Three independent Minnesota films get a rare screening at Trylon. The films provide a glimpse of what the Twin Cities were like in the 1970s and 1980s. It also celebrates Minnesota-based filmmakers David Burton Morris and Victoria Wozniak. The couple met when they were students at the University of Minnesota – Burton chose Wozniak on tour, and the two became friends, and later collaborators and life partners. Together they helped create IFP/North (now FilmNorth) and IFP’s first Los Angeles affiliate (now FIND). Wozniak also became a founding creator of the Spirit Awards.
In Loose Ends (1974) two mechanics contemplate starting their lives over. Patty Rocks, is a sequel, and follows the same two characters later in life in a road movie. It was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 1988, and received an X rating based on profanity. Finally, Purple Haze (1982) follows a Princeton student who gets expelled for smoking pot and being drafted. The soundtrack features rock beats from the Vietnam era, including Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, The Animals, Sly and the Family Stone, and more. Here is an interview with Burton Wozniak. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
SR: I understand that you met on a hiking trip when you were both students. How long were you together before you decided to make a movie together?
VM: David took me for a walk on the way home from university. We became friends, and have been friends for about two years. Then our relationship turned romantic and we lived together. I was a good artist at the time, and David was in the film business, so through him I discovered filmmaking as an art form. David went to see an independent film called Memories of Underdevelopment.
DBM: in walker.
VM: Yes, at Walker. And he came home and we were already working on a Roger Corman movie. The only independent films that existed were Roger Corman films. So we were doing something called the “Sewage People Attack”.
DBM: Oh my God, this is embarrassing.
DBM: … the greatest understatement, yes.
VM: But I sat down and started writing. This was my first script.
SR: Was it difficult working with someone you had a relationship with?
DBM: No, that movie was actually what I enjoyed the most about making a movie, because there was no one to look at. There was only a handful of crew and actors, and we kind of did what we wanted, 14 days for $20,000 or $30,000.
VM: Because we trusted each other. We knew what we wanted to do. We made Loose Ends, and then it entered the Edinburgh Film Festival. It made us believe that we can really do it, that we have talent and we can turn it into a career.
DBM: When you’re new, festivals usually don’t push your way. Eventually they started paying us. But we said we might as well get the money and go because who knows if we’ll ever be invited to a film festival again. Then the famous critic Robin Wood discovered us and really defended us. Then Roger Ebert saw it in Chicago and said it was one of the movies of the year. And Vincent Campy at the New York Times gave us a good review and he kind of took off. We were kind of surprised by the whole thing. We were certainly happy about it, but we didn’t expect it.
Volkswagen: He gave us a calling card. People in the industry were reading these reviews. Like, “Who are these people? What are they doing in the Midwest to make a little movie?” They had no idea who we were or what they were going to do with us. But at least they knew who we were. So it started our career.
SR: Any anecdotes you can share when you were filming “Loose Ends?”
DBM: Do you want to tell the story of Highway 35?
Volkswagen: No, you say it.
DBM: Good. There is a lot of driving at night. We are on I-35. The way we shot the dialogue in the car – Greg Cummins, the director of photography, built this little wooden contraption that he would attach to the car door window outside. And then an assistant director, Jim Morrison—not a singer—was strapped to the hood, with just a solar gun shining the light into the actors’ faces. That’s all our lighting. We are captured driving down the highway at night filming this. Policeman says, what are you guys doing? And he says, well, we’re making a movie like this. Well, he said, get down to any exit outside my jurisdiction and keep going because he didn’t know what to do with us.
Volkswagen: I have to tell you I knew the family that owned the Midway Chevrolet Dealership, which was a big, big dealership on University Street. And he said, well, well, sure, I believe in you. Then we started filming there and nobody was working. They were all watching. And the owner came up to me and said, Vicki, this wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Nobody works here. They are all watching you.
DBM: All the locations we filmed like Mickey’s Diner and different gas stations – we didn’t buy it. We asked him if we could do it, but we never paid them or even got a written contract. We cast our actors and started shooting scenes.
SR: So, were there other clients?
Volkswagen: Yes. It was like making rebellious movies. I think the only place we were – I don’t think we made them any money but when we did that dance sequence was at Uncle Sam’s (now First Avenue).
DBM: That was open.
Volkswagen: Oh yes.
DBM: We had some hipsters on the dance floor, including you. But no, that was open. Because Allan Fingerhut put some money in and he owned Uncle Sam’s at that point that turned into First Avenue but yeah, he let us shoot there.
Volkswagen: I made two main character mechs because I knew I could probably get Mr. Krebsbach to let me use Midway Chev. Then the big house at first – it was a friend of mine because we live like 2 doors down.
DBM: We put a lot of stuff into something called Club Bar in Cleveland and Randolph.
Volkswagen: And things like that. They all belong to our friends.
DBM: We had little money. Everything went into the film and the process.
Volkswagen: In fact, one of the ways we financed this movie – we had a friend who works in a bank. And we went in and spent whatever we had, like savings bonds, or whatever. And we still need more money. And so we went and talked to him. So he gave us an unsecured loan of $10,000. We had no security at all. nothing.
Steve: You guys were involved in the beginnings of what FilmNorth – IFP is now when it was created. How did it feel to be part of the early Minnesota film scene?
Volkswagen: You know, it was really good. We were trying to build a community of artists and filmmakers here.
DBM: Big parties, big parties.
Volkswagen: Great parties, there were a few hundred people. And the police will always show up.
DBM: Let me tell the story. We had a huge house in Deephaven. We had all of these cars parked on Minnetonka Boulevard. One year the police came and said never move your cars. Mayor Norm Coleman happened to be there, and I said we can start with Mayor Coleman’s car first, go talk to him. This is an anecdote.
SR: You seem to have gone back and forth between here in California more than once. I understand the draw here with the family – are there more opportunities in California?
DBM: Oh yes.
Volkswagen: The thing is, we were able to move from Los Angeles to Minnesota, because we had established ourselves in our jobs enough to be able to live somewhere else. It was a much better place for us to raise our kids. And David has never been so enthusiastic about Los Angeles.
DBM: When I was a junior at UCLA, I thought it was cool. But then, no.
SR: How is it now that these movies are being celebrated again?
Volkswagen: amazing. The same way we felt about “loose ends” suddenly getting appreciated. The idea that now after all these years…
DBM: After 49 years
Volkswagen: For people to want to see and search for these photos, it’s very humbling, quite frankly. It’s something I never dreamed would happen. It’s great.
“Loose Ends” screens Friday April 7 at 7pm, “Patty Rocks” screens Friday April 7 and Saturday April 8 at 9:15pm and Sunday April 9 at 3pm “Purple Haze” screens Saturday April 8th at 7pm and Sunday 9 April at 5 p.m. in Trilon. More information here.