By Other Voices firstname.lastname@example.org
SXSW # 2
I wake up – not as early as I had hoped and with not a lot of time to get to my Cherry interviews this morning. So with Farah giving me directions on the phone as I drive, I make my way back to the convention center or as I think of it – home base.
I get to the restaurant where they’re doing the interviews and the publicist gives me the production notes verbally like they used to do it when Indian tribes had press junkets and just repeated the production notes from generation to generation. I sit down and get my video camera ready – which I use to transcribe only – I’m just visual that way – and of course, I notice the battery is about to buy it in the crossfire. Crap. I have 23 minutes of recording time. Oh, and I’ve just been informed that I will be interviewing the director, Jeffrey Fine, and stars Kyle Gallner and Brittany Robertson separately when I was thinking and prepared to do them as a group. Double crap.
JW: We’ll start with the obvious stuff first. How did you get involved with this project?
BR: I was originally given the script in March, 2008 and my manager said, “It’s a really good part for you.” And I was supposed to go in and meet with Jeffrey Fine but I wasn’t able to because of other projects at the time. Then they asked if I wanted to come in and do chemistry read with Kyle. And I said, “Sure.” I had actually known Kyle for years. And he’s a great actor and fun. And it went great but I looked very young and meek in that audition, so they said, “Can you come back in and look a little tougher?” So I came back in and I wore a short black bob with different color hair and piercings sort of like the character in the movie and they said, “Okay, we buy it.” Then we started rehearsing a few weeks later and then went to Michigan and started shooting.
JW: You’ve been Ms. Work here for a little while. So, as you’re doing that, going from project to project to project, are you just happy that’s happening or do you actually think to yourself that it would be nice to have a little time off?
BR: I actually had never thought about that up until three weeks ago. I have been working as the lead in a show for six months straight with long days. So I was ready for some time off. Oh, and that last few weeks I was deathly ill, I had some kind of flu and I couldn’t get rid of it. So I was like, “I need to get better A, and sleep B and just conk out for a few days.” So coming here to Austin couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s kind of like a vacation, but still being able to work, you know?
JW: Let’s talk about that. The SXSW experience or film festival experiences in general. Have you come here before or gone to other festivals?
BR: I was supposed to go to this past Sundance…
JW: For Mother And Child?
BR: Yes. But I wasn’t able to because I was working. And I’ve been to South By Southwest before because I was shooting a pilot nearby but I didn’t have a film at the festival.
JW: Okay. So you have a film at the festival and there’s all kinds of hoopla and fanfare on the streets last night and you’re one of the chosen people because you’re starring in a film here. What’s that like?
BR: It’s cool. We went out after the movie premiered and had a good time and talked about things and then I said, “Okay, you have a great time. I’m going back to my to sleep,” and of course passed out five minutes after I got there. I love seeing the films and the new music and everything, I’m just not huge on going out to the bars and clubs. Not really my thing.
JW: And what about the other side – you have to do the press stuff: interviews and junkets. And, let’s face it, you’re a youngster. Is this part fun for you?
BR: Yeah, it’s cool. It’s not like I’m working and I like talking to people. It’s exciting, it’s fun.
JW: This year you have Cherry and Mother And Child. What’s the difference for you as you talk about the films and your roles in them?
BR: My part in Mother And Child is a little more minor than this one because it’s a big ensemble cast. But it’s the best of both worlds because the opportunities on Mother And Child working with that cast, you just want to jump onboard and just be a part of it and then you have this film and I’m so passionate about it because it’s been such a big part of me and we worked so hard to make the film. So, yeah you have one where you’ve worked so hard to do it and other you just want to be a part of. I’m really grateful for both projects and how well they’re doing and being perceived.
JW: When I came in, I asked the publicist, “I want to make sure that I’m not an idiot. Is this definitely contemporary because there is this timeless, maybe even throwback aspect to it? Because I couldn’t quite place it.
JF: That’s a very reasonable question. Because I didn’t graduate from college five years ago. So, for me I consciously didn’t have people with I pods or I phones or texting. And that was a conscious decision because I wanted to pare things away and focus on the characters. And there was sort of a nod to a period with a little nostalgia. The ‘Linda’ character (the single mom) has an older car and the furniture in her place – there’s a reality of the economics in her world: she has great taste but she doesn’t have money to buy high-end stuff, she’s going to go to flea markets and drive an old clunker. I wanted her world to reflect someone with taste and style that bought all her stuff for five bucks.
