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

Carmen Electra catches everybody off-guard by spelling out the innocently elaborate back story she built for her character (she plays a poor little rich girl who's trying desperately to be cool). In the movie, she's a Jennifer Lopez-type girlfriend of a mega-rap star, played by Omar Epps, who's doing his own version of Sean "Puffy" Combs. This is why some writers love actors: They expose more than you write. They expose their own secrets.

At 6 p.m., it's time to premiere Perfume; all roads lead to the Eccles Theater, in the twirling twilight snowfall. The theater contains 1,200 seats, which makes it the biggest house at the festival, and it's completely sold out. We're giving a few extra tickets to friends, including Deep Ellum Film Festival founder-director Michael Cain and the group from DEFF. (Cain jokes that the group is "infiltrating" Sundance to track down filmmakers carrying cans of unfinished film stock under their arms, in hopes of luring them toward next fall's festival in downtown Dallas.) So we're openly standing in front of this sold-out movie with extra tickets in our hands (P.S. Don't ever do this at Sundance!), and others spot us--we get mobbed. We're suddenly surrounded by four huge guys who look like out-of-work wrestlers.

"Hey, yeah, you know us," one of them quietly threatens. "We're old friends of...of that guy--your director, remember? He sent us over to pick up these tickets from you. Remember?"

Get a haircut: Billy Corben was among Sundance's most celebrated First-Timers. His frat-house-rape documentary, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, was bought by Artisan during the festival.
Get a haircut: Billy Corben was among Sundance's most celebrated First-Timers. His frat-house-rape documentary, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, was bought by Artisan during the festival.
Get a haircut: Billy Corben was among Sundance's most celebrated First-Timers. His frat-house-rape documentary, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, was bought by Artisan during the festival.
Tearlach Hutcheson
Get a haircut: Billy Corben was among Sundance's most celebrated First-Timers. His frat-house-rape documentary, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, was bought by Artisan during the festival.

Sure. No doubt, hereyago. Later, we point out to Michael Rymer his old roly-poly pals.

"Who?" he asks. "Who the hell are those guys?"

Surprisingly (to us, anyway), there's a lot of laughter bursting from the audience throughout the screening--at the right places, too. Cynthia keeps bonking my arm: "We made this funny a movie?" Actually, the movie plays very light tonight. And, yep, the following week's Peoplemagazine does tag Perfume as a "comedy"; Entertainment Weekly, in its Sundance wrap-up, notes our "light-fingered observational glee"; while Newsweek names it "seductive." Who knew? Additionally, this kind of dynamic of audience-play comes from the Sundance we-get-it! bug biting the movie's viewers. Sundancers hungrily want to "get it."

But this is partly why you go through the pressures of Sundance: to find out how your work works.

As the crowd finally puddles out the doors, Cynthia and I get tapped by a representative from the Cannes Film Festival. The rep congratulates us, tells us how much she loved the movie. And then she "unofficially" asks us if we would please offer Perfume, formally and officially, to the director of Cannes for consideration in this year's fest, which takes place in May.

"Would you be ready to go to Cannes?" she asks with a smile.

Wait, thisis why you go to Sundance.

The post-screening party, held at the curiously named Synergy Spa House, does look extra-ultra: Thousands of multisized candles and a horde of small, snappy translucent glass animals from Lalique are scattered about the chateau's various rooms; DJ Paul Sevigny (brother of Boys Don't Crystar Chloe Sevigny) spins records in an adjoining room. (In its post-Sundance report, Entertainment Weekly rated this spa-cum-mansion with an "A," referring to it as an "ostentatious party manse.") The press and the actors circle each other warmly, intimately. Plus, there's this mingling group of Rich-Looking People whom none of us know. They all mingle especially close to Carmen Electra, remarking: "How cute she is! How tiny!"

At a certain point, I'm informed there are too many Rich-Looking People here, so I don't have a seat at the dinner celebrating this movie I've put a long year of my life into. It is a comedy after all, yep.

I just wander outside onto the snow-packed porch, and I glance at the moon and revel in this top joke. Cynthia fixes the problem shortly and brings me back inside to sit next to the director. But while I'm out here in the mountain snow, I kind of muse across a festival wrap-up: The good movies here this year (including writer-director Henry Bean's Grand Prize-winning modern-day Nazi tale, The Believer, and even the short-film honorable mention-winner, the mock-doc Delusions In Modern Primitivism by Dallas' Dan Loflin) were serious and smart and human--not trendy. They make this year's Sundance feel a lot less like a Hollywood audition than in recent years. Unless the next trend in Hollywood is toward smart and serious and human, which is not exactly likely.

The Genius of

the First-Timer?

It's time to come down from the mountain, and it strikes me that shooting a movie may be the most crazy action humans ever thought up. But shooting the first movie is always the Model of Chaos, because of this simple, necessary question: How is the filmmaker going to get anyone to trust him/her? That is, how is the filmmaker going to learn to chill out two very unlikely groups: The Actors and The Crew. (The filmmaker should consider dropping all that auteur vanity, because both groups don't need the filmmaker this first time around the same way that the filmmaker needs them.)

Aside 1: Chilling The Actors

Fact: A rookie director (name deleted) complains to the actors that they ask too many questions and have too many opinions. The actors half-joke back: "What'd you expect us to do--just jump into your little storyboards?" The First-Timer threatens the actors with quitting. (P.S. Once a movie starts shooting, nobody quits.)

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