Sundance and Slamdance #8 – The Lost Interviews

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 2, 2010

Following are a few interviews that I wasn’t able to complete in time to include with my other coverage during Sundance and Slamdance.

First up is Emma Bell, who along with Shawn Ashmore and Kevin Zegers, stars in Adam Green’s chiller, FROZEN. I really liked the film – thought it was a straight-up tension and suspense-fest and aside from Adam Green’s leap forward as a writer/director on the project, he chose wisely (as they say) with the casting of that threesome.

After making the film, are you now permanently a “warm weather person”?

Emma: Absolutely. I told the producers the next film they want me to do has to be in Hawaii.

Seeing as how FROZEN was actually filmed in the mountains and not on a sound stage, how much did your snowboarding or skiing skills improve over the course of the shoot?

Emma: I went from atrocious to awful! I had never done either before and had about a two hour training session. My incompetence is pretty apparent in the film. I hope it at least makes people laugh.

Between you, Kevin Zegers, and Shawn Ashmore, who was the “iron man or woman” and who had to come down off the chairlift for more pee breaks? Or was it actually Adam Green?

Emma: Shawn had a few brutal days in a harness, so maybe him. And there were no pee breaks. We all held it, including Adam!

You’ve been a TV force to be reckoned with over the past couple of years (“Dollhouse”, “Ghost Whisperer”, “Law & Order”). Any difference in approach as an actress in doing episodic TV versus a feature film?

Emma: Wow, thank you. I don’t know about being a “force” in TV, but I have been very lucky over the years. Episodic TV is interesting because if you come on to a pre-existing show, like all of the above mentioned, there are already relationships developed between people, and a lot of times you are only coming on for one or two episodes. So it can be challenging to connect and for me, therefore, more of a challenge to create a character. When you are a lead on a film, you become part of that family from the get-go, and in my experience, have a say in the over-all creation of the film and character you are portraying. Acting in both forms are pretty amazing experiences though.

I also asked her what was scarier, wolves or sharks, but she didn’t answer that one – possibly still traumatized from the shoot more than a year later. I didn’t ask but my guess is that the publicists decided they would omit that question so we wouldn’t know the movie has wolves in it. But I do know the movie has wolves in it. So, there. If you didn’t know before you do now. And they’re scary. So go see the movie and see the scary mystery wolves already.

Next up are the two directors of the Slamdance comedy DRONES. I enjoyed the film quite a bit and was curious about the directing dynamic between Amber Benson and Adam Busch. They seemed to have distinct personality differences during the Q&A following the film and I’m always curious as how that stuff shakes out and settles in on the set and in the editing suite.

You both have been acting for quite sometime and Amber has directed solo a few times, so why team up on this particular project at this particular time?

Amber: We had been working on a couple of music videos together (for David Garland and Sufjan Stevens) and really enjoyed collaborating. When DRONES came along, we felt it would be the perfect feature to co-direct together. We felt our disparate strengths would lend well to the very specific tone that the story needed in order to be told correctly.

Adam: Amber had a very specific vision of how the thing should look and I felt very strongly about what kind of cast we would need and how the comedy should play out. Jordan Kessler had seen the mopey lil’ music videos Amber and I had done. He felt if we could apply the sadness and somber tone of our music videos to Acker & Blacker’s script the story would come alive.

During the Q&A at the Slamdance screening I saw, you described a pretty clear separation in directing responsibilities. Can you repeat that here and explain how it turned out to be that way?

Amber: I love working with the crew, drawing storyboards, framing shots and bossing our DP, David McFarland, around. Adam is an ace at directing actors. He casts really well, knows what approach best suits each individual actor and works really hard to create a safe environment so the actors feel free to experiment without judgment. I think our two styles intermesh really well together – and when you’re shooting a film in 14 days, two heads are always better than one.

Adam: We wanted to make it clear that “aliens” could be anything or anyone “different”. Anything that would keep people apart. Whether it’s religion or sexual preference or ethnicity. Saying “I love you but my parents don’t approve of you” is the same as saying, “I love you but I’m going to destroy your planet.” It feels the same when you’re on the receiving end.

There is a madcap arch tone to the film that pretty much flaunts its ridiculousness for the audience. Is it more or less difficult to do something with that kind of high style?

Amber: Creating the highly stylized world of DRONES was a true collaboration between Adam, me and the entire cast and crew. We used costume, acting style and a muted-color scheme in the production design to begin creating the world then our DP incorporated the same theme into the visuals via the lighting design and shot composition. We chose to do a lot of moving masters reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s rather than relying on heavy coverage, giving the film more of a timeless quality. In the edit process we focused on performance and letting the drama/comedy within the dialogue play out in its own time.

