Sundance virgins -
by Eddie Gamarra
We all remember our first time. Mine was in 2001. Like so many of you, mine was spent awkwardly curled up on a leather couch covered by a blanket with elk patterns. I was nearly done with grad school and as a treat my best friend worked it out so that I could crash at their company’s condo. I awoke in the grey mountain light to watch his boss do her morning yoga routine. “Good morning,” I yawned. She bent backward and replied, “Namaste.”
After a day of strolling Main Street trying to figure out the day’s screenings, we ended up driving to SLC to watch a much buzzed about film called DONNIE DARKO. Mid-way through the screening the image suddenly played upside down and backward. The film was bizarre enough to make us think that this twist was intentional. The lights came up and someone announced that the film’s reel had been threaded the wrong way. The only projectionist who could fix it was back in Park City. I felt terrible for the young director. I could only imagine his horror and disappointment; his big night ruined. The director begged people not to leave. He and his cast and crew entertained us with an impromptu Q & A that included breakdancing. They mentioned it was someone’s birthday and the theater full of movie-lovers sang along. The reel was finally adjusted and the screening resumed. The crowd loved the film for what it was, but also for what the screening itself had been. I loved that evening. This is what a community of cinephiles should be about – joy and celebration in spite of the messed up screening. That was my first time.
This year, I had the honor of having a client’s film in U.S. Dramatic Competition – AUSTENLAND. A bit of back story: Author-cum-screenwriter Shannon Hale is best known for her NY Times best-selling children’s books. She had written a novel for adults back in 2007 called AUSTENLAND that follows a thirty-something named Jane who is so obsessed with PRIDE & PREJUDICE’s Mr. Darcy that she can’t find love in the real world. She journeys to a fantasy camp for Austen fans where she experiences all the grandeur and grit of Regency living. I admit humbly that I always knew it would make for a great movie. We had gotten close to selling it a few times but other movies with similar themes always seemed to make it out first, thus blocking this property’s progress. Shannon wisely partnered up with her friends Jerusha Hess and Stephenie Meyer and made the movie themselves! Which brings us back to Park City 2013.
Given that I feel like I never see enough of my wife, I suggested she come along. We figured out that if she came, we could actually stay in Park City with a high school friend. Two nights of free housing in Park City? Score! I was able to get dinner reservations for Chimayo so we could have a romantic dinner before the throngs arrived and the prices doubled. Hooray! With all the excitement, I had to prepare Katrina for all that is good and bad about the Fest. Pro: great people watching, Con: packed bars and long lines. Pro: pretty city, Con: possibly shitty weather. Pro: amazing movies, Con: 5AM wake up calls to get tickets to such movies. And so on. I wanted her first time to be special, memorable, but I wanted her to be prepared for the worst. After all, she totally hated ComicCon, and this was like the Con with fewer costumes but more blizzards.
Shannon’s book agent, Barry Goldblatt, with whom I am lucky and grateful to be in business, was also coming to the Fest to support Shannon. He, like Katrina, was new to all this and looked to me for guidance on how it all worked. The funny thing was, even though by now I had been quite a few times since 2001, I had never been there to support just one film. It’s a totally different experience. So I too was a virgin all over again. The best advice I could give was, “Don’t worry too much and just roll with things.” Barry, like Katrina, wondered how to dress for the dinners hosted in honor of the film. All I could say was the usual suggestion: keep casual and wear layers. I felt totally lame as a guide. I figured the best option was to stick to the schedule provided us by the film’s publicist and just be where Shannon should be when she should be there.
The weather proved glorious. The warmest 10 degrees you’ll ever experience. The premiere was a smashing success. The Eccles audience loved it. To see Shannon’s face gleam with relief and delight was a rare privilege. Barry’s hearty laughter to my left and my wife’s gleeful giggles to my right made my spirit soar. At the post-premiere tea Katrina got to meet Bret McKenzie and fulfill an old promise she made to a Kiwi friend of hers. Barry seemed to be enjoying himself. We were able to get Katrina into the Friday night dinner and then, miracle of miracles – I found parking… across the street! You always want your first time to go well. So far, so great!
At the Saturday dinner, my UTA comrade Keya Khayatian informed me that a certain document was needed for chain of title purposes so the film could be sold. So I found myself spending most of the evening on the phone emailing and calling different colleagues to try to locate what was needed. My steadfast assistant Michael ended up having to go to the office on a Saturday night to get done what needed to get done. As a boss, I felt terrible to have to ask him, but we all know such moments are a necessary evil of this industry. I huddled in the least loud corner I could find, trying to instruct him what to search for. For a moment, I lamented another missed dinner. Once again, I had to abandon the people I cared about. But that’s the job. Those are the sacrifices. That’s what we need to do to make movies, right?
I quickly chomped down some cold ravioli while on hold with Michael. Across the bar, Barry laughed with Jane Seymour, and Katrina danced with another Sundance virgin, actor Ricky Whittle – a fun, funny and down to earth guy. Shannon and her hilarious and talented husband Dean were gracious hosts, Sundance virgins in their own ways as well. Jerusha Hess, the inspired co-writer and director, chatted with her cast. Though a Sundance alum, she was making her directorial debut; she too was having a sort of coming out party. It was a room full of both old pros and newbies gathered together to celebrate a movie made. Veterans and virgins equally awash in the wonderfully terrifying newness of our experiences. There was so much love and positivity in the movie and amongst its cast and crew over those two days. This is what we need to do to make movies. Michael and I finished our call. I rejoined my wife and savored the last bite of cold ravioli and smiled.