Crazy Like a Fox

Gary Winick

InDigEnt founder Gary Winick directs Bebe
Neuwirth in Tadpole.

From the no-name independent masses to Hollywood’s
hottest auteurs, moviemakers of all stripes and budgets have been
touting the benefits of shooting DV for several years now. But few
have staked their careers on the digital revolution. In 1999, writer-director-producer
Gary Winick became a pioneer of the digital medium when he partnered
with John Sloss and IFC Entertainment to create InDigEnt (Independent
Digital Network), a digital film “collective.” As you may know,
their idea was to create 10 $100,000 features with successful and
experienced moviemakers, each of whom would share in the films’
profits. Thus far, the project has attracted such moviemakers as
Campbell Scott, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Rebecca Miller,
Alan Taylor, Bruce Wagner, Rodrigo Garcia, Peter Hedges and even
Winick himself (whose Tadpole was released earlier this year).
With nine films in the “can” and a whole lot of territory yet to
be uncovered, there’s no turning back now for InDigEnt or Winick.
From his base in New York City, Winick spoke with MM about the InDigEnt philosophy, the myths of DV and why Tadpole is his least favorite film.

Jennifer Wood (MM): Can you talk about how
the idea for InDigEnt originated? What was the guiding philosophy
behind the creation of this venture?

Gary Winick (GW): InDigEnt was inspired after
I saw the Dogme film, The Celebration. And I also thought
about how John Cassavetes worked in the ’60s, with the 16mm cameras
and the repertoire of actors and the small crews. I thought with
this new medium that there was an opportunity here, because in New
York there’s this great theater and independent film community.
My idea was to form a collective where everybody gets paid the same
amount, but also owns a piece of the film. Creatively, I was interested
in using these new tools for experienced filmmakers to tell stories
they normally couldn’t tell, or to tell stories in a different way because of these tools.

I went to John Sloss, my lawyer, and we became partners
and we partnered with IFC. IFC was the perfect partner because they
wanted to be a part of the DV movement. They’re a big part of independent
film, and they were the only company that was able to sort of take
the risk on something new like this, and be able to work out the
financial deal, which was to give everyone a piece of the film from
dollar one. What they get for that is a presentation credit, they
own a piece of the film (as we all do) and they get to show it on
their station.

MM: What are the guidelines you set forth
for your moviemakers?

GW: The guidelines are: budgets are fixed.
So regardless of who’s in the film or who’s making the film or what
type of story it is, it has to fit a certain budget. There have,
of course, been films that I haven’t been able to do, which I would
have loved to have done. But I feel like the filmmakers wouldn’t
have been satisfied creatively to do the film at these budgets.
Primarily, InDigEnt is interested in using the small cameras that
fit in the palm of your hand. I feel like if you put it on your
shoulder, then you should consider 16mm or 35mm and basically it’s
just a format choice. If you can put it in the palm of your hand,
then it’s a creative choice in terms of how you’re going to make
the film. Everyone knows we work with very small crews, so it’s
basically a department head and an assistant. Everyone owns a piece
of the film, so they sort of are all working for the same amount
of money, but all get something if the film does well.

MM: InDigEnt was created in 1999. When you
look back on that day, what made it the “right” time to do it?

GW: For me, the right time was when The
Celebration
proved that these little cameras were of a quality
and, creatively, a place where actors and filmmakers would see it
as a tool. I knew that we had to do it when it was starting to happen,
but of course my idea was that we were going to make these films
for $100,000 and we were going to get all these great people in
them. And no one had ever done that before. I knew the economics
of making these movies-that everyone was going to be doing it because
DV was democratic-but I kind of felt that I wanted to focus on the
experienced filmmaker to see what they could do with the medium.

MM: What are some of the changes you’ve
witnessed in the digital medium since InDigEnt’s creation?

GW: The changes are mostly technical advances
now. And with that, of course there’s George Lucas and HD and all
of that, which have helped FX-driven films and films which are suited
for that medium. But for us, for the mini-DV Cam-and that’s really
what I’m interested in, the little cameras-basically, the change
on the technical side is that every six months there’s a new generation
of cameras that makes the image quality better. But in terms of
what we’re seeing, I think the type of stories that are being told
[are changing]. Stories like Chuck & Buck, Dancer
in the Dark
, Full Frontal and then our slate of films-films
like Tape, Chelsea Walls and Women in Film.
I kind of feel like, not only are we seeing more stories that we
wouldn’t have seen before, but people (meaning buyers and the marketplace)
are sort of more in-line with DV films.

