Sundance in Austin: An #ArtistServices Workshop Wrap-up

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#artistservices

Last Saturday, the Austin Film Society successfully hosted the first ever Sundance #ArtistServices Workshop in Austin. #ArtistServices is an organization operated by the Sundance Institute that provides distribution support and assistance to Sundance alumni. They also work to educate up-and-coming filmmakers about all the latest trends in marketing and distribution, and have previously held workshops in Park City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. 

Three Sundance staff members (Joseph Beyer, Chris Horton and Missy Laney) were on hand for Saturday's event and had clearly worked closely with AFS to organize a well-run and enlightening collection of panels and conversation. In her opening salvo, AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick emphasized the workshop aspect of the day and encouraged attendees to ask questions at any point.

The first section of the workshop was specifically devoted to crowdfunding, and this topic continued to resurface throughout the day. In particular, inexperienced filmmakers often aren't aware of the tax implications and responsibilities that go along with using Kickstarter or Indiegogo to fund a project. These can be incredibly helpful tools, but it's important to know what you're doing before you start. Cameron Keng (a tax lawyer), Deena Kalai (an entertainment lawyer), Shannon Swallow (the head of Marketing Communications for Indiegogo) and Evan Glodell (the writer/director of Bellflower) were on hand to offer no-nonsense advice to filmmakers considering crowdfunding.

HCFF Review: Intramural

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Intramural posterNormally I would not pay much attention to a movie about college guys bonding over sports, especially football. We get more than enough football here in Texas if you are not a fan. But Intramural lured me in -- shot in Austin; directed by Andrew Disney, who showed a nice touch with humor in his previous film Searching for Sonny; written by Bradley Jackson (The Man Who Never Cried). In fact, Jackson pretty much convinced Disney to direct Intramural during Hill Country Film Festival 2012 (after meeting him at Austin Film Festival -- this is why filmmakers should go to film fests), so it felt like a can't-miss as the HCFF closing-night film.

It turns out that Intramural is pretty damn funny, even for middle-age women who don't subscribe to the Texas Cult of Football. The plot is fairly standard -- a bunch of fifth-year college seniors (apparently this is a thing now) decide to get the band, er, intramural team back together for one last hoorah before they graduate. The guys had a championship team in their freshman year that was Marked By Trauma -- yes, it sounds a lot like a combination of Pitch Perfect and The Bad News Bears.

In fact, Intramural is more than aware that it is following in the footsteps of many sports-genre films. One character even gets all Abed (gratuitous Community reference, sorry) about it and makes specific things happen so they will go from underdogs to champions just like teams in sports films -- demanding a training montage, for example.

The characters tend to be types -- even the main character, Caleb (Jake Lacy) is your typical Average Guy In a World of Quirky-to-Bizarre People. His fiancee Vicki (Kate McKinnon) is absolutely insane, and one reason Caleb reunites the intramural football team is to get a breather from her plans and ambitions for him. Then you've got the Nemesis Team, led by evil Dick (Beck Bennett); victim-turned-passionate-coach (Nick Kocher); and the vivacious Cool Chick Who Loves Sports (Nikki Reed). Austin film fans will get a kick out of Sam Eidson as a stereotypical big football lug with an unexpected side talent that had the audience howling.

The cast takes their roles and runs with them. Lacy plays it straight and has a marvelous talent for understated reactions, not an easy thing to accomplish in a sea of over-the-top characters. McKinnon goes entirely in the other direction and makes a completely unpalatable character funny. Bennett, well, best seen to be understood. "Color commentators" Bill and Dan (D.C. Pierson and Jay Pharoah) are a little bit Jay-and-Silent-Bob-stoner like (except they both speak), but are funny enough to get away with it.

Ready, Set, Fund: Crunch Time

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'The Sauce' Movie Still

Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and fundraising endeavors related to Austin and Texas independent film projects.

A number of local movie projects are nearing the end of their fundraising campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The countdown begins with The Sauce, a feature about a ruthless, egomaniacal stock trader who decides to start his own firm. The only thing stopping him (besides those pesky executives) may be himself. This indie comedy will be set and shot in Austin and has reached its goal, but generous backers can give additional funds through its Kickstarter campaign until May 29.

Other Austin and Texas movie-related projects seeking funds:

  • On June 1, the clock stops on the Kickstarter campaign for The Lizzie Project. This documentary, directed and produced by Austinite Sara Bordo, follows Texas State University alumna Lizzie Velasquez on her journey to help inspire a more positive online world. Lizzie, who is one of three people in the world diagnosed with an unnamed syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight, experienced cyber bullying as a teenager. She has since gone on to be a motivational speaker and author.