Adam: The dialogue is very clever and I think it’s important that none of the characters acknowledge that in any way. Sometimes when people work together or are in a small space for a long period of time speech patterns develop. Cadences and songs and nicknames become part of your vernacular and you can’t place how they started or when. I think you’ll find unique little sub cultures in offices and factories all over the world.

Was there a particular actor that brought something to their part that either of you hadn’t really planned on, but were thrilled to incorporate (and then take credit for after it was all said and done)?

Amber: Unlike most of the other actors, Tangi Miller had never worked with the writers, Acker & Blacker, before, so she had no idea what she was getting into. They have a very stylized way of writing dialogue that can be difficult for an actor to wrap his/her head around. I’ve seen it throw even the most accomplished of actors. But Tangi came in and just brought a real humanness to the role of ‘Miryam’, something that was a real achievement, in my mind, because that character had the propensity to become a caricature if it had not been handled correctly.

Adam: Marc Evan Jackson felt the most comfortable improvising. He knows how to make an entrance and exit. He knows how to stay memorable. He is a true comedy star in the classic sense. I remember hearing how in scripts for “The Carol Burnett Show” it would just say, “Tim Conway does something funny.” Then he would. That’s how Marc Evan Jackson operates.

Okay, look in the mirror and be honest here: Who would manage better if directed by the other on a future project? And who would be the bigger on-set diva?

Amber: Adam takes direction better than I do, so he’d probably easier to direct. As far as divas go, I think we both just love being on sets so much that we err too much on the humble side of the spectrum. We just love what we’re doing and are happy to have the opportunity to do it.

Adam: Amber’s right. I handle the process of receiving direction better than her but she can deliver what the director wants with a deliberateness that can only be described as athletic. She has a much better batting average than I do.

Suck ups. But they make a great team (going by what they pulled off with DRONES), and I would easily be coerced into the theater to watch their next one. As well as encourage anyone that enjoys the silly and won’t get hung up on budget issues to seek it out.

Next are some questions I sent to Laura Silverman, who starred in CUMMINGS FARM which also screened at Slamdance. I wasn’t the greatest fan of the film but really liked what Laura did. She gave a very nice performance of the kind of character that usually gets a few joke lines written at their expense during a sit-com – the non-ambitious, maybe not-so-bright young mom. And she actually made that person real and sympathetic.

How did you become involved with the project?

Laura: My manager called me with the offer. It was at the slowest time of the year and I was going crazy not working, so I pretty much said “yes” based on getting to go to Louisiana for a couple weeks and have some kind of new experience with new people. Then, I looked at the script and got really excited- I just don’t expect things to be great like that.  Oh- and, of course, the money.  I framed it, actually- it’s adorable!

Did your perception of what it would be like to participate in an orgy change due to working on CUMMINGS FARM?

Laura: No, not really.  I mean, I didn’t even try to understand wanting to do that, I just have a hard time believing that that could be a good time. I mean, sex for me is about a person- someone with whom you know you have at least above average chemistry- maybe a little light spanking if you want to go nuts. But any kind of group sex- swinging parties, whatever, I just don’t get the appeal. To me it’s just a lot of spit and strange skin and unpredictable smells made by glands and things. I mean, we’re people- we’re pretty gross- so it takes having that rare thing where you just aren’t at all icky to each other for it to really be enjoyable.

What would be more frightening to you personally: Being a mother or being in an orgy?

Laura: I think being a mother would be great- but, I mean, if either were to go horribly wrong, you’d want it to be the one that was over in one night and that you could be super high for- you know, and not have people look down upon you for it.  Being the orgy baby sitter would be a nice compromise, I guess.

Was there a fair amount of improvisation involved or was everything pretty much in the script?

Laura: It’s pretty much all scripted. A couple things were improvised and you can sort of tell what they are- the part where I say all the things that are wrong with me, and this little bit- kind of in the background where I’m all high and yammering about high school chorus… I liked that when I saw it, I forgot about doing it and I was glad they put it in- just kind of makes me laugh. People are so boring when they’re high!

Before filming, did you know how to make a proper mojito?

Laura: Neither before or after. I know there’s rum in there, and mint. I learned that at catechism.

I’ll just say here that not many things make me happier when someone turns out to be as fun and delightful or at the very least possessing a personality in person or in print as they were onscreen or via their directing. So, thank you Laura Silverman. Whew.

Because sometimes it can go horribly wrong and you ask these questions and you think to yourself, “Did your Amish Mom answer these for you? Or do you just have the latest in self-serious technology at your disposal to suck the very life out of me as I read your answers?”

At least that’s what I do.

However, in this last little interview. Not a problem. AT ALL. Clark and Cassidy Freeman are a brother and sister team that have so much personality that for years they were banished to the wide open spaces of Montana because heavily populated urban centers couldn’t handle them. At least not together. So they were Executive Producers and in the cast of a cool little F-with-your-brain-fest called YELLOWBRICKROAD, that also played at Slamdance (because apparently all the cool kids were there this year). Anyway, I tried to adopt these two years ago in a maneuver very similar to what those Idaho people tried to scam on Haiti. Same result, save for me skirting the whole incarceration thing…..

