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DECADE: Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans -- Staying Indie, Through Thick and Thin, Part 2

By Indiewire | Indiewire December 1, 1999 at 2:00AM

DECADE: Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans -- Staying Indie, Through Thick and Thin, Part 2
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DECADE: Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans -- Staying Indie, Through Thick and Thin, Part 2

by Eugene Hernandez and Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE



indieWIRE's conversation with Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans continues...

iW: What was the strategy behind forming New Oz productions?


Gerrans: You know how we are all looking for the one film that will break out.
It is becoming almost impossible to find that film, almost every film being
produced is being tracked, and pretty much if you know what you are doing
as a filmmaker and you have a big film that will have a lot of commercial
potential -- since there are so few -- they seem to get discovered really
quickly -- the chances of us finding something and associating ourselves
with it before Miramax or Sony or Fine Line has a chance to make a 7 or 8
figure advance are pretty slim. So we figure, we have executive produced or
co-produced eight films so far, and if we can make that film or produce
that film - the kind of films that we couldn't afford to buy on the open
market -- that could help our theatrical division.


iW: "Psycho Beach Party" is one of those, right?


Gerrans: Yes it is. In a lot of our productions we have a clause that we will
take the film to the first market or festival and put it on the market to
see what the value is. In the end the most important thing is the return on
the investors participation. If there is an offer that makes sense, to sell
it, we would do that first, which once again then allows us to go and make
two others.


iW: It is interesting that that was the case with your earliest production,
"The Living End," which was sold to October.

Gerrans: There you go. We got an offer, we said, "This is an offer that pays the
investors back immediately." We didn't have a lot of money to put into
prints and advertising, October had just a little bit more and it made
sense for the investors and for the exposure. At the end of the day ,would
it have been a better deal for the investors if we released it? Yes, it
absolutely would have been, but back then it was a smarter decision.





"You know, how long can you keep going and keep fighting the fight? We
started when we were all in our twenties, and I was living on a friends
couch and Marcus was shuttling between San Francisco and LA -- we worked
out of an apartment , we had temp jobs -- there is no way we could do that,
have the energy or enthusiasm to start that now."





In another case, like Brian Sloan's "I Think I Do" -- Marcus and I were
executive producers-- we took it to Toronto, I believe that was the first
market, and we sold foreign, but we didn't get any offers on domestic, but
we took it out, we did rather well with it, that film grossed like $600
-700,000, it had guaranteed theatrical , but we allowed the film the
potential upside if there was a sale.


The companies that seem to have gone out of business are the ones that have
let the production side drag down the distribution side, and we started a
separate company because we don't want to make that same mistake. So far
that has worked.


iW: So, how has the audience changed?


Hu: I think Gay and Lesbian audiences have become much more discriminating
about the films they want to see. Back when they were really hungry to see
any image of themselves, and there were very few available, they'd flock to
almost anything. Now there's just so much Gay and Lesbian product out
there, and there's a lot that doesn't get acquired. And the lot that does
get acquired, they read reviews now before they go to a film. They don't
just go because it's a Lesbian or Gay film. They are choosier; they have
discriminating tastes. And I think that even with independent films,
there's been some real dogs out there, and I don't want to name names.


iW: I'm sure we could, too. [laughs] Do you think the percentage is any
higher than with studio films?


Hu: I think it's about equal. But I think back when people were hearing
the term independent film, they thought, oh, that's a stamp of quality
because they're bucking the system. But that isn't what it's all about.
There's a lot of bad independent films out there, as well as a lot of bad
Gay and Lesbian films, so buyer beware. Just like studio films. I think
we've had a really good track record, and I do tend to pick films that I
know performed well on the festival circuit, and I watch how critics
respond to films as well as audiences. And it's got to be something that
personally feels good.


However, there was a time when a movie like "My Dinner With Andre" could
open and find it's audience. Nowadays, a movie bombs in its first week and
it's out of there. Even if it's a great film, because the marketplace is so
flooded with films. Plus we have a shorter attention span for things, and we
don't allow a film to actually find it's marketplace. A film either has to
perform right when it comes out of the starting gate, but if it doesn't it
just dies.


iW: How do you deal with that when you put a movie out there?


Hu: Because I really do work a good grassroots market. Getting movies out
there and getting people aware of them and trying to pop that gross in the
first weekend and finding the legs. With "Edge of Seventeen's" steam and
this year alone, "Edge," "Steam," "Beefcake," and "Head On" all performed
well coming out of the starting gate and established themselves in the
marketplace right away, so the exhibitors saw that they were strong
performers, and I think that's what a lot of independents have to do
nowadays. It's sort of like performing the big act, and doing well on the
first night.


iW: In terms of growth, are there always peaks and valleys for Strand, and
how does this year fit in comparison to the past few? This was an amazing
year.


Hu: This was one of our best years. If every year was this good, I'd be so
happy. I will say this. The tenth year is probably the best year that
we've had. Critically and commercially. I think we really hit it this
year. Even with our small films like "I Stand Alone." That may not have
performed commercially, but I was so proud of that movie going out in the
marketplace, and it defied commerciality. And I loved that it could do
that and the fact that it could in the end break even made me very happy.






"I think Gay and Lesbian audiences have become much more discriminating
about the films they want to see. Back when they were really hungry to see
any image of themselves, and there were very few available, they'd flock to
almost anything. Now there's just so much Gay and Lesbian product out
there, and there's a lot that doesn't get acquired."




iW: I want to read something that Bingham said, "Comes a time when you're
struggling and you're making a few dollars here and there, covering your
nut, there's a little bit of profit, and you're doing it for the love and
passion of it, and it's great. But at some point you're going to sit there
and go, "Man, I wish someone would buy me. They bought Bingham Ray and they
buy Jonathan Dana and they buy Paul Cohen, how come I can't get a deal like
that. I've been doing this for 15 years, I want to get rich!"


Don't you ever have stretches where you feel like that?


Gerrans: Ten years in a row we have.


You know, how long can you keep going and keep fighting the fight? We
started when we were all in our twenties, and I was living on a friends
couch and Marcus was shuttling between San Francisco and LA -- we worked
out of an apartment , we had temp jobs -- there is no way we could do that,
have the energy or enthusiasm to start that now. Also as you grow and
become bigger the risk becomes bigger, the overhead becomes bigger and its
still a struggle every month. And you get to a point where you think,
"Wouldn't that be nice to site back and make a decision on a film and if
the film doesn't work, its doesn't affect you directly, it doesn't mean,
"Well, are we going to be able to make our payroll this week?"


Bingham is right, you get to a point where you just get tired, you just get
tired of that struggle.


iW: Yes, and we ask ourselves, why stay independent, why keep doing it?


Gerrans: On the other hand it is a hit and miss business, and you're fortunes
can turn on one picture and you sort of hold out with the thinking that you
are going to find that needle in the haystack, or you will be in a
situation where you can make some very smart business decisions and
affiliate yourselves with some good companies that could bring you to the
next level. We are always working on that, we are always working to try and
figure out how and make ourselves bigger, to be able to spend a little bit
more money, we've talked with a lot of people, but so far the fit hasn't
been right. We're holding out thinking that eventually down the road
something is gonna work out where its worthwhile and will give us some
freedom to breathe.


iW: Marcus always terms it as people coming around kicking the tires...


Gerrans: We've turned down a few offers. We are not giving up on that, we are
still out there aggressively looking for some strategic partners.

This article is related to: Interviews