Craig Brewer Finds Inspiration in The Hills

Clare Grant and Craig Brewer from the web series $5 Cover

Craig Brewer is absolutely in love with Memphis. You can tell just by the way he talks about it. He literally sat on the edge of his seat, his hands clasped, while speaking with me this afternoon at the Rock Band Lounge about his new project: $5 COVER, an MTV web series about the intertwining—or “incestuous,” as he put it—lives of musicians in his Tennessee hometown.

“I have dozens of musicians and bands in Memphis that people should know about, and I want people to know about them on their own terms,” he said, explaining that all of the actors play themselves and perform their own music, and that all of the dialogue is improvised. “It has exceeded my expectations. I just swell with pride when I talk about it.”

The series is composed of 15 episodes, each 6-8 minutes long, and culminates in a musical moment—a live performance, for instance, or a studio session—from the likes of Lucero, Al Kapone, and Snowglobe. Brewer had been thinking about the series since even before his Oscar-winning film HUSTLE & FLOW, which struck Sundance gold in 2005. The idea came to him way back in July of 2003, when a summer storm (later dubbed “Hurricane Elvis”) slammed Memphis.

“After a week of no power, all of this drama started happening,” said Brewer, who was living with several musicians. “People started hooking up with people they weren’t supposed to be hooking up with. There were fights…”

I asked Brewer about the benefit of his improvisational approach to the series versus, say, the pseudo-reality approach of The Hills.

“I got very inspired by The Hills,” he confessed. “What would [John] Cassavetes say? Isn’t that kind of what FACES was? Isn’t that kind of what WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE was?”

Brewer, like many other indie filmmakers, has also tried his hand at TV, recently directing an episode of The Shield. He said it wasn’t so different from independent filmmaking. “I forgot about how good it feels to do it right fucking now and move on to the next thing,” he said. But filming and editing $5 COVER, which screens Monday at New Frontier, was a little different “because [the internet] is not a meal culture, it’s a snacking culture.”

“I love lingering on wide shots, but in the online groove the editing and narrative are faster paced,” he said, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean less rewarding.”