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Accidental Writer: The Cinema of Tom DiCillo by Wayne Byrne

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Wayne Byrne © 14 September 2017.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Interviews · Non-Fiction ).

I never intended to be a writer. The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out was conceived of a simple necessity: I wanted to buy a book on Tom DiCillo, but there were none. Sure, I could spend a small fortune on encyclopaedic reference tomes which offer a quick paragraph on DiCillo’s career, a cursory glance at a life’s work in 200 words. No thanks. What I wanted was one of those books that devoted entire chapters to specific films; where the director was interviewed at length about the minutiae of their film-making. One particular series of books which caught my attention did just that: Wallflower’s ‘Director’s Cuts’. I bought several of them – John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Clint Eastwood – and hoped that someday someone would write a Director’s Cuts edition on Tom DiCillo.

I adored Tom DiCillo’s films: seeing his debut picture Johnny Suede (1991) on videotape when I was twelve felt to me what it must have been like for unsuspecting kids in the sixties experiencing Night of the Living Dead or Easy Rider or Midnight Cowboy. It was mind-blowing; it was a revolution in my living room. It introduced me to something I’d later refer to as ‘art cinema’ and ‘independent film’, but to me at that age, it was just different. I went from renting sleazy B-movie horror and action movies to being hypnotised by this artful, surreal, avant-garde dramatic comedy starring Brad Pitt.

Many years later, I first connected with DiCillo as a fan, before later speaking to him in a professional capacity, interviewing him for the release of his then-new film, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors (2009). I had my own weekly film page in Kildare newspaper, the Leinster Leader, reviewing cinema and DVD releases, so when When You’re Strange played the Jameson Dublin Film Festival in 2010, I took it as an opportunity to interview DiCillo about the film for the paper, and also for Click Magazine. DiCillo was a wonderful interviewee – candid, generous, and with unique perspectives on the film-making process. At some stage after that interview I contacted DiCillo again, this time to mention that I had an idea for a book on his career. I never studied literature or journalism, nor ever took writing classes…I had no idea how to write a book! All I knew was I wanted a Tom DiCillo book on the shelves, and if it meant I was going to be the one to write it, then so be it.

DiCillo was receptive to my idea, agreeing to let me interview him further. The outline was simple: a chapter on each of DiCillo’s eight feature films. My plan: to discuss those films in-depth with DiCillo, around which I would write critical essays, supported by DiCillo’s subjective accounts of their production. I was lucky to receive an arts/travel grant from Kildare County Council for research. This afforded me a week in NYC, spending several hours per day with DiCillo recording interviews. I returned home with a plethora of material.

At some stage we toyed with the notion of hearing from Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener, actors who appear in several DiCillo films and who could provide extraordinary personal and professional insight into DiCillo. Both came on board with enthusiasm and swiftly arranged interviews. This led to successfully bringing in many other actors.

From concept to final proofread edit, it took around five years. If that seems bafflingly long, it’s because of interview scheduling. These contributors have busy, complex schedules, so I often had to wait weeks or months before settling on a day to talk. The beauty of writing independently in advance of my publishing deal was not having a deadline; I spent all the time I needed to write what I wanted to write, and if that meant waiting for a crucial voice to become available, then I would wait. Another luxury of time was DiCillo’s willingness and presence throughout; I wasn’t confined to those New York discussions, he was available when I needed to delve deeper to the core of the themes. This book is an evolution of ideas and it benefits from having that arch of time; life changes occurred for both of us across those five years, and I think it is reflected in the Q&A conversations between us, as well as the depth of thematic analyses. It has gone from a book of Film Study to a book on how Life and Art intertwine, how for some people neither of those can be exclusive of the other.

I had a very short list of publishers to approach; companies whose books I had on my shelf. I had no idea how the publishing business works or how to even begin shopping a book. I just looked at the names on my books and approached them. The first one was Wallflower Press, a division of Columbia University Press, and the company behind the Director’s Cuts series. I contacted them and while waiting for a response I approached a few others, most of whom passed, with the common lines of rejection either “too academic for us” or “too mainstream for us”. I feared I was stuck in the netherworld of fitting into neither category. Then, an offer came from a very distinguished publisher, while I concurrently received a reply from editors at Wallflower and Columbia, who deemed the book a perfect fit for their Director’s Cuts series. This was a genuinely surreal moment for me: I had two ideal publishers offering contracts, with wonderfully supportive people at both companies. I knew deep down one of those two publishers would be the perfect home for my book. I had to go with Columbia/Wallflower.

It’s a great thrill, from browsing store shelves frantically for a Director’s Cuts edition on Tom DiCillo all those years ago, then learning no such tome existed, to knowing that soon there will be one such book, The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out, on those very shelves.

(c) Wayne Byrne

About The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out:

The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out considers for the first time in a single collection this acclaimed, award-winning director’s entire oeuvre, addressing and analyzing themes such as identity, family, and masculinity, supported by in-depth coverage of the generic and aesthetic aspects of DiCillo’s distinctive and influential film style. Through exhaustively detailed chapters on each of DiCillo’s feature films, presented here is a candid look behind-the-scenes of both the American independent film industry—from the No Wave movement of the 1980s, through the Indie boom of the 1990s, to the contemporary milieu—and the Hollywood studio system.

This comprehensive auteur study documents the writing, production, and release of every DiCillo picture, each followed by an extensive Q&A with the director. Also featured is a foreword written by acclaimed actor and filmmaker Steve Buscemi, as well as exclusive interviews and commentary with many cast members and collaborators, including Kevin Corrigan, Maxwell Caulfield, Melonie Diaz, Peter Dinklage, Gina Gershon, Catherine Keener, Alison Lohman, Matthew Modine, Chris Noth, Sam Rockwell, John Turturro, and members of legendary rock group the Doors. Films covered include Johnny SuedeLiving In Oblivion, Box of MoonlightThe Real BlondeDouble WhammyDeliriousWhen You’re Strange, and Down in Shadowland.

Order your copy online here.

Read Tom DiCillo’s reaction to The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out here.


Wayne Byrne is a freelance film studies lecturer and education consultant. He has written on cinema for various newspapers, film journals and magazines.

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