And I DID want the college campus to feel sort of universally old school and frankly you go to a lot of these campuses and you do feel that they live in their own little bubble. When we found Kalamazoo College to film, we were looking for something that had an Ivy League feel to it. And the minute you walk onto that campus – well, we didn’t have to do anything.
JW: This is your feature debut?
JF: I made a feature when I came out of SC, like a year later. And then I had some opportunities with documentaries…
JW: Exactly – the doc stuff…
JF: I did a lot of doc work and this story kept kind of resurfacing. And I found myself on planes heading all over the country and going to Europe and the story kept coming back to me so I started writing the scenes…
JW: I ask because, for myself, having worked with film festivals for a few years now (and one of the reasons I trumpet the films I have at these festivals), is that films like Cherry strike me as films that “had to be made.” A filmmaker just had to make them, just had to get it out and that’s why it exists. Because, if they had to go through the other system or left to the rote designs, it just wouldn’t happen. So how tough was it for you to get this one made?
JF: It was extremely tough. I had a lot of support. Sam Kitt, one of our producers was with Spike Lee’s company and that’s where he read Cherry. We flirted with a lot of different models to get it done. And there was this other producer that read the script, and he wanted to have a meeting, and he said, “I’d like to buy this script.” And I said, “Great! When will we make it?” And he said, “We can start making it in a year but you won’t be directing.” And he really wanted to do a super A-list talent and he probably would have changed the material and I could see the writing on the wall. And I just knew it wouldn’t end up being this film. It was a long, long process and we had some flirtations with other cast members, actresses, etc. but at a certain point Sam and I decided to just set a time and do it. And the other great thing was that my brother came on board. He’s not a filmmaker but an artist and a businessman and he thought he could raise some money, which he did. And we figured out a way to get it done for the amount that we had raised. And shooting in Michigan with the incentives really helped, as well.
JW: Have you come to film festivals as part of the documentary stuff you’ve done or is this your first experience?
JF: The docs – most of that was for hire – for series, etc.
JW: So this is your first rock star experience you get at a film festival. And like I asked, Brittany, you come out on 6th Street amid the craziness and your one of the chosen ones – especially for you – what is that like?
JF: I have to say, last night was pretty overwhelming for me because you’re working toward that moment for so long. And the Alamo is such a great place. It feels like a temple for movies. It just felt really great to finally cross the finish line.
I watch a journalist negotiate a photo of himself with Kyle. The publicist takes the pictures not convincingly at all. And then, Kyle moves his tray with his BBQ burger over to my table because that thing is a priority. And since I’ve had that same burger before, I completely understand where he’s coming from. Because it IS good. Anyway…
JW: I’ll start with you where I’ve ended with Brittany and Jeff. Tel me about your film festival experiences.
KG: It’s kind of like the first. I went to Sundance with this little indie film,
Red. We didn’t compete. It was just screening there. Other than that, I’m pretty new to this. I’m almost a film festival virgin.
JW: So, what was last night like?
KG: It’s cool. It’s really gratifying. We got picked which is flattering. It was exciting. You know it’s been a long time coming. Jeff has had this thing for a long time. It’s basically been in the can for two years. I’m really excited and happy for Jeff. I really think it’s a movie that deserves to be seen.
JW: How did you get involved with it?
KG: I auditioned for it. I had read the script. And really wanted that script. I did a bunch of work on it, a lot of journal stuff. And then, went in and they decided to pick me.
JW: At this stage in your career, you’ve had a nice run. What is the audition process like for you?
KG: It’s always frustrating. Because you’ll never e as good in that room as you’ll be on set. And you’re always like, If I can just get in there…” When you go in for something you really want – it’s nerve wracking because you just want it. And the prep is different for each one. Should I use music, do a journal, just throw it out to the wind and see what happens? It’s always different.
JW: And then you got cast before Brittany’s character so you had to do readings with the prospective actresses up for that role. So what is that process like?
