Photography: Lucian Wintrich
Last week, Gawker ran an article with the headline, “This is a Morally Bankrupt Way to Market Your Movie, But an OK Way To Get Your Name Out There,” which detailed a string of misleading emails from 23-year-old filmmaker Sebastian Sommer to promote his new film, Love Fades. Writing under the moniker Arca Spillage, he attempted to stoke a reaction from journalist Rich Juzwiak by bringing attention to Michael Alig’s controversial involvement in the short and strategically defaming himself: “[Love Fades] was directed by Sebastian Sommer, an untalented, annoying, troublemaker,” the director wrote in an email as Spillage. “This disgusting perversion needs to be brought to peoples attention.”
Juzwiak immediately saw through this act and requested proof of identity, so Sommer attached a clip of Alig filming himself on his phone and claimed to have been the infamous club kid all along: “You caught me darling. It’s me Michael,” he wrote. “I’ll admit it was a cute stunt. This little shit put me in a movie and I already signed the release form so I can’t get out of it.” After contacting Alig through the convicted murderer’s site and confirming he had no involvement with these emails, Sommer eventually owned up to his extreme marketing scheme—something Alig, the real one, described as being comparable to a Scooby Doo storyline. “I’m afraid of him,” Alig told Gawker, referencing Sommer.
At the heart of this “morally bankrupt” scandal, which also involves Alig accusing Sommer of stealing his iPad, is the third installment of the filmmaker’s “Heartbreak” trilogy. Love Fades is “a meditation on love and heartbreak in the modern world,” starring buzzy Insta-celebrities Jennifer Medina, Bella McFadden, Lucian Wintrich and Alig, who muses about using Christian Dior face cream behind bars during the closing credits. Set to an existential female narrator, the melodramatic short features Sommer’s signature lo-fi footage and ultimately suggests that love might be a fatal curse.
Though it’s unclear whether or not Alig’s involvement in Love Fades was exploitative, Sommer’s shady tactics surrounding Love Fades are certainly reflective of what it takes for young filmmakers to be heard in today’s noisy digital landscape. Watch the short, below, and read our exclusive interview with Sommer—the first and last Q&A he’s agreed to do about this project.
Let’s start by talking about the Gawker controversy. Why did you go about marketing your film in this way, especially since your email to me about the film was a straightforward pitch. Was the end result what you had in mind?
Gawker responds to outrage. I knew they needed something salacious to write about. A pitch on its own is too boring, [so] I had to derail the conversation into levels of insanity. In order for this to work, they had to think they were fucking someone over: Me. Only they didn’t realize the film was going to come out the same day as their piece. It was a kind of cyber performance art, playing a character impersonating other characters, all as a critique on the exploitative nature of present day journalism and the blurred lines between fact and fiction over the Internet. The article goes into great lengths about Michael Alig and this ‘supposed’ hammer in a ‘controversial’ scene when if you actually watch the movie, Love Fades, you will see that the scene in question doesn’t even exist.
In the digital age when everything is fleeting, short films included, do you think buzz marketing tactics are essential to getting your work seen?
I think Kanye West would have the perfect answer for that question. I’m drawing a blank.
My initial concern when I saw your email about the film was Michael Alig’s involvement. Personally, I think elevating him on any platform, whether that be through media or nightlife, is wrong. Why did you include him?
It happened by chance. I like to make my creative decisions based on impulse and this particular impulse happened to include Michael. I remember thinking to myself, ‘What would Rainer Werner Fassbinder do?’
How did you meet Michael?
I met Michael at a convention for people who’re obsessed with disappearing iPads. We hit it off and I decided to have him play in my film.
Okay, so what is with all this iPad drama? Did you steal his iPad after filming?
No, I did not take his iPad. I believe that Michael misplaced his roommate’s iPad and then somehow thought I had to do with it—going as far as calling my grandmother in the middle of night hysterically crying about it. How did he even get my grandmother’s phone number in the first place?
How does Michael fit into this film’s plot? He seems like more of a buzzy name than anything of narrative substance.
He acts as the emotional support and potential lover to the lead character Lucian Wintrich, a gay republican getting facial reconstruction surgery to look like Michael Alig.
Love Fades is part of a larger trilogy. Bring me through this concept and how each film relates to one another.
It was initially inspired by heartbreak. I had a girlfriend who cheated on me five times—three of the times were for money. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t like explaining my work, but some reoccurring themes in the trilogy include the use of female narrators, strangulations, love, anti-love, fish eye, lo-fi, New York City and my brother Gabriel Sommer, the Yves Saint Laurent whore, [who’s] in all of the films.
All your films have a similar look. There’s something organic about everything—do you create a structure for actors to work within?
That’s a secret you will only come to know if you act in one of my films.
Your website has the lead image that says you’re “the best,” and you’re “the worst.” Do you want to be viewed as a polarizing filmmaker? Is controversy at the core of your approach?
I wouldn’t say that controversy is at the core of my approach, but I’m by no means scared of it. At the end of the day, film is my religion—my one true love. I would do anything for it. Everyone should know by now that I’m here to stay and make an impact. This was an interesting project, but I’m ready to move forward. I have a short film about to be released called Live Forever, starring Cakes Da Killa and Eden Brolin.