For the past few months, a number of theaters in the United States and Canada have been scheduling midnight screenings of Fateful Findings, an incompetently produced, inexplicably strange film by Las Vegas architect Neil Breen, who writes, directs, produces, and stars. Fateful Findings has been described both as “the worst movie ever made” and a natural follow-up to The Room. The Room is an engrossing experience mostly because of its creator, the oft-imitated and downright weird Tommy Wiseau. The Room fascinates because it represents one odd man’s idea of a normal movie, and Fateful Findings strikes a similarly uncanny note. The movie is cheap, poorly acted, technically inept, and clearly the vanity project of an amateur filmmaker. (This is his third feature.) But there are still moments that reflect the big-budget Hollywood techno-thriller Breen thinks he’s replicating.
Breen is at the center of the film as Dylan, a gifted computer-science graduate turned bestselling novelist who dedicates himself to hacking into and exposing “the most secret government and corporate secrets.” What does this hacking entail? We don’t know, because the film never gets more specific than the words “hacking” and “computer science,” but Dylan sure spends a lot of time hammering at the keyboards of the various laptops that litter his man-cave, none of which were turned on before the shoot. The outside world and its pressures render Dylan likely to throw objects on the floor in frustration (cue the inevitable drinking game), and his various outdated laptops serve both as props and victims of his emotional outbursts. Despite the topical Snowden-esque storyline, Breen never explains the “government and corporate secrets,” preferring to leave literally all details wrapped in a cloak of laughably vague mystery.
A plethora of incidental subplots and tangents interrupt Dylan’s online subterfuge, including his wife’s pill addiction (Breen’s skepticism apparently extends to medicine), an extramarital love interest, another couple with serious marital problems, and their teenage daughter, a Lolita figure who throws herself at Dylan’s feet to no avail. Furthermore, a confusing paranormal thread weaves through the melodrama and cyber-espionage, resulting in a series of atmospheric shots wherein Breen, naked and sweaty, wraps himself around a naked woman in a room decorated by black garbage bags. As far as I can tell, these shots are related to a mysterious black cube that Dylan carries everywhere, but I couldn’t say for sure. It gets weird, and Breen never approaches the paranormal with a sense of irony.
As a director, Breen seems to keep his surrealist impulses sincere. As an actor, he saunters through the movie with the confidence of a bonafide movie star, but the cadence of a nursing-home volunteer who reads to the elderly. As others have noted, he resembles an older Keanu Reeves, with a lumpy middle-aged body he isn’t afraid to show off.
So who is Neil Breen? Where did he come from? Why did he feel the need to express himself via a medium he doesn’t seem to understand? When I contacted him about these things, he was reluctant to provide answers, only confirming that he’s a licensed architect, and that he finances his films with the money he earns from his day job. He refused to discuss his childhood or his artistic influences. When I asked about the themes in his work—the interest in technology, the obsession with institutional secrets, and the childlike innocence of his characters—he responded with a John Ford-worthy deflection, insisting that “the story was written as a universal timely topic, with a paranormal twist, with a quirky romantic twist.”
Breen doesn’t have Tommy Wiseau’s unplaceable accent or lumpy complexion, but, with his bad dye job and awkward but strangely mesmerizing screen presence, he’s similarly unsuited to the generic leading-man role he thinks he’s playing. Like Wiseau, he appears to be using the film both as an excuse to show off his naked body, and as a reason to create a scenario in which multiple women fall in love with him. He appears delusional, so blinded by The American Dream that he believes he can produce a reasonable facsimile of a Hollywood thriller, starring himself in the sort of role that might be reserved for a handsome matinee idol. He never stops to consider that, maybe, as a self-financed writer-director-actor-producer-editor (and more), he might not be doing it right. Fateful Findings may have been made without much knowledge of how to make a movie, but that’s only a small part of its appeal. It’s also paranoid, ambitious, and deeply weird, made from the perspective of a true outsider, not just from filmmaking, but from the mainstream itself.
