Sundance Film Festival broadens its scope

December 27, 2009

Between cost over-runs and final-cut fights, director Terry Gilliam, 69, is no stranger to difficult film productions. Still, nothing prepared him for the tragedy that marred the making of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.” Midway through production of the fantastical adventure, his star, Heath Ledger, died.

“I was too distraught to work out what to do. But everybody around me said, ‘You have to carry on,’ ” Gilliam says. Inspired by the film’s “magic mirror” conceit, Gilliam figured out a novel work-around.

“Thanks to Parnassus and his Imaginarium, we had this magical mirror where, once you go through it, things can be different,” Gilliam says. “First, we altered the part of Martin the drunk at the beginning of the film so that he was played by two actors. This established the principle that people can change on the other side of the mirror. Then I just started calling my friends and people who were close to Heath.”

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Disney to slash Miramax Films staff to 20, reduce releases to 3 a year

October 3, 2009

Walt Disney Co., looking to rein in costs at its Hollywood studio as it focuses on mainstream movies, is slashing staff by 70% at its Miramax Films specialty label and is substantially reducing the number of pictures it releases.

The retrenchment, which has been foreshadowed in Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger’s strategy to emphasize family and “branded” films, comes quickly on the heels of the recent ouster of former Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook. The former movie chief left abruptly last month under pressure from Iger, who had been unhappy with the studio’s direction and performance.

Under the plan disclosed after Disney’s board meeting Friday, Miramax is being forced to eliminate 50 of the division’s 70 jobs and cut in half the number of films it releases to just three a year. The label’s marketing, distribution and administrative functions, which had operated independently, will be folded into the parent studio in Burbank. The move becomes effective in January.

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Indie Film Producers

August 11, 2009

The recent passing of master film director Yu Hyon-mok has dealt a great loss for all of us in cinema and other fields in Korea, and elsewhere around the world.

Yu was one of the greatest filmmakers Korea has ever produced. His movie “Obaltan (The Accidentally Fired Bullet)” has ranked as the best film in Korean film history on various opinion polls for a couple of decades. Personally, I regarded him as a mentor in film philosophy. Upon his demise, I was assigned the sad and painful duty of composing and reading a memorial poem at his funeral ceremony.

The sad event occasioned some thoughts and reflections about my own position in filmmaking as a dubious independent filmmaker depending largely on the strength of some recognition garnered at a few international video/film festivals and my long-abiding love for photography and film.

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The living-room TV, not Cannes, may be independent film’s best friend

May 12, 2009

For years, filmmakers flocked to the Cannes Film Festival to sell their independently financed movies, confident they’d soon see their work exhibited in movie theaters. Like so many show business dreams, those visions have been vanishing quickly as numerous distributors of film-festival fare closed their doors after losing money or corporate support. But there’s a potential savior on the horizon called video on demand — and it may be hiding somewhere inside your cable television box.

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“Rachel” among top Spirit picks

December 2, 2008

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Border smuggling crime movie “Frozen River” won best picture and breakthrough acting awards at the Gotham Independent Film ceremony on Tuesday, as well as sharing top billing in nominations for the Spirit Awards for independent filmmakers.

Melissa Leo, 48, was named by IFP, organizer of the Gotham awards, as breakthrough actor of the year for her role in “Frozen River.” She portrays a desperate single mother who is drawn into the world of immigrant smuggling near a Mohawk reservation between New York state and Quebec

Leo’s performance has riveted movie critics, and the Gotham award and Spirit nomination put her in line for wider recognition as Hollywood’s three-month movie awards season kicks into gear.

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Glut of Films Hits Hollywood

September 3, 2008

HOLLYWOOD — When Meg Ryan and Antonio Banderas signed up to star in an independently produced comedy-action movie called “My Mom’s New Boyfriend,” the film’s backers figured they had a slam dunk — a modestly priced film with bankable stars that would surge at the box office.