Knowing your mutual sordid pasts with The Sight Unseen Theatre Company, and knowing how YELLOWBRICKROAD easily falls within the style and themes frequently explored in the stage productions that company has been responsible for, what were your first impressions when the idea for the story was presented to each of you.
Cassidy: I’ve been acting Andy’s words since my first show at Middlebury College when I was 18. And before then, I’d gone to visit Middlebury to see Clark in shows Andy had written. I’ve always been enamored by his writing and maybe more so, by his storytelling. When he and Jesse teamed up, it was like yin and yang. I loved the influence that they gave/continue to give each other and when I first read the script, I was very impressed. It was a screenplay that didn’t really read like your normal screenplay. I didn’t immediately think about the brother/ sister team, but once it was discussed, I was really excited to be able to work with Clark. It’s not often that siblings love each other because they have to AND because they want to. All three of us are close, and I will always jump at an opportunity to work with Clark or (my brother) Crispin. The fact that everyone else connected to the project thus far were artists that I had worked with before and respected immensely was even more icing on the cake.

Clark: Well, it’s true that Andy, Jesse and I have been working together for quite some time. Andy and I actually founded The Sight Unseen Theatre Group, so needless to say, as a writer/director, I like his style. I had read a bunch of the earlier drafts of YELLOWBRICKROAD, and was just excited to give my input and thoughts as a friend. It wasn’t until a year and a half into the script process before we even started thinking about Cass and I playing ‘Daryl’ and ‘Erin.’ At that point, I had fallen so in love with the script, and Andy and Jesse’s ability to be open to every and all ideas without losing their sense of story-telling or aesthetic, that I was nothing but excited. They have an amazing talent at taking two disparate ideas (woods and 30s music), tying them together, and making a whole so much greater than it’s parts.

You mentioned during the Q&A at the Slamdance premiere that it was the first time the two of you had co-starred in a production together since a school mounting of “The Wizard of Oz”. What did you each play in that production? And how much did you draw upon that experience for this one?
Cassidy: Clark was the cat’s meow his senior year in high school, and so he was The Illustrious Wizard…though I thought he could have played the lion, too. He has a great singing voice. I was the Munchkin Lawyer. I was also in 5th grade. I bet you didn’t remember that there was a Munchkin Lawyer…I didn’t either. But I played it with gusto. I don’t think that the role of ‘Erin’ had much to do with Munchkin lawyers, but I did realize that my bro has my back, no matter what. It’s a blessing to be able to share this kind of stuff with a sibling.

Clark: It’s crazy how things come full circle, isn’t it? In that production I played the Wizard, and Cass played the Munchkin Lawyer. She was tall even when she was young, so they definitely had to put her on a stool to roll around with on stage. I was also definitely probably one of the largest Wizards that that show has ever seen. . .I kinda wanted to be the Lion, to be completely honest. I wouldn’t say I drew upon that production for the movie. I think we were just lucky enough to be so close in real life that we have a wealth of experiences to draw on together, and also professional enough that, during tougher scenes, we didn’t bring any of that animosity home. Honestly, it was a dream experience for me.

You both share executive producer credits as well as being co-stars in the film. What exactly did you do as executive producers beyond writing a check? And, had you not written those checks, do you believe the film would have been made?
Cassidy: Before this, I hadn’t had much experience producing things, except as Clark’s wingman. And it was something that I was pretty excited about doing.  The part I think I liked the most was being a bit of a den mother, and making sure that people were being heard and that all sides of the production communicated well. I’m still learning how to do this, and I hope I get more chances. I believe this movie would have been made with or without me, I’m just glad I get to be a part of it.

Clark: Executive Producer is one of those credits that can mean a variety of things. In this case, I’d say, our investment in the picture was probably the most mundane thing. Like I said before, Cass and I were tapped by Andy and Jesse early in the process as trusted friends to read many of the iterations of the script, and give thoughts and notes. I got to watch them work out each draft, and we even got to do a reading of it up in Vancouver, all together. Having produced a bunch of other short films and theatre with them, I’d say at the beginning I was much more another producer than an “executive”. Once we got to set, Cass really stepped it up as a producer as well. Andy and Jesse had such a strong drive and clear intent in making this movie that it would have been made with or without us. I just consider myself lucky to have been a part of it.

What was more irritating or the set, bickering between your co-directors, Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland? Or the black flies?
Cassidy: Black flies for sure. But MORE irritating was the corn syrup blood PLUS black flies. Ewwww!

Clark: This question is easy. The black flies. Andy and Jesse shared a brain for the entire process. There was no bickering.

