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Gearing Up For SUNDANCE 2015

SAGindie — Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Sundance Film Festival

It’s that time of year again, where SAGindie and filmmakers from all over the world pack their most fashionable parkas and head to higher elevation. Yes, the 2015 Sundance Film Festival kicks off in Park City, Utah, on January 22, and we’ll be there to rub elbows, drink soul-warming beverages, and see an obscene amount of movies. From a huge and diverse slate of features, shorts, and documentaries playing at this year’s festival, take a look at which films the SAGindie staff is most excited to see.

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Darrien’s Picks:

I Smile Back
I SMILE BACK (US Dramatic Competition, Directed by Adam Salky)
Laney Brooks does bad things. Married with kids, she takes the drugs she wants, sleeps with the men she wants, disappears when she wants. Now, with the destruction of her family looming, and temptation everywhere, Laney makes one last desperate attempt
at redemption.

Just really curious to watch Sarah Silverman finally act inappropriately.

JAMES WHITE (Sundance NEXT, Written and Directed by Josh Mond)
A young New Yorker struggles to take control of his reckless, self-destructive behavior in the face of momentous family challenges.
Because I love Josh Mond. There, I said it.

SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE (Sundance Premieres, Written and Directed by Leslye Headland)
Jake and Lainey impulsively lose their virginity to each other in college. When their paths cross 12 years later in New York, they realize they both have become serial cheaters. Bonding over their chronic infidelity, they form a platonic friendship to support each other in their quests for healthy romantic relationships.
Um….. No reason, really, just….. Um, sounds….. Interesting….. AS A FILM!!!

THE WOLFPACK (US Documentary Competition, Directed by Crystal Moselle)
Six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a Manhattan housing project. All they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively (and re-create meticulously). Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning world.
Just fascinating.

DIGGING FOR FIRE (Sundance Premieres, Directed by Joe Swanberg)
The discovery of a bone and a gun sends a husband and wife on separate adventures over the course of a weekend.
‘Cuz it sounds fun, and I NEED some fun while I’m freezing and tired and hungover working hard.

 

Eliza’s Picks:

Tangerine
TANGERINE (Sundance NEXT, Directed by Sean Baker)
A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart.

WESTERN (US Documentary Competition, Directed by Bill Ross & Turner Ross)
For generations, all that distinguished Eagle Pass, Texas, from Piedras Negras, Mexico, was the Rio Grande. But when darkness descends upon these harmonious border towns, a cowboy and lawman face a new reality that threatens their way of life. WESTERN portrays timeless American figures in the grip of unforgiving change.

FINDERS KEEPERS (US Documentary Competition, Directed by Bryan Carberry & Clay Tweel)
Recovering addict and amputee John Wood finds himself in a stranger-than-fiction battle to reclaim his mummified leg from Southern entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant, who found it in a grill he bought at an auction and believes it therefore to be his rightful property.

CHUCK NORRIS VS. COMMUNISM (World Cinema Documentary Competition, Directed by Ilinca Calugareanu)
In 1980s Romania, thousands of Western films smashed through the Iron Curtain, opening a window to the free world for those who dared to look. A black market VHS racketeer and courageous female translator brought the magic of film to the masses and sowed the seeds of a revolution.

PERVERT PARK (World Cinema Documentary Competition, Directed by Frida Barkfors & Lasse Barkfors)
PERVERT PARK follows the everyday lives of sex offenders in a Florida trailer park as they struggle to reintegrate into society, and try to understand who they are and how to break the cycle of sex crimes being committed.

 

Colin’s Picks:

The D Train
THE D TRAIN (US Dramatic Competition, Written and Directed by Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel)
With his twentieth reunion looming, Dan can’t shake his high school insecurities. In a misguided mission to prove he’s changed, Dan rekindles a friendship with the popular guy from his class and is left scrambling to protect more than just his reputation when a wild night takes an unexpected turn.
If Bachelorette taught me anything, it’s that James Marsden plays a wonderful douchey party animal. I’m ready for an encore.

THE OVERNIGHT (US Dramatic Competition, Written and Directed by Patrick Brice)
In an attempt to acclimate to Los Angeles, a young couple spends an increasingly bizarre evening with the parents of their son’s new friend.
I’m not sure if I’ll be getting another God of Carnage with this one, or Sleepover. But I’m ready for anything.

THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT (US Dramatic Competition, Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez)
Based on actual events that took place in 1971, Stanford professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo created what became one of the most shocking and famous social experiments of all time.
I love prison movies, sociology, and terrible 1970s fashion so needless to say this movie was made for me.

EXPERIMENTER (Sundance Premieres, Written and Directed by Michael Almereyda)
EXPERIMENTER is based on the true story of famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram, who in 1961 conducted a series of radical behavior experiments that tested ordinary humans’ willingness to obey authority by using electric shock. We follow Milgram from meeting his wife through his controversial experiments that sparked public outcry.
Scientific proof that people will go to the dark side quicker than you’d expect? I’m in.

WELCOME TO LEITH (US Documentary Competition, Directed by Michael Beach Nichols & Christopher K. Walker)
A white supremacist attempts to take over a small town in North Dakota.
I can only assume that things do not go well.

