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  • September 2, 2009

    Producer Ted Hope on the survival of indie film

    Earlier this summer, Reel 13 brought you a lecture by Ted Hope, the prolific indie producer behind 21 Grams, American Splendor, and In the Bedroom, among nearly 60 other pictures. Last week, the Filmmaker’s Alliance presented Ted with the 2009 Vision Award. Posted below is Ted’s acceptance speech, delivered at the Director’s Guild in Los Angeles on Wednesday, August 19, 2009. In it, Ted lays out his vision for how producers and filmmakers must engage with evolving technology, audiences, and distribution.

    Visit Ted Hope’s blog, Truly Free Film, for more about his thoughts on the future of independent film.

  • September 1, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Escape from Texas

    by Sam Hutchins

    On the road to Houston

    On the road to Houston

    We finally could see the light at the end of Texas when we got to Houston. Arrived late, checked into the Doubletree Hotel downtown and crashed hard. We must have been quite a sight as we were road-weary from a couple hard days blasting through dust, sagebrush and ignorance. We encountered what was becoming a running joke at the registration desk with Stephane’s name. The clerk kept referring to him as “Stephanie” and insisting that he had been expected to be a woman. It only got funnier as he became more frustrated and insisted on the correct pronunciation of his name. Watching Stephane argue about the pronunciation of his name in his thick French accent all across the South provided endless amusement for myself and Darius.

    Same old song and dance the next morning. I rose early, checked all three of us out, settled the room charges, brought the truck around, gassed it up and then sat and waited impatiently for my companions to materialize. I was desperate to get out of Texas but I sat there waiting. Eventually I pulled out a map and started to daydream. That’s a big part of what I love about scouting; I love maps, I love looking at them and imagining what they represent. I have well-developed instincts and a vivid imagination and scouting allows me to exercise both. Looking at the map of southeast Texas I saw lots of oceanfront land and places I knew to be rich in mineral resources. My mind ran to images of places much like Blade Runner just more industrial. I pictured nights full of vast oil fields, lonely roads snaking through brightly and colorfully lit landscapes. Constant rain and mist beneath towering metal derricks both onshore and off. I was probably far off from the reality but I imagined a lonely café hugging the roadside in such a place just waiting for us to find it.

    Darius & Stephane

    Darius & Stephane

    Of course reality intrudes. Stephane and Darius appeared and insisted we scout Houston proper. I fought to bail immediately and drive towards Galveston where my waking daydream led me but I lost the argument. The fact that Galveston was at the end of a long one-way road sealed the deal. I tried to BS them on that one but they knew me well enough to insist on seeing a map before agreeing to anything. Amazing how intimately you know someone after even a week in such close proximity. I’d gladly fib a little in service of what my gut told me was the right choice; they already knew that about me. It was set, then. We would explore Houston before driving east. I braced the concierge for assistance.

    “Excuse me, I’m looking for the ‘hip’ neighborhood.”


    Allow me to point out that we were in a relatively nice hotel and the concierge ought to be expected to have a decent working knowledge of the city.

    “You know, an interesting part of the city. Someplace where people walk around, go to cafes, antique stores, bookshops?”

    Blank stare.

    “Maybe by a university? Someplace with thrift stores? Older buildings? There must be a college district? Used bookstores? Record stores?”

    Blank stare. I was getting impatient and becoming the stereotypical New Yorker America loves to hate.

    “Where the hell do people go when they want to walk around and shop?”

    The concierge’s features brightened.

    “Oh, you mean the Galleria! It’s…”

    I cut him off at the pass.

    “Fuck that, no not the fucking galleria. Where’s the bus station?”

    I might as well have pissed on his shoes given the look on his face but I couldn’t care less. He then made a big show of acting superior to me. After all, I was either travelling by bus or at least consorting with those who would deign to do so.

    “I wouldn’t know, sir, but I assure you I can find out.”

    He opened a yellow pages and verrrrry slowly went about locating the information for me. What a stunning disconnect. We stood a foot apart but there were miles between us. Perhaps it was me. Surely it was. New Yorkers are obnoxious, right? I was being obnoxious, yes, I was. At the same time some under-educated, over-moussed douche is judging me for my interest in the bus station. I’m no runaway teenager or sad salesman, Jack. I’m looking for filmable locations for an international genius filmmaker, and I represent his vision. I’m the tip of the spear and you’re just flesh in my way.

    Clearly I needed to get the hell out of Texas. Fuck the bus station. I put the pedal on the floor and we were Louisiana-bound. No one tried to stop me.



    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

  • August 31, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Best of Donald Sutherland

    by John Farr

    John Farr salutes Donald Sutherland’s finest films.

