Filmmaking

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The 2019 Village Voice Film Poll, Reconstructed

When the Village Voice abruptly had its plug pulled by its final, Forbes-ranked owner two years ago, its annual film poll, which had been around since 1999, expired along with it. That needn’t necessarily have been the case—somehow, we still got a Pazz & Jop music survey last February, published on the paper’s semi-defunct website (which otherwise merely cycles through articles from the archives). The film poll was run by less obsessive and/or masochistically dedicated folks, apparently, which means that the task of insisting that it should continue, whether or not some tycoon chooses to bankroll it, has fallen to […]

Making a Microbudget Film about the Death of David Bowie and a Wormhole to the Future: Writer/Director Liz Manashil on Speed of Life

The script for my time-travel second feature, Speed of Life, is set in 2016: a time that a lot of people point to as pivotal, when American society felt fractured. It follows a couple from the night David Bowie dies — and they are separated — until 24 years in the future, when they are reunited. Our version of 2040 follows 2016 to its logical conclusion: that David Bowie’s death may or may not have fractured the fabric of the universe. Our version of 2040 is dark and dreary all because our hero David Bowie is absent.  I was actually […]

Trading Blue Chips for Uncut Gems: The NBA Cinematic Universe

Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems could lazily be classified as a “basketball movie,” which raises the stakes in the third act via a tense and deciding Game 7 in the NBA Playoffs—numerous critics cite the nail-biting play-by-play action as the film’s tensest sequence). Yet Uncut Gems isn’t just driven by the attributes afforded a fast-paced sport: the narrative’s “house of cards” doesn’t come down to a single three-pointer or clutch free-throw that rolls around the rim before dropping in as the game clock strikes zero, Teen Wolf be damned. The Safdies pull off something trickier, interlocking their film with both on-the-record, […]

Indie Film is Dead: Producer Ted Hope Diagnoses the Business Climate of Independent Film

This article was originally published in our Fall, 1995 issue. It may look easy but sometimes it’s pretty hard to keep coming up with the inspirational success stories we usually pack into Filmmaker. Credit card-financed movies leading to three-picture deals; Sundance hits transformed to Fox sitcoms; domestic box-office failures rescued by ticket-buying Parisian cineastes – there are only so many of these tales to go around. That’s why we welcomed this opinionated piece by producer Ted Hope lamenting the downside of today’s indie film scene. Hope is co-president of New York’s production company Good Machine and, along with his partner […]

Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Producer James Schamus Responds to “Indie Film is Dead”

In Filmmaker‘s Fall, 1995 issue, producer Ted Hope penned a provocative essay, “Indie Film is Dead.” James Schamus — producer, screenwriter and Hope’s partner at the New York production company Good Machine — responded in the same issue with this essay, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” published online for the first time. — Editor Dear Ted, sure it’s the end of the world as we know it, but before the lights go out, I thought I’d respond to a couple of your points. “Acquisitions are driven by marketability alone?” Of course they are, silly. We got late capitalism on our hands […]

2010s: An Eventful Decade for American Independents

At the end of 2008, the Wall Street-generated economic collapse blew a deflating hole in the Film Indie cash cow. 2009 saw the consequent slashing of staff at the mini-majors, the closing of many companies and a pullback by the content-clueless hedge funders. The result was a low output of indies in 2009, although what films were made were made for the right reasons rather than simply a desire to make another faux-indie TV movie to satisfy desperate distributors.  So the decade started there, at a solemn  hushed, funeral-like Sundance 2010, one that was also a refreshing, offbeat event for […]

The Best Yet-to-be-Distributed Docs 2019

Bouncing around the doc fest circuit this past year, I saw more nonfiction films than could possibly be considered mentally advisable, from sneak-out-of-the-theater duds to unheralded gems I couldn’t wait to rave about. And counterintuitively, it’s those in the latter category, the vast majority international cinematic nonfiction, that always leave me most frustrated. While I can talk (and write) about those films, I can’t bring them to a US theater (or streaming service) near you. What I can do is compile a list of the few films that managed to stick in my brain all the way through to the […]

The 2010s in 10 Double Features

“I can’t commit to a movie.” In the era of limitless streaming “content,” no phrase has more irrevocably warped our viewing habits. If a single film now represents a commitment, then a double feature might as well be a back-to-back life-sentence. Why trudge through all that first-act boredom, after all, when you’re already so behind on The Good Place? Despite the siren song of bingeable TV, the dual bill holds strong as a way to burn a night at the movies. Art-house theaters, digital programmers, and genre festivals still love them, as does any cinephile looking to hunker down with […]

Cinephiles looking to cook up a zesty decade recap of the best in American indie film could have taken a Polish holiday this fall and landed in the eastern European cultural capital of Wroclaw for the 10th annual American Film Festival. The intensive marathon nods to red-white-and-blue archetypes in branding, which makes festival avatars of such staples of American mythology as motorcycle cops, 18-wheelers, Afro-sporting disco queens, football running backs, astronauts and desperadoes. Its mission, however, is at once more incisive and expansive than all that apple-pie iconography, distilling highlights and discoveries from the year’s major U.S. film gatherings, sprinkled […]

