March 28, 2011
St. Nick returns
What's the shelf life of an independent feature film? St. Nick premiered just over two years ago, and we're about to find out how dusty it's gotten since. The DVD I was preparing extra features for last summer is still forthcoming (it's in our distributor's hands), but there's theatrical news afoot, most of which will be announced over the next few weeks. Coming up first, however, is a screening at the very Southern tip of this great State, in Corpus Christi. This is a part of Texas, much like Houston, that I've never visited, but I'll be there this Saturday to attend the South Texas Cinematheque's presentation of St. Nick. The screening happens at the Art Museum of South Texas, at 7:00. They'll be showing Pioneer first, just for good measure, and I'll be around afterwards to discuss both.
St. Nick hasn't shown anywhere since last May, and I haven't watched it myself since way before that. I don't know if I'm curious enough to watch it again just yet, but I am interested in what the audience has to say. I always forget that the vast majority of moviegoers have no idea what this little movie is, and their reactions, good or bad, will be as fresh as the ones I got two years ago.
Still, too much antiquity does make me antsy. The next morning I'll bid my gracious hosts adieu and fly through time to the second Pioneer screening at the Dallas International Film Festival, which is the only one left that's not sold out. If you're around, please help change that.
Posted by David Lowery at 11:56 PM
March 27, 2011
Watching Umshimi Wam two weeks ago
There's nothing like time to qualify enthusiasm. What might have been a brief and happy appreciation written in the heat of the moment must always become something more considered when the subject's been sat upon for a bit. So it is that the exaltation of Harmony Korine's charming short film Umshimi Wam I'd planned to write immediately after seeing it at its SXSW premiere must now, two weeks later, take itself to task right alongside the film.
Right before I hightailed it to the State Theater to get in line for the film, I told Joe how much I'd been looking forward to it. He said he was gonna skip it; it just wasn't worth it for him; he was over Harmony Korine, he was over Die Antewoord, and there was nothing either of them could do at this point to surprise him. Did I agree? Yes. Was the film exactly what I expected it to be? Yes. Was the garbage-chic every bit as twee as the misc-en-scene of a Wes Anderson movie? Yes. Was it beautifully shot, by Carlos Reygadas cinematographer Alexis Zabe? Yes. Was the faux-irony of the faux-canned-graphics of the opening credits slightly rote in this post-RyanTrecartin mediascape? Yes. Was it thrown online for everyone to watch the very next morning? Yes, and you can watch it right here.
And yet, in spite of all that, I loved the film. It was one of my favorite things from SXSW. It made me very happy, in a warm and cozy manner. As recently as a year ago, I went to see a Korine film to be provoked, and yet somehow, his most overtly outre work (Trash Humpers) seems to have defanged him. Wonderful essays could be written about this, but I'm content to simply note that Korine has apparently gone from being an artist who traded in shocks to one who provides creature comforts of the same sort which my grandparents might seek in, say, a Rogers & Hammerstein musical or a John Wayne film. He's become the old stand-by.
There is nothing wrong with this. There are new artists and new works that will make me prick up my ears, and in the meantime, I don't fault enfant terribles like Korine for shifting towards pure entertainment. Better that than trying to be new and failing. Umshimi Wam has all the teeth of Goodnight Moon, but I'm never one to turn down a good bedtime story.
Posted by David Lowery at 10:34 PM
March 19, 2011
I had this plan to overlay the laurels from each festival we were accepted to atop a photo from the film, a la the image of Will we used to announce our screenings at SXSW. But when a film is made up of two characters sitting in a room, there aren't that many photo options, and I figured I'd start using photos of the crew instead. It would have been funny and cute and a nice little nod to the people who worked so hard on the film. But then my computer crashed, and I still don't have Photoshop on my new one, and so I'm just going to do without images entirely and announce our upcoming slate of screenings with boring old text.
First up, on April 1st and 2nd, is the Dallas International Film Festival. This is something of a hometown festival for us, and we're happy to be included again. The MPS Production grant we won here in 2009 for St. Nick was used to make Pioneer, so it's a fitting bit of circuity to be back in competition here again.
