24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Sundance

Sundance 2012: Mark Webber's unsuspecting castmate

January 25, 2012 | 11:30 pm

Mark Webber cast his two year old son in the Sundance film The End of Love

When a Sundance audience learned after a Wednesday screening of "The End of Love" that director-writer-star Mark Webber had cast his own 2-year-old son Isaac in the film, a collective "awww" went up in the theater.

The crowd seemed both surprised and impressed that Webber was the father of the precocious child, who figures heavily in the film and its story of a single father's grieving the death of his wife. What most in the audience probably didn't know, however, was that Isaac's real-life mom -- the actress Frankie Shaw -- is still very much alive. In fact, Shaw and Webber reportedly recently broke up, with the split inspiring the filmmaker to write the movie.

Indeed, the drama often straddles the line between truth and fiction. Webber's character -- named Mark -- is a struggling actor, and he goes on auditions and talks about landing roles that one imagines Webber might actually seek in real life. (Webber, best known for supporting roles in "Storytelling" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," is currently starring in two other films at Sundance -- "For a Good Time, Call..." and "Save the Date.")

Meanwhile, we see Mark interact with his crowd of L.A. acting buddies -- he tries out for a film with Amanda Seyfried, borrows money from Jason Ritter and attends a party at Michael Cera's house. In a way, the film has a lot in common with Cera's 2009 Sundance premiere "Paper Heart," a similarly could-this-be-real movie about the development of a romantic relationship between the actor and Charlene Yi, who were also dating off-screen at the time.

Webber said making a film that felt true to life was important for him, saying repeatedly in a question-and-answer session after the screening that he is "obsessed with realism."

"Being an actor, more than half of your job is to pretend that a P.A. didn't just take you from your trailer to a set with lights. It's been hard for me," the 31-year-old said.

Accordingly, Webber said he never told Isaac what to say in the film. Instead, he spent a month "rehearsing" with his son and a cinematographer using a discreet camera. He informed Isaac that a friend would be taking pictures and videos of them for a while, so the child never knew he was actually taking part in a feature film.

"When you're making a film that's improvised, there's a tendency to think it's somehow easier -- but it's not. We had to be very prepared, Webber said. "There was a meticulous outline with plot points and emotional beats. But I was living in character and guiding him with the power of suggestion and knowing his moods. So anything he did would pretty much be right."

How long will Webber wait to tell Isaac that he's made his film debut?

"I can't wait to show him -- when he's 7," Webber said. "I think that's the appropriate age."


Bingham Ray remembered by Kenneth Turan

Bawdy chicks with flicks (but don't say 'Bridesmaids')

Spike Lee says studios 'know nothing about black people'

-- Amy Kaufman in Park City, Utah

Photo: Mark Webber's 2-year-old son, Isaac. Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Sundance 2012: An Irish spin on 'Tinker Tailor'

January 25, 2012 |  9:32 pm

"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" showed us that there's room in the modern world for a slow-burn spy movie, and one set in period to boot.

On Tuesday at the Sundance Film Festival, the director James Marsh (most acclaimed for his 2008 documentary "Man on Wire") tested the theory when he premiered "Shadow Dancer," his new movie about cerebral intelligence agents operating during a charged period in Northern Island.

Set five years before 1998’s historic Good Friday Agreement, the film centers on an MI5 agent (Clive Owen) who recruits a young Northern Irish woman (Andrea Riseborough) to spy on her own activist IRA family, and the crosses and double-crosses that ensue as attacks are carried out.

But more conspicuous than the plot is the mood: the film is restrained in a way that mirrors "Tinker Tailor" (and can at times make even that movie seem like "The Bourne Identity").  There’s an occasional burst of violence, but characters move slowly, often under gray skies, and there's a hushed feeling about the whole enterprise. The second scene of the film, about an attempted bombing in a London subway station, unfolds for five minutes without anyone speaking a word.