What is your favorite horror film?
Cassidy: Probably THE SHINING. Horror films really scare me though. Clark taught me this great trick where when a scary scene comes on, you don’t close your eyes…you cover your ears. The scariest part is the sound. I’ll tell you what is NOT my favorite horror film…all those Chucky movies. Gave me nightmares for years. No dolls for this girl’s birthdays.

Clark: Ooohhh. I have to throw ALIEN in there, but that’s not your average horror movie. THE EXORCIST is fairly quintessential, but I also have to say THE SHINING. That’s three. Deal with it.

Filmmaking weasels

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 10, 2009

Let me tell you a little story about how history repeats itself….

The first film festival I worked on was the 2006 edition of AFI FEST. And one of the first films I screened and got really excited about was a little documentary called GIRL 27. Directed by David Stenn, the film explored the story of Patricia Douglas, a woman that was raped at an MGM sales convention and through cover-ups, etc. basically had her life destroyed with nary a whiff of acknowledgement, let alone an apology from the studio or the guy who did it even years afterward. It was one of those stories that makes you want to grab a pitch fork and a couple of easy-light torches and make your way (presumably with the other people in the theater) to exact justice on men who have been dead for years.

Now, it wasn’t a perfect film. In fact, in many ways, the film simply served as a delivery system for the director who was much more interested in communicating the fact that he knew Jackie Onassis and actually had voice mail messages from her. Very exciting for him. And maybe his relatives and a few friends of his too.

But probably just him.

Okay – definitely just him.

Still – Patricia Douglas’s story was powerful and we leapt right into working on the PR for the film among other things. Stenn and the production company were thrilled because we were so enthusiastically pushing the film. We loved them and they’d get a lot of attention for themselves and the film and it was all gonna be great.

And then one day – something happened…

There were some problems with lawyers and getting clearances for interviews with Patricia Douglas’s relatives or something like that. We couldn’t really get a clear understanding what the issue was, but what we were fearing was that we might not get to screen the film. I mean, we had already announced that it was playing. We had included it in some feature pieces that were moving forward for the festival. The producers and Stenn were upset because they really wanted it to play at AFI FEST, but their hands were tied. There was no way they would be able to get this thing cleared soon enough.

Not only that, they needed every screener copy they had sent us sent right back to them. Quick! I mean, track them all down! Where were they?! If one escaped it would be disastrous! So we busted our asses getting everything back to them and bemoaned the loss. But what can you do, right?

And then the schedule for Sundance was announced…

And there was GIRL 27.


Or, huh. (Depending on how jaded and cynical you were.)

Guess they got those rights issues cleared up just in time so they could make their world premiere at Sundance… Wow, that was some lucky timing right there.

Weasels. Stupid, shortsighted, filmmaking weasels.

Why stupid? Why shortsighted? Because it didn’t have to go down that way. There are a couple of film festivals that cling so desperately to their need to play world premieres that they will inspire this kind of bad filmmaker behavior. See, here’s the deal: Anyone who has any kind of decent sense of self awareness in film festival-land knows exactly where they stand on the film critics’ totem pole and the business totem pole and the filmmakers’ opinion totem pole. So a film getting a chance to play at Sundance and having to bow out because of that idiotic world premiere policy – well, we got it and we get it and as much as it sucked we would have understood.

But they lied.


And because of that, David Stenn better be fucking channeling Alex Gibney and Werner Herzog and Errol Morris combined if his next film ever gets within a 500 square mile radius of any film festival I’m working at. Seriously, dude could send Jackie O in a dusty pillbox hat AND JFK Jr. to personally haunt my ass and I would still be putting my foot down to let that guy back in the house, so to speak.

Because that integrity thing…? That means something to me.

A couple months ago, we planned on playing Lynn Shelton’s cooler than cool HUMPDAY at AFI DALLAS this year. We were tipped off before it even got to Sundance by the in-the-know-and-you-can-trust-their-taste tandem of René Ridinger and Dayan Ballweg and saw it right out of the gate. Loved…it! We told Lynn and Joshua Leonard we wanted the film, they were excited, the film company was excited, we were excited.

And then they got the call from another film festival. A grand daddy, make-your-reservations now film festival.

What are you gonna do?

Well, you get out of the way, congratulate them, and be happy that deserving filmmakers receive a rare day at the beach. But the important thing is – they told us immediately. There was no sudden issues with music rights or a dying uncle or a conflict with a rare provision in the indie filmmaker tax code that suddenly surfaced and then conveniently went away. No – they were transparent. They were truthful. And everyone at AFI DALLAS that saw the film and dealt with them will continue to champion that film and that company.