2019’s Ten Best Films Directed By Women

I wasn’t going to do this list this year. I naively thought the dawn of a post-woke film world was upon us. Even though not so long ago I had to explain to a male film programmer editing my program blurbs that woke is a word, and even though an NDA keeps me from naming that male film programmer, I still thought maybe, just maybe, there was progress being made somewhere out there. Then, the Golden Globe nominations were announced and not a single woman was nominated for Best Director. As I struggled to winnow down to ten films this […]

A Decade of Hope: A.D. Calvo on Loneliness, Passion and 10 Years of Filmmaking

2010 began with hope, as I wrapped a small indie that looked like it might have legs. But the film soon faded into obscurity and hope faded with it. Two more efforts received little attention, and my heartache grew. But optimism sprung up again in 2015 when I collaborated with indie veteran, Mike S. Ryan, and the first film we made together got into Toronto. It felt like things were turning a corner. With barely a breath, we jumped into another. And for a moment, I saw through rose-colored glasses. Sadly, however, like with most small films, they too faded […]

“I Had Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars Worth Of Jewelry In My Bag. Someone Could Just Steal Me.”: On-Set Prop Deneice O’Connor juggles Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems traffics in the upscale loot sold and loaned in the Diamond District. A bejeweled furby necklace and a pendant of Michael Jackson pinned to a cross are fan favorites in a claustrophobic rain of riches. But a rare black opal trumps the pile. Howard (Adam Sandler), a jeweler with debt gnawing at his heels, lifts one off the black market from the Ethiopian Jews who discovered them, and sees it delivered to his show floor inside a vacuum-sealed cooler of fish. As the gambit in some of his biggest bets yet, the opal might just clear his life’s […]

David Lynch, Breitbart and Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker

I was reading Room to Dream, David Lynch’s memoir-of-sorts, on the way to Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker. For Lynch, writes his biographer/interlocuter Kristine McKenna, “The 1950s have never really gone away […] classic rock ‘n’ roll; diner waitresses wearing cute little caps; girls in bobby sox and saddle shoes, sweaters and pleated plaid skirts—these are elements of Lynch’s aesthetic vocabulary.” It then occurred to me to check whether Lynch and George Lucas are contemporaries, which they are (born 1/20/46 and 5/14/44, respectively). For Lynch, these images are eternally recurring, whereas Lucas got them out of his system exactly once, in American […]

David Lynch, Breitbart and Star Wars: Episode IX—The Last Skywalker

I was reading Room to Dream, David Lynch’s memoir-of-sorts, on the way to Star Wars: Episode IX—The Last Skywalker. For Lynch, writes his biographer/interlocuter Kristine McKenna, “The 1950s have never really gone away […] classic rock ‘n’ roll; diner waitresses wearing cute little caps; girls in bobby sox and saddle shoes, sweaters and pleated plaid skirts—these are elements of Lynch’s aesthetic vocabulary.” It then occurred to me to check whether Lynch and George Lucas are contemporaries, which they are (born 1/20/46 and 5/14/44, respectively). For Lynch, these images are eternally recurring, whereas Lucas got them out of his system exactly once, in American Graffiti […]

Marriage Story Wins Four Awards, Including Best Picture, at the 2019 IFP Gotham Awards; American Factory Wins Best Documentary

Marriage Story writer/director Noah Baumbach seemed a bit flustered his second trip to the podium last night at the 2019 IFP Gotham Awards. Minutes earlier he had accepted the Best Screenplay Prize and, in prepared remarks, thanked his various collaborators as well as Ted Sarandos and Netflix — not just for financing his film but saving the Paris Theater too. But when Natasha Lyonne announced Marriage Story for the Audience Award, Baumbach perhaps began to realize that he hadn’t written enough speeches for the evening. “I hope you all remember what I said in the last speech because it’s still […]

Sundance Institute Announces Documentary Fund Grantees Totaling $1.5 Million

The Sundance Institute announced today $1.5 million in grants to 47 nonfiction film projects hailing from 27 countries. The grants, which include specialized grants administered by The Kendeda Fund and the Stories of Change Fund, support films across development, production, post-production and audience engagement. From the press release: “These grantees comprise a snapshot of the boldest visions in nonfiction storytelling today,” said ​Hajnal Molnar-Szakacs​, Director of the Documentary Film Program’s Film Fund. “From the intimate to the epic, their scopes and ambitions illuminate not only the world around us, but new ways of seeing, telling and showing.” Today’s slate of […]

To Kid or Not To Kid: How Do You Make a Web Series from a Feature Film?

I read once that Marshall Curry always thinks of his audience when developing his next film. And then I also know that other directors say, “Make a good film and people will find it.” Or as my old comedy boss at the BBC once told me: the audience don’t know what they want until you give it to them. There is a sense of truth in all of these statements, but Curry’s has stayed with me.    As soon as I started developing my film To Kid or Not To Kid — the first English-language film about the decision to […]

Talking the Bigger-than-Ever Tenth Anniversary Edition of DOC NYC

Overwhelming by design — that’s the first impression offered by the 2019 edition of DOC NYC, the packed-to-the-rafters non-fiction film event currently underway in New York until November 15. Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the festival boasts over 300 events, including 28 world premieres, an expanded DOC NYC PRO seminar series, and 46 doc works in progress shown to industry attendees. Says director of programming Basil Tsiokos, “It’s our tenth anniversary, and we wanted to make it bigger and better. We just kept pushing [during the programming process] to include more and more films. “Every year we’ve tried to grow the […]