The Shooting Gallery was one of the premier production companies for independent film in the 1990s, responsible for art-house hits like Laws of Gravity, Sling Blade, and You Can Count on Me. After the success of fellow alum Hal Hartley, a cabal of grads from SUNY Purchase decided to start a fast-paced company with a can-do, DIY attitude. But success came at a cost. Many of the original founders left, as business self-interest replaced the earlier common purpose and expansion into “new media” came to the fore. Director Whitney Ransick, one of the original crew, retells a fascinating, universal story about the “Enron of independent films” in Misfire: The Rise and Fall of the Shooting Gallery.
As one of the founding members of The Shooting Gallery, what spurred you to tell this story?
Whitney Ransick: When I was reading Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures, he wrote that “in the ‘90s there were three New York-based companies comprised of producers making director-driven indies: Good Machine, Killer Films and TSG.” The simple fact of seeing that in print was a wake-up call for me. I thought, “There’s a story that needs to be told.” Like many people, I wondered: Why did the company that started so modestly as a collective go down so spectacularly ten years later? Add to that narrative the story of independent film itself over the last 25 years—its rise and fall—and I knew I had to make this movie.
This is your first documentary. How different was the filmmaking process from that of your narrative films? Now that you’ve done both, which do you prefer?
WR: The process is completely different. With narrative film, you’re working from a script to tell that story. This had no script, so it was about finding the story and being as truthful to the “history” of what happened as possible.
Luckily we had a tremendous amount of written material to work from, as TSG had a high-profile ten-year run. In particular, the “fall” part of the story was covered extensively at the time in the press. It was very important to me and the producers to tell a balanced story, which is one reason we did over 50 interviews. Key to all this was editor/producer Gil Gilbert, who was able to weave all the elements into a cohesive narrative.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
WR: It’s different for each of the filmmakers involved who worked diligently over three years to make the documentary. Producer Bob Gosse sees it as “a missive, a shoutout to present and future filmmakers,” and he hopes it is relevant as a cautionary tale for his students and future filmmakers. Editor/producer Gil Gilbert “hopes that it will find relevance to those who take risk in an effort to pursue their dreams.” Myself, I’d like the audience to be entertained, and if they take away more than that, then I’ve truly done my job.
Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?
WR: As Misfire is a cautionary tale about the film business, I recommend all aspiring filmmakers should see it. We were all aspiring filmmakers when we started The Shooting Gallery, and honestly, for much of it, it was a complete success. We made a lot of movies and some of them turned out well (Sling Blade, You Can Count on Me, etc). But what The Shooting Gallery was when it was started by a group of young filmmakers in their 20s was certainly not the same company ten years later. Aspiring filmmakers can now watch our particular journey and, if they so choose, possibly get some insight into what type of ‘aspiring’ filmmaker’ they’d like to be.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s 2013 Hamptons International Film Festival?
WR: Premiering the film. It’s time to kick the film out of the nest and let it fly on its own.
Misfire: The Rise and Fall of the Shooting Gallery screens in the World Cinema program at HIFF 2013. Tickets | Facebook
Whitney Ransick was one of the founding members of The Shooting Gallery, the film production company that produced Sling Blade and You Can Count on Me. It was in this creative independent film collective that he wrote and directed his first feature film, Handgun, starring Treat Williams. With the success of Handgun, Whitney started directing numerous television shows (Homicide, E.R.) and as well as Shock TV, his second feature. Misfire is his first documentary.