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DECADE: Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans - Staying Indie, Through Thick and Thin, Parts 1 & 2

By Indiewire | Indiewire December 17, 1999 at 2:00AM

DECADE: Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans -- Staying Indie, Through Thick and Thin, Part 1
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DECADE: Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans -- Staying Indie, Through Thick and Thin, Part 1

by Eugene Hernandez and Mark Rabinowitz/indieWIRE



[Part two of this interview is linked at the bottom of the page.]


Ten years ago, Marcus Hu, Jon Gerrans and Mike Thomas formed Strand
Releasing
, one of many upstart distributors in the late 1980's looking
to provide a place for the rising tide of solid small features without a
U.S. home. While many have since passed on, Strand continues into the
next decade with its sharp eye for high quality gay-themed work, foreign
features, and American independents. They began by booking Lino Brocka's
"Macho Dancer," producing Gregg Araki's ultra low-budget "The Living
End
," and releasing Alison Maclean's "Crush." A decade later, a list
of highly acclaimed features emerge: Amer-indies such as Araki's
"Totally F**cked Up," Ira Sach's "The Delta," and Jesse Peretz's "First
Love, Last Rites
," as well as prestigious foreign titles like Claire
Denis
' "Nenette and Boni," Tsai Ming Liang's "Vive L'Amour" and John
Maybury
's "Love is the Devil."


While Thomas recently left the company to form gay distributor
Jour de Fete, Hu and Gerrans remain the heart and soul of Strand
Releasing, producing and distributing the kinds of films that many in
the business are too afraid to touch. With 1999 their best year yet --
including releases like Gaspar Noe's "I Stand Alone," Ferzan Ozpetek's
"Steam: Turkish Bath," Lukas Moodysson's "Show Me Love" and David
Moreton
's "Edge of Seventeen" -- the indie distributor keeps on nailing
its audience. And with the duo's next producing effort, "Psycho Beach
Party
" premiering at Sundance 2000, the company heads into the next
millennium with a spirit of fun as well as dedication. indieWIRE's
Eugene Hernandez and Mark Rabinowitz spoke to Hu and Gerrans about the
past and future of Strand and the industry. [Anthony Kaufman]






"Everyone goes out and they think they're going to be noble
and supportive of an incredibly daring kind of cinema. And then
ultimately, at the end of the day, they see that they didn't make much
money on that movie -- all of a sudden the profiles change."




indieWIRE: Strand is ten years old and the industry is categorically
different from when you started out ten years ago. What really is different
about it, if anything?

Marcus Hu: Things go in cycles. Things change so quickly that just today
you look and where is Gramercy Pictures, where is October Films, where
is Miramax, where is Sony Classics? Though actually Sony is probably the
most faithful to what they stand for. But ultimately, they get so caught
up in: What is the bottom line? I think everyone goes out and they think
they're going to be noble, and they're going to face the world and be
supportive of an incredibly daring kind of cinema. And then ultimately, at
the end of the day, they see that they didn't make much money on that
movie, all of a sudden the profiles change and there are changes.


Gramercy and October don't exist anymore, and now they are consolidated
into USA Films. So therefore the kind of support of independent films is
all consolidated into one company now, and they're not supporting the kinds
of independent films that they set out to do before. There's no Bingham Ray
championing small independent films like "The Living End." Could you
imagine USA Films picking up "The Living End"? I don't think so. And for
that matter, I think there are a handful of us that are very supportive of
independent films still. I think there's us, there's Zeitgeist, Cowboy,
Kino, New Yorker Films, etc. But when you look at Miramax now, they're not
really supportive of the independent films that are made for shoestring
16mm budgets. That said, I can still see a Sony Classics picking up "The
Living End" and supporting it. They're one of the few that have remained
true. On the one hand, they can still do the big drama with an Academy
push, but on the other hand, I can still see them doing "Slackers." And
"American Movie," for example.


Jon Gerrans: In looking at the last ten years you have seen changes. What
is different from the ten years before that and the ten years before that?
I can tell you I have seen in these ten years the cyclical changes, whether
it will rebound back to where it was before, I don't know.


I would imagine it would have to. I would say right now is kind of a down
period for independent film, or truly independent film. I think that new
media will change that -- ten years ago when it was very, very fiercely
independent, you saw some really interesting, provocative films come out of
that period and then it sort of became...with the success of the Tarantinos
and the Soderberghs came the studio independents, and you'd see these more
homogenized types of films coming out of that system. Now with the new
media, its getting cheaper to make films, easier to make films, and so
maybe there will be a whole -- I believe there will be -- a whole new wave
of filmmakers that now don't have to rely on having Miramax and New Line
give you the greenlight to make your film.






"The gap has widened considerably. You
can't compete with the studios, you can't come up with a new company and
try and compete with the studios and their library, now what the studios
have done is affiliate themselves with the independents, so how can a
company like ours or October survive without having that affiliation?"




iW: Are you seeing that change, as a result of new media, yet?


Gerrans: We are getting a sense of it. I expect next year, when you look at
the phenomenal -- and I am sure that won't happen for another ten years --
the success of "Blair Witch," I think all the "Blair Witch" knock-offs
haven't hit, just like three years ago you had all the Tarantino
knock-offs, but you know it takes a while before you start seeing the
copycats, but, out of the copycats always come a couple of very interesting
new twists on that same genre.


So, it will be there, but it kind of really hasn't hit yet, you hear that
quote from Sundance -- from Geoff Gilmore -- he said that he hadn't really
gotten that many submissions, or as much as he would have expected, that
were digital productions.


iW: The difference between some of the bigger and smaller companies is a
lot wider than it was at the start of the decade. I am wondering how you
guys remain committed to the independent vision that you have, since there
are such major changes on one end of the spectrum.


Gerrans: Definitely, definitely. The gap has widened considerably. You
can't compete with the studios, you can't come up with a new company and
try and compete with the studios and their library, now what the studios
have done is affiliate themselves with the independents, so how can a
company like ours or October survive without having that affiliation? They
don't really, if they are going to compete directly.


Hu: We've kept the same formula of being conservative about what we spend,
and I don't think we ever overspend. It's really rare that we ever go into
the red on a film. There are very few occasions where we ever end up in
the red. And we've always been very cautious and conservative. We know our
market, and I think we know how to exploit the market on a picture,
particularly the Gay and Lesbian ones, and we understand it and are
sensitive to the market. And we have a reputation for picking up pretty
good films. I think our library kind of shows that we have a good track
record with that.


Gerrans: I think that is the key to our survival, we know we can't compete
with them, we know its impossible, we don't have the financial backing that
they do to make the mistakes that they can. When we start thinking we can
compete -- when we start doing that -- is when we start slowly going out of
business. And you see the companies that have come in the past ten years
and did not survive, it's always because they try and step up to the plate
and compete directly with those companies, and you can't. So, companies
like ours, you find a way to sort of counter-program to take advantage of
the opportunities that may slip by them, but knowing that we can't directly
go head to head against them. Once again, indirectly you still are, you are
still fighting for a lot of the same theaters, but we can spend a tenth of
what they spend, so we vie for the same theaters but we don't take it
personally when we don't get it -- we don't take an arrogant position,
thinking, "Well, let's up the advertising so we can get that screen, we
know that's a fight we are not going to win. We know the limits.

The conversation continues on page 2...

This article is related to: Interviews





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