With the Academy Awards just around the corner, this is a good week to talk about movies. Everyone likes the glamorous stars and the glamorous stars enjoy the red carpet ride, but there’s a heavily competitive business aspect to the film industry with huge amounts of bartering and investment involved just to get films made and then distributed. Burbank has Warner Brothers, Hollywood has Paramount, and we can go right down the list, but Hermosa Beach has Rogue Arts and that’s our baby.
Kirk Harris, left, and Don Franken of Rogue Arts. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski
Kirk Harris is a screenwriter and an actor, and in 2004 he started up a company called Rogue Arts. “We’ve made eight films and we’ve handled the distribution of about 60 others,” he says over breakfast at Good Stuff in Hermosa Beach. One of the recent titles, directed by Miguel Necoechea, is called “The Kid: Chamaco,” and, very simply, it’s a boxing film that stars Martin Sheen, Gustavo Sanchez, and Harris himself.
Don Franken we know as the man behind Method Fest, a yearly film festival that began locally and then settled up in Calabasas for several years. Franken and Harris met during the early days of that endeavor, when Harris was one of the jurors.
“My background is putting on events, PR and marketing,” Franken explains. “I work in entertainment and sports, [and] all of that we apply to the film business, trying now to raise more money for our films, do bigger films, and get stronger distribution opportunities. As we go along, that’s what our goal is.”
Which brings us to Marty Poole and his company, Fairway Film Alliance. As a foreign sales agent, Poole worked with Rogue Arts, and clearly everyone involved got along. They got along so well that, as Harris explains, “In the fall of 2012 we finally decided to put the companies together so we could handle worldwide distribution in a new way and without the things that are often hidden by distributors.”
“We’re aiming for transparency,” Franken says. “We want to do something that’s fair for filmmakers and create opportunities rather than [see them] hook up with distributors [and] never see a penny on their film.” With the merger of Rogue Arts and Fairway Film Alliance, Franken continues, the outreach opens up, more markets become available, and “these independent filmmakers can make more money from their films. So they’re really a partner in the equation, have a lot of say-so, and they will have the resources and the funds to make subsequent films.
“Right now,” he adds, “so many filmmakers don’t have the business background and they get discouraged. [They have] their tremendous creative or artistic talent, but they don’t have a clue about marketing films and distribution and the business aspect. So, hopefully, we can fill a little void there and help independent filmmakers.”
Actor Michael Madsen and director Vernon Mortensen on the set of “A Sierra Nevada Gunfight,” coming soon from Rogue Arts
Harris agrees. “And of course it’s advantageous to us because we continue to make films. Our idea is to be our own mini-studio in a sense. We own all our filmmaking equipment; we own, now, foreign and domestic distribution. I don’t know how much of the world we can control, actually, but at least we have a hub; we have a place.”
It should be pointed out that Rogue Arts has been a supporter of global cinema. They’ve distributed “Flickering Lights,” directed by Denmark’s Anders Thomas Jensen, who is also an Academy Award winner. “We’ve continued to do foreign films,” Harris says, “even though most people have gotten out of that, just for the love of it.”
Franken sums up how they see themselves and how the recent merger will help:
“We’re filmmakers first; we’re distributors also. By combining our abilities (with Poole) I think we have a much stronger company and that’s where we’re going.” And then? “To keep acquiring high quality films and better films and some bigger films too as we grow.”
Past, present, and future
As noted, both Harris and Franken have longtime South Bay roots, and for Franken, at least, it’s the best place on earth: “My passions have been music, movies, sports; I love wine-tasting, I love bike riding or running or walking along The Strand. There’s nothing better on a beautiful spring or fall day than being in Hermosa; it’s paradise here, really.”
Martin Sheen in “The Kid: Chamaco”
Understandably, then, Franken wouldn’t mind seeing Method Fest taking up residence locally. “I’d love to bring it down here to the South Bay, but it’s just finding the funds – you have to go where you have the support. We’ve taken the festival to such a high level that I only want to do it if we have the resources to do it right and keep growing.”
Kirk Harris, as already mentioned, is a screenwriter and an actor. In college he studied literature and early on began to write film scripts. He sold one to Warner Brothers, but with regards to acting, he says, the process of going through auditions was not something he cared for. Apparently the best way around that is simply to write one’s own scripts, give oneself a role, and then make the movie. This, as any rate, seems to have been what Harris has achieved.
Inevitably, the conversation comes around to the scarcity of venues in the South Bay that highlight offbeat, independent, or foreign films in the South Bay. The Bijou Theatre and then the Hermosa Beach AMC filled part of that need, as did the Pacific Theatres in Manhattan Beach. Currently there’s very little to get excited over.
“We had a couple of our films play at the AMC in Rolling Hills,” Harris says. However, “They’re not very independent-friendly. They made it difficult and expensive. I’m happy we did it, but I hope [that with] the advent of digital projection and new technologies that something will open up where there’s more of an opportunity.”
That day, of course, can’t come too soon for the rest of us, as anyone knows who has ever balked at driving up to the Westside or to Hollywood.
In the meantime, Rogue Arts has just completed a Western thriller called “A Sierra Nevada Gunfight” (formerly known as “The Sorrow”), which Harris is starring in along with John Savage and Michael Madsen. The company’s own Vernon Mortensen directs.
Rogue Arts has additional features in the pipeline, and now with Fairway Film Alliance their presence – both locally and globally – should only become more visible. Any company that supports independent filmmakers, art films and foreign films, is a company worth rooting for.