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Review of Low Budget Hell by Al Sumrall on

Review of Low Budget Hell by Al Sumrall on

Low Budget Hell succinctly tells the personal experiences of the author in the low budget film industry in the 70’s and 80’s. Mainly but not totally, under John Waters, he recalls events and how they affected him and the many people who sacrificed and worked their heart out trying to create films under crushing pressures and often incredibly unreasonable demands of often clearly sociopathic people intent on only their own visions and needs.

Maier writes in a very smooth, pleasing style, like he is talking to a friend over a cup of coffee. He also creates the imagery that puts you comfortably there by his shoulder as he works in interesting situations with some people that are as good as gold, others that are flawed and damaged and yet fighting to stay relevant, and others that are near demonic in their nature. As in life, some of the situations are humorous and you often find yourself chuckling when you feel you shouldn’t be, after all it is reality.

What is described in Low Budget Hell was intense, deadly serious, incredibly hard, sometimes passionate, and in some cases pathetic, especially in those cases where individuals would place themselves in positions of physical and mental abuse for the “artistic” vision or financial greed of people that really didn’t give a damn for them but would use any means to get to their personal interpretation of “the top”. The book also shows the many very good people that contributed and sacrificed much just to be a part of the “film industry”; a few succeeded, some failed, and many just got by until they found themselves kicked or pushed out.

Maier, who apparently was able to hang on through the thick and thin much longer than most, does not get bogged down by details, he includes in a seamless style many of the challenges of the film projects he worked on and he finds different interesting things to say about each project, but but he does not dwell on any of them. You never get bored. You share his frustration and sometimes despair when working with often ill-spirited, selfish people. Yet, you also share his own amazement when most of the projects actually get completed despite all the odds, surviving the bizarre incidents and interference. You are introduced to the constant emotional and financial bribery in the low budget film industry, the constant swallowing of elephants yet choking at gnats mentality of low budget film producers and backers who are everything but professional. But occasionally you do meet a professional who is also a good human being.

You also find yourself often in sympathy with many people that you would walk on the other side of the street to get away from. Maier succeeds in showing the humanity of some very bizarre folks and you find yourself linked to that person and their often bitterly hard lives that they tried to overcome, but as this is reality, some succeeded, some survived, some didn’t. Of course you meet those that wallow in illegal, immoral, and self destructive behavior also. There is sleaze (especially in some mentioning of film content which was at times beyond the pale of any form of decency) but you do see at least in Water’s films, an attempt at making things professional. The films themselves are only discussed in terms of the particular event of production described. You see people driven to desperate and sometimes underhanded behavior, usually needed to get what needed to be done, but also creating at times potential loss and damage to others.

Occasionally you get to see some real stars in their more human form. Maier shows them as real people, often when they are working the business end of their “craft”. And yes, you get interesting insight in what makes some creative people “tick”, especially John Waters. You find out that there are little people and big people in the industry and rarely do they meet except in fleeting moments of creation. All of the above makes for a very entertaining and interesting book and I am glad the author has shared his experiences.

There is much to learn from this book. You don’t have to be a fan of John Waters, you don’t even have to know him as you will learn about him in the book from Maier’s personal perspective, and if perhaps you think you know him you might find something new in his personal dealings with Maier. There is something here for so many people, especially those who dream of creating something from nothing, especially on a low budget. But beware of the Hell that awaits…. the human cost which will never be “low budget”.




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