The Sundance Kidder

With his own movie in tow, Dallas' indie-film guru goes to Robert Redford's festival, falls in love with the First-Timer, and embraces the hype

How the HypeLife Works

January 11, 2001

The HypeLife jump-starts hard and fast, seven days before the festival begins. Perfume is Hot News! CNN wants to shoot a fake at-Sundance interview with our director, Michael Rymer, and actor Jeff Goldblum in Los Angeles. I'd first met Rymer at (of course) Sundance in 1995, when he brought in his first movie, Angel Baby; he was now in L.A. shooting extra scenes for the Warner Bros.-backed sequel to Interview with a Vampire, Anne Rice's rock-and-roll bloodsucker tale Queen Of The Damned. Michael and Jeff haul out to some smokehouse in Burbank to lounge in front of a fake roaring fireplace. It's already starting to blurrr: Real life is becoming HypeLife. CNN shoots on January 11 to broadcast on the 16th or 17th during its first Sundance news feature. CNN asks Rymer and Goldblum to wear "attractive snowy sweaters." I wonder: Will CNN sprinkle fake snow on their shoulders?

No free news for nobody: Distributors would call New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell during the festival to find out what he thought about a movie before deciding to buy it.
No free news for nobody: Distributors would call New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell during the festival to find out what he thought about a movie before deciding to buy it.
Not your father's filmmaker: Roman Coppola, left, son of Francis and director of the forthcoming C.Q., epitomizes the Genius of the First-Timer. At right, The sweet smell of success: Perfume director Michael Rymer
Not your father's filmmaker: Roman Coppola, left, son of Francis and director of the forthcoming C.Q., epitomizes the Genius of the First-Timer. At right, The sweet smell of success: Perfume director Michael Rymer

The HypeLife isn't bugging me. Yet.

January 15, 2001

Then it starts. HypeLife hits my computer in a blizzard of e-mails, all asking about Perfume. As recently as five years ago, the main purpose for going to Sundance was The Search--for the surprise and excitement of catching the great indie movie that no one (but the Sundance programmers) had yet seen. But today, the press and distributors and agents and filmmakers frenetically start Internetting each other prefest to make and shape and squeeze the Pre-Sundance Buzz into a Tip Sheet of What's Hot To See. Today: No Search needed, dude!

Hollywood Players have gimmicked and devolved the old real thrill into a prefest pseudoscientific guessing game (What'd the agent say? Who read any pages of the script? Did Al Pacino really visit the set? What's the gossip? No, thejuicy gossip). What purpose does this game serve? Easy. Power, that kind of arched-eyebrow Hollywood In-The-Know-ness. It's a cruel joke, but the jokiest aspect of this game is that no one has seen 99 percent of the movies being babbled about. (P.S. The Buzz Game works if you play it smart: Perfume notches into the top 10 of one Internet list, and all three of our Sundance screenings instantly sell out; and, yes, still no one's seen the movie.)

But, suddenly there's a break in The Buzz Game when a picture starts rocketing around the Web: a photo of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire sitting in a hotel room, sporting matching (open) bathrobes. This causes the Hollywood Web-sters, with their tiny attention spans, to pause for a couple of bytes to stumble around and analyze and discuss whether the pix-file was faked. Finally, some pixel expert declares that a precise deconstruction of the scan lines reveals alterations in the photo: Fake! Still, this diversion has taken some heat off The Buzz. It kind of fades out. Nobody seems to really get back into it.

Later, a Web rumor insists the pix-file originated from Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia, still a revolutionary saboteur). Yeah, maybe. Maybe she was just as sick of The Buzz Game as other e-mail victims.

January 21, 2001

While I'm eating chili and half-watching the Golden Globes in Dallas, Roman Coppola calls my cell phone. He's inviting me to the first screening of his first movie, C.Q. It's at the MGM/UA screening room on the corner of 56th Street and Sixth Avenue. In New York. At 6 p.m. Tomorrow.

Odd, but even in the middle of scrambling to get to Sundance, I fly in the opposite direction. I do so partly because Roman has taken the main character out of my first movie--David Holzman's Diary, a mockumentary about a young filmmaker shooting a diary of his life falling apart, which I made in 1968 with director Jim McBride while I was still in college--and plopped down our "David" as the main character in his first movie. Roman has described his movie as "David Holzman accidentally directs Barbarella": It's set in 1969, and it's a movieland tale of a young American editor who takes over the finishing of a cheesy Euro sci-fi flick after the old-guy director gets fired and almost kills his young-guy replacement. This is too good a twist to miss--my first movie sequel-ing right into Roman's first movie.

C.Q. (i.e., "seek you") works: The young editor shoots a black-and-white diary of his own real life falling apart, while at the same time, he's shooting this absurdly colorful sci-fi pic on a hokey "moon set." It's full of the heartbreak, dopiness, and human knowingness of movie people that Roman's picked up by being around his father's moviemaking since childhood.

After the movie, as the screening-room lights fade up, Roman's father, Francis Ford Coppola (y'know, The Godfather? Apocalypse Now?), stalks around and starts quizzing the 25 people in the room about theme and style and...

Roman edges onto the arm of Cynthia's seat. He motions toward the exit with his head and whispers: "We gotta get out of here before my dad turns this into a film-festival seminar."

We exit quietly with Jeremy Davies, the young actor from Saving Private Ryan and director Wim Wenders' new Million Dollar Hotel, who plays "my role" in Roman's movie. Jeremy looks me over with mock-studiedness.

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