Marsh, who has toggled between documentaries and features--the Oscar winner's two most recent films were the primate-research documentary "Project Nim" and a crime feature in Britain's "Red Riding" trilogy--said he thought the low pitch worked to his advantage.  "I wanted the film to gather weight as it went along," Marsh told 24 Frames at a reception for the film, which is based on a novel by the thriller author Tom Bradby.

Marsh smiled a little at the "Tinker Tailor" comparison" but noted wryly that the Gary Oldman film cost a lot more to make than his low-budget independent. Still, the period details, and the brown and gray tones that Tomas Alfredson used in painting “Tinker Tailor,” are very much on the palette here.

No one’s yet bought the movie, which is hunting for distribution at the festival. The nearly $20 million in box office for “Tinker Tailor” may suggest a sizable audience, though John Le Carre’s name goes a lot further than Bradby’s.

More than “Tinker Tailor,” this movie weaves a lot of politics into its fabric—there’s a showdown between British police and IRA members at the funeral of an IRA member, for instance—but Marsh, who like Riseborough is English, said at a post-screening Q&A session that he was concerned primarily with a “universal human politics.”

Still, Riseborough added that the desperate situation of the Northern Irish shouldn’t be overlooked. “They were so angry,” she said. There was “pain and unemployment. It's almost too much for words.”


Sundance 2012: 'Smashed' is a booze film with a dry wit

Bawdy chicks with flicks (but don't say "Bridesmaids")

Spike Lee says studios "know nothing about black people"

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Andrea Riseborough in "Shadow Dancer." Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Sundance 2012: 'For Ellen' puts focus on the father

January 25, 2012 |  8:40 pm

  So yong kim
Have breakfast with writer-director So Yong Kim, tell her how remarkable her new film is, and you'll see her put her menu in front of her face in embarrassment. But hearing compliments on the quietly exquisite “For Ellen” is something the filmmaker is going to have to get used to. It's that good.

The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week, stars an excellent Paul Dano as the hard-edged and distraught Joby, a twenty-something hipster rock performer who's lived only for his music and, on the verge of an unavoidable divorce, has to decide if he can live for something else as well, his young daughter, Ellen.

The role is a change of pace from Dano, and with its brooding central male character, “For Ellen” is something of a departure as well for Kim, whose previous films, “Treeless Mountain” and “In Between Days,” dealt with girls. “I didn't really want to, I felt really terrified of starting,” she said of the new direction. “But it felt like the right thing to do at that point.”

What unites “For Ellen” with Kim's earlier films is its focus on family, which stems from her own background.

“I grew up in a really weird situation in Korea,” the director, 42, said. “My parents divorced when I was 4 or 5, my father disappeared, and my mother went to America. For five years I lived with my grandparents or aunts; it was kind of a nomadic lifestyle.

“So I'm very interested in stories about individuals within a family, how that person is shaped by family or lack of family. They're always like a search for me, I'm trying to find out if other people felt the same way I did. It's a learning thing.”

One of the starting points of “For Ellen's” script, Kim said, was “a memory of my father visiting, such a little blip, but when you are in a vulnerable phase, you tend to remember things.”

So the Joby character started “as my father now, then he turned white, became younger, and when I finished he was in his late 30s, an Adrien Brody  type.”

That is far from Dano's age (he's 27), but Kim gave him the script because she was thinking he might be good for the role of Joby's divorce attorney.

“He called back and said in his soft-spoken way that he didn't want to step on my toes but the [character Joby] could be younger, that would be really interesting.”

The filmmaker considered carefully, gave Dano the part and never looked back.

“Working with Paul was an incredible experience; he takes the character to another level, explores all the dimensions I could not express,” Kim said. “He totally spoiled me.”

Playing Joby's super-serious daughter Ellen is Shaylena Mandigo, discovered in a first-grade physical education class in Massena, N.Y., where the film was shot.

“She was one of the most serious little girls I'd ever seen, even doing skipping and jumping jacks in P.E.,” the director remembered. “She was meticulous, she would not stop until she finished,” a trait that pays off in a wonderful scene in the film where Ellen carefully picks out a doll with her dad.

