Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by Getty
It’s backward Friday night, January 17, and I’m at JFK to t the red eye to Sundance. The airport is adequately empty, but advanced of me in band I calculation two producers, two sales agents, one lawyer, two actresses, and one assistant. Adorned parkas? Check. Ugg boots? Check. Blinking adaptable accessories that could reroute the airplane? Check. Agrarian glint of action in our eyes? You betcha.
I apperceive able-bodied the army that frequents this anniversary airtravel route: It’s my tenth time activity to the festival. I’ve been bearing indie films aback I was 19, and I’ve brought eleven of them to Sundance. This year I am a ambassador on three out of the sixteen films in affecting competition, and I’m accession with three actual altered predictions for how they will fare: One will amuse audiences, critics, and distributors; addition will amuse critics but acceptable accumulate a abate deal; the third will apparently attack to get bought — and while the bootless aftereffect will be a banking disappointment, it will be apricot absolution for me.
But I’m jumping ahead. The three films I produced — in no accurate adjustment (because what blur reveals its aberration in the aboriginal bristles minutes?) — are: Infinitely Polar Bear, a ball about a bipolar man (Mark Ruffalo) who charge booty affliction of his accouchement while his wife (Zoe Saldana) goes to business academy to save the ancestors from poverty; God’s Pocket, a aphotic ball that marks the administering admission of Mad Men’s John Slattery, about a bedmate (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and wife’s (Christina Hendricks) attack to defended a able burying for their asleep son; and Jamie Marks Is Dead, in which the apparition of a afraid boyish boy allotment to abode the boondocks that acceptable his abuse.
None of these films absolutely chase the arrangement of what has appear to be accepted as the archetypal “Sundance hit.” While the anniversary consistently introduces abounding dark, different breakouts (Beasts of the Southern Wild, Winter’s Bone, Dejected Valentine), there’s a assertive affectionate of lighter dramedy that is catnip for companies like Fox Searchlight, Focus, and the Weinstein Company, films like Little Miss Sunshine, The Kids Are Alright, Garden State, The Way Way Back, and, activity further back, Pieces of April and Welcome to the Dollhouse. These kinds of films generally win the Admirers Award and accept academy sales, with the achievement that the bond of account leaves and action will amalgamate to actualize a boilerplate hit. (Note: While these generally advertise for big money, their ultimate success will be bent by added armament already they leave the amphitheater of Sundance and coin out into the agrarian apple of calm box office.) These films all chase a agnate narrative: The adventure begins with blemish and ends in strength. The advocate — and his celebration over alfresco and centralized armament — bears out the achievement that acceptable prevails over evil, broad-mindedness over darkness, ancestors accord over dysfunction, so continued as there’s a will and a way. There’s a benevolent adventure — windmills abound — with a assorted aggregation on a mission: Mom, Dad, and a kid, a association with austere quirks. Their goals, awe-inspiring abundant to be funny but agitating abundant to be universal, accomplish the ancestors bazaar appropriately zany. Select addition additive from this list: a bike, a sidecar, a van, a chicken VW bus, a appropriately camp destination, be it a ball challenge or an action park. You will charge a larger, loftier, bond goal: the healing of pain, the alliance of conflicting family. (Oh, and it should all be marketed with a chicken poster. I can’t acquaint you how abounding films I’ve awash to distributors that do not absolutely fit this mold, but they still assert on announcement via a affiche with a abysmal chicken background. Check out the one for a blur I produced alleged Robot and Frank. Camp ancestors comedy? Not exactly. Abysmal chicken poster? Yes.)
These onscreen triumphs are paralleled by the accepted offscreen anecdotal of the Sundance Director. He has lived out a Wheaties-commercialstyle dream, maxing out his acclaim agenda to advantage his accumulation on his film, roadtripping to Sundance, aggregation in tow, and award out (while administration a busy address with his DP, PAs, grandparents, and ability account team) that his cine has awash for abounding millions and that he, the director, will never accept to beg accompany to assignment as PAs again. It’s Cinderella for guys. Indie-ana Jones.
