The Deuce Notebook: Abel Ferrara Talks Moviemaking in Fear City

The Deuce Film Series & Sean Price Williams talk to Abel Ferrara about "The Driller Killer" & take a tour of the Times Square Theatre.
The Deuce Film Series

Illustration by Jeff Cashvan


Welcome back to The Deuce Notebook, a collaboration between MUBI's Notebook and The Deuce Film Series, our monthly event at Nitehawk Williamsburg that excavates the facts and fantasies of cinema's most infamous block in the world: 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. For each screening, my co-hosts and I pick a flick that we think embodies the era of all-night moviegoing down the “Flamboyant Floodway,” and present the theater at which it premiered.

Back in October 2013, for our second screening at Nitehawk, we presented Abel Ferrara’s second feature—so, we thought for our second MUBI column we would feature the film a second time. You dig?

Every screening concludes with our 'famous' raffle, the grand prize of which is always an original poster by the 'Maestro’ Jeff Cashvan. Enter for your chance to win Jeff’s one-sheet above by shooting us an email and saying ciao:

Forthwith, an extra special treat for our sophomore effort here at MUBI…

—The Deuce Jockeys

The opening title card to Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer.

The name Abel Ferrara is synonymous with New York City indie thrillers of the 80s and 90s. His movies about vigilante anti-heroes, junkie cops, black market tycoons, go-go vixens, and deranged serial killers evolved into a genre all their own - bleak, dystopian, and shocking, yet sophisticated, with a sinister sense of humor. Films like Fear City, Bad Lieutenant, King of New York, and The Addiction prove Ferrara’s singular fever-vision, employing a roster of local talent like Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Wesley Snipes, and Lili Taylor. Ferrara creates unforgettable, haunting images that linger long after the projector bulb goes out.

After his debut, the X-rated 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy, Ferrara made The Driller Killer to avoid any future in the adult film industry. Casting himself as lead "Reno Miller," Ferrara’s descent into madness is harrowing, hilarious… and understandable: he's tormented by spaced-out deadbeat roomies, obnoxious post-punk racket-making neighbors, a relentlessly badgering landlord, and an insufferably uppity art dealer. Plus, the phone’s about to get shut off. We’ve all been there, but most of us don’t end up slaughtering bums on the Bowery. The Driller Killer depicts a pre-gentrified Lower East Side, when the East Village more closely resembled post-WWII Berlin and Alphabet City was the "Heroin Capital of the World," provoking the infamous cautionary description of its Avenues, from west to east: “Avenue A, you’re Alright; B, you’re Brave; C, your Crazy; D, you’re Dead.” The Lower East Side may have been dilapidated and depressed, but it's still Manhattan, forever obsessed with money, money, money… as Reno Miller snaps early on: “The sound of that word drives me crazy.” And boy does it.

The ad for The Driller Killer’s two-day run in The Daily News.

The Driller Killer surfaced throughout the 80s at drive-ins and arthouse midnight screenings, was shamed by the UK’s notorious ‘Video Nasties’ blacklist, and is now a cult classic. The Driller Killer screened with B-pic Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger at the Times Square Theatre on only two days—Wednesday, December 12 and Thursday, December 13, 1979. At that time, the Times Square operated a half-week schedule for its double bills: one pair played from Fridays through Tuesdays, the next couple was threaded up on Wednesdays and Thursdays. (This was an anomaly on the block; earlier in the week, the Times Square paired Uncle Tom’s Cabin with Black Heat.) The Driller Killer was in good company those mid-December nights: next door, the Lyric screened Star Trek with End of the World; across the street, the Liberty ran And Justice For All and Midnight Express; and the dank Anco at the far western end of 42nd projected Last House on the Left Part 2 with Slaughter Hotel. Remarkably, the adult-only Victory Theatre showed 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy the following week, on December 17 and 18… Coincidence? Or savvy programming from some smartass in-the-know booking agent??