KG: It’s just making sure you’re ready. You want to be as giving as you can – not show up and be an asshole thinking, “I don’t give a shit about you, I’m already locked in.” No, you want to be a generous actor because you want to have someone that is going to bounce off of you and bring good stuff out of you that you didn’t know you had.
JW: Do you find yourself developing a rooting interest?
KG: Yeah, it’s not necessarily that one person is better that the other, but chemistry is a big factor. If you’re supposed to be in love with someone but can’t stand them – then that’s gonna be a problem. But Brittany and me read and it was fun, and we played and…when they said she had the role I was like, “Perfect. Let’s play”
JW: Let’s talk about the differences between a project like this a project like NIghtmare On Elm Street.You’ve talked about how important it was to do this for Jeff. Do you feel a little additional responsibility to help this one?
KG: Huge difference. Studio films have a lot more money, they’re guaranteed to be seen whereas this one you have got to do justice to it. You know he busted his ass to get the money to do this thing because he really believes in it. So, yeah there is a different responsibility. It’s a different feel, a different vibe.
I get seats at the end of a football field, it feels like, for a horror film panel – so I make a decision to give my seats up to Adam Donaghey, a producer friend of mine and his girlfriend Kelly Dawson because I just got a call that a client just sat down to lunch nearby and I haven’t done a face-to-face thing since I got here. And I should. Wilford Brimley would want me to. So – off I go to do the right thing (in the business universe).
Justin Muller is THE GUY at the Las Colinas Studios in Dallas that is home to a lot of production and now he’s about to launch a new webisode series called “The Dream Factory.” And he’s got ideas upon ideas for other things he wants to do and he wants everyone to know about it and, and, and… Dude’s almost bouncing on his seat with enthusiasm coming out of him like one of those lightning globes. I’ll try to contain that after I have a few bites of quesadilla. I mean, it’s a lot to harness and I need some fuel first. Anyway, this place has the only motion picture district designation in the state of Texas and he took that thing over at the age of 22 and now seven years later, he’s chomping at the bit for…well, let’s describe it as an expansion of vision. And I feel like I’m getting a similar pitch that some local in Hollywood got from a film guy as he stood next to a bunch of orange groves in the 1920s. Which is appropriate because Muller is bound and determined to be bring back that kind of old school movie studio dynamic. I throw some ideas at him, add a little structure, he pays for the quesadilla and I’m out.
Next, I’m off to do a hit and run meeting with one of the producers on Tucker And Dale Vs Evil. I really liked this movie (saw it at Sundance) and I want to help the programming team secure it for DALLAS IFF. Here’s what I wrote about it at Sundance:
TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL
Eli Craig’s Tucker And Dale Vs Evil is about as one-note, high concept as it gets: Two hillbillies heading to their “fixer-upper” cabin for a getaway encounter a group of vacationing college kids. The kids stereotyping them as backwoods lunatics manage to start killing themselves off one by one in an effort to attack Tucker and Dale and rescue one of their own.
This one starts off great, pulling off a pitch perfect homage to the iconic Easy Rider drive-by and doesn’t let up. Tucker and Dale’s cabin was obviously home to a lunatic that actually did murder several people years ago (complete with newspaper clippings of the missing that the guys are oblivious of since they also spy one that has a fast food discount on it). And yes, the entire thing could not be more obvious or telegraphed (Tucker cuts into a tree stump with a bees nest and in running away from the scene with his chainsaw…well, I think you probably get it). Each misunderstanding leads to a gory conclusion.
But the thing making this work beyond a basic string of set-piece gags are Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. As Tucker and Dale, they don’t just give us characters whose reality as “nice” and “sweet” guys that can speak in complete sentences runs counter to the stereotype. They (and great credit to Craig’s script and direction as well) score with the oftentimes hilarious (given the setting) emotional support and friendship they display toward one another. It’s nice to watch a comedy where the players know what they need to work hard at for the funny versus what will easily take care of itself (I’m looking at you, any film called “Something Movie”).
So, anyway… It’s back to the BBQ place and while the producer stands in line to get his Austin reward, I do the pitch, and negotiate, and with great relief it sounds like it’s all good and Dallas gets a cool-ass crowd pleaser.