Given what a gifted filmmaker the New York-based Kim has turned out to be, it is a bit surprising to discover that she went to the Art Institute of Chicago determined to be an artist.

“But a professor told me I was a horrible painter, I didn't have the touch,” she remembers. “I had to do something else with my life, and I started doing multimedia and experimental videos.”

It was at the Art Institute that she met her future husband and fellow director Bradley Rust Gray (“The Exploding Girl”).

“Brad had been to USC, a proper production school, and when I saw him shooting it seemed so natural in a way, I thought ‘This is how you do it.'”

Despite her experimental background, Kim makes films she considers to be “not cutting edge, not pushing the boundaries of cinema. I really want to do traditional filmmaking very well, that's my focus at the moment. I want to get really good at telling stories in a way that conveys emotional journeys.”

In this she is helped by Gray, who co-produced and co-edited “For Ellen” with Kim. (When he makes a movie, she returns the favor.) “It's up and down, interesting and challenging, but it makes our work better,” said Kim, who's hoping to find a distributor at Sundance.

“I do the first cut on my films, I include all the precious pieces I love and don't want to let go. We battle over every cut, even four frames. ‘If you cut that, he's not going to blink. What's what going to mean?'

“When you're writing, you put as much as you can into the script, you don't know what might be important. When you're editing you take a lot out, you take out everything that distracts from the focus. A little extra fat is not necessary. It's not perfect until everything is out that doesn't need to be there.”


Sundance 2012: Bingham Ray remembered by Kenneth Turan

Sundance 2012: Bawdy chicks with flicks (but don't say "Bridesmaids")

Sundance 2012: Spike Lee says studios "know nothing about black people"

-- Kenneth Turan in Park City, Utah

Photo: Director So Yong Kim poses for a portrait at the Sundance Film Festival. Her latest film is "For Ellen." Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times

Sundance 2012: Gere, De Niro films bound for theaters

January 25, 2012 |  6:28 pm

The deals continued to come at the Sundance Film Festival on Wednesday, ensuring that a few more films will have a life outside the Park City, Utah, bubble.

Jake Schreier's drama "Robot & Frank" was acquired by Samuel Goldwyn and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. Set in the near future, the movie centers on a lonely seventysomething man (Frank Langella) who is given a robot companion by his children and then forms an odd bond with it.

Nicholas Jarecki's "Arbitrage" also went to two companies: Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions co-acquired the film and will team up to release it. The companies paired on the release of last year's Sundance financial drama, "Margin Call," to which this film has been compared. In the 2012 picture, Richard Gere plays a master-of-the-universe banker who scrambles to prevent his life from coming apart after becoming involved in a shady investment and a fatal car accident.

And "Red Lights," Rodrigo Cortes' follow-up to his 2010 Sundance pic "Buried," has also found a home. The supernatural thriller has been acquired by Millennium Entertainment; the movie stars Robert De Niro as a world-famous psychic and Cillian Murphy and Elizabeth Olsen as two paranormal experts who seek him out. No release dates have been given for any of the films.

Nearly every major specialty company has now bought a film (Focus, Sony Pictures Classics, Magnolia and Fox Searchlight bought at least one earlier in the festival) -- save for the Weinstein Co., a rarity in a period when Harvey Weinstein has been one of the most active festival buyers. The firm does have a busy fall, with new films from Quentin Tarantinio, Paul Thomas Anderson and David O. Russell set for release.


Bingham Ray remembered by Kenneth Turan

Bawdy chicks with flicks (but don't say 'Bridesmaids')

Spike Lee says studios 'know nothing about black people'

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Richard Gere in "Arbitrage." Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Sundance 2012: 'Smashed' is a booze film with a dry wit

January 25, 2012 | 10:34 am


Movies about addiction tend to be heavy dramatic affairs, with stakes raised high and lives brought low.

But “Smashed,” a new film about a hard-drinking young woman who decides to get sober after one too many late nights, tries a different approach: It mixes in lightness with the seriousness.

"A lot of movies about addiction just sort of dwell in miserabilism, and we didn’t want to do that,” said James Ponsoldt, the film’s director and co-writer. “We wanted it to be something you could relate to, that young people can relate to.”

PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance

The movie premiered Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival, where the relatability was on full display.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate, an elementary school teacher with a full life — she’s enthusiastic in front of a classroom and even more energetic in her nightlife, which consists mainly of drinking at neighborhood bars with husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) and his buddies. Kate also isn’t averse to nips at other times — swigging a beer in the shower, sipping from a flask as she drives to work.

But after a series of marathon drinking sessions leads to her waking up in strange places, such as near the dried-up banks of the L.A. River (the Southland-set film makes ample use of Eastside Los Angeles locations) Kate decides to get sober. She takes the advice of a colleague (Nick Offerman) who brings her to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where she meets a sponsor, the wise but darkly comic Jenny (Octavia Spencer). Her new-found sobriety, however, drives a wedge between Kate and Charlie, who hasn’t given up booze.

Meanwhile, a misunderstanding at school while Kate is still drinking — she's having hangover-induced vomiting, but the students think their teacher is pregnant, and she goes with it — brings the potential for comedic misunderstanding. The movie is dry in more ways than one.

“What struck me when I first read the script was that it’s not a feel-bad film even though it deals with alcoholism,” Winstead said. “There’s no big intervention scene, and I even had a good time shooting some of the drunk scenes — they’re serious moments but it’s also a chance to show the good times this couple had together.”

Winstead said that before making “Smashed,” which is seeking U.S. distribution, she specifically avoided watching other films about addiction, such as “The Days of Wine and Roses” and “Requiem for a Dream,” hoping not to be influenced by their tone.

Paul, who is associated with a rather different kind of addiction as meth dealer Jesse Pinkman in the cable series “Breaking Bad,” believes that by not overdoing the melodrama “Smashed” gives audiences a stake in the outcome.

"It’s a tragic love story and a marriage that’s so unhealthy for both of them, but you're rooting for their relationship,” he said. Paul said that he took inspiration from a relationship he had in real life with a woman who was always the “life of the party,” leading to good times but also, he said, an inability to relate emotionally.

A 33-year-old Georgia native who previously directed the 2006 Sundance drama "Off the Black," Ponsoldt got the idea for “Smashed” when a longtime friend, comedian Susan Burke, began recounting stories of her alcoholic nights and subsequent sobriety. The two wound up co-writing a script that they further researched by attending AA meetings. Sometimes they brought Winstead with them.

“When I first started going to the meetings, I was surprised by how much honesty and how much knowing comedy was there,” Ponsoldt said. “I wanted to make a movie that captured that and even felt that way as we were shooting it.”

On the Los Angeles set of the film in October, some of that lightheartedness was in evidence as Spencer ad-libbed a scene about how she replaced her alcohol addiction with food compulsions, in each take coming up with new items such as peanut butter, nacho cheese and chocolate cake on the spot, prompting laughs from some in the crew.

There was also levity between takes. Offerman, known for his offbeat comedic role as Ron Swanson on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” bantered with Spencer. “I get to play somewhat different than who I usually am," Spencer said as she dined with her costars during a late-afternoon lunch break. "She plays docile and white,” Offerman wryly volleyed back to a reporter.

Though Ponsoldt said he didn’t know if audiences had an appetite for a film about addiction, even a somewhat buoyant one, he said he felt it was the best way to handle these themes.

“It’s a simple, honest story,” he said.  “These two kids are in love with each other but they’re also in love with drinking.”


Bingham Ray remembered by Kenneth Turan

Bawdy chicks with flicks (but don't say "Bridesmaids")

Spike Lee says studios "know nothing about black people"

-- Steven Zeitchik in Park City, Utah

Photo: A scene from "Smashed" with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul. Credit: Oana Marian

Sundance 2012: 'Bachelorette,' (sort of) like 'Bridesmaids'

January 24, 2012 |  1:29 am


Sundance Film Festival title "Bachelorette," which has been compared to "Bridesmaids," stars Isla Fisher and Kirsten Dunst

The principals behind the new female comedy "Bachelorette" have gone to some lengths to differentiate themselves from "Bridesmaids"; writer-director Leslye Headland even recently released a statement explaining the movies' fundamental differences.