Take a trip through the Times Square Theatre, with your ‘Tour Guide" Andy McCarthy below:

Abel Ferrara has been living in Italy on and off for the past two decades, permanently relocating to Rome in 2013. His latest film, Zeroes and Ones, stars Ethan Hawke and was shot by our buddy Sean Price Williams. The Deuce Notebook is grateful to present the following conversation with Sean and Abel about his early days of filmmaking and the transition from adult cinema to legit, big-budgeted features. Sean caught up with Abel on April 7, 2021, in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, just east of the Colosseum. A huge thank you to both gents!  Godete!

—Above text and interview edited by Joseph A. Berger

—Special thanks to David White for the transcription!

The north side of West 42nd Street by Langdon Clay, 1979.

ABEL FERRARA: You’re in the middle of the street—this is 42nd Street and Broadway… One side of the street was a Charles Bronson-triple bill. And on the other side of the street was… The Omen. The Omen had just come out. [laughs]  And they’re pulling this one kid from one side to the other, and the kid’s screaming “I gotta see my man Bronson!” And the other guy goes “No, The Omen will kill you! The Omen will KILL you!” And he’s like dragging him in, the other guy’s like “No man, I gotta see my man Bronson!”  “But The Omen will KILLLLL you.” I forget which one they ended up going to. [laughs]

SEAN PRICE WILLIAMS: So you were going to the movies on 42nd Street? 

FERRARA: These were the theaters, dude, where like, this was the halfway house from the prison, right? So, when you get out of prison, this is like your office where you can sell drugs… You buy a ticket to the theater, theaters open 24 hours, and for $5 a day, you had an office on 42nd Street. And, you know, the movies would play all day long, so they’d go and make their deals, do their fucking shit, but come back and watch the movies. After a week, being in a movie theater with the same movie playing all day, they knew EVERY line in the movie. Every fucking line. They’d sit there and scream out all the dialogue. Like forget it, if this was in France—you can’t make a noise in a theater in Paris. The three times I went to movies in Paris, I had to leave every time. They basically asked me to leave cause I’m, like, making noises. Like forget it, if you laugh at a comedy they throw you out in Paris.

WILLIAMS: When did you move back into the city? From upstate, right?

FERRARA: It was ’75 when we came to New York. I was gradually getting closer and closer to the city. Peekskill, then I went to school at Purchase, then I was living in Nyack, which was as close to some kind of bohemia…. and then I moved downtown. That was a shock. Irving Place.

WILLIAMS: That was your first stop in the city.

FERRARA: Yeah. Always around Union Square because Joey’s [Delia] brother was a photographer, he had the loft, he needed a photographer’s studio, he needed the space. And in ’75 you can actually get space there. For us, Soho was like in fucking Staten Island, you know what I mean? We stayed around 8th St., the Village… but really, below Houston, below Canal, was out of the question.

WILLIAMS: It wasn’t called the East Village, then right? It was the Lower East Side…

FERRARA: I didn’t even go to Alphabet City. I never set foot in Alphabet City in my life until I was a hardcore drug addict. Rivington Street—a cop once told me: “Your chances of getting mugged on this street are 100%,” he said, “so you don’t have to worry going there, you don’t have to be nervous. Because you’re definitely gonna get mugged. So go down there and enjoy the experience.” So, it was in the Village when we jumped right into the X-rated things and made a porno, 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy.

East 5th Street in 1980.

WILLIAMS: You did that for artistic reasons? Or to make some money, or… ?

FERRARA: It was our entrance into the film business. We were sick of shooting on 16mm. We’re out of college, we ain’t going to Hollywood, we don’t know any Hollywood people, we know gangsters. How do you get into Hollywood? Your family introduces you to people who are already in Hollywood. Did you read the Woody Allen book? Ok, how did he get there? "Oh, there’s the kid who tells jokes…” You know, I mean, we got out of school, we were down in New York, we didn't have no connections… we got gangsters -

WILLIAMS: That’s a good connection [laughs]. What was your dad doing? Business-wise…

FERRARA: Business-wise, he was in the scrap metal business. He eventually became legit. But when we first grew up in the Bronx, you know, my old man got into some serious shit. Like, you know when you go to the movies, and they say, “We’re gonna kill your wife and kids...”? Well, my mother and me and my sisters were the wife and kids, okay? And my old man, like, it dawned on him - okay, let me drop this for now… And, you know, he became like a regular guy.

