The comedian/writer/director talks to us about selling your film, without selling out.
In 2013, David Cross finished work on HITS, a dark comedy about fame and delusion in the Internet age. Katelyn (Meredith Hagner) is fixed on winning a role on The Voice. Dave (Matt Walsh) is fixated on outing government conspiracies. Brooklyn is determined to use the footage to Start A Movement. Underlying the film is a question. What is a video worth? What if we could decide?
HITS debuted at Sundance last year. Instead of pursuing traditional distribution, Cross announced last week that the film would premiere as a pay-what-you-want project. In theaters. And online, on BitTorrent Bundle. Fans, not distributors, will be able to set the price of the film. You can support the project here.
We asked Cross about where HITS came from, and what pay-what-you-want distribution means for independent filmmakers.
What inspired Hits?
Two things merged to inspire this. I’ve had this general idea kicking around for a bit as I do several different, disparate ideas, and when I decided to hunker down and write a movie I could shoot for little money I thought this idea would work for that. I have a house about twenty minutes from Liberty and know the area well.
I have always had an affinity for “weirdos” on the Internet.
And I have always had an affinity for “weirdos” on the Internet (and pre-dating the internet, via VHS tape swapping), especially the folks who show up at town hall meetings and just go off. When I lived in LA in the 90′s I used to listen to KCRW’s live city council meetings from Santa Monica (every other Tuesday I think?) because at the end of the sessions they open up the floor to residents and there are a serious number of conspiracy theory level, mentally-ill people in Santa Monica and Venice (not making fun or light of that but that’s the honest truth) and invariably they would get to speak and it was fascinating. A lot of Alex Jones “truthers” and various chemtrail crazies and such would get up there and rant. So it’s a combo of those two things.
The film that satirizes (or tbh, kind of documents) social media culture: the pervasive atmosphere of self / selfie / celebrity obsession. What is wrong with us?
Well, it’s less about exploring the self-centered aspect (the selfies/updates/look at me) of what people are like now and more about what constitutes celebrity. How it’s “earned” nowadays (and forever more) as it were. You don’t have to display any discernable talent to be a “celebrity”, and then you become famous for being famous, and then that leads to a whole cottage industry built around that. I suppose that’s a result of an entire generation that has no idea about integrity. The idea of an artist selling out would seem completely foreign to them. Talent (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter any more.
Hits is based on “a true story that hasn’t happened yet”. Do you think it will?
Absolutely. In fact shortly after the movie screened at Sundance, a little fella named Cliven Bundy became a bit of a folk hero for the Fox news/Tea Party set. And then about a week into his stand against the federal government he started railing about the “n*****s” which of course upset some of the very people who were holding him up as a great hero of the people who was being shut down by “the man”. Well, I don’t want to give anything more away but, yeah. I do think it will come true…er.
You’re distributing the film online and in theaters as a pay-what-you-want project, direct to fans. Why was this approach important?
Well, the alternative (and really, the only alternative) was to go with one of a handful of distributors that showed interest and then it would have played for a week in four or five cities and then moved straight to VOD.
This is so that as many people can see it as possible. No one is sweating their balls off making scale working six day weeks on an indie film to get rich. The hard work is done, now I want people to see it.
At some point, someone smarter and savvier than I will figure out how to do this (cut out the distributors and sales agents from the process). But for now, this should work quite well.
Has the Internet empowered filmmakers?
Of course the Internet has powered creators. You need look no further than Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing sites. And for writers, it also cuts down the time looking up references by about 99% so that’s more time spent on writing.
How do you see the landscape of independent film or distribution changing?
I don’t think the basic idea of how to make an independent film has changed very much at all. Find enthusiastic, talented people to help you fulfill your vision, whether those people are sound mixers, actors, producers (who raise money) script supervisors etc. etc. Obviously crowdsourcing helps as a tool. But outside of that not much else is different.
This model that we’re using could work in the future to get movies seen, before they get lost in the pile of literally thousand movies that come out in any given year. I hope it helps others in a similar position.
And it definitely works for bigger names. I don’t think Wes Anderson or John Sayles has a problem with it, but for a first time guy like me, it’s not ideal. This model that we’re using could work in the future to get movies seen, before they get lost in the pile of literally thousand movies that come out in any given year. I hope it helps others in a similar position.
Are there ways to make it as an independent filmmaker without selling out?
Yes, there is one very specific way. Don’t sell out.