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Movieman's Sundance Diary (Day 4)
by Erik Childress

(Jan. 20, 2002) After several paced martinis the night before at the Dopamine party, I was worried that waking up Monday morning and having to jump to it wouldn’t agree with me. I’m not prone to hangovers. Put some time in-between the last drink and your pillow coupled with a few glasses of water and you should be good to go, which I was when I woke up at 8 AM. I had three interviews today and a public screening to make it to by 9:15 that I didn’t have a ticket for. This was going to be a full day.

After showering and putting on my best outfit to look sharp for my celebrity conversations (no suit, just a nice shirt & pants) I put fresh batteries in my tape recorder and was out of the condo by 8:45 to catch the theater shuttle to its first stop: The Eccles. It’s amazing how crowded these places get so early in the morning. I’ve been asked how I can see 10 AM screenings in Chicago, yet here’s an entire city of people awake in the thin Mormon air of Utah for a 9:00 showing.

The 9:15 screening was of Dopamine. This was a necessity as the last thing I wanted to do was sit down with Sabrina Lloyd and talk to her about a movie I hadn’t even seen. Scott and I had already drained the state supply of SKYY vodka at no cost to us at the party for a movie where our only knowledge stemmed from the Sundance program book. I was fairly confident I could get into the film. I just had to find someone I knew from the party. HEY MICKEY!

Mr. Cottrell shook my hand and thanked me for coming. He asked if I needed a ticket. I told him he’s so fine he blows my mind and he quickly produced one for me. He also gave me the phone number to his assistant whom I should contact if I needed anything before my interview with Sabrina that afternoon. I walked into the Eccles auditorium and for the first time on the trip really felt an electricity about this event. This wasn’t a room filled with less than 100 critics and press. This was an audience. They had made it out of their beds to see a film they probably knew very little about, one that’s only had a single screening to date so the buzz factor could not have had time to mutate. They didn’t come out to see celebrities. They came to see a movie.

The auditorium was already pretty packed. A large section towards the back had been reserved for everyone associated with the film. I saw the Little Secrets director standing there talking and I wished him good luck. There were a couple of empty seats in the back row where I would find my home…for about five minutes. After getting all comfortable, one of the Eccles people informed me that I was sitting in a handicapped section. Whoops!

After feeling like a jackass and hoping nobody important saw me and said “what a jackass”, I got up to find another seat. Sitting on the aisle seat is always a preference, but in the Eccles those seats are located about 17 miles from the screen on either side. It also takes 12.2 minutes to walk to the center, as you snail it past comfortable patrons apologizing with more “excuse me”s than Harry Knowles at Nacho Mama’s.

Moseying on up towards the front, center stage for the big show wasn’t entirely inconceivable. For one, front row at the Eccles isn’t like front row at your local googolplex where the theater jams in 25 extra seats at no regards for retina damage or neck muscles. It’s more like the tenth row. Secondly, there’s an actual stage, so the theatre reference for a movie actually holds water. There’s also going to be a Q&A after the show, which I’m looking forward to. How long will it last though? I have to be at the Yarrow hotel before 12:10 for my interviews with Oliver Platt and Katie Holmes.

The movie is listed as 97 minutes long in the program book. It’s going to start late. It already is late. But first, the introductions. The director of Dopamine, Mark Decena, was introduced. He briefed the audience a little about the movie and thanked everyone for coming. He then gave a lovely little tribute to his wife, Liz, whom I had met at the Dopamine party. She was pleading with me to like the movie; one that husband Mark had now said was made for her. The director of Little Secrets was introduced next. Tick Tock Tick Tock. He warned us all about the potential sound problem they had encountered at the screening the day before and apologized in advance. He would also be out in the lobby afterwards if anyone didn’t understand his film. And then everything began.

I understood Little Secrets. It was a simple tale, one that reminded me a lot of the student films I saw back in my days at Columbia College Chicago. Two young high school kids, guy and gal, await their bus. Guy has crush on brazen skateboarding galpal trying to get to know her. She isn’t listening and is more fascinated with another boy who always shows up at the bus stop, same time, and same outfit. She finally muscles the courage to find out his deal and is given a very simple life lesson by the boy. She smiles, he gets on the bus and leaves. Everyone is likely to take what they will out of it.

