For budding filmmakers, the Web is helping bridge the gap between starring in their first cinematic roles and creating the next blockbuster hit. At least, that’s what actor-director Hunter Lee Hughes recently discovered.
In 2011, Hughes wrote and starred in the movie Winner Takes All, a dark comedy about battling gay lovers. He told the Daily Dot that while he learned a lot from the experience, he wasn’t ready to make his splashy debut into the treacherous world of full-length movie making.
“I wanted to find some project to give me experience as a writer-director without the pressure of directing your first feature film,” Hughes said.
He found the happy medium between short film and feature-length movie with a Web series titled
“Dumbass Filmmakers.” The 68-minute YouTube-based show, about a burgeoning actor-director, is written by, directed by, and starring Hughes.
Hughes plays Harrison DeWinter, a quirky and quixotic character who has lofty ideas for his first movie. He wants the film’s message—to save the environment and change people’s views of bisexuality—to be life-altering. But DeWinter’s ideas aren’t fully understood by his friends or family.
“The deep problem with the movie is it just doesn’t make sense to anybody,” Hughes said about the 12-episode series.
DeWinter’s mother calls him a loser, his ex-boyfriend thinks he just doesn’t have the talent to make it big, and his previous art installations prior to filmmaking were mostly ignored. Not even DeWinter’s closest friend and producing partner Vicki Moretti (played by Elizabeth Gordon) can grasp the point of the film.
The confusing plotline about the movie within the movie, coupled with Moretti’s love interest in DeWinter, is the backdrop for each five to seven-minute episode.
Viewers are taken on a emotional, but humorous, ride through DeWinter’s initial attempt at filmmaking. Easily impressionable, sensitive, and passionate, DeWinter struggles with the tasks of creating a film and dealing with heartbreak. Some of those traits are ones Hughes pulled from his life when molding the character.
“We're both independent artists who've struggled to find acceptance within our families and the creative community,” said Hughes. “We've both struggled to understand the interpersonal politics of moving ahead in life.”
But although they have similar idiosyncrasies, Hughes differs from his character. He said he’s not as flippant or naive as DeWinter, and he takes in his surroundings more cautiously.
“As an actor and filmmaker, I'm much more meticulous and tend to process again and again whatever raw creative inspiration I receive until it comes together a little more coherently,” he said. “Harrison [DeWinter] is a little more limited in terms of what he sees about the world, the personalities around him and his place in that community.”
A major similarity between Hughes and DeWinter that exists in the movie and in real life is the assembling the multiple moving pieces to create a film. Hughes said starring in Winner Takes All enlightened him on the coordination and organization it takes.
“The hell these people go through to get the equipment, locations and crew there so you can come on for a few days or weeks and act!” exclaimed Hughes, adding that Winner Takes All made him realize how much gratitude he has toward crewmembers.
“I had no idea it was so difficult and I guess that got me thinking—what are all these filmmakers going through emotionally?” he said.
Hughes explored those emotions while fleshing out “Dumbass Filmmakers” from a simple idea to a Web series. The process of writing the script, casting the show, and getting funding took more than two and a half years, he said.
The show was shot over 10 days and edited down from just over an hour and a half to 68 minutes. He added that the post-production aspect was “agonizingly slow.”
The film’s characters are drawn from previous experiences with Hughes working in Hollywood as a filmmaker. The wacky characters in the show are the types of people Hughes has encountered in his rounds of auditioning and working with in Southern California.
“What’s so funny is that these are all recognizable people,” he told us. “I have met a guy just like Harrison [DeWinter] when I went to an audition.”
While each episode show has small view count (on average between 500 to 1,000 views), fans of the show have been showing their support for it. “I loved it! So very funny!,” wrote one fan on the show’s first episode. Another fan said they hope show gets picked up HBO.
Hughes said “Dumbass Filmmakers” has been receiving press mentions from all around the world, and he hopes to ramp up exposure for it by using Facebook and Twitter. South Florida Gay News lauded the “hot cast” and joked you don’t have to “pay by the minute” to enjoy it.
The film was mostly self-financed, he said but he was surprised that his brother, who serves in the military, became the show’s biggest investor. “He’s seen me work hard and create stuff through the years,” he said, adding that his brother was “above and beyond supportive.”
While the support from friends and family has encouraged his filmmaking, it’s the Internet’s vast reach to help spread word of the show that’s really empowered him.
“I’m really excited to be part of this whole movement of creating projects and distributing them through the Internet to an audience,” he said. “It’s great that filmmakers get to make something and the opportunity on the Internet is so widespread.”
Maybe that’s a lesson DeWinter will learn if there’s a second season.
Photo via YouTube