    Klute (1971)


    A killer is stalking Bree Daniel (Jane Fonda), a would-be actress and high-class call girl. Detective Klute (Donald Sutherland) meets her while investigating the mysterious disappearance of a male relative. It’s evident that Bree is a pivotal link in Sutherland’s investigation, but she herself has no idea what that link is, which only makes her more vulnerable. Could she be next to disappear?


    Director Pakula builds a creepy, paranoiac mood that makes for mesmerizing viewing. Fonda brings texture and dimension to the central role – part cynical, hardened hooker, part confused young woman – too frightened to let anyone into her life. Fonda deservedly won the Best Actress Oscar that year. Sutherland is effectively subdued as John Klute.

    Don’t Look Now (1973)


    After the drowning death of their young daughter, British couple John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) travel to the ancient port city of Venice, where he is overseeing the restoration of a dilapidated church. As the canals begin to spill over with murder victims, John experiences increasingly unsettling visions, and Laura slowly loses her grip on sanity.


    Based on a ghost story by Daphne du Maurier, Nicolas Roeg’s spooky, enigmatic thriller offers just the right mix of surreal intensity and emotional distress, aided by the presence of two creepy old sisters (Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania), who claim to have psychic contact with the Baxters’ dead child. Roeg gets a lot of mileage out of the labyrinthine streets and murky canals of Venice, which has an otherworldly atmosphere all its own. When John catches a glimpse of a tiny, red-coated figure darting in and out of blind alleys, the hairs on your neck will stand at attention. Definitely not for all tastes, but an arty, eerie entry for those seeking something different. Note: not appropriate for kids, mainly due to one memorably steamy sex scene.

    Day of the Locust (1975)


    Aspiring set designer Tod Hackett (William Atherton) moves to glitzy Hollywood in the 1930s and takes a romantic interest in his new neighbor, Faye Greener (Karen Black), a talentless actress who lives with her sickly, drunken father Harry (Burgess Meredith), a onetime vaudevillian. Dreaming big despite her chronic failure at auditions, Faye flirts with Tod but opts to move in with a lonely, repressed accountant amusingly named Homer Simpson (Donald Sutherland). Little by little, Tod finds himself immersed in a sleazy, corrosive world of cruelty, false hope, and malignant desperation.


    A blistering adaptation of Nathanael West’s novel, “Locust” might be the most audaciously cynical movie ever made about Tinseltown. Peopled with deranged healers, petulant dwarves, painted child stars, and washed-up never-weres, Schlesinger’s film creates a stark divide between the pampered starlets and studio bosses of La La Land and the impoverished hangers-on and wannabes whose crushed desires fuel their fortunes. Black, Sutherland, and Meredith are mesmerizing in their respective roles, playing fringe types with utmost authenticity. By the time the film’s cathartic, apocalyptic finale arrives to resolve all the dramatic and sexual tension, Hollywood has already begun to look more like hell than any place on earth.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • August 31, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Julianne Moore’s Peaks

    by John Farr

    Who knew that a bit part in The Fugitive would lead to such a prolific and polished silver screen career?

    Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)


    Director Louis Malle’s swan-song takes us inside a run-down New York theater for a reading of Andre Gregory’s upcoming presentation of “Uncle Vanya”. The cast, featuring Wallace Shawn (Vanya), Julianne Moore (Yelena), Larry Pine (Dr. Astrov), Brooke Smith (Sonya) and George Gaynes (Serybryakov) proceed to enact, in their shirtsleeves, Chekhov’s brooding tale of jealousy and isolation, with pauses for coffee-breaks between acts.


    Pared down, offbeat approach to rendering of Chekhov may inflame purists, but actually makes the playwright’s dark, depressing work more accessible. We get the full treatment, with no flubbed lines or distractions to break the dramatic tension of the piece. And though Shawn and Moore may not be ideal casting, they turn in holding performances which transport us to that bleak, far-away time in rural Russia. A daring and intelligent piece of work from the late Malle, which takes us behind the velvet curtain to view at close quarters the practice and discipline of acting.

    Boogie Nights (1997)


    At a disco one night in the 1970s, adult-movie impresario Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) spots handsome busboy Eddie (Mark Wahlberg), and invites him for a casting call. Almost overnight, Eddie – a good-natured, slightly dim kid from a broken home who believes he has “something special” to share with the world – changes his name to Dirk Diggler and becomes a porn star, with all the perks and dangers such a lifestyle entails.


    Loosely based on the life of ’70s erotic-film stud John Holmes, Anderson’s surprisingly human second feature is an Altmanesque blend of wistful humor and naturalistic ensemble acting. Dirk quickly discovers his “real” family in the cozy, coke-fueled decadence of Horner’s misfit milieu, where he’s nurtured by maternal porn actress Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), and befriended by numerous quirky types played by a who’s who of ’90s A-listers: Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, and William H. Macy. An offbeat gem, with a tongue-in-cheek “money shot” that’ll make your jaw drop.