When her film premiered Monday night at the Sundance fIlm Festival, it was easy to see why such a statement might have been necessary. The glossy comedy, produced by Will Ferrell, shares plenty of similarities with the Kristen Wiig hit: The Headland movie is also a raunch-filled romp, built around comedic set pieces, in which a group of close female friends come to love, hate and ultimately understand each other in the run-up to a wedding.

The queen bee (and yes, there are some "Mean Girls" parallels) is Regan (Kirsten Dunst) who, with best friends Katie (Isla Fisher, in the ditz role) and wild child Gena (Lizzy Caplan) are thrown for a loop when their generally mocked, overweight high-school classmate Becky (Rebel Wilson, in case you weren't already thinking of "Bridesmaids") becomes engaged to a man they all covet, leading them to question their own flawed lives.

PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance

Barbed insults, drug-fueled partying and, yes, even wedding-dress mishaps ensue when the three come together the night before the ceremony. (A pack of groomsmen is led by James Marsden and Adam Scott, who has his own bit of history with one of the women.) The setting and the emotional dynamics have plenty in common with "Bridesmaids," and there's even another call-back here to a forgotten '90s anthem -- The Proclaimers' "500 Miles" stands in for Wilson Phillips' "Hold On."

There are some key differences. The girls are nearly all at least a decade younger and more free-spirited, none of them are married and the goal in at least one case is to get back with a high-school sweetheart, not land a mature thirtysomething. The partying and social situations -- for much of the film, it's not easy to find a scene without drug use, a strip club or a sex scene -- are generally played more aggressively than "Bridesmaids." "I think it's more hard core," Caplan said on the red carpet before the screening. (The movie also goes to a surprisingly dramatic place in its last half-hour as the broad-ish comedy from the opening sections is all but forgotten.)

Headland, a playwright making her feature debut, would also be right to point out she started writing the script nearly four years ago and based it on an off-Broadway play she created, long before "Bridesmaids" was ever shot.

The director told 24 Frames before the festival she didn't mind the comparison as much as you might think: "I look at it a little like 'Bonnie & Clyde' in 1967," she said. "You have a movie that gets everyone's attention and all these comparisons are drawn, and they're not always right. But then it's like, 'Thank God, let's make more movies like that.'"

Still, whoever buys this film for U.S. distribution will need to worry about the comparison. No matter how much pundits like to talk about a "Bridesmaids" wave, it will be difficult to market a movie like this without risking the "didn't Kristen Wiig just do something like that?" reaction; on paper, there are plenty of similarities. Those marketers may best be served by going the misanthropic route. As Caplan said on stage after the screening. "I saw [Headland's] play and was blown away by how dark and awful she was willing to make people."


Sundance 2012: Bingham Ray remembered by Kenneth Turan

Sundance 2012: Bawdy chicks with flicks (but don't say "Bridesmaids")

Sundance 2012: Spike Lee says studios "know nothing about black people"

-- Steven Zeitchik and Amy Kaufman in Park City, Utah

Photo: A scene from "Bachelorette." Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Sundance 2012: Julie Delpy's latest sequel, '2 Days in New York'

January 24, 2012 |  1:25 am

Chris Rock and Julie Delpy star in "2 Days in New York," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival

"Is Ethan Hawke dead?"

That was the response Chris Rock said he had after reading "2 Days in New York," the romantic dramedy he co-stars in with writer-director Julie Delpy that premiered here Monday night.

The comedian was referring, of course, to the pair of dialogue-heavy romances Delpy acted in with Hawke: "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset." The first film was a 1995 Gen X hit about two twentysomethings who fall in love over one night in Vienna, and a decade later the actors teamed up again to co-write a sequel.

