UPDATE: Our week-long free stream of Daisy Park has come to an end, but you can buy or rent the film right now via Vimeo On Demand.
Earlier this year, we interviewed New York-based artist/curator/publisher/internet mini-mogul Asher Penn about the slew of interrelated web projects he's been grinding on of late, all of them part art project, part start-up. Among them, there's online culture publication Sex Magazine, a made-to-order street wear brand called Pet Cemetery and a new social network called Available Works, an online marketplace where contemporary artists can hawk their wares. Recently, he also unveiled the first narrative film from Beta Pictures, a DIY production company he started with Los Angeles musician and visual artist Air Pop.
Like most of the endeavors Penn has his hands in, Beta Pictures taps the internet as the world's most cost-effective and democratic distribution platform, bypassing the financial and logistical headaches surrounding festival and theatrical release in favor of a direct-to-fan model. The company's first production, the Air Pop-directed narrative film Daisy Park, is now available for rental and purchase via Vimeo On Demand. It tells the story of two inmates in a low security prison who fall in love with the same woman, cost under $5000 to make, and features a engrossing custom soundtrack culled from fictional artists of Air Pop's own creation (they're actual characters in the film, and you can purchase the soundtrack via iTunes). Over the next week, you can watch it for free right here. We recommend using good headphones (according to a casual early review, watching it can feel kind of like being at a "show"), and reading the below Q&A, where Air Pop tells the story of Daisy Park in his own words.
Can you give us a bit of information about your background as an artist? I started in music and painting initially years ago. Putting a film or YouTube video on while making music is the fucking best. It always helps me zone out and forget about everything. From an outside perspective, I believe that's what led me to making films. Sound is such a fucking important art form within film and I really want to make it a part of the film writing process.
How did Beta Pictures come about, and what is it exactly? Here's the Beta Pictures "About" statement: "Beta Pictures is a studio that produces and distributes new independent films by American artists." That's literally what we do. Asher Penn and I formed Beta Pictures about a year ago or so. Our main goal is to work directly with artists who are usually creating work outside of feature or short films. We bring them in and provide support, structure and resources to create a finished product that we can all be proud of.
In what ways do you see Beta Pictures embodying an alternative to the state of the independent film industry today? When you work outside of any major system you're probably going to stumble upon new ways of doing things. It's a lot harder for the Hollywood system to go in a whole new direction than it is for us to just start something brand new. The current independent films you see in theaters, 90% of the time, are not truly independent or new. The independent films have become cliché formulas as well utilizing massive budgets and top-dollar actors. I mean… our goal is to eventually have larger budgets as well, but we will always work with artists that are coming at it from a whole new angle.
What's your distribution model? Right now we're strictly pushing films on the internet. On Demand is definitely the future and it's not such a bad thing. With Vimeo On Demand, you can upload a film, give it a price, and push it live. It's really fucking simple. If you go down the film festival path, there's entrance fees (sometimes unreal expensive), travel costs, and no guarantee that the right audience will watch your film. I have a lot of respect for many filmmakers that work within the festival-circuit system, but it can be kind of depressing, fake and old. I'm sure there will be many new On Demand based platforms that pop up and that's exciting. Hopefully we can show our films in theaters too on our own terms. Not sure how that would work though. Hopefully someone is working on it.
What drew you to the story of this love triangle between Daisy Park and two men in low security prison? It all stemmed from an old Tumblr post that I made in 2012. It was a picture of a prison surrounded by forests and I added the caption "Falling in love with your cellmate's girlfriend." A totally random thought and concept. I thought about it more and a story developed from there. It felt like the worst thing that could happen when becoming best friends with someone in prison. After researching some minimum security prisons in the United States, I learned that you could have a pet cat and an iPod in there. Fucking crazy, you can hang out with a cat and listen to your favorite music locked up.
You made a bunch of music for the film, creating fictional artists that the characters bond over. What about the role of music in this film is interesting to you? For me, this was probably one of the coolest parts of the process. I've always admired band ephemera like posters and zines. The idea first came from wanting to design props that had to do with music culture. I had already created a lot of music while writing the film so it was easy to pull from that. Once I understood the various genres and cross-over genres, I wrote some new music. What's most interesting to me is how much the audience responds to the soundtrack when watching the film. At the premieres in both New York and Los Angeles I was able to play the film extremely loud, which had this great effect. People would come up to me afterwards and say, "Yo man, that felt like going to a show." Perfect. To me that's what a great film experience should feel like.
The press kit for the film includes demographic info that pegs your audience as a very "millennial one." What about the film feels distinctly millennial to you? This question makes me feel a little uneasy but I think I have an answer, haha. This film could not have been any more DIY, and I'm very proud of that. I believe that my generation's greatest quality is how we're able to make something out of nothing. Music videos, art shows, skateboarding videos, websites even, are so new, revolutionary, and low budget. We've proven that you don't need money to create an experience. When the right "millennials" do finally get some deserved cash, I'm curious to see what they make with it.