WILLIAMS: And you moved Upstate.

FERRARA: Yeah, we moved upstate, which is a joke, it's only an hour away, but it was like going to another planet. And my father became a normal human being, as normal as he could be. So it was all of a sudden idyllic. I mean, I had an ideal childhood anyway, because, growing up in the Bronx, I had like 50 extended family members within a four block radius, my cousins here, my uncles there… everybody’s named Abel because my grandfather was named Abel. So it was cool. But then going to the country… Peekskill is country as shit, bro. It's where I met Nicky [Nicholas St. John].

WILLIAMS: You and Nicky were school friends? Did you have a common interest or was it just like riding bikes and being kids?

FERRARA: Yeah, I met him when I was 14 years old… and he was already Nicky—we were knuckleheads, and he was like playing Hank Williams, listening to Dylan… We were like total idiots, and he was writing, he was painting… he was like Pasolini.

WILLIAMS: Those short films, The Hold-Up and Could This Be Love, were you still in school doing that stuff?

FERRARA: This was Vietnam. So these guys I'm in high school with, they're all coming back fucked up, dead… it'd be like, once a month, somebody got killed. You know, it was a real nightmare. And the only way you can stay out of it was to go to college. I didn't want to go, because I was a terrible student and I’d had enough of school. But also, it was the only place you had the equipment.

WILLIAMS: Right. Yeah, I moved to Baltimore, because that was the only way to get my hands on 16mm. But back to 9 Lives - you were sick of 16mm…

FERRARA: Yeah, we had enough man. So we're trying to get into the legit film business and can't anywhere. Can’t get a job, can’t get anything. And you know, the opportunity was—like, you'd watch these guys make a film called Deep Throat—the director was basically a beautician from the Bronx. They made a film for $25,000 that did millions at the box office. It's like, wait a minute, we can do that.

Deep Throat raked in the big bucks at the World Theatre on 49th Street and 7th Avenue.

WILLIAMS: You didn’t know anybody in the adult film business…?

FERRARA: I knew friends of my father, and then they ran the business, but I didn't really know that. It was two guys: there was a Detroit gangster named Arthur Weisberg—anybody who thinks Jewish guys aren’t tough should meet this guy. He was a businessman, the real McCoy. He became the producer of Driller Killer and Ms .45. Weisberg had a partner named Mickey and these guys made movies, you know? And it's not like LA or Hollywood and those film’s box office gross - they don't own the theaters, because they can’t. These gangsters - they owned the porn theaters. In the old days, you'd stand across the street, you’d count how many people would go in and the money they ripped from each ticket: the kid who sold the ticket, that'd be one rip… then the manager of the theater, that was another rip. You know what I mean? Even Hollywood with their big grossing films, they’d get ripped off by every kid that’s working for them. But these gangsters who owned the porno houses - nobody took one fucking cent from them...

So now we had to go make an X-rated film: we just had our girlfriends and we're gonna do it as an artistic project. We need $25,000 to make this movie, right? So my father introduces me to guys who’re in the business of making millions. This one wise guy says “I'm not putting up the money, tell your father to put up the money, and we'll make sure he gets it back.” Because it was like… gangster shit. Like, the guy wasn't going to put up the money, but he would “make sure the guy got it back.” All right. So my father theoretically gives us $25,000. Now, my old man was one of those guys—he’d guilt the shit out of you—especially after 9 Lives, like 1979/80, we’re going to LA to make Ms .45—“You guys go to Hollywood, I'm stuck in Peekskill, I never got my money back, what’re you guys doing to me?” You know? Like, you gotta have an Italian father like this who knows how to torture everybody.