Delpy's latest project is also a sequel -- this one to "2 Days in Paris," a niche indie hit which made $4.4 million back in 2007. In that movie, the actress played Marion, a woman in a relationship that begins to crack when her boyfriend (Adam Goldberg) visits her and her parents in Paris.

This time around, Marion's family -- her non-English-speaking father, sexpot sister and an ex-boyfriend who is now dating her sister -- head to New York. Marion now has a new beau, Mingus (Chris Rock), and the arrival of Marion's very loud, very French relatives quickly begins to disrupt their otherwise healthy relationship.

Delpy said she wanted to inject "New York" with some fresh blood, fearing that if the film starred Goldberg again it would then become too similar to the "Sunrise/Sunset" movies.

"Marion keeps trying to make it work with a different man, so I kept thinking, 'Who is my next boyfriend?'" she said. "I was thinking here about having to choose a family, and how you create a new family and include them with the old. You know, relationship [stuff]."

Still, it remains to been seen whether audiences will be willing to continue following Marion on her quest for romance. Delpy has been down this road before, and it didn't turn out perfectly, with "Before Sunset" received less enthusiastically by critics than its predecessor.

This time, however, Delpy has brought a new love interest into the fray with Rock. Plus, as she joked nervously at the premiere: "Sequels are sometimes better than originals. Like, "2010" was better than '2001.'"

-- Amy Kaufman and Steven Zeitchik in Park City, Utah


Sundance 2012: In "Shut Up," the enigma of LCD Soundsystem

Second for second, the most cinematic experience in Sundance

Sundance 2012: A 65-year-old takes on disability and sex in "The Surrogate"

Photo: Chris Rock and Julie Delpy star in "2 Days in New York." Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Sundance 2012: Bingham Ray remembered by Kenneth Turan

January 23, 2012 | 10:08 pm

Bingham ray
I've been attending Sundance since 1985, and no event in my experience has hit this film festival with the impact of the stroke that took Bingham Ray's life on Monday. It was not just a death, it was a death in the family in the most profound way.

Though his name would not mean much to casual moviegoers, inside the world of people fervently committed to creating and distributing films -- and the journalists and critics who write about them --  Bingham loomed heroically large. Not only for what he accomplished,  but also for the kind of person he was and the kinds of people he brought together.

As a key figure in companies including October Films and United Artists, as the man who, almost by force of will alone, created a market for directors as diverse as Mike Leigh, Lars von Trier and Michael Moore, Ray was indisputably a commanding figure in the creation of the independent film world that Sundance is a key player in.

That's why, after word of his death spread in Park City, Utah, people sought one another out to share hugs, tears and shocked commiseration. And this from a group not usually known for overt expressions of emotion. Not Bingham. It just couldn't be.

Bingham -- who named his son Nicholas after the director Nicholas Ray -- had a passion for film that was gargantuan and impossible to extinguish. And it was all delivered with a live-wire jolt of life-force energy and a wicked look in his eyes that made even casual encounters impossible to forget.

Though we met up a few times in Los Angeles and New York, my encounters with Bingham were mostly at festivals like Sundance, where we had dinner every year, to gossip about the business and share enthusiasms. He was so focused on you when he talked, it was almost a shock to realize that he was focusing on other people with equal fervor and interest when he was talking to them. Bingham spoiled you for other people.

As Mike Leigh replied when someone with a poor command of English asked for "antidotes" about Bingham Ray instead of anecdotes, "There is no antidote for Bingham Ray."

Not that he was easygoing. Descriptions like "abrasive," "contentious" and "easy to love from afar" were used at a crowded and impromptu Park City wake held Monday night. Bingham was combative and never forgot a slight. He relished relating how one executive he worked for, on returning from seeing a film he'd liked, asked why his company never got projects like that. Bingham had to tell the man that he had, in fact, turned that very film down. Yet such was the purity and intensity of Bingham's love for film that holding a grudge seemed to elevate not diminish him.

