Back in 2004, Hal Hartley directed “The Girl from Monday” and tried to launch a website where viewers could watch the film. Since the average internet speed back then was 34 Kbps — about 165 times slower than today’s 5.6 Mbps — that didn’t work so well. “The technology was still a little sticky,” Hartley said. “We ended up distributing it in a more traditional way, where I would travel all over the place with the film and do Q&As.”
With films like “Trust,” “Amateur,” and “Henry Fool,” Hartley’s movies have never been about the money — but he’s always had his eye on the bottom line. He owns 50% of every film he’s made, and constantly seeks to capitalize on technology as a way to achieve independence and financial sustainability.
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With Kickstarter, he raised more than $56,000 on DVD presales for his 2011 film, “Meanwhile,” and then raised a production budget of nearly $400,000 from 1,789 backers for his 2014 film, “Ned Rifle.” “‘Ned Rifle’ became my most successful movie to date, and I didn’t need to share that money,” he said. “It all came directly to me and the crew.”
“Ned Rifle” was the final installment of the Grim family trilogy, one that included “Henry Fool” in 1997 and “Fay Grim” in 2006. The Kickstarter process taught Hartley that he had loyal fans in places like Japan, Australia, Europe, and Taiwan who were invested in his work. Now he’s testing that direct connection with Kickstarter to pre-sell a Grim family box set, complete with subtitles.
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“I’m going to do the box set, no matter what,” said Hartley. “I really do want to make this approach to distributing my own film viable on its own. That’s why I’m gambling with this. My gambit here is the subtitling. That’s what is expensive about the undertaking, and why I’m going after $100,000. Four foreign languages translated accurately and sensitively, and then the authoring of that onto the DVD — it gets expensive. I’m just hoping the expense is worth it because it will help films contribute a wider audience around the world.”
Hartley says he’s talked with Atom Egoyan (“Sweet Hereafter,” “Exotica”) about the value of owning their work, since handling the various aspects of the business requires a full-time staff. Sustaining that support requires more work, and Hartley feels fortunate that the world of television has begun opening to him.
“Since I came back to America in 2009, I’ve worked for five years to get people interested in my TV projects – because I’ve been interested in episodic television for a long time,” he saidy. “I was also open to just being a director for hire. I saw a lot of half-hour comedy shows that were well written and said, ‘I can see myself directing that.'”
The veteran filmmaker got his TV break when he ran into Gregory Jacobs, his former first assistant director who had gone on to work for Steven Soderbergh and got his own television show, “Red Oaks,” on Amazon. Jacobs invited Hartley to direct an episode in season one, then half of the second season (five episodes). Starting next week, he will share season-three directing duties with David Gordon Green and Amy Heckerling.
“On my films, I’m thinking on a hundred different levels at any moment,” said Hartley. “While coming in to direct ‘Red Oaks’ — which is a script I take to very easily, it’s the kind of comedy I know how to do — what they expect of me is just to give it some character, explain to the actors the things that might not be perfectly obvious, and make the day, get all the shots. So it’s nice. I come away from a day’s work feeling good, like I’m a good skilled laborer.”
And is Hartley any closer to getting his own TV show?
“I’m developing something with Amazon. They optioned at least the pilot of my [half hour comedy] show,” said Hartley. “It’s about nuns who make beer to support themselves and they’re social activists, so they are wanted by the cops.”
Hal Hartley’s new Henry Fool Trilogy boxed set is part of Kickstarter Gold, a new initiative bringing back some of the most inventive and successful creators in Kickstarter history. Now through July 31, over 65 exceptional artists, authors, designers, musicians and makers are back as they push ideas and rewards from their past projects in bold new directions. Head here to learn more, and here to browse all the live Kickstarter Gold projects.