Lone Star Cinema: The Trip to Bountiful

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John Heard and Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful

Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful illustrates that you can't go home again. Since it was first performed in 1953, the play remains a favorite for stage performance. Indeed, a recent Broadway revival starred a cast of Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. and was even made into a TV movie for Lifetime earlier this year.

But for many years, Foote resisted the idea of bringing his play to the silver screen. Director Peter Masterson was able to convince the Texan writer. Esteemed actress Geraldine Page (Sweet Bird of Youth, Hondo) went on to win an Oscar for her lead role of Carrie Watts in the resulting 1985 movie.

Mrs. Watts, a 60-year-old widow, lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Houston with her son Ludie (John Heard, Home Alone, My Fellow Americans) and daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn, Sixteen Candles, Three Days of the Condor). She fondly remembers days back at her home farm in Bountiful. In her current situation, Jessie Mae and Carrie bicker over the elder woman's near-constant hymn-singing and other habits. Compared to the space Mrs. Watts once had, the apartment is confining.

She pockets her pension check and leaves one morning while Jessie Mae is out, determined to travel back to Bountiful (a fictional town somewhere in south Texas). She befriends a young military wife (Rebecca DeMornay, demure and composed in her '50s era ensemble) on the journey and confides in her on a bus ride.

The opening credits sequence of a mother and child running through a field of bluebonnets leaves no doubt about the Texas setting of The Trip to Bountiful, and the costuming and set design perfectly reflect the time period. Page has a frumpy and careless appearance about her in the role to represent Mrs. Watts' single mindedness.  All she wants to do is go home... but unfortunately just returning to a place can't bring back past people or events.

Page as Mrs. Watts is almost constantly on the verge of tears; recalling memories of her son as a boy or failed relationships causes a choked tone to enter her voice. Carrie also has episodes related to heart problems (probably a double meaning, there) that leave her light-headed and dizzy.

The Trip to Bountiful comes off like a filmed stage play in the beginning apartment scenes, but as Mrs. Watts leaves those rooms, the film widens its scope. Masterson's direction and Foote's script give Page an opportunity to show her impressive talent, and she doesn't disappoint.

Texas connections: Writer Horton Foote was from Texas. The Trip to Bountiful was shot in Ellis County/Waxahachie, Venus and Dallas.  Richard Bradford, who plays the sheriff, was born in Tyler.  Kevin Cooney, who appears as a bus station worker, is from Houston. Director Peter Masterson, a native of Houston, also wrote the screenplay for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

[Still via MovieClips]

Summer Indies to Catch: May 2014

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Jesse Eisenberg in The Double.

By Frank Calvillo

This month, most audiences will be lapping up that guy in tights and yet another reincarnation of Japan's most famous lizard. Thus begins another summer season full of empty sequels and remakes no one asked for. While there are always a collection of smaller films designed to combat the less-than-inspiring season, this year's crop of independents -- which include a 70s movie icon in a Western thriller and a Dostoyevsky adaptation -- is perhaps one of the most bountiful and eclectic in recent years.

Here are few highlights:

Fading Gigolo (now playing at Regal Arbor, available on VOD)

Woody Allen makes a rare appearance in a non-Woody film for this most unconventional tale of comedy and sex in a romanticized New York. When down-on-his-luck Murray (Allen) needs a way out, he convinces his friend Fioravante (John Turturro), a Brooklyn florist, to have a paid threesome with curious dermatologist Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) and her fiery friend Selima (Sofia Vergara). Soon after, word begins to spread about Fioravante's talent as a middle-age Casanova as Murray takes on the role of unlikely pimp.

Hill Country FF 2014: Pier to Peer Docs

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Bluefin on the Line

Amid all the shorts I enjoyed at Hill Country Film Festival, I also saw some longer movies. One documentary is technically a short but may be longer at some point, and one feature-length doc will likely be somewhat shorter by the time you see it. Both Bluefin on the Line (pictured at top) and Lord Montagu are set in very different environments but ultimately, are about families working hard to preserve their legacies.

Bluefin on the Line is the latest documentary from sometimes-Austin* filmmaker Bradley Beesley, whose previous films include The Fearless Freaks, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo and most appropriately for this subject, Okie Noodling. Elizabeth interviewed the Oklahoma native a couple of years ago for his segment in Slacker 2011. This 37-minute film takes a look at the history and culture of the Bimini Islands over the past century, particularly big-game fishing and how it has affected the people who live there.

I didn't quite realize big-game fishing was a thing, but apparently it was popularized by Ernest Hemingway. Fittingly, his grandson narrates the first section of this film, a breezy overview of big-game fishing in its heyday, especially bluefin tuna. Vintage stills show people holding up fish that look as tall as I am, and I realize I am kind of a short person, but that's impressive nonetheless. The bluefin were ultimately overfished, however, and the Bimini Islands went downhill ever since, with many locals' fishing skills no longer needed. "Tuna Alley" no longer lives up to its name.

