Cigarettes and Red Vines: The Story Behind the Definitive Paul Thomas Anderson Fan Site
The 'Licorice Pizza' filmmaker fascinates and puzzles his admirers—and one website has tracked his career for more than two decades with an obsessive attention to detail.
When Paul Thomas Anderson first started releasing movies back in the '90s, an era before Twitter or Reddit or Letterboxd or podcasts, it was difficult to know exactly who they were connecting with. Though the filmmaker behind Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Master, and the new '70s coming-of-age saga Licorice Pizza retains a sense of mystery about his process, he's always wanted projects to find the people who might love them. For more than two decades, the fansite Cigarettes & Red Vines has helped build and maintain the hyper-specific bond between Anderson and the ever-growing community of obsessives who can't get enough of his work.
"I remember so well being so excited by the possibilities," Anderson told Thrillist when asked about the early days of the fan site. "I made only a few films before that, and I realized how hard it was to get your trailer into theaters or your trailer in front of the right audiences. And with the emergence of the internet at that time, and more specifically a fan site that was dedicated to our work, you could get your work immediately to them and help get it out into the world at large."
Greg Mariotti, a Seattle-based Anderson fan, created the site as a diversion from his banking career. He originally named it Cigarettes & Coffee, after the short film that inspired Anderson's 1996 debut feature Hard Eight. Mariotti used a dial-up modem and Microsoft FrontPage to build the site, eventually bringing on collaborators like graphic designer CJ Wallis, who now owns the site.
In the early days, the goals were simple: publish any updates on Anderson, meticulously track all the wild rumors floating around at the time, and hopefully land an interview with the man himself. Eventually, Anderson began contacting the site and it became a part of his playful promotional strategies, like releasing the teaser trailer for There Will Be Blood online, an act of viral marketing that got Anderson scolded by executives at Paramount. ("I just thought, 'Well, fuck that. This is a great way to get to people, and I don't have to ask for permission,'" Anderson now recalls.)
"The site grew rather quickly and I was receiving various interviews and other news tidbits from readers," Mariotti writes in an email. "This was at a time when most publications weren’t online, so readers were typing up these interviews with Paul and sharing them with me so I could add them to the site. The sense of community was strong in those early days of the internet."
Anderson continues to bring a touch of mischief to how his movies get rolled out. The Licorice Pizza trailer premiered on 35mm at select theaters across the country before it landed on YouTube. But the online landscape in which Cigarettes & Red Vines launched, a frenzied blend of fanzine and discussion board, is long gone. "It''s like looking back at the early days of silent movies or something, how somebody must look back at the early days of the internet," Anderson says. "It was so quaint, so simple. It was just limitless possibilities, and so optimistic. And it's pretty fucking different now."
Things are pretty fucking different for the people who made the site, too. As its coverage expanded and the internet evolved, Mariotti left around 2003 to work on Cameron Crowe's official website The Uncool and he's now a producer at Crowe's company, Vinyl Films, where he's worked on projects like Roadies and David Crosby: Remember My Name. Wallis runs his own production company, FortyFPS, and directs documentaries. He took a break from working on the edits of an upcoming biography about football star Jim McMahon to discuss his role in maintaining Cigarettes & Red Vines over the years, the ever-shifting terrain of the internet, and what it's like to meet your hero.
Thrillist: How did you get involved with Cigarettes & Red Vines?
CJ Wallis: I was working at a place in Canada called Future Shop, which is kinda like Best Buy down here except it works on commission. There was nobody coming in at the night shift after seven, so I went to the computer department and the internet was still vaguely new at the time. It used be a thing where you just typed in somebody's name and "dot com." So I was like, "Maybe PT Anderson has one?"
I did PaulThomasAnderson.com and nothing came up. And then I did PTAnderson.com and it was this really ugly site that had these weird gray film strips with flat gold text that you couldn't read. It looked very similar to Ain't It Cool News but done by someone that hadn't done HTML before. I did graphic design at the time, so I reached out to the guy. I think the site had only been around for a couple months. It had just started to post regularly. It was a guy in Seattle, Greg Mariotti, and I was in Vancouver, so that's only two hours down the road. It used to be very easy to get through the border back then. Once a week I'd go down and I'd work on the site and got it graphically a little more interesting, hopefully.
