Sunday, January 31, 2010
A week ago, Sharon Waxman wrote the following item in her Report From Sundance in The Wrap.
Steven Soderbergh, a filmmaker who may well be synonymous with the Sundance brand (“sex, lies, and videotape” put the festival on the map in 1989), gave his latest film to Slamdance. “And Everything is Going Fine” is screening at the rival festival. I asked Sundance executive director John Cooper about this slight, and Cooper told me that the director never brought the film to his attention. When he did, Cooper said, the director responded that he was trying to “share the love, babe.”
I wrote a comment suggesting what the reason might have been. In 1995, Soderbergh submitted a film he co-produced, "The Daytrippers," to Sundance and was turned down. After the rejection, “The Daytrippers” went to the 1996 Slamdance, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, followed by awards at Toronto, Athens, and the National Board of Review, among other prizes. When it finally came out in 1997, it became one of the most commercially successful independent films of the year. He returned to Slamdance the following year with “Schizopolis.”
Personally, I think that Soderbergh isn’t spanking Sundance, he’s thanking Slamdance for giving “The Daytrippers” such a successful launch, not to mention the advantages of World Premiering his Spaulding Gray doc, “And Everything is Going Fine” at Slamdance, where it would be the Big Fish. That’s how I take his “share the love” comment.
Also, I was the publicist on “The Daytrippers,” and I don’t remember Steven cracking a sweat about the film not getting into Sundance. He was busy with two other films of his own (“Schizopolis” and his Spaulding Gray performance film, “Gray’s Anatomy”), he wasn’t petty, he believed in the film and moved on.
The one who got worked up into a self-righteous fury was me.
As it happened, in 1995, I wasn’t just the publicist for “The Daytrippers,” I was also the publicity consultant for the Sundance Institute. Not just the festival, but the whole kit-and-kaboodle Sundance, with all its programs. Maybe someday I’ll write about my ill-fated year with the Institute, but I will say that when Redford offered me this resume-embossing gig, I suspected it wasn’t something I’d be a wizard at. I’m not saying I don’t have confidence in my abilities as a publicist, just that institutions aren’t my strong suit as I don’t have an instinct for politics. But how could I say no? My vanity shook up like a snow globe when Redford expressed his faith in me.
One of the ways I proved I wasn’t worthy of the consultant job was to harangue Geoff Gilmore about how he was making a huge mistake by turning down “The Daytrippers.” It never occurred to me that it wasn’t right for me to use my access to Gilmore to lobby aggressively for another client.
Geoff and I often got into, shall we say, spirited discussions. He wasn’t afraid to have an argument. We’d have it out, but there’d be a resolution and the next day it was forgotten.
I tore into Geoff about Steven and what the festival owed him. I said that Greg Mottola, the future director of “Superbad” and “Adventureland,” was a big talent and that Geoff would regret not having launched him. I said that this was Parker Posey’s best role to date, and that people would see her in a new way after they saw it. I said that two of the other lead actors, Hope Davis and Liev Schreiber, were going to be big someday. I said that the movie was in the spirit of what Sundance was supposed to be all about. Greg had written a script and couldn’t get the money to make it, so Steven and co-producer Nancy Tenenbaum had said something like here’s 500 bucks, make it for that. The number was somewhat bigger than that, but Greg wrote a movie that could be made for very little. Among the people who signed on to play cameos in this labor of love were Campbell Scott, Marcia Gay Harden, and Stanley Tucci. And I kept on going, hoping to knock down his resistance with the sheer quantity of my arguments.
“You through?” Geoff asked. “Reid, nobody liked it. We all watched it and nobody liked it.”
That shut me up.
The Sundance programmers pick the films they like. It’s something so simple that it’s easy to forget. If Geoff responded to a heavy-duty lobbying effort like I was trying to make, he wouldn’t be doing his job. Because his job was… being Geoff.
Once I accepted that, all my arguments shrunk faster than George Costanza’s shmekel in the swimming pool. There was nothing left to say except:
“You are totally right.”
Gilmore, John Cooper, Trevor Groth, or any festival programmer at any festival, can’t presume to know how their tastes will stand up to history. That’s a weight others put on them and one that they don’t ask for. They have their tastes and they exercise them. Ultimately, the success of any festival rests on the foundation of the programmers’ tastes. Sundance is a very successful festival. Nothing more to be said.
“The Daytrippers” did just fine without getting into Sundance. It got a lot of great reviews, but they weren’t all great. It’s always that way. You can’t expect everybody to love you all the time if you want to make movies.