Then it’s back to the convention center, run back into Adam and Kelly. They enjoyed the panel. I have regret pangs. Or post-quesadilla pangs. They are pangs. Of that I’m sure. Then, Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News walks up and Adam and Kelly might as well tag him because they are now out and on their way and he is in. We review what films are playing at both festivals and I talk to him about moderating a panel at DALLAS IFF. Short, sweet and productive and I make my way for a place to sit to power through writing and sending in what happened yesterday.
On my way back to panel central, a publicist and a friend of his that knows of me but I don’t know her but I know I should and now I can’t ask her what her name is. Crap – I’ve got to be careful and try to find clues within the conversation while strategically doing that Terminator grid thing with her festival pass. But it’s not working. But it is a fun chat with the two of them. And then, director/writer Tracie Laymon does that film fest wave at me from down the hall with a vague pointing gesture toward a party or event in the future and/or distance where I will see her and we can actually talk.
So, next I step into my first panel. It’s in progress. Called “Not so Usual Suspects – Players on the Future of Film Distribution,” it’s headed by Michael Barker (Sony Pictures Classics), with Thanda Belker (Sony Pictures Television), Steve Bunnell (Cinemark Theatres), Tina Santomauro (Atom) and Vinnie Favale (CBS Late Night).
Immediately, I’m confused because a lot of people are VERY interested in Alice In Wonderlandand closing exhibition windows and I’m quickly wondering if anyone in the room has actually made a real live movie yet. Then someone speaks up. They can’t get all the post production needs and deliverables done for theatrical presentation because it’s really, really hard or something so she asks if it’s okay with the panel if she just goes straight to VOD (like I’m guessing she does with little video snippets of her kitty being cute and stuff on facebook). A second woman follows by asking if she too can just go straight to VOD or DVD with her movies because you know, she has a jib and it’s exhausting to come home after a long hard day AND then have to be bothered trying to get her films released too. Both women take what seems like 15 minutes a piece asking and rephrasing as they ask their questions. Both times, Barker pauses as he looks at them and then even though he used a few more words than this, it amounted to: “No.”
Well, I think everyone felt enlightened after all that.
On my way out of the convention center, I make a quick stop to get my festival bag with magazines and flyers and paper and stuff and then do the traditional film festival t-shirt purchase for my wife and additional program guides for my programmers. Then it’s off to the Texas party.
But first a quick review break for something I saw prior to getting here:
AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY
Directed by Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas,American: The Bill Hicks Story is in many ways a straight up birth-to-death road map of a man’s life. And I think you go into a documentary about a guy like Bill Hicks really, really curious as to the genesis of this guy’s genius. Not simply funny, but groundbreaking, provocative, incendiary screeds he dared audiences to take in and process and of course, laugh at.
And it succeeds on every level. It is both thorough as far as tracing the development of his act is concerned and it is enlightening as far as tracing the evolution of the man is concerned. Naturally, this is the kind of film that’s “pre-sold” as far as the faithful out there feel. But, I think the personal connection the filmmakers have as well as the deft use of the animation techniques utilizing the images in addition to the wealth of video at their disposal would make it work even for the uninitiated.
I try to take a little step back with a film like this because I am such an easy target, but this is a case where the reality of the man and the film that has been made on his behalf (so-to-speak) would make it work for everyone. And ultimately, make them miss that guy and that talent and that mind or discover fresh what he meant in terms up the art of stand up comedy.
Okay, back to regularly scheduled programming…
I’m at the Texas Film Commission party and I do indeed find Tracie Laymon and talk to her and film composer Ludek Drizhal. Tracie fills me in on her film fest technique of checking the shoes of the person she’s chatting with to see if they are looking for a way out or if they are shy or really into what she’s talking about. The feet are the “tell.” Now, if I can just open up that standing room only blackjack club…
I miss the next film I was planning on because it’s playing at Lamar and you have to drive there. That’s just not happening. So writer/director pal from night #1 steers us to another party because she’s got a flyer that promises a free drink. Sold.
