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Monday, Feb 26, 2024

Director Brothers Laughing All the Way to Hollywood

From the Coen Brothers (“The Big Lebowski,”) to the Farrelly Brothers (“There’s Something About Mary”) to the Weitz Brothers (“American Pie”), there seems to be something about raucous screwball comedies that strikes a chord in the minds of brother/brother director duos. So it should come as no surprise that Scott and David Hillenbrand, the co-founders of Van Nuys-based mini-motion picture studio Hill & Brand Entertainment, scored the biggest hit of their film careers with 2003’s “National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze.” Distributed by MGM and co-directed and co-produced by the brothers, “Dorm Daze,” was the first film from the company that was shown first-run in theaters (on 50 screens) and managed to become a success in the DVD world, debuting at the number 12 position on the DVD rental charts upon its release in August 2004. The film concluded the year by being the 3rd ranked direct to video/limited theatrical release of the year, according to Rentrak, and even managed to garner two award nominations from the Encino-based Video Software Dealers Association. In person, the brothers speak in quick, clipped bursts of speech reflecting their New York origins, bantering excitedly back and forth, often completing each other’s sentences. According to Scott Hillenbrand, 36, this sibling camaraderie was present at an early age, when the two brothers first collaborated on a magic show in their teenage years. “David was the accomplished magician and I was his bubbly assistant,” Scott Hillenbrand joked. “We were in High School and made a lot of money,” David Hillenbrand, 38, said, finishing his brother’s thought. “We did weddings, bar-mitzvahs, that sort of thing. It was a good little business.” Entering Hollywood After attending different universities, the brothers again teamed up to put on a play that ran at the Pasadena Playhouse in the early 1990s. But finding the Los Angeles theater world markedly different from that of New York, the brothers decided to make a risky foray into Hollywood. “We were working at different companies and experiencing the entertainment industry while being a part of a bunch of deals that didn’t go through,” David Hillenbrand reminisced. “We didn’t want to wait, so we took things into our own hands and got 45 different credit cards. We cashed them out at over a dozen banks around Los Angeles, ultimately getting $240,000.” The brothers took the cash and pumped it into “Hostile Takeover,” their first film, a corporate thriller that played at several film festivals and allowed them to pay off the staggering debt that they’d accumulated. “Hostile Takeover,” gave way to a series of “creature films,” all in the budget range of $1-2 million apiece. “We did the creature thing for a while because we looked at business models like New Line Cinema and other similar companies, and saw how they started,” David Hillenbrand said. “Even before they did the Freddy Krueger films, they did alligator horror pictures because those movies sell well around the world.” These films carried the brothers to “Dorm Daze,” the movie that broke them out of the cycle of low-budget horror flicks, and took them to the next level of the entertainment world via their deal with National Lampoon and the film’s increased production value. According to film industry analyst Jan Saxton, the vice president of Carmel-based Adams Media Research, the still-hot DVD market has allowed companies such as Hill & Brand to become very profitable. “A direct-to-video release used to be seen as a second class route for a movie, but now DVD has a cache to it,” Saxton said. “More of the big studios are releasing their direct to video titles on DVD and a DVD debut has less of a negative stigma than a VHS debut used to. Also, the National Lampoon name still is a great brand for 18-25 year olds and has a lot of name cache.” According to the Hillenbrands, acquiring the National Lampoon brand name was a testament to the quality of their film. Dan Laikin, the CEO of Westwood-based National Lampoon Inc., agreed. “We’ve been overjoyed with the Hillenbrand’s performance, they always come through and the quality of their product has always been good,” Laikin said. “They’re great guys to work with and they’re very creative. I definitely expect to continue working with them in the future.” Movie sequel Indeed National Lampoon signed on to lend the brand name to “National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze II,” a bigger budget sequel ($4-$6 million) that wrapped last month. The brothers are currently shopping the film to the major studios. The film business is like any business, focused on quality of product, but also focused intensely on the bottom line. Understandably, the brothers are fiercely focused on returning an investment to the backers of their films. “We view our company like a mutual fund, the only difference is that the product we make is movies,” Scott Hillenbrand said. “Our first goal is obviously to make the best, most entertaining movie that we can, but from the business side, we want to make more money for our investors. Our loyalty is on both sides.” The Hillenbrands estimate that their investors have received between 30 to 50 percent on average from their cinematic investments. The company which employs 8 people full time (up to 100 in the middle of a film) has increased its revenues from $2 million in 2004, to projected revenues of $2.4 million for 2005. While the brothers are both enthralled to be pursuing their life-long dreams in Hollywood, they maintain that the greatest part about getting to make the films is that they have gotten to make them together. “The advantages of getting to work with your brother are total loyalty and trust. David and I are cut from the same mold, but we are different people,” Scott Hillenbrand said. “Working together takes the creative process to an even higher level.” “We’re very blessed with the relationship that we have. A lot of siblings can’t get along, but to come into work everyday with your brother and to achieve what we want is something incredibly special,” David Hillenbrand said.

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