 

Amanda’s Picks:

Z for Zachariah
For my first year at Sundance I’ve filled my slate with about as many movies as humanly possible, but here are some of the flicks I’m most excited for:

Z FOR ZACHARIAH (US Dramatic Competition, Directed by Craig Zobel)
In a post-apocalyptic world, a young woman who believes she is the last human on Earth meets a dying scientist searching for survivors. Their relationship becomes tenuous when another survivor appears. As the two men compete for the woman’s affection, their primal urges begin to reveal their true nature.
Hopefully an apocalyptic sci-fi that incorporates some things we haven’t seen before; looking forward to seeing how the last three humans even managed to survive, let alone find each other. How will two men and one woman live together? Sounds like the classic story of Adam and Adam and Eve.

THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (US Dramatic Competition, Written and Directed by Marielle Heller)
Minnie Goetze is a 15-year-old aspiring comic-book artist, coming of age in the haze of the 1970s in San Francisco. Insatiably curious about the world around her, Minnie is a pretty typical teenage girl. Oh, except that she’s sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend.
I’m a fan of most things based off graphic novels, and one that explores adolescence, especially a girl’s coming of age, I’m immediately on board for. Tie in the feelings she has for her mother’s boyfriend and things will really start to get awkward.

DOPE (US Dramatic Competition, Written and Directed by Rick Famuyiwa)
Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.
Another teen drama, about a kid trying to make smart decisions in a rough neighborhood, looks to be more interesting than movies of a similar flair by tying in humor with the usual milieu of good and bad characters. Finally some new characters and new perspectives on screen.

THE WOLFPACK (US Documentary Competition, Directed by Crystal Moselle)
Six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a Manhattan housing project. All they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively (and re-create meticulously). Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning world.
So interested in this doc, and how film can influence and shape isolated creativity; the premise is almost unfathomable, and I can’t wait to see how the filmmaker found her way into these boys’ lives and told their story.

THE VISIT (World Cinema Documentary Competition, Directed by Michael Madsen)
“This film documents an event that has never taken place…” With unprecedented access to the United Nations’ Office for Outer Space Affairs, leading space scientists, and space agencies, THE VISIT explores humans’ first encounter with alien intelligent life and thereby humanity itself. “Our scenario begins with the arrival. Your arrival.”
Such and unique idea for a documentary focusing on what would happen if we were ever contacted by extraterrestrials; I’m not sure how you can really “document” an event that hasn’t happened yet but I’m excited to see them try. As a sci-fi lover I’m not sure how I can not appreciate this.

GIRLHOOD (Sundance Spotlight, Written and Directed by Céline Sciamma)
Oppressed by her family, dead-end school prospects, and the boys law in the neighborhood, Marieme starts a new life after meeting a group of free-spirited girls. She changes her name and dress, and quits school to be accepted in the gang, hoping to find a way to freedom.
I’m not sure I’m going to be able to swing seeing this and it’s probably the thing I’m most sad about. Seeing characters on screen that aren’t usually represented is the best thing for any storytelling and the girls of Girlhood look to shine a new light on youthful independence — hopefully similar to the ladies of We Are the Best! Girls that aren’t afraid of showing their own identities and reveling in their own interests.

 
WILL YOU BE AT SUNDANCE 2015? WHICH FILMS ARE ON YOUR MUST-SEE LIST?

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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

This Week’s Good Reads (Week of January 12)

SAGindie — Friday, January 16th, 2015

A simple recap of this week: Awards, awards, kudos, outrage, awards, kudos, tears, awards. Did we miss anything? Just in case, we’ve gathered some interesting reads regarding the happenings in the film world below. Mull over your Oscar picks and get to reading!

Good Reads for the week of January 12, 2015

Academy, Producers Guild deny producer credit to two credited producers of Boyhood (via Nathan Rabin for The Dissolve)
A little breakdown on who exactly is considered a “producer” during awards season.

Producing Your First Feature? 5 Insights That Won’t Lead Your Far Wrong… (via Alex Lightman for Truly Free Film)
Lessons of a first-time filmmaker.

The Return of W. De Rijk (via Steven Soderbergh for Extension 765)
Steven Soderbegh cut his own version of 2001: A Space Odyssey and posted it online? Sure, why not?

Inhabiting Wes Anderson’s Universe (via Penelope Green for The New York Times)
An interview with Anderson aficionado Matt Zoller Seitz on all things bow-ties and corduroy.

Sundance Infographic 2015: Dollars and Distribution (via Adam Leipzig for Cultural Weekly)
Do you love indie films AND statistics? Take a gander at these numbers.

 

A video worth watching

Did you see Matthew McConaughey’s audition tape for Dazed and Confused? It’d be a lot cooler if you did.

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

SAG Foundation LA Short Film Showcase April 2015 – SEEKING SUBMISSIONS

SAGindie — Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

THE SCREEN ACTORS GUILD FOUNDATION is now accepting short films and web series for their Los Angeles Short Film Showcase, being held at the SAG Foundation LA Actors Center on April 29, 2015.

Note: Qualifying filmmakers must currently reside in the following states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.

