October 21, 2013
Two Dollar Radio, the Columbus, Ohio boutique publisher of works such as Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps and Joshua Mohr’s Termite Parade, recently announced the addition of a micro-budget film division, Two Dollar Radio Moving Pictures, set to release its first three titles beginning in 2015 with Editor-in-Chief Eric Obenauf’s I’m Not Patrick. Subsequent films will include The Removals, written by Nicholas Rombes and directed by Krilanovich, and The Greenbriar Ghost, co-written and co-directed by Scott McClanahan and Chris Oxley. I recently spoke via phone with Obenauf to learn more about Two Dollar Radio’s crowd-funded foray into indie film.
How did the idea to create the film division develop?
The idea has always been there. I went to film school at NYU, and I studied dramatic writing, writing screenplays. While I was in school, I’d interned at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and shortly thereafter I wrote scripts for a children’s TV show. Along the way, I got more into fiction writing, personally. I read a book by Andre Schiffrin, The Business of Books, and that inspired me to start publishing books. I didn’t have any publishing experience beforehand, and when we filed the initial paperwork we had the idea that we would eventually be doing other things. In the company mission statement, we included film in that. This was back in ‘05. We also included music.
I know you have three films in preproduction at the moment. What was the spark that finally brought things to fruition?
I’ve been talking about it more generically in the last year or two. And this past summer while in New York I was talking to a couple of friends, and I realized I was talking about it like it was something that was going to be happening now, not on some indeterminate date in the future. I read a great piece by the team that made Indie Game: The Movie. It’s a really interesting documentary that follows a couple of indie game designers through the launch of their games. They talked about how they went about building their audience and crowdfunding and actually releasing it themselves. They were pretty fortunate that they got Indie Game into film festivals. But rather than trying to go through a studio to release the film, they did it themselves because that was what they’d been working towards. The article by the filmmakers sort of laid out how they were able to do it and why it was possible. And—this might have been in the same issue of Filmmaker—Shane Carruth, who did Primer and Upstream Color, has also talked about why he chose to distribute his own movie. And it seems like things are more accessible than ever, that whole avenue. So it felt like now was a great time.
What have you found to be the biggest challenges so far to getting this underway?
We haven’t come up with too much resistance initially. I’m sure that we will. But we’ve been so focused on building things up and getting the word out there that we haven’t gotten into too many of the gritty details of what comes next after the fundraising. So that’s going to be a whole new can of worms.
Hopefully not a big can of worms. Just a small one, maybe.
(Laughs) I’m sure it’ll be big. It’ll be fun, though. I like challenges. I don’t necessarily feel comfortable unless I’m in over my head. This is a new way for us to explore new ground, learn something, and do something new creatively.
I want to ask you a little about I’m Not Patrick, what your influences were, and so forth.
I got the title from the Max Frisch book, I’m Not Stiller. And I guess some of the inspiration might be my wife’s quirky family. The story follows a young man, seventeen years old, whose twin brother suddenly commits suicide. So it’s a coming of age story, but instead of just a seventeen-year-old trying to figure out who he is, trying to get through life, that rug has been pulled out from underneath him. It’s a dark comedy. The idea involves him trying to discover who he is as a person at seventeen, and meanwhile he’s being smothered with attention from his family members and his school and his therapist who all expect him to react a certain way. And he’s trying to declare his individuality and explain to them that “I’m not Patrick.”
Are you directing this as well?
Yes. Basically, I’m Not Patrick is going to be the guinea pig for the whole thing, just to get our feet wet with the process of making the movies. So hopefully we’ll have that learning experience behind us for when we make The Removals with Grace Krilanovich.
And what are some of your film influences?
Some of the better movies I’ve seen in the recent past were Beasts of the Southern Wild and Upstream Color. I like Shane Carruth’s stuff. I really like Godard’s Pierrot le Fou. It messes around with storytelling technique and your perception, what you expect to see throughout the movie, and it’s just really ambitious. I think that’s something that resonates with me. I’m trying to do something ambitious.
It sounds like the perfect marriage, the aesthetics of that approach along with the story as you’ve explained it. So I’m looking forward to seeing it.
You’ve mentioned on the fundraising site that one of the goals was to kind of fill a hole, that something is missing from modern cinema. What do you think that something is?
Well, it’s tough to explain. It’s not lacking everywhere. There are still some people doing really amazing stuff. It’s not like we’re a band-aid that’s going to fix everything, or that we’re even trying to be that. I think something that we’ve found with the publishing company is that if we stay true to our aesthetic that there is an audience for that. When we were establishing the publishing company, I felt that there were probably a lot of good books out there that weren’t necessarily being published because they might not have been marketable or something like that. So this is a way for us to be involved in the same manner by trying to pursue new stories and new visions in film. And because the budgets won’t be as exorbitant as typical Hollywood movies, that will free us up to do more creative things in terms of storytelling and technique than I think an unlimited budget to blow stuff up would.
And how will viewers eventually be able to see Two Dollar Radio films?
I imagine that we’re going to make them available digitally and on DVD through sales on our website and through online retailers. Hopefully we’ll be able to get stuff set up with bookstores, too.
Do you think that there will ever be movie tie-ins with the books you release?
Well, we’re not going into this with the intention of producing adaptations of the books that we’re publishing, but there is something on the horizon that hopefully we’ll be able to share news about very soon. But that’s not why we’re doing it. I’m not saying that’ll never happen, but the projects that we’re initially seeking out are separate entities.
As a screenwriter yourself, what advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters?
The most important thing to me is to make stuff that stays true to the author’s voice and vision and the world that they’ve created. You can definitely tell when reading manuscripts and screenplays that have been written towards a certain market, and I think that is kind of troublesome. It tends to create stories that feel redundant, which is kind of toxic. So I think that the whole idea is to push yourself to create something new, or if you’re covering territory that’s been covered plenty of times in the past, you try to put your own spin on it, either through characters or voice.