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

"Carson? You were there first with David Holzman's Diary, then you were there with Wim on Paris, Texas, and now you're here with us on C.Q. You've got a lot of explaining to do."

Roman's life is about to get weird. He will get no break, because for the next year, he's going to be angled up in the HypeLife of the First-Timer and his father's own status as Legendary Director. He will have a lot of explaining to do.

But make this clear: The main reason I go up to see C.Q. is that I'm a sucker for First-Timers. It's also the main reason for going to Sundance.

The ladies man: Jeff Goldblum, with Perfume co-star Leslie Mann, hinted that he took his role as a talent scout to tweak his Hollywood rep as a womanizer.
The ladies man: Jeff Goldblum, with Perfume co-star Leslie Mann, hinted that he took his role as a talent scout to tweak his Hollywood rep as a womanizer.
Top: Jeff Goldblum and Carmen Electra share some punchy improv. Bottom: The stars of Perfume--from left, Jeff Goldblum, Rita Wilson, Carmen Electra, Joanne Baron, and Leslie Mann--gather for a picture-window photo op.
Top: Jeff Goldblum and Carmen Electra share some punchy improv. Bottom: The stars of Perfume--from left, Jeff Goldblum, Rita Wilson, Carmen Electra, Joanne Baron, and Leslie Mann--gather for a picture-window photo op.

The Genius of

the First-Timer

Up on Sundance Mountain, it hits me again: the history of discovering all the First-Timers whose movies screened here. Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies, and videotape); Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi); Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs); Boaz Yakin (Fresh); Darren Aronofsky (),and many others...

Like most moviephiles, I've always been a sucker for First-Timers. They break Tomorrow's News, The Update, The Next Joke, The New Surprise! They just jolt you.

Since the early 1970s, I've been lucky enough to be with friends making their first set of movies. With George Lucas joking around in John Milius' editing room. With Paul Schrader writing Taxi Driver, with a bottle of Myers Rum on one side of his desk and an (unloaded) gun on the other side. Pre-Sundance.

Post-Sundance, the early '90s. With Tarantino workshopping Reservoir Dogs, writing in his script "empathy frame" instead of "empty frame" at the end of the infamous ear-slicing scene. With Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson scratching to find an unexpected conclusion for Bottle Rocket ("Maybe the wanabe crooks all sail off in a big boat to the Caribbean...?").

I'm hooked on the first stories people tell--OK, hooked right in the heart--because these stories are always about what it feels like when you first tangle-ass with The World. They're always gut-wrenchingly naive and human (from François Truffaut's 400 Blows to Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets to Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich)--about how You-Win-You-Lose. About how this first struggle is a lot trickier, and it costs a bigger piece of your soul.

And it's a hard shot to get this r-i-g-h-t onto film--getting this real feeling (we're not talking about any cornball action-movie roller coaster) that grabs you, shakes you, jukes you around. It's tough to spill your soul onto film.

But especially here at Sundance, this First-Timer stunt is goofishly tough to pull off--and survive sane. After the filmmaker has done his/her work and put up the movie, now--now--he/she has got to go through this 11-dayandnight-long hyper hybrid rush of attention-and-hustle-and-blast, and it can take away anyone's cool.

And then maybe the filmmaker will morph from the fun of being just an ordinary First-Timer stomping around the snowy hillsides into a...Sundance Genius. (Understand, this tag is not exactly swanky.)

This is The Dark Side of Sundance.

I've watched this metamorphosis in action and tried to pick up some tips on ducking the shadow-fall from the Dark Side of Sundance. Fact is, this changeover is not too subtle. All of the following anecdotes are real; only the names have been deleted to protect the clueless.

Tip 1: Check Your Memory Loss

Instant "fame" on the Main Street of Sundance Mountain can regularly cause massive memory loss for the First-Timer. Once this snaps, you can become psychotically unable to remember any person who worked on your first movie. Thank who? Did you really make your movie all alone?

Fact: A rookie director can forget even that there are actors in the movie. One First-Timer (name deleted) got caught denying to the press that the main role in his movie was played by...anyone.

(P.S. The best memory-jog cure for this degree of amnesia is the threat of stressful legal action, such as a breach-of-contract lawsuit, but only if this threat could cost the rookie at least $1 million.)

Tip 2: Check Your Sleazeball

Overnight buzz across the Sundance party circuit can regularly cause sudden Agent/Manager/Public Relations Sleazeball clusters to be hanging all over First-Timers. Blabbing about "strategizing" career moves. (And this puzzles the young filmmaker with the sad question: Do Sleazeballs rule Hollywood?)

Fact: A rookie director (name deleted) can OK some strange Sleazeball to lurk around Sundance lying about the next major studio deal he's setting up for this hot new talent. It's called the "strategy" of maybe getting any deal, any place. But what really happens next is that the Sleazeball lies so hard that the First-Timer ends up doing endless cable-television development deals.

Fact: A rookie director (name deleted) does get offered an actual deal, but Sleazeball keeps sniveling that he's already got this deal leaked to be printed in tomorrow's issue of Varietyat a "strategically" higher price. Sleazeball pressures the First-Timer not to sign the deal memo until the price goes up. Deal-Maker gets insulted at the lying and slowly begins to pull the deal memo off the table.

First-Timer squeals, eyes all lit up: "Oooooooo! That's so-o-o-o-o Mafia! You can't really do that!"

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