Intereview: Sean Parker & Austin Hillebrecht – Coup de Cinema
Sean Parker and Austin Hillebrecht both directed the super low budget film Coup de Cinema (review), which is an indie comedy about indie filmmaking. They explain the importance of pre-production, the pros and cons of co-directing, and their take on the fundraising website Kickstarter.
I think the concept behind Coup de Cinema is very creative, how was the idea born?
Sean: A dream, actually! Several years ago I had a pretty memorable dream about being an extra on the set of a really awful sci-fi movie, and convincing the crew to let me take over and make it better. That basic concept of having a nobody take over a film production sounded like a fun premise, so we added a heist element to the story and got Coup de Cinema.
The characters are all pretty genuine, especially the director Adrian, did any of the material come from real life experiences?
Austin: Not entirely. Most of the characters were spawned from ideas for different character quirks that would be funny. Though Daniel is the one I can closely relate to because of my two years in school for 3D animation. By the end of it, you kind of turn into someone like Daniel: apathetic, cynical, and too overworked to care anymore.
Sean: Going into the project we didn’t really have many real-life experiences in film to pull from. There was a lot of speculation about kinds of people we would and wouldn’t like to work with that influenced our character ideas, and we tried to keep it fairly down to earth most of the time. The actors added quite a lot of personality to the characters we weren’t anticipating, which worked really nicely.
Did you film entirely in Portland and how many days did you spend filming?
Sean: Just about. We had three days in Olympia and a couple shoots in small towns nearby. The rest was all Portland — about 30 shoot days spread over four months.
Approximately how much did it cost to make Coup de Cinema?
Sean: Around $15,000. Almost half was spent on audio — hiring boom operators, getting an intensive sound mix, some equipment purchases — and the rest went toward feeding the crew, hiring a couple special effects artists, and the usual indie film miscellany.
You guys used Kickstarter.com to fund much of the costs of production, how important was that for the film and would you do it again?
Austin: It was really important. But I don’t know if I would do it again. It seems the Kickstarter market is a little swamped and overused nowadays. Then again, it is an easy way for people you know to donate money.
I read recently that Kickstarter is really changing the way movies are made, do you agree with that?
Austin: It kinda makes the competition to get your project funded a little harder I think. Though most of the people who donate are people you already know, but there are a lot of people doing Kickstarter projects these days. I think you get a little jaded by all of them after a while.
Sean: The market has definitely exploded in volume since we used it, which is great, but can certainly make it hard for a project to be noticed amongst the sea. Now more than ever, I think unless your project is something that really gets people talking, you can’t expect to raise much money from strangers. But if you have a great concept, have true passion for film and a proven ability to pull it off, Kickstarter is a place where you have the chance to see dream projects get financed in a way that that simply could not have happened several years ago. It’s a little in its infancy to determine if Kickstarter will be a true game changer, but it’s certainly a breath of fresh air for indie film financing.
You do not see many films with two directors, were there times when it did more harm than good?
Austin: There were times for me when it was a little frustrating. We agreed on most things but there were times when our visions didn’t completely mesh. Sean seemed to quickly adapt to the mindset of knowing what was possible with the budget, time, and resources available to us. It took a little longer for me, and that’s where the frustration was. But we did manage to be one brain the whole time. I think Sean and me balance each other out well when we work together.
Sean: It helps that we’ve known each other for over 10 years now. I’ve got a really odd sense of humor that certainly wouldn’t be as rampant as it is if we hadn’t met, and it wasn’t until a few months after meeting that our enthusiasm for filmmaking really took off. So everything we’ve learned so far about film, comedy, storytelling — we’ve more or less learned side by side.
Austin: We’re used to bouncing ideas off each other so that’s kind of how the direction went. Sean would tell the actor to do something, then I might add to the idea, and then him, and by the end, the actor might end up a little swamped with direction and motivation.
Sean: Which often led to some hilarious results that were too bizarre to use in the final cut, but certainly kept the mood lively and fun.
One of the directors, Austin Hillebrecht, was the lead actor but how were the other cast members selected?
Austin: Magic and necromancy.
Sean: But mostly craigslist.
Any interesting tidbit you can share with us about film?
Sean: The first weekend of shooting was a nightmarish wake-up call for me. It was our only out-of-state shoot, three days in a row with over 30 people involved, and we’d never done anything remotely close to that size of production before… for some reason we decided to get the hardest shoot done first. We had very optimistic and naive assumptions about how much we could get done every day, and we ran into some serious problems with a couple people, hard-hitting financial mishaps and a brutal experience at the equipment loan which threatened to derail the proceedings. We lost our production manager a few days before the shoot so I took on all those duties in addition to directing and camerawork, which would be easy on a small project but was absolutely terrifying and overwhelming on this one. It got to a point where after the weekend wrapped, completely behind schedule, I didn’t think I could make it through the 30-odd days of shooting ahead of us and was completely devastated. Several days later I sat down with Austin and told him my concerns, expecting the movie to be doomed… and was surprised to hear him totally confused why I felt that way — to him everything seemed fine. I was a little wary but decided to press on because of his confidence. It wasn’t until after we finished filming, several months later, that I talked to him again about how worried I was that first weekend, and it turned out he wasn’t even aware of the problems we had! I was probably too stressed out to relay all the horror stories. Had he known about them, he probably would’ve felt like I did and who knows what would have happened to the film. So that was a pretty harrowing experience that ended up being hilarious in retrospect.
You said the film is most likely going to be self-distributed, what do you think is the biggest hurdle to get picked up?
Austin: I think it’s the fact that not all of it is as polished as we would like it to be. And there’s nothing else we can do to fix it. I feel like that might make distributors a little wary of picking it up. But then again, what do I know? I’ve never had a film I’ve made picked up by a distributor so I don’t know how the process goes.
Sean: A big lesson we’ve learned here is the importance of pre-production. Most of our problems with the production values could have been averted if we’d locked down our locations further in advance, had a solid shoot schedule and a much, much bigger art department budget — all things we could have taken care of if we’d mapped out production a bit better. I was actually in my final year of college when we filmed this, using Coup de Cinema as an excuse to get my film credit (rather than taking any more experimental film classes), and I kinda rushed us into production so we could wrap before I graduated. We got lucky that things didn’t fall apart this time. Even though there’s a lot of areas of the film where I wish we had more time & resources, I’m really proud of what we accomplished. I hope for the best, but I look at the film more as a learning experience than a big break. If the film doesn’t get distributed, but helps pave the way for a bigger and better film in a couple years, I’ll be beyond happy.
Also do you think the fact the film is sort of a satire on smaller indie studios had anything to do with it?
Austin: I think if they have a problem with it, then they missed the point of the movie.
How did you get into film, did you go to film school?
Austin: No film school for me. But I did study 3D animation at Lifeway College in New Zealand for two years. The rest of my film knowledge is from making movies over the past 11 years.
Sean: I spent four years at The Evergreen State College focusing on film, but I was already gung-ho about making movies — I had taken some weekend animation workshops when I was 9 or 10 and got hooked. When Austin and I met in middle school we had a wonderful teacher who got us into shooting digital, taught us basic editing and that opened up an entire world for us.
I was completely fine with Miles not getting Caitlyn in the end, but was the main point of having her in the script to show character progression in Miles?
Sean: One of the film’s messages is that if you’re going to do something big — to risk everything and put more than just yourself on the line — you really ought to have your heart in the right place. Miles wants to be with Caitlyn, and tries to use his quest to fix the movie as a means to that end. So having Caitlyn in the story was our attempt at showing a clear progression in Miles’ attitude toward love and filmmaking, as he gets corrupted by his ulterior motives and ultimately has to let them go.
My scene in the film was when they are shooting in the evergreen forest, what is your favorite scene from the film?
Austin: I really liked the forest scene too. I related to that situation a lot. I also really like the bad movie montage and pretty much any time it shows Ren Fields crazy edits. I can’t get enough of those.
Sean: It’s funny, looking back after we’d finished filming (but before we started screening it) I’d thought the forest scene was a little unnecessary and wished we could find a way to work around it, since it doesn’t really advance the story and it mainly just reinforces that the director is an idiot, which should already be apparent. Turns out it’s the scene that always gets some of the biggest laughs at every showing. Shows what I know!
Do you guys have any other projects in the works?
Austin: Not really. Just ideas.
Sean: But a few of those ideas have been pretty fleshed-out. We’re not jumping into anything just yet though. I want to see where Coup de Cinema brings us before committing to the next big collaboration, so we have time to recover and see if we’re able to step up our budget. We’re also rather prone to whims and unpredictable turns of interest, so who knows if we might come up with some shorts or web video in the interim. If I’m sure of anything, it’s that we’re in this for the long haul. If we’ve a lifetime of filmmaking ahead of us, I’m in no hurry.