Okay, so the two lessons in life from my dad and uncles that I grew up with—one: my uncles and my father, they always had a signed blank check that I would have to keep on me or in a drawer. And my uncles would say, “Anything fucking happens to me, you don’t worry about the ambulance comin' to get me. You take that fucking check, go to the bank, and take all the money out.” [laughs] Every fucking… like it’d be a drill. “Okay, you know where that check is?” “Yeah, I know where the check is, Uncle.” We’d remember who the fuck he is and go and get his money out.

And two: “If anything happens to me, you don't owe anybody anything.” Okay, this was drilled into my head by my father and my uncles, you understand. “If anything happens to me, you don't owe anybody anything.” Right?

Meanwhile, my father was doing well in Peekskill, the mayor was Italian American, and it was a whole, like, urban renewal in the town, and these guys were doing really well. Okay. So now my father dies, we’re at the funeral and, you know, his friends were really close with him, so they were really heartbroken. But then one came up and took me aside, and takes out of his pocket this stock certificate that I hadn't seen in five years. And he’s saying, you know, “Your father said,”—we’d just finished Ms .45—“now that you’re a big Hollywood producer, he said you would take care of this.” And then I realized my father raised like $75,000 from his friends making 9 Lives, telling them “you got to help my son out…” So, between like eight or nine of his friends, every one of them was coming up to me, saying “your father said don't worry about it, your son will take care of me…” And, I say, “Yeah, well, my father also told me I don't owe anybody anything.” Right? [laughs]

And after all this guilt this motherfucker was laying on me, he had already made 50 grand… And that was the ultimate lesson in the film business. That was the best lesson I could have got, because that's been happening to us from that day on. “Oh yeah, we got no money…” Yeah right, Miramax has no money [laughs].

WILLIAMS: So, who shot 9 Lives?

FERRARA: Joey's brother [Frank Delia].

WILLIAMS: Oh really? And you hadn’t met [Ken] Kelsch yet?

FERRARA: No, I didn’t meet Kelsch till two years later. But he was doing the same thing. He was working on the crews of these movies - cause this was the only game in town. You know, the labs were making a fortune on these movies, and they were all on 35mm. I mean, you know, 9 Lives did fucking outrageous business, even though it wasn’t a hit like Deep Throat, I’ll tell you that. But it didn't matter—it still played on the Deuce. It played at the best theater on the street. It was crazy.

WILLIAMS: Actually, I guess Wes Craven kind of did the same thing.

FERRARA: Did he make a porn?

WILLIAMS: Yeah: Angela, The Fireworks Woman—and he's in it too, he wears a mask.

FERRARA: Yeah. Well, I mean, we were in it because we got our girlfriends—we were going out with these go-go girls, cause we were living in the back of the go-go clubs.

Abel Ferrara in 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy—as actor, he was credited as "Jimmy Laine;" as director, "Jimmy Boy L."

WILLIAMS: You could’ve kept making porno, you probably think you could have been making independent visionary, artistic adult films and be making money, right? I mean, on the Deuce, porno movies were playing—

FERRARA: Once you make a pornographic film, you don't want to make another one. Because you know, I had a mother, I had sisters…You know what I'm saying? It's like, we’re thinking we’re making something brave, ya dig? But at the end of the day, it was a sleazy business… it’ll put guys in jail. It was a total outlaw deal.

So, we finished that. So now I go to San Francisco and I’m hanging out at the Art Institute, and now I’m totally into Michael Snow and his Wavelength, you know? So I'm thinking, okay, maybe I could do a feature like this. You know, forget the porno business.

WILLIAMS: So you’re thinking about Michael Snow. Making money doing a Michael Snow movie [laughs].

