Sunday, January 24, 2016

At Sundance - Days two to five

As I've continued my assignment as a volunteer at Sundance for my second year, I've had the chance to see several great movies. I've enjoyed all the movies I've seen, but want to give particular shout-outs, observations and predictions about a few of them.

Jesse Plemons is going to be a star

I've seen Jesse Plemons in three movies in the past couple of months:   Black Mass, Bridge of Spies, and now Chris Kelly's touching film Other People which premiered this weekend at Sundance. Plemons reminds me a lot of the late-great Philip Seymour Hoffman. In each of the films I've seen him he plays very different characters, and he's spot on with each. He's quickly becoming one of these actors that everyone wants to work with.

Kelly's film is very well done. If I could ask him a question it would be: what were your thoughts when you were making your film, and you saw James White? Because Other People and James White are ridiculously similar... however, their tone is extremely different. From personal experience, I am sure Kelly freaked out and felt like he was ruined, for a moment. Then I bet he realized that it's all about tone. And the tone of these two films are light years apart. I'm sure the programmers at Sundance would agree, otherwise, they wouldn't have scheduled these two films in back-to-back years.

Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon star in Chris Kelly's Other People

Molly Shannon is very smart

Recently I've fallen in love with Molly Shannon. She was always great in her SNL days, but now she has embraced the role of being an Indie Darling. She has consistently done great work, and it won't be long before she starts doing bigger and bigger roles. By seeking out great directors, and not shying away from small budgets or first-time directors, she has amassed an impressive body of work. In fact, I feel her work has been better than just about any SNL alumni as far as quality and authenticity (except for Bill Murray - but she's definitely followed his model). On top of that, friends of mine who have worked with her, say that she is just an amazing person to work with as well. Hopefully for everyone involved, Other People, will help to get her the mainstream praise she deserves (though may not be interested in).

Molly Shannon at the premiere of Other People

Everyone involved in the movie The Free World is awesome

I hope this movie gets to rise above the indie-scope and gets some people out to see it. It's an amazingly tight, well executed, poetic, and intense thriller with great performances from Boyd Holbrook and Elisabeth Moss. Jason Lew, the film's writer/director, is headed for great things. The filmmaking world would be better with more films like this.

It's cool to just be able to stand near Paul Dano

I was very happy that Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe fought their way through a blizzard to come to the Grand Theater in Salt Lake City for the Q&A following their screening of Swiss Army Man. The film is unlike any other and is a whole lot of fun. There was all of this silly scandal because some people walked out. People walk out of movies at Sundance all the time. There's a lot of people who just get tickets, but are sensitive about what they watch; so they roll the dice, and if it's not to their liking they leave. That's cool. I think a movie like Swiss Army Man has a particular audience, however, and I think that audience will eat this up.  I thought the film was very entertaining and visually inventive.

At the Grand it's an almost all local crowd. Seldom will you find many industry people there. So, it's great when directors come to do the Q&A (and most of them do the first weekend), but it's seldom that actors make the journey... even more rare for actors of the profile of Dano and Radcliffe.

Mr. Dano is my favorite actor right now, so I was excited to just stand a few feet from him after the screening. It made my night.

Paul Dano in Swiss Army Man

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sundance 2016 - day one

One of the highlights of the year for me, and for most independent filmmakers is the Sundance Film Festival. This year my film, Superpowerless, didn't get selected to the festival. So, I am like the thousands of other filmmakers who are still waiting to find a premiere for their film. However, as I watch the films at the festival I am happy to say that while I don't respond to them all equally, I am still inspired and excited by what I see. It's going to be a great festival and I can't wait to get the most out of it.

First, this is the second year I supervise a group of volunteers from the Utah Valley University's Digital Cinema program. We get to work as ushers at the Grand Theater in Salt Lake City, and it's a great assignment. As ushers we get to make sure people are in their seats, and then watch films. Not a bad gig at all.

I have also arranged for some great Meet-the-Filmmakers events for the students - more on that later.

In my newly reawakened blog I will post a brief diary about my thoughts and impressions of this year's festival.

Day One (Tuesday January 19)

As a volunteer we get to enjoy volunteer screenings and the first two films I saw were among the best films I've seen at Sundance in any year.

Life, Animated - A beautiful film by Roger Ross Williams about autism and the wonder of the human spirit, movies, and family. This film had me smiling throughout. It's a great documentary and I'm excited to have Ross at one of our Meet-the-Filmmaker events. Definitely watch this film.

Under the Shadow - This film scared me to death. I'm not good at scary films, but I did sit through it, unlike a lot of my fellow volunteers who scampered out. This is seriously one of the most terrifying movies I've ever seen, and one of the coolest. Another must see.

Congratulations two these two great films and their impressive filmmaking teams, and thanks for letting them screen for volunteers. If these two films are an indicator of what the festival is going to be like this year, it's going to be an amazing festival.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Interview with Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion)

It's been a long time since I've posted, but I'm back (and I'm going hard). I haven't been posting lately because I was hired a year and a half ago to teach film production at Utah Valley University. Now I have even more content to share, but much less time. I will try to keep at it though.

One of the coolest things I get to do at UVU is a program I call CineSkype. We watch a film, then Skype with the filmmaker. We've had a lot of great filmmakers talk to us over the past few semesters, and most of the interviews are available online. One of the most engaging we've had was with Tom DiCillo recently, who shared a wide range of insights with us. I highly recommend watching this interview for anyone interested in independent film... and of course, I also highly recommend his film "Living in Oblivion" to anyone interested in independent film. It is a classic that does for micro-budget filmmaking what Spinal Tap does for heavy metal.