SUKI HAWLEY & MICHAEL GALINSKY
Prior to their 2002 breakout documentary, Horns and Halos, Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky had made a pair of docu-dramas, both of which are finally debuting on DVD.
Half-Cocked (1994) deals with the sister of a local musician who steals his van and equipment. With her band of rag-tag wannabe band members, the untalented group perform their handful of songs in local clubs, living the dream of touring musicians with no money, no clean clothes, junk food, and plenty of bickering for dessert.
Radiation (1998) was shot while Galinksy and Hawley were touring with their own band in Spain, and screening their debut, Half-Cocked, to appreciative audiences. With improvised dialogue and earnest performances, the story follows a local promoter/manager who takes a pretty beat poet from America under his wing, knowing his career and reputation are going down the toilet after a prior gig went really sour.
Sporting two films, a making-of documentary, interviews, stills and music galleries, the new DVD release is being handled by the filmmakers’ own company, Rumur Releasing, which they co-founded and run with partner and Halos co-producer, David Beilinson.
Galinsky and Hawley met while attending NYU, and although the former originally studied documentary photography, his friendship and association with film students gradually pulled him towards filmmaking.
Suki Hawley : Michael had always been very interested in documentary photography, and I had been interested in music and film from a narrative end, and when I met him, we sort of got together, and decided to make a film. I thought if Half-Cocked could look anything like his band photos, it would be awesome.
Basically, we sat down and wrote a script that reflected what his experiences had been in a band for ten years on the road…We got people who were musicians who could play themselves, and basically wrote a script around what we knew about them.
Michael Galinsky : In a sense it became kind of a cross between the Maysles brothers and Hitchcock; cinema verite meets narrative filmmaking… It got a little bit silly, but that was the general idea, and that was kind of the same process with Radiation as well.
Mark R. Hasan : Was there a lot of improvisation for the actors to work with?
MG : That was the idea, but they didn’t really do that much, except for Ian Svenonious, and he did an amazing job.
SH : We wrote a skeletal script and sent it to all the cast members, and said, ‘Okay, now write your own dialogue,’ and basically Ian Svenonious was the only one who sort of changed everything around to match his own character, whereas everyone else sort of went by the script.
MRH : And both films were shot on 16mm film?
MG : Both of them were shot on 16mm, and Half-Cocked was on black & white, and Radiation on colour.
MRH : Radiation sort of reminded me of a Roger Corman situation, where filmmakers who were in an interesting location doing one thing thought it would be advantageous to make a movie on the side. It’s an audacious move, but it was one that you guys managed to pull off in a foreign country, and in a language you had to learn fast. The finished film is really good, and has intriguing characters, plus very strong performances. Was that something that sort of happened by luck, or did you managed to find a lot of people that were sufficiently talented that could suit your vision?
SH : My interpretation was that in Spain, people are not as used to having cameras around all the time, so they haven’t learned what it could mean; they’re much more natural in front of the camera… The Spaniards were incredibly calm and centered… although two days before we were supposed to start shooting, we were doing some rehearsals, and Unai [played by Jnai Fresnedo], who’s the star of the film, said ‘I think you should find someone else to play me.’
MRH : But he was so perfect.
SH : He was so nervous about it, [but] then he took the bull by the horns, and decided to just dig in and really be an actor, although he’s not an actor.
MG : And the way [Radiation] all came about is that I was on tour with a band in Spain, and he was the tour manager, and I said, ‘Why don’t we do some screenings of Half-Cocked here?’ And he actually said, ‘Yeah, that would be great.” So I came home and told Suki … ‘We’ll make a movie while we’re there.’ Of course, she nearly killed me, because it would never work, and it was probably the most difficult experience you could ever imagine: we had no money, and everything closed at noon until three… We’d be rolling film around noon, and then be mad that there wasn’t food at one o’clock. It was such an impossible situation.
SH : And that’s when we turned to documentary!
MG : Exactly! It’s really hard to make narrative features with no support, so we just figured we’ll make documentaries. Just us, and where we don’t need anybody but us.
MRH : In terms of Horns and Halos, were you attracted to the project partly because one of your subjects, indie publisher Sander Hicks, was part of a punk-styled band?