Getting into Sundance is an honor. Not being accepted is just a difference of opinion, and should be taken as such. People make a big mistake when they inflate a Sundance turndown into some kind of ultimate judgment. Real talent, if it persists, will out.
I think it’s good for the Sundance programmers that Soderbergh supports Slamdance. It takes some heat off them if Slamdance continues to exist. At a moment when some filmmakers might be standing in front of the Egyptian Theatre, brooding in the cold, it’s a blessing there’s a place where they can find shelter from their stormy thoughts:
The Treasure Mountain Inn.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Like a lot of guys who played in garage bands when they were teenagers, I’ve kept playing and writing songs. I’ve forgotten the lyrics and the melodies to most of them years ago, but lately I’ve taken to recording a few. So, without further ado, here is:
Indie Film Man
I was inspired to write the song a few years ago when I was packing my suitcase for Sundance and Roger McGuinn’s “So You Want Be A Rock n’ Roll Star” happened to be playing. It occurred to that the world of independent film was ripe for parody. I used the word “Indie” in the title because I’ve always detested it for corrupting the word “independent” into a candy bar.
If you want to be an INDIE FILM MAN
Get yourself a Handicam
Read the manual if you can and then
Grab yourself a bunch of friends
Tell a story about an indian
Who was a Native American
And he’s dealing with being a lesbian
With his mama on the juice
And his daddy in the can
But damned if he don’t find redemption in the end
With love and mercy and a truck-driving nun named Dan
Soon you’ll be at Sundance
Snow bunnies begging to get in your pants
Agents trying to be your friend
And you’ll never go back to Teaneck again.
Gay or straight, a woman or a man
You get laid, it’s really great to be an INDIE FILM MAN.
Your film gets shown at a sidebar at Cannes
Where the French girls take off their tops as they tan
Jerry Lewis and you loved by Parisienes,
Are a true-blue INDIE FILM MAN
Soon you’ll be back at Sundance
You’ll meet Bobby Redford and you’ll piss in your pants
‘Cause you can’t believe you got this chance
To be an INDIE FILM MAN.
Why should you have a rock & roll band
If you can
Be an INDIE FILM MAN
Soon you’ve got another feature in the can
Starring Harvey Keitel and a chick from “Friends”
This merry-go-round will never end
You can depend
You’ll always win you’re an INDIE FILM MAN
The publicity man and the various brands dine and wine you
Movie stars try to get you on the phone
And all your best friends hit a big dead end trying to find you
But in your hotel room you’re even more alone
When you can’t remember when anything made sense
You little lamb
You’re an INDIE FILM MAN.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
While Eric Rohmer began making films in the 1950s, he had only broken through as an internationally famous filmmaker the year before, with “My Night at Maud’s” in 1969 which won numerous critics’ prizes, was nominated for Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film, and was his first feature film to be shown in the U.S. He was 49.
“My Night at Maud’s hero, Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is an uptight Catholic, decides to marry a blandly pretty young blonde, a total stranger he sees at church and is too shy to approach. Through a friend, he meets and ends up spending the night at the apartment of Maud (Françoise Fabian), a divorcee, religious skeptic, intellectual, and to my 17-year-old eyes, overwhelmingly sexy woman. Through the course of the night they have a lively discussion that contrasts her freewheeling attitudes to life with his more ascetic, religious, and to his eyes, less superficial, disciplined and scrupulously ethical ones. While Maud’s stories were earthy, their discussion was often very bookish, with much talk about Blaise Pascal’s “Pensées.” Despite Maud’s attempts to seduce Jean-Louis, nothing happens. (It doesn’t take much imagination to see “Maud”’s influence on “My Dinner With Andre.”)
I had never seen anything like “My Night at Maud’s.” To me it was utterly captivating… and sensual in every sense of the word.
Obviously I was incredibly excited to see his follow-up, “Claire’s Knee.” Once again it was a story of a guy who is attracted to a beautiful woman, but for various reasons, is unable to follow through. I would learn later that these two films were part of a series called “Six Moral Tales,” each of which were variations of this same basic plot: a guy aching for someone, but not being able to do anything about it because of his social situation, or conflicted sense of morality. This kind of thing is extremely rich soil for story-telling, and has fueled not only Rohmer’s early oeuvre, but also much of Jane Austen’s and Ang Lee’s film careers.
In his tribute to Rohmer, A.O. Scott wrote in the Times that the subject of Rohmer’s work was passion. Perhaps so, but I believe that the Moral Tales are the films most people think about when they think of Rohmer--and they are more precisely about thwarted passion, and conflicted feelings--not passion per se.
