“Success earlier in the decade is what hurt smaller independent films later in the decade,” veteran producer and executive Maud Nadler told a group of colleagues last year, during a roundtable at the Sundance Film Festival. “Corporations began to expect greater returns on modest movies made by first and second time filmmakers. Raised expectations eventually killed those lower budget movies.”
The former head of HBO’s low-budget film division, which produced such films as “American Splendor,” “Maria Full of Grace,” and “Real Women Have Curves.”
Maud Nadler was one of the participants at an intimate lunch at the Swan Ecocenter in Park City at last year’s festival that was organized by leading producers Ted Hope (This is That) and Christine Vachon (Killer Films).
During part one of our conversation, she talked about the challenges that she faced. Around the table at the gathering were Rachel Cohen (producer, “Motherhood”), Lisa Cortes (producer, “Precious”), Katherine Dieckmann (director, “Motherhood”), Bill Horberg (“The Kite Runner,” “The Quiet Runner”), Paul Mezey (“Maria Full of Grace”), Maud Nadler (formerly of HBO Films), John Penotti (GreeneStreet Films), Mary Jane Skalski (producer, “Dare,” “The Visitor”), Marina Zenovich (director, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”)
“All I wanted to do was make small films that were about something, with first or second time directors,” Nadler said at the Sundance lunch, “[Films] that couldn’t get financing any other way.” She added, “The unraveling started when HBO wanted to start to make money, real money.”
As lunch was served at the Swan Ecocenter in Park City, UT during last year’s Sundance Film Festival, the producers began to ponder the changing platforms for movies. Filmmaker Katherine Dieckmann worried about watching a movie like her latest, “Motherhood” on smaller screens.
She echoed feelings that have become quite pronounced over the past year as filmmakers come to terms with the notion that their work is increasingly being watched on digital platforms that deliver movies to smaller and smaller screens. Even as TVs get bigger, mobile devices are offering a film experience through a tiny window.
“You cannot watch acting on a fucking BlackBerry and really understand it,” she warned. “We’re talking about vinyl,” Christine Vachon later countered, “This is such a rarified discussion.” Meanwhile, “Precious” producer Lisa Cortes compared the move from analog to digital exhibition, for film, to the move from an agrarian society to the machine.
“I’m not resistant to change,” Dieckmann said, “I am not resistant to technology. I am just saying that as a filmmaker, I have to speak up for what I think is a value in terms of how you experience something.”
The conversation from Sundance continues later this week with parts 3 and 4 in the series.
Bryce Renninger and Tim LaTorre contributed to this roundtable series.