How I Spent My Sundance Non-Vacation

To think I once got to see movies when I went to film festivals...

I had one film to share with folks this time around, Sean Durkin's MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, which I had the pleasure and good fortune to Executive Produce -- even still I did not plan to see any others.  I knew I was going to be too busy with the work that festivals have become for me.

The reception for the film was great -- which has generated a lot of meetings (and which has yielded some nice announcements ).  I forgot to read the latest Exec Prod job description though and did not realize it now means moderating press conferences.  Check out the video here, and let me know how you feel I did.

When I wasn't dealing and celebrating Sean's movie, I was doing my part to aid in the promotion of indie film.

Christine Vachon and I have been doing this talk show on and off now for several years, now dubbed KILLER / HOPE.  Hulu's got it up on their Sundance page. Please check it out while you still can (at least in all its glory). New episodes will be added daily throughout the festival.  Additionally, we were invited to talk to Eugene Hernandez for the local NPR station.  Gotta get the word out, but man does all that yapping, make for some seriously dry mouth.

But man, what a test of will power it is.  I admit I am an addict for great film, and even noble failures.  To be in Park City and to have booked myself into back to back meetings to extent that I am unable to watch movies, leaves me quaking and shaking.  I want to see some movies!

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Some Of What I Read/Watched/Listened To Last Week

It's become a routine of mine to spend Sunday clearing my laptop of all my half finished articles, podcasts, and videos. I often have twenty or more windows open and I have to find a new system (yes, I use and love InstaPaper, but I need more tools!). I want to find a way to put my bad habits to good use. This is that try.

New Year's Resolutions For Filmmakers - Scott continues his high level of great posting. Twenty years in, I still find all of Scott's recommendations useful. Perhaps that is not in spite of, but because of...

Can Art Houses Attract Youth Audiences - Okay, maybe it seems like I am reading my own press (which this is), but with Sundance approaching, I am still thinking of this problem the film biz faces.

The Web Is A Customer Service Medium - Brian Newman tipped me to this latest "Medium is The Message" dispatch from Paul Ford.  I do think how we build the experience around our films is of equal important now as to what is in our films. Yes, we need to make better films, but we have to improve the experience of engagement significantly and urgently.

Nora Ephron On "Going To The Movies" - This is just a few pages from her new book, but captures the poor experience that much movie going now is. Again, we urgently need to address this. It is nice to read that some are.

Building A Festival For Black-Theme Films - This is a good idea and is a model that other genres, niches, and audiences can utilize. Thanks for the tip from @BittahSweet for this.

The Divided Brain and The Making Of The Western World - My wife Vanessa watches the RSA lectures habitually, and they are pretty great. This lecture by Iain McGilchrest is pretty helpful in trying to determine how to focus fully on solving the problems our industry currently faces, both the broad picture and the specific detail.

Hollywood Clicks With UltraViolet - Variety's reporting on the studio initiative to allow consumers to access content anywhere any how. I appreciate the effort to come up with a system to deal with real consumer behavior, although I remain concerned what happens to the rest of the industry in the process. Similarly I wonder about Technicolor's MediaNavi consumer platform. Something's gotta be done when Home Ent sales has dropped for 6th straight year.

KCRW's The Business: "The Year To Be" - tipped to via Anne Thompson of course.  Whether's it's radio or podcasts, I love hearing someone else talking in the background when I am reading the newspaper.

But now I have shut all my windows (except this one), so I am out of here.

"Reaching The Impossible" Indie Prod Battle Diary: MADE IN CHINA

Today's guest post is from the star of 2009 SXSW Grand Jury Prize Winning film MADE IN CHINA, Jackson Kuehn.  I had the good fortune of being on the jury (with Scott Foundas and Anne Thompson) that year and was delighted how ambitious, inventive, funny and moving the film was.  As great all of those qualities were, the film also was centered by Jackson's comic and committed star turn.  Jackson and Judi (Krant -- the director) are both the real deal.  I will make a point of watching whatever they do.  And lucky for you: MADE IN CHINA is now up on IFC VOD.  If you love Indie Film, if you believe in ambitious film, if you want a diverse & unique film culture, if you want some good laughs, or just want to see how much can be created with very limited means, PLEASE make sure to watch MADE IN CHINA this month (and tell all your friends likewise). ‘One Hundred Year Old Egg’

