Is it possible to make a movie as funny as last summer’s The Hangover for under $10K? Four local recent grads have given it the old college try. Their feature-length comedy Self Helpless played to a full house when it premiered this October at Merrill’s Roxy Cinemas. After a successful University of Vermont screening and an award nomination for Best New Filmmaker at the 2009 Queens International Film Festival, the film’s cowriters, directors, producers and stars — Patrick Cassidy, Patrick Simone, Andrick Deppmeyer and Adam Jaroszewski — face the same problem as any indie filmmakers: What now?
Film festivals are the traditional route to finding a mass distributor — but not in a recession. The producers of ultra-low-budget hit Paranormal Activity used Eventful.com to encourage horror fans to “demand” the movie in their hometowns, a strategy that paid off.
The makers of Self Helpless have their own original distribution plan. In March, before the film comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray, they’ll put it on BitTorrent and encourage people to download it during a seven-day window — for free.
Most filmmakers would do anything to keep their work off BitTorrent. So why is the Self Helpless crew doing the opposite?
Cassidy, 28, a fast talker who studied entrepreneurship at UVM, says making back the film’s $9500 budget “would definitely be a beautiful thing” and he believes the buzz generated by free downloads will “lead to more sales” down the line. “If people really connect with the thing, then they’ll buy a T-shirt, a DVD, or they’ll tell their friends.”
Ultimately, though, he says, “we’re not trying to get rich off [the movie]. We just want to get people’s interest.” Downloaders, Cassidy believes, are “sort of retroactively forcing the industry to reconceive how it works” — and they also coincide with the movie’s target audience of young males. “We’re hoping for a cult thing,” says Cassidy, “like Super Troopers or Boondock Saints.” (The latter film, released a decade ago, generated such a campus following on DVD that its sequel lands in multiplexes on Friday.)
From the beginning, the foursome seems to have designed Self Helpless with an eye on the market. (Its website calls it “a feature-length comedy targeted at 18-30-year-old guys, specifically college students.”) No arty pretense here.
What Self Helpless does have to offer is a fast-paced narrative, a rocking soundtrack (Devin the Dude, S.O.J.A., Spank Rock, Nortec Collective and Ska Cubano) and plenty of self-deprecating, sicko-stoner humor.
Cassidy plays John Candy, a basement-dwelling part-time DJ with pretensions to being a pickup artist. He finds himself sharing the parental home with his friends Simon (Simone), just released from jail; and The Drake (Deppmeyer), whose girlfriend has kicked him out for general loutishness.
One day while Candy’s at work, his buds get high and decide to answer the age-old question, “Is God on the Interweb?” A Googling typo leads them to the site of a Mexican dog wrangler with a beatific smile. Is he the guru who can turn their lives around? The three persuade their friend Felix (Jaroszewski) to quit his job and accompany them south of the border.
That’s sort of the way it really happened, says Cassidy. The young men wrote an outline, then a script. Then they decided to shoot in Mexico. Jaroszewski quit his real-life Boston paralegal job, and they were off. “Ignorance was our best friend,” says Cassidy. “We didn’t know any better.”
That may have helped one rainy day in San Cristóbal de las Casas, when the filmmakers purchased 5 kilos of something called “explosive powder” from an old man in an alley. They bought the shell of a VW bus for $200, filled it with the explosive, “hugged and said our goodbyes, and lit it up,” recalls Cassidy. “It was unbelievable.” No one was hurt, and the guys got the shot — luckily, since “that was our entire effects budget.”
So far, Self Helpless has screened at six venues and earned its makers about $1000 after travel costs, Cassidy says. The auteur-entrepreneurs are still working “crappy jobs” around Vermont and, in the case of Simone, Hartford, Ct.
Cassidy says they’re not waiting to get discovered: “I don’t think the Hollywood guys are going to swoop down and give us a million-dollar budget. The best way we can continue with filmmaking is to create a viable financial model. I don’t think we have the magical answer, but we’ll demonstrate to people one way you can do it.”
Doesn’t sound “helpless” at all.
Self Helpless screens on Wednesday, December 16, at 8:30 p.m., at the Palace 9 in South Burlington. For more info, trailer and a clip that will be up until December 16, click here.