We also planned to play a documentary called PLAYGROUND. Directed by Libby Spears, the film explored the child sex trade industry. We featured the film in one of our early announcements, even made sure that some outlets printed art from the film because we were so excited to have it on the schedule. On several long lead pitches (magazines that need to write their stories a couple months ahead of time), I pushed PLAYGROUND and Libby to be included. She was getting the full-court press push from us and it was gonna be great to debut what we saw as an “important” film at Dallas.

And then one day – something happened….

There were problems with some clearances with interviews they had conducted for the film. Strange, right? To make it that far in the process and then figure out you neglected to get releases signed by people you interviewed for your film. But wait, maybe it wasn’t that – it might’ve been music rights issues that only pertained to festival play. I mean, that sounds kinda preposterous too, but that’s what they were saying. When we could get them on the phone, that is.

Then the final word came down. We had to drop it from the schedule. It would be a little embarrassing for us, but these things happen sometimes. They were really bummed. We were really disappointed, but what could they do, right? You have to listen to your lawyers in a case like that. We understood.

Today the schedule for Tribeca was announced…

And if I may quote the recently departed Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

“You’re not one of those gals that uses sex as a weapon, are ya’?”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on January 25, 2009

Back at Sundance – Day #6

The big finale.

Actually not. Because today is the day that I decided maybe not to get up early or even try to go out that much. Rather, I would do what so many people at Sundance do either because they have the same tethered to the homestead issues, they’re pressed for time, they hate people, or they love the condo they’re staying at (and I mean REALLY love the condo): They watch their movies on DVD.

That’s right. All of Park City is one big ‘ol indie multiplex at our disposal and we’re still watching the same movies that are here on DVD. And here’s the funny thing about it – I’m watching the first movie and I swear I’m no more than 30 minutes into this thing and I want to pause it to go get a Pop Tart. If I was in the theater, no such dilemma. But because I know I can, I want that damn Pop Tart and I don’t want to wait.

And the movie was great. It was Doug Pray’s documentary, ART & COPY. We had Doug’s film, BIG RIG at AFI FEST so I was very interested in seeing this one. The film looks at the advertising industry, the men and women who made it the all-encompassing force that it is in all of lives, and…well, the all-encompassing force that IT IS in all of our lives. So much is there: the innovation (remarkable at the time) in the early 60s of putting the art directors in the same room as the copywriters, the alarming stats (In 1967 a person had contact with 1500 advertising messages a day, today it’s 5000), the campaigns (Volkswagon – “Think small,” American Tourister – “Gorilla vs. luggage,” Mac – “The Super Bowl 1984 commercial,” Reagan’s “Morning in America” spot, and the “Got Milk?” campaign among them).

Along the way, some of the advertising legends (George Lois, Hal Riney, etc.) speak for themselves doling out nuggets such as “Great advertising makes your food taste better, your car drive better…,” “Sometimes we have higher aspirations for our clients than they have for themselves,” and finally, the truth you already knew about advertising – just not to this extent: “It’s like air and water. It’s around you. It’s going to happen to you.” This could have been a dry talking head-0-rama, but Pray is money in the bank again.

Next up were two shorts: On the great side there was Dominic Bisignano’s animated food for the funny bone, FROM BURGER IT CAME. In it, we follow the first person recounting of a young man who believes he has contracted AIDS by eating a hamburger someone has left behind. There are few things better than crazy logic teaming up with crazy animation.

Then, the not so good: Kai Orion’s COPPER ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK. This one fell into the “huh?” category. Basically, some guy is living in a cabin in the snowy woods dealing (I guess) with unrequited feelings with a girl (who lives there too?) by chopping a lot of wood and drinking a lot of beer. I think? Maybe? Let’s face it I couldn’t figure out what the point of any of it was. And even though there is a senseless killing at one point involving a black bear (which should’ve tickled me to no end), it was merciful when the pointlessness (i.e., the movie itself) ceased.

Fortunately, Michael Shannon arrived on the scene in a modern day noir chestnut, THE MISSING PERSON. Written and directed by Noah Buschel, the film is a stylish piece of work about a private eye who is paid to follow a man from Chicago to L.A., then (as is always the case), he gets there, learns more about the guy and things change, as he’s hired to bring the same guy back to New York. The movie easily takes a rightful position among the better gumshoe films and the main reason is its gumshoe. Shannon can make breathing look fascinating and/or curious, and he’s joined by a cast that would get any director excited – Frank Wood, Amy Ryan, Yul Vasquez among them. A cop on a segway makes a Soupy Sales reference, lines like “You’re not one of those gals that uses sex as a weapon, are ya’?” are casually delivered, and sepia tones give way to cool blues and then back again. Nice. And better yet, a nice film for me to finish with.

And with that, my official Sundance viewing is complete. I’m debating about the need to go to the final awards party since tomorrow I start driving to Dallas for the hard core AFI DALLAS prep. I’ve done the drive from L.A. to Dallas and back a couple of times but this will be a new twist going from Utah to Dallas. So, maybe not so much with the “Hi, I’m John Wildman. Damn glad to meet you.” routine tonight. That would be my second ANIMAL HOUSE reference in a couple days.

