Filmmakers Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley: Half-Cocked Again



Every film has a season and February 2007 is the season for films that document the life of a band, with narrative pictures like Half-Cocked and Radiation made by filmmakers Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley being released on their Brooklyn based Rumur imprint. The films will be shown in select theaters across the US through February and made available commercially on a double DVD. The inspiration for the movies came from Galinsky who plays in a band and works with other musicians in addition to being a filmmaker. He thought it was important to give the public an inside look at what it takes to be in a band and the situations they face being on the road and making their dream a reality. Many of the actors in the films are friends of Galinsky and Hawley, but somehow their isolated experiences made a connection with the general public as the filmmakers realized when they brought the films to rock clubs around the world where they were shown.

Hawley and Galinsky, now married with two children, joined forces in the early ‘90s when they made Half-Cocked in 1994 and Radiation in 1999. Half-Cocked, shot on black and white film, chronicles the journey of a group of teens who steal a van filled with music equipment and shows their struggles trying to be a band and finding gigs to perform in Louisville, Kentucky. When Galinsky’s father asked him for conflict in the film, Michael appeased the public’s need for gripping tension by adding that the teens stole the van. This way not only is the group struggling to write songs and find gigs to make money, but they are renegades on the run from the law, kind of reminds you of The Blues Brothers. Radiation, on the other hand, was shot in color and follows a Spanish rock promoter named Unai who takes American bands on tour. When he screws everything up and the band takes off, he is forced to improvise to save his business. The picture features cameos by artists like Stereolab, Will Oldham, and Boston’s Come. The film premiered at The Sundance Film Festival in 1999 and went on to screen at over 40 international festivals.

Additionally, Hawley and Galinsky’s Rumur imprint has put out Horns And Halos, Code 33, and Occupation: Dreamland, but this season they are showing movies which document the life of a band. Half-Cocked and Radiation give the public two different perspectives on these narratives.

Where are you from and what were some of the favorite activities you did when you were growing up?

Michael: I’m from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I played a lot of basketball, rode bikes, read a lot, got interested in photography growing up.

Suki: I’m from Dallas. I loved playing video games – donkey kong, asteroids, all atari games. Also swimming, bikes, riding my bike to the Laundromat where they had the donkey kong. I see my interests (are) an extension of this early interest in video games. They involve the same skills – rhythm, pushing buttons, fast thinking to solve problems.

How did you develop your skills in filmmaking?

Michael: I went to college as a religious studies major mostly because I ended up with most of my credits in that major. I was interested in photography but felt odd about going to art school, so I went to a college that had a lot of photography classes and took 1 a year. So I basically minored in photo and the school had a film program so I was around a lot of film obsessed people. I ended up auditing a film production class after college for a few weeks. At the time I was working as a production assistant on films and not really learning much because a PA pretty much just runs around doing errands. When I met Suki, who had studied film, we found a way to work together. She taught me a lot.

Suki: I had started video editing in high school and knew I was hooked, so I chose a school that had a strong film department and took as many film classes as I could, both theory and production – probably more classes just watching movies. The school I chose had a heavy bent toward the old Hollywood Classics – comedy, noir, dramas.

Is it important to be a good photographer to be a good filmmaker?

Michael: I think that it is important to have a good understanding of how images get made because then you have a certain amount of control over how a project will look. I think that good filmmaking requires a combo of intuition and knowledge. Without intuition, the film will lack heart and without at least some knowledge it won’t cut together. At the same time, if the knowledge of craft overwhelms the intuition one ends up with something that looks and feels like a commercial.

Suki: I think it’s important to work with someone who is a good photographer. They understand issues of light and how it affects the image being shot, but that is also only one aspect of the entire whole. Filmmaking combines so many aspects including writing, shooting, editing – another form of writing but also a rhythmic art itself. It’s very difficult to be an expert at all of them, but having an intuition about each is important and knowing a bit about the craft as a whole is also important.

Who were some of the filmmakers that influenced you early on?

Michael: I was always interested in film and photography. Both the Maysles Brothers (doc makers) and Cassavettes really had a big effect on me as a filmmaker. I appreciated the way the Maysles were able to craft great stories that felt so natural out of real situations – stories that had much larger implications beyond the simple tale they were telling. The same is true of Cassavettes. His films weren’t documentaries but they felt like docs. They rang true.

Suki: The Coen Bros. were influential to me early on. I remember first seeing Raising Arizona in a theater and it felt like a ride I was on going forward and not pausing for breath until like 25 minutes into the movie the theme song rang out and the credits began and I involuntarily smiled, amazed by what I had just seen and realizing it hadn’t even started yet.

How did the two of you meet? Was Half-Cocked the first film you ever worked on together?

