Two New York Filmmakers Ready for War as LAIFF Begins
by Anthony Kaufman
In the midst of speaking with "1999"'s Nick Davis and "Pants on Fire"'s
Rocky Collins, both entering the LAIFF with their first features, it
became clear that premiering one's film at a festival is like getting
ready for battle. Armed with a front line of advanced buzz, concealing
videocassette copies as if they were secret plans, scheduling the
perfect time and location of attack, and accompanied by military
advisors like producer's reps and professional publicists, Davis and
Collins, along with the other 26 feature filmmakers at the LAIFF, have
reached the point of no return. Retreat is no longer a viable tactic.
The prints are in, the dates and times are set. Today, the battle has
Davis and Collins can only put faith in their movies at this time,
trusting the fact that the hard work they have done for roughly a year
now will lead them to victory, cheering audiences and perhaps the much
coveted spoils of war -- the distribution deal. And with the LAIFF
proudly declaring 15 distribution pick-ups in its three year infancy,
Davis's "1999" -- a New Millennium's Eve story that features a smart and
hilarious ensemble cast -- which received much buzz at its IFFM debut in
September and Collins's "Pants on Fire" -- a touching, dramatic comedy
about couples in crisis -- which played to satisfied houses at the IFP's
"Independent's Night" last Fall and its press screening last week, are
two projects that might just prevail.
indieWIRE: Rocky, you were supposed to screen at the IFFM and Nick did,
so you both started your films at the same time, what happened at that
Rocky Collins: We decided we weren't ready to show it there and we were
afraid of revealing the film in anything other than its best form for
the first time. So we decided there was less to lose by just pulling
it, although I regretted doing that to my friends at the IFP, but it
seemed like it was the sensible thing to do for the film and for our
investors and everybody else.
Nick Davis: When did you pull it?
Collins: It was maybe a month before, they had already printed the
catalogue. They were a little mad at me.
iW: What kind of state was it in?
Collins: It was cut, but unmixed and we were still finishing up some of
the music stuff and the print was in the lab. Because it was unmixed, we
didn't have a completed, composite answer print, so it would have been
hard to show it.
iW: And you wouldn't want to show it on a tape.
Davis: I saw some projected tapes at the IFFM and it was not a great
thing to do.
iW: But you were fortunate enough to have something finished?
Davis: We had finished and had actually just gotten the print back from
the lab the week before and I screened it just once before in its final,
color-corrected, pristine state (which still doesn't exist on
videotape). So, we screened at the IFFM.
iW: And it was good, but nothing came of it.
Davis: Yes. It was fantastic from a pure ego point of view, all of us
associated with the film, were "schvitzing" but realistically, from a
professional stand point, the distributors all looked at each other and
thought, "Is anyone going to move, is anyone going to move, is anyone
going to move?" And for whatever reason, didn't. And so now it's "Where
are we?" as a result from having screened there. And that was a risk
that we decided to take...the people who haven't seen it yet are really
looking forward to it in L.A., because they know this was a huge hit
at the IFFM, even though, for whatever reason, no one whipped out their
Collins: The whole strategizing business just gets mind-numbing after
awhile. You talk to 50 different people, you get 50 different, equally
adamant recommendations, "No, no, you never premiere at a festival" or
"This film has to show at a festival." In some way, you just got to
show the film and run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.
Davis: You trust the film, you have to believe, look, it's going to get
out there, eventually, one way or another. But, I agree, you hear
people going route A works, or route A doesn't work. It's just crazy.
Collins: And you have to test your own film enough, so that, in our
case, when we show this film on a big screen to an audience or even on a
little screen...we get great reactions. I get people calling
me back up, two weeks later, saying, "I'm still thinking about that
Collins: Yeah, I thought having done a lot of television, this is my one
chance to do a film that doesn't start off with a topic sentence and
explain everything. As the characters slowly evolve and become a little
bit more complicated. . . but I underestimated the degree to which
videotape is the currency of the independent film world. I feel like
taking all the tapes and destroying them.
Davis: Yeah, yeah, tapes, I think, are a really bad thing.
iW: Have you sent tapes out to distributors?
Davis: No, no, we've been pretty good about it So fortunately, or
unfortunately, I need to work. So it's the best piece of work I've
done. So people say, "I'd like to see what you've done." So I send out
a tape just for work and then I say, "Send it back!" because I don't
want it to fall into the wrong hands. But even that makes me very, very
Collins: Yeah. People are bad about sending back tapes.
iW: So now jump 6 months ahead, Rocky's film is in good shape, you're
ready to screen it. You probably had it done previous to some other
festivals, so you waited for LA? Why?
Collins: We looked at the calendar and decided that this was the best.
Our producer's rep, Gary Kaufman, really pushed for LA...the IFP selected
us for their Independent's Night screening last September, so that helped
us concentrate on LA as where we wanted to make the biggest splash.
So there was a fairly calculated attempt, a trip out there to show them
the film and all that kind of stuff.
iW: So I know that Nick, you were up in the air about a couple of festivals?
Davis: Yes, we were having to decide between LA and a couple of others
that we'd been accepted to, but couldn't go to both. So many people
said last year LA Independent was the rising festival and was therefore
going to be the place to be this year. And we chose LA for similar
reasons -- that it was going to be the best place for us to formally
come out and show the world, "Come on! It's time, we're talking about
the end of the millennium, let's go!"
iW: Was there any thought to hold out for either Sundance or Toronto?
