Can We Build A Bigger Community Of Film Lovers?

I recently got a message from filmmaker Keith Bearden, the director of Meet Monica Velour.  He wrote:

Just got back from the Seattle Film Festival, which in a city of 1.5 million fills 500-800 seat theatres for a month with 400 plus films--that's a huge percentage of the population seeing films that have no publicity, including many that will open in theatres or on pay per view days or weeks later. Even in a very sleepy, tech savvy city with bad parking, they still get people to stand in line for indie, foreign and odd films. Is it because they have created a cultural context for seeing these films, that people are part of a cultural event? Something social that people can talk about before and after, like going to a sports game or rock concert? How does that translate into cinemas in other cities not part of a film festival?

Also, working in Paris part of the year, they have over 300 cinemas (many with multiple screens!). They used to have more! I realize it's a different culture, but one of the keys is that young people can get a all access pass that lets them see as many movies as they want. They go in bunches, they get in the habit of seeing lots of different films in the cinemas, which is a habit they carry on into later life. Also, this youth brigade is what created the great cult phenomenons over there throughout the years of films that play for years and years...

We could do a lot more to strengthen film culture in our cities and countries.  The first step is society to publicly acknowledge the importance of cinema.  With the state of the world being what it is, I understand why many would not feel that this is such a priority.  Yet, and I don't know about you, but for me, one of the initial draws that a life in the arts -- and particularly cinema -- had for me, was the form's ability to inspire, motivate, and transcend.  I want to live in a land where the community feels these are important virtues.

Fugazi, the seminal DC band, always played shows with lower ticket prices.  They actively made sure kids could get into see them, playing all age shows.  How great would it be to have the cinematic equivalent of Fugazi?!

I have yet to make a film that got anything less than an R rating, so I can't begin to say that I have made work that can inspire the young, but it's exciting to think of an initiative that would offer youth -- heck anyone under the age of 24, or with college loans, or unemployed, or working for the state, or any under-rewarded profession (like teachers) -- lower cost admissions to films.

It is not just the quality of the films that keep people out of the cinemas, that leads audiences to prioritize other activities over movie going.  I strongly believe that a film-literate populace is a more caring and active populace.  One of those other qualties that attracted me to movies was how deeply I could connect with characters on the screen, even when their actions or beliefs were so very different than mine.  It seems to me that we find very little common ground between us nowadays, yet no one likes that fact.  Maybe we could get candidates to campaign on a platform of increased movie going...

Seriously though, what other such initiatives could be adopted to foster a more avid cinema going public?  How has Seattle and Paris built such communities?  What could other festivals do to foster such civic spirit?

Losing It: Reflections On The First Time

Today we are pleased to present a conversation between Keith Bearden and Jordan Horowitz, the first-time Director and first-time Producer of MEET MONICA VELOUR, starring Kim Cattrall, about what it was like to make the film, the lessons they learned, and expectations for the future. The film will premiere at the Tribeca International Film Festival on Sunday April 25th, and other screening times can be found here.-- Keith Bearden: I have to start by saying that having done well with short films and commercials, the important parts of feature filmmaking were there when I started (when I hear about writers jumping head first into feature directing I wince in sympathy pain). But of course, there were still a lot of challenges ahead.

My biggest lesson was learning what you don’t need in a screenplay. The original shooting script had long (4+) pages of dialogue, that while good, and relevant, we wound up cutting down after we shot it. I realized that if you cast well, and you and your actors know and inhabit the characters, so much of what I was trying to make sure people understood with all that dialogue gets communicated better by the performances.

Jordan Horowitz: I think I tried to get Keith to cut some of his screenplay before we started shooting, but he wouldn’t do it. And I get why he wouldn’t do it. At the end of the day, I think it helped with character development, so while it was, in the end, cut from the film… it had a lasting effect on the film. But I think I learned how to talk to a writer/director about what is needed in a screenplay, and what is not.

KB: Also, naively, as a greenhorn I assumed that everyone working in the movie business was at least competent, if not talented and trustworthy. Not so. To some people, even people with great credits, it’s a job, and people with little perception or creativity still work their whole lives in the biz. And they are liabilities to your movie, and need to be micro-managed or weeded out.

JH: I took this same lesson to heart. Frankly, we got burned by being too trusting of crew. There is just so much management involved with production: everyone is looking for direction. And I, like Keith, give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t get me wrong, in the long run, I still think this is a good thing and the right way to operate. It’s just a matter of going in with your eyes open and striking a balance early on.

KB: Movies become different things than you originally intended. MEET MONICA VELOUR was always intended as a dark comedy, with heart, and it still is, but the relationship that we captured, because of Dustin Ingram and Kim Cattrall’s performances, and their genuine love for each other on set, was bigger and sweeter and more dramatic than I perhaps thought of when writing it. It would have been stupid to deny audiences that, so we edited accordingly.

JH: This film changed so many times for me. For us. So many times. I can’t even being to think what it was like for Keith, who was living with it, creatively, for so many years. We cut and recut and had different editors and then went back to the original editor… but in the end, I (and I think Keith) am really happy with the final product. We took a longer road than we’d originally intended, but we got there. We did.

KB: Also, making movies on location is lonely hard work. You have no free time, local people have their own lives, you’re away from your family and friends, the mind is totally preoccupied. It’s kind of like going to war, but without all the blood and fire and stuff.

JH: I don’t know what Keith is taking about. There was fire. And there was definitely a good amount of blood.

KB: I’m very aware of the current situation in the American movie landscape; more indie pics than ever, and more moviegoers only going to the theatre to see the in-every-multiplex-in-America-remake-of-an-80s-movie-in-3D tentpole releases. Also, when you make a movie, you should only try to make the best movie for the audience in your mind (even if it’s only you) and not try to follow trends, maximize imaginary demographics, or think too much about its outcome when it comes to your career or life. Do I think that MEET MONICA VELOUR has the audience friendly potential to be one of the few breakout indie hits? Yes. Would I be happy to be a movie that people see in fests, a handful of US theatres, and grow to dig on DVD and streaming? Also yes. My goal with MEET MONICA VELOUR is to hear audiences laugh, and talk to people or read about people who really enjoyed it. I’m happy to take it one venue at a time. Where this film winds up in the end is really out of my control, and in the hands of my producers, our sales agent, our future distributor, the press, audiences, the Gods of Cinema and other mysterious forces.

JH: As I said above, the process of this film has been a long one, with changes at every turn, and I think it has helped temper my expectations. I am fully aware of the ever-changing distribution environment for independent film. We will find a buyer for this film, and with Kim Cattrall (I think al lot of people underestimate her market appeal, by the way), there will be a theatrical play, but more importantly there will be significant value in ancillary markets. So we’ll look for a buyer who can structure a deal around a big TV or DVD or VOD component and use theatrical as, in a worst case scenario, long-lead marketing. At the end of the day, with the right campaign, this film will find its audience and really speak to people, of that I am certain.

--

The facebook page for the film is at: www.facebook.com/meetmonicavelour An exclusive clip can be found on Cinematical here.

Jordan Horowitz works at Gilbert Films with producer Gary Gilbert. While MEET MONICA VELOUR was Jordan’s first feature, Gary has produced and financed GARDEN STATE, HENRY POOLE IS HERE, and the unreleased Ken Lonergan film MARGARET. Together, they also produced Lisa Cholodenko’s THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, due out for release by Focus Features on July 7th. Jordan can be found on twitter @jehorowitz

Keith Bearden's 2005 short The Raftman's Razor was named best short at the SXSW, Seattle, and Montreal film festivals and is in the permanent collection at MoMA. He is the recipient of Showtime's Tony Cox Award for Screenwriting and in 2008 received a Guggenheim Fellowship for filmmaking. MEET MONICA VELOUR is his first feature film.