"Free to Investigate": Hal Hartley

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By Hannah Eaves

"We call it the Wong Kar-Wai button."

Did your decision to form Possible Films stem from your experiences with No Such Thing?

No. It had something to do with the way we conceived the new film, The Girl From Monday, because it started quite casually. Kyle [Gilman, Managing Director on the Possible Films Collection] and I decided to distribute, on the website, the CD of my music. We had some success with that and, since Kyle has a lot of knowledge of these things, we broadened the website to include the collection of shorts [The Sisters of Mercy, Kimono, The Other Also, NYC 3/94, The New Math(s) and Opera No.1]. We now have a modest, ongoing sales thing with that. Then we began thinking about this new movie. We knew it was going to be a very low budget and experimental film in some ways, and we thought, "Well, maybe this is the right way to think about the release of a film like this since this is up and running and it's working. So why don't we make a movie that's for this kind of venue?" I felt kind of relaxed about it, because whenever I'm making a piece like this, a Book of Life, or Flirt, ones that are more formally challenging to a mainstream audience, I'm always worrying about it doing well for the distributor. They're going to have to spend so much money to market it and print it. I thought, "Well, this takes a lot of the pressure off; I can make a modestly budgeted film." We may not make our money back right away but I feel pretty certain that we'll make our money back as time goes on.


No Such Thing

Going back to No Such Thing, there was a nice guy at MGM who would call me every Sunday night and tell me how many seats were sold during the week. It was only out for three weeks and MGM, who hated this movie - they didn't understand it at all - were obligated by their contract with Francis Coppola's company to put it out. Every film that Francis signed on to executive produce they had to release, so they just did the absolute minimum. So this guy would call me up and tell me how many people came, and I was kind of shocked at the numbers. I don't remember what the numbers were. In the big picture, I guess they were pretty small, but in the picture of a Hal Hartley movie, I thought they were huge. "I cannot believe it! You're telling me that thirty thousand people went to see a Hal Hartley film this week, in this small town?" And he's like, "Yeah, but you know we'd have to do ten times that for the studio to consider keeping it in the theater after week three, so I'm sorry but..." So it's a funny thing. And that does effect what we're doing for Girl From Monday and the collection as a whole. Thinking on a different scale.

Kyle and I had a great conversation with two documentary filmmakers, from San Francisco, I think. They gave us a lot of great information about self-distribution. They've made four or five films over the past twenty years that they've self-distributed and they have contacts with art houses and the appropriate-sized movie houses across the country. It's a lot of telephone work, connecting with them and working out relationships so that you can trust those people in Kansas City to have two showings of the film and then ship the print to Seattle. It becomes this network. No one's going to get rich, but your film will get seen, you'll make a little money. I like that. I've always liked that. When I started making films, it was very much at that period of time where rock and roll was starting to be called alternative and that small kind of mentality was very attractive. I never expected my first film to get the type of release that it did. I guess I was always hoping for success but not fame. Those first two films just kind of hit much bigger... then again, it's a matter of scale. For me, it seemed quite big. For most people in the motion picture business, I guess it's miniscule.

I was reading an interview you did with Jean-Luc Godard. It was at a time when electronic editing was just starting and you talk a little bit about the idea of electronic distribution, so you were thinking about it even back then?

I was getting all that from my partner, Steve Hamilton, who was my assistant editor back in 1992. He's very visionary about the uses of new technology. He came from the computer business to be an intern for me. We were editing in film at the time but he picked it up in an afternoon and, by the next day, I was like, "I want this guy forever." He's great on the telephone, he's great with people, he loves machinery. So as the years went on, it wasn't that long, two years later, he was telling me we should do this Avid thing. So I let him lead and we kind of formulated a company called Spin Cycle Post. We used some of the money I made making Amateur to buy the initial machinery and we actually made the first third, the NY section of Flirt, expressly as an exercise to learn how to use this new computer technology.

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