We did a Quiet City Q&A yesterday with writer/director Aaron Katz, co-producer Brendan McFadden, and cinematographer Andrew Reed. Today, we have the other producer, Ben Stambler, who many in the indie-film biz know as an aquisitions exec at THINKFilm (and shortly before that, Magnolia Pictures). As the SXSW 2007 premiere Quiet City opens this week in New York (followed by a glowing review in the New York Times), I wanted to check in with Stambler about his unique perspective as both filmmaker and distributor:
Me: My earliest memory of you and Katz, was when I invited his first feature Dance Party, USA to SXSW 2006 having no idea you two knew one another. How do you two meet? And how did you get involved as a producer on his second film, Quiet City?
Stambler: The long short story is that for one long year I went to North Carolina School of the Arts where I saw a lot of movies and spent the rest of the time day dreaming of Boston. So I went back home and finished school but kept some very good friends, one of which, Brendan, co-produced this with me. Through Brendan I became fast friends with Aaron, Mark and others that worked on both movies. I remember reading Dance Party a year before it was made, I loved the script and had plans to go to Portland to help them make it but shortly after that I began working for Magnolia and at that moment time didn’t allow it. From then on I was close to the process, seeing early cuts on Dance Party and giving notes.
Then you came along and decided other people would want to see that film. After all of the recognition and fun at SXSW 06 we knew we could do it again and began work on something together (Brendan, Aaron and me). Aaron had a draft of something, we were work-shopping it and revising but it didn’t feel right. Then inspiration struck him in an airport, and what came out was very immediate and motivated us to make it in an immediate way, we also had no money and no other way to do it so it seemed quite convenient.
Me: You’re working hard as an acquisitions exec at THINKFilm now. Are you gonna have time to produce more independent features in the near future?
Stambler: Well I love both experiences. Acquisitions is an all-in profession and it leads to mysterious and often rewarding places. A lot of that overlaps with the skills and relationships needed to produce. Sometimes it can be a conflict. I found time to do Quite City while I was at Magnolia (although they jetted me off to Asia to eat Sushi during principal photography) and I could maybe find time to do another small one but all of us are interested in taking this beyond the micro scale it has been on. Both Magnolia and Think are great environments and support the idea of their employees having their own identity in the industry so I have been very lucky there.
Aaron has another great idea and we are talking it through. Creatively I love that project and want to see it get made. If I can help I will, it needs real budget or more then the monopoly money we made Quiet City with, and there are two specific actors that inhabit these rolls so we need them too. I’m confident Aaron and the other QC talent will keep working and I want to help. In regards to producing, I’m not ready to set up shop and have my own operation and I don’t want to now. I love acquisitions and all the stress that comes with it and Think has a lot of talent and interesting flexibility that satisfies that creative producer part of my brain so I won’t be getting bored anytime soon and some of the projects we are getting off the ground here are pretty exciting. Also the real dream project that Aaron introduced me to costs 40 million and needs Cowboys, Indians, the Frontier and a brilliant actor to play the most handsome and cowardly Englishmen that even invaded the annals of history. Please send you check to 91 Vanderbilt Ave.
Me: Was there any point where you thought even for a split second, “maybe I can see if Magnolia or THINKFilm will release Dance Party, USA or Quiet City?”
Stambler: Well the great irony in all this is that all along I was the industry “expert” among the crew and was also the naysayer in terms of where this would end up. I have been quoted as saying a wide variety of negative things and was the most surprised when these films started getting more mainstream press attention and even some legit offers for the US rights. But I guess that speaks to the most interesting aspect of these movies supporting each other and generating more interest as a group. Both Quiet City and Dance Party will be getting a DVD release courtesy of the fine people at Benten Films and we’re doing the theatrical ourselves in a handful of cities. In regards to Think or Magnolia, it’s hard to say. I always admit that as a buyer I have passed on all these movies.
Ask anyone who has released them and you’ll hear the same story; lots of hard work which if you’re lucky is rewarded financially in a break-even scenario and hopefully some cultural and critical kudos are the cherry on top. You can’t build a business around it unless you have back up like First Take or some other VOD model and apparently it helps if you have boobs and mutant sheep. So Quiet City was always something that registered as small. That doesn’t mean you can’t do 10-15k in a week in NYC, get good reviews and sell a few DVD’s but I don’t know a theatrical distributor that pays its employees with a Mumblecore release slate. Plus as a seller I’d never have accepted the offer I would have made myself as a buyer.