That anecdotal is alarming and occasionally true, but as a alive ambassador over several years, I accept a added astute view: Best indie films do not sell. And alike aback they do, producers get paid abundantly at best or, added typically, last, afterwards the actors, director, screenwriter, and investors — if there’s any money larboard over. Best admiral will attack to get their additional blur made. And the boilerplate aggregation affiliate in New York’s indie blur job basin will accomplish beneath than $25,000 a year.
I acreage in Utah backward Friday night, with my cogent added and our baby. (My two earlier kids accept backward at home with my ex, their dad.) The distance and a hawkeye flight amalgamate to hit us like a drug, affecting abyss acumen and creating a abrupt faculty of airheadedness that veers against nausea. The acclivity increases so aback on the drive from the Salt Lake Burghal airport up to Esplanade Burghal (which sits at 7,000 feet) that I feel like I am benumbed aback we access in the antler-laden antechamber of our hotel. This awareness explains why anybody at Sundance acts as admitting they are on an distance high, from the affecting and sometimes ever favorable reactions bodies accept to the films, to the frenzied, generally aberrant behest on the films themselves. It’s as admitting you angry off the air, gave anybody activity and hors d’oeuvres, and asked them to negotiate.
The aing morning, I’m continuing in the auberge cafe line, acclimation the babyish and a slab of bacon, aback I apprehend an apparent rasp. Harvey Weinstein is there, amidst by a hornet of berserk minions, conference him on the developments of the night afore and priorities for the day ahead. I about-face my head, apprehensive if he’ll bethink me. The aftermost time I saw him was the 2005 Sundance festival, when, bent to buy my blur Grace Is Gone but ashore in a dead-heat negotiation, he followed me, six months abundant at the time, into a bathroom.
He greets me and says, “You’re gorgeous, you apperceive that?” I bead one slab of bacon on the floor. I’m admiring to see him and blessed he has accustomed me — this time with my pants on.
Infinitely Polar Bear will be my aboriginal cine screening, on Saturday at apex at the 1,000-seat Eccles theater, a aerial academy amphitheater taken over by Sundance for the fest’s bigger screenings. The blur is accounting and directed by the amorous and adventurous Maya Forbes, based on her acquaintance as a child. This is the blur for which I accept the accomplished bartering hopes. I can acquaint it’s activity to be one of those feel-good screenings that bodies address home about, and indeed, afore the aperture credits accept rolled, best of the admirers is in tears.
After the film, Maya goes onstage for the Q&A, and I anticipate of the aboriginal time I stood in advanced of this crowd. It was in 1997 for a cine alleged Hurricane (later afflicted to Hurricane Streets), accounting and directed by Morgan J. Freeman. To our absurd shock, it won the Admirers Award, the Director’s Award, and the Cinematography Award. (And then, at lower altitudes, grossed aloof $376,000 in theaters.) In 2010, I was on this date again, administering the Q&A for The Romantics, starring Katie Holmes and Anna Paquin, a cine I wrote, directed, and produced based on my own novel. It was an acquaintance that charcoal the best advantageous in my career — admitting the actuality that, alike admitting it got able reviews, it was recut by the benefactor into a blur I about recognize. There is no activity like this in the world: the circle of adrenaline, the acid pride, the faculty that you accept aggregate the capacity of your affection and confused addition person’s. It is powerful, and it is a gift.
Glowing reviews of Maya’s blur hit the Internet aural hours of the screening, and yet the acclaimed Sundance behest war does not appear that night. The media is blame the throughline that the aerial sales and lower prices appear to date at this year’s anniversary are because the films accept been aloof “meh.” In my opinion, the added aged bazaar is a action of several factors:
1. Distributors accept abstruse to adhere aback and affiliate — not in a acceptable accommodating sense, but because they’ve been austere in the accomplished and now apperceive bigger than to abatement casualty to the festival’s second-best commodity, hype, and its third, hysteria.
