ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION: The Year According to Bob Berney, Eamonn Bowles, and Ted Hope, Part 2
by Eugene Hernandez
With the year coming to an end, we at indieWIRE thought it would be a good
opportunity to take a step back and look at the year 2002. To do that, we
invited three indie film stalwarts to join us in the indieWIRE conference
room for a discussion. Each one — Bob Berney, Eamonn Bowles
and Ted Hope — made a move towards independence this year, each
within a different area of the film business.
As the head of distribution and marketing for IFC Films, Bob Berney
released the hit Mexican film, “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and managed the
overwhelming release of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” for producers
Gold Circle Films and Playtone. Amidst the hype as the film
continued to earn millions each week, Berney announced his plans to join
Newmarket to launch a new distribution outfit. The new company’s
first release, “Real Women Have Curves” has been a steady fall hit.
Upcoming Newmarket releases include “Open Hearts,” “Spun,” and
Eamonn Bowles, an expert marketer and distributor, expanded on his success
with the late Shooting Gallery Film Series and moved into exhibition
at Magnolia Pictures, which launched in late 2001. In 2002, his
company found success with the releases of the Israeli comedy “Late
Marriage” and the French thriller “Read My Lips.” The films
struck a chord with critics and audiences and each topped the $1 million
mark in grosses, netting the upstart company a nice profit. The company’s
emerging art-house chain owns venues in Dallas, Denver, and Boulder.
Magnolia will release “Under the Skin of the City” in March.
No doubt the biggest story of 2002 for the independent business was the
acquisition of Good Machine by Universal Studios. The
combination of USA Films and Good Machine to create Focus
Features (headed by David Linde and James Schamus) saw
Good Machine partner Ted Hope spinning off with Anthony Bregman and
Anne Carey to create This Is That, a small boutique production
outfit. The trio are already off and running on “21 Grams,” the new
film from “Amores Perros” director Alejandro Gonzalez
Innaritu, Michel Gondry‘s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless
Mind” (written by Charlie Kaufman), Kip Williams’ “Door in the
Floor,” and Bob Pulcini and Sherry Springer Berman‘s
“Family Planning” In addition, Hope produced Pulcini and Springer
Berman’s “American Splendor,” which will screen at Sundance
Berney, Bowles, and Hope sat down with indieWIRE editor-in-chief Eugene
Hernandez and senior editor Matthew Ross earlier this month to
offer their perspectives on the year 2002. In the href=”people/people_021223theyear.html”>first part of their
discussion, Bowles, Berney, and Hope talked about the “Greek
Wedding” phenomenon, gay sex scenes, and the marketing of specialty films.
In this second half of the roundtable, they continue the discussion.
Ted Hope: All different ends of the film business have become so
sophisticated. The thing that I find surprising as I’m getting ready to go
to Sundance again is that when I first went to Sundance I would sit
around with the filmmakers and talk about movies and they would talk about
technique and they would admire each other about their technique. Now if
someone comes in to make a pitch to me, they don’t talk about filmmaking and
what their interest is in filmmaking. They don’t even know how to get
attention for the filmmaking. They know how to write business plans coming
out of film school and you know each year there are beautiful movies coming
out of every one of the film schools, but the way they learn how to sell
themselves is no longer on their artistry but on their acumen. The
filmmakers know the exact process of how to create the level of hype. They
go in with a checklist of what agents they want to meet with and what
lawyers they want to meet going into Sundance. It’s just so far about
business now, but where’s the passion, where’s somebody that actually wants
to make movies instead of build a career?
Bob Berney: Ted, I think your comments are very particular to the
U.S. system and the way it has developed. I think that’s why it’s great to
do business with some of the Europeans and other people that are approaching
it more either because over there they have to, they have to cobble, get all
these deals, these co-productions, but it is more about the story or the
Eamonn Bowles: It has also become a boom or bust, artistically and
business wise. It’s hard for people to just do good work now. You know, I
see a lot of good little films, but they’re good dead films in a bad
And that’s what’s hard for artists. The scale has been ramped up so much, if
you are working on this scale, you automatically have things you have to do
to satisfy your audience, to broaden things out, to make it understandable
to people who can’t handle a lot of complexities in their movies. And is
that going to happen down the road with all these independent guys making
studio films now? You know what, in a large measure, with a lot of them, the
answer is yes. And then there’s the flip side of that. Soderbergh
does the big thing and then switches over, does a DV feature for a couple of
hundred thousand dollars. For me, Soderbergh is one of the great hopes. He’s
got his way in the system, doing films that he wanted to do.
Hope: And also his name is also on “Far From Heaven” and
“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.”
Hope: But I think the problem we were talking about comes down to
people don’t know how to talk about film anymore. Somebody could say that’s
the curse of People magazine-style journalism. How do people respond to
those painterly images in “Punch-Drunk Love”? How do they know how to
talk about it? I wish I could sit in a college classroom and hear them talk
about “Adaptation” right now. You know, these movies are getting made
but they are getting greenlit by the people who are educated in a much
different time. It just feels to me like people don’t know how to respond to
Berney: I think most of the stories out there are about comparing box
office, even among independent films. It’s a story if a film broke some
record. People don’t talk about the subject or the style. They don’t. And
with critics it’s the same way.
Bowles: One thing I’m most amazed with critics in recent years is how
they review the film in the context of the marketplace. Hey this is a work
of art, review the film. Don’t tell me we don’t need this in the
marketplace. You see this from critics all the time where they write things
like “I guess they thought it would be a good idea to release this now.” Who
cares? I mean really, that’s not your job. Your job is to write about this
as a piece of art. Admittedly it’s a piece of business mixed with art, but
you know that’s your job to judge that. You’re not a business writer. Leave
that for your business pages.
Hope: Get the business writing back on the business page and the arts
and leisure conversation about the arts and leisure.
Hernandez: What were some of the best films of this year? Aside from
your personal involvements.
Hope: I dreamt of “The Fast Runner” recently. And I think it
was one of my favorite film-going experiences of the year, a true joy.
Bowles: “Punch-Drunk Love” I thought was great, and I wouldn’t even
consider it a completely successful movie. I thought there were some holes
in it. For me the ambition and just the highpoints of that movie were so
amazing to me. It really is so singular.
Hope: One of the joys of that movie actually, Paul Anderson’s
movies time and time again, as well as one of the joys of “Y Tu Mama
Tambien” and “Adaptation,” is that filmmakers didn’t feel intent on having
to make a perfect film. They all had the moments that miss their mark but
they were reaching, and it was so nice see somebody reach in cinema.
Bowles: After “Punch-Drunk Love,” I went down to the parking lot and
this guy in the car next to me says, “Excuse me, did you just see that
movie? I said yeah. He says, “What did you think?” I said, “I thought it was
pretty good. I really liked it.” And he said, “Really, can you explain it to
me? Because I didn’t know what the hell was going on.”
Hope: But that’s my point. The guy’s had no schooling, none of the
places in culture to come back to and help you understand and appreciate
Berney: But that comes from having Adam Sandler in the movie,
Hope: I hope people realize what a great film “Far From Heaven” is. I
hope people realize how great it is that Charlie Kaufman had three
scripts in the theaters in this calendar year. That to me is like having a
senate made up of all Democrats. Like, how the hell did that happen? I’m so
thankful for this world.
Bowles: On that point, we have a first generation that has grown-up
after “Star Wars,” and “Jaws,” where the film vocabulary has
become very specific, it’s going for that one high moment that pans out,
that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s a very different aesthetic.
Most of the movies now are about building to a high point and making sure
the effects looks seamless. And then fill in, fill in, fill in, then go for
another high point.
Hope: It’s also about telling the audience that the high point’s
coming, the high point’s coming, you know what it is, you know what it is,
You can’t get up yet.
Bowles: Like with “American Pie.” For what it was, I thought
it was okay.
Hope: “American Pie” was great. And I liked “About a Boy,”
Bowles: The marketing of that film was all about this guy sticking
his dick into a hot apple pie. The whole thing, the tag lines, everything.
That was what you were going to see the film for. Think about that. I’m
going to see this one gag.
Hope: I was so upset because when I was in film school I made a movie
about a guy sticking his dick into a bunch of raw hamburger meat and if I
only had thought of like putting it into a pie, I would be a rich man.
Berney: Ten years later, it would have been the thing. Then you see
movies at festivals that you know will never be picked up. Did you see
“The Last Great Wilderness” at Toronto? It was this Scottish
film, I don’t know who will find it or see it, but it was one of those
things like “Slacker,” it kept evolving, introducing new characters
or taking a left turn where you didn’t know if it was real.
Bowles: I think all of us are certainly going to see films we really
like a lot and just know that there’s no hope for them. No question about
it. I see films I love and and I wish we could do something with it.