The following weekend, on April 8th and 10th, you'll be able to find Pioneer at the Ashland Film Festival in Ashland, Oregon. I've heard wonderful things about this festival for years and am excited to finally have a film in the lineup.
That same weekend is the kick-off for the world-renowned Sarasota Film Festival. Pioneer plays on April 9th and 11th. Tom Hall and Holly Herrick have put together an amazing program this year, as they always do. Also of note: James M. Johnston's short film Knife will be playing before an audience for the first time in the latter half of the week. It seems like ages since the hot summer days and nights I spent on that set (although now that it's hot again, it seems closer than it did a few weeks ago).
While Sarasota is still underway, the Nashville Film Festival will be running from April 14 through the 21st. I'm not sure at what point Pioneer will be playing within that timeframe, but I can confirm that it's going to once again be in the company of some great films. I'm especially excited to see that the great Ray McKinnon will be showing his new short film, Spanola Pepper Sauce Company; his Oscar-winning The Accountant is one of my favorite short films ever.
Continuing the Southern tradition, we'll also be showing Pioneer at the IndieGrits festival in South Carolina on April 15th. We're paired with Zack Godshall's Lord Byron, which was a great blast of fresh air when I saw it at Sundance.
I think there may be one more within that same timeframe, but it hasn't been completely confirmed yet.
It seems like only moments ago that I was waiting with baited breath to announce our inclusion in the Sundance Film Festival, and now that was last year. Time to make a new movie.
Posted by David Lowery at 12:33 PM
March 18, 2011
SXSW 2011: Press, Pullquotes, & Transportation
- Pioneer received a few nice press mentions over the course of last week, first and foremost being Marc Savlov's feature story on short form filmmaking in the Austin Chronicle. Savlov describes the film as "a flawless, two-character meditation on fathers, sons, and the simple act of storytelling that underscores the point that longer does not equate better."
- Meanwhile, Inside Pulse writes that "Will Oldham gives an amazing performance in writer/director David Lowery’s phenomenal short film Pioneer. In the short, Oldham plays a father whose bedtime story for his son blends fact and fiction to offer great nougaty insights into life — the insights nestled in a crunchy, historically epic shell."
- Here's that story I mentioned two posts down about Bad Fever. It's from Heeb Magazine, and they were extraordinarily in favor of the movie.
- This isn't press, but it deserves to be: after the insanity that was last year's festival, Janet, Jarod and the rest of the staff rose to the challenge and helped SXSW grow in some amazing ways. The two additional downtown screening venues alleviated most of the congestion that shut so many people out of the movies last year; we still had to line up an hour early to get into the Ritz a few times, but all the other theaters were more forgiving (and sometimes even had extra tickets available to non-badgeholders). Another big plus: the shuttle service that was introduced last year was both dependable and consistent this time around. Last year it caused at least one fight to break out, which I have to admit was somewhat memorable.
Posted by David Lowery at 4:55 PM
SXSW 2011: In Photos
Between having a new computer that doesn't have Photoshop yet and not having a camera and/or phone that can take pictures worth a damn, I'm going to have to rely on other people to chronicle my adventures for the time being. So here is my SXSW experience, through pilflered photographs:
This picture was taken by Atheena Frizzell. It's one of the buttons we distributed all across Austin this past week, and it was by far the most popular of the four variants we made (the others had quotes from the movie). If you want one, come find us at another festival or write us a nice letter!
This one is from my lovely wife Augustine, who found this image stenciled on the ground. I don't know what it was for, so I'm happy to just pretend it's part of our promotional campaign.
Another mustache, this time snapped by SXSW shorts programmer Claudette. Regarding both these and the button pictured above, facial hair doesn't directly relate to Pioneer in a narrative sense, but it just seemed appropriate somehow
Myles' dad Kevin took this during the Q&A after our first screening. I think Myles was responding to the question about how much of the film was improvised (either that, or addressing the budget or shooting the format).
Augustine took this one, too, during the awards ceremony on Tuesday night. It was a pretty awesome moment.
This is the trophy, which is actually a belt buckle. It came with a belt, in case we'd like to wear it instead of hanging it on the wall. James, who took this picture, suggested we make it into a necklace instead.
