Indie Spirit & Commercial Predilection: Dances With Films 2011 – Feature

Within the continuing structure of everything festival, Dances With Films has carved out a nice niche not placating to any thought of what independent should be. Instead they motivate themselves behind the best films that dictate a sense of individuality.

The first intention got the instinct right in the melding of a simple story of friends who got lost along the way. Within “Ten Years Later“, while many of the cast speaks to certain idiosyncrasies of humanity along the way, two specific performances stand out. One relishes in the idea of Jake Hoffman as a man who loses his way but ultimately comes to terms with who he is. The performance has a distinct organic feeling to it, not unlike his father but also all his own. The stand out that balances his brooding timeliness is Rachel Boston who is slowly but surely building her resume with a luscious cross-section of parts. There is something undeniable and correct about her with a wisp of edginess. Her character could become a caricature but she fills it with a distinct amount of reality that allows it to flourish. Written and directed by Aaron Metchik, the film shows a steadiness which, while not overwhelming, delivers in its coming of age blending humor and nostalgia with a sense of narrative.

Playing the heavy hand sometimes can provide undeniable drama but that depends where faith lies in the equation. With “Wake” the narrative revolves around a skater trying to do that major jump to impress the sponsors. In today’s saturation, this ability seems in accordance with a pipe dream. However when a high flying stunt leaves the lead character paralyzed, the road to recovery becomes a hard one. With seemingly no family, it is his girlfriend’s grandmother that sees a notion of faith in him. Ultimately, the story wants to be a miraculous one, full of healing, but the exact structure was recently played in the same texture with “Sympathy For Delicious” against a much more lurid backdrop. Despite some surefire authenticity and great skating sequences, the breathe of the intention falls short.

The idea of the bachelor stage tries to play to fruition with “Stags“, a would-be comedy about a group of men in NY chasing their dream of maintaining their independence while finding the girl that is right for them. The cross-section of the men shown creates too much talking about the subject though many of the situations including the wedding reprisals, sitting in the bar and erstwhile but failed experiences play well but ultimately trite. The persuasion or endgame is predetermined but doesn’t offer a really necessary progression. The film itself is a rumination of what it is to be a man in the big city without anyone truly knowing or caring who you are.

Heading into the midnight slot fest “The Millenium Bug” does intentionally what it really wants to do: create that straight to video create feature with a little bit of sex. Unlike “House Of 1000 Corpses” mixed with “Nothing But Trouble”, the true star is some of flagrant special effects which, while interesting, are completely overblown compared to say “Monsters” which knew to play up its possibilities just enough. The crux at the center of this story is a couple who ends up being taken hostage by a family of crazies who want to simply breed and kill. Halfway through, one gives up with an actual story and hopes for at least a decently climax scene which eventually finds it way but with less cohesion than a box of Cheerios.

As an afternoon romp, “Sweet Little Lies” is another coming-of-age tale though this one is of a girl searching for her father while child services tracks her down. The road trip narrative of the script which is balanced with some interesting interplays shot on the odd side of Vegas works simply because the lead actor, a drifter who just happens to cross paths with this kid, has some texture and depth to him. Like “Saint John Of Las Vegas”, our anti-hero here is a man who hasn’t found his place and is struggling to get by simply by cheating and stealing. His redemption isn’t so much one of possibility as it is just being who is and allowing his heart to show through once in a while

Looking at a movie from different structure sides provides an interesting story structure. Seeing only one perspective and half of another allows the viewer to progress with what the movie is providing and not necessarily its intention. “Scalene” is a movie about tragedy and murder as approached from three different sides. The female point of view as shown provides quick a hard lined intention which is extremely dramatic, well thought out and executed for this style of independent film. Conscience and the notion of right it seems is all coerced within the eyes of the beholder but the end result here is assured with a very steady hand.