Michael: We met at a party at Suki’s apartment. I had a crush on her and a friend of mine who I had been auditing the film class with, kind of pushed us together as she worked at the film school that Suki was going to. We started dating and after about 6 months we decided to work on the film together. We knew all of the folks in Half-Cocked from touring to Louisville and also bringing them to New York for shows. I had a bunch of old film in my fridge, which was impetus for the project. We never ended up using the film because the story came together and it all felt like it would work. We also realized that the film would work on Black and White and the fridge film was color. I think we wanted it to feel like some of the band photos I was doing at the time. Making Half-Cocked was a real strain on our young relationship. We made it through and became closer and understood each other a little better. We ended up getting married a couple of weeks before shooting Radiation. We have very different – complimentary strengths. Suki is a very good editor and organizer of thoughts and I have a bunch of crazy ones. She’s the one who really pulls things together.

Suki: Half-Cocked was our first project. I remember thinking that if the movie was a moving version of Mike’s band photos, I would be happy. It turned out to be the photos come to life for me. Mike and I have a good partnership because he has a lot of amazing ideas that come out all on top of one another, and I can take some of them and make some order out of them. Without him, I wouldn’t have the raw material to make a film, but I think I help him to get out what he’s trying to say and make it feel.

Who came up with the story for Half-Cocked and why film it in the South?

Michael: We kind of came up with the story together – brainstorming one afternoon by the East River. A few months later we were shooting and a few months after that it was done. This was all shot on film, and if you know anything about film you know that it was an impossible task. Sometimes when you don’t know something is impossible you get it done somehow. Why the South? Well we knew these folks in Louisville and frankly we were kind of blown away by their energy, their creativity and their spirit. I had shot a lot of photos of them in Louisville and we knew how they played. And we thought they would come across really great on film. That was the first part of the brainstorm, I think. That’s kind of what led us down there. Plus, in New York everyone is a filmmaker so it just didn’t seem as special to make a film in New York at the time. I was also interested in the film as a document, and the music scene in New York was being pretty well documented. The explosively creative scene in Louisville wasn’t.

Was it important to develop the characters in the film or did you concentrate on the scenic shots and having the actors deal with different situations?

Michael: We wrote a pretty thin script at first, mostly a series of scenes and ideas of scenes as we wanted it to be a very collaborative process. The folks we sent it to were so involved in other creative work that we didn’t get a lot of feedback. So we went back at it and fleshed out the scenes. My father savaged our first draft (with): ‘Where the f*%k’s the conflict???!!!’ (which) he scrawled across the top of the front page. He was right, we had so much respect for the people we were portraying we’d basically written a little love letter to them. So we went back in and wrote the script that mostly ended up getting made. Ian Svenonius was the genius who was able to change all his own lines to make the character his own without changing anyone else’s. He really is a special person.

Why were you intrigued by the topic of wayward kids stealing a van filled with music equipment and become musicians because of it?

Michael: Well, as me father pointed out, all story is conflict so stealing the van, not knowing how to play, fighting with family, those all gave us reasons to write scenes. At the same time we were extremely passionate about music and the culture surrounding it. That world was a large part of my own self-identity as a creative person and in a way the film is an exploration of that theme.

What were some of the difficulties you encountered while filming Half-Cocked?

Michael: The first difficulty was leaving New York right after a blizzard, getting an hour out of the city and realizing that we had left the film in the apartment. 5 of us squeezed into a borrowed Nissan Sentra filled with all the gear we’d need. What the f*%k were we thinking? It just got harder from there. Rachael McNally, the drummer in my band Sleepyhead and the producer of the film saved us at every turn. If it wasn’t for her the film would have never gotten made. In addition to keeping us on schedule and keeping people generally happy, she also cooked all the meals.

What equipment and film did you use for the movie?

Michael: We shot both films with an Aaton 16mm camera. I love film. I love the way the camera feels. I love the way things look on film. We haven’t shot much film besides super 8 since we made these films. After finishing Radiation, we bought a DV camera and shot a number of documentaries with it, including Horns and Halos. For a documentary, video makes sense because you need to shoot so much to really capture a story, however if I was going to make another feature, I would really like to shoot on film.

Half-Cocked was shown in clubs all around the world including Berlin and Taipei. How did audiences respond to the film?

Michael: We learned pretty quickly that the audience for these films was the same as the audience for the music, so we brought it to rock clubs. In Berlin, we showed it an ex squat that was now a rock club. I went to Taipei with Radiation to the film festival there, but because I was going, I arranged to do the same kind of thing with Half-Cocked and showed it in a rock club. We also showed it in rock clubs/cinemas in Holland, Belgium, and Germany. We toured it all around the US showing it in rock clubs and it really worked because the people who went to these places felt that their scene was finally being represented accurately. We shot Radiation in Spain while doing the same thing- and the locations in the film are the clubs that my band played in the month before. I would play the show then talk to the owner about letting us use the club for a shoot.

