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April 28, 2010

Interim

I'm back in a mist-shrouded LA for a bit, away from where I want to be and who I want to be with, and having to force myself not to write here as a means of distraction from all the other hemming and hawing I've got to catch up on. This whole thing about not having finished a feature screenplay in however many years it's been since I've finished one is getting on my nerves. And then, beyond the realm of the written word, I put some finishing touches on St. Nick (again) the other night, smoothing out a few more wrinkles in the sound design and making a few articulated trims to a shot or two. I hesitate to say that this will be the last time I button it up, but maybe these fixes will tide me over just long enough for all the hard drives to fail for good (they've been making such awful noises lately) at which point I'll be stuck with whatever master I turned over to the distributor.

Said exchange is an appropriate signifier of a certain turning point in one film's life. Time for the next one - and, indeed, I'm quietly (and now not so quietly) moving forward with a new film. It'll probably be short-ish, but one can never tell with these things (the script is nine pages long). Hopefully we'll shoot by the end of the summer. The working title is Pioneer.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:34 AM | Comments (1)

April 18, 2010

The Austin Connection in Rochester, NY


eastmanhouse.jpg

St. Nick will next be coming to the 360/365 Film Festival at the famed George Eastman House in upstate New York. We'll be screening on May 7th, and followed by Bryan Poyser's Lovers Of Hate and Alex Karpovsky's Trust Us, This Is All Made Up. The following day, I'll be joining Bryan and Alex on a panel entitled 'The Austin Connection.'

Which, incidentally, is at odds with this article, in which I'm posited front and center in a Northward movement in the Lone Star state (and which also serves as a lovely capsule review of St. Nick). I'll admit I haven't done much to clear up the matter; up until recently, you'd find me either sidestepping my Dallas roots entirely or obfuscating their depth amidst the tangle of the last few years of travel. These days, I'm happy to be known simply as Texan; attribute to me a more precise heritage and I'll take it, especially when offered the warmth of this particular bit of reportage.

But back to upstate New York, a place I've never been but am very much looking forward to visiting, especially with the promise of finally catching the restoration of Powell & Pressburger's The Red Shoes and a conversation with Thelma Schoonmaker. Every festival St. Nick plays at these days I assume to be its last, and I'm always happy to be maybe going out on a good note, amongst good friends.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:01 PM | Comments (1)

April 15, 2010

Jury Duty

Yesterday, I wrote:

I'm a few hours away from heading to jury deliberations for the Dallas International Film Festival. I'm on the panel for the Texas Competition, which of course is the same category St. Nick won last year. Hence, I'm not taking this decision lightly: winning that prize pretty much made my year. It went a long way towards making our film profitable, allowing us a bit more freedom in choosing distribution; it gave me some financial legs during the direst of straits; and, vis à vis a production services grant, it provided a bedrock for our next film, whatever that may be. That last part is especially important. This prize not only celebrates a completed film; it invests in the career of the filmmaker.

Some hours later, the other jury members and I settled on giving the award to the one film I had ruled out from the get-go, and while the letter and logic of the law was in full effect in our mutual decision, my spirit sat the verdict out, and instead found respite in the sentiment behind another part of Thursdays half-finished post:

I don't necessarily look for greatness, as I've found that what seems great initially often diminishes over the same period of time that might validate a more unwieldy work.

The synthesis of these two quotes need not be stated, other than that there are filmmakers out there whose days I eagerly look forward to seeing come, and others who I hope to soon be surprised by. I may be caustic in my judgement, but I'm nothing if not optimistic .

Posted by David Lowery at 12:57 PM

April 10, 2010

I Am Love in Dallas

Toby and I left LA two days ago and drove 22 hours, straight to the Dallas International Film Festival (which for better or worse everyone is still calling AFI Dallas), where I'm serving on the jury. There are a number of great films playing, but I'm excited to single one out, if for no other reason than to post a link to its absolutely exquisite trailer:

iamlove.jpg

The trailer is a direct impression of the picture as a whole, a summation of its gorgeous formalism and bold swathes of melodrama (not to mention that swelling score by John Adams). I saw it at Sundance, knowing not a thing about it other than Tilda Swinton was in it (in itself, a reason to see just about any movie), and was overwhelmed both by its gilded exterior and by its forceful, declarative style, which altogether elevate this familial saga so far above the realm of Sirkian pastiche that it felt almost revelatory.

It's also a surprisingly apt pick for a film festival in Dallas, which (amongst its many other schizophrenic identities) fancies itself a Southwestern variant on Milan. This is a city whose famed Northpark Mall contains not only the most upscale fashion shops but a currency exchange: I Am Love is going to feel right at home on the big screen here.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:57 PM

April 8, 2010

St. Nick in Pittsburgh

This coming week, Pittsburgh filmgoers will have several chances to see St. Nick on the big screen, via Lucas McNelly's weekly Indies For Indies screening series. The film will show at the Hollywood Theater - an ersatz New Beverly for Steel City - beginning on Monday evening. All pertinent information can be found here.

