Sundance Film Festival 2014

Dean Teri Schwartz and The Wrap's Sharon Waxman set the stage for a strong TFT presence at the Sundance Film Festival

By Noela Hueso

On Sunday, Jan. 19, Dean Teri Schwartz and The Wrap’s Sharon Waxman hosted their second annual Sundance Film Festival reception, this year located at Village at the Lift, in Park City, Utah. Mingling at the reception were Sundance attendees including TFT Executive Board member and Turner Broadcast Systems CEO Phil Kent, TFT alum and Rock of Ages director Kristin Hanggi, agent Rick Nicita and UCLA Film and Television Archive executive director Jan-Christopher Horak.

Also circulating at the reception, with refreshments sponsored by Stella Artois, were producer Justin Begnaud (MFA, ’10), executive producer Nick Moceri (’10), and editor Alex O’Flinn (MFA, ’09), the team behind “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” which premiered at this year’s Sundance during the fest’s NEXT programming section.

TFT alums living in Utah, such as Park City Film Studios’ Bryan Maizlish, also stopped by to speak with Dean Schwartz.

On Monday, Jan. 20, Dean Schwartz and Sharon Waxman co-hosted an industry experts panel at Main Street’s Root’d boutique entitled "Clutterbusters: How to Make Your Indie Movie Pop in the Digital Age." A capacity crowd filled the space, which had been transformed into the YouTube lounge at Sundance.

Dean Schwartz introduced the panelists, which included Derek Callow, director and global head of creator marketing, YouTube; Jay Cohen, partner and head of film finance and distribution, The Gersh Agency; Marc Hofstatter, film lead, Indiegogo; Cary Murnion, director, “Cooties”; producer Matthew Rhodes (“The Voices”) and producer Alicia Van Coovering (“Happy Christmas”). Waxman moderated the panel, which focused on the challenges and best strategies for marketing an indie film.

The conversation started by the acknowledgement that in this digital age, it’s easier than ever to make a film. On the downside, fewer buyers are picking them up.

“Distributors in today’s market are struggling to figure out how to reach (audiences) without spending too much money,” Cohen said, suggesting that filmmakers need to find a way to brand their movies to help “break out of the clutter.”

“The ones that stand out are the ones that are really unique, whether they are commercial or really performance driven,” Rhodes said.

Cohen agreed to a point. He suggested that “Quality sells — but garbage sells if it has a hook.”

To Callow, building a community around a project through digital platforms and social media is the way to go. “The stories behind the stories are really where we see a huge opportunity to build a community around the film,” he said.

While Hofstatter suggested that even before a film is made, “you have to know your audience is,” Von Couvering said that ultimately, the only thing a filmmaker can trust is his or her own judgment.

There needs to be a balance “between the passionate filmmaker and the understanding that there’s a marketplace for distribution,” Callow added. Ultimately, filmmaking is a commercial enterprise.

Other TFT alums out in force again this year in Park City included “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour (MFA, ’09); “Dear White People” cinematographer Topher Osborn (MFA ’08), in town with director Justin Simien (their film was named to Sundance’s U.S. Dramatic Competition lineup and earned the Breakthrough Talent Award); and XYZ Films principals Nate Bolotin (MFA, ’07); Nick Spicer (MFA, ’06); and Aram Tertzakian (MFA, ’07). Their company had a strong presence with four films. American Zoetrope’s “Life After Beth,” starring Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza, was in competition (XYZ is handling international sales); Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Raid 2: Berendal,” premiered out of competition (XYZ produced); and in the fest’s Park City at Midnight section, Norway’s “Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead” and Japan/Indonesia’s “Killers,” both of which XYZ executive produced and are selling.

Two decades after the film made its world premiere at the 1994 festival, the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s newly restored version of “Hoop Dreams” screened in the From the Collection program on Monday, Jan. 20. The recently completed restoration represents the collaborative effort of the Archive, Sundance Institute, the Academy Film Archive branch of AMPAS and Kartemquin Films. The filmmakers participated in an extended Q&A immediately following the screening.

SUNDANCE 2014 Top, from left: UCLA TFT Dean Teri Schwartz with director Kristin Hanggi, Executive Board member and Turner Broadcast Systems CEO Phil Kent, The Wrap's Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman and agent Rick Nicita.

Posted: Jan. 21, 2014