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Inside Indiewood | The Nation

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Inside Indiewood

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Q:

The other striking metaphor for female filmmakers appears in

The Blair Witch Project

, where the director is a woman, and she's not only killed, she's humiliated, the arrogant know-it-all who got them into it.

About the Author

Peter Biskind
Peter Biskind, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, is the author of a forthcoming book on the independent film...

Also by the Author

THIS IS THE THIRD of what now threatens to become The Nation's annual Hollywood issue. Following in the footsteps of the catholic Mr. Soderbergh, whose Y2K output ran the gamut from Erin Brockovich to Traffic, this time around there is not even the shadow of a theme. But a little eclecticism never hurt anyone. In the forum, GENE SEYMOUR engages black filmmakers, who, as a group, appear to be enjoying unprecedented success, although he finds clouds within the silver lining. ELLEN WILLIS puts The Sopranos on her couch with a dazzling appreciation-slash-deconstruction of the East Coast's favorite soap (interestingly, the West Coast appears to be more taken with Gladiator), while MARC COOPER does the same for Hollywood's version of the labor movement, giving us an eye-opening glimpse into the internal politics of the guilds on the eve of what at this point seems to be an inevitable strike.

GEOFFREY GILMORE, who has run the Sundance Film Festival for eleven years, takes on "purists" and "ideologues" in a spirited assessment of the current state of independent film. Also in the not-so-pure department, AMY WALLACE reports that Jodie Foster is looking to make a feature out of the life of infamous filmmaker-cum-Hitler- groupie Leni Riefenstahl. The byzantine Oscar documentary process gets put under the microscope by CARL BROMLEY, who notes that the academy's snub of Wim Wenders's Buena Vista Social Club last year was only the most recent in a long history of mind-boggling misjudgments. We've tossed some candy throughout the issue in the form of reflections--both visual and verbal, from some names you'll recognize--on the allure of certain matinee idols. Finally, there is a real treat: an excerpt of newly published letters that present RAYMOND CHANDLER in a wholly unexpected light.

*Last year, I was the guest editor of The Nation's first issue devoted exclusively to Hollywood and politics.

Anders:

Right. It's almost like they got killed for supporting her vision. You followed this crazy person.

Q:

How do you size up the revolution to come in digital production and distribution?

Payne:

You know what? Certainly the digital thing makes the means of production accessible to everybody, which is interesting, but it doesn't solve the filmmaker's problem of what's the script, what's the story and what are you going to do. The same thing happened thirty years ago with 16 millimeter and Cassavetes starting to make films. We've seen it before. I still like 35-millimeter film in theaters. It's the only thing I think about.

Q:

So, is it the best of times or the worst of times?

Pierson:

I hate the idea that it's become easier for anybody with a first-time success to now parlay that into additional films. If the wrong people get those opportunities and keep churning out what's obviously a glut of films right now, that begins to clog the arteries for first-time talent trying to come in the traditional way, making a movie that goes to a festival and gets released in a theater.

By the same token, in this twenty-year cycle that we've had, I think a lot of ground has been covered, so it's increasingly hard for those people to be truly original. And now marketing is king. Anything that can begin to succeed will succeed at a far higher level than ever, and that's because audiences--even the smart audiences--enjoy being marketed to, and so they flock to the one film instead of spreading out the vote among dozens.

Vachon:

When I first started making movies, if a film like Poison did $1 million worth of box office, that was seen as great success. Everybody got a little bit of money in their pockets. Then the bar rose. Some people haveblamed Pulp Fiction. I don't know if that was it, but there was a feeding frenzy about these movies, suddenly a sense that they could potentially make real money. Safe was the kind of movie that should have sat in a theater and become the movie that peopletalked about at cocktail parties, but it didn't have time.It came out just as that was all shifting, where if you didn't deliver the numbers in the first week or two, you wereout. The kind of movies I was making, which could be targeted to the gay audience and not lose money because of their budgets and the low cost of distributing them, all that has gone out the window now. To do a genuine theatrical release for a film is much more expensive than it used to be. I think the p&a [prints and ads] budget on Poison in 1990 was something like $80,000. On Velvet Goldmine in 1998, it must have been somewhere between $5 million and $10 million.

Q:

So it's becoming a first-weekend business, just like with studio films?

Vachon:

Exactly. And on Boys Don't Cry, we were huddled by our phones that whole weekend. Are they buying tickets? Are they going? Because I knew my movie's fate rested on that.

Pierson:

The key to me is that indies still think they are fighting studios, and clearly they're fighting each other. I counted 175 indie releases in New York last year, or 180. Over 175. You can't even remember 100 of them.

Q:

Another way of asking this question is, If

Clerks

came along today, could it break through the way it did in 1994 at Sundance?

Smith:

If we'd made Clerks today, I doubt it would have gotten into Sundance--Well, maybe. It wouldn't have gotten into competition, that's for sure. And Miramax would not have touched it with a ten-foot pole. Too small. Far beneath them. We were the last in a long line of small American independent films that they really pushed, that they made their name on.

Q:

So, it's the worst of times?

Pierson:

Not necessarily. A big plus now is that very talented people like Kevin Smith and David Russell can step inside the system but leave the door open so they can step back out. And filmmakers who made their names on first features can actually have sustained, ongoing filmmaking careers.

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