The DIY Reporter: Do it Yourself in Film, Music & Books
DOCUMENTING A BUMPER CROP
DIYREPORTER: Tell me about your new company, Open Edge Media, and its goals.
WG: Well, Open Edge Media is a fully-independent, full-service documentary production and marketing company. We produce and market independent documentary films. My specialty is theatrically-released motion picture documentaries. And I’m basically trying to develop a twist on the traditional documentary genre. I’m trying to make documentary movies, documentaries that are, you know, fun to watch and fascinating.
DIYREPORTER: You feel that most of the documentaries that have come before you have not been to that quality?
WG: It’s not so much quality. I think it’s really just an artistic kind of attitude or approach. It’s more of a craft milieu than it is anything else. Documentaries are, by nature, (A) factual; and (B) they’re generally pretty serious. And so I’m just trying to put a little wonder and magic into it and make my films a little bit more like movies than films. It maybe subtler to other people than it is to me.
DIYREPORTER: When you mention that, one of the things that comes to mind is Michael Moore.
WG: I’m not saying I’m the only person. I’m just saying for me, personally, that’s where I’m going with my work. It’s not like I’m the only person doing it.
DIYREPORTER: What fueled your initial interest in documentaries?
WG: Years ago, I was a re-recording film sound mixer. And before that, when I was a child, I was boy scout. And back in the days when I was a re-recording mixer, I used to donate regularly to charities and environmental organizations. And through that process and other exposure to inclination, I started to realize that there were a lot of things in this world that I wanted to be involved in that needed some attention. So I just got more involved. I’ve never been very political, but I just started getting more involved in, sort of, activism in media, that sort of combination of the two. I was trying to see where I could plug these two things together in my own life. It’s still pretty much the same thing.
DIYREPORTER: Why crop circles?
WG: I first heard about crop circles ten years ago. I went to a lecture down in Santa Monica at a church. And these two middle-aged English guys were there with photos and slides and some really interesting stories. And the photos were really interesting and their stories were very convincing. At the time, I didn’t really even question the validity of it. I just thought it was so unusual, I parked it in the back of my mind, and I think I bought a psoter when I was there and I had it up on the wall of my office for years. And I probably looked at it every day. And I’d go, “What about those things? I wonder where those things really are from?” And basically, I never was a real serious student of it until I got involved in making the film. But time went by, and no answers ever surfaced. And finally, in the Spring of 2000, I had a chance to pick a project. Now, what do I want to do next? And I said, “Maybe I should do that crop circle project now.”
DIYREPORTER: Did you know about the Gibson movie at that time?
WG: No. I had no idea. I started my film before they even sold the script. I had no idea. We found out about it last Fall just as I was wrapping up a summer’s worth of shooting in England. So it was completely serendipitious.
DIYREPORTER: Do you shoot on film or DV?
WG: I shoot on video. I just use a variety of cameras. The crop circles project was largely done on DV, although I also shot on HD in the summer of 2000.
DIYREPORTER: What do you prefer?
WG: Well, it’s a cross-over between flexibility and weight and size and quality. Lugging that HD camera around the fields of England was not fun. It’s too heavy, too delicate, all exteriors with a very small crew, which basically was me at the time. And the last time I shot on DV quite a bit. Because the camera was so lightweight.
DIYREPORTER: What were you using, specifically?
WG: I used a TRV 900. I liked it a lot.
DIYREPORTER: Where are documentaries heading? Obviously, with the tools coming down in price, there’s a lot more people out there making films.
WG: Oh, yeah. A lot. I don’t know. That’s a good question. The same thing happened in regular, dramatic features, when everybody made DV films. It was great for about five minutes and then the market was flooded with lousy films. I think all these things are a process. Good always stands out as good. I will say that, you talk about doing it yourself — I’ve been trying to figure out how to survive in the documentary film business for years. And really be independent, and really be autonomous and really be successful. And it’s hard.
DIYREPORTER: How have you managed?
WG: Well, I’m still managing. This is my third theatrical feature. The other two I’ve done were essentially commissions financed by individuals who had a concern about a specific cause. And I was enlisted to make the films. This is the first film that I’ve made on my own. I basically used most of my own money that I was fortunate to have to begin with. And we’ll see how this one goes. If I can manage to sustain a career, I will continue to expand, dump anything I make back into those movies. But it’s one movie at a time.
DIYREPORTER: Will these get any video play?
WG: Oh, yeah. What I’ve learned — I started in 1991 with the Video Toaster and a couple of high end cameras. And I did “Waco” that way. The film I did on Waco that was nominated for an Oscar was basically done in my garage. And, to me, what really makes the difference is being able to cross the line and really get on film and really get into theaters. And I started the marketing for “Crop Circles” in September. And I’ve put as much time and attention into the marketing of it as I have to the production. And I think that’s really one of the key answers. If you’re going to do it yourself, I think you really need to pay attention to the real world, because you’ve got to sell product.
DIYREPORTER: In other words, the daisy has to stick its head above the fray.
WG: Yeah. There are other ways to do it. There’s getting a good relationship with HBO or getting a good relationship with PBS. I think Arthur Dong, I really respect him. I think he’s a very hard-working and intelligent guy who stays with it. And the model I’m going after — basically, I’ve discovered with the “Waco” project, which started out as basically a one-hour news and journalism piece that turned into a film. And I think there’s something to be said for understanding the film business, that it’s not the same as the cable television business. Not that you want to be exclusive to one or the other. It’s just a different kind of business.
DIYREPORTER: What are the differences, in your mind?
WG: Well, you’re dealing with independent theaters, for one thing. You’re not dealing with the mindset of an individual programming executive or marketing department that’s more concerned about advertising revenue or other things like that. All these products need to be market-driven. You have to make products that people are going to want to see. And I try and combine with what I think people need to see with what they want to see. My heroes in this business are Michael Moore and Ken Burns and people like that. I respect these guys a lot.
DIYREPORTER: They’ve found the secret to cross over to mass popularity.
WG: It’s a combination of very hard work, some good insight and innovation, and luck. It’s not a magic formula. I’ve been working on this for so long. I mean, people have no idea how much work it takes to really get something made. And I grew up in a pretty typical American family with a very strong work ethic and I think that hard work is 80% of the battle.
DIYREPORTER: What’s a typical budget for your films?
WG: Well, I budgeted this at $350,000.
DIYREPORTER: And would you say that allows you to be comfortable when making it?
WG: No. Are you kidding? I still sleep on floors and we’re going to do some press touring for this film. I’m at Motel 6 and friend’s houses. You know? I’m at the end of the line, money-wise. I’m looking for a deal. It’s the same old stuff. But I think I’ve got a good, intelligent organization here. We are doing it ourselves. We essentially work out of my house. We’ve got two people on public relations, somebody managing theatrical distribution and another person managing packaging and home video distribution. And we’re pretty well set up. Most of the people working for me now are people I’ve known for five, six, ten years. So we’re just working at it. I don’t think there’s any magic to it at all. You do your homework and you do your best and you keep your fingers crossed.