Anyway, in “Claire’s Knee,” this time it’s Jean-Claude Brialy who gets to play the guy who’s about to get married, when he’s tempted by a looker. While on holiday before his wedding, he meets Claire (Laurence de Monaghan), a 16-year-old girl, who is beautiful, but not tremendously fascinating. Rohmer shows us that by giving her a far more interesting teenaged sister, Laura (Beatrice Romand), who has a crush on Brialy’s character. But when Claire goes up a ladder and Brialy locks eyes with her knee, he becomes consumed with the idea of caressing it. But how? What possible excuse could he find to do that?
In my high school art class, I was given the assignment of taking a small image, marking it up in squares and squaring up a much larger piece of paper to blow it up into a watercolor a few feet wide . Of course I used the ladder shot from “Claire’s Knee,” which encapsulated everything I loved about Rohmer, and was irresistibly timeless. There was nothing about the luscious landscape, Brialy’s hat, beard, sweater draped over his shoulders, or de Monaghan’s legs that would have looked out of place in an impressionist painting.
One thing people toss off as an anecdote about Rohmer is that he hid his identity as a film critic and director by using Eric Rohmer as a pseudonym. Even the name he was born with is subject to discussion – it was either Maurice Henri Joseph Schérer or Jean-Marie Maurice Schérer, depending on who you talk to. Scherer published a novel under the name Gilbert Cordier in 1946, and later took the name “Eric Rohmer,” from Erich Von Stroheim and Sax Rohmer, author of the “Fu Manchu” stories.
Generally it’s said that he didn’t use his real name for some undisclosed family reasons, but I was told by someone who should know who exactly it was in his family he didn’t want to upset. (I’m just going to say Freud and that’s all you’ll get out of me.) And he didn’t just change his name either. I once saw a hilarious photograph of him decked out in an obviously phony beard, although if memory serves, it was closer to a Van Dyck than--thank heaven!--a Fu Manchu.
Just stop for a second and think long and hard about being in the closet for most of your life about the thing you love the most. The Cinema was his Grand Passion, and his early writing was dedicated the proposition that it should be taken as seriously as any art form. But presumably, there was somebody that mattered to him who would be very disappointed to discover he was married to a vocation so far beneath him.
His life might make a good movie, don’t you think?
Maybe that’s why he made it so many times.
Postscript: Years later, I was the publicist on his 1978 film “Perceval le Gallois,” when he came to New York to promote it during the New York Film Festival. I was told then that the disapproving family member was no longer with us, but I don’t know for sure whether this was his first NY press junket.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Reading it over, I see that my previous blog post ended up achieving the opposite of what I wanted it to, when I began writing it. This is probably because it was written in haste, but that’s no excuse.
I had no idea what a hubbub it would cause and how much my intentions could be misinterpreted. If you read it, you will see it begins by paraphrasing Paul Simon in “The Boxer” and saying that we all believe what we want to believe and disregard the rest.”
And the point I was trying to make with the blog was: maybe we should stop and not do that for a moment.
Now I agree with the MPAA that file-sharing hurts the industry. Most studio executives and producers and journalists think the same way. It’s common sense. I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for people who defend file-sharing.
After all, why on earth would I spend a year and a half of my life working 24/7 to create SpeedCine, which is devoted to fostering legal online movies if I thought that file-sharing was good?
But none of us in the industry are interested in a study that looks at what’s really going on. What we want is a study that quantifies how much we are losing. To say that file-sharing hurts the industry and then estimate how many people do it and calculate the damages is not a study. You cannot study a phenomenon if you begin with the conclusion.
And an attempt at finding the truth—whatever it might be--is a handy thing to have in a time of crisis and change and opportunity.
Where I know I went wrong is that I made my opinion all too clear that file-sharing might have worked to the advantage of this one film. Millions of times things that are generally not good have worked in an unexpected way to someone’s advantage. I was making no generalization statement about file-sharing.
What has happened in the blogosphere has been a lot of shouting. People who are against file-sharing say it that I’m wrong and I can’t prove it. Of course I can’t prove anything. People who are for file-sharing say that this is just more evidence that file-sharing is good for the industry. Which is total bullshit.
It’s not evidence of anything at all. It’s just data. Data doesn’t prove anything one way or another.
What I’d like to see is a real study. Where you poll people, and ask questions like these:
Did you watch the copy of “Wolverine” on the net? Did you ever pay for the movie in any way afterwards? Theatre? DVD purchase? Rental? Netflix? Redbox?
For non-file sharers: How did you hear about the film? What made you want to see it?
I think it would be interesting. Again, it wouldn’t “prove” anything absolutely, but it might raise the level of the discourse.
Now for my readers: Do you like the idea of a poll like that? And if not, why not?