    Magnolia (1999)


    In the San Fernando Valley, a male nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) caring for a dying media titan (Jason Robards) tries to contact macho sex guru T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) to tell him about his estranged father’s fading condition. Meanwhile, an ailing TV quiz-show host, Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), hopes to reconnect with his drugged-out daughter (Melora Walters), who’s being courted by a tender-hearted cop (John C. Reilly) in this sprawling drama of intersecting lives and fortunes.


    Anderson’s magnum opus is an ensemble film like none we’ve seen since the heyday of Altman, clearly the young writer-director’s inspiration. Each member of the impressive cast, including Julianne Moore as a pill-popping wife and William H. Macy as a grown-up child celebrity, bring an angst-filled depth to the themes of personal and familial dysfunction that have defined Anderson’s work since “Boogie Nights.” Plus, playing a misogynistic motivational speaker, Tom Cruise registers with one of his most powerful performances ever. “Magnolia” is a revelatory, emotionally cathartic film full of energy and a robust enthusiasm for cinema. Despite a final, overwrought “plague” sequence which blunts its overall impact, this film remains a breathtaking psychological drama, full of twists, turns, and sing-songy surprises.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • August 28, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Guest Post: I Paid for Woodstock

    by Susan Silas

    This weekend, Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock opens in theaters. Before you see the film, read this guest post about what it was like to be at Woodstock by one of blogger Sam Hutchins’ colleagues, fellow location scout Susan Silas.

    “Governor Nelson Rockefeller declares Woodstock a national disaster area.”  Woodstock was on the front page of the New York Times for days.  My mother, who had allowed her barely 16 year old daughter to go to this rock concert, was appalled.  But to her it wasn’t the lack of amenities that was horrifying, it was the sight of her daughter dressed in a blue work shirt and blue bell bottom jeans, surrounded by half-a-million other young people attired in the same fashion that ran a chill down her spine; it reminded her of something more sinister and repugnant, though in her day they wore brown.   In our matching uniforms of blue, armed with tents and sleeping bags, and with the help of an endless downpour, we were about to turn the green upstate fields on Yasgur’s Farm into a mire.

    In the pelting rain the pasture turned pigsty  — a vast expanse of boot sucking mud and oozing offal.  With only 40,000 tickets sold and 500,000 people present the concession stand ran out of cokes about the time the Porto-Sans overflowed.  These outhouses sat on a small ridge at the edge of the crowd their doors hanging partially open with streams of toilet paper escaping to the outdoors fluttering in the breeze like wind socks at an airport and giving warning every time the wind shifted carrying the acrid smell of excrement through the crowd, causing even the most steadfast stoner to swoon.  Occasionally an observer would call out with a groan just before the stench washed over us.

    The concession stand must have been staked into the ground at the outset.  Two cheery kids danced along to its movements trying to keep up with the crowd in front of them.  It had become unmoored in all that rain and I remember finding myself walking sideways to keep abreast of the cash register while a thick crunch of ambitious customers teetered back and forth in an attempt to stay with the stand and get the last of the Coca-Cola.  On my way back through the crowd with my small tray of Cokes I received a round of applause for my efforts. It seemed that even the smallest local event (local meaning within earshot) could trigger applause from one’s neighbors. After the first day, I never saw the concession stand again.  Out of merchandise and unattended it must have drifted off in the sea of mud.

    On the second day a group of about 1,000 people lined up to try to use the bathroom at a small local bar that was accustomed to the hunting crowd as its clientele.  My stepfather, an Eastern European disenfranchised aristocrat who saw himself as the great white hunter was quick to recognize my description of the place.  The toilets were labeled “Pointers” and “Setters” and I had two dizzy girls ask me “Which one is ours?”  The owner came to the front door and looked out at the gathering mass of hopeful faces; none he knew would spend a dime in his establishment. He yelled out “No men will be allowed to use the restrooms here – go piss in the woods.”  From then on the matter of the “Pointers” and the “Setters” was moot but even with two bathrooms the wait was very long.

    On the first day, things were a bit unorganized and it was actually possible to walk up to the stage and ask to have a friend paged.  I remember making my way up there and asking them to page my cousin.  I knew she was out there somewhere in that crowd and a few minutes later her name rang out on the PA system and 10 minutes later we were standing together up front.  What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t necessary to page anyone.  Even among 500,000 people and license plates in the fields from as far away as Alaska, I seemed to run into everyone I knew who had come.

