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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Damned If You Do …

Over on indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman has a most interesting piece about what’s been going on with Sundance out-of-competition entry The Convincer, which in addition to now having a new title (Thin Ice), has lost its Oscar-winning editor, Stephen Mirrione, its composers, Alex Wurman (Emmy winner) and Bela Fleck (Grammy winner) AND its filmmakers, sister team writer-director Jill Sprecher and co-writer Karen Sprecher.

So, the good news is, the film is getting a release by ATO, albeit with a new cut and a new score. The bad news for the filmmaker here — and the important lesson for all you indie filmmakers out there who dream of getting someone to finance and then someone else to buy your movie — is that she didn’t have final cut, and apparently does not support what’s been done to her baby. (Her cut, according to the iW piece, will be included in the DVD release.)

Look, I saw The Convincer at Sundance. I was among those who liked it. Actually, I liked it quite a lot, although I did agree with some of my critical colleagues that the closing montage, which spelled everything out for the audience, really needed to go, and that there were places where it could have been tightened up. And it’s entirely possible that this new cut, by a new editor, improved the film and made it better. Unlocking a picture like that to do a new cut and a new score is not a small undertaking, it’s a huge one, and presumably one that was not made lightly. But still.

There’s an object lesson in here somewhere for indie filmmakers. I’m not even sure quite what it is, other than this: Getting someone to finance your movie is a huge, exciting deal, but make sure you know what’s most important to you and who you’re working with before you make that deal. If you’re aiming to write and direct a film, presumably you are doing so because you have a vision of what you want that film to be, right? I mean, I’ve seen a lot of mediocre films, even at major fests, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that most people who set out to make an indie film are not aiming to make a crap movie. For some films, one might even say, a lot of films, somewhere along the way, the vision of a spectacularly awesome film that was in the director’s head did not make it onto the screen. Why?

One thing I’ve observed a lot in the years I’ve been covering independent films is that there are an awful lot of films where it’s pretty obvious the director needed to back out of the editing process, where a little distance maybe would have been a good thing. I’m not saying the director shouldn’t be involved in the editing at all, but I do think that writer-directors in particular can be so close to the details that they reach the point of perhaps not being able to see the bigger picture as well as they think they are seeing it. And that perhaps backing off and letting an experienced editor help find the flow of the story isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. Not saying that’s the case here, but I think it’s the case a lot of the time.

The other issue here is one of control, and the reality is when you are asking other people to give you a lot of money to make your movie, you’re going to lose some of the control you’d like to have. There are things about getting someone to put up a few million to make your indie project that are Good Things: the kind of talent you can afford — both cast and crew; the money you can spend on a good publicist, the possibility that, as a writer-director, you might get to actually get paid a little for the months or years of your life you spend on this project.

But any time someone else is giving you money, you are beholden to some degree or another to the people holding the purse strings, and there’s just no way to get around that, that I know of, other than to try to work with specific producers who have a reputation for being the kind of person you would want to work with, to develop your baby with people you feel you can trust, who have your back, who are there to help you as the director get that vision in your head on that screen.

Or to just go the other route, and make it as cheap as you can and as good as you can on your own, and hope that you get into a big fest and get noticed … so that you can get financing for your next project and deal with all those issues anyhow.

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“But okay, I promise you now that if I ever retire again, I’m going to ensure that I can’t walk it back. I’ll post a series of the most disgusting, offensive, outrageous statements you can ever imagine. That way it will be impossible for me to ever be employed again. No one is going to take my calls. No one is going to want to be seen with me. Oh, it will be scorched earth. I will have torched everything. I’m going to flame out in the most legendary fashion.”
~ Steven Soderbergh

I feel strongly connected to young cinephile culture. The thing about filmmaking—and cinephilia—is that you can’t keep hanging out with your own age group as you get older. They drop off, move somewhere. You can’t put together a crew of sixty-somethings. It’s the same for cinephilia: my original set of cinephile friends are watching DVDs at home or delving into 1958 episodes of ‘Gunsmoke,’ something like that. The people who are out there tend to be young, and I happen to be doing the same thing still, so it’s natural that I move in their circles.

In terms of the filmmaking, there was a gear shift: my first movies focused on people around my age, and I followed them for three films. Until The Unspeakable Act, I was using the same actors, not because of an affinity for people at a specific age, but because of my affinity for the actors. I like to work with actors a second time, especially if I don’t feel confident casting a new film. But The Unspeakable Act was a different script, and I had to cast all new people. Even for the older roles, I couldn’t get the people I’d worked with before. But when it was over, the same thing happened: I wanted to work with Tallie again in the worst way, and I started the process all over again.

I think Rohmer did something similar around the time of Perceval and Catherine de HeilbronnHe developed new groups of people that he liked to work with. These gear shifts are natural. Even if you want to follow certain actors to the end of their life (which I kind of do) the variety of ideas that you generate makes it necessary to change. And once you’ve made the change, you’ve got all these new people around.”
~ Dan Sallitt