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Tribeca Film Festival's Gabriel Cowan on crowdfunding, indies and kids in jail

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Gabe Cowan is an American filmmaker and philanthropist who launched New Artists Alliance (NAA) to support emerging filmmakers while sharing profits with cast and crew. So far, they've produced 17 features, two of which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival which ran April 16 through 27. On May 6 Lionsgate will release NAA’s movie, “Making the Rules,” which stars Jamie Pressley and Robin Thicke.

Cowan graciously agreed to an exclusive interview with Examiner Dorri Olds on April 24. Topics covered included making movies, attracting stars, raising funds and how to maintain artistic integrity. On top of everything this busy man does, Cowan is also an active philanthropist who works with Human Rights Watch, The Rape Treatment Center, The Children’s Defense Fund and last year he founded a screenwriting program for incarcerated juveniles called InsideOUTwriters.

Dorri Olds: Can you describe your two Tribeca Film Festival movies?

Gabriel Cowan: “Loitering With Intent” is about two actors writing a screenplay they'll star in to show off their acting talents, but unfortunately for them, they run into their own writing limitations and the comedy ensues. “Just Before I Go” is about a guy who’s given up and going to take his own life. Before he does, he goes back home to right old wrongs and go after bullies from childhood. What he discovers is they all have their own struggles. The bully’s wife passed away and he has a Down’s syndrome kid, and his father always bullied him. He finds out his mean teacher now has Alzheimer’s, and the girl he was always afraid to ask out has gained 300 pounds.

Are those films typical of movies your company makes?

We make a lot of different kinds of movies — documentaries, dramas, comedies, science fiction, thrillers. The movies that are the easiest to sell are horror, science fiction, and thrillers and one of the things we’ve discovered is you can tell all kinds of stories couched in a genre.

For example, we have a movie called, “Cheap Thrills,” that won lots of awards. It would be easy to dismiss it as a horror movie that plays like a comedy, but it is actually about some really important themes, like the rich taking advantage of the poor. I think that's why when audiences see it they think, “Wow, this is really elevated." This isn’t just about getting our horror rocks off. It’s about a character that is going through a meaningful change and it makes a statement.

We did another movie with the Duplass brothers, called “Bad Milo.” That movie is about the way we handle stress in our society and that’s another important topic. I think we can all relate to wishing we had better stress management skills, but again, it’s a horror comedy. So, I think that there’s ways of expressing ourselves and our aim is to continue to support our desire to be a part of social issues within the genre space.

What are your favorite movies?

“All the President’s Men, ” “The Godfather,” “Shawshank Redemption” “Pulp Fiction.” It’s hard to name a favorite. I loved “Captain America” and getting swept away by comic book movies. I also loved, “Under the Skin” starring Scarlett Johansson.

Do you use crowdfunding?

We used crowdfunding on one movie that will be coming out next year called, “Chuck Hank and the San Diego Twins.” This is a follow-up film by the guys that did “Bellflower,” which was a breakout at Sundance last year. This one is a crazy action movie inspired by those old side-scrolling Eighties video games. They raised $130,000 dollars on IndieGoGo and that is a great place to start. The IndieGoGo team is super supportive of independent cinema and it does seem like that’s a piece of the future of financing.

Can you talk about your philanthropy?

I started a screenwriting program for juveniles who are being tried as adults. I had a 14-year-old who was facing 90 years in prison, and a couple of 17-year-olds who are facing hundreds of years, which means their whole lives and they’re children. The first day I went in to start doing this I thought I’d walk into this room and see hardened criminals but what I saw was kids walking into a room. These kids are tremendously talented and together in this group we wrote a 20-page screenplay, which we’re now going out to produce and the kids will be able to show their families, friends, and communities that this is something we accomplished from behind bars. This is something I’m very passionate about.

Indie filmmaker Gabe Cowan
Indie filmmaker Gabe Cowan Dorri Olds

Indie filmmaker Gabe Cowan

Gabe Cowan is an American filmmaker and philanthropist who launched New Artists Alliance. He founded NAA to support emerging filmmakers while sharing profits with the cast and crew. As of 2014, he and his partner John Suits have produced more than 17 features.

John Suits and Gabe Cowan
John Suits and Gabe Cowan Dorri Olds

John Suits and Gabe Cowan

As the tech world continues to hurtle forth, independent filmmaker ops are ever increasing. NAA offers a unique model. It produces and owns its material and keeps up-front and overhead costs down. Their focus on story, character and modern filmmaking techniques keeps attracting big stars.

Movie 'Just Before I Go'
Movie 'Just Before I Go' Tribeca Film Festival

Movie 'Just Before I Go'

NAA premiered two movies at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Just Before I Go,” Courteney Cox’s directorial debut starring Kate Walsh, Olivia Thirlby, Elisha Cuthbert and Seann William Scott, and “Loitering With Intent” starring Sam Rockwell and Marisa Tomei.

Movie 'Loitering With Intent'
Movie 'Loitering With Intent' Tribeca Film Festival

Movie 'Loitering With Intent'

Gabe Cowan said, "'Loitering With Intent' is about two actors writing a screenplay that they will star in to show off their acting talents, but unfortunately for them, they run into their own writing limitations and the comedy ensues."

Movie 'Bad Milo'
Movie 'Bad Milo' Magnolia Pictures

Movie 'Bad Milo'

"Bad Milo" is a horror comedy centered on a guy who learns that his unusual stomach problems are being caused by a demon living in his intestines. The movie was written and directed by Jacob Vaughan.

Indie filmmaker Gabriel Cowan of New Artists Alliance (NAA)
Indie filmmaker Gabriel Cowan of New Artists Alliance (NAA) Dorri Olds

Indie filmmaker Gabriel Cowan of New Artists Alliance (NAA)

Gabriel Cowan said, "It’s about finding great screenplays, then finding great directors and building the whole team around that. We’ve also been blessed by having agents who know they can trust us and the movies will get done and that they’ll be proud of the work."

Movie 'Cheap Thrills'
Movie 'Cheap Thrills' Fons PR

Movie 'Cheap Thrills'

In Gabriel Cowan's movie, "Cheap Thrills," a scheming couple put a struggling family man and his old friend through a series of increasingly twisted dares over the course of an evening at a local bar. It was directed by E.L. Katz and written by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga.

Indie filmmaker Gabe Cowan of New Artists Alliance (NAA)
Indie filmmaker Gabe Cowan of New Artists Alliance (NAA) Dorri Olds

Indie filmmaker Gabe Cowan of New Artists Alliance (NAA)

When asked to describe his daily duties Gabe Cowan said, "Typically, because we work on so many movies, we’re doing pre-production, actual production, post-production and delivery all at once. Right now, for example, we are casting a movie, getting the scripts together on three other films, delivering a couple of movies, we have our two movies in Tribeca, and we have more movies in the beginning phases of development."

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