Slackery News Tidbits: May 12, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Texas Tribune reports that Bernie Tiede, the Carthage man whose story of shooting the town's richest widow inspired Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater's 2011 movie Bernie, was released from Panola County Jail last week. After nearly two decades behind bars, Tiede was driven away from the jail with Linklater to a home the filmmaker owns in Austin.
  • In festival news, the Los Angeles Film Festival announced its lineup last week and includes several Texas-connected movies: Land Ho!, produced by Austinite David Gordon Green; the Houston documentary Evolution of a Criminal, which premiered at this year's SXSW; and the short movie Molly, from local filmmaker Craig Elrod (The Man from Orlando).
  • Austin's movie industry may take a hit after NBC announced Friday that its hour-long, post-apocalyptic drama Revolution has been cancelled, Austin Business Journal reports. The show wrapped filming its current season last month in Austin.

Movies This Week: May 9-15, 2014

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 Jodorowsky's Dune

The Austin Film Society has one last screening this evening of the new IFC Films release Hateship Loveship over at the MarchesaKristen Wiig and Guy Pearce star in this adaptation of Alice Munro's story. On Sunday, AFS is celebrating the Hubley Centennial with an afternoon of animated shorts screening from the husband and wife team of John and Faith Hubley. The shorts will screen at 2 pm, followed by an AFS Moviemaker Dialogue with their daughter Emily Hubley at 4.

On Tuesday, LaDonna Harris Indian 101 is playing for Doc Nights. Julianna Brannum's film explores the life of Comanche activist LaDonna Harris, who works to this day on educating emerging indigenous leaders. On Wednesday night, Richard Linklater will present a 35mm print of Louis Malle's 1981 drama Atlantic City and on Thursday evening, Essential Cinema will screen Woody Allen's Stardust Memories

The Alamo Drafthouse has a few Mother's Day events happening this weekend. A special brunch feast of The Sound Of Music is happening at the Lakeline and Slaughter Lane locations Sunday morning. You can check out the menu here. Not to be outdone, Ritz will open up Theater 1 to Ms. Rebecca Havemeyer, who will present her annual Mother's Day screening of Mommie Dearest on Sunday night.

Review: Neighbors

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neighbors posterWhen a wild fraternity moves into the house next to Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac (Seth Rogen), a thirtyish couple with a new baby, they feel conflicted. Near constant noise and debauchery will disrupt the peace of their sleepy neighborhood and throw off their routine schedules, but truthfully they crave a little craziness. It wasn’t very long ago that they were carefree and in college themselves, and new parenthood is making them wistful for the past and afraid of becoming boring.

Desperate to avoid seeming like buzzkills (even though they really do want their young neighbors to just keep it down), they try to play along at first and even join the party one night. Real life makes it impossible for them to live in both worlds, though. Very soon, after a series of necessary-to-the-genre misunderstandings and mistakes, the situation has escalated quickly into all-out neighbor war.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek), the movie Neighbors has all the elements necessary to make it the next successful gross-out, slightly romantic comedy with arrested development undertones. However, thanks to a generally good-hearted script obsessed with pop culture and all-in performances from its stars (particularly Byrne as Kelly), Neighbors slightly exceeds expectations by throwing a few surprises into what could be just another immature prank-based film.

Not that Neighbors is smart, exactly, nor does it completely upturn traditional comedy cliches, but it does make an effort to gender equalize the situation. Byrne, who carries herself well throughout, channels the outrage of hundreds of minor female movie characters when Kelly shouts at her husband that it's not fair how he gets to be irresponsible and have all the fun while she is expected to be the bitchy mom whose only job is to scowl and complain. She makes a good point, and from then on not only participates in the shenanigans, she directs them.

Hill Country FF 2014: Shorts, More Shorts and Sneaky Pink Drinks

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HCFF 2014

This was my third year attending the Hill Country Film Festival in Fredericksburg. I feel like I've got it down to a science. I have a B&NB I like (kitchen, reliable wireless), I can drive to the Hangar Hotel at night without ending up halfway to Kerrville, I even know the least chilly place to sit in the Steve W. Shepherd Theater (I'm not telling). Staff and volunteers know me by name although honestly, I suspect they know most of the badgeholders by name. They are sharp and friendly that way.

I did change things around a bit by arriving in town on Thursday evening instead of making the mad rush on Friday morning to get there for the first film I wanted to see. I walked up to get my badge at 6 pm and found myself in the middle of a party. And that's HCFF all over.

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