Everything’s Better in Il Futuro: Interviews, Driving, and Alicia Scherson’s Masterful Vision of The Future

Saturday was another jam-packed day.  I spent the morning at the Filmmakers’ Lodge to help PA some Creative Services employees film a panel with actors Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale), Paul Eenhoorn (This Is Martin Bonner), Kathryn Hahn (Afternoon Delight), Danai Gurira (Mother of George), and Kaya Scodelario (Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes).  From there, our small crew went to the Music Café to conduct a few interviews and film the talented Kat Edmonson as she underwent a sound check for her upcoming performance.  Kat gave an interview and talked about her excitement in playing Sundance for the first time and the opportunity to be in Park City thanks to an invitation extended by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

After getting some free gloves and rejuvenating with a lovely meal at the Blue Iguana, I was ready to do a bunch of driving throughout the afternoon.  I feel as if I have gotten to know Park City pretty well as a result of having to drive everywhere.

On Saturday evening, I was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of Il Futuro (The Future), a film about which I knew nothing, and which absolutely blew me away.  Il Futuro is written and directed by Alicia Scherson, whom the Internet tells me has made two other features (she is new to me).  It is an adaptation of a novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño and concerns the lives of two orphaned teens, Bianca (played by an amazing Manuela Martelli) and Tomas (Luigi Ciardo) immediately following a car accident that killed the orphans’ parents and changed the way the orphans’ perceive the world.  Tomas soon falls in with some shady friends who move in and concoct a plan to have Bianca seduce and rob an aging move star and former Mr. Universe named Maciste (played by Martelli’s equal, Rutger Hauer).  Il Futuro is many things: a surreal examination of rapid, irrevocable change, a post-feminist text, a shrewd observer of character, a critique of masculinity…  All is woven together with such intricacy that the film defies summation in words: it is a truly cinematic experience, whose meaning unfolds mysteriously as it’s viewed, and for that reason, I can’t wait to see it again.

Today is supposed to be the Creative Services Department’s busiest day of the festival.  I hope to check in soon with more news.

With the Creative Services Department at the Filmmakers’ Lodge

The talented Kat Edmonson performs a sound check as Creative Services gets some b-roll

Nicola Marsh: In her own words

Editor: Alumna Nicola Marsh is an alum long time supporter of the School of Cinematic Arts. Her wisdom as a DP was featured in the 2010 InMotion Magazine’s profile of Women Alumni and she always takes the time to help her fellow Trojans. Nicola’s film 20 Feet From Stardom is making its debut at Sundance this year and she took the time to email in her thoughts.

I graduated from USC in 2006 and I now work as a freelance cinematographer in LA. I shoot pretty much everything from reality shows (Vanderpump Rules – Bravo), to scary movies (Smiley – AMC theatrical) to documentaries. The documentaries have gotten the most attention as I shot two of them for Cameron Crowe and the bulk of them are about famous musicians (Pearl Jam, Elton John, Iggy Pop, James Taylor and Carol King – my mother has heard of none of these people. It’s a tricky thing to balance all these genres of cinematography as your ego needs to be like an accordion. If you’re shooting a narrative feature or worse a commercial you’re expected to demand the world and think you’re God; If you are shooting a documentary with an uber famous musician, you essentially need to be invisible and cow into submission if someone famous looks at you.

This year I shot a documentary about the unheralded back-up singer – Twenty Feet From Stardom. It’s an amazing look at the successes and failures of the incredible men and (mostly) women who have sung on some of your favorite songs. Musically they all have what it takes to be a star, and the documentary looks at why that never happened for them. It’s a inspiring, sometimes sad look at ambition, talent and luck. As well as profiling the back up singers themselves, we also shot interviews with Bette Midler, Mick Jager, Sting, Bruce Springsteen who all talk about what it takes to be in the spotlight. As a young(ish) artist (of sorts) myself, it is humbling to watch an awesomely talented 60 year old woman reflect on never having realized her dreams.

I flew into Park City from LA and I am immediately overwhelmed by thousands of filmmakers from all over the world gathered in one tiny airport. And not necessarily in a good way. They guy in front of me at the baggage claim is in a camo onesie complete with giant moon boots. The guys next to me are talking about “data points” and “making imbd obsolete”. And then there’s me wondering if I’m supposed to be networking yet, but fantasizing about going to me hotel room to read my new scifi book.

