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.