Josh Hamilton, above right, in On_Line, a new film about Internet chat rooms directed by Jed Weintrob, bottom right.
What does it take to get an independent film into theatres? For first-time writer-director Jed Weintrob, a Village resident, the answer was four years of hard work and raising $1 million without studio support for his film On_Line, which opens in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose on June 27.
Weintrob said he is at the end of a long period of getting the film out. The process started in 1999 when he wrote the film, which deals with the implications of Internet technology on the way people meet and interact with each other sexually. Call it Looking for Mr. Goodbar for the 21st century: On_Line deals with the loneliness encountered in modern society and the way people use new technology to meet and establish bonds with each other. Instead of singles bars and casual sex, in the 21st century it is Internet chat rooms and masturbation. Its a New York love story told through the world of the Web and cybersex, Weintrob said, insisting its a classic story in a way.
After writing the film, Weintrob shopped the script to movie studios for funding. But ultimately, going through the studio system would have resulted in too many creative concessions, according to Weintrob, such as casting choices and the extent of the films sexual content. Instead, he financed the film as a true New York independent, relying on friends, family, and friends of family to raise money.
But unlike well-known indie-film director Kevin Smith, who maxed out his own credit cards to finance his first film, Clerks, Weintrob had connections, such as one of his best friends from Harvard University, director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream). His executive producers, Tavin Marin Titus and Richard D. Titus, worked in both traditional and new media companies on the films Independence Day and Dolores Claiborne. Another executive producer of the film was Claude Arpels, of jewelers Van Cleef & Arpels. These main investors joined a large group of smaller investors, Weintrob said, that contributed to the $1 million total. Not exactly the type of backing or funding most first-time filmmakers receive.
Although he had a larger budget than many independent films, Weintrob said it was still tight. As a result, most of the crew and the actors, including rising star Harold Perrineau (appearing in the Matrix sequels) and indie-film stalwart Josh Hamilton (The House of Yes, Kicking and Screaming), worked for much less than their typical fee. Producers Tanya Selvaratnam (a member of the experimental downtown company the Wooster Group) and Adam Brightman (Two Family House, A Price Above Rubies) kept the film on schedule and budget.
To make the most of the budget and to achieve some of the split-screen and computer effects, On_Line was shot in 18 days using digital video cameras. Each scene was filmed from different angles using multiple cameras. This cut down the number of stops necessary to reset the cameras and redo takes, so that conversations could be filmed simultaneously in real-time. We had fun using the technology in making the film, Weintrob said and added that it was the only way the film could have been made.
Getting the film finished was just the start. The most frustrating stage of the process is releasing an independent film without the backing of a studio, he said. First, he entered the film in the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, but it didnt sell. The sexually explicit nature of the film scared some of the larger studios, he said.
From there, he showed the film at 25 festivals, including Berlin, Melbourne, and the Cinequest festival in San Jose, where it won Best Narrative Feature. The film built a reputation from word of mouth and from Weintrob constantly reminding distributors that it was still available and selling them on its merits. Eventually the film sold to Indican Pictures, a small new distribution company.
Based on its performance in New York and Los Angeles its premiere weekend, On_Line may be picked up in 10 of the largest U.S. marketsstandard distribution for independent films, Weintrob said. The first weekend will also determine if foreign markets, cable, and even video pick up the film. There is an extremely short attention span for independent film, Weintrob said, which adds to the pressure for a strong opening.
Weintrob mused nervously, Four years of my life will be decided in one weekend.