INTERVIEW: The Six Million Dollar Man Strikes Back; Brad Anderson Survives With Two New Movies

by Anthony Kaufman

"I'm not savvy enough to know whether I'm getting fucked over or not," says Brad Anderson about his recent travails in the film industry. For every high, Anderson had an equally debilitating low. At Sundance '98, Miramax acquired his second film "Next Stop Wonderland" for a record-breaking $6 million, but then came the reality check: the mini-major forced the writer-director to create a new ending.

At Sundance 2000, another distribution mixed blessing: Paramount Classics made an offer for his third feature "Happy Accidents," a quirky comedy that combines time travel with relationship woes financed by the IFC, only to renege a month later. No matter; as part of a two-picture deal with Miramax, Anderson went on to write and prep a U.S. remake of the French film "When the Cat's Away." Alas, that deal fell through, leaving the once touted "6 Million Dollar Man" forsaken yet again.

This month, Anderson receives some vindication. "Happy Accidents" will finally be released through the new distribution arm of IFC later this month, and USA Films financed and will distribute Anderson's fourth feature, "Session 9" this Friday, a horror-thriller shot in 21 days on Hi-Def 24p digital video.

At the Greenwich Cafe in New York's West Village one recent morning, a relaxed and very candid Anderson spoke to indieWIRE's Anthony Kaufman about distrust and distribution difficulties, Miramax muscle, and his eclectic couplet of upcoming films.

indieWIRE: In the time since '98 when you were at Sundance with "Next Stop, Wonderland," what sort of life lessons have you learned about this industry?

"Miramax will steamroller over you, if they can. It was a very eye-opening experience with 'Next Stop Wonderland.' My assumption was that you sell the movie and that's the movie they buy. But they look at it as a product."

Brad Anderson: I purposely have tried not to get too caught up in the business side of things, because I don't really feel that's why I'm in this. I'm in it to make films and that's what keeps me interested and that's why I get excited about it. It's not that I don't care; it's just that I choose not to get overly caught up in the business side of things, maybe to my detriment. It's a question of what motivates you. I don't really give a shit about grosses.

That being said, over the course of the past years, I've started to get a sense of how this business operates. You just got to have a lot of stuff on your plate, because inevitably numerous things fall through and you just want to have enough there to have something that will stick. You have to keep your interested varied. As a defensive mechanism, I find that I don't latch on to one thing, obsessively, because the chances of something falling apart are pretty good.

iW: Is that how "Session 9" came about?

Brad Anderson: Yeah. I had been working on a project with Miramax called "When the Cat's Away" and that fell through for all the typical reasons, creative differences and other crap. And when that happened, I was left high and dry, so I thought I'm not going to sit around and not do something. So I immediately jumped on my horror film idea, which I had been mulling around forever. And I wanted to do a quick movie; I didn't want to sit around and let Miramax hold up any momentum. So it was kind of a response to the vagaries of the industry.

iW: Not that I want to bash Miramax, but I know of several filmmakers since your experience with "Next Stop, Wonderland" who have had problems with them meddling with their film.

Brad Anderson: I have gotten to the point where I simply expect or assume that there's going to be a lot of meddling and bullshit that goes down. At some point down the line, you're going to have to be in a situation where you make certain compromises. You either put up a total wall and become defensive, or you learn to negotiate the process. And that's what I've started to learn: how you can play tit for tat. You go, "I'm going to give you this, but I'm going to keep this." I'm not in a position where I can just put my foot down and say, absolutely not; you have to be a little flexible, at least early on in your career. Everyone -- all the greats, Kubrick -- made compromises early on in their careers. You don't want to make compromises that you look on with utter regret, but at the same time, you need to learn to be flexible, which is a better and more euphemistic term.

Miramax will steamroller over you, if they can. It was a very eye-opening experience with "Next Stop Wonderland." I'd never been through that before. My assumption was that you sell the movie and that's the movie they buy. But they look at it as a product. A product needs to be reworked or altered in order to fit the consumer's needs. And you're just the obstacle in their way to try to remake that product into whatever they think is going to make it more lucrative. And of course, you don