Veteran filmmaker Ira Sachs (“Keep the Lights On”) came to the 2014 edition of the Sundance Film Festival with his new drama “Love is Strange,” and walked away with some of the best reviews of his career and a pickup from Sony Pictures Classics. In this diary entry, exclusive to Indiewire, Sachs opens up about his experience at this year’s festival. Go here for Indiewire’s glowing review of the film.
JANUARY 21, 2014
Two days since the premiere, and it feels like two weeks. The Eccles was cavernous. It was hard for me to read the crowd during the first screening, though in truth what might have been distracting me was fear and anxiety. During the screening, all I could think about was who to introduce to the audience after the screening, who I should bring up to the stage. I was very worried that I would forget someone, someone I had worked closely with, and they’d be hurt. But though my mind was spinning — listening for laughter, listening for sniffling of tears — the movie managed to have an impact on me, and that somehow is the thing I most look for. After one or two more times, I’ll probably not watch it again for years, but for now, it still has the possibility to bring me to someplace emotionally — and I’m happy to say it did.
Afterwards, a party on Main Street, and I was remembering back to the party after “Forty Shades of Blue,” at a very fancy private house high up in Deer Valley, where you might have thought someone had died. For this one, it was the opposite feeling. It was a rowdy, happy group of revelers. What I see now looking back is smiling, and drinking, Alfred Molina in the corner with his friend Jonathan Pryce; Marisa looking over her shoulder, glowing and happy, talking with friends. There was love in the room. I think I have to say it was the best premiere I’ve had. In this day and age, the reviews start coming in in less than an hour. The first Twitter feeds, the first trade reviews. I look for the negatives, and could certainly find some, but overall there’s a sense that things are going very well. There’s a lot of love. “Twitter is blowing up,” Rob Scheer, from Brigade Publicity says to me.
People keep saying, “you must be so happy,” and yet, and yet. The next days are as hard as any previous times at Sundance, the question marks and silences from buyers. I will say as friends started to sell and I’m hearing the chatter, I for the first time at a festival don’t feel jealousy, more happiness for them. I’ve tried to figure out why – why is the old adage less true this time, “every time a friend succeeds, a little part of me dies” — and I think it’s because I like my film well enough not to be thrown. I like myself more too, which also helps. But I do feel the growing defensiveness against the film industry, against certain individuals (names will be withheld), and I have to fight hard not to let it ruin the next few days. Fighting bitterness can be a full-time job.
You spend a lot of time – between interviews and accepting gracious compliments from people on the street (I have to say I got a lot of “I loved your movie”) running down in your head the list of buyers. It’s like a laundry list: Searchlight, A24, IFC (“Ariana”), Magnolia, Goldwyn, Sony (or “Michael and Tom” as people like to say), Roadside, “Harvey.” Happily I have distractions like press interviews and a generally fun time with my band of producers and collaborators who are here with me.
In between moments, I’m walking and talking (or texting if he’s not by my side) with Adam Kersh, our brilliant publicist. You can understand why good publicists go on to run distribution companies, because the creativity involved is complex and nuanced. Adam gets everything at once and can synthesize at the speed of light. He also will tell me “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” and I like that. I think of him as the nice side of “Sweet Smell of Success” and nothing cheers me up during these days more than checking in with Adam.
We talk every few hours with Graham Taylor and LIesl Copland, our sales reps at WME, and get a round-up of what’s been happening. At one point, when I don’t hear enough new news in a few hours, there is a moment that I take the offensive — I start to send every good review I can find to everyone on our team in a blaze of emails.
As the days pass, my need makes me feel vulnerable. It’s the private side of a public moment like this one. During these days, I’m always trying to figure out if I’m showing too much of myself, to those who know me, and those who don’t. I find that in the word of Agents and Buyers and Business that is the one place I can still feel some shame: that my emotions are showing. A complicated set of emotions that include pride, a little arrogance, some confusion, some insecurity.
But I try to balance it with humor. And though in the first 24 hours, 36 hours, there’s a certain silence that I feel very uncomfortable with — and that Boris shares with me like a loving partner — slowly you start to sort through the possible buyers, and the offers start to come in. “All you need is one,” as Graham reminds me.
It’s funny, I’ve written several times now that at a festival the most important thing for a director to remember is how little control he or she has. You would think I could hold that in my head, and not feel the impotence, and frustration, that comes with being “at market.” But I can’t. Turns out, even for an old hat like me, I am as human as ever.
It’s now three days since the opening, and I am feeling a rising calm. Today, we had a couple of very encouraging, engaging meeting with buyers – we sit around a coffee table at the WME condo and talk about release plans, and P&A commitments, and target audiences – and there are solid offers on the table. And I like the people I see sitting on the leather-couch-with-Western-blankets across from me. I’m excited that the film will definitely have a good home, will be seen widely. Last time, with “Keep the LIghts On,” I left Park City not knowing who was going to buy the film. I don’t know yet who the distributor will be, but I know it’s going to be a good one. I’m breathing much better now. Hallelujah!