Having made one of their weird trippy make-out movies seems to be the idea behind “Night Of The Alien” but its quirkiness is too mired in its own wanna-be cleverness to truly make a mark but the impact of certain high structures makes it definitely amusing. The central character of Fran is seemingly uninteresting while the Lord Of Evil & Darkness has possibility in him but never quite attacks his character with a ferocity he so desperately needs. Lucky inside the band headquarters has the quirkiness to make some really inventive quips. However the one that seems to deserve a movie of his own as a paranoid schizophrenic is Danny. The actors seems to truly get the modulation which makes his switch between reality and a dream state both interesting and poignant. The narrative itself relies on an almost “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” motif about saving the world with a band which comes off more disparate than when the first movie introduced the idea of it.

In making a comparison of the degradation of life between the ultra rich trying to be normal and the normal wanting to be rich, there tends to be a production of cross pollination where creatives need to figure business and the money people want to be creative. While different moments of “Trophy Kids” paint a convincing argument about the race to become what you think you are, its resolution veers a little too off base. It wants to pretend that the idea of existence is simply a matter of will, while it is simply a series of luck and coincidences that either work out or don’t depending on a certain place within the universe. The use of a writer as a plot ploy to an eventual enlightenment by trying to become the person he is writing about only to fail and resurrect in making his benefactor notice what is right in front of him is novel at times but also quite formulaic.

When approaching the notions of loneliness against what might be consider bad judgment, “Days Together” takes the idea wrapped in a shade of forgiveness despite best intentions. The specific structure of modern life takes a little too much of a wistful yet comber downturn as the lead character tries to re-establish her life and become something more, until she figures out that she is who she is going to be and nothing more.

The intention of “Close Up” follows “Day Together” and its ideals from the reverse angle bringing the notion of a man who has lost everything. The plot device of being an actor as in other indie films is overused since that is the life experience of many of the creators. The progression of hitting rock bottom and not being able to breathe always balances itself in the form of a muse. While the performances reflect melodramatic, the ending climax set during the actual Times Square New Year’s Eve Event in NYC shows the inherent use of the Canon 5D at capturing great images within a very confined space and making it feel cinematic, despite showing a necessary gap in security.

Hitting the other end of the spectrum with “The Pill” which understands its subject with genuine irony but a sarcastic sensibility, Rachel Boston, seen earlier in the festival in “Ten Days Later” shows her range playing a girl who unnerves a guy she likes only to find out he is involved elsewhere. Noah Bean as the man trying to figure out how to work what he just did brings the right balance of bewilderment and honesty (as much as he can) to the role while Anna Chlumsky (best known for the 90s nostalgia piece “My Girl”) shows her grown up element bringing about comparisons to Anna Paquin with the same amount of talent resting in tandem. As the dialogue, which spikes nicely, fans the flame, all the performances keep pace without overstepping the line in one direction or becoming too schmaltzy in the other.

Establishing the horror context while balancing psychology and supernatural elements, “The Corridor” works better than other genre entries in the festival because it knows that tension needs to be built. Using a secluded space (ala “The Shining” or “Cabin Fever”) sets the pace but the strength resides in establishing the host of characters which plays closer to “Dreamcatcher” than anything else so there are stakes to be lost when everything eventually turns sideways. The resolution is nothing if not treacherous but in understanding the journey of the film, the filmmakers, who shot in their native Nova Scotia, understand the underlying primality of mankind.

Dances With Films works in many ways within a crowded festival structure because it doesn’t overdo its cause and cater to too many mouths. It simply searches for the truly independent films it likes and doesn’t compromise on its selection or distinction. It simply lets them be.

IR RAW Interview: Michael Rymer [Director] For “Face To Face” [2011 Santa Barbara Intl Film Festival]

Narrow Windows & Creative Distribution: The 2009 IFTA Production Conference – Feature

The state of the industry sometimes can be a troubling thing but there can always be light at the end of the tunnel depending which way one is looking. Attending the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) Production Conference in Century City, one could feel the progression and honesty setting in as the aspects of the new state of distribution which were adequately discussed The realization and decision on approach creates a more stable thought for the future.

After opening remarks by former Fox Chairman Bill Mechanic, who declared in tandem that the balance of technology and attendance will create a new structure since “the outlets are there”, gave credence to the impending discussion of the state of new distribution avenues and financial incentives to motivate the industry.

