If you’re an indie filmmaker, you probably know Gabe Cowan. He’s produced some of the most surprising hits in the past few years including SXSW successes Cheap Thrills and Bad Milo.
Along with his producing partners Amiee Clark and John Suits, Cowan runs the New Artists Alliance. He created the production company three years ago to find promising new voices in the industry and to help them make a film and most importantly, a profit.
It’s his first time at Tribeca and he has two huge films in the line up. Adam Rapp’s Loitering with Intent stars Marisa Tomei and Sam Rockwell while Just Before I Go is Courtney Cox’s directorial debut. It also flaunts an impressive cast including Sean William Scott and Olivia Thirlby.
Given Cowan is clearly passionate about finding up and coming filmmakers. We have that in common. Of course we had to chat. He gives me the scoop on working with Courtney Cox, his new project with Short Term 12 director Destin Cretton and his next indie he says will “blow your mind.”
ATW: This is Courtney Cox’s directorial debut. What was her mojo?
C: Courtney is someone that’s extremely prepared. She has a very thick and detailed directors book. It has not only the shot, but also the breakdowns of emotional beats. She knows which moment in each scene to capture. Two things about Courtney really impressed me. Watching her work with actors was extraordinary. She would go and give these minor adjustments that would yield these huge results. Also, how she works with camera. She’s someone well known as an actor but she’s been making homes for a long time. That design influence really seeps its way into the visual aesthetic.
ATW: How involved were you with assembling these incredible casts?
C: With Loitering with Intent, we were more in the advice role position. With Courtney’s movie we were extremely involved. As producers, you do so many different things and sometimes you’re the lead and sometimes you’re more an advisor. Also, you’re seeing a completely different movie as you’re imagining an actor embody a character. In Courtney’s film there’s such a big ensemble, each time you’re imagining a different actor in a role.
ATW: You were at SXSW last year with Cheap Thrills and Bad Milo. How is Tribeca proving different?
C: We’ve been really fortunate to have been at SXSW for the last three years. We know how that festival works. This is our first time at Tribeca. At SXSW everything happens within a 6-block radius and there’s an extreme amount of partying going on! With Cheap Thrills, we were running from one hotel to another after the premiere till literally 4 in the morning. NYC is the city that never sleeps but we haven’t been running till 4 am. Tribeca is a little bit more spread out. It takes a little longer to get everywhere and setting up meetings with buyers is a little bit less contained.
ATW: You founded New Artists Alliance three years ago. Tell me about that development.
C: I met my producing partner John Suits as we were getting our masters degree in film directing at Cal Arts. Soon after we graduated, we came up with a model where we share some of the profits with every cast and crew. We mostly work with first time filmmakers. We’ve done 17 films and 11 of them have been first time filmmakers. There’s a wonderful experience that you have when you’re working with people who don’t know what they can’t do. Evan Katz is a really great example. Shooting that film [Cheap Thrills] in 14 days and having a shot list that was written something like a poem! You’re trying to interpret and guide and help.
ATW: How do you choose which projects to support?
C: We read about 100 scripts for every script that we decide to do. So far, we’ve made every movie that we’ve optioned. About half of the time, the directors are also the writers. They also become the editors of the film. We choose our projects by reading a lot of scripts and then selectively choosing what to develop.
ATW: I love the Coatwolf dudes. Bellflower was amazing. They’re fairly new filmmakers, though. You produced their second feature Chuck Hank and the San Diego Twins. How did you take fairly unknown filmmakers like these and get them funding?
C: Well, first of all this movie is going to blow your mind! It blew my mind as we were shooting it. This is not possible! We shot some scenes with 5 cameras where there were 75 people fighting in the streets of Los Angeles. They raised about 130K on Indiegogo by themselves. That was a great start. Obviously that’s not enough to make a giant action movie.
ATW: How did you meet them and start getting involved?
C: We actually hooked up with them at SXSW and we got along great and we read the script and John and I immediately were like this is so crazy! We sat down and we met with them and jived with them. I called up my buddy David Arquette and asked him to be a part of it and he said, ‘Yes.’ That was a piece that helped protect it from a financial standpoint. We figured out a way to make it work. Those guys have a certain punk rock style of filmmaking and what John and I were able to bring was a little bit of calm to chaos.
ATW: You have a project coming up with Destin Cretton! Do tell.
C: I started a screenwriting program for juveniles who are being tried in adult court. There are a lot of really interesting issues happening around it; new laws being passed to try to make up for what the state has done to these children. It was basically a workshop where the kids developed a screenplay and about 15 classes in or so, I called up Destin and I said, ‘You’ve got to be apart of this thing’ and he said, ‘Absolutely!’ I think he and I both had a similar experience. You imagine that these people in this security facility are going to be criminals, but who walks inside are children. Destin worked with them and came to a couple of classes and gave his ideas. We’re going to go out and make the film the kids wrote!
ATW: In what ways is the indie industry changing? Is this a good time for indie filmmakers?
C: Things have changed so much in the last few years. 7 or 8 years ago was this direct to DVD business. Then that dropped 80 % after 2008. Part of that change was video on demand, iTunes, Netflix, etc. Even though one business fell apart, a new business started coming up. VOD is an incentive for theatrical releases. I think that this is a better time for indie filmmakers because for the first time, it’s viable to put your movies into theaters. The typical indie deal will get you into 10. That number will only increase over time. [Audiences] are not only giving their 12 dollars to see a good movie, but they’re supporting something.