    “Wow, you went to Woodstock.”  I’ve often had that reaction from younger people if I choose to admit I was there.  It creates awe but also gives away my age.  I don’t remember everyone I saw play.  The music went on 24 hours a day and I barely slept, I was wet and cold and covered with mud and I made the mistake of going with someone I didn’t like that much because I had a fight with my best friend John two days before and I needed a ride.  I do remember waiting endlessly for Sly and the Family Stone to get on the stage.  They had a lot of electronic equipment and refused to come on until the rain let up. I remember that poor Tim Hardin was the only artist capable of stimulating ire in the most good natured crowd I’ve ever been in. He was booed off the stage.  Hardin was a serious drug user and he was nodding out in the middle of his performance. Word went out in the crowd that the needle was still stuck in his arm onstage  —  a rumor I had no way to verify then or now.

    The night before it began we had shut down Route 17.  We – a bunch of kids.  The highway was so crowded with cars that the State Police, incapable of any solution to the largest and longest traffic jam ever seen on a New York roadway shut the Thruway down and began diverting traffic.  It might have been described as the largest tailgate party ever seen, but this was not a football kind of crowd.  Perhaps it was more akin to a drive-in movie parking lot in which the projectionist failed to show.  We got out on the roadway and wandered from car to car – music blaring from each and every one and said “hey man”, smoked pot, and handed along little sheets of paper covered in blotter acid.  A cloud of smoke rose and mingled with the stars and car headlights illuminated dust particles that transmogrified into butterflies and flew off in the evening haze.  By morning Yasgur’s Farm was overrun.

    Occasionally there were gaps between performances as we waited for a new act to arrive.  We all knew the highway had  been shut down, and it was the whirr of helicopter blades that signaled that a band was about to arrive or depart.  It was during those pauses between performances that some poor fool had to stand up in front of the mic and keep the vaguely restless crowd amused.  One of the more inspired moments came at night during a lull in the rain.  The guy at the mic asked everyone to take out a match or a cigarette lighter.  In that crowd anyone who didn’t smoke cigarettes smoked pot so I’d have to guess that all 500,000 people had matches.  Everyone in the audience was to light their match at the count of three.  And for a flicker of instant – it was daylight.

    Someone was run over by a tractor in a field of high grass, a baby was born, people were kind to other people, a lot of people were stoned, everyone was filled with a sense of euphoria.  It’s hard to know why everyone knew to come.  All over the country young people packed their cars, got on airplanes, hitchhiked.  Before I set out I had no idea that the urgency I felt about going – I had to go – was being felt by tens of thousands of other kids in big cities and small towns all across the United States.  There would never be anything like it again. We weren’t just the baby boom generation.  There wouldn’t be a “counter culture” in the same sense again.  It would be possible in the future to stand on the sidewalk at Columbus Circle in New York City next to a pimply-faced boy who couldn’t have be more than 16 years of age and see a “Young Republicans for Ronald Reagan” button on his chest.  Up until that moment it hadn’t occurred to me that it was possible to be young and be a Republican.

    On my way home from upstate in a deli 100 miles from Woodstock I stopped to buy a pack of smokes.  It was easy to spot a fellow traveler; his jeans were caked with mud to the mid-thigh just like my own. For a moment we recognized one another.  We had shared something that created a sense of intimacy between us.  We both smiled.

    One outcome of the unexpected half-a-million strong audience was that no one had the presence of mind to collect the 40,000 tickets that had been sold.  I was one of the 40,000 suckers who paid for Woodstock.  I did take a brief look around to see where we were supposed to show our tickets but there was no evidence of a ticket booth.  Perhaps, it was never set up or maybe it was trampled beyond recognition. I still had my ticket in my mud sodden blue jeans when I got home.  Now it is forty, I am fifty-six and my daughter is exactly the same age I was when I set out with Dale in that gold Dodge Dart headed upstate.


    Susan Silas is a dual American and Hungarian national who has built a diverse career as an artist and writer over the past two decades. She completed her graduate studies at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles in 1983 and returned to New York to live and work. She has exhibited her work throughout the United States and in Europe. Her recent projects include Helmbrechts Walk, 1998-2003, which documents her 225 mile walk through Germany and the Czech Republic, retracing the steps of an historical death march at the close of the Second World War. This work will be on view at Hebrew Union College Museum in New York from September 2009 – June 2010. Recent publications include the essay ‘For David Foster Wallace with Love and Squalus’ published in the online literary magazine Exquisite Corpse, and the short story ‘Found Bird,’ published in the online literary magazine Podium. Her artwork and writings are available for viewing at: Susan has also worked as a location scout for major motion pictures. Recent films include: Whatever Works, directed by Woody Allen, Burn After Reading, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Michael Clayton, directed by Tony Gilroy, The Good Shepherd, directed by Robert De Niro and The Devil Wears Prada, directed by David Frankel.

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