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Things I Learned at Sundance
by Chris Parry

Yeah, yeah, I know, you're sick of hearing about the Park City fun our writers had. I'm hip to that, there's little joy in hearing that Erik The Movieman attached a shirt microphone to Sabrina Lloyd's chest when you're looking forward to stacking a shelf at K-Mart at 2am, having had your dinner at Dunkin' Donuts an hour before. For most of us, life is a shitty struggling grind and other people's luck is at best an annoyance, at worst a dagger to the heart. Well to that I say 'suffer', because I worked for next to no money for three years earning my stripes as a film journalist, and now I'm going to make you sit through the reasons why I did so. And you've got nobody to blame but yourself, Retail.

It's been said many times before but it can not be understated; Katie Holmes is REALLY fucking tall. I mean, so tall she's like a George Costanza fantasy ("All my life I've wanted to make love to a giant"). And her nose is really flat, which seems odd to me, more so because so many people on the big screen have similar probosci. Cameron Diaz, Renee Zellweger, Holmes - these women all look fine on the screen, but in real life they're strictly 'three beer' material.

Anna Paquin, on the other hand, who looks really ordinary in Buffalo Soldiers, looks like a goddess in person. I'm not understating this when I say that she's just beautiful. Devastatingly so. But you'd never know it on screen, where she looks great but no greater than anyone else. In person there is no peer, and that's the polar opposite of the three actresses named above.

Others who look great/awful in person:

Salma Hayek - ridiculously short. I'm talking TINY. But gorgeous.
Britney Spears - bleh. Detach her head from the cellphone and maybe...
Hope Davis - not bad for an older girl.
Rachel Weisz - holy smoke, she's damn hot.
Chloe Sevigny - used up.
Emily Mortimer - like a librarian. But a very pretty one.
Jane Fonda - You'd never know she's a hundred.
Natasha Lyonne - Yenta, hear you come.
Holly Hunter - Did she have a stroke at some point that I missed?
J-Lo - She looks like Bono. Maybe it's the stupid sunglasses.
Illeana Douglas - Okay, she looks weird, but... you know you would.
Minnie Driver - Oh yeah... Oh yeah.
Maggie Gyllenhaal - Oh yeah... Ooooooh yeah.
Rachel Leigh Cook - Whoever squashed this girl's head needs jailtime.
Maria Bello - So hot you can't even look.
Robin Wright Penn - You can look.
Dominique Swain - Hot but unattainable. You know the kind.

EOnline's Anderson Jones is, and excuse my language for saying this, a total cunt. The dude has no class, no tact, no sense of right and wrong or when to step off. Whatever he wants, no matter what, he'll just ask anyone standing around. Of course, he does this all the time so when you say no he doesn't take offense, he just moves on and keeps asking, but for the person that has to say no it means an embarassing situation. Or just plain annoyance.

"Can you get me into the party?" No, I can't. I had to blow a publicist for this invite, so fuck off and get your own kneeling pad out. "Can I get a ride?" No, pay for your own cab. You make more than me. "Hey, upcoming celebrity, can we maybe do that interview we've been talking about?" (said with an already recording tape recorder under the actor's nose while he's in the middle of a conversation with two other journalists, none of whom are 'interviewing' him but are rather enjoying his stories and friendly and open demeanor). Upcoming celebrity's response to Anderson's presumptuous weaseling? "No, go away with that thing. This is a party, man. Don't be coming over here with your recorder running. Shit..."

As soon as Jones had made his apologies and moved on to harass the next celeb, his ridiculous habits became the subject of much laughter amongst the group, with one of the collective suggesting that "he's the kind of guy that when he hugs you, you don't know if he's hugging you or humping your leg." It's funny, but everyone you talk to has an Anderson Jones story, or at least loves hearing more.

He's rapidly surpassing my old enemy, Paul 'The Fish' Fischer, who was famous for his habit of making up interviews, then selling them to competing newspapers to run on the same day in the same city with the same headline and photo, a practice that got him run out of town in my old Sydney days. He'd once said about Akira Kurosawa's samurai epic Ran, "It would be a lot easier to follow if all the actors didn't look alike." He's still telling publicists that he's writing for Australian newspapers, even though he best he can do for placement of his work is a selection of 'sure, we'll take it, but we ain't payin for it' gigs with websites like Dark Horizons. The last time I saw Fischer's work in a newspaper was many years ago, though he still behaves like he's important and still has that annoying habit of sitting in the centre of the front row in screening rooms, then standing and stretching his arms, facing the press, as if to announce that he's present. Get over it, man. You write for Dark Horizons. There are fourteen-year-olds who are flunking English that write for Dark Horizons.

There's another world at Sundance that most of us never get to see. That's the swag world. Sponsors who want celebs to wear their clothes and drink their alcohol set up product houses around Park City and beg anyone with a smattering of fame to come and take what they want. The beauty of this is that you don't actually need to be famous, just important enough to get the right party invites if you want to be a part of this product grab.

The biggest swag bag in Park City was at the Sundance Channel party, where everyone in the room was handed a duffle bag containing cosmetics, Nautica ski jackets, Baume and Mercier watches (a his and hers in each bag), a year membership to an LA gym... even the duffle bag itself was a Kenneth Cole suede thing that would cost more than I spend on a month of groceries. The total value of this party gift? A little over $3000.