FERRARA: I'm thinking, what if we do a feature but if we do it like a little at a time, and we make it very radical… So, now I'm thinking, okay, we do Driller Killer, and we're gonna combine the violence with the real outrageous shit. I mean, Driller Killer is out there in an artistic way, but not the way we originally intended… because Chainsaw came out. So, now you had the same deal: Variety is saying, “These guys made this film for $100,000,” right?… and they made like 30 million bucks on it, you know, so…

WILLIAMS: Almost porno profit… [laughs]

FERRARA: Oh yeah, it was the same thing—and the reason why, is because they're making films that Hollywood can't make. Hollywood positioned themselves where they couldn't go over a certain line. And, you know, the minute Contempt came out - I mean, it was Brigitte Bardot’s ass that sold those seats. Her butt changed cinema. You know, Pasolini, Fellini’s Satyricon—those films were fucking cashing in, in the States, because they were riding the sex thing. Now Hollywood's got to react to that. How do they react to that? Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, bah, bah, bah. Now all of a sudden, late 60s, Hollywood films become more artistic and more sexual. They got to, because they're not letting this money get away. They're fighting for every ticket out there, you dig? They work the edges of pornography, but they can't co-op the pornography. That, they can't do. So now, Chainsaw comes out, and it's like, WHOA. It’s the same thing with the pornography…. now, you need hardcore violence.

Which is fine with us, because, we're into Salò, we’re into all the pornography and the fucking violence. So this is right up our alley... and we're trying to work in all the fucking crazy Michael Snow shit…

"I mean, Driller Killer is out there in an artistic way..."

So now I'm shooting around Union Square on the weekends. I’m acting in it only because I couldn't get Johansen, he wouldn't do it.

WILLIAMS: Couldn’t get who?

FERRARA: David Johansen [New York Dolls]. He’s like [a gritty, Johnasen impersonation]: “You think i’m gonna be in somethin’ called Driller Killer, what are you fucking crazy??!” Then I'm thinking—okay, I can see this film might take five years to make. But: we're gonna make this film. We're gonna make it on our terms. We're gonna do all this shit.

So anyway, I'm starving to death with like, 30 minutes shot and a 10 minute trailer of Driller Killer. I'm living right off of 3rd Avenue. Johansen lived across the street. This was that period, the punk time: you can live in Manhattan, I was paying like $150 a month for the toilet down the hall, the bathtub in the kitchen, that kind of place. But the other guys had the loft - the loft which we shot at, which now rents for $12,000 a month.

D.A Metrov’s "Tony Coca-Cola" and his band the "Roosters." Their cacophonous clamor drives Ferrara’s "Reno Millier" to murderous madness.

WILLIAMS: So you were hanging out with David Johansen…were you part of the punk scene, CBGB?

FERRARA: No—we wouldn't waste money going to a club and we wouldn't waste money buying beer. And we were like, older and more hippy’d out. I was like, 27 years old. Those guys were all my age, but their audiences were all 18, 20, you know.

 And then this dude Weisberg who was a...

WILLIAMS:  A producer. The gangster.

FERRARA: Yeah, from Detroit. I mean, he was a tough guy, and a scary guy, but we got along. One of his guys saw the trailer of Driller Killer, and Weisberg gave us the money for it in exchange for the prints of 9 Lives. We gave him like eight prints that probably did $50,000 bucks in a weekend, at their own theaters. You dig? Because those films were doing big fucking business.

So, we get $30,000, and that's when I met Kelsch. You know, we didn't know what the fuck we were doing. And we got to figure out like, okay, he walks in here. Then he comes out. Wait, she's over here. No, she's over there, you dig? And then we're working with fucking crazy people [laughs]. And then you gotta drill people—figure that one out. I’m using my guys from Peekskill, we’re trying not to kill somebody drilling ‘em, I almost killed my speech teacher from University. But anyway, so we finished the film. And they make six prints and it’s going to open in Kansas City. Okay—and this was like the big opening, in the middle of the summer… And we slayed them. I don't know why—it was in that moment, in Kansas City, a movie called Driller Killer, did, like, Chainsaw business. We did monstrously! I'm thinking, wow, this is gonna be easy. And that's the best business we've ever done in our lives. That was the best weekend we've ever had.

Baybi Day, Laurie Y. Taylor, anonymous: a few of the “fucking crazy people” Ferrara cast in The Driller Killer.

