Rebel Without A Deal: Book Review

Jim Pfeiffer is an award-winning writer and producer with 30 years experience in film and video production. He currently teaches broadcast production at the University of New Hampshire, and continues to freelance as a writer, producer, editor and camera operator for corporations, educational institutions, government agencies and news organizations. This review is by Jim Pfeiffer.

REVIEW of Rebel Without A Deal

by Vincent Rocca. PovertyWorks Publishing, November 2010

Vince Rocca’s Rebel without a Deal will disappoint anyone looking to read a traditional book. It will disappoint anyone looking for the carefully-crafted analysis found in Trump’s Art of the Deal. It will also horrify teachers of English and others who care about spelling, syntax, grammar and punctuation. Yet, if you think of yourself as a researcher, or a landfill archeologist, or, in fact, a young filmmaker, you may be pleased.

Vince Rocca, in pursuit of his dream to produce, edit and secure a distribution deal from the Hollywood filmmaking machine, has opened every envelope, unfolded every letter, replayed every voicemail message, and dumped all the file folders in all his file draws in your lap. He stands naked, emptying himself before you, hiding nothing.

I was prepared, from my first look at the cover, to hate this book. Imitation is flattery, but ripping off the design of Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without a Crew was crass, implying either insecurity far beyond that of most first-time writers, or a cynical hope that sales would be driven by mistaking Rocca for Rodriguez.

Flipping through the book, I was also irritated by extensive transcriptions of conversations with Kevin Smith. Smith (Mallrats, Chasing Amy) is introduced in the second half-page chapter of the book. As you read the first 23 pages, heavy with transcription, you really wonder if this is a book about Smith, rather than Rocca.

That said, when you tackle the book as if it were required reading for Film Production and Financing 301, you get drawn in. Rocca did not complete high school. It was not education or family connections that resulted in his securing a distribution deal with Warner Home Video; it was his determination alone. It was determination of a kind rarely found in the film production student today. His is a familiar determination that has made filmmakers, such as Rodriguez, Spielberg, and Hitchcock, successful and famous throughout the history of motion pictures.

Kisses and Caroms was created, written, planned, shot, edited and distributed with singular dedication. This is important: the singular dedication was not to bring the highest justice to the visible universe, or reveal the truth of life. It was instead to shoot a movie script in a week, edit it quickly, market it, find a distribution channel, and then, while sitting at home, perhaps eating nachos and drinking beer, make enough money to cover expenses, hopefully make a profit, and be in a position, maybe, to make another film. It constitutes a business plan, and not a bad one.

The key to this success is revealed in a single sentence. In the book, Kevin Smith’s personal assistant tells Rocca that filmmaking is hard. Rocca disagrees. “The toughest part is getting off your butt and doing it.” Both are right, and this message may be well worth the book’s cover price, one tenth the price of many film production textbooks.

Rocca spent $11,094.87 to make Kisses and Caroms. This is approximately two-thirds more than what is spent on the average film student production, not counting tuition. It is not a lofty “art house” product. The production values are weak. There are many flaws in the film. In spite of that, he got a deal. This is to his credit and worth examination. Every step in the process is documented. That’s valuable.

Rocca seems to have infinite patience. When the distributors casually proclaim the most outrageous and obvious lies regarding his property, the potential for a deal, the status of the deal, the money that will come from the deal, the contract terms for the deal, and the interest they have in the deal, he responds with patience and calm, marking carefully in his journal the next date on which he has been asked to call back for a serious conversation. When he calls back, his contact is just wrapping something up, out of town, in a meeting, on a call, or available in 30, 60, 90, 120 minutes. “Can you call back then?” In spite of this treatment, he does not mock them, get angry, or make fun of those he has dealt with on the project. He just marks the next date and time in his journal. That’s unusual.

Here is where his determination shines. If they tell him to call back in an hour or two or three, he does. If they tell him to send something, he sends it, Fedex, that afternoon. If they have clearly screwed up and deserve his wrath, he passes. He remains friendly and positive in every contact. This is the school of hard knocks. Along a parallel road, Kisses and Caroms is rejected by a dozen film festivals.

Toward the end of this journal the financial disappointments begin to pile up. Rocca publishes facsimiles of all statements he receives. His expectations, not high to begin with, are dashed. At one point he becomes seriously depressed, yet he continues documenting the process without complaining. We get to evaluate the data. His low budget, crazy film has brought in a million dollars. Rocca still has to beg for his meager revenue-sharing checks that, despite continuous promises, never come with the statements.

In spite of all the negatives, and there are many, this effort has value. Read it, and then, to paraphrase Rocca, get off your butt and shoot something. While perhaps not inspiring, the book’s factual practicality may motivate undergraduates and others interested in film production to . . . just do it. If it accomplishes that, Vince Rocca deserves praise.

Trailer for Rebel without a Deal