All Photos: Dakota Fine
Chances are, whatever you’re doing in DC this weekend, you may run into Eric Hilton in full on local hero mode. Thievery is playing Virgin Free Fest this Saturday (the only other live show they play in DC aside from their annual 930 Club series) and then doing a DJ set at U Hall on Sunday, and that means Eric is in town and will probably be hanging out at some of his places on 14th and U at some point: Marvin, Patty Boom Boom’s, The Dickson (which is co-owned by his wife). We met up with him a little while back, in the sun soaked front room of the ESL townhouse in Adams Morgan (&, in our opinion, one of the best places to “just be at” in DC) to talk about his movie “Babylon Central” (out now and with a great soundtrack included with every DVD-ed) and other things. Eric, it should be noted, is a great person to hang out with-relaxed, open, going off on anecdotal tangents and making you feel at home in his living room. And while we’re noting things, we should also note that our recorder decided to cut-off about half an hour into our conversation so, please, bear with us.
So I figured we would talk mostly about the movie, obviously, because I interviewed Rob a couple times about the band and everything else, and this is something that’s happening now. I think it’s interesting because you’ve been so successful with music, and with your other ventures. Did you always want to do a movie? How did this come about?
Well, Rob was working on a project called Dust Galaxy, and he was going to be away for a while. It turned out he was away for over a year. At a certain point, I was like, “Man, I’m really bored!” I started coming to the studio everyday, working on sketches for Thievery, but you know, there’s only one of us, so it was like “Alright, this is silly. What else can I do?” I heard making movies was a lot of fun, which yes it was fun, but also it was incredibly hard. I’m surprised how much work it is. So I went away for a week on vacation, and sat in a beach house for three days and wrote the script. That was one of the most surprising things – I had the idea for a story, and I was surprised at how easily it flowed. I literally came back with a thousand page script after three or four days of work, which was bizarre. It was really fun, I brought it back, showed it to Phil (we had already talked about doing a film, but not seriously), and he was like, “Okay”. Phil was a screenwriter, he’s written a few screenplays that people have wanted to publish, so he’s really into it. So he took the script, and then he made some suggestions and some changes and we talked and edited the thing and he brought a lot to the table and it became a co-writing thing. So we had a script. And we had time, we had some finances, a little bit of money.
Is it completely self-produced?
Self-produced, we paid for it all from ESL, in-house. We paid all our actors, everybody, everyone on the crew, there’s not a gratis work. We didn’t want to have that situation where people show up one day and not the next. So Stone is working up there with Robin Bell, who did visual, Stan Stewart, a local guy, another cameraman and producer. Phil as a producer. It was just a small team of people. We just got together here everyday in the morning, went out and shot, and they were intense ten-hour days, everyday, for a month.
What kind of cameras did you use?
We used a Panasonic HD camera that came out around 2006. I don’t know the model, but everyone had it at that point.
And it’s a movie about being a bike messenger and DJ and the extremities of situations a messenger or a DJ can find themselves in? The bike culture is such a big thing in DC, is this something that you drew on from personal experience?
Almost everything in that movie I’ve had some type of experience like that. I’ve had my brushes with political intrigue and the weird stuff. I’ve been in a lot of those situations, I have friends that were in those situations. A lot of it comes from experiences at 18th Street Lounge. Just people I knew, yes, the messangering of something I understand very well, DJing I understand very well. Really it was fun because I got to call my friends and ask “Do you want to act in a movie?” We just did it for fun, we had no delusions that anything big would happen. Which was really weird because after we shot it, a few of the people in the film, I will not name them, were like “I’m moving to Los Angeles!” It’s like, woah, hold on, we’re doing this for fun. They really caught the bug, really enjoying it.
So what were your plans with the movie now? You just wanted to self-release it, finish it, just as something you’ve done?
We were going to finish it and just get it into festivals, but by the time we actually finished it, it had been so long that we didn’t know if we wanted to submit it to any film festivals and go through that process, because the reason you do that is so someone else will release it. And we were just like, well we’re just gonna release it. Let’s skip that step.
What’s the distribution plan?
The distribution is through all the same channels as the music. Just the distributors, and of course Netflix.
So you’re not looking for a theatrical release for it?
No, no. It’s almost impossible to get a theatrical release for anything. And I don’t think this movie is really the movie that would get a theatrical release. Although the screenings have been going very well. People have been doing screenings all over the country. I’m still, like, “Really? That’s cool.”
I just wanted to talk a little about how you picked the places that are featured in the movie, all of which was shot in DC. You’ve always been a big champion of our town- do any of them have particular emotional resonance?
You are from here?
I grew up in Rockville Maryland. I moved here when I was 17, lived here with some friends – no I think it was 18. Went to college at 17, left college at 18. I went to Hampton Sydney College in Virginia, a teeny tiny little preppy school. And it sucked. So I came back here and started DJing, hanging out with my friend and his rock band and all that. I eventually went back and finished college.
Okay so – actual places. The pool scene was supposed to be Dumbarton Oaks, where my friends and I used to always pool hop, back in the days when there wasn’t high security everywhere. So that was fun to be out at three in the morning, jump the fence, have all these Italian gardens, the pool was beautiful, just own the place for the night, it was great. We did it twenty or thirty times. And of course Ben’s had to be in the movie, but now Ben’s is ridiculously a tourist trap. I used to love it! Now I’m like come on, you know?
We guerrilla’ed the residence of the prince of Saudi Arabia at Dumbarton Oaks, which made for a really good…that was a fun shoot because we had to smuggle the camera in, shoot from weird positions, because they’ll throw you out in a heartbeat.
So in weird way, even though you’re established professionals, you’re sort of like kids.
It was totally guerrilla style. We had no permits hardly at all. The only permit we had was for Dupont Circle, we pulled that. We had rails and we had a lot of people, so we had to get a permit for it.
(Dakota chimes in) You probably learn the lesson quick that it’s almost better not to ask. You get caught, then you submit the request. As a photographer I’m like, never ask. Because once they say no, then you’re screwed.
Then they’re on the lookout for you, then they’re aware that this is something that might happen. Well they busted us trying to shoot, stupidly trying to shoot the Observatory Vice Presidential residence in front. Oh yeah, that was really fun. [sarcasm]
Well we had a pickup truck with Robin stacked in the back of the pickup truck like this. I mean, it could have been like a rocket launcher. We were riding by just shooting it, and then we rode by again, and then we pull off three blocks and there were four cruisers that just come descending on us and they’re like serious. They’re like “What are you doing?” and we’re like “Uh, student film?”. They didn’t take cards or anything, but we didn’t get a good shot, but whatever.
Of course we shot a lot of stuff here (points at the room we’re sitting at) We had to use this place.
We then just sit around and just chat for a little while: about how great a neighborhood Adams Morgan is during daytime and the work week, about these amazing roller-skating disco cuts that keep infiltrating our ears from the studio above (DC needs a roller skating party, and it needs it now), about his “14th and U” domination and his plans to open The Brixton (right next to the Dickson, on 9th and U), about how much the city has changed in the 16 years since ESL has been around (mostly for the better), about food and friends and new music and designers and the genius of “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” and things that make afternoons in sun-soaked rooms in DC just fly by. And the afternoon (does) fly by. Maybe it is best that the recorder broke, transcribing interviews that turn into actual conversations seems almost unfair to the conversations.