Two parties later and I’m back in a line for American Grindhouse. Another movie made just for me. Nearby a girl has to have some emergency work done on her bustier. Two girlfriends swoop in, jack her up like a NASCAR ride, get to work, and in moments she’s out of the pit with what would have been a glorious wardrobe malfunction narrowly averted. Behind me is Steve James, regaling his crew with details on his new No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson doc. And walking by me is a squadron of motley storm troopers. Seriously, someone needs to buff a few white plastic uniforms… The line for Brotherhood is next to me, which includes Orly Ravid of The Collaborative. Which is a very cool help-a-filmmaker-out-distribution-marketing-do-it-all-every-single-bit company launched very recently. She tells me it’s her first SXSW. And she’s a world film fest traveler, so that is remarkable.
Directed by Elijah Drenner, American Grindhouse is a deluxe look at the evolution of what we think of as grindhouse films, how they existed or co-existed with Hollywood, influenced more mainstream films, and shocked and entertained millions since the time of Edison.
I went in thinking this would be the bookend toNot Quite Hollywood, a similar look at Oz-ploitation films by Mark Hartley. But as much as I loved that one, this makes that film look like an appetizer. I mean this thing is dense with highlights and insight into seminal films like Traffic In Souls, Freaks and Maniac, climbing the family tree down to “nudie cuties’ and “roughies” blaxspoitation and the introduction of gore by Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Brilliant moments of dramatic voice-overs saying things like “Now let’s consider that other public enemy – gonorrhea.” Or from a teen delinquent film, describing them as, “Dangerous and angry one moment – rocking and rolling the next!” The scene from a “Nazis vs. Jesus” film may have been my personal highlight.
This film would be win-win-win just coasting on the clips alone, but it’s a laundry list of great characters who were either key figures or really know their stuff, like Jack Hill, Joe Dante, John Landis, David Hess, William Lustig, Kim Morgan, Fred Willamson, Allison Anders and many more.
Too much fun and the DVD with the stuff they couldn’t fit in already has a reserved space in my library.
Afterwards, I pass a guy wearing a sideways baseball cap doing the “I’m walking down a staircase” bit for the people sitting inside a restaurant. I think he believes no one has seen that one. I’m referring, of course, to the baseball cap.
I make a judgment call to watch a secret screening at midnight. The film is Amer.
Written and directed by Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, this Belgium production is presented by Forzani as “the French version of 3D without glasses.” He adds, “’Amer’ means bitter, sour.” Then Cattet says something and I don’t know if it’s the language barrier or they just got here direct from a 25 hour flight or something, but I have no idea what the hell she said.
The film is focused on three key moments of carnal crisis and discovery in the life of a French girl, then young woman and adult, ‘Ana’. And just when you think an old woman crushing a bird’s corpse with her granny kung fu grip or little girl version Ana using a cross as a handy tire iron-like tool to pry a locket from a corpse’s hand followed by Technicolor filter flourishes and asthmatic wheezing and eyeballs looking through keyholes at curious little girls is enough for one film, then were introduced to pouty full French lipped teen Ana clutching her white virginal sun hat against her sex while she stares holes into the leather clad motorcycle gang she’s encountered. And so on.
There’s bold, striking imagery and sound design, “provocative and in your face, no?” kind of stuff, but I’m wondering what the hell it’s all supporting. This is like a horror film for the Tea Party types that are scared shitless over the influence of Europeans on our country. They should re-title it “Socialist!” and release it grindhouse style in the “real” America.
By the time adult Ana had her body rip out of its dress like she was Bruce Banner’s long lost French cousin who had been made mad – with desire, I was out. In my head I’m shouting, “Just have sex with the chauffer, already!” Like the film Enter The Void, I reached the point where I just wanted the movie to say it was okay and let me go home to have missionary sex with my wife without any subtext.
So, finally I was released from the theatre out and into the insanity (and after that film, I am incapable of using that word lightly) of 2AM 6th Street complete with girl-on-girl dirty dancing in a storefront window and party riot activity. A giant neon dinosaur bicycle thing with two guys inside it pedals by me.
I’m calling my wife and going to bed.
John Wildman is the former Head of Press and Public Relations for the American Film Institute. He is noted for innovating film festival public relations through his work as the Director of PR for film festivals such as AFI FEST, the Dallas International Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, and the Feel Good Film Festival (Los Angeles).