The discussion entitled “New Distribution Options For The Future” was piqued by the initial thoughts of Pierre David, the chairman of the producers committee of the IFTA, who said simply “find your niche and do that stuff”. His perception is that even with a big film, in terms of the aspects of pre-sale or even specific territory basis, you might be “lucky if you get $10,000 in Italy”. He also marks that the UK sector as down too since Woolworths basically dumped 1000s of DVDs onto the streets to be sold in the past ywar. He does make the point that Germany and Australia are stable in terms of its markets but that is a rarity in the world. He believes that there is still a DVD Market in the States but that too is down 17% as of this year. Unless you have a pre-sold perspective like a Lundgren, Seagal or a Van Damme, it becomes difficult. The category of increasing interest, in his perspective, is television because, in his mind, it is a stable world where you can have a game plan. There is a flow of channels opening up worldwide and this should be considered part of the future. There are outlets on Lifetime, Icon and ScyFy but you have to make the right kind of product. Pierre also mentions the incumbent impact of VOD [Video On Demand[ using IFC as an example but saying that currently in the sector, they will grab 70% of the revenue.

Nolan Gallagher, Founder & CEO of Gravitas Ventures, balances this saying that there seems to be a lot of confusion, in his mind, as to where the revenue is coming from. The big question is when VOD is going to be the savior. People are starting to make money in the sector but is it enough to warrant the movie budgets? Gallagher says that there will be a continual integration into digital cable in the homes. The amount of digital boxes will increase viewership at least 20 million. The going rate currently to put your movie in front of 50 million potential viewers via an On Demand possibility is $20,000 but there is no gaurantee anybody will buy or watch it. Publicity, he says, even the most basic kind, is key. The thought right now in terms of a workable model is a transactional VOD deal for four or six months then switching to a TV deal right after as a blueprint. The problem is that you can make at times only $5000 on such a deal which seems non-productive. This is because people tend to want to underpromise and overdeliver which is the paradox of sorts. A horror film, in his estimation, can do $80,000. The growing angle is a deal through a multi-pronged distributor like a Lionsgate which can get into 50 million homes direct (in the VOD sector) through Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Right now there can be 140 movies on Comcast On Demand at any given time. The inherent problem is that a year from now there might be 1400 movies showing an increase of tenfold and a saturation that makes differentiation hard. It all becomes about marketing in this scenario. The benefit approach here is to approach two or three different companies and rotate them on subsequent projects . This of course can present a negotiation problem but the specific Gallagher suggests is to only make the deals for 2 year intervals.

In comparison, Steve Bickell, who heads International Distribution for The Film Department, says that the bottom line is that the economic structure of the film business is absolutely broken. The inherent change works from generation to generation. There was an overabundance of video when video came in. Same with free channels and the influx of cable. Now DVD sales are falling and VOD is not able to pick up the slack because currently there are no safety nets in terms of business models. International Distribution is much more difficult and selective now because all the territories have compacted their business. Our domestic distribution model here in the States, Bickell explains, doesn’t exist anymore. It is virtually impossible to find a domestic distributor to do what you need since most of them won’t do P&A (Print & Advertising) anymore. This makes it hard in the short term to get films off the ground. The issue of key is the marketing and how to use it. The future is coming he says but “the timing is fucked up”. Even going to 50 million homes unless there is a back end is not enough to finance a film.

Marc DeBevoise, Sr. VP of Digital Media at Starz, offers a slightly different perspective. His thought is that doing the DVD process is still cheaper than doing a digital file for consumption. We are closer to a branching point, he believes, than most people think. The problem, in his experience, is that people tend to make a quick or rash decision in terms of their distribution. As a rule, he suggests to not doing anything ad supported as a first spot distribution point. Jumping the gun into “free” is something to be very wary of. His perspective is that those who survive will be able to piece themselves back together if they figure out a way to get to the promotion and secure a slot on a new media platform. His company used to do 100 DVD releases a year which is now down to 50 maybe even using the angle of their own Anchor Bay films.