Then the feature begins. Dopamine. Within it’s first ten minutes I’m intrigued and most importantly, smiling. The actors are charming. Sabrina is just glowing off the screen. The script is sharp and is obviously trying to say something about the concept of love. Many people don’t believe me about one simple fact about my moviegoing experiences, but I’ll say it about. Any pre-conceived, pre-packaged, pre-negotiated thoughts I may have had about any movie because of its advertising, personal baggage or simply meeting people associated with the making of it, are thrown out the window the minute the film begins. I have winced at movies I waited years for in the first ten minutes. I’ve smiled at others I was ready to throw on my worst list of that year. Call it a feeling or some chemical reaction, but Dopamine had me early and it never relinquished.

As the screen faded to black, the audience burst into applause. Putting myself into the filmmaker’s shoes for a second, I wondered if this was a standard politeness since they knew the director was in the audience. People will go out of their way to be polite, but in an auditorium nearly filled from end-to-end, it would be easy to spot those who didn’t feel the need to applaud a film they didn’t care for. I turned around to see. Nearly everyone was applauding. It died down as the credits rolled on, but it gave way to the beautiful song that was playing during them. It was a cover version of Bob Dylan’s “Sarah”, which is the name of Sabrina’s character in the movie. What a beautiful rendition. I then focused my attention to discovering the name of the singer. After it appeared on the screen, I was so enamored with the music and the vocals that I didn’t write it down. There was no time. The credits and the song were over…and the audience began to applaud AGAIN! Was THIS just courtesy or one of those rare occasions where a group of people has just found something special? I recall Richard Dreyfuss recounting an experience like this with a little film called Jaws.

Now it was time for the Q&A. Walking up to the stage were Decena, co-writer Timothy Breitbach and stars John Livingston, Sabrina Lloyd and Bruno Campos. And here I was right up front for it. I grabbed my trusty tape recorder, only wishing that I had my still camera or video camera with me, although its likely not allowed. Mark and Tim answered most of the questions. Sabrina was called to answer one but was visibly quite shy in front of the large crowd. Bruno stepped up to the plate for her. I wondered how my interview with her would go.

INTERVIEW! Shit! I had to get to the Yarrow. As the Q&A was wrapping up, I left and went to catch the theater shuttle. It’s next stop would be just that. While I waited I rewound my tape recorder to listen to one of the answers. ”ERRRRRRRRRRRR……SSSSSHHHHHHHHHHH……erbe siwartha dobyweis es brina.” Had my recorder all of a sudden developed the ability to speak in tongue? What the hell was this crap? It was nothing but ambience. No voice could be heard. Nothing could be made out. I had a crap-ass tape recorder that I just put fresh batteries in that morning and I had an interview in 35 minutes!

Is this my shuttle? Of course not, that would be too perfect. No, I had to wait for the Headquarters/Lot G shuttle. A short ride, yes, but the wait is anyone’s guess. Thankfully, it came nearly on top of the theater shuttle. 30 minutes to get back to the condo, praying that Scott or Oz would be there with a tape recorder to borrow, wait for another theater shuttle and then run my ass over to the Yarrow and pray I wasn’t late. Christ, Scott had lent his tape recorder to Carina the night before for an interview SHE was conducting. If Oz isn’t at the condo, I’m screwed. Is there a place to buy a tape recorder at the shopping mall up the street? Oh my God!

Getting off the shuttle, I Jackie Chan’d about three idiots trying to get on the bus before people could get off. Don’t you hate those people? Well, there are now three less in the world. No time for elevators, I ran up three flights of stairs to the condo, quickly discovering everything we’ve heard about the thin Utah air. I crawl to the front door, thankfully open so that I knew someone was there and I didn’t have to dig for my key. Bursting through it sounding like the personification of an obscene phone call, I explained the predicament. Oz brandished a tape recorder complete with a microphone the subject can pin to their shirt. At the moment, it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

I ran back out and found a shuttle just pulling up to Lot G. I hopped aboard and I was off to the Yarrow and I was going to be early. 20 minutes early. I was told to go upstairs where the Pieces of April press conference was being held. A couple publicists were outside the room, one of them told me I was to speak to another on the inside. With some time to spare I went into the bathroom to make sure I wasn’t sweating like Robert Hays. Might as well get rid of all the water so in the stall I go. Just then I hear the main door open and a familiar voice say “thanks a lot. I appreciate it.” It was Oliver Platt. I was in the bathroom with Oliver Platt. And he’s…going into the next stall….where he was about to give an altogether different kind of performance; one not seen, nor thankfully heard by American audiences. I can’t speak for Europe. I felt embarrassed. I shouldn’t be hearing this. I was going to be interviewing this guy in 15 minutes. While I thank him for giving me another potential question as I’m always on the lookout of where not to eat, I didn’t need to hear that and I hope I wouldn’t be hearing it throughout our interview.