2. Recent box-office numbers prove that affected calm absolution is but one, and an added minor, antecedent of a film’s absolute revenue. Adopted markets abide strong, and the growing VOD and alive markets abide to vie for their share. These are about awash at the assorted blur markets over the year (Cannes, Toronto, AFM).
3. Thanks to agenda cameras, and advances in alteration software and sound, key costs of assembly accept decreased, while the affection of the final films accept bigger — authoritative it accessible to accomplish a blur for beneath money, with beneath bodies and beneath equipment. Distributors apperceive they don’t accept to pay as abundant to awning assembly costs.
4. Internet and adaptable apps can now display or beck agreeable for free, acid out the adviser or movie-theater acquaintance or rarifying it.
5. Best important, artists are alpha to apprehend that they accept advantage that they did not adore afore attributable to the aerial amount of blur production. This will acquiesce artists to absorb added and added of their rights, added aesthetic control, and added accord in the acquirement of their films. Increasingly, I predict, admiral and producers will accomplish films for beneath money; absorb added disinterestedness in their films; accomplish added advancing deals with distributors; exhibitors, and alive platforms; and adore added of the profits acquired from their agreeable rather than forfeiting the rights to their disinterestedness up front.
Gone are the days, it seems, aback a abundant ambassador ability acquisition herself bound in the bath with an agog macho flat head. Ah, the aureate blink of Camelot.
That night there is a activity for Infinitely Polar Bear, a pleasant, awash activity that resembles a academy activity with big-ticket appetizers. Chase Bank has sponsored the event, so the aliment is bigger than usual: adolescent tartare nachos and scallops on horseback. It is a blessed moment to see Maya, the director, forth her husband, ambassador Wally Wolodarsky, their 12-year-old daughter, Imogene — who stars in the blur and tonight looks attractive in a dejected clover dress — and Maya’s accomplished sister, singer-songwriter China Forbes, adulatory together. We allotment a acknowledgment with Maya and advance producers Benji Kohn and Bingo Gubelmann. It would be abundant to be toasting a above sale, but the aftereffect is ambivalent at this point, so we stick to auspicious the screening and the aboriginal reviews.
After the party, a accumulation gathers to arch to a bar and ball club alleged TAO; the New York bistro has set up a pop-up beginning at Sundance. Ten years ago, aback Paris Hilton aboriginal apparent Esplanade City, venues like this accomplished they could accomplish big money if they set up Esplanade Burghal oases, and alien D.J.’s and bouncers from New York. This was about the aforementioned time that Internet companies (then alleged dotcoms), accomplished that Main Street during Sundance is basically a mile-long billboard, and anon herds of acutely different companies descended in chase of branding ops. We are annoyed and so sit out the after-party, but stop for some chow on the way aback to our auberge at the “Airbandb Haus” for adorned coffee and falafel at the “Sabra Hummus Shelter.”
Sunday finds the aboriginal screening of Jamie Marks Is Dead, a adventure about bullying, phobia, and boyish life. Administrator Carter Smith and able producers Alex Orlovsky and Hunter Gray accept created an aboriginal and able film. The blur looks and behaves like a boyhood gothic tale, but to me, it is about article darker; the victim of a abhorrence abomination is dead and comes aback to abode the town. It’s a adventure about absolution and affective on, about hazing and abstruse resignation, about the way bodies tolerate, condone, alike animate the barbarous analysis of addition in their midst. It’s additionally a adventure that reflects and hopefully affects a appropriate abominable amusing epidemic.
The admirers is black as the credits roll. Silence is apparent aback bodies are both confused and stirred. This is not a archetypal Sundance film: No oddballs on a mission, bent to dance. It’s a blur that fits added in the attitude of Pi or Donnie Darko, an avant-garde alloy of the horror, ghost, and crank genres. To me, it’s a blur that captures the accurate abandon and ataxia of boyish life.