by Jackson Kuehn

I was suffering from gastric pain, malnutrition, hot weather conditions, incoherence of thought, so three Lomotil pills later, I decided to stand up for myself and address the situation to Judi Krant during the casting process of our beloved Dorothy.  I let Judi know that agitation had gotten the better of me and I felt that at any moment I was going to die in Shanghai, China; commonly known as the Paris of the East.  At that precise moment, Judi’s highly concentrated eyes shifted my way like a famished, bloodthirsty wolf who had one last shot to feed her babies and to get it through my head that she’s the leader of the pack.  She said, “Jackson, now is the time to fight through it all.  I don’t want to hear any more excuses.  You need to toughen up now.”  I nodded my head and agreed.  Then she said, “For the next three weeks, you’ll be sharing the queen sized bed with Mr. James Choi.”  I replied, “But I need personal time to recover from all of our feverish activity!  I need plenty of time to listen to Mozart and time to take my bubble bathes!” Once again, she stared at me very similarly to a king cobra about to strike a blind burrowing rodent.  The consciousness of one’s own dignity was at stake, so I concurred.

It was time to make our movie ‘Made in China’- indie style.

With exceptionally clever Judi at the helm and a crew comprised of New Yorkers, Austinites, Californians, English, Swedes, Africans, Koreans and Chinese (all posing as an Italian Documentary Crew I might add) I knew that shooting under the radar from Chinese Authorities was risky.  However, tension mostly resulted from adverse, out of the box ideas, but that’s where natural aptitude is born.  No one was going to deny Judi’s astute, artistic temperament and shooting in Shanghai was a must, not camera-friendly Hong Kong.  Most days hit record highs of 100 degrees, accompanied by heavy rain in the evening.  The humidity was unbearable, even the camera broke out in a sweat.  Up at 5am, home by 1:30am.  Day after day.  I just finished shooting possibly one of the most pivotal scenes for the movie, a scene that captivated the intrinsic nature of the characters soul, a scene so powerful that Daniel Day Lewis and Charlie Chaplin would have been proud.  A couple of minutes later, the scene disappeared from the camera. Due to lack of sleep and ten, fifteen hour long days in a row, I remember throwing up in the train station before we boarded our train to the ancient water city. With all of my doubts and second-guessing, was I suffering the consequences of indie filmmaking?  Nevertheless, I was in Shanghai to examine the mind of a young novelty enthusiast, explore his fundamental core.  All of us were on a mission to prove our unbending indie principles and strong diet of independent filmmaking.

The days unfolded quickly and the 15-day shoot came to a halt. After we wrapped production, I remember sitting in the back of a taxi purposefully staring at neon lights and wondering about how much we all love independent film stories that proceed from genuine feelings.  My eyes welled up because I knew that this was my fate and kept thinking a sense of pride in oneself will only survive through self-sacrifice and widespread respect for others in the indie world.  The universal ‘indie-spirit’ theme we all shared was built upon trust and warm approval of each other’s actions, desires to explore human behavior and to seek the powers of our own imaginations.

The journey back to Los Angeles started.  After all the trials and tribulations in Shanghai, I found myself in the City of Angels directionless and in a consistent state of feeling bored.  I missed the culture, literature, the performing arts, food, the artistic awareness, the good times, the bad times and most importantly the warmth of the Chinese people.  What an ungratifying life not being apart of something you truly feel free doing.  A week passed by and my phone rang, it was Mr. James Choi or Judi, I couldn’t remember.  “Ni hao”, I said.   They replied, “Pack your bags, your going back to Shanghai.”


Made in China is now available on VOD through IFC Films. Check your local listings at:

Jackson Kuehn was born in Austin, Texas but was raised all across the U.S. from California to New York. He attended New York University Tisch School of Arts and MADE IN CHINA is his first feature as a leading man. Jackson currently resides in Hollywood.