The producers say the $17 million movie scored well in test screenings in the U.S. this spring and did decent business in Spain, Israel and Russia. But the U.S. distributor, Sony Corp.’s Sony Pictures, quietly sent the movie straight to DVD on June 17. “I believe that three years ago this movie absolutely would have been on screens, if for no other reason than the actors involved,” says George Gallo, who wrote and directed the film.

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Making a smart entrance

April 23, 2008

THE new American comedy Smart People has a cast that the director of any independent movie would covet.

Dennis Quaid appears as a wearied, widowed university lecturer and father to Vanessa (Ellen Page). He is the brother of Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) and potential squire of a doctor played by Sarah Jessica Parker.

Director Noam Murro has assembled a watchable and very marketable cast. “I’m just a lucky schmuck, you know,” he says.

He’s still pinching himself that such stars came into alignment for his first feature.

“I’m not particularly good-looking or incredibly convincing, it just sort of happened,” he says. “The actors all read something in the script that they thought was good, which I did too.

“We talked about it and we all had the same point of view about cinema and about life and how to do things and we all went out and had some fun for a few months.”

The result is a small and pleasing comedy that goes some way to restoring faith in American independent movies: an influential stream of global cinema that has slowly lost its way and impact since the 1990s.

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Dollars and sense of film financing

November 30, 2007

MOVIES may be pure entertainment but financing them is serious business, and as movie-making opportunities increase in Singapore and other less-mature markets in Asia, finding the funds to fuel the process will be crucial to the health of the industry.

Even as new media emerges on a seemingly daily basis to provide viable alternatives to the century-old movie industry, Hollywood producers and industry types from around the world descended on Singapore to attend the Asia Media Festival (AMF) trade event and to spread the good word: Asia has many great stories to tell, and as long as the right partnerships and proper procedures are in place, the money will be there to help filmmakers tell them.

In Hollywood, there’s no shortage of money in search of the next big box office hit, but financiers and like-minded studio executives prefer to hedge their bets by bankrolling big names and proven storylines. “The film industry has become a one or two-weekend business,” says Ashok Amritraj, CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based independent movie producer of titles such as Bringing Down the House, Shopgirl and Raising Helen.

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Independent movie theaters fill niche

July 20, 2007

A few weeks ago, the Pleasant Street Theater in Northampton was playing “Waitress,” the independent film about a pregnant woman who dreams of escaping from her controlling husband, when owner Bob Lawton noticed that the Amherst Cinema’s Web site featured the film as a coming attraction.

“He called me and asked us to take ‘coming soon’ off the Web site because he didn’t want us to take away his audience,” said Carol Johnson, executive director of the Amherst Cinema. “We agreed to do it. It’s in the best interests of both of us to see both theaters thrive.”

In addition to the 30-year-old Pleasant Street and the 7-month-old Amherst Cinema, independent films are now showing on Wednesday and Thursday nights at the Academy of Music. There may be more interest in these movies in Hampshire County than in other parts of the country, but now there are now three competitors for the same nonmainstream audience.

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Parker Posey: Not your average indie queen

May 13, 2007

LOS ANGELESĀ –Parker Posey doesn’t pick at her lunch. She doesn’t push the slab of salmon around her plate, pretending to eat. No, she takes normal-size bite after normal-size bite (although she does pass on the bread, natch). Even more than her status as indie movie queen, this action sets her apart from her acting peers.

In person, Posey is anything but an obvious icon. She’s polite. She’s pleasant. She’s only a tad New Age artsy – fartsy and hardly over-the-top at all. Sure she’s got the same super-smudged eyes of so many of the characters she’s played. Yes there’s that voice that can go from low-pitched gravel to grating shriek. But otherwise Posey could almost be described as sensible in her dark slacks and blazer with the hand-made wooden pin of a girl riding a dragonfly on the lapel. Were it not for her wild purple blouse, she’d come off as mainstream as some of her acting choices of late.

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