I walked out of the men’s room and saw the press conference starting to let out. I saw our Flatmate, David Keeps, walking out of it. I asked him which publicist I should see when…holy God is she tall! Katie Holmes. No one believed me when I told them she was a giantess. They all thought she was short and waify, especially when compared to Dawson. Well, James Van Der Beek must be 8’6”, because Katie is easily 5’10” PLUS she’s wearing boots with 3-4” heels. She was walking past me and I had to look up at her as the cell phone she was using was in danger of being sucked into ear….she’s so tall! Then I heard…I mean, saw Oliver Platt. If they ever need to replace Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, Oliver could step up to the plate. He’s a jolly giant himself. But where are they going?

Maybe there was a room set-aside in the hotel for the individual interviews, because everyone was headed downstairs. Katie, Oliver, even Derek Luke. I found my contact to ask where everyone was going and she told me that the interviews were canceled. Excuse me? Canceled? She said they left me a message. Where? My home number or my ass cell phone that won’t even let me gather voicemail without paying $1.99 a minute? Didn’t matter. After about five minutes of frustration for the nerve-wracking ordeal I had been through this morning, a feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I didn’t care. Not one iota. I didn’t give a crap, shit or a hot damn. The publicists contacted ME initially. It was more a “sure, why not” kind of deal cemented with an “oh it’ll be cool” attitude from my friends. So I don’t get to interview Katie Holmes or Oliver Platt. Maybe my friends will be disappointed, but I’m not. I’m far more interested and excited about the interview I now had in 90 minutes.

Figuring what the hell, I might as well make my way on over to the Levis House where the cast and crew of Dopamine were hanging. The shuttles don’t go there, so I had to grab a cab. I walked outside and asked one of the Sundance volunteers about taxi service. She told me they show up here periodically. After all, it is a hotel. As I waited, I prepared some more questions for Sabrina. After 20 minutes go by, I realized that this wasn’t like hailing a cab in Las Vegas, where drivers will pick you up in the hallway of your hotel room by just thinking of it. Finally one pulled up. I told him where I needed to go and he looked at me as if someone was skiing down my face. He didn’t know where the Levis house was. Let me repeat. This is a cab driver, on duty at the biggest film festival in the country and despite me having the exact address, he didn’t know where to go. This was a first.

I went back inside to call Mickey’s assistant on the pay phone with the calling card I had to buy. He gave me general directions, just a few miles going out of town and I went back outside. 12:30 PM. No taxi in sight and apparently either a shift change or a tag team slap had taken place because a new Sundance volunteer was on hand. She asked me where I was headed.

“Some place that no taxi driver has ever heard of.”
“Did you call a taxi?”
“No, just waiting for one.”
“Yeah, but did you call one?”
“Um. No.”
“Well, taxis don’t stop here regularly. You have to call one.”

Back to the pay phone with me. I called one of the services.

“Hi. I need to be picked up from the Yarrow Hotel.”
“Where are you headed, sir?”
“The Levis House. 2600 Meadows Drive off Highway 224.”
“Where is that, sir?”

I slammed the phone repeatedly into the receiver Goodfellas-style and my skin started to turn green. 20 minutes they said the cab would be here. 20 minutes. Why-oh-why was I being punished? Did I cause a rift in the design of Belateabub, Death’s tardy cousin? I wasn’t late for the non-existent interviews so now I have to be late for the interview I’m really looking forward to? I walked back outside to wait and there was a cab there. This wasn’t my cab. It was random. A beautiful coincidence. I didn’t waste a thought on the driver headed to rendezvous with me. I asked if he was available.

“Sure am. Where ya headed?”
“2600 Meadows Drive. The Levis House.”
“Where is that?”

The sad thing is that I haven’t embellished this story one bit outside of the green skin. Is this place in the Nexus of the Universe or are the cab drivers here only trained on where the ski lodges are? I told him what I was told and he was willing to give it the ol’ high school equivalency try. Basically we had one shot at this. It was 12:45. I was told to head away from the main Sundance area and it was about three miles away. If the driver heads in the wrong direction, who knows how much time there would be to retrace our steps. Plus, no cell phone. I bowed my head and prayed for God’s blessing. The driver asked if I was Mormon. When I told him no, he said that’s too bad because if I needed wives he has all these cards for women that will come to my room for just…oh wait…wait a minute that’s Vegas. I’m getting my stories confused. I have to be focused cause now I’m embellishing.

The driver jumped on the highway and I hoped we were headed in the right direction. He was asking me about press screenings and I tried to maintain civility through my nervousness. Then HE interrupted ME! MEADOWS DRIVE! MEADOWS DRIVE! Oh sweet music. Sure, I was 40 minutes early, but who cares. I was there. I was THERE! And now…the punchline (provided by the driver.)

“Hey, I helped paint this house.”

The ride was $5. I gave him $10. That line was worth a double tip. The “Levis House” was a ski lodge and it was gorgeous. If I had to buy a house in Utah, this would be the one. Wide open spaces. A kitchen as large as an entire room. There were Levis posters hanging about and a live DJ was spinning records for anyone who would listen. Mickey thanked me for coming and offered me anything I wanted from the kitchen. Again, I felt a little weird. I know I shouldn’t, but that’s just the way I am. Who the hell am I? Sure, I want to make movies but today, I’m just someone who writes about them. As William Miller might say, “I am the enemy,” but this was a first for me.

Let me tell you something about interviews. I don’t really like them. I’ve never wanted to do them and I’ve turned down many opportunities. Maybe bad career moves on my part, but there’s nothing I find more off-putting than the sights-and-sounds of these junket whores I’ve been blasting for years. Notting Hill. Horse & Hound Magazine. Think about it. Think about Byron Allen sucking up to celebrities, calling them by their first names like they’re old friends. There’s a reason that interviewees have the same background behind them on ten different channels for twenty different interviews. It’s because they shove you into a room for 10-15 minutes, you get 2-3 questions and its time for the next guy. That’s what Holmes and Platt would have been like. Publicists looking over your shoulder, the debris of equipment either shutting down or setting up for someone more important than you. Like Byron Freakin’ Allen.

I had never conducted an interview before and now here I was being given the royal treatment. I did accept a bottle of water, but didn’t want anyone in the kitchen making a fuss over what would have been a very picky sandwich. Who was I? That’s what writer Tim Breitbach wanted to know as he came over to introduce himself. We talked for a while as I patiently waited for Sabrina to eat lunch with fellow actors, John and Bruno. She could have had dessert and whatever. I almost felt like I was there disturbing everyone. I told Tim how much I liked the movie and that I would love to maybe get him and Mark and others from the movie to do live interviews with Nick on WGN. He said he’d love to. Suddenly, I started to feel something. Something about the trip became clear to me.

And then it was time for Sabrina. She had finished her lunch and Mickey asked me if I was ready for her. He made the gesture to introduce Sabrina to me, but it wasn’t necessary. She remembered me from the party the night before. I hesitated to wonder if it was before or after the seven martinis. Sabrina asked me where I wanted to do the interview and I said wherever since she obviously knew the house better than I did. She suggested we go downstairs. We walked downstairs with Mickey and then he walked back up to leave us alone. It was just me, Sabrina, a fireplace and an X-Box. No publicists. No photographers. Just me and her, sitting on a couch across from each other for nearly a half-hour. I set up Oz’s tape recorder and she happily attached the mike to her shirt. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling any aspect of the interview here as it is worthy of its feature to be published soon. I will say though that Sabrina is as lovely as she was on Sports Night and currently on Ed. She’s very easy to talk to; so much so that at various points it just became a conversation. I didn’t have to look at my questions. I just asked whatever came to mind as we were just hanging out. At the end of the interview, we shook and parted ways. As I was gathering my bag and coat, Sabrina walked up the stairs and I heard her say enthusiastically, “I LOVE RADIO INTERVIEWS!” I love ‘em too, Sabrina.

How could the rest of the day compare? I was on such a high I forgot that I didn’t have a ride back into town. I looked up Meadows Drive, buttoned up my coat and with the exit line of one Robert DeNiro in Midnight Run, “Looks like I’m walking,” I began to walk towards the highway. If these people couldn’t be any nicer, Mickey pulled up in his car and asked if I needed a ride. He drove me back to the Yarrow and I told him we’d be in touch.

The rest of the day looked liked more movies. I wanted to catch the oft-delayed Buffalo Soldiers with Oz at 5:00 and there was some stuff afterwards that I might stick around for. Not the least of which was the actual press screening of Dopamine. I really wanted to see it again for two reasons. (1) I really, really liked it and (2) I wanted to find out if I REALLY liked it or if I was just bewitched by the way I was treated. The party invitation. The interview. The treatment at the house. I know I really liked it. But I owed it to them to see it again.

Speaking of parties, Oz told me that David Keeps had two invites for the Showtime (cable network) party that evening. Two invites with two plus-ones (he thought.) A little disenchanted with the lack of entrance to the Project Greenlight party the other evening I weighed my options for the evening. I could do what I came here to do – see movies and report about them. Or I could go to this party without the guarantee of getting in. The party is right in the middle of the evening, so if I go and I can’t get in, I’m pretty much screwed in the way of doing anything else that night. PLUS, it’s the Showtime party. The good rule of thumb with these parties to my knowledge is that every studio and every sponsor has one. If you’re going there to see celebrities, you’re going there to see celebrities in the movies made by THAT studio. Showtime had a couple movies at Sundance. I’m sure a few celebrities would be attending, but I decided to go see some movies.

Buffalo Soldiers sucked (*). It’s about a group of American soldiers stationed in Germany right before the Wall came tumbling down. There was no war. There wasn’t much of anything except the convicts and miscreants the Army recruits to join their ranks. So, they steal, make drugs, etc… all under the nose of their inept commander played wonderfully by Ed Harris. He’s so good in his aspect of the story, a career officer who’s never amounted to much that the film should have been about him. Instead it’s about Joaquin Phoenix’s pissing contest with a psychotic officer (Scott Glenn) who is trying to expose the goings-on. The film’s supposed to be a comedy, but there’s nothing funny about these characters. It’s rather hateful. Oz actually rather liked it for the very reasons I didn’t, but fellow bitchslapper Eric D. Snider was also there and in the middle on it, but agreeing more with me.

Oz left after that, telling me they would be leaving for the party at about 8:30 and to meet him back at the condo if I wanted to go. It was tempting, but I figured I went to my Sundance party; one that I wasn’t tagging on someone’s ticket (no offense intended to any plus-ones) but specifically invited to. No, I decided to see a movie with Tatum O’Neal.

OK, before you smack me, the movie is called The Technical Writer. It’s about an agoraphobic computer manual writer who has various reluctant relationships with the people in his building. He’s not a pleasant individual. At one point (about 50 minutes in) a character asks him what he did with his hair and he says he took a bath. Anyway, Tatum O’Neal and William Forsythe play swingers in the building who decide to experiment on this guy. While he goes away, the Bad News Bear will play. With the writer. They have sex a bunch of times, although we never really see any of it and the writer later goes down on a dying woman. OK, now you can smack me. (* *) I didn’t care about the lead character in the movie. I didn’t care about the movie, period. And now it was too late to go to the party. I took some time to come to peace with that. I could have gone back to the condo and pout, but why spoil the evening. Dopamine was playing at 10:30.

I was the first one to sign up for the screening. Numero Uno. Mainly because I was there 75 minutes early. So I waited, wrote some notes and attended. Mickey was there, both surprised and happy to see that I liked the film enough to see it a second time. Appropriately enough, I sat a few rows back from the screen this time out. But that didn’t stop the smile from returning to my face very early in the film. I picked up on new things; parallels between the subplot of the computer creation and the central relationship. Compliments I had paid Sabrina during our interview came into even greater focus as aspects of her performance took on greater depths. I LOVED THIS MOVIE! And there was that song again. The cover version of “Sarah”. Like Guy Pierce in Memento, I thought to myself as I listened, “OK, get a pen, remember this.” I was silently singing the song as I had been all day since hearing it. Then there was the credit. There was the name. I had it. “Sar-ah…Sar-ar-ah” Oh shit. I didn’t write it down. SHIT!

When it was all over, I didn’t care about the party. I cared that I didn’t know the name of the guy covering “Sarah”, but I didn’t care about anything else except Dopamine. Much the same way when I saw Bruce Campbell and Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep back at the Sci-Fi convention in Chicago last summer, I wanted to spread the word on this film to whomever would listen. I couldn’t wait to talk about it with Nick on his show. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends and to write my review and to get the word up as soon as possible. That’s what that feeling was earlier. A lot of films at Sundance had already been picked up or were on the verge of getting picked up because of buzzwords and big names starring in them. Films like Dopamine fight an uphill battle. They have to fight these built-in buzzkills for attention and they’re just as if not more worthy. Word-of-mouth is their best ally. If I can help them in any way, I will. And I’ve got a lot of words to use. I may not be making or writing movies (yet), but I know now. THIS is what I was doing in Sundance.

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originally posted: 02/10/03 15:53:28
last updated: 12/31/03 08:14:04
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