MG : Yeah. That’s how we kind of came to it. We found the story interesting. We had come back from a film festival with Radiation… After reading in the National Herald Tribune a one paragraph story about a discredited bio being pulled, a week later I got a package from Sander saying he was going to republish the book, so we immediately said ‘We have to get involved and see what happens.’ It is a weird amalgamation, because it’s a little bit more of a mainstream story, but it’s definitely a story about an alternative culture in a lot of ways.
MRH : What made you decide to finally release your first two films on DVD?
MG : We’d been wanting to do it for a long time, and now we have a distribution company… We also knew that we would know how to do it right, and we would put tons of extra materials on it and make it more of an archive than just dumping the films out. When we made Radiation, I had a photo book out at that time, and we did this really cool thing where I did this collaboration with this artist who made these massive frames, and I would duct tape and gaffer tape [11”x14” images] to them.
We made a sound piece with all the different people who did the writing in the book – all the musicians telling stories about being on the road – which Suki cut it up into bits…and as you would walk through the gallery of 250 photos, [you'd] hear different bits of stories. It was kind of like an experimental film, and we put that on the DVD as well… You get these stories of being in a band and on tour. We were lucky enough to have known some incredibly talented people that told hilarious stories.
MRH : Were there any major technical upgrades that you had to do for the two older films in order to get them ready for the DVD medium?
MG : No, we used all the materials we had and made it work.
MRH : Sometimes filmmakers are tempted to tweak an older film for its DVD debut, and they can go overboard and add a Dolby 5.1 audio mix in spite of there being no stereo or isolated audio stems; or there’s the temptation to add extra footage that was never meant to be there in the first place.
MG : We did the opposite! We actually trimmed down Radiation because, while it worked, after watching it for a couple of years, we though of ways of making it a tighter animal, [and it] works a lot better now.
SH : Having seen these movies over and over again for so many years, ‘that scene’ that always bothered me was either finessed, or cut out.
MG : We had an interesting process with Horns and Halos. When we showed it at Rotterdam, it was 94 minutes; and two weeks later, after seeing it with 500 of our not-closest friends, we had taken out literally 25 minutes and put back in 10 new minutes, and it was just a much better movie. We did that process twice more after seeing it at several other film festivals [which] allows you to kind of hone it and use it as a focus screening; we didn’t have that opportunity with Half-Cocked orRadiation.
MRH : Did you find out that there are specific advantages to self-distributing versus going with another company? One of the more daunting aspects is the financial thing, where you have to foot your own publicity bills and go out on the road yourself, which some people really do enjoy.
MG : I don’t really like it so much, but it’s necessary because it is so hard to make things that are even slightly off of a mainstream realm, and have ways of getting them out – unless they’re extremely non-mainstream, and then there’s other routes. We just kind of had to plough our own way, I guess. It was a frustrating process with Half-Cocked, because when we made that movie, it was such an oddity; in some ways it didn’t even get into film festivals… People didn’t really know what to make of it, so it didn’t really exist in the film world, whereas Radiation did play at Sundance and a bunch of other film festivals, so this will be the first time that many film people are ever seeing Half-Cocked.
MRH : Radiation feels very contemporary, whereas Half-Cocked, in spite of being an older film, has aged very well. There’s been more attempts to fuse documentary and drama elements, particularly in mockumentaries, so I think a lot more people will respond to it. I thought the film was quite funny. My favourite moment involved the wannabe band members setting up and not knowing how the heck to do anything properly, ineptly assembling the stolen drum set and mike stands. You had professional musicians who had to play amateurs, poorly pretending to be professionals.
MG : That was ten years ago, but they’re all still making music and putting out records, and Tara Jane O’Neil just had another record come out called Touch and Go and just did a full country tour all over Europe…That was the hard part: getting them to not play very well.
MRH : When will the Half-Cocked and Radiation DVD be available?
MG : It comes out on DVD on February 13 th. While we’re a distributor, we have a relationship with a large distribution company called KOCH that has absolute distribution in Canada and the U.S., so it’s basically available everywhere.
KQEK.com would like to thank David Lewis at Riot Act Media for coordinating this interview, and Suki Hawley and Michael Galinksy for discussing their work.
All images remain the property of their copyright holders.
This article and interview © 2006 by Mark R. Hasan
Related external links (MAIN SITE):
DVD/Film: Horns & Halos (2002)
Categories: Filmmaker Interview