And then two days later, Weisberg calls me up and says, “So you think you’re a fucking big shot right? I says “I heard we did pretty good.” He says, “Yeah, you did great, so what does that make you, a fucking big shot?” This is the wise guy talkin’ to me.  He says, “All right so what are you gonna do next?” I say, “Okay, we got a film: a chick comes home from work and she gets raped.” He says: “Good.” “And while she's coming home, a guy breaks into her apartment, he’s just going to burglarize her, he’s hiding in her apartment because he hears her coming in, and she gets raped again.” And he says: “You got the money.”

Ms.45 opened in New York City on May 15, 1981, and screened on the Deuce at the New Amsterdam Theatre.

 WILLIAMS: So… how did you meet Zoe [Lund]?

FERRARA: She just came to the loft. We were casting. Because—Robert Stigwood had just made a zillion dollars, so now he’s gonna go do this next film, [Allen Moyle’s] Times Square, it’s gonna be a smash film, they’re gonna do a worldwide search like Gone with the Wind for the two girls. Friends of mine are casting—I say, “great, give me the list of who you got,” I mean, wow, now I got a whole worldwide search for my movie!  So, this friend of mine calls me and says “Abel, I got the chick. You’re gonna die. They haven't decided yet, and she’s in the finalists, but, they’re never gonna use her… she’s too cool for this movie.” [Lund appears as an extra in the final scene.]

Zoe Lund (wearing a black beret) in Allan Moyle’s Time Square. 

So, after they cast the film he gives me her name. And we call her up. And then… this chick walked off the elevator. She was 17 years old, going to Columbia at the time on a scholarship. She was from Westchester County, she had a very normal mother and father. And yeah, she was exactly like you would expect, she was awesome. She read the script and, you know, she was auditioning me, at 17 years old. I took one look... I mean, un-fucking-real.

WILLIAMS: She looked just like she looked in the movie?

FERRARA: Yeah, I mean you can’t fake that. She was glowing. And she’s a genius. She could do all this stuff, anything fun, and then you rape her over a trash can, she's laughing, she thinks this is hysterical. You couldn't faze the chick.

The “un-fucking-real” Zoe Lund in Ms .45.

Well… anyway, she goes to Italy and starts living with this guy, this 60-something year old guy who she claimed was Pontecorvo’s brother. He's, like, a guy who’s always dressed in black with long white hair. He was like her Svengali. And that's when she got hooked on dope.

So then she comes back. Listen to this story: she's with this guy, 65 years old, that she now introduces as Abel Ferrara.

WILLIAMS: [laughs] Really?

FERRARA: Yeah, listen to what this chick does: somehow she steals a print of Ms .45 from a theater. She takes the dog off and sticks a closeup of her at the end cause she hated the end of the film, she goes “let’s end on me.” And she…. they buy a school bus. Paint Ms .45 all over the bus and drive cross-country showing the movie, raising money for her next film Curfew USA—this was her big movie she was gonna make. And now, she's driving around introducing some fucking greaseball as me, and she’s strung out on dope. 

When she gets out to LA, Ms .45 opens and it’s a smash—all the fucking horn dogs wanna meet her. The movie gets rave reviews, and now all of a sudden, she’s got a career. But she's out there in a school bus - and when I finally got to LA, people would meet me and say “I already thought I met you man, you're younger than I…”—you know, she's hustling everybody for money. Coppola was in love with her. Warren Beatty wants to meet her. So, imagine, you think this chick is coming to your house for a meeting, and a school bus pulls up and a 65 year old dude dressed in black, with hair down to his waist comes out first. A skinny junkie from Italy, who couldn’t speak a word of English. Can you imagine?? So you know, I wouldn't talk to her. I didn’t talk to her again til we did Bad Lieutenant.

Lund’s character "Thana" has a flashback to her first rape and sees her perpetrator Abel Ferrara in the bathroom mirror.

WILLIAMS: So you got Zoe, then you also wanted Divine?

FERRARA: We were looking for somebody for the landlady. I wanted the Egg Lady.

WILLIAMS: [laughs] Edith [Massey].