DEADLINE: Wednesday, February 11, 2015

  • 20-minute limit, including credits
  • Films MUST be produced under a SAG-AFTRA contract (Short Film, Student Agreement, or New Media)
  • No fee to submit or attend. Previously submitted films are eligible for re-submission
  • Filmmaker must be present at screening

SUBMIT YOUR FILM at FilmFreeway.

*You will be notified if your film has been selected for the screening on March 18, 2015.

Contact: SAG Foundation

This Week’s Good Reads (Week of January 5, 2015)

SAGindie — Friday, January 9th, 2015

Hi there! Welcome to 2015! It’s a New Year, as you probably noticed from the giant glitter ball in Times Square succumbing to gravity a few nights back. Naturally, many news outlets were buzzing this week about the future of the film industry, and what we can expect in the twelve months ahead. Is blockbuster fatigue going to set in? Will VOD be the new way forward in studio releasing? Will Jennifer Aniston win an Oscar? Take a look at some of this weeks most interesting film-related articles.

Good Reads for the week of January 5, 2015

8 Ambitious Resolutions For Hollywood in 2015 (via Amy Nicholson for LA Weekly)
In a perfect world studio execs, agents, and financiers would heed Nicholson’s words and the world would be rainbows and ice cream.

Why I Hope Star Wars and Avengers Don’t Give Hollywood A Record 2015 (via Scott Mendelson for Forbes)
Box office numbers were down in 2014. Maybe that’s a lesson Hollywood needs to keep learning from?

Let Them Eat Cake (via David Ehrlich for Slate)
A peek inside the Oscar race for a little-known indie film with a very-not-little-known star.

Sony Hack: Interview VOD Strategy Probably Won’t Change Anything (via Pamela McClintock for The Hollywood Reporter)
So there was this movie coming out in December, you see. And North Korea didn’t like it… Ringing any bells? Anyway, they made a bunch of money on VOD, but will it matter?

 

A video worth watching

A Celebration of Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures, Indie Film’s Fairy Godmother:

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

SAGindie’s Favorite Films of 2014

SAGindie — Thursday, December 18th, 2014

2014 movies

Strange as it may seem, we’ve reached the end of 2014: Year of ice bucket challenges, ebola scares, the resurgence of pop songs about butts, and lots of sad, serious news that’s still a little too depressing to reflect on. In movieworld, we saw a rise in VOD viewing and a decline in theatrical attendance (score one for the agoraphobes!), but no year would be complete without every website in town giving your their Best Films of the Year©®™☺ list.

So as we wind things down at the SAGindie offices, we take a look back at our staff’s favorite movies of 2014, from big-time blockbusters to sleeper indie hits to obscure festival finds. These are the flicks that best represent why we love movies (and also give us a chance to step onto our soap-boxes and yell our extremely valid and important opinions). You’ll also see that we’re not very good at the whole “sticking to 10 films” thing.

Happy movie-watching, and we’ll see you all in 2015!

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Darrien’s Top 10 (or 9?):

  1. Whiplash
  2. Obvious Child (for the difficult ending)
  3. Selma (brilliant)
  4. The Imitation Game
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy
  6. The Lego Movie
  7. Chef (don’t go hungry)
  8. The Hundred Foot Journey
  9. The Equalizer (Denzel has a special set of skills, baby!)

Sad, but I don’t have a 10th. But I haven’t seen The Theory of Everything or a few other big movies yet.

 

Eliza’s Top 10 (or 12?):

  1. Force Majeure #1 #1 #1
  2. Under the Skin
  3. Whiplash
  4. Listen Up Philip
  5. The Overnighters
  6. Uncertain Terms
  7. Thou Wast Mild & Lovely
  8. Wetlands
  9. Mommy
  10. Jodorowsky’s Dune
  11. Heaven is for Real (LOL jk)
  12. Deux jours, une nuit

It’s more than 10 oh well.

 

Colin’s Top 10:

  1. The One I Love – I couldn’t shut up about this movie, which I’m sure made me annoying but if you’d just listen to me and watch it we could turn this into a dialogue instead of a monologue. Sheesh.
  2. Nightcrawler
  3. Boyhood
  4. Birdman
  5. The Skeleton Twins
  6. 22 Jump Street
  7. Snowpiercer
  8. Blue Ruin
  9. The Babadook
  10. Edge of Tomorrow

I also feel I should get this off my chest: I actually liked Men, Women & Children! Sure, it didn’t change my life or anything, but the amount of hatred people have for it kind of baffles me. Settle down, folks. It wasn’t that bad. At least admit that Kaitlyn Dever and Ansel Elgort were straight-up adorable, you heartless monsters.

 

Amanda’s Top 10:

  1. Snowpiercer – Fav of the year, also Tilda Swinton, what a gem
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel’s best in my book
  3. We Are the Best! – I went through a punk phase in middle school
  4. Finding Vivian Maier – Really insightful look at a woman who hid behind her camera
  5. Whiplash – Stunning performances
  6. Chef – Be prepared to make grilled cheese
  7. Interstellar – SPACE!
  8. Boyhood – Just too cool on multiple levels, continually in awe of Linklater
  9. Only Lovers Left Alive – Tilda Swinton
  10. Wild – Some flaws, but it did make me want to hike more

 
WHAT WERE YOUR FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2014?