Curt Marvis, President Of Digital Media at Lionsgate, is in a key position with a justified perspective in helping jumpstart this new revolution. He says that LG has changed dramatically over the past ten years which is what has allowed them to remain competitive. They are no longer a private distribution company. They now own 50% of TV Guide Network and FearNET. He relates that he had a meeting last Friday with the senior heads of the departments of Lionsgate. It was set up to show what was happening at the VSOs and the cable networks in terms of the VOD initiative. He says there are now a number of new points of distribution. They went through about 15 boxes of different territories and angles. If you look at XBOX, it reaches about 23 million people. That is larger than the 22 million subscribers for Comcast which is the largest MSO in the country. Add on top of that the IPOD and ITOUCH users who are in the billions but, of which, over 50 million buy and download regularly. Add on top of that the fact that YouTube might be moving to a transactional based business and there is a whole new world. However, it needs to be functional in terms of a business model. There is a large audience that exists but it matters how to get to them. The film industry currently has no direction from which to exploit this area. Marvis believes these are the deals to make along with TV. In the downturn, he says making reference to Bill Mechanic’s early statement, there is opportunity on the back end of this crisis. VOD simply has not picked up the slack yet because of consumer awareness but that will change. Consumers simply need to be educated. Marvis still believes it will 2 to 3 years before VOD truly takes off but will become more diversified in the channel offerings that will be coming online.

Elizabeth Guider, an editor at Hollywood Reporter, has a similar perception to some of the others but comes from a different angle in the mass media. She sees the current crisis as a complicated situation. As the media, they want the independents to have success but it is just not happening. At The Reporter, they are tracking an alarming amount of bankruptcies, somewhere between 30 and 50 with the amount of production deals are going down from 550 to about 250. All the Pay TV deals have dried up since the channels themselves have started to merge together to save their own bottom line. By reaction, their stocks have plummeted and their ad sales are simply done. Summit somehow with “Twilight” was able to capture lightning in a bottle but that is an isolated occurence.

Gustavo Montaudon, President of Alebrije Entertainment, handles a lot of the business for Latin America which he says is having tough times in terms of theatrical business. Technology primarily is a problem down there with a lack of broadband. The VOD operators are scarce with Digital Latin America being the only primary. The TV component is growing but at a disconcerting rate.

Howard Frumes, a well respected attorney from Alexander, Frumes & Horowitz and the counsel for the IFTA, offers an almost chilling perspective. He says that the oddity is that that right now more than half his time is spent on productions coming in or in actual investments from China. It is not American or European co-productions. They look at them more as “local films”. The domestic marketplace is no longer a source of financing for independent films. The problem is that with China they are still building theaters. Frumes says the highest grossing film in China was “Titanic” but that was over ten years ago. China is the one optimistic outlay. The problem is that most people are relying still on P&A which is a hundred-year-old mechanism and no longer applies, especially with digital. He cites in terms of stories pictures like “Juno”, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Twilight” which are simply more direct in their angle of marketing globally. The key he says is that at the very beginning, you have to think about the very end.

His advice is threefold. First, when you start looking at your film and script, keep in mind that you have to deliver on all these mechanisms. You have to build some marketing dollars into your budget from the get go. Second, you need to have a variety of people to collaborate with. Meet with marketers, international distributors and bankers to get a perspective because no one can get credit currently. The key is going with different partners on a case-by-case basis whether it be European, Asian or whatever. The key is diversity.

The closing thoughts, which drew applause, came from Mitchell Berman, CEO of Zillion TV, who was more theoretical (which seems a little like grandstanding) than the practicality of the others. Berman admits that we are in a state of change but that it is going on all over the world. He says that we have to just take a method and try it then try it again, making a reference to a quote from FDR back in the 30s. Berman says that he started at HBO and then help start Sky in New Zealand. The new aspects he is seeing in Asia he believes will change the perspective. 4G has already started to permeate and Verizon has started to deploy it. It is all about who can adapt to the change in technology that continues to permeate. He mentions Vizio specifically as a distribution channel outlet since it works through wireless. His specific structure is that old people are holding onto old business model. The new people are ready.

