FILMMAKER FLASHBACK: SUMMER, 1996
Last year when we asked our contributors to discuss their seminal indies of the ’00s, Brandon Harris wrote of John Sayles’ Lone Star, “It was the first time I saw an American Independent narrative that seemed to deal with the ways in which different communities, even ones right on top of each other, see history in vastly divergent ways.” Maybe it’s because I’m currently working my way through Season Three of The Wire, but it strikes me that, in America, at least, the kind of multi-character, socially-critical storytelling that wasn’t exactly prevalent in 1996 when Lone Star was released is now entirely considered to be the province of cable television. Lone Star was our cover story in Summer, 1996, and Sayles discussed the relationship between history, cinematic storytelling and character. From Megan Ratner’s interview:
Filmmaker: The feeling in Lone Star is similar to City of Hope: a small town that’s a world unto itself but influenced by outside events, current and historical.
Sayles: I wanted a small town where the media would be a small part. If you’re in a big city, the national media change the story. It’s like having a monster movie when the army shows up. I wanted to keep things more personal, on a small scale.
Filmmaker: You’ve used flashbacks before, but in Lone Star it felt as though the past and the present had nearly equal weight. They actually play off each other.
Sayles: Like City of Hope, we used a lot of master shots to tell the story. Both films take place over three or four days, but Lone Star is so much more about history. I used theatrical transitions so that there would be this feeling [that] there wasn’t a big seam between the past and the present. Orson Welles did things like that every once in a while. Basically, you get a background for your tight shot from 1996, you pan away, and when you pan back to where the guy telling the story was, it’s somebody completely different, and it’s 1957. There’s not a cut or a dissolve. I wanted to reinforce the feeling that what’s going on now is totally connected to the past. It’s almost not like a memory – you don’t hear the harp playing. It’s there.
Filmmaker: The past is really part of the present for all the characters, especially Sam Deeds.
Sayles: It’s in every relationship – racial history, personal history. In all of those histories, you have that question of – how much do I want to carry this? Is [the history] good, or is it possible to say, “I’m going to start from scratch? Do I still live my life in reaction to – for or against – my father?”
Sayles also used the metaphor of the bus station to describe the independent film world:
Filmmaker: Do you see yourself as part of an independent film community? Is there such a thing?
Sayles: I’m not sure how much community there is – it’s not like [we] hang out at the Tribeca Film Center together; it’s more like a bus station. All kinds of people pass through the bus station, and some are never going to come back. And some end up there day after day – they get stuck there. People have a different relationship to the station, but I’m someone who keeps going back. Not every single trip – sometimes I’ll fly – but that’s mostly where I end up. So I don’t think that there really is a community. To a certain extent, there is a group of people who act in and who work in – and produce – independent films more often than other people. A few of them have long-term relationships, like the Coen Brothers and Jim Jarmusch, who’s worked with the Japanese quite a bit. But for an awful lot of people like me, each time out is a different bus. We’ve made ten movies, and I’d say seven of the companies that distributed our movies are no longer in business. I don’t think there’s any causality there – but that means that the next time out, we’re just looking for somebody else.
Also in this issue, Steve Borne wrote about digital sound editing and included these five commandments for producers and directors working with sound designers and mixers:
The Five Commandments of Film Mixing:
1. Thou really ought to try and see all of the elements before the mix. Surprises = Time = $$$.
2. If thou hast ignored the first commandment, thou shalt not panic. We can fix it. Fixes = Time = $$$.
3. There is hopefully only one director. Thou shalt give your honest opinion but bow to his/her will. Arguments You Cannot Win = Time = $$$.
4. Thou shalt not talk incessantly on thy telephone while the mix is in progress. We need to hear the film. Get thee to another phone please.
5. Thou shalt consistently overpay your Sound Supervisor/Designer. He/She deserves it.
Finally, in this issue we had an article on agents that included a poll of the “Top Ten Indie-Friendly Agents.” When we were putting this piece together, I realized that the term might have been somewhat oxymoronic. (In my intro, I described our industry polling process, writing, “‘If you find one, let me know,’ ‘”There are no indie-friendly agents,’ and, the most succinct response, ‘Good-bye’ were three answers we received.”) Still, we came up with a decent list, and it’s interesting to see where they are now. Chris Buchanan, formerly at UTA, transitioned into new media and is now with two companies, Bad Science and Psychic Monkey. The latter is a design studio, the former a transmedia producer and consultant. Cassian Elwes left William Morris Endeavor when the two agencies merged and is now producing. Phyllis Kaufman, at Writers and Artists at the time, is now an attorney. John Lesher went from UTA to Endeavor to running production at Paramount to now, following his departure there, producing. (He just announced two projects at HBO.) Bart Walker went from ICM to CAA and is now running the management division at Cinetic. Adam Shulman, an agent at APA at the time, is now a manager at Anonymous Content. Tory Metzger, whose clients at CAA included indie directors like Ang Lee but also stars like Tom Cruise, left the agency to become president of film production at Media Rights Capital, a position she left this summer. At ICM at the time, Robert Newman continues to rep top names at William Morris Endeavor. Sadly, Mary Meagher, a charismatic William Morris agent with deep ties to the New York theater world, passed away in 2006.
Would an indie-friendly agent list make sense today? Who would be on it?