The movie I shot – Twenty Feet From Stardom – screens that night. It was shot on multiple formats (red, 5d ex3/letus adaptor with cine lenses). It was quite a treat to see it projected on opening night of the Sundance Film Festival on a beautiful 2k Christie projector in a 1270 capacity theatre. There is also nothing quite like seeing your cinematography set to the sound tracks of Gimme Shelter and Walk On The Wild side. I hadn’t seen or heard the final cut and as the credits rolled I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I felt so lucky to have been part of making it and sort of not worthy of it in a weird way. The movie closed and the entire audience rose to their feet clapping as the director and our back up singers took to the stage for a Q and A. I love the communal experience of watching a good movie in a movie theatre. At Sundance that feeling is on steroids as everyone in the audience knows they are the first people to ever see the movie. Suddenly I don’t feel like reading my scifi book anymore and all I want to do is watch as many of these movies as I can.

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One of the other main activities when at Sundance (after trying to score tickets to movies) is to try and get into any or all parties that you can. If you’re famous or affiliated with some prestigious network like HBO, this is fairly easy. For the rest of us you have to rely on conning your way in. For once I had remarkable success at this. I tried to blag my way into the AFI party (I know treason but free food and alcohol can corrupt even the strongest Trojan). Luckily for me they had lost their guest list just as I was approaching. It was incredibly cool inside with lots of beautiful svelte people dressed in black, which made me seriously reevaluate not going to AFI. It took me about half an hour to realize I had inadvertently crashed some Annie Lebowitz party. Nobody seemed to care.

The night continued and I bumped into my old 507 buddy, Meagan Keane. She now works for Adobe and they sponsor the festival so it became increasingly easy to talk our way into anything (plus Meagan is much more persuasive than I). We finished off the evening at a party for the documentary Pussy Riot (Russian punk band Putin had arrested). It’s heaving inside with a weird mix of hard core documentarians, anarchist punk rockers and really attractive people (AKA actors), all listening to aggro girl punk bands. Meagan introduces me to Barbara (as in Kopple – legendary documentary filmmaker I spent most of USC studying). I’m totally tongue tied. I try to alert her to the fact that I am a documentary DP but it’s loud and there is no real opening for me to segue into bragging. Finally she turns to me and says “what time is Peaches coming on?” Peaches is a techno punk DJ singer most famous for her song “F*ck the pain away”. Barbara, perhaps in her sixties, is clearly excited to see her perform. I am in awe. Of everything.

Big news from Sundance…

Hello again from SC Alum Doug Blush…VERY proud to announce that the film I supervised, along with SC editors Jason Zeldes and Kevin Klauber…has been purchased by Radius-TWC (Weinstein) for full theatrical release later this year!  Our first two screenings have been phenomenal, with standing ovations at both and our amazing divas of background singing performing solos during the Q and A sessions!

I’ll post more about the mayhem of Sundance weekend…when there’s a moment!

Sundance Day 2: Feeling Like I’m Right Where I Belong

Last night (Friday) was, I’m anticipating, one of the coolest nights I’ll have at the fest.

I spent the day banging around with a couple other SC people and saw the premiere of “Mother of George”, which was beautifully acted and shot, though we also affectionately nicknamed it “Bruce Block The Movie” thanks to the film’s vibrant color palette and interesting perspective choices.

After that I trekked up several very steep hills to reach the house where the dinner party hosted by 72 Productions was being held. It was wonderful to see all of my crew together and to meet some of the production crew we in post don’t often encounter, and the subjects of our documentary who it’s always strange to meet after staring at their faces for nine months. Since 72 Productions also did Afternoon Delight, their cast and crew was there as well, and it was great swapping production stories.

I climbed all the way up here!!

I say that I anticipate that might be the coolest thing I do at Sundance because I’m expecting it to be the only party where I feel like I really BELONG instead of being some schmuck looking to schmooze and get a job (though lining up my next gig IS my big goal of the fest). I got to chat with Robert Reich and another one of our subjects, Nick Hannauer, and talk about how excited we are about IFA and the Conservative folk in our lives whose beliefs the film has already shaken a bit. I chatted with Josh Radnor and Katherine Hahn as peers rather than feeling like a weirdo fan trying to make awkward conversation at an event where a million people are vying for their attention. It was just a wonderful relaxing night with some really cool people celebrating what we’ve all accomplished together, and I hope it will be the first of many events like that.

Inequality For All premieres this afternoon, with a reception afterwards. It will be exciting to see it with a big audience, but I think the real test for the movie will be how audiences outside of the liberal film world react to it when it goes into wide release. If the reactions of all of our Republican friends and families are anything to go by, I think it has real potential to be an eye opener to many people, much like An Inconvenient Truth.