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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

This Week’s Good Reads (Week of December 8)

SAGindie — Friday, December 12th, 2014

As the end of the year approaches, media outlets and clairvoyants contemplate how the film industry has changed in the past 12 months, and what could be in store for the months ahead. So this week we’ve compiled some of the most interesting insights, analyses, and predictions on the future of moviemaking.

Good Reads for the week of December 8, 2014

How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA (via Jason Bailey for Flavorwire)
How the struggle to get a film made in the range of $5-60 million is putting icons like John Waters out of business.

For Universal Pictures, Zero Blockbusters Equals Record Profits (via Scott Mendelson for Forbes)
On the bright side, Universal has seen record profits by specifically focusing on those mid-budget films. Will this trend continue? Nah, prob not.

6 Ways the Movie Distribution Model Is Changing (via Nick Schager for Vulture)
The old days of popcorn, 3-D glasses, and heavy-petting in the back row are going the way of the Dodo.

16 Predictions For The Film Biz 2015 And Beyond (via Ted Hope for Truly Free Film)
If Hope is correct, we’re in for some big changes (and also he’s probably a wizard or something).

 

A video worth watching

Mike Leigh, Angelina Jolie, Richard Linklater, Bennett Miller, Christopher Nolan, and Morten Tyldum talk directing.

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

This Week’s Good Reads (Week of December 1)

SAGindie — Friday, December 5th, 2014

Wow, Awards Season came out real strong and indecisive: The Gotham Awards chose Birdman, National Board of Review went with A Most Violent Year, and New York Film Critics Circle opted for Boyhood. On top of that, Sundance announced their festival picks for 2015, and there looks to be a lot of good stuff to choose from. So while you pore over the list of flicks you’ll want to see in Park City, or debate how your favorite movie stacks up against the early award-winners, take a look at some of the best film writing from the week. It was a great week for in-depth coverage of some SAGindie favorites, like Ava DuVernay, Chris Rock, Tilda Swinton, and The Duplass Brothers.

Good Reads for the week of December 1, 2014

Best of 2014: The 20 Breakthrough Directors Of The Year (via The Playlist)
Some support for the little guys working with small-budgets (who will no doubt be directing the next superhero blockbuster soon).

With Her MLK Drama Selma, Ava DuVernay Is Directing History (via Jada Yuan for Vulture)
Speaking of breakthrough directors.

Chris Rock Pens Blistering Essay on Hollywood’s Race Problem (via Chris Rock for The Hollywood Reporter)
Okay, we know these are all should-reads, but this one’s a must-read.

Why the Duplass Brothers Went HBO with Comedy Series Togetherness (via Anne Thompson for Thompson on Hollywood)
The Duplass Brothers should really start working more. They’re slacking.

The Rise of A24 and Drafthouse Films (via Matt Mergener for Tiny Mix Tapes)
Actors and filmmakers weren’t the only ones getting press this week. Here’s a great analysis of two breakout indie distributors.

Tilda Swinton Is In A World Of Her Own (via Zach Baron for GQ)
Yeah, just watch the video below.

 

In case you were ignoring us (aka blatant self-promotion)

SAGindie’s December Movie Picks (via SAGindie)
What we’re looking forward to seeing this December. And not seeing (*cough* Exodus *cough*).

Filmmaker Interview: Susanna Fogel, director/co-writer of Life Partners (via SAGindie)
Fogel talks to us about directing her first feature, writing LGBT characters, and her experience at the Sundance Lab.

 

A video worth watching

Tilda “Motherfuckin’” Swinton

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

SAGindie’s December Movie Picks

SAGindie — Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

inherent vice

Well this is it, people. The last movie month of 2014 (also the last regular month of 2014). After this, it’s all Year End Best-Of lists, office party regrets, and “Auld Lang Syne” sing-alongs. So without further ado, here are the December movies the SAGindie staff plans on overindulging in during the month of family, charity, and sweet, sweet commerce.

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Darrien’s Picks:

December, of course, has some big movies. While I’m leisurely awaiting Christmas (as if), I do plan to sneak away and see a few films. I’m VERY curious about Chris Rock’s Top Five. Having taken Toronto by storm, I need to see what all the fuss is about. The clear choice for a family movie is the new Annie. And when my kids see that they have no presents, just lumps of coal, “It’s a Hard Knock Life” will certainly seem apropos.

However, this December isn’t without some controversy. Namely, Exodus: Gods and Kings (the all white album). Yeah, so Ramses, Pharaoh of Egypt is played by an Australian, and Moses is played by a Welsh. What’s next? Melissa McCarthy IS Harriet Tubman? Nope, not gonna go.

 

Eliza’s Picks:

Annie – because my mom hated this musical so much it was banned in our house but now I am an adult and can go see whatever I want and that’s Annie, so THERE mom.
Inherent Vice – did you read the book? I didn’t! (don’t know how to read). Just kidding I read the book and its great and so now I have to see this movie.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry – required viewing.
Zero Motivation – f yeah
Big Eyes – I will see anything that Larry Karaszewski has written.