The morning after. Annell took this while we were waiting in line to see Attack The Block at the Alamo Ritz. As she stated when she posted it on Facebook, we were smiling on the inside. Honest.
Posted by David Lowery at 3:04 PM
SXSW 2011: The Highs and Lows
I'm writing this from a Greyhound bus, as the Texas hill country flattens by outside. The wayward romanticism of the lone traveler on a bus full of strangers at night is not lost on me, but still, give me a good airplane any day and I'll be a happy fellow.
Four hours ago I was at the Driskill hotel, having the last of many good meetings about my next feature. Two hours before that I was sitting down to watch my last movie of SXSW: Alison Bagnall's wonderful romance The Dish And The Spoon. I love Alison, and I love her movie, which is smart enough to quote Moby Dick without trying to earn points by calling attention to any such citations. Greta Gerwig gives her best performance to date -she's a force of nature in the film.
Twelve hours prior to that, I was heading down Riverside Drive in the backseat of Toby's car when someone in front of us swerved into our lane and we smashed right into them. I got a quick glimpse of the driver's wild eyes before he stepped on the gas and peeled out of there, and we gave chase, to no avail. It was the first car accident I'd ever been involved in. It happened right after we saw the brutal Kill List, which is one of the more surprising and effective horror films I've seen in a while, and the super-winning sci-fi adventure Attack The Block.
Just over 24 hours before that, we won the Grand Jury Prize for best narrative short! It was a wonderful surprise; I'm scared of awards ceremonies, just because I get so anxious, but I'm glad James and Toby convinced me to come to this one. SXSW is an Oscar-qualifying festival this year, so I guess our campaign officially begins now? A tremendous thanks to the jury, and also to Janet, Claudette, Stephanie, Jarod and everyone else at SXSW for programming us in the first place.
Over the course of the 121 hours that preceded that award, we ate a lot of vegan breakfast tacos and showed Pioneer twice to big crowds, and heard repeatedly from strangers all over town how much the film meant to them. And I, in turn, watched a handful of movies that meant a lot to me, both because it was so wonderful to see friends make such strong work (The Innkeepers and Silver Bullets) and also because they felt so vital (let me single out Jarrod Alterman's stunning documentary Convento, which is beautifully shot, notably brief and is exactly the sort of documentary I'd like to make some day). Sofia Takal's award-winning Green cemented Kate Lyn Sheil's ascension as an indie superstar, Better This World was a bracing dose of social suspense and the short films Animal Control, Dinosaur Ballet, Muscles, Fran's Daughter, The Eagleman Stag, Heart and The Strange Ones made me feel like I was in excellent company. There were more, but even a few days into any film festival you start having a hard time keeping track of what you've seen.
Traversing all the way back to opening night, there was the premiere of Bad Fever, which was so good that it caused a fight to break out in the audience. I'm so proud to have been a part of that film, and to hear it provoke such strong reactions in the audience. Sitting here now, I'm reading a review of it on my phone which states that Kentucker Audley's performance in the film "can stand up to any great American performance you can think of, including Marlon Brando's Terry Malloy or Robert DeNiro's Travis Bickle."
And so, yes, back to the present, and the bus, which is currently pulled over on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. A passenger had a seizure a few minutes ago and had to be carried off by paramedics. I'm listening to people chat around me. A girl across the aisle is worried that the delay will cause her to miss her grandmother's funeral in Memphis. An older woman behind me is en route to Nevada, a trip she said she makes every five weeks to see her grandson. The man next to me is sleeping with a blanket pulled over his head. He might as well be dead. Except that he's snoring. I'm looking forward to being home.
Photo update coming next...
Posted by David Lowery at 1:25 AM
March 11, 2011
Off to SXSW
I'm about to hit the road to Austin for what I just now realized is my seventh SXSW. This festival has been a major part of my life for the better part of a decade now, along with all the friends and collaborators I met that first year. That was so long ago, I hadn't yet started shaving my head (much less making halfway decent movies).
