When I added the press and PR responsibilities for “big AFI” to the “joint custody” agreement I had previously with AFI FEST and AFI DALLAS, one of the programs I immediately looked forward to working with was the AFI Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) program.
Each year, the program gives a handful of women an opportunity to develop a short film script and then direct the film under the watchful eye and guidance of the American Film Institute, yet ensure that they take full responsibility for their own projects. Upon being informed of its existence, it struck me as a workshop that effectively could serve as that connective tissue for talented women that had a career or background in other areas of filmmaking or storytelling, but hadn’t found the way or the means to get themselves behind the camera in a true director capacity on one end of the spectrum or needed to round out their filmmaking experience so they could take the next logical career step at the other end.
And honestly, since I am still learning about the program – that’s simply the way it looks to me from the outside. But even if the truth falls a somewhat short of that potential, it still is giving a dedicated push or assist to female filmmakers. And that alone makes it a very cool, if not absolutely vital program and as far as I’m concerned, a small, but brilliant gem in the AFI crown of programs, film festivals and achievements.
Basically, following the dynamic and ambitious programming and presentation that both AFI FEST and AFI DALLAS have become known for the last couple of years, AFI DWW is one of those things that genuinely makes me proud to be at the American Film Institute. All three are forward looking and thinking celebrations of film and filmmaking artists not rooted in the past, yet taking a respectful lead from the artists that preceded them. Few things are more fun and exciting than a director coming back to AFI FEST or AFI DALLAS with their first feature after we gave them their first red carpet experience with one of their short films. It just gives you a sense that you’re helping somehow, shining the light on someone and giving encouragement to the filmmaker and in a small, but important way – validating the time, the creative energy, the dedication, even the money they had to put out to get their work made. And all of that applies here as well.
I’ll state it bluntly: AFI DWW is one of those programs that makes this place relevant.
So tonight at the DGA Theatre will be the unveiling of the films the seven participating women of the last workshop has created. And the combination of the films together will make for a great program. Perfect? No. Of course not. But across the board, they show great ambition for storytelling and exploring what can be done with film. And what I love the most – no short cuts, no cynical audience assumptions and certainly no laziness here.
Anyway, here are some brief thoughts on each film:
Mary Ann Kellogg’s ABUELO follows the relationship between a little girl and her grandfather following their first meeting. He has come to America from Argentina to watch over her so her father can work. There is a language barrier and she doesn’t make the situation easy on him from the outset. However, the old man has some tricks up his sleeve and watching what transpires is genuinely joyful. Kellogg began her career as a dancer with Twyla Tharp, is an Emmy nominated choreographer and she displays real grace with the film. She even incorporates dance into the story deftly, subtly, beautifully, in a way that reminds you how cool it can be onscreen after garish show-tinny (yeah, I meant “tinny”) things like High School Musical have long convinced you otherwise.
Dominika Waclawiak’s GOSIA’S WITCH also takes a child’s view of things. This time the little girl in question is dealing with a nasty headmistress at her Catholic school. And the way she does so, is through entering the world of a children’s story her mother has read to her. Waclawiak has worked as a visual effects artist on more than a few films and she translates that into delivering a magical little film with hints of Guillermo del Toro’s work. Films focusing on kids can be tough for me to hang with, but she stops well short of cloying with her little actress, telling me her talent isn’t completely tied up with production design and art direction.
Meredith Berg’s VOID is a supernatural thriller about a female FBI agent investigating a series of grisly murders in a small, desert town. What she finds through her investigation is the involvement of a little boy in a way she never could have imagined. Berg has a love for/background with editing comic books and graphic novels and this short film has the kind of darkly clever premise and twists within it that are borne directly from that world. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will say that it bears some DNA from the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode “It’s a Good Life”. I will also add that Berg doesn’t shy away from the gore – and the horror genre could use a smart female storyteller not afraid or shy to dole out some scares from her perspective.
Alexa-Sascha Lewin’s THE HONEYSTING shows us some very clear parallels between hunting big game and operating within Chinatown’s black market underworld for the “spoils” of that hunting. What I initially liked about it was the way Lewin refused to show her hand as to the real connections between the two worlds until she absolutely had to. Then ultimately, I was impressed by the fact that she has made a movie with a cause that doesn’t broadcast to you what the cause is. Lewin has spent several years as a natural history filmmaker and I have to believe that it took some doing to show the restraint she does here to allow the narrative of her film deliver the punch, rather than doing so through some preachy exposition.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s INK also manages not to preach – to the choir or otherwise – as it shows us the last days of a tattoo artist and single mother dying of AIDS and determined to do so with grace. It is simply told, but not in a way without giving some visual flourishes. There is also a very nice balance between the intensity and immediacy of the emotions (especially between the mother and her young son, struggling to deal with the encroaching reality ahead for the two of them), yet framed by a lyrical quality that is more than understandable knowing the nature of Jean-Baptiste’s acting work as well as her composing background. It also features a wonderfully nuanced performance by Theresa Randle in the lead role – clearly another beneficiary of being directed by Jean-Baptiste.
Joanna Jurewicz’s ROOMS also benefits from the talents of Jean-Baptiste – this time as the actress plays the lead character of an immigrant maid at an airport hotel who cleans up the rooms of the travelers in a solitary daily work routine. It is a subtle work that shows a deft touch in opening up the woman’s lonely world without ham handedly delivering a moment of pathos for the lowest common denominator viewing the film to understand. Instead, the film allows the cumulative effect to creep up on us as we watch the woman allow herself a touch of hope of real human connection with one of the hotel’s guests. And to Jurewicz’s credit, the ending is as expected and melancholy as scenarios like this all to often are.
Joy Gohring’s 18 is about a teenage girl facing the decision of whether or not to remove her mother from life support when she is given power of attorney on her eighteenth birthday. That’s the “gift” she receives. The gift Gohring gives the audience is doing everything she can to not address the dilemma directly, not to give us a textbook afterschool special speech from the cool and caring guidance counselor or mentor of your choice and veering as far away as she can from hitting any nails on their heads. Instead, she sends the protagonist off to a pool party in search of the boy she harbors a crush on and possibly a much needed immediate distraction from her situation. What I find special in films that deal with subjects like this are the moments where nothing is being said, because (at least in my experience) the interior monologues and conversations with myself are far more maddening than anything said out loud. Gohring is a comedienne by trade and that time onstage has obviously taught her the economy of words.
There you have it – seven short films by seven women – creating an impressive program that delivers exactly what something like this should: accomplishment and promise. I can easily see each of these films hitting the festival circuit and more importantly, I can just as easily see each of the women taking the next step into feature territory as well.
Looking forward to tonight!
Let’s start this simply: Like every film festival, AFI DALLAS had to deal with serious money issues this year. Nothing unique, surprising or original there. Now what did that mean really?
Well, it meant a change in presenting sponsors – going from Target to NorthPark Center. To their credit, Target remained as the sponsor for the big $25K prizes the festival gives to the winner of its narrative and documentary competitions. And those are important. Really important. Because, while the hallowed laurel wreaths that frame an award title from any given film festival is great validation and oftentimes proof of smart purchase for potential theatergoers or DVD buyers, that tangible immediate return on the investment weighs big in an independent filmmaker’s mind as they decide where to take their film. And having NorthPark Center literally buy in to the festival was helpful in that they were obviously very much invested in the presentation and success of what we were doing far beyond what happened to be screening or taking place at their location.
It also meant that a core group of individuals had to come forward to provide the financial backbone to ensure AFI DALLAS’s third year would be every bit as impressive as the first two years. And that is something worth re-stating: AFI DALLAS 2009 owed a great, great deal to its Deep Ellum Film Festival roots because the people who had come together throughout that film festival’s life were the ones that stood tall when the economic crap gave sucker punches to the more recent arrivals that weren’t as solidly dedicated to this film festival.
