Every day for the next three weeks, including weekends, indieWIRE will be publishing two interviews with Sundance ’06 competition filmmakers. Sixty filmmakers were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview and each was sent the same questions.
Steven Ascher & Jeanne Jordan directed “So Much So Fast” screening in the Independent Film Competition: Documentary. Their award-winning film “Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern” screened at Sundance in 1996 and won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award.
Please tell us about yourself and include as much of the following information as you feel comfortable with:
Age. Day job (if you have one) and former jobs. Where you were born. Where you grew up. Where you live.
Steve was born in New York, Jeannie in Iowa. We live in Massachusetts and are partners in West City Films, Inc. We make documentaries, dramas and projects for TV, corporations and nonprofits. Right now Jeannie is Series Producer on the PBS children’s series, “Postcards from Buster” and Steve is writing a new edition of his book, “The Filmmaker’s Handbook.”
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker? What other creative outlets do you explore (music/painting/writing etc.)?
Out of college, Steve was interested in a lot of things – couldn’t decide on one – and saw filmmaking as a way to get access to all of them. Jeannie went to work for Iowa Public Television in a small documentary unit where everyone did everything and it was a film school in and of itself.
Did you go to film school? Or how did you learn about filmmaking? How did you finance your own film? And any other insights you think might be interesting…
Where did the initial idea for your film come from?
Jeannie’s mother was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) just as we were finishing “Troublesome Creek” (about Jeannie’s parents and the Jordan family) and we’d been looking for a way to address the impossibility of ALS ever since without falling into depressing cliches. The Heywoods were profiled in The New Yorker and had the right combination of black humor and a fascinating and varied cast of characters.
What are your biggest creative influences (this could include other filmmakers or films)?
When we met, a key moment was when we discovered that Badlands was maybe each of our favorite films. We love the inherent drama of documentary and the documentary-like moments in dramas.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
When you set out to make a film like this one, about a group of real people over a period of years, you can only guess where the story is going to go, and how long it’s going take. Makes planning almost impossible. Then there are the funders, many of whom don’t want to get involved until you’ve already shot and edited quite a bit, then later wonder why you’re not done when you said you would be. Fortunately, ours were very patient!
Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance, where were you?
It’s interesting because it was on November 23rd exactly ten years to the day from when we were called about “Troublesome Creek” being accepted. And once again it was Cooper calling. As you can imagine we’ve grown rather fond of Cooper.
What do you hope to get out of the festival, what are your own goals for the experience?
We hope to really have fun at the festival and see a lot of others’ films. When we were there with “Troublesome Creek” we were incredibly nervous and always felt like we were failing in whatever bizbuzz stuff we were supposed to be doing. We were completely stunned when we won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. It taught us a lesson–you don’t necessarily know how you’re doing when you’re embedded in Sundance.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
We can’t make our films without financial support, but for certain films, like “Troublesome Creek” and “So Much So Fast” we knew we had to make them on our own terms without any other organization having control over the storytelling or the schedule. That means putting the financing together in pieces, with all the stress about how and when you’ll be able to finish.
For better or worse, we made these films the way we wanted to and the people we were filming knew they could trust us. That’s the pleasure and pain of “independent film”!
What are a few other films you’re hoping to see at Sundance and why?
Probably the best thing about Sundance is going through it with a lot of terrific filmmakers and seeing their work. There’s a long list of things we want to see, including Steven Bognar & Julia Reichert’s film, Alan Berliner’s film and Patrick Creadon’s film (which Steve’s uncle is in).
Who are a few people that you would you most like to meet at Sundance?
Our yet-to-be found distributor!
If you were given $10 million to be used for moviemaking, how would you spend it?
First we’d finance our next documentary “Raising Renee” and then do a drama. We’ve both written several scripts that we’d love to do.