Change The "Indie" Model -- Claim It For Yourself!

You probably already read how Anne Thompson suggested the specialized film companies move into the niche business. Me, I hope the mini-majors stay exactly where they are, and some of the great minds and visionary capital I have been speaking to recently claim the true niche as their own instead.

That said, there is a logic to what Anne suggests. There also some great comments to her post.
I felt real solidarity with what we have been discussing from Mark Lipsky:

There *is* a new model and it’s online. One of the primary problems moving forward is that Anne (until this column) and her colleagues in the media have continued to blindly promote the myth that Weinstein and Miramax and Focus and Searchlight have anything at all to do with independent film. In this column and at long last, Anne asks the most relevant question to come out of the trade media in years: What if the future is about more narrow-niche movies…?” Bingo. The future for what’s left of the genuinely independent film community will remain bleak until it can win back the indie film label, rebuild the indie film community, re-educate film-goers and the media about independent film and then spread the gospel to the hundreds and thousands of independent-minded filmmakers out there who don’t even try because they think they have to raise millions of dollars and cast Brad Pitt in order to succeed.

But read Anne's post and check out the comments for yourself.

Required Reading: NYC Indie Film Summit Wrap Ups

I hope to get a breath to give my thoughts on all this, but it more likely will come in the form of short subject posts, but I am really impressed with the wrap ups that greeted me this morning.

As much as I hope to address this in the weeks ahead, I am even more excited to hear from those that weren't there. I have heard a plethora of solutions and reasons for hope in recent weeks -- but from those in outside the film biz industry and those who have not been ordained into the establishment.
I am more energized than ever as I feel that although the business has changed we have a wave of new leaders about to claim ground. It won't be the same old cinema, the same old festivals, the same old windows that it has been.
Sure it may mean my way of doing business is dead and I will soon be out on the street with my tin cup, but I guess that's the price for thinking I was doing it right for too long. On the other hand, we have some movies going and I know my next group of films are even better than the ones I have made before so maybe I will get a few more years before execution.
Anyway, I would love to hear your responses to these articles.

Required Reading: Recent Posts (Myself & Others)

1. Toronto Wrap: Indie Bloodbath – by Anne Thompson
2. 18 Actions Towards A Sustainable Truly Free Film Community – by Ted Hope
3. Exploring New Routes to the Indies – by A.O. Scott & Manohla Dargis
4. Declaration of Independence: The Ten Principles of Hybrid Distribution – by Peter Broderick
5. Movies, Now More Than Ever – by Eugene Hernandez
6. Toronto Festival Challenges Indie Film to Evolve – by Anne Thompson

8. How To Survive Indie Producer Hell - By Ted Hope

9. Indie Alert Level: Severe - By Roger Ebert

Who Can Really Help Indie Film?

There are a lot of people who in a position to improve our culture -- if they want to.  If they don't, does it mean they really want us to suffer?  And if they want us to suffer, does that make them our enemy?  And if they are our enemy, how are we supposed to respond to them.  Well, that's all something to discuss, but for now I was just more interested in who can be indie film's savior.  

Why don't more people do more things to make this world a better place?  If you ask me, they could even do well while they are doing good -- or in other words, I bet it would be profitable if they put a little more effort into making sure we saw the best work in the best, most convenient manner possible.  Maybe if we talk about them, we can motivate them to act.
I hope to make this a regular feature at TFF and would love your suggestion on whom, with a little effort, could make a big difference to us all.  Let me know your thoughts on this.
Today's suggestion is the unknown editors who pick what is featured on the iTunes store home pages.  They wield tremendous power.  Just by featuring a short film, app, or film prominently they influence purchasing habits in a very big way.  Check out this article that I was tipped to by Variety's Anne Thompson.  It pretty much says it all.  Unfortunately, we don't know their names so for now they are but gods who names we can not speak.  Yet imagine if they took initiative to save indie film.  Think of the good will they would have in the community.  Wouldn't it entice more filmmakers to want to work with them?  How sweet would that be for everyone, eh?