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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Groovy Guy of the Month: Jeffrey Schwarz

This month's Groovy Guy is Jeffrey Schwarz, the President and CEO of Automat Pictures, a Los Angeles-based entertainment company that produces studio EPKS (electronic press kits), Blu-ray and DVD content, original television programming and documentary feature films. Jeffrey began making movies at SUNY Purchase Film Department, where he produced Al Lewis in the Flesh, a 1993 profile of the actor who played "Grampa" on TV's The Munsters, and his first job in the film industry was as an apprentice editor on the 1995 documentary, The Celluloid Closet. In recent years, he has produced and directed four documentary feature films - Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007) about the director of such movies as House on Haunted Hill and Strait-Jacket, Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon (2008) about 1970s adult film star Jack Wrangler, Vito (2011) about the beloved gay activist and author Vito Russo, and I Am Divine (2013) about John Waters' legendary muse who starred in Female Trouble, Hairspray and many other films. And Jeffrey's next project is Tab Hunter Confidential about the life of the 1950s screen heartthrob.

Obviously you can tell from his film subjects that Mr. Schwarz is a fan of pop culture, so I am delighted to have him here on the Dish to answer a few questions.

When did you first become a fan of Divine?
Since I was a teenager I've worshiped at the altar of Divine and of John Waters. Anyone who has felt like an outsider can certainly relate to Divine's story and his journey. I had read about Pink Flamingos years before actually seeing it, in Danny Peary's Cult Movies and John Waters' book, Shock Value. At the time I had no tangible connections to gay culture, so John and Divine's sensibility certainly helped lead me down a creative path and was an inspiration. And then finally getting to see Divine in those movies was just mind-blowing. I'd never seen anything like it and watching him on screen was thrilling. He was so fully committed to the characters he played. I saw Hairspray first and worked backwards from there.

Growing up, Divine was picked on, teased and abused. When he met John Waters and his crew, he found a group that accepted him, loved him and encouraged him. He was able to take all his teenage rage and channel it into the Divine character. He threw everything that people made fun of him for back in their faces and empowered himself. He succeeded in becoming an internationally recognized recording artist and screen icon. His story gives us hope that anything’s possible. It's kind of the ultimate "it gets better" story and he's a poster child for misfit youth. I wanted the next generation to get to know their Queen Mother and find inspiration to fulfill their own creative destiny in his story.

What is one surprising thing that you learned about Divine while making I Am Divine?
I was most surprised to find out more about his relationship with his high school sweetheart, whom we interviewed. They dated all through junior high and high school. Divine, who was Glen then, took her to the prom and treated her so well. He even did her hair and makeup and told her how to dress. She was really smitten with him - in a very sweet high school puppy love kind of way. When he started dressing in drag, she was completely unfazed and supportive. They even went to a high school party together with Glen dressed as Elizabeth Taylor. When he started hanging out with John, David Lochary and all the cool Baltimore beatniks, she really felt left behind.

It was very important to go beyond the layers of eyeliner and wigs and hairspray to find the very real man inside. Divine never considered himself a drag queen. He was a character actor who played female parts. He was a fantastic and brave performer, a fine actor and a warm, generous person. I wanted people to get to know the man behind the mask of the Divine character. He was a sweet, soft-spoken guy with so much love in his heart. People have told me they felt a sense of peace and loving when they were around Divine. He couldn't have been more different than the characters he played in the John Waters films, but people just assumed he was that way. It was actually a great frustration for him. We wanted to avoid hagiography and certainly Divine had his insecurities, an addictive personality and a spending problem. It was important to look at the craziness, too, which I think makes him even more endearing.

What can you tell us about your next film project, Tab Hunter Confidential?
It's the story of matinée idol Tab Hunter and how he went from being a teenage stable boy to one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the 1950s. He was gay, of course, and the movie is about the tension between being presented as the boy next door and every girl's dream date, but in reality keeping a very big secret. I met him when we interviewed him for I Am Divine about co-starring in John Waters' Polyester. We have started production so if there are any sugar daddies reading this that want to help us get this movie made, send them my way! Check out our page at

Can you recall the very first film you ever saw?
I'm sure it wasn't the first film I ever saw, but I remember being taken to see The Little Prince at Radio City Music Hall by my grandmother. All I can remember is that weird dance that Bob Fosse does where he turns into a snake. My dad took us to see Young Frankenstein and told us it was gonna be really, really scary. I'm not sure he knew it was going to be a comedy. That's still one of my favorite movies and I've never known a world without Mel Brooks.

Did you always want to make movies?
Yes, always. I grew up like a lot of other gay kids obsessed with monster movies and had a strong attraction to Count Dracula.

When did you decide to focus on documentaries about pop culture/gay icons?
In film school I started down the narrative path, but somewhere along the way decided that real stories were always so much more interesting to me. My senior thesis film was about Grampa Al Lewis from The Munsters, who at the time ran an Italian restaurant on Bleecker Street. I would hang out there and watch the busloads of tourists pull up and freak out when he would come out to say hello to him. I started making documentary films to celebrate iconic, larger-than-life individuals with a great story to tell. The people I choose to make movies about all created a finely-tuned persona that helped cover up any insecurities they may have had. People like horror movie maestro William Castle, 70s porn icon Jack Wrangler and, of course, Divine fit into that category. I fall in love with these people, warts and all, and want to illustrate their journeys on film and take an audience for a ride. They're all outsiders and rebels and those are the kinds of characters I'm interested in.

Excluding your documentary feature films, what has been the most interesting project that you've worked on as President and CEO of Automat Films?
It's hard to pick just one cause I've been lucky enough to produce hundreds of documentaries as bonus content for studio DVDs. Even after interviewing some of the most iconic directors and stars, one of my favorite memories is the time Betsy Palmer brought homemade chocolate chip cookies to her interview for Friday the 13th. She couldn't have been sweeter, and I think it was the first time she had talked about becoming a slasher movie icon on camera. I'm also really proud of No Day But Today: The Story of 'Rent', which is a feature-length doc about Jonathan Larson's life, death and afterlife with that show.

Five of my favorite movies are:
Rebel Without a Cause, Rosemary's Baby, Sunset Boulevard, My Own Private Idaho and The Times of Harvey Milk.

My five favorite TV shows of all time are:
Dark Shadows, All in the Family, The Simpsons, Freaks and Geeks and The Daily Show.

If I were asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, it would be:
Besides my boyfriend (hello, Thales), I'd walk a mile for Paul Rudd.

If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
I have to pick four - William Castle, Jack Wrangler, Vito Russo and Divine.

Thank you, Jeffrey, for being such a groovy guy! For more information about Mr. Schwarz and his films, visit

1 comment:

Lance said...

Congratulations, Jeffrey! THANK YOU for a groovy interview, Marc! =)