THE SUNDANCE KID’S ALL GROWN UP: Impressions after the first few days of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival

Thursday night officially opened the Sundance film festival, but Park City has been slowly transforming over the past week (longer if one considers the immense planning that goes into executing said transformation).

There’s an infectious air of excitement in Park City unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Seeing a film at Sundance is like getting to see a band play its music live: the atmosphere can make even mediocre material feel fresh and exciting.

That’s not to say that there appears to be a glut of mediocrity with this year’s lineup. Though I’m familiarizing myself with the schedule as I go along, I did enter the festival this year with a few films I knew I wanted to try to see.

*Calvin Reeder’s The Rambler is an expansion of a short that played the festival a few years ago.  It plays in the midnight section of the festival and promises the eponymous hero a series of bizarre encounters across Reeder’s idiosyncratic portrayal of America.

*Computer Chess is the first film from Andrew Bujalski since 2009’s Beeswax.  Bujalski is one of the most thoughtful and talented of the so-called “mumblecore” directors, and his Mutual Appreciation remains one of my favorite films of the last ten years.

*Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is the third film in the inquisitive and romantic series with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy that also includes Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

Though I may be anticipating these films, there’s no time like the present for enjoying all that Sundance has to offer.  I am a volunteer in the Creative Services Department, and I have spent my first few days at work as a PA to different crews as they go out and shoot segments about the festival and what’s happening in Park City.  On Thursday night, I was responsible for staking out a spot for our crew to record audio during Robert Redford’s and festival director John Cooper’s opening remarks.  I was about fifteen feet from their podium.  Even with a ticket, I couldn’t have had more of a “front-row” experience.  Redford explained the importance of the work that the Sundance Institute does year-round through its labs, and Cooper introduced director Cherien Dabis (director of Amreeka) who came out and introduced her new film May in the Summer.

After my shift that night, I attended the two special volunteer screenings (both of which were world premieres).  The first was Lucy Walker’s documentary about snowboarder (and Utah-native) Kevin Pearce’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury, The Crash Reel.  This is an incredibly affecting and effective documentary that paints an interesting portrait of Pearce, his family, the snowboarding community, the dangers of extreme sports, and the heartbreak of traumatic brain injury.

The second film was Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Toy’s House, a quirky coming-of-age story about a trio of teenage friends who abandon their parents to build a house in the woods and live what promises to be a comparatively better life.  Though filled with moments of wonderful humor and poetic imagery, I found the experience to be lacking emotional grounding and somewhat underwhelming.  Still, it was wonderful to see a filmmaker create a unique vision and premiere it in a screening to the volunteers.

On Friday, I was a PA on an interesting interview with actor Isaach De Bankolé, who has worked with a litany of great directors (Jim Jarmusch, Claire Denis, Lars von Trier) in a series of unique performances. Isaach was at the festival to promote the new film in which he stars, Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George.  He stressed the value and importance of silence in cinema.

That night, I took my first look at the New Frontier space of the festival.  New Frontier houses installation or experimental new media and film projects.  I was blown away by the pieces I saw.  I hope to get back and take a second look later in the festival.  I was impressed by artists like Yung Jake, whose augmented reality piece changes the way a spectator relates to the interaction of traditional “art” pieces and smart-phone or tablet technology.

Afterwards, I saw another documentary, Robert Stone’s Pandora’s Promise, which is about the history and future of nuclear power.  The documentary makes a clear-eyed compelling case for nuclear power as the most viable (and surprisingly safest) form of mass-energy for Earth’s ever-growing population in the century to come.

I am writing this post on Saturday morning.  I am not sure what today holds, but I am unbelievably excited to continue my festival experience.  Not knowing is great when the surprises are varied and beautiful things.

Sundance!

Hello! Barb Steele here, M.F.A. Production ’12 and 1st Assistant Editor on “Inequality For All”, one of the docs in competition in Sundance this year.

Got in around 7 last night after a pleasant and painless 11 hour drive from L.A. to Park City with Mike Shawver, fellow USC alumn and co-editor of “Fruitvale”. This was my second time making the drive to Utah, and just like the first time, the drive is so damn scenic that it flies by, and the fact that ou can drive through cities, suburbia, empty desert and endless snowy plains in less than half a day, is pretty astounding. Last time I made the trip it was summer, and the plains of Utah were green and misty, and I was able to geek out about double rainbows every half hour. This time it’s thoroughly winter. There were several times when the mist of blowing snow in the distance made it feel like we were on the verge of driving out of the real world and into a blank nowhereland, and as dusk fell it seemed like we were driving through a pink and gold cloud. Definitely a far cry from the L.A. smog.

