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After all, it wasn't till weeks after Sundance 2004 that Carruth found distribution for Primer: ThinkFILM, which last year picked up fest fave Half Nelson. Despite raves from the likes of Esquire, which compared it to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Primer wound up pocketing less than half a million when it was finally released in the fall of 2004. That was nothing to be ashamed of, especially given Primer's catering-truck budget; it even made enough to allow Carruth to take a few years to write his next feature, which he's still doing at this very moment. But Carruth is still stuck in the Hollywood Phantom Zone, a fate that eluded previous Grand Jury Prize winners such as Bryan Singer, Joel and Ethan Coen, and Ed Burns.
"I am still feeling incredibly fortunate it all happened," Carruth says. "But I don't know how or if I am going to wind up taking advantage of it, I guess. When something like that happens, filmmakers have a chance to go on to the next big thing or become a hired gun, and I am well aware whatever I am it's a choice I made, and it could go another way."
He's trying to finish writing his second film; every few months, Carruth thinks he's done with it, then realizes it needs more work...and more work...and more work still. He says he's become friends with Soderbergh, who's encouraged the young filmmaker to keep at it; Soderbergh even invited Carruth to the set of Ocean's Thirteen a few days ago, Carruth says, "to see what a real movie looks like." He laughs.
Carruth says he has accepted only one directing job, on an anthology television series featuring famous science-fiction story adaptations. But he passed, ultimately, when the creators kept insisting he turn the main characters of Fritz Leiber's 1953 story "A Pail of Air," about survivors trapped on a dying earth, into zombies and vampires.
"Whatever my name might have meant after Sundance, it means far less now," Carruth says. "It's capital I didn't waste necessarily, but I also didn't use it. Am I starting out like I was four years ago? I didn't think there was another way to do. I just don't work well in any other kind of situation." He swears he'll get that second movie written soon. Then, ya know, he'll shoot the damned thing.
"Then again," he says with a chuckle, "I might be doing software again."
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