Harry Knowles may be the front man for Ain’t It Cool With Harry Knowles (the clue’s in the title really), but the show wouldn’t have the visual energy that it has without the filmmaking vision of Brett A. Hart.
Hart cut his teeth on adverts and short films before making the corking thriller Bone Dry, with Lance Henrisken and Luke Goss. Hart produces and directs AICwHK and if you know his visual style, then you’ll know that the look of the show is all Brett.
Brett and Harry are looking for their fans to help them with a Kickstarter campaign to help them make a second series of AICwHK. The dynamic duo hopes that by raising $100,000 they’ll be able to take the show to the next level, making it bigger, bolder and brighter. Movie shows are a dying breed and it’s a brave move for Brett and Harry to put themselves out there and deliver a film show that is made for film lovers, by film lovers.
I talked to Brett about what it’s like making the web based film series and what the future has in store for Ain’t It Cool With Harry Knowles.
Harry is the front man for the show, but you’re integral behind the scenes – how do you keep the show focused, yet keep it feel fresh?
I guess the best way to respond is that Harry and I are so in tune with each other we are able to do what many people cannot. That is create on the fly – like Jazz Musicians.
We come into the studio with notes on what we want to do. Harry will have his points of discussion. I’ll have my thoughts on how we can execute those points in a cinematic way and just go from there. Rarely did we have a full script that we were working off. We simply had notes that we’d either bring to set or sketch out while the set was being prepped. I don’t know many filmmakers that could do this. Given my background in advertising I was used to this freestyle of creating. We had many clients that trusted us to create exciting commercials weekly and on tight budgets… so we were allowed a lot of creative freedom.
What challenges do you face as the show’s producer and director?
First and foremost budget. When initially approached by Nerdist to do the show I was asked if I could pull it off on what many considered an impossible budget. And after Harry and I met, I realized it was going to be MUCH more involved than what Nerdist had realized. In fact after they saw the first episode they upped the budget. It wasn’t a tremendous amount, but it was enough to pull off the impossible. And we were able to pull off the impossible by assembling a team of energetic, passionate, driven artists. All with tremendous soul that would give the shirt off their back to make the show what it is. In all actuality had we all charged full rate that first season would have had a million dollar price tag.
I love a challenge. I love making magic where others would say impossible. Honestly, what I loved about season one is that I found a friend that grew up in a similar time that I did. Where the internet wasn’t around. Where you would actually read a magazine. And you really had to dig deep for answers on how Harryhausen was able to make a Cyclops’s cloven hoof anchor to the ground, while being stop motion animated for 12 hours without falling over.
The tight budget reminded me of our childhood… and making magic with whatever our imaginations could think of. Returning to Texas from L.A. brought a lot of memories back. And Harry’s enthusiasm revived the young boy in me that just wanted to grab a camera and create.
How do you keep a show like AICwHK visually interesting?
I’m sure like many shows someone could fall into a repetitive formula. But Harry and I never allow ourselves to become redundant. Genres themselves are an open treasure chest of exciting ideas to play with. By the time we got to the Citizen Kane episode I knew I was in love with our show. After all we were celebrating Bernard Herrmann… and I got a chance to visually express what music can actually look like as it passionately swirls through the air. I’ve wanted to shoot something like that all my life. Ever since I was 7 years old and I first heard of Herrmann’s passing. Then you have Harry’s enthusiasm and NEVER ENDING cornucopia of ideas. There really is no way to get stale with Harry. The entire crew are a family. And everybody contributes.
What do you hope the second series of the show will bring?
First we’re structuring the show to allow for more preproduction. This will allow us time to iron out details and genuinely bring more exciting surprises to each episode. We plan to have more celebrities visit either the basement or via a few surprises up our sleeves. We’ll have an L.A. team shooting interviews that will be brought into the basement with visual FX panache. Much like the magic globe, but in ways not explored before.
We have a television distribution deal in place if we reach our Kickstarter goals -and that’s VERY exciting. Because it’ll allow us to branch out and find a larger audience. The show will transform from the bad boy Knowles giving us an “R” rating last season… to a cleaned up more family Knowles this season. Like I mentioned, we were almost like teenagers in the basement revisiting our childhood films roots… and many teens are a bit rebellious so we wanted to explore the uncharted territory of the web. In hindsight that was a move we should have not explored… as we want viewers of all ages to see the show. We want the show to be around for future filmmakers and lovers of films to see long after we’re gone. And I always saw this as something that film schools would hopefully reference in the future.
What freedoms will you have now that the show isn’t affiliated with Nerdist?