It is just seeing what is coming ahead of the pack. But time is a battle for distribution that will fought as the years progress.

By Tim Wassberg

Cobblestone Waves & Celluloid Whispers: The 2009 Nantucket Film Festival – Feature

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Nantucket, as a point of geographic reference, is an island that lies about 20 miles off of Massauchussets’ South Shore. Home to many of the elite, its small town vibe is balanced by arts-heavy, artisan-thinking community which perfectly embodies the Nantucket Film Festival which itself is committed to story as a screenwriter’s film festival. Unlike The Hamptons, which is only partially removed from its point of origin, Nantucket offers an autonomy that is both peaceful but specifically evident in its lodging, nighttime escapades and food-on-the-go, which is key for any festival goer.

However the peace in the thick of the night as a dense fog rolls in off the jet stream keeps the island’s temperature constant almost year round…a haven within the ocean’s bosom.

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Finding the texture of films at a film festivals takes a perspective of choice. This year captured the essence of “The Ramis Effect“. But it is also about a feeling and emotional core. “Introspection” is a word that comes to mind which captures the mindset as you walk down the cobblestone roads in the main quadrant of town. The wharf spreads out to your left while the stones marketing the road leads up to the church at the top of the hill which also houses a theater venue: Bennett Hall. On the other side of the island, accessible by the comfortable and efficient Nantucket Shuttle, the Sconset Casino, more akin to a society club in its beauty, offers an almost concert hall performance which enhanced many of the viewing

“The Burning Plain”, screened at Sconset, was produced by Walter Parkes and Laura McDonald who previously helped guide Dreamworks’ film division with Steven Spielberg. The film stars Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger as two generations of women whose actions impact the other through miscommunication and guilt. The split narrative structure allows for a very unorthodox approach to character motivation giving both actresses as well as the girl who plays a younger version of Theron’s character Mariana a breathe of confused emotions about the meaning of love at its most wretched and how to interpret it. An inner battle to be sure.

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The Exploding Girl“, screened at Bennett Hall, takes the ideology of the “isolated” and places it in a overpopulated world. Ivy is spending is spending the summer in Brooklyn, separated from her boyfriend and is best friends with a guy that she can’t quite perceive. Quietly beautiful and seemingly at peace, this girl who should be enjoying the bristle of her newly legal status instead is spending her time in between moments of self doubt anticipating her next epileptic attack. Shot on the Red One camera which is quickly becoming the boon of the indie scene because of the filmic images it is able to capture, even in low light, the moments of stillness with Ivy’s life surrounded by the bustle of the city or the comfort of her bed paint the picture of internal life in progress.

“The Messenger”, also screened at Sconset, uses “isolation” as battleground where information becomes a heartfelt dagger in a modern world. The film follows two Army soldiers played by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson who, despite have their own perceptions and vices, are charged with informing families of the respective deaths of their loved ones in combat. The film balances an essence of internal strife with the masks of emotions that crumble in the face of human fraility.

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The venue setting also proved the inherent equiibrium of the artistic community in Nantucket with both “Tropic Thunder” director Ben Stiller and Greenestreet founder Fisher Stevens, present in the general audience, both asking intrinsic questions on the essence of these themes to both actor Ben Foster and director Oren Moverman .

The key of Nantucket in connectivity too is the aspect of its getaway element and removed from the modern city which allows, as the above shows, people to be people. While the island has an airport which can appropriated by turbo prop, the journey at times can be as telling as the destination.

Departing from the lower level at Logan International Airport, the Plymouth/Brockton Bus Line takes a winding but picturesque two hour drive into the heart of Cape Cod ending up at Hyannis. A mere two blocks away from the final stop in the cusp of the harbor is the Hy-Line Ferry, a high-speed transport that can get you to Nantucket, 25 miles out, in slightly under an hour. While waiting, thirst may overcome. The Raw Bar On Ocean Street, steps away from boarding, offers simple and relaxed fare as their clam chowder and a cold Bud prepares one for the crossing.

