Filmmaker David Boatman left small town Iowa in a Chevrolet Tornado, headed to film school, and, with his camera in tow, eventually became a fixture at New York City fashion shows. Though he admits his early documentary work employed a "guerrilla" method, Boatman eventually met former Fashion Week mastermind Fern Mallis, whom he credits with helping give him a proper introduction to bold faced names in the fashion industry. He eventually began working with American designer Ralph Rucci, and Boatman's new, engrossing, Martha Stewart-narrated documentary, Ralph Rucci: A Designer and His House (airing Wednesday. February 10, at 9 p.m. on the Sundance Channel), follows Rucci through the creation of his Spring 2008 ready-to-wear and fall 2008 couture collections. Here, Boatman talks about Rucci's candidness, what the real Martha is like, and what juicy scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.
How did a cute boy from Iowa become a big-time director?
I grew up in Iowa -- a small town of 1,000 shit-kickers called Hamburg on the Missouri border. I plotted my escape via fantasies reflected by glossy fashion magazines and left days after high school graduation with a boy in a burgundy Tornado with crushed velvet bucket seats. I made my way to film school at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. Having grown up in such a rural setting, I couldn't really wrap my head around making my own dreams come to life. I thought that job was reserved for Spielberg-types who could land flying saucers in the desert. I would sit in foreign film screenings with a lemon-lime Big Gulp and get lost in the work of directors like Roberto Rosellini, Jean-Luc Godard and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
And after school you headed for New York?
Unfortunately, fear got the best of me and I made a pit stop in Chicago, spending several years and working odd freelance jobs to keep my rent paid. I became more interested in storytelling, however, and began working on multimedia projects that were heavy on photography and music, and that I thought would be much cooler as short films. I finally decided to pack up and move to New York City. I got into a digital video master's program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts just as high definition video was beginning to emerge as the new standard in production. While many of my peers were making stories about the environment or politics, I spent all my time sneaking into Bryant Park fashion shows and capturing footage with a small Sony HDV camera.
Above: Ralph Pucci in his Paris studio.
What was your early work like?
My first short-format documentary was titled Fashion: A Frockumentary. It explored the New York fashion community's obsession with the industry. The documentary was well-received by the few critics who saw it. This gave me the courage to make an appointment with Fern Mallis who at the time was running Fashion Week in Bryant Park before IMG took over. While she disapproved of my renegade capturing method, she thought my story had some promise. Surprisingly, she went on to ask if I would be willing to work with her on a feature documentary to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the tents in Bryant Park, The Tents' Tenth. That's when my filmmaking career really got started.
Did any juicy tidbits from your Ralph Rucci doc end up on the cutting room floor?
There was one scene that I chose to leave out of the film for legal reasons. We were going to use an interview with a prominent Texas socialite who was quoted in the press as being one of Ralph's couture clients. Her statements turned out to be untrue and unfortunately their relationship soured. The last thing I needed in the distribution process was to be held up by one of his ex's from Texas.
There was another lengthy interview that I chose not to include in the final cut. After the runway presentation in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo, we set up a post-show interview with Ralph. Because of all the work leading up to the presentation, Ralph hadn't slept for days. Once we began rolling, he went into a delirious rage about his distaste for the poor production quality of the show. Although his collection received rave reviews, the presentation of the actual runway show had been far beneath his standard. There really wasn't a place in the sequence of events to add his emotional breakdown, but maybe I will add it to the deleted scenes section on the soon-to-be-released DVD.
Martha Stewart is the narrator. Give us horror stories or dispel myths!
Martha is major! Because she is a huge Rucci fan and client, she generously joined the project early on and offered to narrate a scene in the beginning that illustrates how Ralph got his start and began to grow his business. Once we had finished making the film, she put me in touch with her lawyers at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia who helped broker the distribution deal to the Sundance Channel. Without her help, we would have had an epic story with no viewers.
Have you seen Kell on Earth, Kelly Cutrone's new reality show? People's Revolution handled the Ralph Rucci show and it was madness! Thoughts?
I'm living for Kell on Earth! Ms. Cutrone is a dear friend. When I started shooting backstage video years ago at New York Fashion Week, she took me under her PR wing and helped me get the interviews I so desperately needed! If the Rucci show was madness, I was oblivious. I was sitting in the second row behind Deeda Blair. To my right was James Galanos, to my left was the legendary R&B duo Ashford and Simpson and directly across the runway was Martha Stewart. I was rubbernecking like a Midwestern tourist.
Above: Director David Boatman
Ralph Rucci: A Designer and His House airs on the Sundance Channel tonight at 9 p.m.