FUTURE 3: Haxan Films, a.k.a. Myrick, Sanchez, Hale, Monello & Cowie
by Eugene Hernandez and Anthony Kaufman
Gregg Hale: To go back to the question though, I agree with Dan, it’s a choice that you make. After “Blair Witch” was a huge hit, Dan and Ed were getting scripts from all the major studios, and ultimately, the decision was made to go with “Heart of Love” and to raise the financing ourselves as opposed to taking the money from a studio so that we could have final cut and we could control how the film would be marketed and what-not. And that’s a choice, and that’s a long road to travel. That’s not, “Let’s get into production on another film in three months,” that’s, “Let’s work all of this in such a way that it may take us a year to get it all off the ground, but let’s work it in such a way that we maintain our independence and we get to do what we want, and at the same time, deal with the money people in a ways that’s amenable to them.”
Mike Monello: And you’ve got to pay the price for that.
Hale: And it’s about keeping your expectations realistic. It’s like okay, let’s raise $10 million for our own movie, or we can get $50 million for a studio film and then we’re going to be stuck in studio schlong. That’s the bottom line.
Daniel Myrick: We’ll do our own film that’s on a realistic budget, but I have a sci-fi adventure film that I’d love to do, but it’s going to cost $100 million to do it. So I can’t do that now. So I’m going to wait, and if hopefully we’re successful on our next few films that I could go and raise my own nut for my movie and do it my way. And it’s just being patient and making the choice to go that route.
Monello: I really think George Lucas provides an interesting model for someone who wants to stay independent. First, have a “Star Wars,” then…[laughs]
Hale: [laughing] Yeah, Step A… make a billion dollars. Okay, now we’ve gone over that step… but you know, it really all does come down to a choice. And you make that choice when you decide to make that movie for Warner Brothers or whoever, or you decide to take the risk yourself and raise the money on your own. It’s like there’s good and bad and you have to decide what it is you want. You want complete control, go figure out how to raise the money without taking it from the studios. You want a huge budget and you want the cushion that studio money provides, then yeah, you’re going to have to compromise in other areas.
iW: But don’t you think that you can make that $100 million project now for a tenth of that or a hundredth of that with digital cameras, After Effects and essentially, home editing systems and all of what’s coming out now. Do you guys see that as viable for you?
Myrick: I think technology has always been relative, you know. I think yeah, there’s a hell of a lot more you can do technically now than you could ever do before. It’s never been cheaper to make a movie and get people to see your film than ever before. You can get a digital camera for a couple of thousand dollars and your own desktop editing system for a couple grand, and you’re making movies. But I don’t consider myself a 3-D animator and I don’t consider myself a compositor guy, I think there’s a reason that ILM is ILM; they have artists that devote their lives and their talents to being just that, and so I think although the technology is becoming cheaper to utilize for independent filmmakers, I still like to believe that at the end of the day that it’s the artist that you are really paying for, that you can’t just buy ILM-level creativity off the shelf in a software package.
So what’s exciting to me is that the technology is going to make it more accessible to everybody, so that people that normally wouldn’t be able to exercise that creative aspiration, they’re now going to be able to do it, they aren’t going to need to go through years of film school and buy expensive equipment to show that they can be creative 3-D artists or whatever, they are filmmakers themselves. So that’s exciting. So yes in one sense, we have the technology more available to us and we can do a lot of our own stuff, which I think is cool, and we have done that on commercial jobs that we’ve done in the past. But at the same time, I just think that whatever trickles down to the mainstream, to the average consumers, there’s always going to be something much bigger and better to utilize in the professional arena.
Hale: I think that the new digital aspect of film is not really replacing the hundred million dollar movie that uses traditional effects, but I think it definitely makes possible for lower budget filmmakers to do things that were just absolutely not possible before. And I think that two films that came out last year are prime examples of that. “Requiem for a Dream” is a film that could not have been made for the money that it was made, without all the digital technology and After Effects and stuff that they were able to utilize. And “Dancer in the Dark” is a film that could not have been made on the budget that it was made without the affordability of digital technology. But are those films that replace traditional films? I don’t really think so. I just think that for people who have a unique vision like Darren Aronofsky and Lars von Trier, I think it just gives you an opportunity to flex your creative muscle in ways that you otherwise wouldn’t. It’s not two guys in a room because you’re an independent filmmaker, it can be a musical, or it can be an effects-heavy multiple composite optical effects like “Requiem for a Dream” that absolutely wouldn’t have been possible even two years ago, at the prices that these guys made those films for. So I think that’s the opportunity. It’s not like, can I make “Star Wars” on my Mac? It’s can I express something as a filmmaker that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to express. And I think that a really amazing thing. And I think that’s something that we’re going to try to utilize ourselves on “Heart of Love.” We’ve got a lot of stuff in “Heart of Love” that when you read the script two years ago, three years ago, would have been absolutely impossible for us to pull off, but now it is actually within our grasp to be able to pull that stuff off.