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The initial Ferry ride over took place at dusk so the cirrus clouds booned above as the sun sunk into the west. The flitter of the lighthouse faded away as the ship gained speed and headed out into the ocean. Unlike the slower ferry, according to some passengers, the high speed is very smooth, like a limo of the sea.

Arriving on Nantucket as the lights of bobbing boats glistened to the arriving vessel in the night, the cobblestone streets leading out from the straight wharf center the old school feel of town. As fog horns echo in the distance, the feel of 18th century regality fills the mind.

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The Brant Point Inn, the resting place of noir, is an easy 10 minute walk through town on the cusp of the residential area filled with B&Bs. Cabs are ample so the transition can be smooth as silk. Settling into an upstairs bedroom, as window slips flow in the light wind, dreamland takes hold as, in the darkness, the fog can be seen drifting in off the ocean

When attending a film festival, access to venues is specific. Nantucket has three looping shuttles within one service: the NRTA. The farthest point needed is Sconset Casino where most of the daily films are played. The shuttle drops you off right around the corner. Because of its schedule, it is also a great place to interact with fellow filmmaker and industry people. The beach, with a great view of the breakwater offshore, is only steps away across a quaint wooden bridge.

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The food during a film festival also needs to provide an ease of use but with a substance necessary to placate a visitor on-the-go. The most effective area, which is also a late night hangout for summer crowd (much akin to The Hamptons) is Broad Street between Easy and North Beach. There is a string of small eateries that hit the spot

Stubby’s offers differing American fare but the cheese steak replete with onions presented the right balance of zest before a journey to the pub. Steamboat Pizza, by comparison, offered the comfort of an 18” pie split between cheese and pepperoni that was both hearty with taste and filling that can’t be replicated in a chain.

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The Juice Bar, a late afternoon stop, offers a degree of latitude when one needs a quick ice cream fix between movies. Their “Kahlua Krunch” double scoop within their home made waffle cone cools the senses. Easy Cantina, the prince of the late night, has Thursday wing specials but the essence of its $6 burger at the witching hour as the perilous few survivors stroll in with tales of lore is quite worth the effort.

For the essences of the go who need a little bit wider berth, the old staple of Grand Union, unassuming and low profile, right in the heart of downtown near the wharf can offer a quick fix of potato salad, bottled water or the fizz of a good Northeast root beer. As this is a town without the requisite convenience stores which would mar its image, this option offers the ability to balance the ride if your diet requires special needs.

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Nantucket’s late night, especially in the summer, offers a distinctly pub rich vernacular although the most vibrant was a hidden away near the high end vestiges of the boat basin just north of downtown. Slip 14 balanced the essence of the island’s young and beautiful with the essence of bigger city influence but without the extensive door line. During the summer, a large chunk of the population is from off island so there is an influx of new young blood looking to enjoy the festivities. Clocking a rum and coke while smoking a Cohiba Cuban on the cusp of the harbor as the dresses slink and the eyes wander, the smiles continue without the abatement of old.

Not to say that the pub experience is anything but viable in the town. After Slip 14 when last call approaches, Brotherhood Of Thieves, up Broad Street as well, offers a dark and refined bar experience that reminds one of the East Village in NYC but with a more elegant and clean theme. A Guinness pint goes down quickly while a Blue Moon bides the conversation with the local Russian bar girl, quiet but direct, allowing for the last drop of the night.

The night before, as the drizzle kissed the ground, the sound of town abated but, in the deep quiet of the night, one place offered a glow. Right off the cobblestone of Main, the red essence of The Club Car, though small and narrow, possessed a vision of energy as the locals wound down a late night. A piano player in the back, enticed by the twenty-something crowd, smiled as the would-be youngsters sang along in unison to the high pitched melody of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”.

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As the wind of lore heads in, the rain drizzles through the streets with a delicious smell that is lost on the West Coast. With the natural energy of a N’oreaster approaching from the North Atlantic, the churning of the sea provides a wondrous perspective of its powers. With a surge of waves, the Hy-Line braves the sound’s fury heading back to the mainland enticing a beautiful escape.