When did you start the RUMUR imprint?

Michael: We started Rumur Releasing because we had basically become a distributor after self-releasing Horns and Halos. We saw Occupation: Dreamland at a festival and were just floored. We felt that the film really educated us on the realities of the situation in Iraq. We pay attention to the news, but we still had no real visceral understanding of the day to day life in Iraq due to the war. In a sense we felt a duty to get the film out in theaters because no one else was willing to do it.

For Radiation, who came up with the storyline?

Michael: Radiation, like Half-Cocked, stars musicians and people involved in the underground rock world basically playing themselves. While it isn’t a documentary, it’s kind of a document, a film that tries to capture the essence of what it’s like to tour/live in that environment. Unai, the lead actor in Radiation was a friend who had released records for my band and had taken us on tour. On one tour, he suggested taking Half-Cocked around Spain. I wanted to do more than simply tour with the film again, so we came up with the idea of making a film while touring with the film. The idea came from making use of the situations that we’d have to work with.
Is it important to put spurts of comedy in your movies or is comedy unnecessary when conveying a story to audiences?

Michael: When you’re watching a film with an audience the only way to tell that they are getting it is when they laugh. I do think that comedy helps, a spoonful of sugar… it just makes darker things a little more bearable.

How would you describe filming in Spain and dealing with the Spanish people?

Michael: Ouch – shooting in Spain was hard. It would be time for lunch and everything was shut because of siesta…. also because everyone stays out so late there, the cast and crew would roll in about three hours late every morning.

Was Radiation a collaborative project between the players and the creators or did the players just act naturally?

Michael: Both films were very collaborative. There were scripts but as we shot, the story changed so we had to adapt. With Radiation, Katy Petty played a big part in crafting her character. She wrote all the poems and those poems became the basis for her character. Unai was amazing, as was Ignacio. The Spainards were such good actors, they were just comfortable with themselves and they nailed it. Unai was a little nervous and the day before shooting said, ‘I think you need to get someone else to play me…‘ Fat chance.

Did you use real American bands in the filming of Radiation or actors?

Michael: In Radiation, Stereolab plays Stereolab and Come plays Come. Come came on tour with the films as part of that program so we had them play themselves. Suki and I are both huge fans of Come. Their record Eleven Eleven is still one of my favorite records of all time. Stereolab worked out because their lighting person was a friend of ours. We needed a show to introduce Unai at, and it all just fell into place. They were gracious enough to let us shoot a jam and include it in the film. I was in a band for 10 years and, in a sense, touring and recording with the band was a process of doing research for the films. I loved the touring life, but it was also very hard so it seemed to be the good basis for telling an interesting story.

What projects are you working on this year?

Michael: We just completed a film called Miami Manhunt which aired on A&E in December and we are working a lot on getting the word out about Half-Cocked and Radiation. We’re also hard at work on a documentary about some local activists fighting a mega development in Brooklyn.

How did Koch Entertainment become your distributor?

Michael: We handle all of the theatrical distribution ourselves and we needed a partner to get the DVD’s into stores. Koch has been very good about making sure that they are available everywhere, so come February 13th, the DVD should be any place you can normally get films. It will certainly be in indie record shops as well and on our site at www.rumur.com

What are some places where the DVD’s will be made available?

Michael: The DVD will be widely available and can be purchased at www.halfcockedthefilm.com or www.rumur.com. It’s a double DVD so the Netflix version will have both films, as will all versions.

Are there plans to get your films on TV?

Michael: We did try to get the films run on TV a couple of times, but never had much luck. The only way to see them is through us.
Rumur’s offices are located in Brooklyn, New York.

Ho do you like living in Brooklyn?

Michael: We lived in Williamburg, Brooklyn, for a while and love it. It was a very creative place and time. We moved over to Clinton Hill which is a bit more sedate and now that we have two kids, it works great for us.

What words of wisdom can you offer to aspiring filmmakers?

Michael: The important thing is to make work, take chances, and then judge the work yourself. Not everything you make should be shown. We start a lot of projects that we don’t finish because not every project works. Also if you believe in what you’re doing, don’t let naysayers shut you up. Half-Cocked didn’t get invited to any film festivals, but eventually it played in 10 countries on 4 continents.

Half-Cocked Screenings:
Feb 7 – Richmond VA – Hyperlink Cafe
Feb 7 – Seattle, WA – NW Film Forum
Feb 10 – Cleveland OH – PARISH HALL
Feb 11 – Brooklyn, NY – Rope Theatre on Myrtle Ave.
Feb 12 – Austin, TX, – Alamo Draft house
Feb 7-14 – Boston, MA – The Video Underground
Feb 13 – New York, NY – Anthology Film Archives
Feb 25 – Albuquerque, NM – Guild Cinema

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