indieWIRE INSIDER: The Show Must Go On; The "New Normalcy" with Soderbergh, Sales & Sundance
by Ray Pride
"Can't go on, must go on."
(indieWIRE/11.26.01) -- The thought is Beckett's, but it's also the inevitable thought of anyone whose life ping-pongs from paycheck to paycheck or project to project. In the months after September 11, newspapers and television reports have been awash with tears of sorrow, and tales of despondency and paralysis. But life, commerce and art endure. Welcome to the "new normalcy," where the business of show business continues due to trust and perseverance.
Scan the trades: Here's Steven Soderbergh, the Duracell rabbit of healthy attitude, dropping off the print of Ocean's 11 on his way to shooting his Miramax quickie with Julia Roberts, Full Frontal while planning his big-budget remake of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 science fiction head-scratcher Solaris. Add to that the fact Soderbergh's Solaris may be the first feature made under a deal proposed to USA Films, in which he and other indie-minded filmmakers like David Fincher, Alexander Payne, Spike Jonze, and Sam Mendes own the negatives of their work. Why can't we all be like Steve?
Or like Bingham Ray, the stealth fighter of film distributors, whose gig at October Films was bolstered by close ties with many directors and producers. After a few quiet weeks as the head of United Artists, Ray announced his first smash-and-grab, yanking North American rights to Mike Leigh's latest, untitled Cannes-destined film away from presumptive distrib Universal Focus.
And super-indie Miramax can still turn on a dime. When their highest-budgeted film to date, Martin Scorsese's would-be awards trawler Gangs of New York was either unpolished or "inappropriate" to market in December, the company quickly placed their faith in James Mangold's time-travel romance Kate and Leopold for the studio's multi-thousand screen Christmas slot. Harvey's got an answer for everything.
"Consolidation" was a watchword of money types when the dot.com dream turned nightmarish, but simple cooperation, and trust in talent, seems to constitute the new normalcy. Resourceful, dexterous Cowboy Pictures recently teamed with Lions Gate for the latter company's release of InDigEnt Films' second feature, Campbell Scott's sci-fi psychodrama Final. Shooting Gallery veteran Eamonn Bowles formed Magnolia Pictures, and presumably plans to revisit the critical success of the Gallery's arthouse film series. And October Films cofounder John Schmidt has partnered with seasoned producer Edward R. Pressman to form ContentFilm, with backing from European venture funds as well as Frank Biondi's WaterView Advisors. The aim is 10 to 15 projects a year, with an eye to finding fresh avenues of distribution, as well. An even larger deal on the horizon is former Polygram Films topper Michael Kuhn's plan for a distribution company that would challenge the stranglehold of American majors overseas.
And an auspicious European alliance has put their trust in sales company Celluloid Dreams. Snapped up by a consortium of Europe's highest profile independent distributors, Celluloid Dreams is a familiar name on the festival circuit, representing some of the best international filmmakers working today (Bruno Dumont, Francois Ozon, Abbas Kiarostami, Laurent Cantet). As Celluloid head Hengameh Panahi has said of the acquisition, it's "a community of taste," sharing the goal of cutting costs and buying the rights to the best arthouse titles to build a formidable catalog.
Plus, come hell or high hopes, Christmas is upon us, with the studios marching out their best Oscar bets. Lightweight schedules suddenly strive for "art," with mega-decamillion dollar features shooting for the heft that usually only indies offer, such as Michael Mann's Ali."(What could be more timely than the story of a heroic Muslim draft resister?) Yet creaking would-be Oscar contenders like Life as a House quickly crumbles, and screens that aren't plastered with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings get the mid-budget indie-alikes such as the Jim Carrey-goes-Capra The Majestic, Robert Altman's Renoir-meets-Agatha Christie ensemble Gosford Park or Wes Anderson's Gotham family fantasia The Royal Tenenbaums.
And does anyone else sense Sundance on the horizon? All year, filmmakers have been quietly, studiously pushing toward the annual festival deadline. Despite being burned on more than an occasion or three, veteran Park City attendees still trust that it remains possible to be astonished in the dark. What will reveal itself as this year's In the Bedroom or Donnie Darko? With the Olympics shoving the fest into the first weeks of 2002, we'll know even sooner.
Life goes on. Stories continue to be told. Deals will be made. Otherwise who would settle for residual checks?
[indieWIRE, 26 November 2001]