By James Latham
Though he majored in English literature at UCLA, Richard Gale has become a highly accomplished and versatile filmmaker. He writes, directs, produces, shoots, and edits his films. And he’s worked in several different modes—fiction, documentary, drama, comedy, shorts, features, cable TV. He’s won three L.A. Area Emmys and screened at many festivals around the world, including our own Valley Film Festival (Criticized in 2007 and The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon in 2009). We wanted to check back with Richard to see what he’s doing and thinking about in film today.
JL: What are you working on now; what’s in the pipeline?
RG: I’m writing a feature script for a film I plan to produce and direct which will be in the same genre as Horribly Slow Murderer—comedy-horror...with a lot of action!
JL: Several of your films playfully rework other films or whole genres. What is it about parody that attracts you as a filmmaker? As a kid, were you a fan of things like Mad magazine or Hardware Wars?
RG: I loved Mad magazine as a kid, and I guess it did have an influence, as did movies like Airplane! and History of the World: Part I, but I also loved horror films, so I suppose I just put them together. Don’t know exactly what tickles me about doing parody—in the case of HSM I liked the idea of imitating the big Hollywood movie trailer, with the Don LaFontaine narrator voice, (which was my voice, with the assistance of a lot of EQ), and recreating the Psycho shower scene, which I wanted to get as exact as possible. I copied Hitchcock’s scene onto the timeline of my edit system, and laid my shots over it, so each shot is exactly the same number of frames as the original.
JL: What particular creative, technical, or other qualities of short films make them especially attractive to you as a filmmaker?
RG: I think the creative experience of making a short is the same as shooting a feature. The attractive thing about shorts is you can make them inexpensively and use them to showcase your work. Since less money is on the line, you are much freer to experiment and try crazy things that would never normally get greenlit. Like an epic about a killer with a spoon.
JL: You had great success on YouTube with The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon, which got over six million views on that site alone. How has that success helped (or hindered) you as a filmmaker? What advice can you give other filmmakers about how to best leverage online distribution (beyond producing quality work that has an audience)?
RG: The success on YouTube has helped me tremendously. The video is now ranked in YouTube’s Top 10 Most Favorited Videos of All Time in the Film and Animation category (viewers can “Favorite” a video they really like, to save it to a special list for future viewing). Like having a best-selling novel, having a viral video demonstrates to potential investors that your work is bankable—that an audience exists for it. HSM has also been translated into 15 different languages (by fans around the world), and the subtitles are all available on YouTube, which demonstrates to investors that a global demand exists. Of course, not all viral videos show filmmaking skill, some are of a cat playing a keyboard. But in my case, it’s a short I made for festivals, which I eventually put on YouTube, and it then went viral within days. It was featured on G4TV’s Attack of the Show, and within a week I was contacted by a company with a major studio deal who wanted to meet. It has opened a lot of doors for me. Also, my YouTube channel has become a place to build a fan base of people who like my work, with more than 23,000 subscribers and growing. –Advice about online distribution? Don’t sign any deals that are exclusive—I rejected several offers of distribution from some of the world’s most prestigious short film distributors, companies who distribute Oscar winning shorts—because they would have prevented me from releasing it on YouTube for years. I wanted exposure for my film more than anything else—didn’t want it to only show on some exclusive pay cable channels. I wanted the whole world to be able to see it. And I’m really glad I took that route. Signing deals that are “non-exclusive,” meaning you are free to release your film elsewhere, is fine.
JL: In addition to some very entertaining films, you’ve also done serious documentaries. How did you adapt your filmmaking techniques or sensibility to make Embedded Memory: A History of the Slave Trade in Northern Ghana?
RG: I co-produced and was director of photography on that doc, which was directed by a good friend from Ghana. Most of the filmmaking techniques are quite similar—telling a story that’s concise and interesting—composing good looking shots, tight editing, are all relevant to docs and fiction.
JL: You’ve shown your work at a lot of film festivals and won many awards. What have been some of the greatest benefits and challenges of the festival circuit for you?
RG: The fest circuit is a great place to get (hopefully) positive attention (reviews and awards) for your work. It’s a proving ground, because you will find out how your work is received by the public. And you can make friends with other filmmakers, journalists, and people who love movies. It’s a blast. In a sense, YouTube is the world’s biggest film festival, with tens of millions of entries, and no film is ever rejected. But nothing beats sitting with an audience in a theatre watching your film, and hearing them laugh or scream. It’s deeply satisfying. –Challenges of the film festivals? Getting rejected by them. You have to develop a thick skin, and understand that not everyone will love your work, ever. It’s totally subjective, so you just have to focus on the positive and keep making films.
JL: What made you choose the Valley Film Festival as a venue for your films, and how has the festival worked for you?
RG: My friend Paul Hough, a really talented filmmaker, suggested I submit to VFF, and I was very glad I did—both my short films won awards there, which allows me to add the laurels to my resume, website, and promotional materials. All a valuable part of building credibility as a filmmaker! Valley Film Festival was also a lot of fun—I met some really nice people there.
JL: What’s your dream project?
RG: I have a few. Mostly big, unique, wild thrillers, action, horror, and sci-fi. Several of them will require a lot more money than I have access to right now, but I have at least five or six projects that will be really, really big movies if I can get my way ... (fingers crossed).
JL: In taking on those big dream projects, how do you plan to maintain enough creative control so you’ll be happy with them in the end?
RG: I won’t direct a project now unless I have final cut in the contract, which means full creative control. Usually the only way to get that kind of control is to finance the project yourself, or to be so successful that others just let you do your thing.
JL: Thanks for talking with me and participating in the VFF.