I have nothing but great things to say about Nerdist. I’m very thankful for Seth for having championed me for the show. They’re a great bunch. And even if the budget was tight… they seemed to always give us their support. But ultimately they are doing webisdoes that Youtube wanted to be more viral – Shorter – and Harry always wanted to do longer format. That’ll be the biggest difference. Going with a television distributor will allow us the opportunity to explore topics more in depth. Take the Douglass Trumbull interview. We had to break that up into three episodes. Going with a television platform we can put all that content into one production.
Have you any hopes for the series beyond season 2?
Yes. I love working with Harry. I love working with the team. And ultimately I’d like to get this up and running much like I did with the two successful ad agencies before. Discovering more young film students to bring in… and build a machine that can work effortlessly. Allowing Harry to focus on his site ¾’s of his time… and eventually me focusing on both the show and other feature films.
Ain’t it Cool is very much about the fanbase, and you’re giving the fans a chance to have a direct input into the show – do you think you can build on this in any other way?
This is actually new territory for me. I’m excited by the inclusion of the fans. Our Kickstarter party had many friends and colleagues. It was a tremendous experience. You could feel the love, and support that night.
I love the energy they bring and think it’ll help keep the show fresh. That said, filming is a very laborious process and sometimes it like watching paint dry. So only the diehard fans will want to visit set. And those are the ones we want.
There used to be an abundance of film television shows, but now there are very few – why do you think this is?
There is definitely a cultural shift in attention and focus. I’m not sure when it happened but a majority of television programming seems to almost have been replaced by reality shows. It’s like life imitating art… except instead of Invasion of the Body Snatchers… we have Invasion of the television viewers. For the record I cannot stand reality shows. I’m not a fan of laugh tracks. I’m not a fan of music videos. I feel like they’ve lessened viewer’s expectations, creating a world of viewers that have ADD. And in many ways, for lack of better words, have “dumbed down” viewers. That’s probably why I only watch educational channels like PBS, or streaming TV that I can control the programming.
The bright side of your question is, that’s what makes our show all the more special! There really isn’t anything else out there like it.
You’ve directed adverts, movies and now a web series. Are there similarities to these, or are they very different?
I think that question would be different for every director you ask. For me… it’s actually similar. As I think what I bring to a production is a dramatic approach. That approach can be many genres – fantasy, comedy, thrillers etc. But I’ve always approached everything as storytelling. The commercial campaigns I received the Emmy for were for unconventional News Promos. I get so tired of clichés and formulas and like most artists attempt to look at things as how can this be explored differently. The commercials I did were like mini films. In the end… I always look at what I’m doing as telling a story, whether it’s 30 seconds, 25 minutes or a feature length film.
Have you learned any tricks on the show that could transfer over to movies?
I’d say inherently yes. Each episode last season, we always attempted to push the envelope with experimentation. And though we did homage to a lot of classic films, we experimented with the latest state of the art tools… Within our budgetary means that is. I think you have to continue looking at developing technology and see how it can be used to the upmost advantage. Similar to the team we had on my debut film Bone Dry, we had a virtual office of artists on the first season. We had a post team of graphics FX artists in Austin, the UK, Oklahoma, Dallas, L.A.. Yet we were all able to make those weekly deadlines without a hitch. Most recently I’ve been working with DaVinci color correcting at my buddy Greg Hughs’s (producer of Bone Dry) home. We didn’t have access to this tool on the first season. Over a decade ago you’d have to go to a post house to get that degree of color control. And the price tag was exorbitant. The technology continues to evolve at such a break neck pace… soon we’ll be able to do all our post from home with a microcosm of artists as opposed to a cast of thousands that were necessary just a decade or so ago. Not to mention you can now shoot an entire film on a DSLR camera with existing light… stealing locations. The possibilities are limitless.
Why do you think so many filmmakers are turning to crowd funding like Kick-starter?
I’d say independence. Artistic spirit. Control. There’s something to be said about being championed by supporters. To see your supporters individually, truly is life affirming. And it moves you to strive to be even better.
That said… Kickstarter is no walk in the park. It’s a lot of work. A lot of time and energy goes into setting it up, staying in contact with your backers, answering questions and getting the word out there. I think the more established filmmakers who are using Kickstarter have an edge on the rest of the grass roots artists. As I assume they have a wider reach to a more immediate audience. And that’s key. Reaching your supporters in the most efficient manner is paramount. Ultimately the rules for Kickstarter are the same as all arenas – time is money.
And while you’re moving towards that goal… the clock is ticking.