“Until The Light Takes Us” has been quite the international phenomenon since it made its rounds, well, internationally over the last few years. I happened to hear about it first on various metal sites and blogs raving about how great it was. Of course, being jaded with the music and what it’s become recently, I was very skeptical at first but my curiosity could not be squashed. Lo, I come to find out it’s going to play at the local art house theater in my neck of the woods, and go to the website on the flyer that I see. It encourages visitors to join their mailing list and promotional Street Team. I offered the filmmakers my time and services and they gladly accepted. We sent countless emails back and forth during the weeks leading up to the screening, discussing various ideas on how to promote it with everything from plastering flyers around town to annoying the Christ out of people on Facebook. Needless to say, the screening was both a great success with a fantastic number of warm bodies occupying the seats for a Wednesday night and a blast to watch with a very receptive audience. I had the honor of speaking to the audience before the screening on behalf of the filmmakers, the video of which can be watched here. You can pretty much say one hand washed the other, then the other and the other. I had the good pleasure of asking one of the partners who directed the film, Audrey Ewell, six questions about the film and here are her answers. Enjoy!
-Fatherland Almighty, Winter 2010
Briefly tell us about your film-making experience and history.
I’d co-produced an indie romantic drama/day in the life type movie that had gone to Sundance but that I really disliked, had worked on scripts and developed a narrative feature when this film idea came along. My biggest filmmaking knowledge came from being a studious fan. I love everything from French New Wave, to international horror and sci-fi, to grittier and more contemporary stuff like the films of Von Trier and Gaspar Noe. As a matter of fact, I think that Noe’s Enter the Void is quite possibly the best film of the last 20 years, and I urge everyone to see it, in a theater if possible.
How passionate are you about this genre of music? Obsessed or morbid (oh yes, pun VERY MUCH intended) curiosity?
I’m a fan of black metal, but I think that’s much less important than almost any other aspect of who I am or who Aaron is, in terms of making a good film about black metal. We are passionate about great music, about art, about science, about the pockets of creative activity that are relevant and alive, that contribute something to our understanding of ourselves, our society, our culture, our lives. I think that’s more important to being able to turn an analytical eye on black metal and to present something that might resonate a bit, as black metal does.
As of last count, how many cities in how many countries has it screened in?
I don’t think I could count accurately. It’s played pretty far and wide. From England to Poland, South Africa to Greece, Slovenia to Canada, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and lots of places in between. And we still have some screenings coming up, in France, London, Amsterdam and Brussels. Oh, and I think Moscow! Basically, we screen wherever we’re invited. Whether that screen is in a movie theater, or in an underground arts space or gallery, it’s all interesting, and it’s great to get it out to different audiences.
Your partner Aaron and yourself seemed very eager to involve the film at a grassroots level in every city, reaching out to the local black metal purveyors and really engaging them in helping to promote the film and communicating with them exhaustively to make each screening both successful and also a hell of a good time to attend, with hoots and heckles and gasps emanating from the audience whether they were die hards or just dabblers. Would you chalk all this up to helping the film go as far as it went?
It’s funny, this movie came out at a time when the film industry, along with the larger economy, was really starting to feel the pain. Several indie distributors folded, people were running around flapping their arms, and there was a lot of talk about whether the sky was falling, or if it had already hit the ground. We didn’t get any offers that we liked, not from traditional distributors, but we knew we had a film that would be supported by an audience, one that the distributors simply weren’t aware of and didn’t believe existed.
So, we did something that was fairly unusual at that time: we set out to prove that there was an audience, and a passionate one. We started booking the film into theaters ourselves. We’d been talking to supporters for a long time, we knew we couldn’t do it without them of course, and that’s where things really got rolling. We let our mailing list know that we needed their help to bring the film to their town, and they jumped on board. They sent us lists of the indie theaters in their towns, lobbied those theaters to book us, offered to flier, in many cases actually printing out fliers that we emailed them. We had a zero dollar budget, literally. So they stepped in and carried the promotion of the film to their towns, I did a bit of local press outreach, and the film did extraordinarily well at each and every one of these one-offs, which in some cases were actually multiple night runs.
That gave us the leverage to work with a distribution service, having proven that we had a passionate core audience who could help us bring the film to more towns, carry an opening weekend and give the film time to expand. The film went national at that point, with traditional theatrical runs in 35 more cities. So we hit about 50 cities all together.
We worked closely with literally hundreds of volunteers all over the country, all over the world actually. It’s been an amazing run in that way, and I’ve met a lot of great people who helped and whose support, both promotional and in terms of enthusiasm, made it possible to keep going when I was running on fumes.
This kind of distribution means being actively, intimately involved, and basically managing small armies all over the world. I feel like I should be recruited by some kind if paramilitary organization now. But I also feel like I have post-traumatic stress disrder, because I was working 18 hour days, seven days a week, for about two years. It was a constant struggle. It was much harder than actually making the movie. I never got paid a penny, of course, and am really broke on top of it, so it was hard. This country doens’t support filmmakers or artists, so if you want to do this work here, you either have to be rich or insane.
You seem to prefer one-off screenings dedicated exclusively to your film rather than running the film festival circuit. Am I correct?
Not at all, we love screening at festivals. We love going to them and trading war stories wth other filmmakers. Dishing on who in the industry should be avoided at all costs, and who the good guys are. We love meeting potential creative partners, and being recognized as people who worked our butts off to make something of value. That’s not what our everyday lives are like. I spend my days working and have expertise in a field that none of my friends work in or understand, so it’s like there’s the Audrey that the people I know know, then there’s the Audrey that exists in a scattered but global filmmaking world. It’s a tad schizo. I feel like the real me is the one that is a filmmaker, but our peers are scattered far and wide. It’s actually very isolating here in the “real” world. The only person who knows both me’s is Aaron.
Rave reviews from film critics and a fan base that is often very unforgiving and extremely quick to judge, multiple DVD versions in various packages and even a Blu-ray pressing… Did you ever even fathom that it would get to this level? What’s on deck next?
I never thought we wouldn’t get to this level, until I realized that we might not. Horrifying. We made it happen, largely through sheer force of will. Now what? I’d like to take a month or two in Hawaii to recuperate, write, just chill out. But I have to figure out how to make money, and stat. There are a couple film projects we’d like to do. Aaron and I are developing a sci-fi/horror film right now with our writng partner, Nev Pierce. We’re also lobbying to get hired onto this other doc. We’re self-distributing an international DVD for the countries that didn’t get picked up for distribution, and I’ve been working with our publicist in the UK, and working on promo and distro for other countries, as well as with our friend Chris Rambow from LoDown Magazine in Berlin, who is the artwork designer for this package, and with my friend Jess who is the media broker, to try get that all going. So the work on UTLTU never quite seems to be over. The end is in sight though, and oddly enough, all I really want is to strap on my helmet and to get to go to war again.