FERRARA: That’s the chick I really wanted. Right? And they’re saying, “Well, she doesn't leave Baltimore.” And I said, “Well, we'll go there...”  “Nah, she's like, not really, you know…” And—because we had some connection with John Waters—they go “Why don't you just use Divine?” I says, “Divine would do this?” She came to the loft. That was the meeting of all time when she showed up, she was… she came, like, half as a guy, you know? Wow.

WILLIAMS: Did you know John Waters yet by then?

FERRARA: No. But he was the real hero because, to me, Desperate Living is the greatest film. I mean that film is monstrous. Waters was like... he was the greatest of them all, I mean those movies... Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble… forget it. He put Baltimore on the map.

WILLIAMS: When you were in San Francisco, did you hook up with the Coppola and the George Lucas gang, all those guys?

FERRARA: No, we were like street rats, we never met anybody. The guy that I knew was Dino De Laurentiis’ son, he was going to support us all the way and then he got killed in a fucking helicopter accident while he was scouting locations. He was like 25 years old. Beautiful, intelligent dude, who was totally behind us and then… goodbye Federico. Now, Billy Friedkin, you know, I never met him, but he was the one who saw Ms .45 and arranged for Warner Brothers to distribute foreign.

WILLIAMS:  Yeah. Friedkin still supports movies. He saw Good Time and was very vocal about liking it. He’s a real movie-lover. Now that you're in Rome, and you're making more movies than ever, is there a film community? I mean, everybody lives off this piazza, but…

FERRARA: I don’t know anybody. I don’t know one American—

WILLIAMS: It's kind of like when you were in the porn industry, you didn't really know anybody.

FERRARA: Because what is a director gonna do, meet another movie director? It’s the last thing you want.

WILLIAMS: Same with my job too, I don’t really meet other cinematographers.

FERRARA: Yeah, why would you? You’re competing for gigs! What do I need another director for, to take my investor? [laughs] Or steal his?

WILLIAMS: Exactly. The documentary community is like that too, they act like they’re working together, but they’re all just competing for the same funds and grants.

FERRARA: Yeah, right, I mean, [Matteo] Garrone lives here, [Paolo] Sorrentino, but those guys are big... You know, Ridley [Scott] is in town, right? Right around the corner from here is about 600 fucking film trucks.

WILLIAMS: What are they shooting?

FERRARA: They're shooting a film about Gucci. Like, I mean, I couldn't be less interested. But Pacino’s here and Lady Gaga. It's a miracle we’re making movies.

WILLIAMS: How do you feel now that you’re back to working with, like, Driller Killer level crews?

FERRARA: It’s the way these things should be made. The only downside is, you're not helping nine to ten guys send their kids to school, you dig? When you take one fluorescent light and tie it to your belt, 15 kids go hungry. [laughs] 25 kids go without an education. With Ms .45, in my mind, we were gonna make, you know, The Conformist, you know what I’m saying? This is going to be it. We're going to get the 35mm equipment, we're going to get all these legitimate people, and we're not gonna make a film that, when it's over, somebody’s going to say it doesn't look or sound professional. I never wanted to hear that again. Now, I don’t give a fuck. Because Driller Killer looks and sounds like what you and I are doing here! This is what we should be doing.

WILLIAMS: I know people are gonna look at it and definitely think it doesn't look professional.

FERRARA: Right? They keep asking about the grain, and I wanna say “Dude, you’re putting the grain in to make it look more expensive!”

WILLIAMS: I really, really appreciate your taste on this. Your attitude.

FERRARA: Yeah yeah, my revolutionary attitude.

Abel Ferrara and Sean Price Williams in Italy, on the set of their new feature, Zeroes and Ones

The Deuce Film Series is a monthly, 35mm presentation created by ‘Joe Zieg' Berger and co-hosted with 'Tour Guide Andy’ McCarthy and 'Maestro Jeff’ Cashvan. Produced by Max Cavanaugh for Nitehawk Cinema Williamsburg, The Deuce was founded in November 2012.

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The Deuce NotebookColumnsAbel FerraraSean Price WilliamsZoe LundThe DeuceNew York CityLong ReadsInterviews
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