As the film’s North American distributor, Panorama Entertainment hopes Fateful Findings will reach the same level of popularity as The Room. “I knew that Fateful Findings was incredibly unique about 10 minutes in. I knew right then that I wanted to acquire the film,” Panorama co-founder Stuart Strutin wrote via email. But it’s Breen who controls perception of the film, from the trailer he cut himself to the film’s charmingly amateurish website (with a .biz address, of all things) to his own awkward Facebook and Twitter presence. “We never, ever wanted to say anything negative about the film, and that was something Neil wanted as well,” says Strutin, who doesn’t think the film is bad, anyway. “We like the film. We think it succeeds at what it sets out to do.”
“It’s not difficult for me to say I think this guy is an artist.” says Hadrian Belove, executive director of The Cinefamily repertory theater in Los Angeles. Belove became a fan after a volunteer handed him a copy of Double Down, Breen’s first film. Belove, who has seen his fair share of “bad” movies, insists he was drawn to Breen’s films because of their genuine artistry. “My belief is that a movie that is going to connect on a camp level has to have many genuinely good qualities to really work. Nothing stays very funny or interesting if you laugh for 20 minutes and you’re like, ‘Oh, I get it, this is where I’m going to be for the rest of the movie.’”
In Double Down, Breen plays another computer expert, Aaron Brand, tasked with saving Las Vegas from some vaguely described cyber terrorist attack. Aaron lives off the grid in the Mojave desert, where he talks to the spirits of his dead loved ones and survives off canned tuna. Double Down contains supernatural elements like Fateful Findings, and carries the same themes: a vaguely defined but deeply felt distrust of government and big business, and a belief in computer technology’s potential to disrupt the status quo.
It fascinated Belove, and inspired him to program Breen’s follow-up, I Am Here…. Now (the fourth dot in the ellipses is not a typo) as a part of Cinefamily’s Holy Fucking Shit series. I’ve been unable to locate a copy of I Am Here…. Now, but the Cinefamily-produced trailer suggests a film even more jaw-droppingly crazy than Fateful Findings. Breen plays a being from another world who comes to Earth to rid it of moral corruption, Sodom and Gomorrah-style. He starts with drug users, gangbangers, and sex-obsessed teens, but moves on to—you guessed it!—government and big business. Breen traveled to Los Angeles and sat in the back of the theater for the screening, experiencing the film with an audience of rowdy ironists and bad-movie connoisseurs. Predictably, they laughed.
“I’ve watched a lot of movies where people laugh. Usually the filmmaker attempts to rebuild the reality around the idea that [the humor] was intentional, or that it was part of its charm from the beginning,” says Belove. “I’ve heard that speech a lot from the James Nguyens [Nguyen directed the similarly received Birdemic] and Tommy Wiseaus. With Neil, I think it was a little bit hard for him. He was a little mystified, very apologetic about his budget and the limitations he faced. He knew he was kind of out on his own.”
Saying Breen is “on his own” is barely hyperbole. He makes films with the sensibility of a Nevadan, permeating his work with libertarian themes and a spirit of individualism. His heroes are morally upstanding and his villains are representatives of institutional authority, including—in spirit, if not literally—a film industry with aesthetic codes and practices that have left him on the outside. When I tried to talk to Breen, he insisted that his films were made according to industry standards, “using the same processes as a large studio would… just with less money,” but it’s clear this isn’t the case. Most of the credits for Double Down are devoted to Breen, but humorously, the lighting and makeup credits read “none.” At the bottom of the Fateful Findings’s credit scroll, a disclaimer clarifies that all companies listed in the credits with the initials “N” and “B” (all of them) are actually Breen himself. Not only does he write, direct, produce, edit, and star in his films, he also fills in as most of the crew.
To find actors, he used standard online casting calls and paid fair rates for non-union work, but his eccentricities are still apparent in these exchanges. Klara Landrat, who plays Dylan’s pill-addicted wife in Fateful Findings, informed me via email that he never gave the actors a full script, asking them to learn only their own scenes. Landrat, who has yet to see Fateful Findings, has no complaints about working with Breen. She says, “I think he might seem aloof to others, but I don’t consider that odd, especially since this industry is saturated with ‘odd’ or ‘off’ people. Personally, I found him very nice: kind and polite with a cool edge.” As for some of the more notable Breenisms of the movie, including his penchant for having characters repeat lines of dialogue for seemingly no reason, she says, “I found the repetitiveness curious, though I kept in mind that Pinter and Meisner used it avidly,” an explanation that sounds, at the very least, highly generous to Breen.