I’m sure it’s the turtlenecks…

“If we believed what we were about was much more important than how well we played.”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on January 24, 2009

Back at Sundance – Day #5

Today turned out to be music day. Not by design, really, but by this point you almost change your movie watching plans hour by hour depending on what films have tickets you can still get your hands on, how much time you’ve got to make it to the theater, and how vociferously the woman sitting behind you on the tram just trashed what you were planning to see.

So, first up – Jeff Lipsky’s ONCE MORE WITH FEELING. I wasn’t originally planning on seeing this. But then I ran into Jeff and his producer Paul Jarrett at a party. Here’s the deal: a few years back, I was part of the PR team that repped Jeff’s great (and despite our efforts, I still feel under sung) relationship drama, FLANNEL PAJAMAS. So, I was hoping I’d see him while we were here at Sundance, but I also had missed the press screening of ONCE MORE WITH FEELING so I figured that wasn’t in the cards. Well, the weird thing about directors and producers is that a lot of the time they have tickets to their own movies.

The film stars Chazz Palminteri as a successful psychiatrist who rediscovers a lifelong dream of a singing career thanks to the siren song of karaoke. Meanwhile his eldest daughter, played by Drea de Matteo is a mother of two being driven to distraction thanks to neurotic thoughts about getting older and not feeling attractive. Oh, and naturally they’re part of a huge Italian family full of quirky characters and precocious personalities. Because they’re Italian and those are the rules. Don’t even pretend like you didn’t know that. And then, Palminteri’s character confuses his singing dream for something else with his karaoke muse (played by Linda Fiorentino). Again, I think it’s more than natural to cross the line with your karaoke muse. I mean, you’re trying to follow the lyrics on that little blue screen, there’s pressure to say, bring sexy back and it happens. And there are misunderstandings and hurt feelings and we all learn a little something about…karaoke.

To Lipsky’s credit, his characters are grown ups and likeable and while a lot of the elements in the film are by the numbers, those are issues I had with the script he was given. I think it will eventually be one of those films that will play forever on cable. You know, the kind that you flip by constantly – always at the same point in the movie.

The other beautiful thing about the screening is that it provided that perfect cliché Sundance moment during the Q&A where some old person complains about every other film at the festival ending in misery or bloodshed and then praises the filmmakers for making the only film they’ve seen that left them with a smile on their face.

Of course, it’s funny to me because I giggled out loud during GRACE and WHITE LIGHTNIN’. A lot.

Anyway, back to the music. And next up was Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, IT MIGHT GET LOUD. This film is like shooting rock n’ roll fans in a barrel. Basically, three generations of guitar heroes (Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White) are brought together to talk music, play music and maybe learn a little something about karaoke. I’m kidding – no karaoke. There is a lot of great stuff to be had: Cool moments like the Edge doing yoga while checking his blackberry, Jack White describing how he took the bed out of his bedroom growing up so he could fit in more music equipment, and Jimmy Page describing how far ahead Led Zepplin was as he recounts their legendary fourth album (which included “Black Dog,” “When the Levee Breaks,” and “Stairway to Heaven”) garnering a one paragraph review because no one knew what to do with it when it first came out.

The film excels in illustrating the mutual love affair all three have had with music and the electric guitar in particular as each contemplates and discusses how fate and their various musical influences led them to their respective successes. My favorite quote coming from the Edge when he says, “If we believed what we were about was much more important than how well we played.” However, I can only give a mild endorsement because the entire thing was so manufactured that at times I found myself wondering how necessary the film itself was.

I finished the day with a screening of JOHNNY MAD DOG. Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s fictional look at a platoon of child soldiers fighting a civil war in a fictional African nation is intense, visceral and unrelenting. AFI DALLAS Head of Programming James Faust loved the movie and wanted a second opinion, so it won my personal last minute Sundance movie lottery. I haven’t talked to him yet, but he’s not going to be happy. Three words will describe perfectly what I feel is wrong with this film: CITY OF GOD. Fernando Meirelles’ film is one of my favorites and this one shares many of its themes, yet is very pale in comparison. Add to that mix the recent award winner from AFI FEST, Kief Davidson’s documentary KASSIM THE DREAM, and it’s also screwed because that film delivers the real thing and thanks to that film’s protagonist, we like and care about the real person who lived through those atrocities and made it out. Even with his hands bloodied, we gain some respect for what it must have took to survive and then make it out. JOHNNY MAD DOG just doesn’t have the stuff that either of those films had respectively.

Worse yet – no karaoke.

“Eli Roth was my camp counselor.”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on January 23, 2009

Back at Sundance – Day #4

This was the day I was looking forward to since I opened up the Sundance film guide and started mapping out what I was going to see.

