploitation and grindhouse cinema from the '70s. What made you choose that style and were there any specific films that influenced the style?

OrsonIn all honestly I'm not sure it was as much a choice, as we just made the film in the same way. We had very little money and time, so we had to offset that with energy and style. There are definitely stylistic motifs I reference, the pop titles in Dead Pigeon on Beethoven St, or the cabaret scenes from Lola by Fassbinder. A list of some of the 70s films that influenced me would be: Hardcore (1979), The Lady In Red (1979), Obsession (1976), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) The Killing of A Chinese Bookie (1976) Mikey and Nikey (1976)

TMSThe imagery and cinematography are so evocative. How much of that was written into the script as opposed to pieced together on set and through the editing process?

OrsonA lot of it was written in the script and a lot came out from being on location with my DP Luke Hanlein. In the edit we relied on stylized transitions heavily, because we knew the film technique had to mirror the psychosis inside Mary's head.

TMSThe score and soundtrack is mesmerizing. Can you talk about how it all came together and how closely you worked with the composer.

OrsonThere are two composers on the film. One is Daniel De Lara, who was my college roommate. We always wanted to work together and he came to LA watched the film and suddenly just sent me a ton of music. It was amazing. Such a distinct sound. He's an unreal musician. Then, there is Hermann Kopp. Kopp scored the Nekromantik films for Jorg Buttgereit, as well as Der Todesking, which is just a phenomenal film and score. I approached him about licensing one of his songs, and he watched the film and sent me back a whole score. It was mesmerizing. Between Danny and Hermann I'm so in love with the score and grateful. The needle drops are a whole other story. There are subversive elements to them, one of them being Bobby Beausoleil's Lucifer Rising Suite. I worked very closely with my music supervisor Jacob Nathan to create a distinct timeless soundtrack, that was reminiscent of films I love and wouldn't break the bank.

TMSWhy do you think revenge films are so popular?

OrsonI think every person has felt wronged in some sort of way by someone else and would love to get revenge upon them in some way. Revenge films give people that catharsis without having to pay a consequence.

TMSThe film features a strong, older female character in the lead role, one that would have been typically cast using an aging male actor. With the recent changes in Hollywood, do you foresee more films like this being made?

OrsonI think there's a very important correction going on in Hollywood right now and I really hope more badass female roles come out of it. Sadly, I still feel that people are being relegated to roles that are more caricature rather then empowering, and if they don't fit into the Hollywood Disneyfied model of 'good and evil' then no one wants to show them...Hollywood needs to let more people get weird on screen. I mean Jesus, we have YouTube, what is there to hide anymore?

TMSLow budget film productions have been historically known for being difficult and demanding. How was this production on the cast and crew? Any challenges or funny stories?

OrsonI honestly couldn't have had a more gangster crew then this one. Everyone on there just threw the rules out the window and went on the ride. There was a really strong vibe between everyone. I mean, we did an illegal car chase throughout Downtown Los Angeles (it didn't make it into the final cut) and we also shot guerrilla on the subways, with my DP using a dog carrier to hide the camera while filming (pro tip). As well, we were filming a scene in a 1969 pristine Cadillac on the 101 freeway in the middle of the night, and suddenly the engine overheats and smoke starts pouring out of the hood. Here we are stuck on the side of the freeway in the middle of the night, My mother, Grace, and myself. It was such a mess. We couldn't stop laughing though.

TMSIs there anything you learned from filming The Queen of Hollywood?

OrsonIt was an unreal learning experience. I think one of the things I learned, and this is with a lot of hindsight now, is that you can't be precious. Some ideas seem really good when they are in your head, but sometimes they just don't work and hurt the film and you gotta be ruthless in the edit.

TMSIf the movie was playing as one-half of a double feature at a Drive-in theatre what would be the perfect support feature?

OrsonThis is a hard one, I'm indecisive so I'll pick three. Either Hardcore (1979) Gloria (1980) or Lola (1981)

TMSIf you had a choice to remake a genre movie, what movie would you like to remake?

OrsonOh wow, I don't want to step on hallowed ground with this one... Maybe Night Of The Juggler with James Brolin...It's just a foot chase over the course of one day from one side of NYC to the other. Such a great intense thriller.

TMS: Are there any people or films that you’re looking forward to seeing at BUFF?

OrsonHonestly this is one badass lineup, I'm sad I'm missing Liquid Sky, that film is still ahead of its time. The Ranger by Jenn Wexler I'm hoping to check out. Let The Corpses Tan looks great, I really liked The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears so I'm interested to see their new flick.

TMSCan you tell us anything about the other projects that you are working on or planning on working on? Or, anything else that you would like to plug?

OrsonI just finished post-production on my latest feature Hell Is Where The Home Is. It is a contained thriller starring Angela Trimbur, Janel Parrish, and Fairuza Balk. It's a really wild ride and kind of a spin on the slasher genre. 

Rosemary Hochschild   

TMSFirst off, can you provide us with a little bit of background information. Did you always want to act?

Rosemary: Before I discovered acting, the imaginary world had always been a safe place for me to retreat to as a child. As young as I can remember I found solace in reciting poetry, dancing, reading and later on the segway into theatre and film was spontaneous. Like Martha Graham says; You dance because you have to. I had to act. Funnily, the first time my mother took me to the theatre, I was 10 years old, to see Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison perform in My Fair Lady. Hypnotized and mesmerized I spent two hours gazing at the twinkling stars on the painted ceiling of the theatre. It was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. I was sold.

TMSDid you have a lot of support when you decided to get into acting?

Rosemary: My mother refused to pay for me to study acting at College. it was not an option. I was 17. It was the early 70’s. South Africa was in political turmoil. We were fighting for equality. I became involved with the experimental Space Theatre in Cape Town. We were like minded. Actors making revolutionary theatre. We all supported each other and the cause.

TMSWhat do you want people to know about the movie?

Rosemary: It is a fatalistic reflection of our time. Life is fragile. Often without redemption. Orson is my son and Never in my wildest dreams did it cross my mind that we would work together artistically in the way we did.

TMSWhat attracted you to the project? How did you end up being cast? Did you go through an audition process?

Rosemary: Orson wrote the role for me. Our life together before Queen was a dress rehearsal for the neo-noir road he was directing us down-down.

TMSCan you talk about any pre-production conversations that you had with director Orson Oblowitz about your portrayal of Queen Was there any rehearsals prior to the shoot? Did you spend a lot of time working with him on how you would portray the character.

Rosemary: Orson spent 3 months rehearsing with me, prior to the shoot. We would meet in my apartment in Los Feliz. A large majority of the time was spent on my character and slowing down my speech patterns. I also spent some time frequenting strip clubs and interviewing the owners of these establishments. Research was a key element in my process. 

TMSWhy do you think revenge films are so popular?

Rosemary: Because they show conflict and the human condition and hopefully take you on the ride of your life…….pull you in and spit you out!