Of course, it meant the festival had to contract: a couple fewer days and less films. And a lot has already been written how that actually highlighted the programming vision of Michael Cain, James Faust, and Sarah Harris. I had a conversation with Robert Koehler (the noted film critic that is joining programming forces with AFI FEST Artistic Director Rose Kuo for the 2009 edition) a few days ago where he compared the paring down of film fest selections with the NCAA Basketball Tourney after the first round when 64 teams suddenly become 32. The idea being that those 32 teams (or those fewer films) had to prove their mettle to stay in the game. They didn’t just make it in because they were the least worst option from their divison or part of the country, they had to literally beat another team to live for another day. In a similar manner, less films means less dubious choices because you simply don’t have the screening slots to waste – you have to make each one count.
And somehow, with less days and fewer films, we wound up with a larger audience. An audience that was frequently buying individual tickets -therefore they were making discerning choices on what they wanted to see. And still going to see nearly everything offered in droves. Which is one of the many great things about Dallas. If you haven’t been there and you’re painting it with a big secessionist red paint brush – you need to stop – at least if you’re a filmmaker, because the people there will turn out to see a wide, wild variety of films and give a movie its shot and its due.
But what about me and my needs? Or less meglo-maniacal – the press and public relations department? How did all of this contraction due to the economy affect what we do? Well, it meant an even greater dependence on volunteer staffing. Other that myself and the cheerfully dedicated force-of-nature Michael DeVous Jr., who served once again as my Publicity Coodinator – it was all about the volunteers. (To be clear, this does not including the Video Department, Photo Department and AFI DALLAS Daily News Department – which, while also staffed almost entirely by volunteers, did have a paid supervisor and in a couple cases coordinators that were given a token (and I do mean token) amount to tide them over somewhat.
None of which would be an issue if I didn’t insist on trying to do everything we could to get PR for every film of ours within our reach, so-to-speak. I began at AFI FEST in 2006 as the Filmmaker Press Liaison with a mandate to get PR for the “little” films, the indies, the foreign productions and the shorts. At that time the staff had a Director of PR, a PR Coordinator, a Special Events (Galas) Coordinator and myself.
Not here. Not now. No – two people were given the task of trying to accomplish what by this point has become ten times the work and output attempted by that team in 2006.
The smart money (meaning the money that wants to sleep eight hours each night) would say answer the phones, get screeners out to the major reviewers, direct some movie star foot traffic and call it a day.
Not so much. Instead, Michael and I organized our volunteer usual suspects and added some new recruits and more or less gave them titles and responsibilities that a lot of people getting their feet wet with stuff would kill for. It meant we had to train them to do things as if we were doing it personally and it meant we had to trust them in a big way to pull it all off. But we had no choice in the matter. Therefore, the following volunteers – again, let me really emphasize this: VOLUNTEERS. Working days and nights. For free. No money. Anyway, here is a sampling of the remarkable army that I have endless amounts of gratitude for:
Carolyn Hodge (Daily Filmmaker Interview Junkets Studio Producer)
Every day, each attending filmmaker had an opportunity to do sit down interviews with whatever outlets or journalists that had signed on that day. Set up with the same template that any film junket would be done for any studio (just somewhat smaller), schedules were created, massaged and then coordinated between both the filmmakers and journalists like clockwork. Sites like Indie Express, Real TV, Gordon & the Whale, publications like Envy Magazine, The Dallas Observer, even some local TV benefited by the professional, courteous and efficient way that Carolyn and her series of location producers and site escorts ran that show.
Theresa Pegues (Visiting Journalist Liaison)
Theresa, in many ways, had to replace the national PR agency that for the past two years had done the heavy lifting for the effort to bring in national journalists and coordinate their travel once in Dallas as well as the communication regarding screenings, panels, parties, events, etc. I think we were responsible for eight individuals and two complete crews’ travel to participate on the panels and to cover the film festival and almost all of it was on her personally. One person replaces one agency basically. Of course, that wasn’t nearly all that the agency had helped us with but I think you get the message of how much responsibility that was for one person. And those people could not have been in better hands.
Chessica Moon (Red Carpet Coordinator)
For the first time in all of the film festivals and all of the gala events I have done PR for or produced in the past three years, I had to be absent from my own red carpet for a portion of those entrances. Because we had some “high risk” celebrities and panel moderating duties that required my personal handling, timing just sucked. But fortunately for me and AFI DALLAS, this was Chessica’s third year at our little movie rodeo and she had the system down. Each day she was on top of the prep for that night’s show and when it came time for he deputy to fill in and keep things moving along in an orderly manner, she missed not a single beat. “Thank God,” I was saying to myself as I would walk up to the carpet and see it rolling along smoothly…
Tanya Wright (Press Events Liaison)
The worst part of this job, for me, are the parties. And I’ll tell you why. Because it’s all about guest lists and how much room there is and who I’m allowed to let in and deserves to get in (because they’re REALLY covering the films and the filmmakers) versus the pain-in-the-asses that just want to get in the door and party on the festival’s dime. To do what I think I need to do – which is talk up our filmmakers to anyone press-wise who will give me the time of day, and moderate Q&As and panels and basically be an in-person advocate for the films our programmers have chosen, I can’t be at a laptop 24/7 managing guest lists. Enter Tanya. Despite never having done something like this before, Michael and I through her into the deep end of the pool, occasionally gave her a life preserver of coaching and advice and she became the lifeline of info for each of those journalists for the parties and the gala film presentations as well. And she did it much more nicely and politely than I have ever managed.
Barton Peters (Social Networking Coordinator) and James Stanton (Archive and Impressions Data Coordinator)
These were the new guys. A SMU student (Barton) and a lawyer prepping for his final bar exams (James), these two went far beyond their titles (which were beyond vital for us to pull off in a dedicated, organized and efficient manner), but also bled into being the right hand office guys in terms of managing and organizing the incoming materials and supplies for the films as well as various of-the-moment tasks and jobs and questions that randomly rear their complicated little heads. And they were there – day-in, day-out. And what they did added to a shit-load of peace of mind for me. By this point, the Social Networking aspect of film festival PR encroaches on and threatens to usurp so much of the more traditional outreach efforts and as far as those sponsors that are so important to us are concerned – it really is all about that final impressions report. So, we can bust ass, make inroads to new journalistic avenues and outlets, but if we can’t prove the audience numbers, readership or online hits…no one with a corporate insignia cares. Bottom line.
And beyond that were additional volunteer rock stars (handling positions within our Ethnic & Special Interest Outreach Programs, “Adopt a Film” efforts, serving as junket and red carpet interviewers, press event check-in spots, and red carpet escorts) – including (in alphabetical order): Heather Amend, Stacy & Mike Archip, Kim Cicio, Richard Dodder, Todd Drake, Betsy Dyer, Marty Ezelle, Joyce Foy, Wendy Golman, Lauren Hadaway, Ashely Hall Bryant Hicks, Joe Hwang, Joy Ingram, Jackie Jones, Kevin & Linda Rush, Tricia Shissmacher, Jackie Smith, Robert Smith, Debi Spear, Kayla Svec, Claudia Taylor, Dawn Thomas, Natalie & Saji Thomas, Cristina Uranga, Jean Vaughn, Allen Warchal, Melissa Zales.
I hope to God I haven’t missed anyone or misspelled a name with these. And again, this doesn’t even get into the video, photo or news departments. And I don’t, for a second, think AFI DALLAS is unique in how much we lean on our volunteers to make this event work. I just want to underline the professional level they do the jobs (in this case) that we ask, and skill with which they handle the details of the job – which 90 percent of the time isn’t their career skill set. But we gave them ownership of those roles as well as the titles befitting those jobs and placed a lot of the PR effort this year in their hands.
And to a person – they came through for us. I retool and refine the Press and PR system not just once a year, but with each film festival I’m in charge of throughout the year (which currently stands at five with an advisor’s role for a sixth) and there is always A LOT to retool and refine and reconsider. But this year’s AFI DALLAS was a huge confirmation to me that people both work and volunteer for a film festival because they literally LOVE films and filmmakers. They either work for less, or work longer, or work for nothing at all and still work longer because it matters to them. It matters that they are a part of an effort to screen and celebrate films – all films. More often than not, the people working for studios can’t compete with that. They can’t even come close.
The bottom line is that is why AFI DALLAS was so successful this year. Because the people that didn’t have a stake in the game, the ones that were lukewarm with their support, each sponsoring company that didn’t return to the fold simply showed that it wasn’t that important to them. They exhibited the fact that they didn’t understand the worth of the film festival. They didn’t and don’t “get” it. And those people were far outnumbered by the ones that do get it – in Dallas, in Texas, nationally, internationally, critically, in filmmaking communities, and with the general populace.
All of those people are following the lead of the AFI DALLAS volunteer army and leaving everyone else behind.
Of course, we’re always happy to let them try to catch up with us.
No sooner did I get comfortably back home in L.A. than I was immediately in the thick of things with the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and all of the AFI stuff (Life Achievement Award, AFI Conservatory Thesis screenings and the upcoming DWW showcase), oh AND The upcoming edition of The Vision Awards. So my apologies for the lack of “original content” in between the plethora of press releases, but I’m still figuring out how to do all of this stuff at once.
Anyway, I have had some time to think and think and think some more about this year’s AFI DALLAS Film Festival, and I feel there is so much to write about that I have decided to do it in three of four parts.
So in no particular, in fact very random order – here goes:
Part One – The Ladies of AFI DALLAS
One of the overriding themes for me this year was the influx of very cool women that came to Dallas for the festival. Some of these women I have known, known of, and in some cases been a fan of for a little while now. Yet most of these women I met for the very first time at AFI DALLAS and thrilled that I did. They are (in alphabetical order):
Alice Krige – We had Anthony Fabian’s thoughtful drama SKIN at AFI FEST last fall and we were fortunate enough to have it come to AFI DALLAS for an encore of sorts since it became part of AFI’s very cool Project 20/20 program. The program basically travels various filmmakers that have had their films play at the AFI film festivals around the world to literally and truly use film and filmmakers as a way to build a bridge between cultures. It’s a shining example of AFI taking an ambitious lead to do something outside of trotting out classics for another look and promote and utilize film for the next generations. It’s one of those things that make me proud to be here.
Anyway, we got a huge bonus at AFI DALLAS by having Alice Krige come to town to represent the film with the director, Fabian. She provided one of those high expectations payoffs by putting the “red” on my carpet to shame with a crimson gown that just stopped everyone in their tracks. Not only that, she exuded all kinds of ethereal grace and charm. Great moment.
Jordan Ladd – I almost have to include Jordan’s father, David with this shout out because I really spent time with them both while she was in Dallas. Let me begin by saying that if I was a cheerleader for any single film this year, it was for Paul Solet’s creepy instant classic GRACE. And Jordan gives the kind of performance in the film that transcends genre and should place her several rungs up the respect ladder if the right people are paying attention. So, I kinda almost willed both the film and her and Paul to be at AFI DALLAS (thank god that James Faust and Michael Cain will listen to me sometimes with recommendations for this festival). But beyond that, within moments of talking to her and her father, I wanted Jordan to move in to my condo so my wife and I would have the prototypical nicer-than-nice and coolest neighbor that anyone could conceive of. Unassuming is a word. And two words that trump that one are “Jordan Ladd”. And her father, David Ladd was great too. If you didn’t know your film history or (as I was) could be lulled into forgetting it, you would think you were just hanging out and talking to a proud dad just happy to be there and see the attention his daughter was getting for her new movie and not a guy who has forgotten more than a lot of us will ever know about film production and the business. Even if that movie involved her as a mom dealing with a newborn baby with a bloodlust for mommy. If we could have, we would have extended both of their visits for the duration of the festival.
Karina Longworth – I was looking forward to having Karina attend a film festival of mine for some time now. Tough, tough writer and critic and I was anxious to have her around not just to weigh in on the programming (in this case) that AFI DALLAS offers but frankly because I wanted an opportunity to hang out with her and get to know her a little. And the truth is, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Karina as I had hoped. But watching her moderate a panel and then give MSN’s James Rocchi all he could handle at a lunch afterwards was more than worth the price of admission. Listening to the give and take between those two was fun. I have to think that if you were a movie blow hard then she would scare the shit out of you. But if you can hold your own, have something to say, and are willing to lay it out there with her then I have to think she gets the automatic invite to any party (movie-related or otherwise) you might want to throw.
Heather Matarazzo – I kid you not, AFI DALLAS scored Heather to be part of our jury this year because we are Facebook buddies. I had admired Heather not just due to her work in film but her outspokenness regarding her choices and career. And from the moment she arrived, I had everyone at AFI DALLAS thanking me for reaching out to her. Never for a moment do I believe I’m the only one that cares as deeply as I do about this stuff, but Heather combines that damn near uncompromising notion of what potential is out there for us too achieve through film, but goes about delivering her opinions – which are strong and direct to be sure – more gently and considerately than I could hope to. You hope for an “ambassador” when you ask someone to serve on a film festival jury – and she was the epitome of that.
Carri McClure – Here’s the thing about personal publicists: They can make the dealings with their clients a joy or a wanna-slit-your-wrists job – bottom line. I came from personal PR, and it kills me when the personal pub is simply a road block. Either out of a lack of imagination, laziness, or just because they happen to be a sour pain-in-the-ass, it is rare, rare, rare to find a personal publicist that both “gets it” and is genuine in their dealings with you. Carri does. In consecutive years, we have had her clients Ron Livingston (twice) and Robert Towne come to Dallas and the experience all three times has been near-flawless because Carri knows what she’s doing. And she also plays fair. And let me be clear – she is tough on the facts and the details on behalf of her clients. She is no push over by any means. BUT she also works toward the greater good of the event and her client to make sure that things will run smoothly and logically – as opposed to just standing in the way of everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. There are actors and actresses that I advise the people in charge of film festivals and events I do to cross off their lists because life is just way too short to deal with the person in charge of their PR. Carri is at the other end of that spectrum. And that trust and working relationship make me want to give her first “dibs” with her clients whenever I do events.
Monique Parent – Another My Space and Facebook pal. My first year at AFI FEST, Monique allowed me to publish an article she had written about the intricacies and oftentimes awkwardness of shooting explicit love scenes for films. But we had never actually met until this year when we had an idea for a filmmakers’ panel for Women in Film Dallas. I wanted her presence and opinion on that panel and knew she would have the right personality to bring to town. And that thought was right on all counts. Monique is smart, beautiful and a straight talker. You could see a filmmaker wanting to write a part for her just for the excuse to have her on set – let alone raising the game of their film. She has done plenty of service in the land of soft core and really, really deserves someone giving her a Tarantino-type spotlight role in a cool indie thing somewhere.
Robin Wright Penn – Robin’s publicist Mara Buxbaum (who is a friend) more-or-less made it clear to me that the only way Robin would be coming to Dallas was if I could…let’s just say…uhm…take a personal interest in her well-being while she was here. No problem. Now Mara had been to Dallas with the Wilson brothers a year or so ago so she knew what to expect (and more importantly knew it was “safe”), but this was a specialized situation. And frankly, it’s important to have someone like Robin come to the festival – not just for this particular one but for the future well-being celebrity-wise. Because, AFI DALLAS only being in its third year is still in that process of forming a reputation as a destination for people of Robin’s ilk. And you know the “ilk” I’m speaking of, don’t even pretend. Therefore, even though I had Mara’s trust in this case, we still need to impress each and every big league actor and actress and send them away very happy and gushing with praise with how we run this particular film fest machine. Because they’ll tell two actors and then they’ll reassure two actors and they’ll convince two more actors and so on and so on…
Two, Robin was coming to town to support a documentary, HAZE, about teenage binge drinking – which I personally thought was an important one beyond just being a good film. And as the spokeswoman for The Gordie Foundation which was deeply involved, if not the outright inspiration for the film, it was important to Robin for her participation to be done properly. And that’s what impressed me. Because we get “demands” all of the time. And a lot of the time, those demands come from a place of personal comfort or convenience or sheer “testing” to see how much they can get away with (like the old lion film reviewer we flew into town – gruff but not lovable). And Robin’s specifications (I won’t even characterize them as demands because I want to make sure the context is precise here) were all in the service of what she thought was right for the film, for The Gordie Foundation and for her friends Leslie and Michael Lanahan, who began and lead that foundation in honor of Leslie’s son, Gordie. Robin has seen that documentary and the testimonials countless times by this point and I saw it still bring her to tears after all this time and all of those repeated viewings. Seeing that made me want to be just that much more careful to help navigate the tricky press and publicity waters for her and them. She was patient and dutiful on behalf of the film and the foundation and deserving of a lot of respect for making the trip.
Lisa Rosman – When Kim Voynar isn’t writing for Movie City News, I think she serves as Lisa Rosman’s (who works and writes for US Magazine and Flavorpill) publicist. She sold me on the fact that I needed to bring Lisa to Dallas to be a panelist and talk movies because in one bought plane ticket and hotel room we would be instantly upping the ante on the AFI DALLAS coolness quotient. And, as I have come to trust – Kim was right on the money. After moderating one panel with Lisa as a participant and one dinner rife with banter and provocative topics – film and otherwise – I became an instant fan. She has style, she’s got a knowing awareness spiced with just the right amount of acerbic – and all in a classic dame package. I became an instant fan – simple as that.
Tiffany Shepis – Again, thank you facebook. And, to be fair – thank you very much Loyd Cryer at Texas Frightmare Weekend because he teamed up with me to make Tiffany’s appearance possible. Some people were scratching their heads a bit on why I instantly jumped at the idea of bringing Tiffany to Dallas to be a panelist but I knew it would be great. And once again, she exceeded all expectations for the couple of days she was there. There are people who are game for whatever you’re gonna throw at them and then there are people like Tiffany. Instantly, you can see why she is an evergreen draw at the Fangoria-type conventions and why she is one of those actresses in the genre that is seemingly always working. If you are a fan or a filmmaker in horror I have to imagine that a crisis ridden internal debate would be “Watch Tiffany on screen or have Tiffany on my set – what’s more important to me at this very moment?!”
Kim Voynar (and her daughter Neve) – Even though technically (by my own rules for this blog) I shouldn’t – I have to include Kim in this list. I’ve known her and had her attend my film festivals a few times now, but frankly, she kind of sets the tone (or should if I was choosing the person that got to) for how film festival behavior and “dialogue” between film fans and filmmakers and journalists should go as far as I’m concerned. I just flat out like Kim’s writing and her viewpoint on film and socio-politics. She is possibly the most effective devil’s advocate writer around right now. She’ll offer up a contrarian’s position from a balanced, inquisitive place that few people have either the guts or the talent to delve into. And her daughter, Neve (pronounced with a “long E” not like the Canadian SCREAM queen) is primed to follow right in those impressive footsteps. Smart, sweet and fun, Neve had the poor timing to get sick just after she arrived in Dallas after she had been looking forward all year to coming to the festival following her first visit with Kim a year ago. It sucked for her – obviously – but I was also genuinely disappointed. You see, Neve is not just a great, smart kid, but seriously, she has the beginnings of her mom’s writing talent. I was hoping to have her weigh in on our Family Friendly section as only she could. Instead, my goals for her were lowered to hoping I could help Kim get Neve well and feeling better before she had to go back home.
Last week, I was having a conversation with AFI FEST Artistic Director Rose Kuo about the fact that just screening movies does not a film festival make. It just doesn’t. If that’s what you think, then you’re fooling yourself. That’s film without the festival as far as I’m concerned. It’s the filmmakers, the actors, the jurors, and the journalists. It’s the people that are there doing Q&As, participating in panels, talking up movies in the lounges that make a film festival unique and special and a place you want to be or should want to be. And this group of women were a major reason that AFI DALLAS was something special this year as far as I’m concerned.
2009 AFI DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
FOUNDING SPONSOR VICTORY PARK,
PRESENTING SPONSOR NORTHPARK CENTER
ANNOUNCES AWARD WINNERS
“GIGANTIC” RECEIVES THE $25,000 TARGET FILMMAKER AWARD
FOR BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
“PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI” RECEIVES THE $25,000 TARGET FILMMAKER AWARD
FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“ST. NICK” RECEIVES $20,000 IN CASH, GOODS AND SERVICES FOR THE MPS STUDIOS TEXAS FILMMAKER AWARD
“CRUDE” RECEIVES THE $10,000 CURRENT ENERGY FILMMAKER AWARD
“PRINCESS MARGARET BLVD.”, “HUG” AND “CHICKEN COWBOY”
ARE NAMED WINNERS
FOR BEST SHORT FILM, STUDENT SHORT AND ANIMATED SHORT
AUDIENCE AWARDS GO TO “SKIN” FOR NARRATIVE FEATURE, “ROCK PROPHECIES” FOR DOCUMENTARY AND “LUCY: A PERIOD PIECE” FOR SHORT
DALLAS, TX, April 2, 2008 – AFI DALLAS International Film Festival, Founding Sponsor Victory Park, Presenting Sponsor NorthPark Center, announces its 2009 award winners with Matt Aselton’s GIGANTIC as the winner of the unrestricted $25,000 cash prize for the Target Filmmaker Award for Best Narrative Feature with Peter Callahan’s AGAINST THE CURRENT receiving a Special Jury Prize, and Paul Saltzman’s PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI as the winner of the unrestricted $25,000 cash prize for the Target Filmmaker Award for Best Documentary Feature with Gustav Hofer’s and Luca Ragazzi’s SUDDENLY LAST WINTER receiving a Special Jury Prize. The awards were presented by Heather Matarazzo (WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, THE PRINCESS DIARIES) and Elvis Mitchell (THE BLACK LIST), each of whom served on the Narrative Features and Documentary Features jury, respectively, for AFI DALLAS this year.
Presented by Current Energy’s Joe Harberg, Joe Berlinger’s CRUDE won the $10,000 cash prize for the Current Energy Filmmaker Award, while MPS Studios’ Mark Stephens presented MPS Studios’ Texas Filmmaker Award and $20,000 in cash, goods and services to David Lowery for his film, ST. NICK.
Kazik Radwanski’s PRINCESS MARGARET BLVD. won the award for Best Short with Honorable Mentions going to both Todd Luoto’s OIL CHANGE and Denis Villeneuve’s NEXT FLOOR. The award for Best Student Short went to Khary Jones’s HUG. Jurors John Magary and Bent Jorgen-Pearlmutt presented the awards. Reel FX Entertainment Vice President of Creative, Brandon Oldenberg presented the award for Best Animated Short to Stephen Neary’s CHICKEN COWBOY.
Anthony Fabian’s SKIN won the Audience Award for Best Narrative, while John Chester’s ROCK PROPHECIES won for Best Documentary and Julie Sagalowsky’s LUCY: A PERIOD PIECE won the Audience Award for Best Short. AFI DALLAS Director of Programming James Faust and Senior Programmer Sarah Harris presented the awards.
The winners of the jury prizes for Best Short, Best Student Short and the Audience Awards each receive production and scheduling software from Entertainment Partners.
Faust said, “This year, we were fortunate to have so many exceptional films that challenged the audience artistically and conceptually. It was a very competitive year in that respect and while we were all the beneficiaries of that, by its nature the jury had the difficulty of having to choose one film to honor over the others.”
Michael Cain, AFI DALLAS Artistic Director, added “In our third year, the city of Dallas and the international film community truly have begun to take note of the distinctive personality of this film festival – both through the evolution of our programming and what is becoming more accepted every year – the peerless presentation and hospitality that have been hallmarks of AFI DALLAS from the very beginning.”
TARGET NARRATIVE FEATURE: GIGANTIC
DIR: Matt Aselton (USA)
Cast: Zooey Deschanel, Paul Dano, John Goodman
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE: AGAINST THE CURRENT
DIR: Peter Callahan (USA)
Cast: Joseph Fiennes, Justin Kirk, Elizabeth Reaser
TARGET DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI
DIR: Paul Saltzman (USA)
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE: SUDDENLY LAST WINTER
DIR: Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi (Italy)
CURRENT ENERGY FILMMAKER AWARD: CRUDE
DIR: Joe Berlinger (USA)
MPS STUDIOS TEXAS FILMMAKER AWARD: ST. NICK
DIR: David Lowery (USA)
SHORT: PRINCESS MARGARET BLVD.
DIR: Kazik Radwanski (Canada)
HONORABLE MENTION: OIL CHANGE
DIR: Todd Luoto
HONORABLE MENTION: NEXT FLOOR
DIR: Denis Villeneuve
STUDENT SHORT: HUG
DIR: Khary Jones (USA)
ANIMATED SHORT: CHICKEN COWBOY
DIR: Stephen Neary (USA)
DIR: Anthony Fabian (UK/South Africa)
Cast: Sophie Okonedo, Sam Neill, Alice Krige
DOCUMENTARY: ROCK PROPHECIES
DIR: John Chester (USA)
SHORT: LUCY: A PERIOD PIECE
DIR: Julie Sagalowsky (USA)
2009 AFI DALLAS JURY MEMBERS:
NARRATIVE FEATURE JURY includes:
Richie Mehta is the director of 2008 AFI DALLAS Audience Award winning movie, AMAL. The film has since received multiple Genie nominations in Canada. Previous films include SYSTEM OF UNITS and ANAMIKA.
Heather Matarazzo is an acclaimed actress known for her award winning performance in WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. Heather is also know for her role in THE PRINCESS DIARIES series and HOSTEL 2. She has also appeared on hit TV series such as LAW & ORDER, LIFE ON MARS and THE L WORD.
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE JURY includes:
Elvis Mitchell is a former film critic for The New York Times, and is currently the host of KCRW’s pop culture and film interview program “The Treatment.” Mitchell recently produced THE BLACK LIST with director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. The film examines race, culture and the seeds of success through portraits of 20 influential African Americans.
Doug Pray is documentary filmmaker and the director of ART & COPY, which screened at the 2009 AFI DALLAS International Film Festival in the Documentary Showcase. Past films include BIG RIG, SCRATCH and HYPE!
CURRENT ENERGY EARTH FRIENDLY JURY includes:
Current Energy is a Dallas-based company that provides energy efficient solutions that are environmentally friendly. The company was founded in 2001, anticipating the impact that energy deregulation would have on companies, and was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy in the fall of 2007 with an Energy Innovators Award.
MPS STUDIOS TEXAS COMPETITION JURY includes:
David Pomes is the writer/director/producer o COOK COUNTY, which won the2008 AFI DALLAS MPS Studios Texas Filmmaker Award. David quit his job as a lawyer to film his movie in Texas.
Meredith Stephens is Vice President of Business Development at MPS Studios and served on the board of the Women in Film- Dallas and the former President of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance.
SHORT COMPETITION JURY includes:
John Magary won the 2008 AFI DALLAS Short Jury Award for his film THE SECOND LINE. Past films include OUR NATIONAL PARKS and SITE IN FISHKILL CREEK.
David Zellner is an Austin filmmaker whose movie GOLIATH screened at the 2008 AFI DALLAS International Film Festival. Past films include AFTERMATH ON MEADOWLARK LANE, REDEMPTITUDE and FLOTSAM/JETSAM.
STUDENT COMPETITION JURY includes:
Bent-Jorgen Perimutt is the 2008 AFI DALLAS Student Short award winner for his movie THE VULNERABLE ONES (Les Vulnerables).
Andy Anderson is an accomplished artist and filmmaker who served as Chair of the Art and Art History Department at University of Texas at Arlington, where he now continues as a Professor and Writer in Residence, teaching Introduction to Screenwriting, Advanced Screenwriting and the Narrative Film class.
ANIMATION COMPETITION JURY includes:
Henry Selick – Director, Tex Avery Award winner
Henry Selick is the director, production designer and screenplay adapter for CORALINE, the first stop-motion animated feature film ever produced in stereoscopic 3-D. His feature film directorial projects, including the iconic NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH.
Brandon Oldenberg/Reel FX
Brandon Oldenberg is Vice President of Creative at Reel FX Studios.
Reel FX Creative Studios, founded in 1993, is an award-winning creative studio where accomplished artists and preeminent technology converge to produce extraordinary creative solutions. Their services include visual effects, animation, design and creative editorial.
AFI DALLAS kicked off with the Opening Night Gala presentation of Rian Johnson’s THE BROTHERS BLOOM with Johnson, Adrien Brody and Rinko Kikiuchi in attendance on Thursday, March 26, 2009 at the AMC NorthPark in Dallas. The evening’s festivities also included the presentation of the AFI DALLAS Star Awards (designed from Steuben Crystal, courtesy of Neiman Marcus) to Brody.
Other highlights included a Centerpiece Screening of Guillermo Arriga’s THE BURNING PLAIN with Arriaga and Joaquim de Almeida in attendance, a screening of the cinema classic CHINATOWN with Robert Towne including the presentation of the AFI DALLAS Star Award to him prior to a special Q&A with film critic Richard Schickel and a special screening of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW with Peter Bogdanovich in attendance (and set to be honored with the AFI DALLAS Star Award the following day at the AFI DALAS Texas Day celebration). Also honored with the AFI DALLAS Star Award were Kathryn Bigelow, prior to a screening of her film THE HURT LOCKER and Rita Hayworth (presented posthumously), while Henry Selick was given the Texas Avery Award. The festival also featured Talk Show panels at the Nasher Sculpture Center and Speakeasy panels at the AFI DALLAS Festival Lounge.
The festival closed with AFI DALLAS Closing Night Gala presentations of Louis Psihoyos’s THE COVE and James Toback’s TYSON on Thursday, April 2, 2009 at the AMC NorthPark in Dallas attended by the two directors.
Other notable attendees at this year’s AFI DALLAS Film Festival included Alice Krige, Jordan Ladd, Patton Oswalt, Rob Siegel, Devon Aoki, Robin Wright Penn, Justin Kirk, Jeremy Renner, Jason Ritter, Jess Weixler, Patrick Warburton, Elaine Hendrix, Tiffany Shepis, Monique Parent, Carlos Cuaron, Matt Tyrnauer, Lou Gossett Jr., Doug Pray, Tim McCanlies and Janine Turner.
Overall, the 2009 AFI DALLAS International Film Festival showcased 81 features and 96 shorts for a total of 177 films from 22 countries.
SHORTS…and to the point! Richard Gale (THE HORRIBLY SLOW MURDERER WITH THE EXTREMELY INEFFICIENT WEAPON)
Movie trailers have become such an accepted part of our collective movie-going experience that some us actually feel gypped if we miss a few due to a late arrival to the theater. If you haven’t ironically narrated your day’s activities with a ponderous baritone at least a few times in your lifetime then you must be Amish. Or Helen Keller. Because you have. Richard Gale’s THE HORRIBLY SLOW MURDERER WITH THE EXTREMELY INEFFICIENT WEAPON is a funny “preview” of a promised horror epic where a man faces the prospects of his demise at the hands of a relentless assailant armed with a lethal (well, maybe eventually…) spoon. It’s clever, it’s fun, and it delivers the promise of that title.
Will the typical movie trailer format ever not lend itself to being mocked?
Probably not. The movie trailer is an awesome format for short parodies… and to me, so many horror films and thrillers are filled with the potential to be ridiculous– it’s fun territory to explore.
How many debates did you have with yourself along the lines of “too much spoon, not enough spoon”?
Great question– one of the biggest challenges of this film was that the humor comes from the monotony of the killer, but how do you make monotony entertaining, without it becoming truly monotonous and annoying? It was decided in the editing. I wanted to push the joke as far as humanly possible, and the hopefully the many location changes kept things interesting.
You took 22 days to shoot the short film because of all the locations required. Why not just shoot the 9 hour feature film that’s promised by the “trailer”? Or….did you?
We actually shot so much footage(for every second of screen time of the victim being hit by a spoon, there’s five to ten minutes of unused spoon-attack footage) I realized I can actually create a 90-minute “excerpt” from the 9-hour feature. I plan to put it on the DVD for THE HORRIBLY SLOW MURDERER WITH THE EXTREMELY INEFFICIENT WEAPON, which will come out later this year. But the 9-hour version? Trust me, you really wouldn’t want to see that. Even those who sat through all of Warhol’s Empire (6 hours of a single shot of the Empire State Bldg) couldn’t take it.
Brian Rohan, who plays the ‘Horribly Slow Murderer’ works as ‘Norman Bates’ on the Universal Studios Tour. Did you have to stop the tram in order to cast him?
No, but every time I call my friend Brian during the day when he’s at work, he’s at the Bates Motel. After a few minutes of talking he says to me, “hold on, I hear a tram coming, just a sec,” and puts the phone down. After a minute, I can hear forty people screaming in terror in the distance, and a moment later, he returns to the phone and says “sorry about that.” He has the coolest day job ever.
The “trailer” claims the film contains 20,000 spoonfuls of terror. Would counting each spoonful of terror bring with it it’s own special brand of horror?
I don’t believe anyone has yet attempted to count every spoon hit in the film, but I know I will not attempt it. Someone suggested making a drinking game around the spoon hits in the film, but that would be truly dangerous. People would get alcohol poisioning before it was over. Fear the spoon.
What will happen in the feature-length sequel to THE HORRIBLY SLOW MURDERER WITH THE EXTREMELY INEFFICIENT WEAPON?
The Spoonkiller will take on Freddy, Jason, Leatherface and Pinhead from HELLRAISER, and beat them all into submission with his unstoppable relentlessness, coupled with his relentless unstoppability.
Tze Chun’s CHILDREN OF INVENTION is a timely film. The story of a Chinese immigrant mother desperately trying to make enough money to support her two kids with little to no help and a wandering eye toward one dubious entrepreneurial opportunity after another is familiar. Too familiar. And that’s why it will last and still resonate long after our country rights itself toward the next period of prosperity. Because that elusive dream of instant wealth and relief from the struggle and embarrassment of not being able to pay rent or properly feed your kids will always be here – for someone. And the fear of that happening to all of us and the curiosity of how we would respond to that bleak situation – remains with everyone. But the magic of the film is that Chun illustrates the other hopeful side effect of that struggle in the persons of the mother’s young son and daughter – and that is the spirit of innovation to survive.
1 There is a strong autobiographical inspiration behind this film. Why was it so important for you to make this film?
It’s always hard to say why a certain script will inspire you while you’ll lose interest in another. I will say that as we were making the film, the cast (Cindy, Michael, and Crystal) continued to inspire me and kept the material fresh.
When I wrote the film, I was writing a personal story about the world I grew up in – a subculture of Americans trying to get-rich-quick in order to get themselves out of a financial hole. I didn’t foresee the current crisis. But with the economy tanking now and foreclosures going through the roof, it seems like everyone’s living through some version of what the Chengs go through in the film.
I hope this film can be a reminder that we’ve had bad times before, individually and as a country, but we’ve always made it out fine.
2 At this point in your life, are you comfortable with people who exhibit that get-rich-quick mentality or does your experiences growing up make you recoil from that?
The only thing that disturbs me is the get-rich-quick mentality without regard for hurting or exploiting others. But there are tons of harmless and brilliant get-rich-quick schemes that I’m very envious that I didn’t come up with — the Million Dollar Homepage, for example.
3 What is the best thing about having your film at AFI DALLAS?
Being eligible for the 25k prize! Also, hanging out with (programmers) James Faust and Sarah Harris.
4 Be honest here – Did you invest any money with Bernie Madoff?
Independent filmmakers generally have little to no money to invest in anything other than their own films, so luckily, no.
5 What should a director do that they never think of until it’s too late?
Wear layers when you go on set. Directing a movie is stressful, and your body temperature fluctuates a lot!
6 What’s the most underappreciated job on the set?
Hmm… The most underappreciated job on set has got to be the first Assistant Director, who keeps the crew on schedule. People always complain that the first AD isn’t giving their department enough time to get everything perfect before the shot is taken, but no one thanks them when they get to go home on time.
7 What kind of responsibility comes with being one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film last year?
The main responsibility that came with that article was having to buy a dozen copies of the magazine and mailing them to various aunts and uncles in Asia.
8 Do you still have one of those spinning spaghetti fork inventions the kids make in the film? And if so have you ever used it?
Haha, they kept on breaking on set. We went through a bunch of them. They work well for ramen, but spaghetti will break it in two.
9 What was the last film that made you cry? Laugh out loud?
Last film that made me cry was Spike Lee’s WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE. I hardly ever cry at narrative films, but I will cry at almost any documentary about any serious subject. Also at E.T. The last film that made me laugh out loud was H.P. Mendoza’s FRUIT FLY, which I just saw at the San Francisco Int’l Asian American Film Festival.
10 Popcorn or candy?
As I get older, I can’t bring myself to eat anything in the theater… I just don’t need those calories.
You and Anna Boden seem to keep trading off on each other’s skills: She edited WINDOWBREAKER so you painted the poster for HALF NELSON. Now she has edited CHILDREN OF INVENTION. So, what do you owe her now?
God, I think I may be all out of skills to trade. We edited the movie at Anna’s apartment, so I also owe Ryan Fleck for kicking him out of his own place for an entire month. Maybe I’ll clean their bathroom or something.
Zombie movies inspire a lot of passion – both from fans of the films and people who view them with enthusiastic distaste. The idea of fighting for your own survival against something that used to be one of you (basically) opens up so many avenues of horrific implications that it’s no wonder the genre (ironically) is evergreen. And that thought is one of the reasons that make ZOMBIE GIRL: THE MOVIE an absolute delight. Directed and produced by Aaron Marshall, Justin Johnson and Erik Mauck, the film follows 12-year-old Emily Hagins as she sets out to make a feature length zombie movie. She is determined, she is creative, and she is learning countless life lessons beyond the practical knowledge of how to get a shot with distracted classmates before you lose your light or how to effectively do zombie brains effects (with the help of her mom). And all right before our eyes. It’s fun to watch the young auteur-in-training and not only do you root for her to have a successful debut, you look forward to that eventual Hollywood epic in her near future.
What was the most difficult thing about making your movie, PATHOGEN?
Re-shooting after we lost footage from one of our biggest days of filming.
Did you ever feel like “firing” your mom (and if so, why)?
Occasionally, yes. Our mother-daughter relationship would sometimes interfere with our working relationship, which created a few problems. I’m glad we were able to share the experience together though. Her support really helped me persevere.
Was there any moments when you asked Justin and Erik to stop filming you?
There was one I remember in particular. I was having trouble getting the tripod plate back on the tripod, and Erik was filming from a couple feet away. I called my dad over to help me, but he couldn’t get it either. I turned to Erik and said, “If you have enough footage of us struggling, can you help us get this part back on?” I don’t remember anything else, though.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during the course of filming?
Perseverance is key to finishing any project, especially because things are bound to not go exactly the way you plan.
What was the biggest difference between making PATHOGEN and your feature-length follow up, THE RETELLING?
We had a crew for The Retelling, which was made up of about 10 people (8 of which were under 18). They all worked incredibly hard, and the production value was a lot better as a result.
You have said the only film genre that doesn’t appeal to you is “chick flicks”. So, why not a “zombie chick flick”?
That would be awesome! I’d love to see one. It reminds me of the tagline for SHAUN OF THE DEAD: “A romantic comedy…with zombies”
Give your honest assessment – Was TWILIGHT cool or lame?
I really enjoyed the books (like every teenage girl on the planet), but I thought the movie was okay. Having heard a bit about the production, I understand why certain things I didn’t care for turned out the way they did. I’m looking forward to seeing what changes they made for the sequel.
What’s the status of THE RETELLING?
It is in the process of being scored by a local composer, Brian Satterwhite.
In your opinion, can 28 DAYS LATER or 28 WEEKS LATER be considered “zombie” movies?
I think they’re good movies (bigger fan of 28 DAYS LATER), but I’m not sure if they are zombie movies. Even though zombies aren’t very logical, it does seem to make sense that being dead should prevent them from running. Maybe they’re “running dead people” movies?
Name your top three zombie movie and why.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: Set the standards for the modern zombie movie.
UNDEAD: First zombie movie I saw, very silly and fun.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD: Combined comedy and horror in a unique and clever way. One of my favorite movies.
Chris Dowling’s ROCK SLYDE is the kind of comedy that screams guilty pleasure at you. Until you’ve seen it. Then – if you favor the silly and absurd, you discover you can tuck those presumptions of guilt away. The film stars Patrick Warburton as a hard-bitten and disaffected private eye who personifies the term “his own agenda” caught up in a dubious case courtesy of a sultry Rena Sofer while he fights an office space turf war with a bizarre Scientology-esqe religion led by a frustrated spiritual leader played by Andy Dick. (Now you can take a breath.) Dowling seems to have never met a gag, gimmick or pun he didn’t like and if the first one doesn’t do it for you…well, it will be mere seconds before the next one is fired away. In the middle of all the self-referential craziness is Elaine Hendrix as the faithful and plucky secretary of Warburton’s private eye character with a talent for making the coffee that makes his life worth living. It is the logic of this film that her loss to the clutches of Dick’s cult leader becomes the thing that sends everything off-kilter. Well, to be fair – even more off-kilter, than it already was.
Did you draw on any real /former life experiences running an office for your role?
When I was a little girl I spent A LOT of time at both of my parent’s offices. Then when I got older I had a few office jobs. I didn’t even think about this aspect for Judy, so I guess that shows how familiar I am with them.
Do you think if it was presented without an irony that Bartology could actually find some followers in LA?
Are you kidding? I’ve already made a million dollars with my Hollywood chapter alone…and gained 20 pounds. We’ll be branching out into the Valley pretty soon.
Since you began your career as a dancer, do you harbor any dreams to ever doing a musical or at the least, dance in a film?
Absolutely! I set an intention for that this year, as a matter of fact. I also sing, so to be creative with all three (acting, dancing and singing) would be a dream!
Did your cat Goodie Cornbread get a producer credit on your film GOOD INTENTIONS?
No, but he became the CEO of my production company. All the kibbles he wants. Only problem is that he’s not so good at holding up his end of the workload. A lot of calls and emails go unreturned.
Describe the difference in Andy Dick crazy versus Molly Shannon crazy.
Wow. GREAT question. I won’t say which one is which, but one is more of an “act” and one is a little more “real.” They are both immensely talented and good friends.
How much running did you actually have to do for the film?
Well, considering I’m a serious method actor, once ‘Judy’ got kidnapped I was like ‘Forrest Gump’ – I just ran and ran and ran. They could barely get me to sit still for my lines. Bartology is hardcore. (See me about membership.)
If there were a cookie that could have the hypnotic side effects that Bartology cookies have, what kind of cookie (flavor) would it have to be?
The ones they had were pretty tasty. (Of course, on low budget films you’re just happy they have food and will eat almost anything.) Given a choice -I’m a chocolate gal, myself.
Seriously, with that last name – How much pressure is there to play the guitar?
Phone calls are the best because I totally get away with claiming I’m his daughter. I don’t play, but I BBQ a mean Stratocaster.
ROCK SLYDE screens Tuesday, March 31 at 10:30PM @ Magnolia 5 and Wednesday, April 1 at 4:30PM @ NorthPark.7.
Elaine Hendrix will attend both screenings and participate in Q&As afterwards.
Justin Hilliard’s THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE is a confounding movie. And I mean that in the best possible way. It is a confounding movie because it doesn’t fit perfectly within a DVD Library Dewey Decimal System label it and slap it on a shelf kind of way. Because it doesn’t just defy your personal need for it to be a basic rediscovered-later-in-life romance. It doesn’t reject outright your hope for a wayward pursuit of a charismatic, yet enigmatic muse movie. You can’t even pin a proper road movie label on this thing. So, while you are working on reconciling the fact that while it liberally delivers elements of each throughout its romantic adventure, yet not one completely trumps the other – it does something else entirely. Something much more satisfying. It gives you a rooting interest with an original couple. Not two perfect people by any means. But two people you could imagine somehow working it all out. Just not perfectly. And that is confounding goodness.
1 How much autobiographical material is there to the film?
Quite a bit of the film is based on real life events that were experienced by Arianne and myself. Our history is really at the heart of the film and was the primary inspiration for Rose and Alex’s relationship. We went through those same issues of trust, abandonment and love. I guess…luckily, the supporting characters, sensationalized drama, and zany comedy come more from our creative collaboration than our past.
2 Who is easier with the script notes – wife and star, Arianne or good friend and producing partner, Ryan?
Both Arianne and Ryan are incredible collaborators. I’d say Ryan is a little easier to deal script notes. From the beginning of the creative process, he manages to find a few things in the story that he will stick to his guns to get. Whether it’s a nude scene, a zebra, or an alpaca (not necessarily in that order or dealing with one another), Ryan knows what he wants. Arianne is incredible when dealing with characters. She takes on writing from a perspective that only an actor could. She understands such depth and subtleties when it comes to defining very 3-dimensional characters in a film.
All that being said, I’m the one that receives the notes from them. Our process generally consists of us writing out the synopsis and scene breakdown. Then, I take it scene by scene and start to flesh out the pages. Next, Arianne reads through and gives me substantial notes and character ideas. We talk through, butt heads, share a drink or two, and after that, we rewrite and rewrite until we are both happy. Finally, we call Ryan in to read over and make further suggestions and tweaks. When that is done, I return to the script and make the adjustments. Now, whom do I find it easier to take notes from? Ha! I’ll leave that one for another interview.
3 Other than the benefits of screening a film locally, what is the best part of having your film at AFI DALLAS?
It’s a top tier fest with an incredible staff, excellent press coverage, red carpet exposure, and an amazing selection of other films I can’t wait to see. I’m am honored to have THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE accepted in to AFI Dallas and thrilled that I have the opportunity to invite my close friends and supportive parents to a red carpet world premiere. I was born and raised in the DFW metroplex and am looking forward to doing my part in representing the local film community at this year’s fest.
4 What was your favorite location in Texas to shoot?
We shot the above ground pool dare scene at the Purple Martin Ranch in Gilmer, TX. It was so deep country that it doesn’t even register on Google Maps. Despite being extremely hot, it was an incredible couple of days. We arrived the night before with the crew, a couple cases of Lone Star beer, and some scotch. After a relaxing night’s sleep at the ranch house, we woke up and started shooting one of the more entertaining scenes from the script.
Our location was provided by Cecil Martin and his wife. We had a long day that included swimming, some of the best improv outtake lines (provided by the uninhibited and brilliant Michael Price and John Elliott), chasing cows for the perfect shot and the most delectable craft service lunch in history of craft service lunches. Cecil and his wife had cooked us up the best mouth-watering ribs, brisket, homemade potato salad and dessert that I have ever had. It was a wonderful day, and a nice distraction from the fierce Texas heat.
5 What should a director do that they never think of until it’s too late?
Okay, I have three useful tidbits:
First, propose to and marry your leading lady. Because of that choice, I’m linked personally and professionally to the most incredible woman I’ve ever met.