 

Colin’s Picks:

I feel like I’d be struck by lightning if I didn’t choose Inherent Vice (or at least be plagued by falling toads – get it?). Paul Thomas Anderson is batting about 90% in my book, so I’m hoping I like this outing better than his and Joaquin’s last pairing. For a prestige pick, I’ll likely go with Unbroken. I keep hearing great things about the book, but since reading is for nerds I’ll just see the movie.

But if I’m being honest, it’s all about The Interview. Seeing Seth Rogen and James Franco try to assassinate a real-life world leader is exactly how I want to celebrate and honor Baby Jesus’s b-day.

 

Amanda’s Picks:

If I’m not curled up on my couch re-watching Holiday classics pretending it’s snowing out, I’ll probably be at the movies seeing:

Selma – The trailer during Interstellar had me open-mouthed, so I can’t wait to see what the movie will do.
Inherent Vice – If this does well I can still hold out hope for the Crying of Lot 49 adaptation, can’t I? Definitely going to be a weird trip, which might give me some reprieve from my family (just kidding! my family is totally normal).
Wild – This is really going to gauge for me if I’d ever do a 1,100-mile solo hike.

I will also probably end up seeing, but not enjoying, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. We all know Legolas and Bilbo won’t die, why even bother?! Seeing Lee Pace in costume, that’s why.

And I will be definitely, absolutely, NOT be seeing Exodus: Gods and Kings. I’m not sure why Hollywood is in the trend of epically re-telling Biblical stories with additional bad guys and love interests, but Ridley Scott should know that this story has already been adapted to its best possible form in The Prince of Egypt and we should just leave it alone.

 
WHAT MOVIES ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING THIS DECEMBER?

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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

Filmmaker Interview: SUSANNA FOGEL, director/co-writer of LIFE PARTNERS

SAGindie — Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

susanna fogel

LIFE PARTNERS is about two female friends: one gay, one straight. Not coincidentally, it was written by two female friends: one gay, one straight. One of those writers, SUSANNA FOGEL, also took on directing duties, and she and co-writer Joni Lefkowitz have created a relationship comedy where the focus is less about landing the perfect boyfriend and more about how said boyfriend can come between two best (girl) friends. In this case, the friendship between Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) is about as co-dependent as they come, which makes it even more difficult when Paige starts dating Tim (Adam Brody) while Sasha is still struggling to find a serious girlfriend of her own.

Sasha and Paige’s story (which began as a one-act play) portrays a more nuanced, multifaceted friendship between women; something that contrasts the backstabbing Real Housewives on TV or the wise (and wisecracking) has-no-life-of-her-own sidekick in romantic comedies. Life Partners is the feature film debut for Fogel and Lefkowitz, who also serve as showrunners of the ABC Family series Chasing Life. The film boasts a supporting cast including Gabourey Sidibe, Julie White, Beth Dover, Abby Elliott, and Kate McKinnon. It’s currently available on VOD through Magnolia Pictures, and hits select theaters on December 5.

We caught up with writer/director Susanna Fogel to talk about how Life Partners came to be, her experience at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and how a Supreme Court decision almost derailed the movie.

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COLIN McCORMACK: Tell us a little about the writing process in adapting Life Partners from a play into a feature.

SUSANNA FOGEL: Joni and I wrote a one-act play that [Life Partners producer] Jordana [Mollick] developed as part of this play series for frustrated writers who were employed but not seeing their work produced, to get a chance to put something up on its feet. So we had this play that went over really well and decided to expand it into a feature. With Jordana and her producing partner Brendan [Bragg]’s help, we developed it and sent it to the Sundance Lab, and then went through the Screenwriters Lab there. So through that process, we were able to take the script from play to film, but also a lot of the themes and plot of the movie evolved in an interesting way.

CM: I heard that a gay marriage plotline had to evolve?

SF: When DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] was overturned, yeah. So that was the most interesting thing that happened, which was that originally the play was based on this sort of little gimmicky concept of what happens when you make a promise not to get married until your lesbian friend has equal rights, and then your lesbian friend is not in a long-term relationship and you are. And you don’t want to break the promise, but also you’re not equally needing those marital rights at the time. So it’s more about friends growing up at different rates. Then as we developed the script and went through the Labs, they really encouraged us to bring out the emotional components of the friendship and the characters and de-emphasize the high-concept of that [plot], which then proved to be a really good thing when we had to lift that [gay marriage pact] out of the movie after shooting it. Actually, while going through preproduction we started hearing rumblings about DOMA getting overturned, and every meeting I had with crew or cast, that was the first question they asked, “What happens when this movie becomes irrelevant?” “Is it going to be a period piece?” On top of all the other nerves I had as a director trying to prep her first feature, I had to then also answer to all these people who were basically forecasting the irrelevance of the movie that I was about to make.

So we dealt with possibly changing the plot before shooting, but we were basically on the eve of shooting the movie at that point. So we decided to shoot it and kind of deal with it later, and sure enough DOMA was overturned. The day we screened the rough cut for our financiers, DOMA had been overturned. So it was a very emotional day, both because my writing partner could finally marry her wife, and because we had so many lesbians and women involved in the team and everyone was really excited, obviously. But then on the most narcissistic filmmaker level, we were all kind of sitting there like, “Does this render our movie completely irrelevant and [a] terrible investment for everyone?” So we then had to add a couple extra months of editing on, and try to figure out how to extract that part of the plot but keep the story what it was supposed to be. And then we had one re-shoot day where we were able to fill some of the gaps that had been created by changing the plot.

CM: When you submitted to the Sundance Lab, was it still in play form or had you started the adaptation process?

SF: We had the [screenplay] done. We had adapted it and gone through a few rounds of notes with Jordana and different people we’d asked for feedback. So it was in a good place. It’s interesting in the context of how the script had to evolve and what we changed about it, because I think that Sundance’s brand has not traditionally been comedies, and without the gay marriage political component I don’t know that it would have been on-brand enough for them to accept it into the Lab. I like to think that it would be, but I think for them it was kind of what made it enough of a Sundance Lab project to put it in this wonderful lab and give us access to those types of resources. So I feel like we sort of snuck in the back door in that way, because what the movie became was much more of a universal, relatable, not traditionally “indie movie” type of story, but we were able to benefit from the Lab in the process, which was really great.

CM: What was the Lab like? Tell us about what you learned; who some of your mentors were.

SF: The one request we had going in – they let you sort of pick and choose, or make requests [for advisors] – and the one request we had was Nicole Holofcener, because we’ve been obsessed with her for years. We had talked about her so much in the process of applying to the lab that it was almost a creepy fangirl situation. And then we requested her and we got her, and we were really overeager.

But basically it’s five days on this beautiful mountaintop in the middle of winter and they pair you with five or six advisor meetings. And so you get the benefit of two-hour notes sessions with screenwriters that you admire, and what they really try to do is give you a range. We assumed we would get [The Kids Are All Right writer/director] Lisa Cholodenko because she creates content [featuring] women and lesbians, but actually they sort of thought outside the box and they gave us John Gatins, who wrote Flight. We had really interesting, great craftsmen and craftswomen who are not super on-point for what this movie was, and some of the best notes we got were from those people. So it was a good lesson in that kind of perspective. We had Nicole Holofcener, we had John, Dana Stevens– we had wonderful advisors. And then in between when you weren’t in these notes sessions, they were hosting seminars where we’d watch a clip reel of the greatest introductions to characters in movies. Scott Frank, who was one of the advisors there, showed his favorites, which were the introduction to Annie Hall, the introduction to Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network– giving us sort of global lessons on screenwriting and how to craft and create a memorable script. So there’s general talk and then super specific talk at the same time.

CM: And then how much time passed before you went for the [Sundance] Producers Lab?

JORDANA MOLLICK: The Producers Lab was in August, and [Susanna and Joni] were in January.

SF: Yeah, in late summer Jordana did the Producers Lab. And then with Sundance’s help, we got into the IFP No Borders Program and we went to New York and did this professional speed-dating round of awkward meetings with executives. And then at that time had a really great meeting with Red Crown, who ended up putting money in for the movie. It all moved pretty quickly compared to the glacial pace of other movies we’ve been trying to make.

CM: I was going to say, you’ve worked in the studio world and I’m sure things took a lot longer.

SF: Yeah, I mean the play itself came out of the fact that Joni and I have at this point been writing professionally for eight years, and this is the first movie we’ve had [produced]. And we’ve written countless movies for studios that are just never going to get made, and it becomes depressing after a while. So Jordana’s idea with the plays was to get a few screenwriters in that position – all of whom have since gone on to do really wonderful things; we had Emily Halpern, who created Trophy Wife; Leslye Headland, who made Bachelorette – all these people were our equally-frustrated friends and we’d go for hikes and bitch about how we never got to see our work out there. So that’s where we all formed a little community, too. It was all in a year, and from the play to now is three years.

CM: Wow, that’s so quick.

SF: I know. Isn’t it sad to say that? So fast!

CM: What was the main thing going through your mind on your first day of production of your feature debut?

SF: I was really excited. It was interesting because this dive bar that I’ve been going to as long as I’ve lived in LA – The Roost – the very first script that Joni and I wrote when we were 22 or 23, I had saved up money at my horribly-demeaning receptionist job to finance a four-minute trailer to this movie that we wanted to make, and we shot a scene at The Roost, and it cost $400 to shoot at The Roost for the whole day. And then the first day of Life Partners’ production we were also shooting at The Roost and it was $400 for the day, same thing. I think it’s like a time warp where they don’t know about inflation or the economic collapse or anything. So in a weird way it was incredibly emotional, not just because it was the first day of production, but because it sort of felt like– there’s something familiar about it in a really nice way. So that was the first scene at 6 a.m. showing up at The Roost with all the gear, just like when I was 22 or 23, which was really wonderful.

And then I think there’s also that moment where– we didn’t have an extensive rehearsal process; we didn’t really have a lot of time with the actors. We had had a table read, but there’s that moment when you don’t really know if it’s going to work until you see the actors doing their thing. And we shot first a scene that was really comedic and also really emotional, where Paige tells Sasha she’s getting married, and Sasha’s bitching about her job, and that was the first scene we shot at 7:30 in the morning, and they were so great that it was this great relief. A moment of, Okay, this movie’s going to be fine. It’s all good.

