Marshall Cook is the writer, director, and producer of “Film Fest,” a recently released movie that chronicles the struggles of an independent filmmaker attempting to clear Hollywood’s notoriously difficult barriers to entry. The quirky dramedy is rooted in Cook’s experience navigating the festival circuit, giving the film a personal touch that adds to the amusing ensemble’s quest for success.
In a new interview with The Federalist, Cook discusses the film’s critique of Hollywood, which he describes as “more of an idea than a place,” and offers his thoughts on shifts in the industry’s commodification of art in the era of streaming.
Emily Jashinsky: Was it difficult to get a film that’s ultimately a critique of Hollywood’s business model made in Hollywood? Or is a shared exasperation with the festival circuit actually easy to tap into?
Marshall Cook: Independent films don’t ask permission from “Hollywood,” which is more of an idea than a place with people where decisions get made. I don’t even really think about “Hollywood,” I think about production, which is case by case and includes all of L.A. County and every other film-friendly state.
So, we were free to say anything we wanted about this aspect of “the business” or festival circuit because we only had ourselves to answer to. Personally, I think we were fair with our critique, but we can’t please everyone – especially with comedy. All being said, “Film Fest” was very difficult to get made because getting any movie made is always difficult. “Every movie is impossible.” Pete Farrelly said that to me the first time I met him.
EJ: You can definitely sense the personal, autobiographical touch. Is there a single experience or an anecdote from your life that translated best into the film?
MC: Film Fest was absolutely personal for me and my writing partner, Paul Alan Cope. Almost every scene and character were inspired by actual experiences, by us or someone we know. The indie filmmaking/film festival world is interesting enough, we only needed to elevate characters and scenarios, rather than invent any.
I was introduced to this world with a few short films in my twenties, but making my first indie film, “Division III: Football’s Finest,” was a real education about what happens when your dreams meet reality. Everyone (who doesn’t know) thinks if you make a movie, you’ve “made it.” The reality is I went broke making that movie and had to get a job catering and bartending to pay rent. Our financier made their money back, the guy who brokered the deal made money, but no one who actually made the movie (which took skill and years of work) ever made any money from our distributor, and millions of people have seen that movie.
EJ: Do you think any of the festival culture you satirize in the film will change after the pandemic?
MC: Some people seem to think the industry will trim the fat and cut back on this part of the process. Would that be good or bad? People in our business don’t make money from making movies. “Hollywood” has its own top 1 percent and the bottom 99. Our movie is about the bottom 99.
EJ: Is there a better way for Hollywood to approach the combination of art and business? That seems really to be at the heart of the message, that the passion and the art can come second to the competition and the business.
MC: For the most part, high-speed internet and streaming platforms already made the business aspect of film festivals irrelevant. Sure, there is still value from a marketing standpoint to premiere at a reputable film festival, but a lot of those deals get done before the festival premiere. I think the pandemic has accelerated this change.
We premiered virtually at the Austin Film Festival. We love that festival and to their credit, they pivoted quickly to make the festival virtual. That being said, I would never do a virtual film festival again. In that sense, I would trim the fat and just premiere on a platform or rent direct to consumer – there’s virtually no difference (other than more money for the filmmakers).
The value (to me) of a film festival is more fun than necessary at this point. There is value in physically going to a new place, showing your movie on a big screen to people who love movies, socializing, etc. Going to Austin to premiere my movie would be a lot of fun. So, I don’t see the physical experience of the festival circuit changing.
EJ: In the sense that the film is autobiographical and is out on Amazon Prime, do you have a perspective on how streaming is helping indie filmmakers? Is it easier for indie films to get noticed when they’re right alongside the big studios’ content?
MC: It’s hard for me to refer to “Hollywood” as a thing. There are investors, people who make things, and platforms that distribute those things, but it’s so spread out. It also depends on one’s definition of “better.” Financially, it’s better for investors to take an internationally known actor, put them in a genre movie and shoot it as cheap and fast as possible, but that doesn’t do much for the “art” (in my opinion).
The “show” and the “business” need each other. The “business” needs to be able to protect its investment and the “show” needs the freedom to make creative decisions. In some cases that symbiosis works, sometimes one or more of the seven deadly sins creeps in and ruins everything. Fortunately for us, everyone was on the same page and we were able to make a thing.
Putting “Film Fest” on Amazon Prime, iTunes and Google Play, was not the challenging part. The challenge is cutting through the noise, so movie watchers know there’s a new comedy out! When we launched on Google, even when you typed “Film Fest” into the search, 79 movies (including “Wild Hogs,”) appeared before our movie, literally titled “Film Fest.” So, there’s certainly room for improvement on their use of the metadata.
But really, there is just so much content, marketing will always be a challenge, and convincing people to pay $4.99 to rent a movie when you can stream the Marvel library on Disney+ for under $10 is another challenge. These platforms technically allow filmmakers to reach consumers more easily, but we are still mostly relying on word of mouth. So, if you do like our movie, please rate, review and tell your friends!