And last but not least, take time to hire people that love what they’re doing and are passionate about their work. Finding a hardworking and collaborative crew is a wonderful dynamic. And don’t take their hard work for granted!
6 What’s the most underrated job on the set?
Well, according to my answer to question # 4, craft service would be up there on the list; however, I’d have to say art direction. My sister, Randi Frances Hilliard was the production designer/art director for THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE. She created the world that our characters inhabit. From costume to location design, Randi was such a primary reason that our film looks the way it does. Of course, Arianne, Ryan, and I had visual ideas from the start, and Ryan and I designed shots and color schemes for the scenes; however, it would all have been pointless without her hard work. The art department’s efforts are as important to the final product as the lighting, editing, direction, performance, et cetera. Randi did a phenomenal job.
7 What was more difficult: Shooting your wife, Arianne in love scenes or trying to keep your dog, Larry David from stealing scenes?
Are you kidding me?!?! Larry, you just put in position, sit back, and witness a pretty perfect subtle performance. Directing Arianne in love scenes was absolutely a challenge. I was literally in the other room watching from a monitor, so I could be as removed as possible. Believe me, I was the first one to say it if I didn’t find it real or true to her character…and that wasn’t easy. I completely trust her as an actress and as a professional. All that being said…they were not the most fun scenes for me to shoot.
8 What were the challenges in creating the right balance between the light hearted and whimsical with the dramatically intense material in the film?
Finding that right balance never seemed like too much of a challenge once the script took shape. It always felt like real life and especially the reality for these characters. We all have moments when we’ve been goofy, silly, happy, adventurous, or head over heels for someone, and I’m sure there’s been a separate time when we might feel the opposite, maybe heartbroken, lonely, helpless, or hopeless. Good and bad exist.
The balance between the two came with the relationship between ‘Rose’ and ‘Alex’. They are both people who want to trust, hope, love and explore a life where happiness is possible. A life where the good either outweighs the bad or you have someone to trust and share the burden with you. I also tried to give this film an equal share of some of my main influences. As much as I draw on the influence of Stanley Kubrick’s films, I am equally inspired by the brilliant zaniness of Looney Tunes cartoons. From Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards to DeNiro and Scorsese, I pulled from all that I love in cinema, television, music, and art to help appropriately tell the story of THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE.
9 What was the last film that made you cry? Laugh out loud?
Well, this year I’ve missed quite a few films, since we’ve been busy making one. Last film that made me cry was probably LA VIE EN ROSE. Last film to make me laugh out loud was either THERE WILL BE BLOOD or BURN AFER READING. Last film to make me cry and laugh out loud at the same time….has to be PUNCH DRUNK LOVE.
10 Popcorn or candy?
Got any scotch?
Your production company is called “Striped Socks Productions” Explain.
In ninth grade, I played bass in a band with some of my friends. We’d practice about thirty minutes, get bored, and decide to grab a camera and shoot a short film. One day, we were trying to pick a name for our band and our drummer looked as his socks and said, “Uh, how about Striped Socks?” We all laughed at him and told him how that was such a ridiculous name for a band; however, the next time I shot a credit sequence for one of our short films, I scribbled ‘Striped Socks Productions’ on a piece of paper and officially had a production company name. It was the perfect name to represent the fearless joy and passion that I had for pursuing filmmaking as an artist. No matter what else was taking up my time in life, I needed to make films. That was the case then and now. That is ‘Striped Socks Productions’ (http://www.striped-socks.com). I love being a storyteller and filmmaker. No matter where I’m at in life, I’ll be doing those things.
THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE screens Sunday, March 29 at 9:15PM @ NorthPark 3 and Tuesday, March 31 at 10:15PM @ Magnolia 4.
Justin Hilliard, Ryan Hartzell and Arianne Martin will attend both screenings and participate in Q&As afterwards.
Jess Weixler was the girl from TEETH. If you are one of the film fest faithful (or frankly, even if you weren’t) that’s what you heard. “Wait, a minute wasn’t that the film where the girl’s hooha had teeth?” And if you did more than just recoil at the thought of the film’s premise or giggle like a teenager at the idea and saw the film, you likely had a gotcha moment. And much of that was due to Jess Weixler and specifically her level, yet emotional performance. And now, in PETER AND VANDY, she follows up with a tortured romance opposite solid-as-they-come Jason Ritter. And when we say tortured, we mean the kind of torture that evolves when two people are not made for each other. Yet still love one another. It’s a simple equation that just doesn’t add up. And one of the reasons that ultimately make it tangibly tragic is that longing to make the relationship math work that Weixler conveys. I’ve been there. And you’ve been there. And Weixler does a damn fine job of reminding us how much it could suck while still holding on to the hope that it could all still be good again.
There is an admirable quality about the way the characters you and Jason Ritter play in PETER AND VANDY are presented that is more than willing to delve into the mismatched at best or unlikable at worst. How tough is it as an actor to fight against our natural urge to be liked or seen as attractive?
Thank you. Yeah, I would say the urge to be liked is one of the harder things about acting. You personally want to be liked, but what people/ characters want at a given point in time is not always admirable. What is likable about everyone is usually not the full story. Every character I play I want to be whole and flawed, but what’s good, is that usually people are trying to make their lives better, there is just no quick answer for that. Yeah – sometimes when I see myself do stuff on screen I think ‘yuck, what is your problem?’.
Was there an official ceremony where Zooey Deschanel handed you the indie girl crown she received from Parker Posey or has she not willingly surrendered it yet?
Ha! I would be hard pressed to say that Parker Posey or Zooey Deschanel have taken off their crowns, nor should they. I believe they are both still the queens of their own indie universes. I just want to hang with them.
Jay DiPietro has said that PETER AND VANDY is “just as much about what the characters are thinking as it is about what they are doing”. What do you think he meant by that?
I guess what Jay meant is that these two are not always saying what they are thinking. And very much like in life, you can usually tell what they are thinking anyway, it’s just hard for the characters to admit it to themselves or each other. I hope the audience can tell what we are thinking.
Your roles in TEETH, PETER AND VANDY and ALEXANDER THE LAST all share a degree of fearlessness. Have you turned down a role yet because you thought it was too risky?
Thank you again. I have not turned down a role because I thought it was too “risky”. But in my mind the idea of taking a risky role is, reading a script and thinking, “Oh, this is kinda bad and cheesy, but I’m gonna do it anyway because I need the money, and just hope it turns out”. That is risky.
Having top lined a series of films already at this stage in your career, what is the percentage to scripts being offered to you outright versus projects you are asked to audition for?
Uhmm, I’m not being thrown offers or anything, I audition for most everything aside from stuff that involves friends. PETER AND VANDY is an exception because I just took a meeting with Jay and he must have thought to himself that he trusted me for whatever reason. I’m very grateful for that. Honestly, auditioning is the pits. I’ve spent a decade trying to convince myself I like it, but I really think it depends on how people are wired. It’s a bit of a nightmare personally to try and smash lines in my head for a day or two and then walk into a room and act. I just think sometimes it takes longer to digest; so much of my energy goes into thinking “what’s my next line”. People don’t act in a movie or play the way they act in an audition room (at least not from what I’ve seen). For most people the idea of getting offered something is adream come true because it’s so difficult.
Choose which cross comparison people actually have made on IMDB that you are most happy with:
A) Meryl Streep and Kate Hudson
B) Natalie Portman and Alicia Slverstone
C) Kate Winslet and Sarah Polley
D) Joan Cusack and Sharon Stone
E) Heather Graham and Juliette Lewis
I’m totally flattered by most of those comparisons and I’m a fan of at least someone in every letter, but if I had to pick, weather it’s at all true or not … C. They are both amazing…Sarah Polley has a reigning indie crown too, right? I mean she directed AWAY FROM HER. Wow.
PETER AND VANDY screens Saturday, March 28 at 5:30PM @ NorthPark 7 and Sunday, March 29 at 10:30PM @ NorthPark 7.
Jess Weixler will attend the first screening and participate in a Q&A afterwards.