I'm interested in how the screenings go, partially because I'm always curious what sort of pull my film has, but also because I've been following the progress of Indies For Indies on Facebook and Twitter. Born from the flames of Ted Hope's rousing take-charge declarations, the series marks a clear case of a filmmaker taking distribution and exhibition into his own hands - and a less defined example of the sustainability of such a model. Now in its second month, the films have apparently been sparsely attended, with attendance ranging from zero to just over a dozen for any given screening. Perhaps this is the burden of any nascent screening series; perhaps it has something to do with the limited means of marketing. There's also the question of the films themselves, which thus far may have been too fringe to thrive outside of a.) an established festival context or b.) a singular distribution effort on the part of the filmmakers themselves. Film festivals provide a built-in safety net for works with rough edges or low production value, keeping them from being too harshly criticized (or, conversely, ensuring that they are praised and celebrated) for the same. At this early stage, McNelly's imprimatur lacks that context; it has neither the pedigree necessary to make audiences comfortable with being taken out of their comfort zone, nor the cultural cache necessary to make an event out of an unheralded work. In other words, maybe what the series needs is a bedrock some more established cinema, to pull audiences in and bolster their confidence in McNelly's curation: as Andy Horbal wrote in his article on the programming, " I now know that I’m at least going to get something interesting, I want to be convinced that I might see something great." Of course, one person's interesting is another's great; but in spite of my own defiantly independent attitudes, I'm beginning to think that a general status quo is a good place to start from.

I'm not sure where St. Nick fits into these schematics; statistically speaking, it might have more awareness than some of the other films programmed, but it's still a pretty niche entry. Nonetheless, I hope for the best (that best being on a bell curve, of course). And I hope too that Indies For Indies endures. It's the sort of approach to distribution more filmmakers are going to have to embrace, whether we want to or not, and it's inspiring to see someone going for it head-on - and hanging in there.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:56 AM

April 5, 2010

St. Nick in Budapest

We had a long dinner with friends in Silverlake last night that culminated in what could only be described as an 'art fight.' Passionate individuals shouting over plates of salad and the split hairs of a general consensus, that being that we are are all becoming increasingly fucked but at least we're all still happy. Somewhere in there, the fact that festivals constitute a theatrical release popped up as a bullet point, which reminded me that St. Nick is playing in Budapest this coming weekend at the 17th Titanic International Film Festival. Sadly I won't be making this particular trip - and for a moment last week it seemed like the film might not, either, because when I went to Fed Ex to ship the DigiBeta, I discovered that the cost of expressing something to Hungary was about a large fraction of my current net worth. It always sucks to be put in one's place and made to realize that you have to choose between, say, paying your phone bill or exhibiting your work to appreciative foreign audiences.

Luckily, the festival itself came to the rescue, with a handy UPS account number. I'm tracking the package now, to make sure it gets there in time. We are screening on the 10th and the 14th, alongside such notable titles as Beeswax, Breaking Upwards (which had excellent returns at the box office this weekend - well done!), The Fantastic Mr. Fox and the amazing Revanche.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:44 PM

April 4, 2010

The Best-ish Time

A trifecta of reads popped up a week ago - Brian Newman's Selling Your Film - When Is The Best Time?, the NY Times profile of the Breaking Upwards' release strategy and Eugene Hernandez's comentary on the same - which all served the purpose of making me, the independent filmmaker, feel both a pressing rush of urgency about the release of my own film, and, simultaneously, a curious nonchalance about the whole thing.

This nonchalance may, in fact, be laziness masquerading as bemused dispassion, but personality traits aside, as I was strolling through Apple trailers and Netflix and noting those films which premiered alongside St. Nick last year that are now available online or on demand, I was not remiss that my own picture wasn't strengthening their numbers. Perhaps inspired by the film's own leisurely pace, I don't feel a pressing need to get it out there, instantly, in every possible format. I do feel the need to create more awareness for the film, but I'd also like it to be discovered, rather than foisting upon the masses. I do need to cultivate an audience, but I don't think that my audience is going to care that the film has been playing at festivals for over a year now. It's going to expand, but that expansion will be made up of people who are interested in this very particular type of film. Maybe they don't know they're interested in it yet, but they'll get there.

In this day and age, what scares me is not the possibility that St. Nick will never get distributed, but the prospect of it being dumped on discount shelves at the local DVD store, or the inevitability that someone will sit through the first five minutes of it on Netflix and then close their browser and forget about it. I want to save, for as long as possible, the intangible experience of watching the film from commodification, and if that means withholding it from certain venues, I'm okay with that. That's why we were never interested in a Video On Demand deal. That's why the deal we did sign off on is based on a cultivated, curatorial approach. We want people to discover the film, but we also want them to discover it for the right reasons and not simply because it's the first title to pop up on an alphabetical list of Video On Demand titles.

So that's what we're working on right now (albeit somewhat slowly), and which process lead me to unpack my St. Nick hard drive for first time in about nine months. I had a few tweaks I wanted to make to some sound design before I exported a new master, and I also had to try and organize the whole thing before duping it and turning it over to our distributor. I plugged the drive in, and listened to it wheeze a bit, while the power supply harmonized with a disturbing, arcing hiss. It wasn't going to start up. Thirteen months ago I would have had a conniption fit, but these days I'm much more prone to shrugging things off. I had the master of the movie on a different drive; maybe it was meant to stay as it lay - but then James brought out a new power supply, the drive booted up, and we continue on as planned. Said plans should make St. Nick available within the next eight months. Give or take applies, of course, but it's still well within the window of whatever opportunities the film - and we, its makers - can open it up to.

And certainly, in spite of my lackadaisical approach, I'm aware there's a ceiling to all of this. I don't think we hit it a year ago. Maybe we'll hit it a year from now. I don't know. Nobody knows. We're feeling our way in the dark here, going with what seems right and hoping that our guts are as finely tuned as we think they are. We care about the film, and we know it well, and I expect those twin lights to guide us. If there's any illusion on our parts, it's in our blind belief that the space it has created for itself in the world cannot be replaced. A necessary and worthwhile bit of egoism, I think, for it helps to imagine that the film will always be there, in its own well-hewn nook, waiting to be discovered.

Discovery, after all, is a marvelously sustainable concept.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:02 PM