Today was Scary Sundance Day!

First up was a short film titled, RITE. Alice Conway gives us a disconcerting front row seat for a little girl’s preparation for a very important ceremony. The beginning is very similar to a great film we had at AFI FEST a couple years back, Nicole Barnette’s FOURTEEN. In that film, the little girl was being prepped for a marriage to a creepy old Mormon guy. This one goes another direction. Effectively. I won’t give it away, but it takes the notion of the rites of adulthood to a proper or improper (depending on how you look at it) extreme.

Then it was time for GRACE. Directed by Paul Solet and starring Jordan Ladd, it’s your basic story where a pregnant woman’s baby dies prior to birth, beset by grief she carries the dead infant to term and then wills it to life after it’s born. And then there are uhm…complications… One of the things we learned during the Q&A after the film was that when he was a kid, Paul’s camp counselor was Eli (HOSTEL) Roth. It explains a lot.

Anyway, here’s some things you learn: You can put up all the fly paper and protective netting in the world, but you’re never going to convince flies they should stay away from your kinda dead baby. To ensure that things can get as worse as they possibly can, it helps if mom steadily becomes more and more psychotically focused on keeping said baby alive. Finally, lesbians carrying an unrequited torch can’t be trusted to make the right decisions to keep the horror from happening. I loved this film. Loved it. It takes you down a very, very dark path – methodically and thoroughly, rich with theme and detail. I will finish with this thought: If a rotting but living baby has a bloodlust, is it really necessary to define it as “vampire” or “zombie”? I mean, why must we always get hung up on labels? I think I can state what’s important with this quote from the film: “She’s special, she needs special food.”

Next on the scary hit parade was Jason Eisner’s short film, TREEVENGE. Well, fun scary, I guess. Let me set the scene for you: A pristine field of evergreen trees faces an onslaught of men wielding axes and chain saws. It’s a horrible scene of torture and slaughter and the trees don’t understand. (We know this, because their horrified peeps and squeaks are translated via subtitles.) Then, they’re taken to Christmas tree lots and separated from their friends and family and then put in houses and forced to have decorations put on their branches by more horrible people. Eventually, of course, they exact their,…wait for it…TREEVENGE. In every violent and gory way imaginable. It’s great.

And the evening’s closer was Tommy Wirkola’s DEAD SNOW. Let me say this first off: No matter what country you’re in and regardless of what language the people speak, there will always be young people willing to go to some reasonably isolated place ignoring any logical reason they should do otherwise, for the express purpose of being killing fodder. Second, those young people – even in Norway, in this case – will get a visit by a scary old guy kindly informing them that they’re all gonna die. It’s a grand tradition held since that old coot on the bicycle in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH. And it continues here. And then, it’s time for the zombie Nazis to join the party. I don’t think it’s necessary to spell out what exactly happens, but here are two more truths to leave you with: First, the only thing that pisses a zombie Nazi off more than young people stealing their treasure is young people having sex after stealing their treasure. Second, inevitably while in a killing frenzy against whatever mob of bad things that are threatening you it’s important to also kill your friend or girlfriend because they picked the wrong moment to arrive on the scene just out of your peripheral vision.

I mean, let’s face it – that’s really their bad. Right?

“I haven’t fallen in love yet, but I would sleep with PAPER HEART”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on January 20, 2009

Back at Sundance – Day #1

After two years away due to the initial AFI DALLAS launch and scheduling issues the second year, I’m back in Park City to get a head start working on the films we’ll be picking up, get some face time with the journalists in town and possibly help Artistic Director Michael Cain and the programming dynamic Dallas duo of James Faust and Sarah Harris maybe find a couple more must haves that they somehow didn’t catch in their exhaustive non-stop movie search. Oh – and I’m also doing a Sundance story for Envy Magazine as they continue to stretch the boundaries of the “local social/ entertainment” magazine.

First impression – the reminder that you can’t park a car in Park City. Unless of course, you have a roll of bills like a mobster at hand to pay or you won the parking lottery. Point is – they don’t want you to park here. They don’t want you to have even owned a car. Ever. It’s understandable why. I mean, of course, I get it. And the public transpo is great. But there’s kind of an angry aggressiveness about the parking moratorium. And the tow trucks? Like sharks. Trolling for cars left behind by the weak-willed and desperate to make a movie or a meeting.

Scary. If you happen to have a car here – like me.

Anyway, if you’ve been here before then you know the drill and if you haven’t, you’ll learn fast. And ultimately, you won’t care because it’s all about the movies. Because if you’re here, even if it is for work, you likely view movies a little differently than the general public. At my first press screening, I asked a guy what he had seen that he had loved. He said, “I haven’t fallen in love yet, but I would sleep with PAPER HEART.” He also said he would have a one-night stand with LYMELIFE. Which leads me to think he would also buy PAPER HEART dinner a couple times as well.

