In Their Own Words: Filmmakers Doug Pray And Steve Helvey Of "Hype!", part I
by Eugene Hernandez
At the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, parked in a high profile spot at the base of Main Street, was a full size bus decorated with a sign that read simply — “Hype!” Contrary to the first impression of some, the vehicle was not a statement on the state of the festival, but was actually an ingenious promotion for a festival film. The “Hype!” bus, sponsored by Sub-Pop records, contained a museum of artifacts and memorabilia from the Seattle music scene of the late-1980’s and early 1990’s. Like the film, it allowed the viewer the opportunity to inspect the much-hyped “grunge” scene from a fresh, informed perspective. Doug Pray’s film, produced by Steve Helvey, explores the roots of the northwest rock scene, and details its explosion into a cultural phenomenon.
On a recent trip to New York City, Pray and Helvey shared their thoughts on their film,
Sundance, indie-distribution, and their thoughts on the future of exhibition.
Doug Pray: [The film] was Steve’s idea, it was that simple. I had just graduated from UCLA and as we all know, your thesis film does not a job get you. He really wanted to make a feature film — it just caught my attention…
Steve Helvey: The reason Doug never would have thought of making a movie about the Seattle rock scene — even though he was up there — is because he was so fully acquainted with the cynicism regarding the media up there. I saw his videos [for Northwest bands including Gas Huffer], and I asked him about the idea. I realized that there had to be a story below what we were seeing [in the media coverage of the Seattle music scene]. When [Doug] said to me that there was no way that [Seattleites] would ever let us make this movie because they were so cynical, that’s when I new there was a great story, “Why are they so upset?” — that captivated me.
Helvey: We faced a very clear decision at the beginning of this film as to what kind of film we wanted to make and we knew we could go super low budget — one video camera, mic in the back of the room…typical rock film — and that would have been one legitimate way to go. There are films that have done that and they’re really cool. But the other way to go, that we ultimately
decided on…we wanted the performances to be as clear as possible. in other words we wanted the
Helvey: …this should probably come from you [looking to Pray].
Pray: No, that’s all right, go ahead. Talk about the decision to shoot with three cameras…
Helvey: So we decided to shoot with three [film] cameras. We decided we wanted to make a
film that would warrant theatrical release, that was an initial decision — which meant it had to
look good and it had to sound great. And we started thinking about the audience for the film…
One core audience would be people who love the bands and love music, so we thought if they go into
the theater we want them to see these bands and we want them to hear great music, and we want them
to come out thinking ‘WOW that movie rocked!’ We wanted them to have a kind of emotional response
to the music, like you get in a club…to do that we knew it would be expensive.
Pray: Stylistically it was never about making a punk rock film, it was about making a film
about bands that are that way. If your filming a band that’s just wild and intense…instead of
applying a style of filmmaking that’s like that, it was the opposite…lets get out of the way…in
a way the techniques used in “Hype!” are very conservative. It’s a really conservative film in the
sense that its really straight ahead, its close-ups, wide shots, not a lot of trick camera anything…
for the most part its really straight ahead. I told the camera guys — look no MTV, no style, I want
this to be straight ahead and honest.
Helvey: In that respect we followed classic documentary discipline. We wanted to capture
what was actually happening in as honest and pure a form as we could. We wanted people to leave
talking about the music, not the camera movements.
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