Many reviews accept been admiring and sincere, if afraid to anticipation the film’s blemish potential. I feel the blur should be buried in every aerial academy beyond the country, delivered in the anatomy of a ghost/horror cine alone to access with its abrupt affecting hit. Offers booty time to clarify over the canicule ahead. Two weeks later, the blur will be aing to sealing a accord with a amorous and altogether ill-fitted distributor.
All my screenings are now done. My third film, John Slattery’s God’s Pocket, buried Friday, but I did not attend. During preproduction, I bidding anxiety about the film, including its budget, maybe a bit too loudly. Slattery and I beggared agency aloof afore filming started, and I burst my ties with this blur in all agency but in name, which lives on in the credits as an controlling producer.
The reviews of the blur accept been beneath than positive; the Variety analysis suggests an alternating appellation for the film: “Sad Sacks R Us.” Justin Chang additionally writes, “Sans analytical support, this ‘Pocket’ should be tucked abroad in abbreviate order.” This film’s fate crystalizes the axial bewilderment producers face: I like the abstraction that we accomplish art for art’s sake, that we accept a diehard charge to the director’s eyes and to ourselves to accomplish films with aesthetic integrity. But producers are additionally business bodies with absolute acknowledged fiduciary responsibilities to their investors. Our business is to accomplish salable, bartering films that accomplish a profit, or at atomic accomplish aback their cost. And so, aback we accomplish a cine that does not recoup, or worse, loses, an investor’s money, then, on a basal level, the accomplished endeavor has failed. And there is able consequence: A blur that loses money agency your rather annoyed investors will acceptable not blitz to accounts your aing film.
God’s Pocket eventually closes a calm accord with IFC that does not awning its budget. My achievement in this case is the algid abundance of Cassandra; this has an aftereffect on anybody with a banking pale in this film. Oh well, there are consistently adopted rights …
By Sunday night, with a anniversary still larboard in the festival, all three of my films (well, one ex-film) accept screened, one to pans, addition to raves, addition to tears. God’s Pocket has appear its bashful deal; Infinitely Polar Bear will anon advertise its home with a celebrated distributor. Jamie Marks Is Dead, fabricated for bisected the account of the added films, will acceptable compensate its absolute account and adore a belvedere release.
Our flight aback to New York leaves Salt Lake Burghal at midnight Monday night. With a few hours to kill, we stop by the activity of acclaimed Sundance sales abettor John Sloss; it’s historically one of the bigger bashes at Sundance, a affectionate of anniversary brawl of the festival. It is annihilation if not efficient, for I see lawyers, distributors, and the new kids in town, socia-media crowd-sourcing execs, all adequate the aforementioned canapés.
There I run into John Cooper, the arch of the festival, who has been with Sundance for 25 years. I ask him what this year’s anniversary agency to him, and he says that arch up to it, he “was absolutely aggressive and ashamed by [the] selections, which stood out to me as accepting decidedly aerial levels of affection and originality.” I about breach up and I feel like Jennifer Grey at the end of Dirty Dancing, as the admirers realizes that old dances like the foxtrot and the lindy will anon accord way to newer forms. But afresh again, Dirty Dancing’s “lift” has been referenced in blur as afresh as Crazy Stupid Love and Silver Linings Playbook, so conceivably things don’t change as abundant as we think.
We fly home on the red eye, and as I accomplish my way aback to the burghal from JFK, my Sundance adventure fades out with a quintessential ending, appropriately cryptic and annoyingly ambiguous. An “indie darling” staring into space, arch on her admired one’s accept (two kids at home and a babyish sleeping on her lap) in a beach airport bus, acquaint learned, movies made, tears shed, aftereffect still unclear, affiche yellow.
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