CM: With the characters, were there specific stereotypes that you wanted to avoid, or tropes you wanted to sort of flip on their head? Because it does a good job of subverting the sidekick rom-com character or stereotypical lesbian character, did you go into it with that purpose?

SF: Yeah, I think for us – Joni’s gay and I’m straight – it’s always been very much in the backdrop of our twelve-year friendship, where we don’t think about [it]. We would go through these universal twentysomething struggling experiences, and it wasn’t super specific to her being gay and me not being gay. But it seemed like when we’d watch movies, that was always a stratified, weird thing, like the gay character was always really extreme, that sort of over-the-top Jane Lynch version. Or there were these small, LGBT niche arthouse movies that no “normal” indie moviegoer would know to watch necessarily, because they’re just [targeted] for that niche. So for us it’s always been really important to bridge that gap and [be] sexuality-blind in our writing, and we end up having a lot of gay and lesbian characters in our work. So this was a good opportunity for us to just tell this story of these two friends, one who happens to be gay and one who happens to be straight. But I think also for Joni especially – who’s now embarking on writing a lot of other comedies that are relatable and universal that involve lesbian characters, because she feels like it’s an underserved market – it’s just been important to show gay and lesbian characters being real, multidimensional characters who are not defined by their sexualities. [The] one nice offshoot of taking the gay marriage pact out of the movie was that it just becomes less political, and in doing so is like a post-coming-out type of movie. Which ultimately to us feels like a progressive statement just by default. So I guess we did want to subvert the conventional portrayal of a lesbian character in a heteronormative movie, [and] hopefully we’ve done that.

CM: And did you ever feel any pressure, since it is an underserved audience, that your film would have to speak for every LGBT person?

SF: Yeah, I was actually afraid of being a straight filmmaker telling a story where– just because Sasha is a lesbian and she’s the single one, there are so many more [instances] of [a] revolving door of crazy dating stories. There are more lampooned lesbians in this movie than there are straight people, just because she’s the one who’s on the scene dating. So yeah, I was a little bit afraid of the scrutiny of an LGBT audience, who would be asking me who I thought I was making this movie. Although I did have partial immunity because Joni’s gay and half of our crew is gay and lesbian. But yeah, it does feel like there’s lots of pressure, but we tried to ignore it because when you start getting hung up on what kind of story you’re “supposed” to tell, you’re playing into this idea that you can’t just express yourself. We want to live in a world where it’s not that big of a deal, so we just went forward and we figured if you can make people laugh, then there’s only so much they can be offended. We hoped.

CM: How much room did you leave for improvisation? When you have someone like Kate McKinnon [who plays one of Sasha’s dates, a woman who works as a decoy on To Catch a Predator], I’m sure it’s tempting to let her run wild, but you have to keep the character in mind, and the story.

SF: We did let her run wild. The character that Kate plays is based on somebody that Joni went on some dates with, who also happens to be a girl who actually worked for [a] To Catch a Predator-type of organization. She was featured on The Today Show or The View, and we had a YouTube video of the actual girl that the character is based on. So we sent it to Kate and we emailed with her a little bit. We met her the day we were shooting, but she showed up with this idea of who this person was, so she was improvising in-character and a lot of what’s there– it’s a relatively short scene, but I think it’s about half improvised just because she was cracking us up so much on the set. But I think in general, the level of improv really varied. I think that for some comedic actors, when they improvise they break character, and to the extent that that was happening, we didn’t end up using that. But we had worked on the script so much and it had been through Labs and we wanted it to feel like it was a well-crafted, deliberate script.

Having said that, we always let the actors do a take at the end of every setup that was their own thing, and sometimes those moments made it into the movie. So there was some improv, but it wasn’t improv-heavy compared to a legitimately improvised movie. But I think for some of the actors like Leighton, who have worked on television shows where there is no improv at all, it felt like a really liberating experience, so she felt like she could be herself and add a lot. Whereas for Gillian, who has done a lot of improv-based movies, it didn’t feel [that] way. So I think it just varied from actor to actor– their perception of it and how much they felt comfortable doing it.

CM: With your background mainly being in writing, how technical did you have to become when you took on directing? Did you have to do a crash course, or is a lot of that in hiring the right crew?

SF: I had actually directed a lot of shorter-form stuff. I had made a few shorts in high school and college that we’d shot some on video and some on film, and so I had some experience with that. And then I did that short in my twenties, and then in 2007 Joni and I actually made a web series– Warner Brothers had a short-lived web series initiative that Childrens Hospital came out of, and our show – and we starred in it, but I also directed those too. So I did have some on-set experience, albeit a lower-fi version. And I felt very ready to do it. It got pretty technical, but I think at the end of the day– there are directors who can do any of the crew’s jobs; somebody like Steven Soderbergh could operate the camera and edit his own movies, and does those things. But I also think that if you’re not that specialized in that way or trained in that way, a big part of directing is just assembling really talented people and communicating with them enough so they have their marching orders. So it was that. It was making deliberate choices and trying to be really specific. At the same time, I couldn’t operate a RED Epic [camera] myself or anything like that, but I talked to the DP for weeks about storyboarding and everything. I think I had built it up as a scarier thing than it ended up becoming. When we were actually in those talks, I didn’t feel like I wasn’t equipped to answer those questions, which felt good.

