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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Spotlight: Ari Gold on Adventures of Marketing Adventures of Power

Three years ago, filmmaker Ari Gold made a little film called Adventures of Power, a quirky comedy about a dorky air drummer (played by Gold himself) who pursues his air drumming dream all the way fro New Mexico to New … Jersey where he battles Adrian Grenier for a $2000 smackeroos. Unfortunately for Gold, the film debuted at Sundance to divisive reviews, just as the faltering economy was bursting the bubble of industry sales at the Park City fest.

This little film seems to inspire very little in the way of neutral ground for those who see it; there are those who find it adorable and sweet and charming and quirky, who champion it — and then there are those who hated it on so voraciously and colorfully that, in a twisted way, their reviews could almost been seen as a weird sort of reverse-psychology PR: “Come see the film that’s so crazy critics have called it BOTH charming and delightful and the worst movie they’ve ever seen. You know, if you inspire that kind of divisiveness in your audience, own it and use it, right?

But none of this has served to dampen the spirits or energy of the tireless, tenacious Gold, a veritable one-man band proselytizing both his film and the charitable efforts he’s tied in with Adventures of Power and the … sport …? of airdrumming. The story of the marketing and promotion work that’s gone into selling Adventures of Power is ripe with lessons to be gleaned by aspiring indie filmmakers, particularly as they pertain to the idea that being an indie filmmaker means accepting that your job does not end when you hit rough cut, or even final cut. That’s just the end of the beginning.

The real work, as Ari Gold has learned in the past three years of tirelessly promoting Adventures of Power, really starts after you say, “That’s a wrap.” Gold has also been keeping busy working on the initiative he’s launched in support of the DVD: the Power Saves the Music Charity Auction, which will benefit the VH1 Save the Music Foundation.

The auction is the real deal, and features signed drumheads and drums from celeb drummers like Ringo Starr, Lars Ullrich, and, of course, Neil Peart from Rush, who has a guest appearance in the film and also appears on the DVDs best feature, a great candid discussion between Gold and Peart about the project, that actually ended up having some relevant information about just the work of getting a movie MADE at all.
Ari very kindly consented to an email chat with me in between jugging three or four other things at once, and here’s what we talked about:

Kim Voynar: Adventures of Power was your first feature film, but you’d made several shorts before that. What lessons did you learn from making those short films, and what further research did you do before delving into making your first feature?

Ari Gold: Adventures of Power was shot in stages, over 13 months, almost like five short films. So in a way, making shorts was odd training for that, like training for a marathon by sprinting. I also had learned a bit of the festival game with my short films; I knew a bit about promoting myself and doing Q & A’s and talking about myself without feeling embarrassed. The challenge is suddenly having to compete in a commercial marketplace.

Short films are works of art, and they can also be calling cards. A feature film is seen as neither a work of art nor a calling card, but a commodity. So my experience with Adventures of Power was very different, in that suddenly my fate was being determined not by people who enjoyed the movie, but by people assessing whether they could make money from the movie. That was never part of the discussion with shorts.

KV: When you started to submit your film to fests, did you have a specific plan in mind for how to use the fest circuit to stir grass-roots interest in your film? How did you determine which fests you felt were a good fit for your film?

AG: With Adventures of Power we had Sundance in mind, since I’d had my short films there. But I didn’t have the time or wherewithal to think clearly about it. I was shooting the last portion of the movie at the end of October, submitted a rough cut three weeks later and was terrified to be accepted, since the film wasn’t finished.

Having to lock picture and rush it to Sundance, I didn’t have time to think clearly of a grass-roots game-plan at all. The film wasn’t done, and furthermore Sundance was being hit with the beginning of the economic crisis and nothing was selling. It was only when I’d had some time to sleep, and think, that I was able to finish the movie properly and start building my campaign. The campaign started with all the smaller festivals where there was less pressure, and more of a grass-roots (rather than industry). I always knew I wanted to use the film for a charity drive for music-education, but it took me a long time to figure out how to do it.

KV: A lot of indie filmmakers want to believe their work ends once the film is locked. But you’ve worked tirelessly to promote Adventures in Power — the charity fundraiser, radio promotions, politely but diligently following up with journalists. What’s your philosophy on the idea of indie director as artist versus indie director as marketer and promoter of his or her own work? If you had a choice, would you have just handed all that work off to someone else? Or do you enjoy promoting your film?

AG: I do regret the amount of time it takes to do your own promotion, because in that time I could have made another film. But it’s a bit like having a child: are you going to go through the process of conceiving a child and hand it off to an orphanage while you have another one? If the orphanage pays a lot (which they used to do, then stopped doing for three years, and now are starting to do again), I suppose you might think “well, it’ll get great care.”

