INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: In the Auteur Business; Forensic Films' Scott Macaulay on the Post-'90s Indie Scene
by Matthew Ross
(indieWIRE: 11.05.02) — In today’s economy, running a company that produces one or two independent art films a year without any overhead support might not seem like solid business strategy, but don’t tell that to Forensic Films‘ Scott Macaulay. For the past 10 years, Macaulay and partner Robin O’Hara have been responsible for some of the most unconventional U.S. indies in recent memory, including Harmony Korine‘s “Gummo” and “julien donkey-boy” and Tom Noonan‘s “What Happened Was…” and “The Wife.”
In the past two years, as many other small production companies have found themselves hamstrung by financing and distribution crises, Forensic has continued to make films its own way. Last fall, Macaulay and O’Hara began production on what many in the industry would consider an impossible project: a coming-of-age story featuring a cast of non-professional Latino kids from New York’s Lower East Side, by a first-time writer-director who refused to shoot on DV. But despite the odds — as well as an interruption caused by the events of September 11 — “Raising Victor Vargas” (produced with Sollett and The Wild Bunch‘s Alain de la Mata) was accepted into the Un Certain Regard section at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, where it was quickly snapped up for U.S. distribution by Samuel Goldwyn Films and Fireworks Pictures. The film will be released next spring.
Macaulay and O’Hara — who won the Polo Ralph Lauren Producers Award at the 1998 Independent Spirit Awards — have helped support their producing work by offering consulting and production services for European films looking for U.S. support. Part of those efforts include a partnership with the New York-based casting agency Hopkins/Smith/Barden for the purposes of securing American cast and financing resources for European co-productions. Over the past decade, Macaulay has also served as the editor of FILMMAKER Magazine, the leading quarterly independent film publication. For his monthly industry spotlight column, indieWIRE senior editor Matthew Ross sat down with Macaulay at Forensic’s Tribeca office to discuss the current state of the U.S indie scene, the allure of challenging projects, and what he looks for in a director.
indieWIRE: How did you get started in the film business?
Scott Macaulay: After I graduated from Columbia University, I went to work for The Kitchen, which is a performance space in New York where artists like Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass and Eric Bogosian got their start. I began as a fundraiser and after about two years moved into the job of programming director. For the next five years I programmed and produced all the performance and theater there, working with people like Karen Finley, John Jesurun, David Cale, and Diamanda Galas. But I always wanted to work in film — in college, I ran one of the film societies — and over time I became discouraged by how ephemeral performance work was. A lot of the stuff I produced would only be scheduled to run for one or two weeks and then it would be gone forever.
In 1987 I met James Schamus [co-founder of Good Machine and current co-president of Focus Features], who asked me to be an associate producer on what would be his first produced film, Raul Ruiz‘s “The Golden Boat.” Robin O’Hara was the production manager of the movie, Christine Vachon was the first a.d., Jim Denault was the best boy gaffer — a lot of people were on that film were at the beginning of their careers. Next, while I was still at the Kitchen, I worked as a script reader for New Line, and then when I left the Kitchen I got the Sundance Institute‘s Mark Silverman Producer’s fellowship.
Around the same time I was reading scripts for Good Machine for a television project Ted Hope wanted to produce. One fantastic script came in by Tom Noonan, so I met him. He told me about his play, “What Happened Was