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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Another View of Sundance Sales

I started to comment on David’s Hot Blog post on Sundance sales over there, but it got too long. So moving my thoughts over here, with apologies if it’s confusing to have to go back-and-forth.

Most of what I heard in lines and at a couple social gatherings later in the fest with regard to Sundance sales among press and publicity folks this year was not so much a theme of “indie is saved!” as it was just a deep breath of relief that some sales were actually happening this year at the fest … and that, for the most part, the films didn’t suck. No, there weren’t any really spectacularly huge sales ala Little Miss Sunshine, but smaller sales that actually generate some profit for their investment might overall be a good direction for Sundance sales to head, n’est-ce pas?

And I’m not even convinced that the idea of sales — especially “big” sales — happening at Sundance or any other fest even should be the measure of a festival’s success. Of course it’s great for filmmakers to get their films picked up, and of course everyone is hoping for a theatrical release.

But my sense overall is that there is a shift coming that’s been brewing for a while in what we mean when we say a film has succeeded financially. I’m reminded of animator Bill Plympton, who did this great presentation at Ann Arbor a few years back about exactly how he makes a living making the animated films he wants to make. He talked about DVD, about marketing, about controlling costs and knowing how much he had to make back on a given film to be able to both make a living and make the next film. This, IMO, is where the conversation about indie film needs to head, because if you are making an indie film with the sole goal of making a 7-figure sale at Sundance, you are delusional and in the wrong business. And I feel strongly about the importance of regional fests and the role they can play in the future of indie film, but that is a longer discussion for another time.

Back to the Sundance sales, or at least, those I am most interested in:

Perfect Sense is more of an artsier, better take on a global pandemic ala Blindness than “arty sex.” Not really much of that in the story at all, for all that we see Ewan MacGregor full frontal and Eva Green’s boobs. I’d liken it tonally more to Never Let Me Go than anything … but yeah, that didn’t do so well theatrically, did it? A shame, because I really loved that film. Perfect Sense is a solid, smart movie, but maybe a little to smart for mainstream audiences. Time will tell on that one.

As for Pariah, Christ almighty, this is my biggest beef of the fest. I’m glad it sold at least, but can we stop with the Precious comparisons already? It’s a better film — much better, structurally, than Precious, but will likely get overlooked because everyone keeps comparing it to Precious.

I guess we can’t have more than one film with a strong lead performance by an unknown, young black actress, and a surprisingly strong supporting turn by an older black actress in a decade or so, though, right? Too bad for Dee Rees and Pariah, I guess, that there was already an artsy black film out of Sundance. Timing just sucks, right?

And too bad for Adepero Oduye that she wasn’t blond enough or white enough to qualify as a Sundance “It Girl.”

It might help both of them to remember, though, that coming out of Sundance a couple years ago hardly anyone was taking realistic Oscar buzz for Push (aka Precious) because it was too black/urban/depressing, so if we MUST compare the two because they’re both “black films” then perhaps we can look at the positive side, too.

As for the rest, what will be interesting is to revisit all these sales a year from now, and see which films did well by their buyers — and which buyers did well by the films.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon