One of the great things about the indie film community, far-flung and regional as it may appear to be, is the desire (de facto obligation, even) for those who have hit the big time to stay true to their roots. Filmmakers like Hal Hartley in New York, currently prepping his sixth feature, “Henry Fool,” or Richard Linklater, shooting his first big-budget Austin, Texas-based picture, “The Newton Boys,” have become hometown heroes for sticking to their indie guns over the years, and now they’re giving something back.
Spin Cycle Post, Hartley’s co-creation with his longtime editor, Steve Hamilton, and Good Machine producer Ted Hope, was born out of a desire to reap the digital advances in editorial technology for Hartley’s film “Amateur.” Yet Spin Cycle, under Steve Hamilton’s sharp-eyed direction, is now a full-fledged post-production house — one that seems to bend over backward to help finish poverty-stricken independent films. With eight projects in competition at Sundance ’97 that benefited from Spin Cycle’s generous cut-rate or outright gratis work, Hartley’s brainchild has earned a rep in New York circles as a great place to record Foley, do ADR, cut a low-budget feature, or maybe even connect with a young editor who will end up a creative partner for life.
“My producer, Jasmine Kosovic, had interned on some of Hal’s early films,” says Jamie Babbit, whose short film “Frog Crossing” posted at Spin Cycle prior to its Sundance screening, “so she knew about Steve Hamilton and the quality of his facility. They let us cut the whole film on their AVID, record our Foley and sound-design the picture for free, with the option being that we could use one of their inhouse assistants who was moving up the ranks to editor. Since we didn’t even have an editor, and we couldn’t afford one anyway, we jumped at the opportunity.”
During Babbit’s time at Spin Cycle, the company was deep in post-production on Columbia Pictures’ Academy Award nominee “Sense & Sensibility,” produced by Hope and James Schamus. Not unlike a production house that offsets its less commercial films with studio projects, Spin Cycle is able to absorb those indie films with little or no post budget because of well-heeled customers who can pay at or above market rate.
“It’s a very precarious balance,” observes company co-founder and president Hamilton. “Of course we’re in business to make a profit. But only in so much as it does not compromise our quality, and the types of films we prefer to work on.” Hamilton and Hartley had envisioned a place where the alternative film community would be comfortable working, and true to their tastes, the amount of mainstream feature work passing through Spin Cycle’s doors has remained relatively small.
“Ironically,” Hamilton observes, “we felt the benefits of the new digital technology were more suited to sound design, so Spin Cycle began as a way to better control that aspect of Hal’s films. Of course, after a short time, we saw the demand for a post house which knew how to post low-budget films, as opposed to studio movies, musicvideos or commercials. So it was that early sound work which helped finance more AVIDs, and moved us into cutting picture as well.”
Half a continent away, deep in the heart of the Texas alternative film community, Linklater’s Austin Film Center hopes to travel a similar path to the one Spin Cycle Post has blazed. Linklater’s facility, funded in partnership with Austin-based software entrepreneur Donald Craven, had its seeds planted in 1985, when Linklater and his longtime director of photography, Lee Daniel, founded the Austin Film Society as a way to screen and make micro-budget indie films outside the university setting.
“After five years, Rick’s own projects began to take off,” explains Jerry Johnson, director of programming for the Austin Film Society. “He decided the organization needed to become more of a support service for other independents. Because of that, the Texas Filmmaker’s Production Fund was born.”
Responding to cuts in the National Endowment for the Arts’ regional funding for alternative artists, the society’s first grant cycle, in 1996, was passed out to nine Texas-based filmmakers, totaling $30,000.
“It may not sound like a huge amount,” Johnson says. “But even a little money can help defray post costs and show good faith of the filmmaker’s ability to pay off their debts. Rick’s fund bestows a certain level of respectability to a project here in Texas; it can be a real validation for a film struggling to get off the launching pad.”
The through-line between the Austin Film Society and the new Austin Film Center has been set, and Linklater hopes to combine all support services under one roof. Like Hartley, the post facilities at the Austin Film Center were created to control the editorial process on Linklater’s in-progress “The Newton Boys.” But as co-owner Craven explains, “We have huge plans for the future.” Currently, the center can accommodate several AVID shows, 35mm KEM flatbed work, Cinemaestro film-to-tape transfers, 12-track interlocked dubbing and a screening room with dual 35mm projectors that play five formats, including Cinemascope.
“By year’s end we will have full sound mixing capability,” Craven says, “as well as renovated office space for indies who want to be based here. I already made a good deal of money in the computer business; so this is more about our passion to support indie filmmakers and create a place where they can do great work. That’s what an alternative post house is all about.”