Penelope Spheeris achieved box office success with her shocking 1981 documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization,” as well as the 1992 comedy “Wayne’s World” — but by 2012, she had left Hollywood for good.
“[Hollywood] changed into something that I didn’t want to be a part of,” the 73-year-old filmmaker told the A.V. Club. “I really didn’t want to be a part of mainstream Hollywood anymore. It was too — it’s ugly. You have no friends in Hollywood. Hollywood is a lonely, lonely desert, especially as a woman.”
Spheeris said everything changed when she started working for Harvey and Bob Weinstein on 1998’s “Senseless,” which grossed $13 million from a budget of $15 million.
“…Working with the Weinsteins was probably the moment where I said to myself, ‘How the f--- did I get here? What am I doing?’” she recalled in the website's interview. “I did a movie called ‘Senseless’ with David Spade and Marlon Wayans with the Weinsteins producing back in 1998. I was just finishing this movie and I said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to work in this movie business anymore.’ And as a matter of fact, that was that.”
According to Spheeris, not only did she struggle in making the movie a hit, but she received no support from the demanding Weinsteins.
“… You can’t screw up when you’re a woman,” she explained. “One little mistake and you’re done. Like ‘Senseless,’ they kept rewriting it and rewriting it. And I’m like ‘Dude, you guys, this isn’t working. Don’t keep rewriting it. Let me just do the movie I signed up to do.’ But they kept rewriting it, and it’s in my contract that I got to do what they say, you know? And at one point, I said to Bob Weinstein, ‘I don’t think this works,’ and he goes, ‘This is my f-----g money and I’m going to spend it any f-----g way I want to.’ And how are you going to argue with that?”
“So I had to do the movie, and it didn’t do very well,” continued Spheeris. “And as a woman, when you do a movie that doesn’t do well, then you’re done. You’re in director jail.”
Spheeris admitted her experience making films in a male-dominated industry was tough, but she wasn’t “bitter” when she decided to walk away from show business. Her last credited film is 2012’s TV movie “The Real St. Nick.”
“At this point, I don’t want to make a movie,” she described. “They can’t even f-----g beg me to make a movie. I got to make a lot of money in the days when you could make a lot of money as a director, and I invested it right. I don’t need that anymore. It’s not like I’m bitter. I just feel like I went through too much pain. I really did enjoy my life, being in the movie business.”
During her reign in Hollywood, Spheeris was celebrated for her work, including bringing the “Bohemian Rhapsody” music video to life for “Wayne’s World," resulting in a Grammy nomination. She also received critical praise when “The Decline of Western Civilization,” her feature film, made its debut. Spheeris released parts two and three of the documentary in 1988 and 1997.
Spheeris’ body of work – including her short films, music videos, documentaries and feature movies – currently reside in the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles, A.V. Club shared. “The Decline of Western Civilization” trilogy, which was restored, is currently out on Blu-ray.
“… Let me tell you, I did better than most people did,” she said. “I got paid during the time where they were paying directors millions of dollars for doing movies. I think that’s why the Weinsteins tortured me so much because they paid me $2.75 million or some s--- like that for doing ‘Senseless.’ It’s like, ‘OK, we gave you all this money so we’re going to torture you this much.’ It’s not worth it.
“I got to a point where I said, ‘It’s not that important to me.’ It took a little while because that was me. I identified with the movie business. I am a filmmaker. That’s what I do. Right now, I don’t identify with that anymore. [My partner Sin and I] just spent two years building a house together, and we have six houses, and we’ve got a lot of tenants and a lot of rent, and I don’t need the movie business, you know? So if they don’t hire me because I’m a woman — because I am an older woman — if they don’t hire me, I don’t give a s---. I don’t know who fired who, but as far as I’m concerned, I fired them.”