Monello: Going back to the question, I really think that the effect of this digital revolution, or just these digital tools, to me really won’t be seen for another maybe 15-20 years. And for me, what’s going to be fascinating is when you have these kids who are growing up in homes where there’s an iMac DV sitting in the corner and they’re playing around with it and they’re growing up manipulating images and compositing images and then playing with tools like After Effects and iMovie and whatnot, when they get to the point where they start expressing themselves as artists, I think the language of movies is going to excel at such a rate, it’s going to be amazing. You had most independent filmmakers, if they had made films before, did them on Super 8 or 16mm, and now you’re going to have 21-year-old kids who are going to have more films under their belt than Woody Allen by the time they get to the point where they’re making something for Sundance. And that can only be a good thing if you are talented, the ability to work on your talent and to hone it, I think it’s going to be amazing. And I think everything you see now, from “Dancer in the Dark” and “Requiem for a Dream,” everything you see now, I think are baby steps. I think they are extremely talented people taking the tools available and working them as far as they can, but at the same time, it’s kind of like trying to get your grandmother on the Internet, she just doesn’t think that way. And we don’t think the way that some of these 7, 8, and 9-year-old kids who are playing with iMovie are going to be thinking.
Myrick: Imagine if golf was accessible to every kid growing up. You’d see a lot more Tiger Woods out there probably. And that’s just what Mike is saying. When I was growing up, there weren’t Steenbecks laying around or film cameras or stuff like that, but now there’s a video camera in everybody’s house.
iW: A final question. So going back to the concept of Haxan Films as we conclude the discussion, I want to get a sense from you guys of, maybe to a certain extent, what your individual goals are, but also what your collective goals are for Haxan in a general sense. We talked about some of the specifics of the Internet and things like that, but more in a general sense as a creative collective, but also as businesspeople who work together.
Hale: That’s a really good question. We as a company are definitely in a transitional state. I think it would be difficult to go through what we did with “Blair” and not have a period of time where you kind of have to collect yourself and figure out what the hell you are. We went from totally broke with no opportunity, to not broke and kind of this illusion in a way of all these opportunities. We definitely find ourselves at a point where we have to try to figure out what is important to us, what is it that we really want to do, and how is it that we really want to do that, and that’s a constant battle. I think that’s a constant battle, because I think that the thing that is interesting to me about Haxan is that it’s constantly evolving, and it’s evolving because you’ve got 5 people here who at any given time want to do different things that are all somehow ultimately linked in. And we use Haxan as, it’s a financial setup for us in that we are able to maintain an office, and a phone system, and have computers and Internet connections, but really it’s more of a creative support for all of us in that, if I’ve got an idea, I can throw it at the four guys whose opinion I totally trust, and get feedback on it, and build it, and get the support from them to build it. And in turn, I give them the support that they need, though ultimately Haxan is different for every project that it’s working on.
Robin Cowie: I think we’re in a constant learning curve. For me personally, I just hope we survive our next film. [laughs] That’s what we’re looking at right now is conquering that film and learning from doing that film.
Hale: I think what we’ve realized in all of, like trying to raise our own money for a film and getting sued and having to deal with all this peripheral bullshit that is attached to having some degree of success, at least what I’m realizing and what we’re all kind of coming to terms with as individuals and as a company is that when something like “Blair” happens, you kind of expect oh, yeah, well that’s all we need, man, we just need that one big break and then after that we’re going to have it all figured out and it’ll just be smooth sailing after that. And I think what we’re not realizing as we’ve come down over the course of the last few months, coming down off of all of the total insanity with “Blair,” is that we really don’t know anything. It’s this constantly evolving thing, both on the artistic side and on the business side. And I think we’re kind of coming back down to earth and realizing nothing really changed because of “Blair.” The opportunities have changed and the level that we’re playing at has changed, but the problems are all still the same. You have to figure out what you want to do artistically, and you have to follow that through, and then you always have to deal with some kind of financial bullshit. Before we were dealing with getting our telephone or our water turned off, and now we’re dealing with how do we support an office and a staff and all of the expenses that we have because now we’re supposedly playing at this other level. So the problems are all the same, it’s just a matter of degree.
iW: Is it fair to ask where you think Haxan will be in 3-5 years?
Myrick: For me, the bottom line is that Haxan, the corporation, doesn’t get in the way of Haxan, the people. And for me, Haxan films are five guys that love making films, and being creative. So if you’re asking me Haxan, the guys, where they’re going to be, we’re probably always going to be connected and have some form of a relationship together and always confer with each other on our projects. Haxan, the corporation, who knows?
Monello: For me, what Gregg was saying is extremely true. When it was the five of us in a rundown duplex in downtown Orlando, struggling to keep the lights on and pay the bill on the Media 100 where we were making “Blair Witch,” or it’s 5 guys in a 2 story building in downtown Orlando with a staff, it’s the same. The budgets are larger, and you have more people to support you on certain aspects, but if in 3-5 years Haxan becomes us hanging out and meeting creatively in Dan’s garage, then it’s still the same. It hasn’t changed at least what we derive from it. Everything else is just a structure under which to accomplish things.
Hale: Where will Haxan be in 10 years? World domination! [laughs] I think we’ll be together in some form, but I think it will change. And hopefully it’s going to change in respect to Haxan ultimately being something that’s going to support all five of us doing what we want to do. Right now we’re kind of focused on one or two things at a time in order to consolidate and cross-collateralize our resources in a more efficient [all are laughing] way by thinking. . .
Haxan: . . . Outside the box.
iW: Oh my god.
Hale: We’ve got our corporate catchphrase dictionary here. And we’re using it damn it!