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LAist Interview: Hunter Weeks, Independent Filmmaker

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Much like the way the boom in Fantasy Football has changed the way millions watch football, filmmaker Hunter Weeks is changing the way independent movies are being funded and distributed. The director and producer who made his debut in 2007 with 10 MPH, a documentary about two twenty-somethings hoping on their Segways for a Seattle to Boston road trip, has turned to big brands like CBS Sports, Quiznos, YouTube and Chipotle to help fund and promote his films.

Hunter's latest film, 10 Yards is an entertaining documentary that examines every aspect of the game of fantasy football, while focusing on the long-time friendship between Hunter and fellow members of his league - The Intergalactic Championship league.

As fantasy football heads into its playoffs today, we thought what better time than to check in with Hunter. The filmmaker who has earned critical acclaim took some time out from his busy schedule to exchange emails with LAist to discuss his film, fantasy football and more.

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What made you decide to do a movie about fantasy football?
I got into Fantasy Football with some buddies from college after graduating. It's how we've kept in touch and I knew from playing with all of them that there was a really important aspect to the game. Between this and the fact that fantasy football was growing exponentially, I knew a legit film had to be made.

What surprised you the most when you were doing your research on the origin of the game? Did you feel like you were on sacred ground when you went to the Kings X Sports Bar in Oakland?
Talking with the founders of fantasy football was truly one of the highlights in making this film. I was blown away at how different football was when they were starting this all up in 1963. But the camaraderie behind fantasy football and the rush you get on draft day are still the same. Seeing the original Kings X bar from the outside was really cool, but so sad that it's turned into some Tiki bar now. At least Andy Mousalimas's Kings X leagues still live on nearby.

The theme throughout the movie is that fantasy football has kept you and your college friends in touch, do you believe that this is the #1 reason why the game has been successful?
I really do. There are other things, like gambling, that have helped make it big, but I meet so many people that really only like playing in the league that consists of their buddies. So...that's why we focused on making this a movie about buddies.

The prize your league plays for is a box of twinkies, has the idea of dropping cash into it ever crossed your guys mind? Do you think that playing for cash can get in the way of those relationships that you have been able to maintain because of the game?
Every once in awhile, we talk about putting cash in. We tried the 2nd year we were playing, but no one sent the check in. I think it's probably prevented a few catastrophes by not playing with money. Who knows? The best thing about fantasy football is that it is completely unique - each and every league.

LaDainian Tomlinson has been the top player in fantasy football over the last three years but this year he has struggled, if you have the top pick next year are you taking him?
I don't think I'd draft LT. He's just not cutting it anymore...literally. He's definitely been a bit of a downer this year, but I imagine he'll still go towards the end of the 1st round of most drafts next year.

Were you surprised that you were able to get NFL players to admit to you on camera that they do in fact play fantasy football?
A little. I honestly thought it would be easier. They try to act so macho...as if they don't know what it is. It's so obvious sometimes. Now days, though (2 years after shooting the film) I think they are opening up more. It's now perceived by them as a cool thing and not some geeky computer thing.

Stephen A. Smith earlier this year complained that fantasy football was "for nerds" and was a white man's game. How do those statements make you feel?
Good gawd. I hadn't read that before, but I think it's kind of funny. Stephen goes on in the end to talk about the demographic (males, 20-30, 75K income) that drives the billions of dollars of advertising around this game, which definitely is also helping develop who is playing (probably more white guys). As for the nerd comment...our whole society is getting nerdier by the minute. I just got hooked on Twitter and besides my own twitter (@hunterweeks), I set up a way for people to get 10 Yards free (@10YardsFREE). Just a silent experiment (now not so silent)....but the point is - all this stuff online is making being a nerd kind of a cool thing. Where Stephen goes WRONG is with his comment that us white guys playing fantasy football are "desperately in need of more sociable leisure-time activities." Come on dude - I'm hanging out with Eli Manning and Marion Barber....oh wait, that's just the fantasy. Haha.

You have taken a different route than most to documentary filmmaking, please describe what lead you to where you are today and how you are taking a brand new approach to funding and producing films?
Let's face it. It's a brutal world in the film industry and very few people who want to make films can ever get there and continue on once they do. I've seen so many filmmakers fall by the wayside. You have to downright insane to get started and go somewhere in this field. I get brands involved to help fund the films and show them value through widespread distribution and buzz and also some product placement. When it comes to distributing films...I've taken a very experimental approach that keeps getting me recognition. I'm always touting to others in the industry that you have to be unconventional. I often give my films away (like I'm doing with the twitter thing) and it actually leads to more attention and sales. Early this year, I put my entire first film (10 MPH) on YouTube as the first feature-length documentary. Half a million people watched it and we sold thousands of DVDs, including bump orders to Netflix and Blockbuster. Most filmmakers were very afraid of the Internet and always talking about piracy. I always say...bring on the pirates. In fact...speaking of pirates....if someone in LA wants to throw down some money, let's go make a film about the modern day pirates off the coast of Africa and Indonesia.

Do you think that more and more people will pick up on your sponsorship/promotional approach?
Absolutely. Especially now that video online is growing at a phenomenal pace. It's so easy to cut some exclusive footage for a sponsor's website. I think as the 30-second spot dies off and broadcast TV diminishes, you'll see a ton of films that are influenced and underwritten by major brands. I'm actually exploring starting a company around this concept.

Do you believe your success proves that you do not have to live here in LA to become a filmmaker?
Yes, but I think it's still challenging in ways. Whether I'm in LA or Denver, I have to work harder than the rest. The Internet and the digital era have opened the doors to many more independent producers. The biggest challenge with not being in LA is that I'm not able to tell everyone "I have meetings" all the time. LA really does have a lot of influential people that could change my life and I can't sit and have coffee with them...so I have to visit as often as I can.

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What's your next project?
I am working on a movie about the world's toughest and longest mountain bike race. Currently titled "Ride the Divide" -- It's 2711 miles in the Rockies and totally self-supported.