The first film I saw was BIG FAN. The film follows a sad sack parking lot attendant who loves his New York Football Giants like no other. Until a disastrous incident occurs during a flukish meeting with his all-time favorite player, that is. I’m interviewing Patton Oswalt, the star of the film, tomorrow – AND I had insider info that it was gonna be a good one so I was looking forward to it. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s funny in a “real” way and it’s not afraid to go to some serious places you wouldn’t expect of Mr. Oswalt. But not earnest Oscar grab kind of going to those places. Probably because that sort of play would never enter Patton’s head in the first place. Written and directed by Robert Siegel with the same unflinching look at both the humor and you have to say it – pathos, that he brought to the script for THE WRESTLER. There’s also a nice understated turn by Kevin Corrigan as Oswalt’s character’s partner in fandom. The film draws conclusions that may not be the best on paper for all concerned, but (and I’m going to hate myself as I write this) that’s why they play the game. Finally, BIG FAN has, hands down, one of the best payoffs I have seen in a very long time.

Nice start, huh?

Film number two was THE COVE. Again, I was looking forward to this one from the moment I heard about it. The film is an expose’ on the dolphin industry and in particular the wholesale slaughter of dolphins that takes place in a little cove in Taiji, Japan. And it is as riveting as it gets as we follow a group of activists who hatch and execute an elaborate OCEAN’S 11-type operation for the express purpose of filming and documenting what goes on there. Led by Ric O’Barry who has been on a crusade for some 35 years to thwart an industry he feels greatly responsible for inspiring due to his work as a dolphin trainer on the original FLIPPER TV series, the group and the film work toward unmasking the many wrongs – animal cruelty to the nth degree and the willful spread of mercury poisoning to the entire country (with an emphasis on their children) among them. THE COVE invites immediate comparisons to SHARKWATER, which we had at AFI DALLAS in 2007 and which won the prize for Best HD Feature. And that comparison weighs very heavily in THE COVE’s favor. While SHARKWATER’s campaign against the illegal shark finning industry was easily just as genuine, it was burdened by the weighty ego of its filmmaker and “star.” O’Barry and the principals involved with THE COVE never waver on where their focus and concern lies –with a species with an intelligence and self awareness that could possibly exceed our own. And our kind’s typical bent to destroy that. Don’t miss this film when you get the chance to see it.

Number three? Chris Rock’s documentary, GOOD HAIR. This was an eye opener. Black women’s (and some men’s) love affair with relaxer (or “creamy crack”) and weaves is equal parts hilarious and frightening. Not surprising, mind you. Not when, as Nia Long describes the desire for “white hair” – there has long been a steady drumbeat for generations of black women to seek “the lighter, the brighter, the better,” as she says. To see what the principal chemical component in relaxer can do to a coke can in 3 or 4 hours is bad enough. Realizing that same stuff is being put on the heads of children after hearing the horror stories of the scalp burn from people like Ice T (yes, that Ice T), places it in a whole other arena. And then there are the secret societies of women with weaves, descriptions of how they pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for those weaves and how women in India literally have their hair “stolen” – cut off while they’re asleep or watching a movie in a theater – to fulfill that demand/obsession. It’s a lot to take in. And while I laughed throughout, I actually have gained much empathy for the men who must negotiate their way around their woman’s weave. Because, Rock makes it very clear – she may be worth it, but that’s some heavy lifting.

Finally, it was off to Slamdance to see a film we are romancing to bring to AFI DALLAS – ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD. First off, there was a gift bag on the seat for everyone attending the premiere with a poster, fangs, t-shirt, etc. Thoughtful. Vampire thoughtful. And the film was proceeded by a short film – bonus, right? Entitled HORSEFINGERS 3: STARFUCKER, it was everything you would hope from a twisted bizzaro little short about romance and tough it is already to date without also having to work around having two giant hooves (or “horsefingers”) on your hands.
While describing the film, the director (Kirsten Kearse) had the second best quote of the day, “People are boring. But put them in animal outfit…”

As far as the feature presentation is concerned, what can you say about a film that follows a theater director’s struggles as he finds himself caught in the middle of a two thousand year out conspiracy involving Shakespeare, the Holy Grail and vampires? It was funny, it was silly, it was inventive. That’s what you can say. You can also say it starred Jake Hoffman (displaying some natural dead pan talent), Devon Aoki, Ralph Macchio and Jeremy Sisto among an eclectic cast. And music by Sean Lennon. Mind you, I saw the film during its world premiere which might have doubled as a cast and crew screening so it was a mad house and a very happy, giddy mad house. But Jordan Galland’s dead little valentine would have held its own regardless and brought the funny. This will be a fun movie to have in Dallas and a great cast to have on a red carpet.