Is this in '98? After Boogie Nights but before Magnolia?
This was in between Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Magnolia was really when the site was at its height, I think, for our eagerness to work on it. Magnolia was when we really made it into what it still sorta is.
How old were you at the time?
Just after high school. So about 18.
What type of stuff were you reading online about movies?
I don't really remember there being a ton of stuff. I remember being able to go online and find TextEdit versions of scripts that were written by someone else, but that was good enough at the time. I really just used it for that, I think. Torrenting wasn't a thing at the time. It was the infancy of all of it. So you would just dig around and find these weird bootleg websites of these super-fans putting up stuff about the people they loved.
Do you remember other sites about specific directors around that time? I imagine Kevin Smith's ViewAskew site was up and running by then.
Yeah, there was that. Obviously, Ain't It Cool News was Greg's Mount Everest. The site was filled with big, bold text with a hundred exclamation points and all this Arial 48-point font. The only site I really remember going to at the time was some weird [Quentin] Tarantino website that had a picture of him in the top right corner holding a gun to his head from Reservoir Dogs or something with a blue background. It had some old interviews and stuff like that. I keep trying to come up with an example, but that's all I can really remember: going to that Tarantino site and looking at scripts for True Romance.
When did Paul Thomas Anderson become aware of the site and reach out?
It was definitely after Boogie Nights. It must've been after the special-edition DVD came out, that orange one with the cartoon cover. I think he was doing press for that and Greg just called. He was very excitable anyway, but he was like, "Man, fucking Paul just called me, man." He recorded it on some little MiniDV thing, and he was playing me this horrible bootleg thing over the phone.
But every once in a while, I don't know if he had had too many glasses of wine or what, but he would call and chat and Greg would record it and those would be the interviews you'd see on the page that were these novels. He was just transcribing a two-hour conversation. [Anderson] always wanted to keep his distance though. Rightfully so. The site was insanely detailed at the time, and there's a certain thing where you really like that it's happening but you don't want it to be the "official" site because it would've looked very involved for him at the time, I think.
My memory of that time were the constant rumors about what he might doing next. Do you remember any of the weirder ones you had to post about or track down?
With the Adam Sandler movie, there was a whole bunch of stuff with the title. That was the first time we had "spies." That was the first time Paul got a lot more secretive about the production. I remember people were sending us shot glasses that said Punch-Drunk-Knuckle-Love on them and then we would post that, and the whole internet would go batshit, and then Greg would get a call and be like, "OK, chill out." It was a fine line between servicing what we should be doing and not upsetting the [Anderson] family. Not everyone had that inside track to one of their favorite directors and one of the best to ever do it, so there was a tricky balance with that. It was nice at the time that Greg was the web guy and I was more the graphics guy, as far as titles went. So if we said anything that got us in trouble, it was him that had to be like, "Oh man." But when I took it over, you gotta do what you do and then take the repercussions.
What was the period when interest in the site peaked?
Probably Punch-Drunk Love, I guess. With Magnolia, the little teaser trailers came out. But Punch-Drunk had Cannes and it had the Scopitones, those little 12-second shorts, and all the speculation about the title and the spies and all these people reaching out. It was the time when I was most involved in the site.
Paul actually invited us down to the set. I think it was in 2002. We were gonna drive down. I think we were going to see the Eckhart Auto Body stuff at the warehouse or the auto-repair place. We got through the border and drove to Seattle, and then we got a call the night before we were supposed to go down. We found out that was the day that [original star] Sean Penn had left and they brought in Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and John C. Reilly went away and then they brought in the four brothers. All of that was happening right at that time, so [Paul] was like, "We'll get you back down, don't worry about it." That was definitely a bummer.
So, I drove back to the border and for some reason I felt like externalizing, and the lady [at the border] asked me what I was doing and I said, "I went to go down to see Adam Sandler, but we didn't get to go." For whatever reason, they pulled me over and did a full search of me and thought I was lying and doing all this crazy stuff. It was a wild three days where I thought I was going to meet my hero and watch him work and ended up in a government building naked.
