True Indie: Life And Death In Filmmaking By Don Coscarelli (Book Review)

Being a huge fan of both filmmaker Don Coscarelli and his impressive and original body of work, reading his new memoir entitled True Indie: Life And Death In Filmmaking for me is a no brainer.  But what about those who aren’t so aware of his famed exploits – can a mere film student or average fan also get some insight via Coscarelli’s prose?  In taking on the book for dissection in all pertinent avenues, that’s exactly what we’re here to find out!



In reviewing the new autobiography I’ve decided to break down my dissection into easy to read categories, much like Coscarelli does in the book, so folks film savvy and not can get some specific insight into what interests them most.  So after my initial overview, I’ll be breaking down the highlighting of the books various nifty notables using the iconic title of Sergio Leone’s famed third outing in his spaghetti western trilogy as a guide.  Check out all of Coscarelli’s wondrous wares below via…The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  (And the Ugly is by far the best part!)




Part film class, part insightful movie history via his own work, True Indie is a memoir with a little something for everybody.  His book starts and ends with a bang (as all good movies do!) involving both his unwavering indie filmmaking spirit and ambitious stupidity with a great yarn about his face catching on fire trying to do a shotgun stunt using unsafe old school methods while shooting the original Phantasm.  (Don’t try this at home kiddies!)  In the area of the personal, Coscarelli definitely spends some time chatting about growing up and influences at a young age.  He talks about the early days meeting the likes of Douglas Trumbull director of Silent Running (all to do with a possible Zoetrope Film Book that never saw the light of day!) and Woodstock helmer Michael Wadleigh, as well as getting to run rampant on the Universal lot as a newbie.  On the movies side, Coscarelli goes through all his work – from Phantasm to John Dies At The End – and has both harrowing and happy tales to tell.  And on the filmmaking side there’s plenty of helpful tips for those seeking advice (both subtle and overt!) in creating their own cinematic works.  But is the book entertaining? Absolutely.  Overall it’s a must for Coscarelli fans, a tasty read for Phantasm and genre junkies and a worthy addition to the filmmaking how-to section.  Soy sauce still got you curious – more details for the tidbit hungry reader are below for your convenience!




Chatting up the goodies in the book (aka the positive tasty treats!) first and foremost there is a virtual wealth of stories, anecdotes and info on all things Phantasm for the rabid fan.  (It takes up more time in the book than anything else!)  From the construction cost of the very first ever silver sphere (total dollar amount $1163.00!) to nostalgic tales of first meetings with stars Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister and Rory Guy (aka Angus Scrimm!) this one is a wonderful walk down memory lane for anyone who bows to the prowess of The Tall Man.

Plus other hidden goodies include not only a walk through some of the ‘on the cheap’ ways Coscarelli and company created some of the most iconic shots and scenes over the years, but also a concentrated Chapter entitled Don Coscarelli’s Five-Minute Film School to fully give the avid pupil full indie insight.  Also notable are stories all about selling his first film Jim, The World’s Greatest (formerly Story of a Teenager) to Universal with recommendation from a film critic, a detailed section about the fun and controversial (signed baseballs become an issue!) trip to Japan to promote the early Coscarelli flick Kenny & Company with Don and the cast (they were like The Beatles there!) and a touching look and tribute to the last moments of iconic star Angus Scrimm – The Tall Man will live on forever in film.




As far as missteps and setbacks go, Coscarelli has had more than his share and he fully admits and embraces them in the book for all to read.  From not casting Brad Pitt who auditioned for Phantasm II (hey, I dug James Le Gros!) to being forced to pass on the likes of Demi Moore, Klaus Kinski and Mr. T in The Beastmaster, Coscarelli is refreshingly candid.  (Not to mention that films that never happened including Phantasm 1999 written by Roger Avery, plus chances to helm Silver Bullet, Conan The Destroyer and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge that he ultimately passed on – probably a good thing!)

Plus he goes into the wealth of Bubba Ho-tep issues including being rejected by Sundance (what a bunch of a-holes!), Elvis Mitchell (you need to re-watch the film dude!) and just about everyone else in film distribution and Bruce Campbell ultimately refusing to do anymore Bubba outings after the first.  (You disappoint me Bruce!)




The ugly here – and probably my favorite part of the book for its unwavering honesty – involves the agonizing experience of making the 1982 outing The Beastmaster.  From tussles with star and ego manic Marc Singer (at one point he knocked Coscarelli out of his director’s chair!) to dealing with the overbearing and opinionated financial backer known as CD (he got the moniker for claiming he had directed a commercial!) the excruciating and torturous saga is not only laid barren for all to see, but fully serves as a warning that all is not always right in the city of indie.




For the Coscarelli fan, True Indie: Life And Death In Filmmaking has more than enough to keep readers satisfied.  For those unaware, this one has just enough relatable tales to keep things interesting.  In fact my only issue is that the book could have been even longer and with even more detail given to later worthy works in Coscarelli’s colorful career.  (I dig John Dies At The End – sue me!)  But as is one truth is plainly obvious – Coscarelli is not only an indie filmmaker who can walk the walk, but now in book form proves he can talk the talk as well.


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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