Carla Gugino and her writer-director beau, Sebastian Gutierrez, go no-frills with their $300,000 homage to old Hollywood crime flicks.

By Chris Nashawaty
November 02, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Hollywood studios have done pretty well by Carla Gugino and Sebastian Gutierrez. She’s starred in a bunch of splashy films like Spy Kids and Watchmen; he’s penned scripts for genre flicks like Gothika and Snakes on a Plane. Which is what makes the offscreen couple’s latest DIY project so unexpected. Hotel Noir, which Gutierrez wrote and directed, is a black-and-white riff on the hard-boiled films of the ’40s and ’50s — the kinds of movies where guys in fedoras spout rat-a-tat patter and the femmes are always fatale. It’s the story of a detective (Rufus Sewell) who encounters a rogues’ gallery of characters over the course of a day. ”We wanted to make the kind of movie that studios aren’t making anymore,” says Gugino. ”This felt like the kind of thing I’d want to see on a Saturday night but can never find.”

Shot in 15 days last summer at L.A.’s Biltmore Hotel with a boldfaced cast (Gugino, Malin Akerman, Rosario Dawson, and Danny DeVito) despite its tiny $300,000 budget, Hotel Noir is a love letter to a bygone era, but its business model is decidedly 21st century. Instead of trying to shop the film at festivals, Gutierrez made a deal with the VOD company In Demand (where it debuted Oct. 9). And thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, he’s raised another $81,000 to fund a theatrical run in New York and L.A. But he and Gugino are most excited about the deal they made with Gathr, an Internet company that allows people anywhere in the country to request a screening of the film in their own town. ”The audience now has the power to bypass critics and the official way things have always been done in a very punk-rock way,” says Gutierrez. Here’s looking at you, kids.