I also asked Landrat about Breen’s penchant for appearing naked in his own films. Breen’s ass, like Wiseau’s ass before it, makes extended onscreen cameos. In both Double Down and Fateful Findings, Breen is naked and wrapped around a barely dressed woman. In Fateful Findings, that woman is Landrat. Not quite naked in a wet night slip, she awkwardly showers with a nude Breen, whose face is bandaged and leaking fake blood. “The fact that the director wanted to have things done in a certain way is not ‘off,’” she says, but the footage itself tells a different story. Landrat gamely tries to play the part of a loving wife, but the shot is so bizarre that it’s impossible to blame her for looking uncomfortable. It’s both a totally egregious excuse for Breen to do some naked cuddling with an attractive woman and a moment that epitomizes the strange appeal of Fateful Findings. Why is he in the shower with those bandages on? How has he not passed out from blood loss? Why is this woman getting her night slip wet? Do we really have to see his ass?
Actress Tommie Vegas, who appeared in I Am Here…. Now, has a less-favorable perception of the auteur. “He pretty much lives up to his strange reputation,” she told me, “He has a very set idea of how he wanted it to look and how he wanted everything to appear. Sometimes you would think maybe he was about to go off the deep end.” While Vegas never canoodled with a naked Breen, she felt uncomfortable when he asked her to unbutton her shirt beyond the point where it could safely conceal her cleavage. As she puts it, “Even just the way that the camera’s angled when you watch it, [it’s] like the whole purpose of that was hopefully the wind is going to blow open my shirt and you see my boobs.” When she finally saw the film—after Breen made her buy her own copy—she was so unimpressed that she turned it off after 30 minutes.
“It’s just not exactly my cup of tea,” she says, “and I personally would probably never work with him again.” She then adds, “But props to him for continuing to do it and having these followers. He’s doing something right, I guess.”
The general sleaziness of these scenarios once again recalls The Room, in which Wiseau cut the same sex scene, starring himself, into the film twice because the actress playing his love interest allegedly refused to film a second one. It also illustrates the dark side of these outsider films. A part of their appeal derives from a naïve, hapless filmmaker’s exploitation of his female actors. But Wiseau and Breen are hardly the first male filmmakers to pick up a camera and ogle the female body; they just aren’t being very “professional” about it. It’s fair to point out the creepier aspects of Fateful Findings, in which Dylan rebuffs the advances of a teenage girl who sneaks into his backyard and swims topless in his pool. But Breen’s creepiness stems from a culture that accepts such gendered imbalances, as long as they’re presented in the right way (e.g. with Seth Rogen and a studio budget)—a culture that seems to have left Breen on the fringes.
To a large degree, what differentiates Breen from a more polished filmmaker isn’t incompetence, but an ignorance of the right way of doing things. Less “naïve” filmmakers than Breen grapple with the obstacle of creating work that recognizes the limitations of a low budget. Breen wholly ignores that obstacle. If a more traditional low-budget feature cast its director as an object of constant sexual and romantic attention, it would reek of vanity, but that doesn’t stop Breen. His reach constantly exceeds his grasp, but his passion shines through. As Belove puts it, “You relate to the person’s ambition and the striving and the desire.” Regardless of the technical mistakes, continuity errors, and stilted dialogue, Breen’s vision is strange and unique. “There’s a purity to it, and there’s an ambition. We’re amused by our own flaws and ambitions,” says Belove, before adding, “Most of those coolios in Brooklyn watching Fateful Findings are not able to make a better movie.” Any film-school graduate with a budget can make a boring old film, but only Neil Breen, a filmmaker who never learned what he isn’t supposed to do, could have made something as fascinating as Fateful Findings.