So you want to be a filmmaker. Here’s something to keep etched away in your mind, courtesy of writer-director-producer Gabriel Cowan: ‘Just do something’ and ‘make it work.’
Those phrases have kept Gabriel Cowan going for years. He probably felt thus gratified, then, when passing on this advice to an aspiring filmmaker at a recent Q&A here at the Tribeca Festival. In fact, it must have brought him full circle as he spoke from the stage following the screening of one of the two features he’s made that were screened this week.
I got to sit with Cowan afterwards, and frankly, I learned more about the science of filmmaking in thirty minutes talking with him than I did in four years of film school.
That Cowan has a long history in this business should come as no surprise. His great-grandfather directed the “Andy Hardy” films and Cowan’s grandfather was an actor who had the distinction of sending Elvis Presley to the Jailhouse Rock by allowing The King to knock him out; he keeps a framed picture of it in his Los Angeles office.
Cowan, a fifth-generation Angelino, got his first professional gig in music, scoring films. He worked with Roger Corman, met some other showbiz heavies, and earned his stripes.
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In film school he wrote, directed and produced short films which led him to co-direct his first feature film, “Breathing Room.” About a dozen projects later, some of which got noticed on the festival circuit (in 2013 three of the five narrative features sold at SXSW were his) Gabe Cowan is now finally able to bring his movies to the Tribeca Festival.
“I like that Tribeca doesn’t take over the city like other festivals, it’s still New York,” he told me. Cowan’s current films include “Loitering with Intent,” a New York comedy which blends personal struggle and romance equally, and “Just Before I Go,” a story of self-discovery with dark comedic overtones, which also happened to be Courteney Cox’s feature-film directorial debut.
“Courtney was great and has a fantastic sense of humor which she brought to the project,” says Cowan.
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In contrast to the films he brought to Tribeca, some of his earlier works have been more sci-fi-oriented. I asked if he’d gone through a change of heart, genre-wise. “I don’t think of films in terms of genre, I look for character,” he responded.
Upon screening his films I understood what he meant about the characters not being stereotyped into one style particularly, something which reveals his acumen both as screenwriter and also in terms of how he earmarks screenplays for consideration later.
Speaking of screenplays, Cowan gets many since he is the owner of the New Artists Alliance production company. “There’s usually one good one for every hundred,” he confesses.
Some may think that that ratio is a bit pessimistic but Cowan keeps the game honest and tries to simply urge filmmakers to “make something put it out there and get it done, even if it’s not perfect.”
As writer, director and producer Cowan has clearly hedged his bets and made himself an enduring presence in show-business. Lately, however, he’s been producing more rather than directing or screenwriting, since it affords him an opportunity to spread himself. “I learn from every film I make,” he commented.
Towards the end of our meeting together he told me about his love for science and talked up his upcoming film “400 Days,” in which would-be astronauts are tested for their endurance in an elaborate simulation of the manned mission to Mars. It is based on actual testing occurring in the U.S. and Russia at the moment. According to Cowan, NASA and Space.com are advisors on the film.
From collaborating with Courtney Cox to bringing two movies to Tribeca and coming around full circle, Gabe Cowan isn’t only a built-to-last producer but a versatile artisan, too. When someone like him passes on pearls of wisdom, better listen.
SEE ALSO: Rudy’s review of “Just before I go,” directed by Courteney Cox and produced by Gabe Cowan