CM: I almost cringe to ask the “women in film” question, because part of me feels like it might not be an issue if people like me didn’t keep asking questions about it. But the DGA released some reports about the number of female directors-

SF: There’s like three of them, yeah.

CM: It’s absolutely dismal. Have you noticed from the inside whether there’s resistance to hire you on a project as a director? Or do you see those numbers and just try to power through?

SF: I have a very complicated answer to this question, because I do feel like now that I’ve made a film I have a lot of institutional support, and I do feel like I have opportunities to try to get jobs. Whether me calling the bluff of people saying they want to hire women works or not, it does feel like there is this initiative to hire women even on the parts of studios, and they really do feel like they’re getting flogged a bit for that statistic. At the same time, I definitely feel like compared to a lot of the male screenwriters that I came up with and was friends with, they were always encouraged to make that leap to directing their own work and [were] being supported in that way years before I was, even though I’d been the one making shorts and actually the one who had always wanted to direct. So I did notice that, and I’m really hoping now that the tides are turning a bit because it felt like ten years ago when I was starting out, there just weren’t reference points for that. And I think there are so many reasons it’s true. There’s a culture of mentorship with guys because there are a lot of older male filmmakers who will take a young male filmmaker under their wing and shepherd them through, and we don’t have a lot of women to do that for us. And I also think that older men don’t feel comfortable taking on a young female protégé in the same way.

There are so many reasons, many of them are discussed in [the Sheryl Sandberg book] Lean In, not to be cliché: That women just don’t feel as comfortable making that leap; there isn’t the community support; we don’t have the precedent set so we have to make our own, which is tough. And in general I think we just care a lot about what other people think, and we care about people liking us more than we should and more than most men. And I think that prevents us from taking those leaps to be a boss that people might not like, which is what directors have to be. It’s all of those things and more, but I’m hoping that changes. I’m really interested in taking on projects– I do want to write and direct small indie movies, but I also want to be open to any and all types of directing, just because I feel like more women need to be doing that. It’s liberating to tell small, personal stories as a director, but also the idea of directing a family movie for Disney or an action movie and adding that to the repertoire feels really important. There are like no women doing that, and I’d really like to be one of them– I’m hoping that starts to change. It’s not changing as fast as it should be, but hopefully [will].

LIGHTNING ROUND!

What’s the first movie you remember seeing in theaters?
Uncle Buck

What’s your go-to drink order at a bar?
Gin and tonic

Recommend a movie you love that most people haven’t heard of.
The Spanish Apartment (or L’Auberge Espagnole is the French title)

What’s an interview question you never want to hear again?
From this interview or others? [Laughs] Um… I haven’t had any really traumatizing interviews. Let me think… [Pauses] I recently had to answer a question about what my movie was saying about the human condition and how that resonated with what’s been happening since the dawn of man, and that was mildly awkward.

Finally, where and when can people see Life Partners?
It’s now available on Ultra VOD, which includes iTunes, Amazon… and December 5 we start our theatrical rollout. But you can watch it now by downloading it!
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For more information on LIFE PARTNERS, visit the film’s official website or on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

This Week’s Good Reads (Week of November 17)

SAGindie — Friday, November 21st, 2014

Snow and sleet are blowing through much of the country, and the Santa Ana winds have rendered Los Angeles borderline uncomfortable, with temps dipping way down into the sixties [all hate mail can be sent to blogadmin@sagindie.org]. So if you’re planning on staying inside for much of the weekend, under a blanket or next to a fireplace, we’ve compiled some of the best film industry-related articles from this past week. Stay warm, and read on.

Good Reads for the week of November 17, 2014

Hollywood’s “female stuff” problem (via Genevieve Koski for The Dissolve)
There’s been a push to include more females in front of and behind the camera. Is it true progress or a new form of tokenism?

Not For Mature Audiences (via Colin Biggs for Badass Digest)
How the small-scale films find an audience amongst the superheroes and action tent-poles.

Chasing the Dogs: Charting American Independent Film Post-Tarantino (via Brody Rossiter for HeyUGuys)
While indie film might not feel like the “movement” it was in the 1990′s, it’s still a hotbed for creativity and badassery.

Are Arthouse Westerns on the Rise? (via James Clarke for Little White Lies)
The Hollywood studios effectively killed the genre through overexposure. Is independent film the way to bring it back?

Black List Celebrates 10 Years as Haven for Screenwriters (via Valentina I. Valentini for Variety)
Franklin Leonard has spent a decade helping screenwriters gain exposure, feedback, and kinship.

Ana Lily Amirpour Is the Raddest Filmmaker Working Right Now (via Eric Eidelstein for Indiewire)
Now there’s a headline.

 

In case you were ignoring us (aka blatant self-promotion)

Filmmaker Interview: Shawn Christensen, writer/director/star of Before I Disappear (via SAGindie)
How the Oscar-winning director expanded his short film Curfew to a new feature-length adaptation.

 

A video worth watching

RIP Mike Nichols.

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.