Sunday, January 03, 2010
There is a mind-blowing cover story by Jonah Lehrer in the January 2010 issue of Wired that suggests that scientists, instead of being neutral observers searching for objective “truth,” actually conduct experiments to prove that their preconceptions are right. When they find contrary evidence, they either ignore it, or figure their equipment or methodology is faulty. To paraphrase Paul Simon in “The Boxer,” they see what they want to see and disregard the rest.
The article made me think: is this the way so many of us in the industry think about file-sharing? Are so many unable to see what is really going on because we don’t want to?
So I thought, “How can I be scientific about this?” After all, there is no way to prove the impact of file-sharing on the business. It happens, and it’s common sense that it’s bad for people to get stuff and not pay for it.
And then I thought about “Wolverine.” To my knowledge, “Wolverine” is the ONLY big-budget epic film that has been available on the internet weeks in advance of its opening. Its singularity makes it a particularly intriguing subject for study and debate.
So what happened? Despite the file-sharing and poor reviews, the film opened to an $85 million first weekend gross. Not too shabby. As file-sharing is known to be detrimental, there was much chatter about how much more the film would have made if over an estimated million people hadn’t seen it on their computers in advance.
Matthew Belloni hypothesized the possibilities in an article in the Hollywood Reporter:
|Losses (millions) || |
|-$7.18 ||one million viewers times the average American ticket price of $7.18 |
|-$15.75 ||The difference between the opening weekend of “Wolverine” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” |
|-$14.1 ||“Iron Man” made $102 million over the same weekend in 2008. “Iron Man” had stellar reviews, but this sort of movie is “critic-proof,” right? |
|$00 ||What if it has no impact? Maybe it is good marketing? We doubt it, but expect the pirates to crow about it |
$00 you can mention and reject. But only if it’s right on the nose--$00 and not a penny more.
Now that 2009 is over, let’s see how that opening weekend of “Wolverine” stacked up against other films that were very highly promoted in advance:
|Film ||Opening (millions) ||Theatres |
|The Twilight Saga: New Moon ||$142.8 ||4124 |
|Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ||$108.9 ||4293 |
|Wolverine ||$85 ||4099 |
|Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince ||$77.8 ||4325 |
|Avatar ||$77 ||3456 |
|Star Trek ||$75.2 ||3849 |
|Fast and Furious ||$70.9 ||3461 |
|Up ||$68.1 ||3766 |
|Monsters Vs. Aliens ||$59.3 ||4104 |
|Watchmen ||$55.2 ||3611 |
|GI Joe ||$54.7 ||4007 |
|Night at the Museum 2 ||$54.2 ||4096 |
As Mr. Meloni pointed out, “Wolverine” might have made $15.75 million more because it was the latest installment of a very lucrative franchise. Let’s look at the other prominent sequels of 2009, in addition to the ones listed above.
|Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeaquel ||50.2 ||3700 |
|Angels & Demons ||46 ||3527 |
|Terminator Salvation ||42.5 ||3530 |
|Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs ||41.7 ||4099 |
|Friday the 13th ||40.5 ||3105 |
|The Final Destination ||27.4 ||3121 |
As I said, not one of the films listed above were shown online before their release. Of course the first weekend’s gross isn’t about the ultimate popularity of a film, it’s just a rough measurement of advance excitement. A lot of people just couldn’t wait to see them.
Afterwards was a different story for “Wolverine online. Then “Wolverine” was only the ninth most downloaded after five of the other box-office triumphs of the year, as per Torrentfreak: “Tranformers” (#1 on the Torrenfreak list) “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (#2), “Twilight” (#4), “The Hangover” (#5), and “Star Trek” (#6).
Of course you can say, this is just another huge opening weekend in a record-breaking year that was full of them--the real issue is DVD sales, which are dropping precipitously. But less publicized is that, per the Hollywood Reporter, DVD rentals were actually up by 8.2% in 2009. People may be getting their movies through Netflix and Redbox, but those are totally legit ways to pay for movies. So people’s desire to pay for movies in theatres and on home video is on the upswing. Purchasing DVDs may be down, but the fact is that with every new home video medium, people go on a buying binge to get all their favorite films at the start. Eventually they own the movies they want and the pace slows. This is natural. Blu-ray sales (up over 83% in the first nine months as per the article linked above from the Reporter) will increase for years. But someday people will have the core Blu-ray library they want and their purchases will slow. Or they will be affected by the guaranteed arrival of The Next Big Thing. By the way, what is the reason for an avid DVD collector to buy in bulk now that Blu-ray is here?
What do you think about all this?
Please leave your comments.