I have some pictures to post, but I don't have Photoshop on my new computer yet and can't make them look the way I want. I've also got some news (and news and news) about Pioneer, but I'll wait until the festival schedules go live. In the meantime, if you're in Austin, come see us in Narrative Shorts 1 tomorrow morning at 11:00 in the morning at the Alamo Ritz!
Posted by David Lowery at 10:40 AM
March 8, 2011
I was really excited about seeing Rango this past weekend, and indeed, it was really good. But as wild and inventive and visually stunning as it was, it couldn't quite hold a candle to the original animated lizard, which I present here for old times' sake:
When I heard that Dan Deacon was scoring Francis Ford Coppola's new film, I instantly wondered if Coppola had seen this classic gem. Surely it must have played some part in his decision!
Posted by David Lowery at 1:04 PM
March 7, 2011
I finished the third draft of the next picture and since then have been existing in a bit of a haze. I've been working on the documentary I've been cutting lately, finishing up random odds and ends on a few other jobs and gradually pushing through the membrane of development. There's a chance this movie might actually happen on a larger scale than I'd initially planned. And if it doesn't - well, been there and done that. It looks like we'll shoot in either November or January, depending on the weather and the holidays.
The picture above has nothing to do with the new film. It was just a screengrab I took whilst watching Deadhead Miles the other day. I also rewatched Days Of Heaven for the first time since the first time I saw it, which may or may not have been on VHS (it wasn't, but I think I had a VHS copy from the library at one point that I never got around to watching). Seeing it on Blu-Ray made a big difference, for about five minutes, at which point my appreciation for the pristine image shifted to my subconscious and I just watched the movie. I noted that one of my favorite scenes from Anna Karenina (which I'd read since last seeing the film) had been adapted almost literally - or rather, the tone of the scene had been adapted, the suspense of two men with uneasy allegiances and a woman between them going out together with guns. I remember reading that chapter in the book and thinking it'd make a good movie all by itself. I wanted to put a quote from it here, but I can't find my copy of the book.
Posted by David Lowery at 10:10 AM
March 1, 2011
I've spent a good chunk of this month embroiled in grant writing, trying to plead for this or that bit of funding, and more than once I sat back and noted that I was spending whole days carefully putting together language that may or may not be worth a blessed cent. Grant writing is a lot of work. Word counts must be taken into account, expectations have to be guessed at, and every bit of phrasing has to be weighed. Also, every application is different; you might be able to snag a sentence from one to use on another, or a paragraph if you're lucky, but each institution has its own interests to tend to, their applications reflect these, and they expect your questions to follow suit. So you find yourself writing about your project a dozen different ways - in my case, trying to describe the same film through the lens of multiple benefactors.
Making independent films, one takes funding wherever one can; but if preferences were to be gauged, grants are close to the top. They aren't investments, so you don't have to pay them back, and they come part and parcel with the support of the institution bestowing them. They're not right for every type of film, but they've been right for mine: I've been awarded two in the past, both from the Austin Film Society, and one covered half the budget for St. Nick. There's a reason why I keep applying. And applying, and applying, to any film-related grant for which I might qualify (which, as an arguably heterosexual caucasian male, isn't all that many). The scarcity of cash and the vast diaspora of artistic intentions work against me more often than not, which is why I sometimes wonder whether I'm wasting my time in my pursuit of institutional endowments.
The reason why it isn't is because of the thoroughness required to apply in the first place. I thought I had a grasp on my film when I applied for a Rooftop Grant last fall; I got to know it a lot better when I applied for a Cinereach Grant last month. My intentions with the film, why it mattered to me and why I believed it should matter to others were abstracts that I took for granted until I had to put them into words, and then put them in different words just the other day in my letter of inquiry for a Creative Capital Grant. Between now and the summer, when I'll doubtless apply for another TFPF grant, the script itself will have been revised and my grasp on the material will strengthened, and I'll rewrite it all again. I may or may not get any of these grants; by the time they're awarded, I usually have forgotten I've applied for them, which is good because it means that, as nice as that bit of money might be, I'm not relying on them for anything other than this most handy of by-products: my own movie, explained to me, by myself.
Posted by David Lowery at 12:24 AM