July 25, 2007

Festival Bests

Summer Screening Of Recent SCA Films Thrills Audiences

By James Tella

Rocket Science landed director Jeffrey Blitz ’97 the dramatic directing award at Sundance.
In a first of its kind event, the Office of Alumni Relations in cooperation with the Office of Student-Industry Relations brought students, alumni, faculty and other movie fans together for a summer screening of short and feature films by SCA alumni that have played at recent international film festivals during “Best of the Festivals” at the Frank Sinatra Hall in the Eileen Norris Cinema Theater Complex on July 22.

Featuring the movies and creative talent behind American Fork, Charlie Bartlett, Rocket Science, Mei and West Bank Story, the  “Best of the Festivals” also offered the unique opportunity for audience members to interact with filmmakers during Q&As as well as at a filmmaking symposium, which focused on independent financing, distribution and life on the festival circuit.

“There was such an overwhelming feeling of success after Sundance this year that we wanted to provide a showcase back in Los Angeles for some of the films that were receiving acclaim,” said Director of Alumni Relations Justin Wilson '98.

Alessandro Ago ’05, the school’s special events coordinator, added, “This was a way for us to celebrate our alumni, have them meet a new generation of students and offer their perspectives and war stories from the festival circuit.

“It was great to present the audience with a mosaic of how filmmakers approach their work and how each one got to this point in their careers.”

Asked how to forge a successful career, Jeffrey Blitz ’97, whose Rocket Science landed him the dramatic directing award at the Sundance festival, said, “The thing you can do is try to fight hard to work on projects that you really care about and love.

“I haven’t seen it work where someone makes a calculated decision to work on a film that hasn’t really moved them.”
American Fork stars Hubbell Palmer ’05 who also penned
the script.

During the symposium, when moderator Sandrine Cassidy, who is also the school’s director of festivals and distribution asked the panel about choosing from the plethora of festivals available, American Fork producer Shannon Gardner ’96 told the audience “to pick wisely” for the one that would ultimately premiere their film.

“It’s important to focus on the type of audience that will respond best, as well as the location of the festival and the time of year,” he said. Although Gardner pointed out that a small percentage of films get a deal “right out of the gate,” he told the eager filmmakers that “a good run at a festival is crucial for gaining support and building buzz.”

Fielding questions on marketing, Hubbell Palmer ’05, who not only wrote but also stars in American Fork and Ari Sandel ’05, who won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short for West Bank Story, both shared some personal insights.

“One thing that is essential to know is that there are producer reps,” said Palmer. “Getting someone like that interested in your film is important because they represent independent films and try to help you sell them. They can get all the right people to come to your screening and connect you to people who will help publicize it.”

The event marked the premiere of Charlie Bartlett at USC.
Sandel agreed, adding his anecdotal story about handing out DVD copies of his musical comedy to the chauffeurs around Park City—the taxi drivers.

“Everybody wants to know who’s talking about what, and the next time they get into a taxi they hear about West Bank Story,” he said over the crowd’s laughter, adding that movie giveaways such as buttons, hats and glow sticks and wearing parkas emblazoned with his film’s logo was another ideal way to advertise during Sundance's numerous parties, gatherings and street traffic.

As the topic turned to distribution, Jon Poll ’81, the director of the teen comedy Charlie Bartlett, who at the end of the evening answered questions about the film along with Christophe Beck (composer and Thornton School of Music Alumnus), Gustin Nash ’99 (writer and co-producer) and Jay Roach ’86 (producer), told the crowd that finding the right release date is paramount for smaller movies. Initially set for summer, the film’s debut has been delayed due to the multitude of sequels and giant films covering the nation’s screens, which he said, “will ultimately be good for the movie.”

Jon Poll ’81, the director of the teen comedy Charlie Bartlett talks with an audience member.
During the catered reception in Queen's Courtyard, M.F.A. Lindsey Shockley ’07, who recently finished her thesis film The Truth About Faces, said, “I’m getting ready to start the circuit, and I wanted to know what’s in store for me. This whole day has just been wonderful.”

“Every audience is different and it’s great to be able to show your film,” added Poll when asked how felt about the SCA premiere of Charlie Bartlett. “I’ve made a film I really care about. I love every frame, and if I only get to make one movie, I’m glad it’s this.”