Lifelong collaborators since first meeting at Northeast Portland's Da Vinci Arts Middle School some 20 years ago, Portland filmmakers Sean Parker and Austin Hillebrecht made their post-college professional debut with 2011's Coup de Cinema, a satirical farce about the cast and crew of a grade-Z movie hijacking the production from its schlockmeister director.
The film, which features appearances by Northwest film and TV regulars, like Dennis Fitzpatrick (Grimm, Lean on Pete), as well as Tony Award-winning producer Corey Brunish, was shot in Portland and Olympia, Wash., for just $15,000. Much of that money came from one of the first successful Kickstarter campaigns for a narrative feature.
Despite a strong festival run, the movie languished and went largely unseen, as the duo concentrated efforts on comedic shorts under their Hapstance Films brand, but a recent marketing campaign written and directed by Mike Seng and designed by Parker and Hillebrecht has given Coup de Cinema a second life on Amazon Prime's streaming platform. Fresh from a recent Clinton Street Theater retrospective of their Hapstance work, WW sat down with Parker and Hillebrecht to discuss the pair's early ambitions, upcoming projects and the peculiar stresses of life imitating art all too well.
WW: Where'd the idea for the plot come from? Were you working on an especially bad film?
Sean Parker: You would think so, but we didn't actually have any sort of professional set experience. We'd done a lot of amateur shorts throughout middle and high school, and just threw ourselves into the deep end. The bulk of our experience had been watching a lot of Jackie Chan movies, dressing our friends up in silly costumes, and just running around with a camera. "Let's kick each other in the head and film it!"
Austin Hillebrecht: Coup de Cinema was very guerrilla. We were running through Pioneer Courthouse Square and getting on MAX trains and just going all over the place. We were actually sort of allowed to be at the Art Institute. Someone on crew was a student, so that was only mildly illegal.
Parker: The shoot was about six months, done mostly on weekends, and then, at the end of 2010, we had a screening at the Bagdad.
Hillebrecht: It was the most nerve-racking two hours of our lives. At the end of Coup de Cinema, they're basically racing to the premiere, putting the film into the DVD player in the projection booth at the very last second, and that's pretty much what happened with us. Sean was editing all the way up until the premiere. There wasn't even enough time to export. We literally just played it straight out of the editing program and projected it onto the screen.
Parker: There was a horrifying moment where, suddenly, midway through a scene, Final Cut Pro started beeping. I had to run into the booth, hit stop, and render the audio for two seconds. It was the most hilarious, amateur, embarrassing moment, but—for this movie—it was kind of fitting.
What's your next project?
Parker: Our log line is: two guys, running a business, where they plant ghosts in places instead of cleansing them. Then they get trapped inside a B&B with all the ghosts they've unleashed.
Hillebrecht: This was prompted by a meeting in L.A. about six years ago with someone who really liked our Hapstance shorts but wanted us to make a straight horror movie with no comedy. And we were, like, why on earth would you come to us? But we racked our brains trying to figure out some concept he might like that would still have the comedic edge to satisfy us. It never went anywhere with that producer, but when somebody else wanted us to make a movie years later, the idea sprang back to mind.
Given the lifelong partnership, what would've happened had you gone to different schools?
Parker: I think, when we did meet, it really sparked a deeper desire. It's hard to say I would've actually gone on to pursue a film career if some other kid drawing silly, gory stick-figure cartoons happened to be sitting next to me in sixth grade.
Hillebrecht: From a very young age, I always wanted to make movies. To meet someone like Sean, who was also into filmmaking at such a young age, it felt like a mutual fueling of fires. When you're in a relationship with someone for so long, you don't have to say a lot to understand each other. We always seem to jump on the other's train of thought. I feel like Sean is the other half of my brain.
SEE IT: Coup de Cinema streams on Amazon Prime.