MM: The company was created with the purpose
of creating 10 low-budget digital features, of which nine have been
produced so far? Once you have reached this goal of 10 films, will
InDigEnt continue?

GW: Basically, I came up with the number 10
because I felt like that would be enough of them to save some costs,
but not too many. And also I could have them varied enough. But
basically IFC wants to continue, and I feel that our model is working.
I’m not interested in us changing in any way because of any of our
success or what’s happening with DV, because I feel like if we make
the films in any other way, then we’re just making another low-budget
independent film-and DV just becomes a choice of stock.

MM: What do you think some of the biggest
misconceptions are regarding DV productions?

GW: Obviously a lot of people think DV means
that it’s cheap, and obviously George Lucas is dispelling some of
that myth. I also feel that people feel that if they’re making a
DV movie, they don’t have to be prepared or disciplined. And I feel
that for the narrative fiction film you have to be as prepared,
if not more, than a 35mm film. Also, I think people think that you
should just make a movie because you can, and I think that’s not
the right way to approach anything.

MM: What do you think is one of the least
recognized benefits of the digital medium, something that people
don’t often talk about? We always hear that it’s a much more intimate
experience, but what are some of the lesser-known benefits of DV,
in your opinion?

GW: The benefits are the obvious benefits,
so besides the economics, the immediacy, the intimacy, the spontaneity,
for me it’s the ability to rework things. That’s really where I
feel it’s making it more of an art form. As an artist, I can make
it rework my “canvas,” in other words, until I feel that it’s right.
That may be obvious, but to me it’s very specific to DV.

MM: Of all the films InDigEnt has produced,
with the exception of
Tadpole, which I’m sure holds a special
place, what has been your favorite?

GW: Tadpole is my least favorite! I’m
never satisfied with my films and I just like to look ahead. I started
InDigEnt because I wanted to see what experienced filmmakers would
do with this medium, and the type of stories they would tell and
how they would tell those stories. And I think that each one of
them has pushed storytelling in a way: the way Richard Linklater,
in Tape, chose to do a three-character, one-room piece, I
think could only be done in DV and was extremely successful, but
could have ultimately not been successful. It was really
a bold experiment. I think what Bruce Wagner did in Women in
Film
, with three monologues. If you read that and then you see
the film, you see really what he did with DV to visually enhance
what those characters were saying.

I think what Ethan Hawke did with Chelsea Walls was
tremendous use of DV; the poetic nature of that film, and how he
was able to create that through DV. Rebecca Miller’s film Personal
Velocity
I think is incredibly realized for DV. And Ten Tiny
Love Stories
was really an experiment that clearly only could
be done in DV, as it was 10 monologues and [Rodrigo Garcia] very
much wanted to deal with the performances and the words in 10 shots.

As far as Tadpole and Final, which are
mine and Campbell Scott’s, I feel like they’re the most narrative,
and probably could have been done in 35mm. But because they’re so
character-driven, Campbell and I were both able to utilize DV and
probably do things and influence performances in a way that we couldn’t
do with 35mm. We just finished Alan Taylor’s Kill the Poor,
and I think it’s a tremendous use of DV in how he played with form
in that. And then there’s Pieces of April, Peter Hedges’
film, which is again very straight narrative, but really wonderfully
told in DV because of the performances.

MM: What is the most important piece of
advice you would give to moviemakers currently deciding whether
to shoot on film or DV?

GW: I think you first always have to ask: Is
this story suited for the DV medium? Is this the aesthetic that
will enhance the dramatic or comedic story with the look of DV?.
If you do decide to do it in DV, then I feel that you get a lot
of the benefits, creatively, that I talked about earlier. But that
doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it in DV if it
doesn’t fit the aesthetic of it.

The contradiction of that is if you cannot make your
film, because of the economics, and the only way to shoot it is
in DV and you have to tell that story, then you should make
it in DV. Regardless of what it looks like or how appropriate it
is for the story, if it’s engaging enough and the audience emotionally
connects to those characters, it doesn’t matter what it looks like.

For more information on Gary Winick
and InDigEnt, visit
: http://www.indigent.net

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