By Ray Pride
While he's published books of his photography, Michael Stipe is best known as the frontman for supergroup R.E.M. For most of the past decade, he's also quietly gone about a mission of changing the face of American movies. As a producer, he's put his interests and time behind projects both large and small, such as the remarkably funny documentary on no-budget filmmaking, American Movie. But his biggest splash to date is Being John Malkovich, the surreal, subversive comedy of what goes on in the minds of those who wonder what goes on in the minds of celebrities, written by first-timer Charlie Kaufman and directed by video wonder Spike Jonze.
Being John Malkovich takes big chances, starting with its nutty concept, its casting-against-type (John Cusack as a sniveling puppeteer; Cameron Diaz made ordinary as his unloved wife) and working through to its weird and farcical conclusion. It's filled with the kind of artistry that doesn't come from formula. We talked on a recent Saturday morning in New York, Stipe walking into the room with a freshly made omelet and hash browns.
Playboy.com: So what prompted you to produce?
Michael Stipe: I've been working in film for 12 years, which most people don't know. Probably the only thing that came out with something of a wide release was Velvet Goldmine, the Todd Haynes glam-rock film. But I've done six feature films. Most of the stuff I've done is really under the radar.
PB: What do you like about film?
MS: Like music, it's a very powerful medium. I'm drawn to it. I'm a photographer myself, and I have a lot of friends who work in the film business. There was a point in the early Nineties where I'd been working on very, very guerrilla independent films for a couple of years. Then I wanted to go Hollywood! I knew a lot of people who were incredibly frustrated with the material that they were offered as actors or directors or editors or writers or lighting people or what have you. Naively, I thought, Well, I'll just create another film company that will make movies that don't suck. It's just as easy as that.