The USC condos at the Canyons are really gorgeous, so thanks to Corey for booking them! I almost wish I had a less rigorous schedule over the next few days, because the living room is cozy and has a fire place and it would be awesome to just get some friends together to hang out and party here one night. Alas, my dance card is already full.

I ventured out to help out at fellow USC alumn Amy Taylor’s party right after I arrived, and from my first night getting lost in Park City, here’s what I’ve learned about Sundance so far:

– The buses are confusing as hell, and on the first night no one is ever entirely sure what’s going on, but there are a TON of volunteers huddling around outdoor heaters, eager to help, and by crowd sourcing all of their knowledge, you’ll eventually find your way to where you need to go.

– You will slip and fall on the ice at least once. Hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m bracing myself.

– If you manage to find someone to give you the elusive party grid, you will be a rock star, or at least be able to pretend you’re one around people not desperate enough for free food to have begged everyone they know for it. And the earlier you can get the grid the better, because Li’l Jon will NOT save a space for you at his birthday party.

– 7-11 won’t sell beer after 11, and beer over 5% is only sold at liquor stores, not general grocery stores. But it’s okay, because I have my flask of Sailor Jerry’s to keep me warm.

– Sundance is affectionately known as “Fludance” so I’m glad I got my shot before I left.

– Everyone is ridiculously friendly! Bring business cards, because you’ll be chatting it up and exchanging info with strangers on the street before you know it.

Tonight is the crew dinner for my film production company, 72 Productions (who also has the narrative film “Afternoon Delight” in competition). Will there celebrities there? Of course there will, because we’re ALL celebrities at Sundance!

JONATHAN LANGAGER: In his own words.

(EDITOR: Many students imagine their work after School someday making it into the festival circuit. What many don’t realize is that, with the right dedication and hustle, their work AS STUDENTS can make it all the way to Sundance/Slamdance. Director Jonathan Langager’s thesis film Josephine and the Roach is premiering at Slamdance today. Below are his notes.)

Greetings from Park City. I’ve just arrived after a day of traveling (the last stretch being a very long and chilly shuttle trip from Salt Lake City).
I’m here screening my thesis film “Josephine and the Roach” at Slamdance. The first screening is tomorrow (January 18th) at 12:30pm, the second is on Monday at 2:00pm.
I’ve been looking forward to this trip for quite some time. Well, for me “looking forward” resides in the blurred boundary between nervous excitement and abject terror. Park City, after all, is to filmmakers what the Vatican is to priests. It’s holy and somewhat mysterious– a place where powerful people gather to do powerful things. Saints are canonized. Films are financed. Drinks are imbibed. Hence the anxiety. “Networking” does that to me.
But, I’ve packed my screeners, postcards, and business cards. I am ready. If I hand these things to all of the fancy people that I meet, I will have done my job. And so, now that I’m actually here and somewhat prepared, my nervousness- the clammy palms and knotted stomach- has subsided. “Looking forward” has become just that. I am looking forward to the screenings, the Q&As, the Filmmaker Sled-off, the Hot Tub Summit, and the countless hours spent talking with filmmakers about film. I will simply ignore all of the “networking” and just make a few friends.
Until next time…

SUNDANCE Interview with Chinaka Hodge

USC Alumni Chinaka Hodge, Sundance Screenwriters Lab Fellow

Greetings from Doug Blush and TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM at Sundance!

Hello all from the FABULOUS Burbank Airport, where classic rock drifts from the PA and even the TSA folks are smiling.  I’m writing this as an ongoing (based on net access!) account of my travels to Sundance for the premiere of TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM, the new documentary from top non-fiction filmmaker Morgan Neville, with yours truly as supervising editor.  The film was beautifully edited by ‘SC alums Jason Zeldes and Kevin Klauber, and I was honored to be a part of a truly amazing film about what it really means to be an artist.

The film profiles the previously unknown world of professional backup singers, focusing especially on four remarkable women who span the entire history of modern popular music.  We premiere TONIGHT at the huge Eccles Theater in Park City as the opening night film…and the ladies of backup singing will be joining us!  I’ll post more about the premiere and about the Sundance experience in general (this is my 10th Sundance, and the fifth time with a film in the festival).  Sundance is all things…big fun, serious work, wacky mayhem and most of all a chance to meet up with fellow filmmakers coming out of all our caves for this annual sojourn.  More to come!

Best,

Doug Blush, USC CNTV ’88

Supervising Editor, TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM