Releasing "Sue": From Streamlined Production to
by Anthony Kaufman
Unlike "Chasing Amy" or "Arresting Gena," releasing "Sue" is not a
title, but a real problem for Israeli director Amos Kollek and German
co-producer Rene Bastian. They have just 9 nine days to figure out to
market their new movie, which Kollek's AMKO Productions is
self-distributing this Friday in New York City. Kollek brings out a
sign that reads "Winner of the International Critic's Prize at the
Berlin Film Festival" -- he wants to walk down to New York's Quad
theater and paste it on their poster. They need quotes. They're going
to scour through the favorable reviews they have received from German
and French newspapers and slap them on the sign. Kollek and Bastian are
down to the wire. And with only a 5-day run scheduled at the Quad,
they're going to need more than just a few choice quotes to keep the
film's exhibition alive.
Shooting for just 14 days with a shooting ratio of roughly 1:1, "Sue" is
the story of a lonely woman (Anna Thomson) eaten alive by the mundane
cruelties of the Big Apple. The movie is as intimate a portrait as
Kollek's minimal style affords. And although Kollek is willing to admit
the film's difficulties, international audiences have responded well to
his mordant tale. At its Toronto World Premiere in 1997, they gained
interest from a world sales agent and the following February in Berlin,
they sold the film to a number of territories, including France and
Germany. The collaboration between Kollek and Bastian proved fruitful
enough that the two shot a second movie, "Fiona" which just screened at
this year's Toronto Film Festival.
indieWIRE spoke about quick production and self-distribution with the
producer and director in a dilapidated Chelsea apartment which also
served as location and production center for the film. The unlikely
team, Kollek, a 51-year-old Israeli with such titles to his credit as
"High Stakes" and "Bad Girls" and Bastian, a 32-year-old German with a
hand in such Amer-indies as "Mob Queen", "Once We Were Strangers" and
the upcoming "Harlem Aria", appear very much at ease while seated next
to each other on a purple couch that's surely seen better days.
indieWIRE: Audiences have responded to your film very well in film
festivals. In Berlin, it won two prizes. And in Vienna, the crowds
really liked it. . .
Amos Kollek: Everywhere the film has played, audiences have responded
well. The trick here is to open it successfully in New York. It's
doable, but hard. In Germany and in France, it's opened and gotten
basically zillions of reviews, all of them good to ecstatic. But to
open in New York is a whole different thing.
iW: What are the challenges you're facing in the NY release?
Rene Bastian: We're basically releasing it ourselves, so there will be
next to no advertising. We have a PR person, but we only have a week
and the film will certainly need word of mouth. . .
Kollek: Well, we have a week, but we obviously hope to have more. . .
Bastian: A week to earn the second week.
iW: So, basically, you have to make a certain amount of money to stay?
Kollek: A certain amount of money, but also good reviews, good word of
mouth, a general feeling that it's building, and a strong start. All of
the above. There's a tremendous competition for screens, and you know,
all the big companies are pumping a lot of money, putting their movies
into 20 screens in the city. . . We're hoping that maybe, if it has good
reviews and a good start, that maybe we could then pass it onto a
distributor, so we don't have to distribute ourselves. We'll see after
the first week and see what the options are.
Bastian: It's a little bit astounding, because the enthusiasm for the
film, everywhere it went so far was really remarkable and it really
hasn't spilled over to a North American audience, although Toronto was
just as enthusiastic. . . . Strange things happened in terms of
distribution in North America. We had the world premiere in Toronto,
and the press/industry screening, a lot of distributors were there. The
response was very enthusiastic. We produced the film in such a rush and
I was the only person who ever saw it in one piece, so there was a great
sense of insecurity. What is it that we ultimately have here? Because
it was such an incredibly fast process.
So the screening ended and all these buyers from all these companies
responded very enthusiastically. And certain people that watch a couple
hundred movies a year and don't have to be polite stayed and gave us a
great response -- 10-minute monologues about how much they liked the
movie, and then in the same breath said, "But we're not going to buy
it. We have no idea how to market it." A few of them stayed interested
and stayed in touch, and a few of them said, "Now, let's see how the
general audience responded." And the public screenings went great, so
there was always hope that at least one of them was eventually going to
say, "We'll give it a shot." Then we went to Berlin. We held back a
little bit for Berlin, wanted to see how it played there. We had a
sales agent there, Berlin went great, and we always thought it's a small
movie, but maybe someone will take a chance with it. There was dialogue
for a long time, but then it eventually all evaporated.
Kollek: The feeling that I have from everything that's happened with
this movie so far, is people really respond very well to it. It's a
difficult movie, but they respond well. The trick for Rene and I and
for all of us involved is to somehow persevere on the obvious objective
difficulties of a very, tiny low-budget movie opening by itself, so to
speak, for a few days, not in the easiest time of year, against a lot of
competition with huge amounts of money -- but still not disappearing
after that. It's tough, but I'm encouraged. . . . People come to us,
and were so obviously sincere in how they were enthusiastic about the
movie and this was not a European audience, this was an American
audience. Beyond that, it's going to be very much uphill. We have 9
days to figure it out and we haven't really spoken about this and it's
tricky, it's very tricky.
iW: The turn around for the production and the post-production on "Sue"
was very quick.
Kollek: It was very quick. We shot the movie in 14 days, and then we
did some quick edit and I went to Israel, and we went our separate
business. But then we got accepted to Toronto and then we came back and
did two more weeks of work and got the movie done.
iW: Pre-production was also quick. About a month. So how did you get
enough money to start the film?
Bastian: Different sources. Private investors.
iW: In the States or foreign?
Bastian: Both. But it was a very cheap film. Very, very.
Kollek: We basically got the money from people who were very close to
iW: How did you end up pulling off the post-production in a couple
Bastian: By taking certain chances. And by, the technology that is on
hand at this moment, AVID and Pro Tools, etc, etc. enabled us to do some
things, but I feel a lot of people don't use it to its fullest potential
just yet. I would not recommend the methods that we used to everybody,
because it doesn't suit every project. This was the kind of film that
was shot in 14 days, that was post-produced in a very short time, so we
cut on a certain number of corners, and I would not recommend it to
everybody, but for this project, it seemed suitable. It was nothing
incredibly magical. We worked around the clock, and spent the amount of
time we had. We spent a day per reel, when most times you spend at
least a week, or two weeks a reel. We did it in a day. A professional
would probably hear the soundtrack and say, there's a hole here and a
hole there, but I think a general audience will be pleased by it. We
delivered the film to the foreign territories and they were pleased with
it, so we got away with it.
iW: After "Sue", the two of you worked on a second film, together,
"Fiona." What kind of collaboration do you have?
Bastian: We've developed a sort of interesting relationship. We've gone
through some intense periods together. We didn't know each other much
when we started "Sue."
Kollek: The relationship from my point of view, the emotional
relationship, developed on the post-production of "Sue." We all had to
go the extra mile. I had to come from Israel and leave my family,
[Bastian and co-producer Linda Moran] had to dump everything they were
doing and finish this. I didn't know what to expect. I flew in. I
didn't know if we were able to do this. Nobody was getting paid. Are
we all going to pull together and get it done or are we going to fuck
up, somehow? It was very easy to fuck it up. There was no time for
anything. So that I think was very important. The fact that we all
worked together and it worked, that changed our relationship, probably
for all of us.
With "Fiona", we didn't really discuss it much. I wrote a script and
Rene read it at some point, and then we really went into production with
zero preparation, totally much more than "Sue." Because with "Sue" we
did prepare. Then we again, submitted to Toronto, got accepted and
repeated what we did last time, but this time, it was more efficient.
Rene already knew about pulling this together. We all knew more. Even
though the conditions were less time, the post-production on "Fiona"
went smoother than it went on "Sue." Because we had all done it before.
iW: Do you think the two movies form a couplet?
Kollek: I don't know if it's a couplet, but there's a relationship. I
would say "Fiona" is much more extreme, it's different very much in its
nature. "Sue" is more concentrated on this one character study of this
woman. "Fiona" has all these other characters, it's this world they
iW: Rene, do you feel, as a producer, that with smaller projects like
this one that you have more creative input?
Bastian: The thing is, that Amos and Linda [Moran] and Anna [Thomson]
and Osnat, Amos' wife, [and Associate Producer] are more than
collaborators. It's safe to say that we're friends. We've worked
together in rough times, through difficult periods, so we are close and
we talk about things as friends, and take criticism. And it's great to
work like that. I'm one of the producers on the project, but I'm also
the sound guy and the guy who schleps the shit around.
Kollek: I did sound. Rene did sound. One of us sometimes did lights.
We were 2-3 people at all times. And we did everything.
Bastian: It's a great collaboration. I just finished a much bigger
movie, where I was one of the producers, and you leave much less of a
mark on it. The creative input here is certainly larger. It's just
terrific to be involved in it.
iW: Are you thinking about a third project?
Kollek: We're discussing all kinds of things. We'll see what comes of
it. One never knows until one is actually rolling the camera.