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

What really happens next is the Deal-Maker really can do that. And does. And the deal leaves the room.

(P.S. Banks rule Hollywood. Not Sleazeballs.)

Tip 3: What's Most "Sundance Genius" about a First-Timer? You can turn into a Last-Timer.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em: The author, atop Sundance Mountain.
Smoke 'em if you got 'em: The author, atop Sundance Mountain.

A Baldwin to the Rescue

January 25, 2001

We get to Sundance only one day before the premiere screening of Perfume. Part of why we're delayed is setting up the Press and Parties with sponsors such as Lalique, VH1, and Nokia. This means overcoordinating Party Lists with everyone's approval; designing the parties (Lalique actually hires a party designer to make the rooms look, uh, extra-ultra, which he does); booking the band Everclear for a VH1 concert that will be Webcast in honor of Perfume; etc., etc.

But, of course, just when we arrive, we're caught in a perfect Sundance first-day minicrisis. Standing in a snowstorm on Main Street in Park City, Cynthia and I are trying to figure out how to quickly put together gift bags--a professional respect/courtesy gesture--for the stars of Perfume due to arrive later today: Jeff Goldblum, Carmen Electra, Rita Wilson, Harry Hamlin, Mariel Hemingway, etc. It's a typically crazy last-minute movie-producer problem, because no actor would confirm if he/she was coming.

Just then, Stephen Baldwin saunters up. He stands between us, grinning his loopy grin.

"What's wrong?" he asks. "You guys got a hot film look fried?"

We break the emergency to Stephen. He listens, nods without a word--then bolts away up the street. Huh? Was this too crazy for him? Now he's signaling frantically to us from a Roots store uphill. We go in, and Baldwin starts handing us bags of Roots stuff (strap-on leather body pouches, leather business-card holders, etc.). But what? How? Uh, Stephen? Baldwin whispers gleefully: "No problem. It's all free. Don't you know? One of the few good things when you get famous is that people will give you free stuff if you just ask!"

He raises his right foot, waggling the large red tennis shoe he's wearing: "Check this out--it's free!" It's a bonus of being a Baldwin.

At a late dinner that night, a friend introduces a First-Time director, Billy Corben. Billy, a former child actor, looks like a Poster Boy for the indie First-Timer: He's 22, way too shaggy-haired, sort of out of it, and jittery-boyishly shy. He dropped out of college to make a tough controversial documentary about an alleged rape at the Delta Chi fraternity house at the University of Florida, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent. Billy bravely insists that the local prosecutors fumbled and dropped the case, in which a bunch of frat boys videotaped the rape of an exotic dancer they hired for a wild frat party. Already, this documentary set off a Sundance spin when the victim, Lisa Gier King, showed up (unexpectedly) for the first screening; photos of this young woman at Sundance made the front page of the New York Post under the banner headline "RAPE, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE!"

We start to chat when Billy's cell phone beeps. He snatches it up; now he's staggering back from the table. Billy listens intently to his phone--starts wobbling strangely, nervously, giddily, rubbing his face and his teeth with his fingers as he mutters into the phone. Next to me, New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell leans confidentially close.

"Watch Billy," he whispers. "He's been waiting for this call--they're buying his movie."

"What? Who?"

"Can't tell you," Elvis says, sagely. "But a key distributor phoned me this afternoon asking to preview my review of Billy's film." Elvis laughs. "Told 'em to buy the newspaper tomorrow and read it--journalistic ethics, y'know. No free news for nobody."

Suddenly, Billy slams shut his phone. He nearly falls down, literally. He's gulping for air, choking out: "That was Artisan [distributor of The Blair Witch Project]...They just movie..." He shakes himself, amazed. He blurts: "Now! I can! Get a haircut!"

So here's this kid who's never made a movie (wait, he still hasn't made a movie--this is a documentary) and who's just sold his first (not movie) documentary to a major independent-film distributor. Who buys a documentary? Understand: This is about as likely as a fragment of space dust spiraling off one of the rings of Saturn and zooming all the way across the universe and nicking you on your left index finger. It's a classically real end-of-the-day Sundance Moment.

The Smell of PERFUME

January 26, 2001

10 a.m., News Conference

Geoffrey Gilmore, Sundance festival director (and a Perfume fan--he wrote the glowing capsule review in the fest's 312-page program-cum-catalog) quickly intros the news conference. In front of the Nokia and DEFMAN (Deep Ellum Festival of Music, Art, and Noise, a co-sponsor of the news conference) banner, it quickly turns into a scene from the movie, a punchier brand of improv than the usual prefab improv of Sundance. The actors take over, while director Michael Rymer keeps pointing to who should jump onto the microphone next. Jeff Goldblum does his special self-mocking mumble-chuckle delivery, hinting about how improv gave him the freedom to reveal more about himself in his role. He slyly reveals that at the last minute, he switched roles--from the struggling hipster photographer (played in the film by Jared Harris) to the seductive fashion scout--and Goldblum further hints that his performance is a mock-acknowledgement of his industry rep as a woman-fancier.

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