Gabriel Cowan is an American filmmaker and producer who launched New Artists Alliance in 2008, a company that often works with first-time filmmakers. At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, he was involved with two movies on the roster – Courteney Cox‘s directorial debut, “Just Before I Go,” and “Loitering With Intent,” a movie directed by Adam Rapp starring Marisa Tomei and Sam Rockwell.
I sat down with Gabe during the festival to talk about his many movie projects, as well as his philanthropic work. Below are some highlights from our conversation.
I loved “Just Before I Go.” Such a funny, brave movie. It covers a lot of ground.
There’s alcoholism, there’s homophobia, somebody coming to terms with their own homosexuality, adultery, suicide. I mean, we’re dealing with five or six major issues! So many filmmakers treat those issues with kid gloves….
I think it was very brave of Courteney, from her position as a pop icon, as a well-known celebrity, to deal with these issues head on and not hand-hold the audience because they don’t need that anymore.
I thought Seann William Scott was great in the lead. It’s hard to play a depressed guy in a movie where your emotions are often kept in, but still manage to convey what the character is feeling.
He is the nicest, sweetest guy. Always prepared, always early to set. He’ll be the last one to leave. He’s nice to everybody, puts everybody at ease, introduces himself to every member of the crew. Seann William Scott is an A-plus.
Tell me about your company’s business model, which I understand is unusual in the industry.
On the films where we are 100% in charge, we split the proceeds with the cast and crew. And I feel it’s important because on these lower budget movies, people are working for very low wages, and they’re working so hard….
So, they take ownership and feel like, “This is our movie, too.” And I start all of our movies by giving a little speech…. I say to our crew, “Why are we doing what we’re doing? It’s because man came out of the cave, and he figured out the whole fire thing and started speaking. And he gathered around that flickering fire, and they started telling stories. And now, we come and we gather around the flickering lights in the movie screen, and we’re told these stories. It’s part of our DNA. Storytelling is part of who we are.”
I’m very interested in the InsideOUT program that you’re involved with. Can you tell me about that?
InsideOUT Writers is this extraordinary organization…. They’re able to help hundreds of kids in juvenile facilities around Los Angeles and California, and they give these writing programs to these kids. So, the kids are able to talk in ways through poetry about their communities, about their upbringing, about their gangs, about their lives in ways that they can’t inside of their communities and their homes.
They were very gracious in allowing me to start a screenwriting program within the organization for kids who are being tried in adult court. Typically, a child can’t be up against more than three years if they’ve committed a crime as a child.
But if your childhood in the eyes of the state is revoked, it’s called a fitness hearing. If you lose your fitness, you’re tried as an adult even though you were a child when you committed the crime. And you can be facing hundreds of years in prison.
So, I have a 14-year-old that’s facing 90 years. I’ve got a couple of 17-year-olds who are facing hundreds of years in prison. And we got together, and we wrote this screenplay. They wrote a 20-page screenplay.
Collectively, like a writing workshop. And it’s a great piece of work. In a couple of months, we’re going to go out and shoot the screenplay they wrote, and they’ll get to share it with their friends and their family and say, “Look at what we accomplished from behind the bars. Look what we were able to do! And what are we going to continue to be able to do even though we’re incarcerated?”
How has the experience of working with those kids changed you?
I went in there that first day expecting hardened, tatted up gang members to walk through that door. But it was kids who walked through that door. It was children.
And now you’re making a documentary about it called “Ordinary World”?
Ben Lear, who is an incredible first-time filmmaker, directed this documentary, which they brought the cameras in and shot all of the classes. Did interviews with these kids, really got to know them. Ultimately, the writing workshop turned into a group therapy session. And then, they pulled moments out of their lives to create one character that’s kind of an amalgam of all of them.
All of them had been kicked out of their homes. All of them lost their virginity at 12. All of them had seen people killed by the time they were six years old. All of them had these similarities, even though they’re from very different backgrounds.
And so, we use that to create a loss of innocence story, and the documentary shows the process of them breaking down those barriers of being sort of hardened and distant from their own emotions. As the class goes on, they come closer and closer to being able to be vulnerable.
And that’s actually what the screenplay that they wrote is about. It’s about the true loss of innocence, which isn’t about losing your virginity or smoking pot for the first time or seeing somebody killed. The true loss of innocence is being emotionally vulnerable with the woman you care for. And what if she doesn’t like you? And how terrifying is that?
I’ll be very anxious to see that. Now, let’s talk about “3 Nights in the Desert” because that’s one you’re also directing.
Yes, I directed “3 Nights in the Desert,” which premiered at the Palm Springs Film Festival and is just being brought to the Cannes film market next month…. This is a real character piece about three former band mates that haven’t seen each other for years. They had a very hard breakup, but they’re getting together to celebrate their 30th birthdays.
It starts as this wonderful celebration where they’re all so happy to see one another, and over the course of the weekend, things start to fall apart and dissolve. There’s also various elements of the desert. They’re in the middle of the desert, so there’s animals, and there’s nature involved, and there’s a bit of magical realism in that film.
Next on my list of your upcoming movies is “A Conspiracy On Jekyll Island.”
This movie’s going to be awesome. It has amazing people in it – Minnie Driver, John Leguizamo, AnnaSophia Robb, and the list goes on and on. This is a political thriller. My favorite movie is “All the President’s Men” and also “Three Days of the Condor.” Apparently, I love Robert Redford movies.
But no, political movies and political thrillers are probably my favorite genre. “The Firm” is another example. And this is one of those. This is about the reality that our economy is built on a concept. It’s not something that has actual value. It’s built on the full faith and credit of the United States, and if that were to be debunked, our entire economy would fall apart. That’s what started to happen in 2008.
So, in this movie, the real terrorist attack is a coding attack against our economy, and we’re watching the economy fall apart and all of the people that are trying to save it.
That sounds like it will be a really big movie. I know you were once in a band with David Arquette, and now, he’s in your upcoming film, “Chuck Hank and the San Diego Twins.”
It is a mind-blowingly awesome action movie. We lit the streets of LA on fire. We had hundred-person fight sequences. It’s sort of along the lines of that movie from the eighties, “The Warriors,” and it lives in the kind of world of the 1980’s video game – those old street fighter, side-scrolling video games.
Next on my list is a movie called “Making the Rules.”
That one is going to be released in May through Lionsgate. So, just in a couple of weeks. It’s Robin Thicke’s feature film debut. He’s great in the movie. Jamie Pressly stars in it.
We also have a movie called “The Scribbler” that comes out in May. My partner, John Suits, directed it…. It’s somewhere between a science fiction film and a superhero film, and it’s based on this graphic novel by Dan Schaffer, of the same name. Dan Schaffer also wrote the screenplay, and we’re going to do his next movie as well, which is called “The Turn.” We haven’t really announced it, so this is an exclusive!