Michael Stipe has spent the past several weeks mixing an R.E.M. album in South Beach and firing off heady dispatches to his band’s Website from the front lines of the vote recounts (“We are in the eye, and everyone is looking in our direction”). He also, this week, is releasing a feature film – part of a sideline that’s made music something of a fallback for him.
The spindly front man is now a bi-coastal mogul-auteur, running two movie companies with wildly different yet equally Stipean sensibilities. In L.A., Single Cell has produced Being John Malkovich and Velvet Goldmine. In New York, C-Hundred has put out American Movie and now Spring Forward, directed by first-timer Tom Gilroy, about two Connecticut Parks Department workers (Ned Beatty, Liev Schreiber) who muse about karma, personal growth, homosexuality, and the Dalai Lama – in short, the kinds of things that Michael Stipe muses about. “Michael’s really influential,” admits Jim McKay, Stipe’s partner in C-Hundred and director of the Sundance hit Girls Town. “But maybe we’re influential on him as well.”
Stipe met Gilroy and McKay in the early eighties, when they championed his then unknown band on their Boston College radio show. “We’ve always been kind of handshake-oriented; we have an open-refrigerator policy,” says McKay. It’s paid off. Single Cell and C-Hundred share a first-look deal with MGM and a $3 million cash infusion from RSUB, an offshoot of Internet company Razorfish. The deal may make Stipe the only brick-and-mortar executive to have wrangled money from a new-media company and not the other way around.
C-Hundred’s next movie is Our Song, directed by McKay, about three Crown Heights girls in a marching band. “It’s a slice-of-life film,” McKay says, “about nothing and everything happening to them over two weeks.” Holed up in Florida, Stipe probably can relate.