Did you end up meeting him, or no?
They brought us down for the cast-and-crew screening of Punch-Drunk. It was at the Egyptian, and the Pig 'n' Whistle was catering it. It was amazing. You see it at the Egyptian at the big theater and all that. I was a huge Radiohead fan at the time and didn't know that he was courting Jonny Greenwood, so Radiohead walked in because they were recording Hail to the Thief at the same time. That blew my brain. Thom Yorke walks in and you're like, "What the hell is going on here?" You think you made it in Hollywood.
It felt like I was doing something, but I was just a guest. But everyone was really cool. You just see Phillip Baker Hall over by the catering and he's just eating everything. It's the best time! You see all these people that you've watched from afar that are just happy there's a buffet at the screening.
How do you think Paul's relationship with his audience has changed over the years?
As he gets older, he's definitely letting some of the magic out of the hat a little bit. After a screening of The Master, he ran right up to me and was like, "What do you think?" You see something like that for the first time and you don't know what to think about it. You need to watch it two or three times. Then you got the guy who made it standing in front of you asking for some Pauline Kael quote. I was like, "I don't know, man. How did you just watch Philip Seymour Hoffman everyday?" He's like, "Oh, the magic, I don't even remember." All the shit you've read a million times.
I think he's a little more willing to talk about how much fun it is. I think that he'd be way more open to talk about [old projects]. Like he went and found that old Elliott Smith Largo pilot and put that up. I've been asking him about it for 10 years, and he'd be like, "Ah, it's in some box somewhere, I don't know." It's like, "You know exactly where it is, stop it." I really think that's what it is. It might've been after The Master—it just seems like he was a lot more open to let people in in that way.
Even with Licorice Pizza, he was dropping the trailer reel off at different theaters across the country before it debuted online. He likes that slightly mischievous approach to marketing. He clearly gets a kick out of doing it.
That's the best part of it. Anything I do with film, I try to do it the same way, like Radiohead or Björk or any of these people who spend a lot of time to make it fun that way. Putting out singles, or with Radiohead, putting out all these side projects and weird art things—that's one of the things that hooked me into them back in the day. That Boogie Nights orange double-disc with the cartoon on the front of it, I've probably been indirectly ripping that off for years and years and years.
People still talk about that commentary track on that Boogie Nights DVD. It's so good.
Me and my best friend, Jeff, who used to run the site with me, we literally have That Moment, the documentary on the Magnolia DVD, memorized. It's in-jokes for life. We pretend to be [producer] Daniel Lupi eating cheese. He's eating cheese off the top of the fridge. There are thousands of things that in those formative years, those DVDs and the way Paul did things, it's invaluable. The site was always selfish for me, too. You don't have a career yet, so you get to play around with one of the greatest filmmaker's careers. Like, I get to put that he put out a new Boogie Nights poster. I didn't have shit to do with it, but that whole process lent itself to my own film company and hopefully how we're doing things in a similar way to make people pay attention.
What's your best memory of running the site?
Access to Paul, I guess. Getting the benefit of the doubt from your high school hero. There's [Stanley] Kubrick, [Martin] Scorsese, and him. That's the reason high school CJ got to here: selfishly living in his career and being able to provide that service to other fans and having him be cool with it. You open an email and it's a an email from him that says, "Here's a teaser trailer for There Will Be Blood. Thanks. Let the people know." It's like, holy shit. Can you imagine that happening now? It's a big Miramax project and they gave it to us to put it out.
Do you have a favorite Paul Thomas Anderson movie?
I think it would be, at this point in life, There Will Be Blood. I think it goes by your age. When I was in high school—well, I guess there were no other movies to compare it to. I was going to say, "First it was Magnolia, then it was Punch-Drunk." Of course it was; those were the ones that came out. But now going back and having all of them, it's still There Will Be Blood for me. Maybe part of it is working at a one- or two-person company and feeling like you have to go into the mine by yourself and find the chunk of gold. There's something about that movie that's relatable at the moment.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Additional reporting by Esther Zuckerman.