In Their Own Words: Filmmakers Doug Pray And Steve Helvey Of "Hype!", Part II
by Eugene Hernandez
To read the first part of this article, click here.
SUNDANCE and DISTRIBUTION
Pray: From that moment [when we got into Sundance] it was like good news/bad news. Good news: we got into Sundance…[Bad news] Shit, we gotta finish the film! My negative cutter kept saying, “You’re not gonna make it.”
Pray: Its hard for me to be objective about the festival because for me personally it obviously means a lot to be there — it really, truly celebrates independent film. I look back on it very fondly even though it was kind of a madhouse.
Helvey: For me it covered every kind of intense emotion in a way — the fury leading up to it was just overwhelming and there were frustrations. The incredible…just being elated that we were accepted, that was so exciting for us, because we had been working alone for so long. We were prepared that a lot of people wouldn’t understand this film.
Helvey: The festival circuit does give heat to movies and that’s how distributors see them, but I don’t think that the life of a film hinges on any single festival . Send it out there and let it find its audience with whatever festivals like it. Realize that its not like if Sundance happens your gonna get a deal and if it doesn’t, you won’t. There are a lot of great films that were in Sundance, got great reviews, and their still having trouble getting distribution.
Pray: Can I say one thing I really feel strongly about? This is advice and I’ve heard this from others too….Don’t show distributors your film until it completely 100% finished and you’re proud of it, if you can at all help it. Its a mistake. We kept thinking that the footage was so cool [so] we showed it to a lot of distributors and by the time we got to Sundance a lot of those distributors were like “hey Doug and Steve we like your work, but we’ve already seen it.” You’re not gonna get them there again. The first impression is the ONLY impression.
Helvey: There’s a sense of “damaged goods,” there’s a sense that, “Well everybody looked at it and nobody picked it up.” Its the reverse of the bidding war.
Pray: They’re gonna see it anyway, you only get one shot, give them your best shot.
Pray: The distributor we ended up with [CFP], who we like a lot, we had known about them for years. Sundance had nothing to do with it, and I am not dissing Sundance. I am just saying its not about a market, Sundance is about celebrating independent film.
[On the biggest challenges in choosing the right distributor.]
Pray: For us it was…do they get the film?
Helvey: Its an interesting thing because we were in serious discussions with a major studio-related indie unit that was ready to take this out to 500 – 800 screens and they were [saying], “Now if we can just find the right marketing hook…, but for Doug and I that kind of approach to marketing was kind of antithetical to the ethic of the film itself. We struggled so hard for so long to make this film ethically correct in terms of relating. Ultimately, we had to step back and say “we can’t do that, it s not the route we want this film to go — as much as we’d love the kind of exposure you can create, we’d rather go with somebody small who really gets the film and will maintain the ethic of the film in its marketing — otherwise were shooting ourselves in the face, all that work would be undermined…
Pray: …[interjecting] So maybe the lesson in that is “try to do business with people who are similar to yourself or the subject matter of your film, because if you’re straying too far out of that it’s not gonna work,” and I think that’s true with bands or major labels…sometimes staying with a smaller label or a smaller distributor is a great thing because you have more control, you have a say in what’s happening.
THE STATE OF THE SCENE
Pray: I truly believe that we are living in a…do it yourself era — its just like what happened in music. I think that spirit is a good one, its a really healthy thing — its sort of fueled by the Internet, too. I think there are huge similarities between what’s happened in music in last five or six years and what’s going on right now in film…
Helvey: [interjecting] I think the bottlenecks in film, though, are still technology driven. Its still expensive to make a movie…there’s still that impediment. The whole camcorder thing — nobody would have dreamed…Tyco has a video line for three year olds — the thing is that the three year olds who are chasing the cat with the camera now, by the time they’re 7, 10, 12, the way the Internet’s going, they will have editing machines…they will be doing great visual storytelling.
Pray: But. the bottom line is when [the film] goes to the screen that’s a cost intensive thing.
Helvey: But, the concept of going to the screen, I think, is gonna change.
Helvey: With the internet — the box on your table is gonna become better and better quality — people will be putting their own movies on and there will almost be independent film catalogs…
Pray: If that’s true and I think I agree with that, then entertainment in theaters is gonna become more of a spectacle — its like going to Universal Studios, its like going to Disneyland, its like the IMAX — you pay 17 bucks to see the most insane explosions. I mean it already is…
Pray: For us having made a documentary its very exciting to be in a theater with good sound. Its gonna be too bad if independent filmmaking gets totally relegated to the home computer screens, because there is something truly great about being in a dark theater with a group of people and watching a film….there’s been a huge growth in film schools and because there’s this whole idea now that anyone can make a move — which again I totally applaud, we’re among them, these are our peers — the good news is everybody’s doing it, the bad news is…
Helvey: There are no more theaters going up. In Europe screens are expanding, but in the U.S. you don’t see a huge binge in new theaters going up to accommodate all these new films.
Helvey: The economics of paying 7.50 for a movie also doesn’t bode that well for the democratization cause its still kind of expensive to do it a lot.