One of the ironies of the Park City wake is that the space used was rented for an event planned by Bingham for another purpose entirely: to get publicity and attention for his latest employer, the San Francisco Film Society and its attendant festival. For more than a hour, a stream of friends, colleagues and associates told Bingham stories, like his proposed advertising campaign for a movie from Iran ("From a Country You Hate, a Movie You'll Love") that illustrated his ever-present and ever-wicked sense of humor.

Several people in the crowd observed that Park City was the place where more of  Bingham's friends would be gathered in one place than anywhere else. "This is his last gift to us," someone said. "It's like he said, '[Screw] it, I'm going to go out at Sundance so all the people I love will have the chance to get together and  have a party.'"

Bingham's death did something else as well. It made the festival regulars and cinematic travelers, people who see one another only a few times a year, realize that we were a family of sorts, what someone called a circus family, always meeting up again when the tents have moved on to the next fairgrounds. We may not have known it before, but Bingham's death made us realize that we were one another's next of kin.

As I headed for the bar, another friend of Bingham's caught my eye. "He loved you, man," he said. I loved him, too, I replied. I loved him, too.

-- Kenneth Turan in Park City, Utah

Photo: Bingham Ray, left, with fellow October Films co-managing executives John Schmidt and Amir Malin in 1996. CreditOctober Films 

Sundance 2012: Fox Searchlight buys 'The Surrogate'

January 23, 2012 |  7:47 pm

The surrogate ben lewin william macy john hawkesFox Searchlight has emerged as the winner in "The Surrogate" sweepstakes at the Sundance Film Festival, two people close to the negotiations said,  outmaneuvering at least three other buyers to acquire the story of a middle-aged disabled man who hires a sex surrogate so he can lose his virginity.

The move marks the first acquisition by Fox Searchlight at the festival this year. Last year, Searchlight bought three titles, including "Martha Marcy May Marlene."

"Surrogate" director Ben Lewin is 65 -- usually old for a Sundance director -- yet his movie, starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy, delighted filmgoers and attracted a number of high-profile bidders, including the Weinstein Co.

Searchlight is also still a front-runner to acquire "Beasts of the Southern Wild," a fantastical tale set in a poor part of the South that has garnered acclaim in Park City, Utah, this week.


Sundance 2012: In 'Shut Up,' the enigma of LCD Soundsystem

Second for second, the most cinematic experience in Sundance

Sundance 2012: A 65-year-old takes on disability and sex in 'The Surrogate'

-- Steve Zeitchik in Park City

Photo: Actor John Hawkes, writer-director Ben Lewin and actor William H. Macy attend the official cast and filmmakers dinner for "The Surrogate" at Bing Bar in Park City, Utah. Credit: Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Bing

Sundance 2012: 'The Surrogate' sparks a bidding war

January 23, 2012 |  5:02 pm

The Surrogate is attracting lots of buyer interest at Sundance
"The Surrogate," a drama about a middle-aged disabled man seeking to lose his virginity, is generating intense interest from major players at the Sundance Film Festival.

The movie, written and directed by 65-year-old TV veteran Ben Lewin, has attracted serious interest from at least four distributors, including Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Co., Lionsgate and Samuel Goldwyn, said a person close to the discussions who was not authorized to talk about them publicly.

Starring John Hawkes, the film premiered at the festival Monday and received a standing ovation. It cost about $1 million to produce.

If the sale happens, it would mark only the third acquisition of a feature title in a year that had been expected to see a frenetic amount of sales. LD Films previously bought the genre picture "Black Rock" while CBS Films snapped up Bradley Cooper starrer "The Words."

Neither Fox Searchlight nor The Weinstein Co., which have been very active at festivals over the past year, have yet bought a movie at Sundance this year.


Sundance 2012: In 'Shut Up,' the enigma of LCD Soundsystem

Second for second, the most cinematic experience in Sundance

Sundance 2012: A 65-year-old takes on disability and sex in 'The Surrogate'

--Steven Zeitchik and John Horn in Park City, Utah

Photo: William H. Macy, left, stars with John Hawkes in "The Surrogate." Credit: Sundance Film Festival


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