Collins: We weren't ready to do either one, and I didn't want to wait
for another 9 months. You just can't sit on the film for that long.
iW: Rocky, had a producer's rep who was hip on LA. Why?
Collins: I think Robert Faust has done a great job with the festival.
I'm not sure exactly how many years it's been around, but it's not that
long. It just seems to double every year and he does a great job,
promoting it in the city and I think he selects a very interesting
collection of films every year, that people want to see. So your film
shows in good company, in good theaters and they really take care of
you. And really make an effort to make a splash with each film as much
as possible, which is not really true in a lot of festivals. You don't
have the same sort of support at some of the other festivals that the
LAIFF people give to individual filmmakers.
Davis: I think that it's small enough that you're not getting completely
swamped, but large enough to mean something. It's just great when I
call there. They seem to know what every film is, they're very excited,
and it's a very good feeling.
Collins: When I get depressed, I just call. . .
Davis: Thomas Ethan Harris.
Collins: He just cheers me up.
iW: Are you strategizing for the screening, for pre-screening, do you
have any plans to get attention?
Davis: Yeah, we're strategizing all the time, and making sure that the
people we want to come to the screening either the Saturday night or the
Sunday night are going to get there. We've bought our back-up tickets
and we've made sure we know where everybody's going to be at the
screening times. Yes, there's a high degree of strategizing and we now
have a producer's rep, Jeff Dowd [made inimitable by the Coen Brother's
Lebowski] who is the high priest of strategy. It's been good. It's
exciting. I feel like the IFFM was very exciting, and so, for us, it
was sort of like a dry-run -- now we know what it's like to be in a
madhouse of a film with a movie.
iW: Are you getting together publicity materials, posters, etc.?
Davis: We've done the posters. A slight new spin on the same thing [as
they had at the IFFM.] We're so far out of money that we couldn't
afford to design a whole new campaign.
iW: (to Collins) Strategy? I feel like we're getting ready for a
Collins: Our strategy is just to pack the house with the best people we
can get. We hired publicists which was a huge expense.
Davis: Who'd you get?
Collins: Rogers and Cowan. We had press screenings. . .
Davis: We decided not to do a press screening. Because as a comedy, the
film plays so much better in a larger house, that we decided to sit on
Collins: We debated that a lot. I had the same first instinct which is
I wanted the reviewers to come and see it with a full house, with a big,
packed crowd. But everybody else talked me out of that. I decided to
listen to the experts I was hiring. We did pack the press screening.
Davis: Well, that's good.
Collins: So Rogers and Cowan and the LAIFF people and other friends
helped pack that screening. The people that we packed the house with
liked it. So I guess that's a good sign. The whole strategy thing, I
have to confess, that I have been for the last 8 months or a year...I've
had this strategy spinning through my head, and at some point, I just
said, "Do your job" to the people who were helping me. I've been really
trying to write my next project and get ready for the next thing and
just let the film sell itself. I know no film sells itself, and
at the same time, I've been doing interviews and I've been writing
letters and making phone calls, but in terms of personal lobbying, I've
been trying to do my part, but in terms of strategizing, I've been
trying to admit that I didn't get into the film business to be a
strategist. I want to make movies. I found my creativity drying up, as
month after month dragged on and I wasn't writing. So I decided I need
to write and I need to let somebody else sell.
iW: That's a viable problem when you're an independent filmmaker. You
make your movie, and you don't want to stick around. You want to start
working on the next one.
Davis: I saw Peter Hall at the IFFM, this guy who made a movie,
"Delinquent", and it had maybe been the big hit at some former IFFM and
in the years and years, he had taken his movie around all over the
place, strategizing and flogging it, and doing what he needed to do and
this was in September and I thought, "No way. I can't. I have to move
on." You don't want to feel like you're just going on and on about that
movie, that you shot so many years ago. It is a really difficult issue.
Collins: I feel like I have a genuine need to create. Not to be too
artsy about it or melodramatic, but I'm really not happy writing
something or I'm working on something, and when you're out selling all
the Goddamn time, you're not thinking anything. And I think that's the
most important lesson that I've learned. You've got to have partners
who can take over a lot of that type of stuff.
My very first job in film was with John Waters on "Polyester" and I've
kept in touch with him a little bit. His strategy now is he spends a
year writing a film, spends a year making his film, then spends a year
promoting it. He says, "That's what I want to do for the rest of my
life. I'll make one film every three years."
Davis: Two of those three years are a lot more fun than the third.
Collins: But he enjoys it. Because he's such a brilliant self-promoter,
he uses that promotion time to write a lot of articles, and just travel,
and try to have fun with the traveling and the festivals and sitting on
juries, so he has a good time with that.
iW: So are you ready for that life style?
Davis: Yeah. Sure.
"Pants on Fire" will screen Saturday, April 18, at 9:40pm, DGA Theater
#2, 7290 Sunset Blvd. and Sunday, April 19, 4:25pm, Harmony Gold
Theater, 7655 Sunset Bl.
"1999" will screen Saturday, April 18 at 7:20pm, DGA Theater #2 and
Sunday, April 19 at 7:20pm, Harmony Gold Theater.