And some very lucky filmmakers do get that care: a hugely financed PR and marketing campaign that makes these filmmakers seem to the public like underground sensations. But: there’s no way of knowing, when you sign over your movie to someone else, whether you can guarantee that. In the heydey of indie film, when I was touring with my shorts, hot filmmakers were getting guarantees of big advertising from the studios, but that’s extremely rare now. By the time my deal came around, I knew that no one was going to take care of my “baby” as well as I can.

I’m on a plane, coming back from Florida where I did some interviews. A bunch of people down there have now heard about my movie, written me on Twitter and Facebook – and these are people who wouldn’t have ever known about it if I hadn’t chased down these interviews myself. It’s almost frustrating to realize that the promotion work does pay off, because then it becomes addictive, and at some point I have to stop. But as one enthusiastic reviewer wrote to me in an email, “You have to do everything you can now, while it’s fresh, to stop your movie from disappearing into a memory hole.” He’d written a novel which had suffered that fate – his novel might be a work of genius, but the world may never know it. He felt a connection to my movie and the protagonist’s own journey. I took that to heart, and I don’t sleep much since I’m working all the time.

KV: A lot of indie filmmakers I talk to seem to have the hardest time wrapping their heads around the idea of how to make a plan for ever making money back on their film. There seems to be an assumption that in the realm of indie filmmaking, you should expect that you are basically pouring money down the drain in pursuit of a passion project. So what I’m wondering is when in the process you started thinking about how to sell the film — not just to a distributor, but to the audience you need to buy it? And — if you can disclose this — I’m curious as to whether you’ve yet made back the cost of making the film, and whether your deal with Phase 4 gets you a cut of the DVD sales?

AG: I made the movie under the assumption that I’d double the cost of the movie in the initial sale at Sundance. I was overconfident in the indie film market, which was on the verge of collapse, though I didn’t know it. It’s coming back now, slowly. The challenge is that studios have to spend many millions of dollars just to market an indie “hit” and penetrate public awareness. So when you don’t have a fraction of that money, how do you make your money back? Adventures of Power will have to be a cult hit, over the course of years of slow buzz-building, to make back its money. But I’m working on it! I’m not sure if it’s Rocky Horror or Big Lebowski, or both, but the fans who like it adore it, and I’m hoping they will become missionaries. All this promotion work I’m doing is like planting tiny little seeds. It can be exhausting, but I meet good people on the way, and this can only pay off.

KV: What’s your advice for would-be first time indie filmmakers who think they have a great idea for a movie they’d like to make?

AG: Make it as cheaply as possible, don’t expect to get rich, and try to have a sense of humor about this insanity.

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What’s up with your people mover shot, where it seems like people are kind of floating along?
Oh, my signature shot? That’s just a new way for people to move! It’s really become my Alfred Hitchcock cameo. I did not invent that shot, but Ernest and I did it on the set of Mo Better Blues, when Shorty had to walk [through the park], and I thought, “Let’s try it.” But after that, we tried to have a reason for it. For example, that wonderful sequence in Malcolm X where you hear the great song, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” The final scene is like that, Malcolm floating along to his destiny. In 25th Hour, after Philip Seymour Hoffman has kissed Anna Paquin, we did a shot like that, and it shows his state of mind. In Inside Man, after Denzel thinks he’s witnessed the murder of a hostage, we did the floating shot there.

So you just like the way it looks?
Yeah!
~ Spike Lee To Matt Zoller Seitz

“I never accepted the term contrarian. I think that’s offensive, frankly. And my response to that is: if I’m a contrarian, what are other reviewers? What I strive to do is be a good critic, not somebody who simply accepts the product put in front of me. I guess it scares people to think that they don’t have any originality; that they don’t have the capacity to think for themselves.

“There’s a line a lot of reviewers use that I don’t like at all. They say ‘accept the film on its own terms.’ What that really means is, ‘accept the film as it is advertised.’ That’s got nothing to do with criticism. Nothing to do with having a response as a film watcher. A thinking person has to analyze what’s on screen, not simply rubber-stamp it or kowtow to marketing.”m

“To me, everything does have a political component and I think it’s an interesting way to look at art. It’s one way that makes film reviewing, I think, a politically relevant form of journalism. We do live in a political world, and we bring our political sense to the movies with us – unless you’re the kind of person who goes to the movies and shuts off the outside world. I’m not that kind of person.”
~ Armond White to Luke Buckmaster