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September 16, 1998 2:00 AM
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How a Trailer and the Internet Made Lance Mungia's "Six-String Samurai"

How a Trailer and the Internet Made Lance Mungia's
"Six-String Samurai"

by Tara Veneruso




In the world of independents, it is essential to be creative not only
with the script, but also with financing and promotion. Lance Mungia's
debut feature film "Six-String Samurai," opening Stateside this week
after several screenings in the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto
International FIlm Festival, from first-time distributor Palm Pictures,
did just that. The film was financed by HSX Films (now Ignite
Entertainment
) after they saw a trailer -- and it is with this trailer
that Mungia attributes the film's magical financing and eventual
completion. "Samurai" also utilized the vast tool of the Internet to
promote, market, and even name the film.


Mungia hooked up with star/co-writer Jeffrey Falcon, whose credits
includes 17 Hong Kong action films, at Santa Monica's American Film
Market and found Director of Photography Kristian Bernier from a
cold-call Dramalogue submission. The team set out into Death Valley to
shoot the low budget, post-apocalyptic action flick with Falcon as
Buddy, the guitar slinging hero, and Justin McGuire as an orphan who
Buddy can't seem to shake off. The pair head out to Lost Vegas so that
Buddy can fulfill his dream of replacing the late Elvis as King. The
film has won several accolades including Slamdance's Kodak Vision award
for Bernier's Cinematography and the In:Sync Speed Razor Award for James
Frisa's editing.


This August, indieWIRE caught up with Mungia and Falcon as they hung
posters around Los Angeles in preparation for the film's release.


indieWIRE: Everyone has heard the stories - but rarely do films get the
money for completion from merely a trailer. Your film was truly
financed from shopping your trailer around. How did you initially
decide to do a trailer.


Lance Mungia: First, I made a short film through Loyola Marymount ("A
Garden for Rio") which went out to the Hampton's Film Festival, Chicago
Film Festival, Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival, and also to Sundance. I
knew that I really wanted to make an action film and we thought we could
do this really cheap. I knew that if you have something as a student at
a festival you need to have something to back it up with to take you to
the next level. I had been intending to shoot the whole film myself for
$25,000. We managed to get free film, a free camera which we got by
begging and showing the short film. It helped that people knew that I
could really make a movie, especially one that was getting into major
festivals. We were shooting on weekends in Death Valley and with
expired 100 ft. rolls of Fuji film stock.


iW: 100 ft. rolls for an action film?


Mungia: We had a lot of mags of the expired stock [laughs]. But
eventually we had spent all of the money, had shot less than 20% of what
is now in the film and had already spent close to $50,000. Luckily, the
timing was that we went to Sundance right when we had run out of money
and that's when we decided to cut a trailer. Ultimately it was the
trailer that allowed me to pitch the film.


iW: How did you get financial interest for the trailer at Sundance?


Mungia: After every screening of the short, I would get up and say that
I am working on a feature and showing the trailer in my hotel room. We
would bring people up from the lobby of the Yarrow (a hotel and
theatrical venue during Sundance) - and that's what started the buzz.
Next, Jeffrey Falcon and I went to the AFM (American Film Market) in
Santa Monica which was an ideal place to meet a bunch of companies in a
short time. We took the AFM catalog and started dialing up the
different hotel suites of each company from the lobby. By calling
everyone and throwing in the fear factor (saying we already have a
meeting with so-and-so at 3pm) we met with at least half of the people
we called. We showed the trailer and then the script. That's how I got
an agent [Cassian Elwes] at the William Morris Agency which led us to
HSX and two or three companies that really wanted the film at the time.
We went with HSX because Michael Burns and Leanna Creel really put their
money where their mouth was and were ready to go right away.


The trailer also helped us get into Slamdance. We sent Dan Mirvish,
Peter Baxter, and the guys at Slamdance the trailer which they loved,
and eventually got them to see a screening of the newly completed film.
Slamdance said that the trailer is what set it apart from the stacks of
submissions.


iW: I want to jump ahead to the first time you and HSX utilized the
Internet to help the film with promotion and marketing. What were some
of the first Internet interactions which happened on the film?


Mungia: HSX began as the website hsx.com (Hollywood Stock Exchange). It
is a stock trading game where people buy and trade stocks about the film
business.


We actually picked the title after putting up a contest online to name
the movie. The film was originally called "The Blade", but after New
Line sent a letter saying they owned that title HSX put out a contest on
their website to come up with a name. Thousands of people tried to name
the film, and in the end it was chosen by Max Broker who runs the HSX
website.


iW: How else did the Internet help you?


Mungia: The Internet has been an amazing tool to spread the word on
this film. As far back as heading for Slamdance, we had designed a
website and put up the address everywhere. At Slamdance, a lot of
people had heard about it and came to it. The whole time we would
always mention the website. This helped get more intrigue and helped in
the sale of the film.


iW: A lot of filmmakers have websites now for their film, but they
haven't received as much attention as "Six-String" What other events
have pushed it further?


Mungia: It really picked up when Harry Knowles of aint-it-cool-news.com
and Chris Gore of filmthreat.com reviewed the film. The internet became
the primary mode for the following of the film. The great thing is that
on the Internet big Hollywood films can be seen right next to our films,
particularly on Harry's site. This created a grassroots effort around
the world to help us promote the film. [The Internet] is all about
equality and freedom of speech because anyone can speak. It just so
happens that the audience that likes this film is also one that uses the
web.


iW: Has your website helped in other ways besides give an overall
awareness for the film?


Mungia: People are writing us from literally all over the world
(Germany, Japan, Australia, Switzerland) and saying they heard about the
film. There is a guy in Iceland who is helping to get the film into a
theater up there. And he has really done it! He is getting the film to
play at a theater in Iceland! He called Palm Pictures and is organizing
a theater to play the film.


iW: How has the Internet helped out with the soundtrack?


Mungia: Another example of how the internet is working for us happens to
be with our soundtrack (produced by Brian Tyler with music of his and
the Red Elvises). After it was released we had many e-mails asking
where they could get it. Instantly we could let them know where it
could be found. Then we started getting e-mail saying that several
stores required the title to be hyphenated to be found in their stores.
I was able to make a few calls to Rykodisc and post the solution up on
the bulletin board. The fact that the internet is immediate and can
instantaneously reach all of our fans is vital to the potential success
of "Six-String Samurai".


iW: So Palm Pictures was open to you heavily promoting the film on the
Internet.


Mungia: We are the flagship film for Palm Pictures. They have been
wonderful at getting the film into some really great theaters. The
internet is all a part of that. In Switzerland there is a film site
that plays our trailer which has become really popular. It could be
because of the searchable word Samurai or Harry Knowles's site - but
somehow the word has spread all over the world. I think it is the
primary reason there is a grassroots following. We even send posters to
people we talk to online and they put it up in stores and around their
town. That's what we are doing all day tomorrow - posters are going out
to Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas, and Kansas City.


Check out the website: www.sixstringsamurai.com


[Tara Veneruso directed the award-winning documentary "Janis Joplin
Slept Here" and has spoken on numerous film festival panels about
"filmmaking on the internet." Veneruso recently directed the upcoming
"Chemical Generation" web series and is the Director of Film Evaluation
and Outreach for Next Wave Films, which provides finishing funds and
other vital support to emerging filmmakers. Next Wave Films can be
reached at 310.392.1720.]

TAGS: Interviews
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