And just as I had the last time I went to Sundance, when I opted against going to a party would have seen me go home with a $1000 worth of Hilfiger clothing, Motorola cellphones and Raybans sunglasses, I chose the wrong night to stay home and catch up on some much-needed sleep. My total Sundance swag haul this year - A Razor Magazine T-shirt, a Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival cap, a handful of soundtracks to movies I didn't see and about six months worth of alcohol. Ripped off.

Okay, I'm preapred to admit it. Publicists can actually be pretty cool. Okay, not as a rule perhaps, but in general terms they're alright. As long as (and this is important, people) you're with the right folks.

See, it works like this. I'm friends with some well known journalists, they introduce me to the pubs (as a favor, they're decent folks these writer types). I then schmooze these pubs, and a few days later intro my own friends to them. They then schmooze these people and look forward to next year when they can play big man on the publicist block.

Now, for most folks who come to Park City to watch movies and write about them, the Publicist's Level at the Marriott hotel is a devastatingly scary thing. It's downstairs, a basement floor of the hotel with many closed doors and lots of big names taped to them, and your mission is to get to the other side of these doors. If you knock, you're dead. They won't answer, or someone will stick their head around the door and ask what you want. No good, this situation. You ain't getting dick in this situation.

But if you'r in the know, you just open that door and walk on in. That's when scary moment two hits. The room of eyes, all looking at you, wondering who the hell you are and why you're there. The weak lose it at this point. The strong announce themselves, their affiliation and what they want (interviews, public screening tickets, party invites, screeners, swag). The weak fluff their lines, look for a kind face (of which there are none) and are quickly shown the door.

It's harrowing, but once you've jumped that last flaming hoop, you're gold. And you enjoyment of the festival is going to explode from that point on.

The regular Sundance folks watch maybe five movies over the course of the festival, have much coffee at the Main St Starbucks, walk up and down the street hoping to see someone famous and maybe they go skiing once or twice.

The connected folks watch every movie that want, go to four parties a night, pay for no food or drink, hit on celebs in darkened corners and bring an extra suitcase for all their free shit. I'm somewhere between regular and connected, I think.

Making a movie is damn hard work. It's a nightmare, truly. I mean, think about it, if you were going to make a movie right now, how would you set about it?

Write a screenplay that doesn't suck. Find a crew who'll work for nothing. Invest your money in a venture you're quite sure has a high likelihood of failure. Audition actors who, most likely, have never appeared in a feature film before. Find the equipment for a good price. Find locations. Film it. Edit it. Sound mix it. Then you send it to a film festival and hope they'll like it.

Dude, that's a harsh way to follow a dream. And that's what 99.99% of first-time filmmakers have to do. There aren't a lot of easy roads when you're a rookie. So when they DO get into a festival and they show the film to an audience, there's a lot on the line.

And all they really want is for someone to take the time to say "man, great job. I'm going to write a positive review."

Seriously, they flip out when they hear this because most of the press in Park City for Sundance don't want to know about first-timers. They don't care about short film makers or documentary directors or writers that have to leave by Thursday because they could only get four days off at the video store.

So that's where we come in. At eFilmCritic/HollywoodBitchslap we realize that an unknown filmmaker can often make a better story than five quotes from Val Kilmer about how much he enjoyed working with his director. We know that the struggles and uphill battle that new guys in the biz have to undertake is important stuff, especially down the road when these first time filmmakers become second and third time filmmakers. When the mainstream press passes the little guy by, that leaves us as the document of record as to how they got there.

But there's more to it than even that. As a writer, I know that if I question Freddie Prinze Jr's acting ability, I'm not changing the world. But I also know that when I see a documentary that's been rejected at fifteen festivals and spot a flaw in the film that, when fixed, can radically improve the production, my review is far more than just a voice in the crowd. My review can then make a real difference to that film, and as a result make a huge difference to that filmmaker's career.

When we got behind Dog Soldiers a few months back it was an unknown quantity anywhere but in England. But when we started talking up the flick, we REALLY talked it up. Multiple reviews, front page coverage, ongoing mentions... Now the film has a huge and growing cult status and is doing big business on DVD and video. It's due for big screen release in Australia (home of our front end) some time around June. Was this all our doing? Most definitely not, but it sure as hell opened some eyes, as is evidenced by the more than 100 people who went from our site to Amazon's Dog Soldiers 'buy it now' page in the month of December. Who knows how many of those people told other people?

In a way, we're building our own 'clique'. While most outlets were ignoring Slamdance and Nodance and Slamdunk and Tromadance, we had writers in town who were specializing in the smaller stuff. By the end of the festival, when we showed up at the Variety VIP party we were surrounded by gushing filmmakers, heaping praise on us for covering their 'little' films, making dates to get in touch after the festival, and generally making us feel as good as we made them feel.

That's the way the talent/media relationship should be. Honesty, gratitude, friendship and support. We can tell them what we think is wrong, they can agree with us and explain the problem, nobody steps in to tell us our ten minutes is up, and when we get back to our laptops we can tell the world that there are some new kids in town that are going to do some big things in the future.

And hopefully, when it comes to the media, people see us the same way.

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originally posted: 02/11/03 09:30:13
last updated: 12/31/03 08:11:47
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