Milwaukee Talks: Mark Borchardt, 2000

Things are moving along pretty quickly in the life of Milwaukee filmmaker Mark Borchardt. Just six months ago, the Menomonee Falls native was designing shutters in a factory, working 10 hours a day. "Now I'm at Target signing people's receipts," he says.

If you haven't already heard the hype or seen the critically acclaimed film, Borchardt is the centerpiece of the documentary, "American Movie." Having won the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Award and now showing around the country, the movie is a couple years in the life of Milwaukee's least likely new celebrity.

Now Borchardt is on tap to be David Letterman's 2000 election correspondent. "Letterman saw American Movie and told his people to get me on," says Borchardt. His good showing eventually landed him the big gig. But was he nervous about this "audition?"

"Well, you don't touch anything to drink the day of the show," says Borchardt in that candid voice that made "American Movie" so unique. "At least I don't. You're not so much nervous about going on Letterman. Regis Philbin was on before me, and you want to keep some kind of consistency with Regis in the show biz department. But I think it went well."

Apparently it went well enough. Letterman asked him if he wanted the job, and of course, Borchardt accepted it. "I was going to go up to New Hampshire for a few weeks to interview all the political candidates. But with Letterman's bypass operation, that may put a delay in the political correspondence. They are going to run re-runs for a while, and then he'll be back. If it works well, then I might do it up to the election."

Borchardt says all this new publicity has put a small dent in his efforts to work on his new film and future masterpiece, Northwestern, which is the subject of the first half of "American Movie."

"I'm in the middle of the fifth draft," explains Borchardt. "But with all this American Movie and Coven publicity, creative time is few and far between. But I'm taking certain steps to geographically separate the two projects."

To that end, sales of Borchardt's first film, Coven (pronounced COH-ven), are brisk.

Says Borchardt, "Sales of Coven are moving along. As soon as I get the orders out, I have another 100 to fill. I guess you have to be careful what you wish for."

The low-budget horror movie has created quite a following, and Borchardt says Coven is playing various gigs around the country. It premiered at the Times Theater in June, and the film soon started receiving reviews from around the country.

Then came American Movie. "American Movie came across like a tidal wave, superceding any efforts I could have made," says Borchardt. "But one hand feeds the other. American Movie wouldn't exist without Coven and vice versa."

Coven is doing well enough that Borchardt says he is prepping for its DVD release.

Through all this recognition, Borchardt has remained the consummate Milwaukee guy. "I have enough money to move to Hollywood. I just came back from New York this weekend. But I have no intention to move. There's nothing that Hollywood can offer me that I can't get right here."

Says Borchardt, "My heart and my soul is with Northwestern, and nothing will ever rob me of that. If it's the last thing I do, (completing the film) will happen."

Anything else keeping Borchardt in town? "There's enough women here in Milwaukee," he says, and people have responded to his work very positively.

Publicly, people have been very supportive of Coven. Borchardt says criticism has come "in more veiled way, like on the Internet or in print. Some people may not have the passion we have."

But the critical acclaim of American Movie and Coven have been quite pleasing to Borchardt, as well. "I was reading a review in the Minnesota City Pages about Coven, and I'm really enjoying it," explains Borchardt. "Coven was a film made with Pabst Blue Ribbon. The goal was to sell 3,000 copies. That has been accomplished. You can tear it apart, but it was a labor of love and an instrument to make Northwestern."

As always, Borchardt is most appreciative of the filmmakers of American movie, Chris Smith and Sarah Price. "All this couldn't have happened without Chris and Sarah, working over five years and being broke."

Says Borchardt, "We had no ideas that this would happen. The odds we're insurmountable. But we never quit. We worked for this, man."

Click here to visit Mark Borchardt's web site,
For showtimes of American Movie and Coven in Milwaukee, visit the Movie Guide.


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