"In the 'Groove' —
Young Internet Investors Helped
Fellow Ravers Make Film on Party Culture"


by Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle, 22 February 2000

Ever wonder how all those young wizards who are making a bundle in dot-coms are spending their money? Well, at least some of them are investing in independent film.

Take the case of the San Francisco-made rave movie "Groove," a Sundance Film Festival discovery that's likely to go places. A number of the investors are involved in Media Gulch Internet companies, and their paths crossed at raves.

The Bay Area is "the right place at the right time for this sort of thing," says Michael Bayne, who, at the age of 26, is the biggest outside investor in "Groove." He put $75,000 into the film, a love story that takes place during one long night of partying at a San Francisco underground rave.

About two dozen other investors each pitched in $5,000 and up after director Greg Harrison, 30, and his fund-raising partner Danielle Renfrew, 27, had exhausted the usual seed-money sources for independent film: family and friends.

The Chronicle — Brant Ward
"Groove" director Greg Harrison, left, producer Danielle Renfrew and investors Michael Bayne and Jeff Southard put their money and time on the line to make a realistic film about the underground rave scene.

Independent-film investing is such a high-risk endeavor, Harrison says, that "we had to find people that were passionate about the subject matter, that were investing not just for financial reasons but because they wanted to see the film get made."

They were people with common ties in the Internet world, who "really saw us as an entrepreneurial startup. We just happened to be making a film rather than a Web site."

The San Francisco filmmaker says "there's a real connection in the Bay Area between the rave scene and the Internet culture." Many people in the rave network were involved in Internet startups and multimedia, he says. "A lot of companies that are successful now were formed three to five years ago by people who met at raves."

The fictional party depicted in "Groove" by Harrison, who wrote the script, is a mid-'90s underground rave in an abandoned China Basin warehouse. These raves are floating, one-night parties, sometimes just skirting the law, organized via e-mail. They are distinguished by the dance music and by the DJs who play it, and "Groove" gets a lot of its energy from the seven DJ styles it features.

At Sundance, the Park City, Utah, showcase for independent film, festival co-director Geoff Gilmore was not only struck by the apparent authenticity of the presentation but also by the moviemaking savvy that went into it.

"So often I meet filmmakers who don't understand their own films," he says. "The 'Groove' guys really give a sense that they're fully cognizant of what they're doing."

They are sophisticated about the filmmaking process and who their audience is, Gilmore says. Some independent filmmakers he runs across "don't understand who their film appeals to or are not even clear about what the story is. Oftentimes they're kind of clueless to what impact their film might have."

"Groove" a love story set in San Francisco, was a hit at this year's Sundance Festival.

AUTHENTIC PORTRAYALS

Investor Bayne, who helped start the company go2net, which operates a network of Web sites, was drawn into the "Groove" project after filming was completed but while a lot of work still needed to be done before Sundance.

The authentic depiction of the scene attracted the attention of some of the investors, who invariably refer to the underground rave culture as a community.

"One of things that really pleased me about 'Groove' was the extent to which they tried to portray drug use accurately," says Bayne. "In the rave community, a lot of people are very adamant about responsible use of drugs, and no other film has captured that and portrayed ravers as people who do so sufficiently responsibly that they manage to do it party after party and year after year."

Justin Newton, 27, who put $25,000 into the project, says he "had a desire to see something out there that would give a fair representation of the community."

He says raves too often were depicted in extremes, as only "about people getting together to do drugs or destroy property." But in certain areas of the underground rave scene, he says, "it is about the same group of friends seeing each other every weekend. A support network is formed, of people who communicate on a daily basis, not just in the context of a party."

Newton is a former San Francisco resident who last year moved to Thousand Oaks (Los Angeles County), where he's involved with his fourth startup since 1995, the Internet service provider NetZero. He says he never has been interested in commercial or professional raves. The underground rave scene has not only a sense of community but "the resources to make it happen." The people who organize these raves, he says, "are at least on paper millionaires trying to figure out how to make it cost $5 a person instead of $7."

He went to Sundance to see the first screening of "Groove." In some ways, he said, "it was pretty nerve-racking for me," but he finally found himself "rocking back and forth in my seat with a huge grin on my face."

A FILM INCUBATOR

Another investor is Jeff Southard, 31, co-founder of 415 Productions, a Web solutions company in San Francisco that also provided office space and other "incubator" services for the filmmakers.

The most anyone involved will say about the "Groove" budget is that it was "less than a million." Sony Pictures Classics picked up the film for $1.5 million at Sundance in January and has worldwide rights to begin distributing it this summer.

Renfrew, the film's producer, says fund-raising started a year and a half ago. When a rough cut of the film was ready in November, "the bigger investments started to come in."

She said Sony has agreed to have the official world premiere in San Francisco. "Groove" is tentatively set for June 9. The film will open in 50 other American markets at the same time.

©2000 San Francisco Chronicle



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