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Ex-Mormon filmmaker Richard Dutcher starves for his movie art

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Filmmaker Richard Dutcher, photographed relaxing in front of his Utah County home on May 4, Day 6 of a three-week water-only fast. Courtesy of Audrey Rock

By Sean P. Means

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published May 09 2013 08:12AM
Updated May 13, 2013 04:44PM

Richard Dutcher is taking the whole "starving artist" idea to a new level.

"I’m hungry as hell," the Provo-based filmmaker said Wednesday, during the 10th day of a planned three-week "hunger strike" he launched to focus on — and rally people behind — his campaign to raise finishing funds for his latest movie.

"It’s no fun," said Dutcher, 48. "I don’t recommend you ever do this."

Since ceremonially eating two orange sections on April 28, Dutcher has consumed nothing but water. He has dropped 19 pounds and lost 2 inches off his belly. He has chronicled his fast in daily dispatches on YouTube.

After 10 days without food, Dutcher said, "sometimes you feel surprisingly well and energetic. And other times you feel like lying down and dying."

Dutcher’s girlfriend, Audrey Rock, was skeptical at first. "I didn’t really think he was going to do it," said the writer and former movie critic. "But I had no objections. I said, ‘I’m right behind you. Let’s do it.’ 

"It didn’t get frightening to me until he started to get sick," she said.

That was on Day 8, Monday, when Dutcher started vomiting. Rock tended to Dutcher, putting wet cloths on his forehead and helping him rest.

"My life right now is revolving around this fast," Rock said.

Dutcher went on a fast 13 years ago before filming his breakout film, the Mormon missionary drama "God’s Army." He did it then, in part, because the character he played in the film, an older LDS missionary with a terminal illness, needed to be thinner.

The previous experience "inspired me to think that if I can do it for eight days, maybe I can do it for longer," Dutcher said.

The current fast, he said, has a different goal: Get pledges for $30,000 on the Internet fundraising site Kickstarter by May 19. The money would go to finish post-production on Dutcher’s film "The Boys at the Bar," a comedy about St. Louis friends gathering at their favorite Irish bar. As of Wednesday, 176 backers have signed on to give $13,373.

"I thought [the fast] would be a really interesting way to focus everything on this one effort," Dutcher said. "Also, if the rest of the producing team saw what I was doing, it would inspire them to work harder."

The producers are a group Dutcher formed called Project 23, which began as a class he taught for fledgling filmmakers. He turned the class into a hands-on experience, running the students through the process of financing and shooting his script.

The movie was shot last year at a bar in Trolley Square, after hours, and has been edited. It still requires finishing touches — including color correction, sound mixing, a musical score, one special-effects shot and marketing — on which the $30,000 from Kickstarter would be spent.

Mounting a Kickstarter campaign "really is work," Dutcher said. "People have this assumption that people come and just give money."

Instead, Dutcher and Rock have worked their contacts, via social media and elsewhere, hitting people up to donate.

"You have to personally appeal to each of those people," Dutcher said.

Kickstarter has generated controversy in recent weeks as some big Hollywood names — people who usually get funded through traditional channels — have used the site to drum up pledges and publicity.

The creators of the defunct TV series "Veronica Mars" last month raised $5.7 million toward a movie version of the show. And two weeks ago, actor and filmmaker Zach Braff, who starred on TV’s "Scrubs" and directed himself in 2004 Sundance Film Festival hit "Garden State," launched a campaign for his next movie, "Wish I Was Here," which has raised $2.4 million so far.

Braff’s campaign, in particular, has drawn critics on the Internet, who have accused the actor of subverting Kickstarter’s original purpose.

"Kickstarter allows filmmakers who otherwise would have NO access to Hollywood and NO access to serious investors to scrounge up enough money to make their movies," TV writer Ken Levine (whose credits include episodes of "M*A*S*H" and "The Simpsons") wrote on his blog. "Zach Braff has contacts. Zach Braff has a name. Zach Braff has a track record. Zach Braff has residuals. He can get in a room with money people."

Braff, Dutcher said, "is kind of spoiling the waters and messing it up [for others]."

Dutcher has faced online criticism of his own during his "hunger strike," Rock said — including "a lot of jabs" about his weight. She’s fought back all of them.

"With my mad writing skills, I’ll just put them in their place," Rock joked. "They are left speechless, because they don’t want any more of that crap."

Dutcher is unfazed by it all, she said. "He’s really just been so zen."

movies@sltrib.com

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