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Where the cameras aren't: Sundance for the other half

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 27 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Thomas Woodrow, left, producer of "Bass-Ackwards," and George Nicholis, right, a publicist with Zipline Entertainment, wait as cast members of "Bass-Ackwards" have publicity photos taken during the Sundance Film Festival Monday.

T.j. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News

PARK CITY — At the bottom of Main Street, The Lift is where actors and filmmakers go to have their pictures taken by wire services that distribute the images around the world.

The place teems with gift bags, publicists and camera equipment. There's no bottled water — just some drink that was "developed by a doctor at UCLA."

The process takes all of 10 minutes. Some quick makeup and a few flashes.

Then it's back onto Main Street.

Moments earlier, Ryan Gosling, Orlando Bloom and Mark Ruffalo walked out of the tent. The paparazzi and autograph hounds covered them like ants on a cookie.

Now it's Linas Phillips' turn. He steps through the doors and … nothing.

This is how the other half lives at Sundance.

"They might think I'm Leo (DiCaprio's) fat brother. That's it," he jokes.

Phillips is the writer, director and star of a quirky road-trip film that cost $30,000 to make and earned a spot in the festival's new NEXT category.

As for most independent filmmakers at the festival, the Sundance experience has been replete with parties and press junkets for the film's cast and crew. But the do-it-yourself work ethic that got them into the festival continues.

"I've never done this before," says the soft-spoken Phillips. "There's just too much to do."

This day starts with a local radio interview for Phillips and producer Thomas Woodrow. Outside, publicist George Nicholis prepares for another long day.

"I haven't had much sleep," says Nicholis, who works for Zipline Entertainment in New York City.

His connecting flight from Phoenix to Salt Lake was grounded due to weather, so Nicholis made the drive to Park City, arriving just before 6 Friday morning.

"Nothing ever goes as planned," he says. "It's Murphy's Law a little bit."

Two years back, Nicholis was at Sundance working for the much larger Picturehouse, but spent most of his driving executives around town.

With Phillips' film "Bass Ackwards," Nicholis feels he has a chance to really help out.

"With smaller films, it feels like you can have a bigger impact" as a publicist, he says. "Big movies can kind of sell themselves."

The Zipline office at the festival is a room with two queen beds and a small desk at the Park City Marriott. Around town, Nicholis' clutches a blue folder that contains the filmmakers' schedules and his BlackBerry.

When the interview is over, the three men discuss the day's schedule. Phillips wants to attend a party with his fiance but has to meet an editing deadline.

"Don't beat around the bush," Phillips tells Nicholis. "You can tell me I can't go to the party."

Instead the men head to the Easy Street Cafe for coffee. It's a quiet place where Phillips will have a chance to edit an online trailer for iTunes.

The film is the kind of movie that embodies the festival's roots, Nicholis says in the basement of the Easy Street Cafe, and it might even be the kind of film that defines the festival's future.

While most films at the festival are looking for buyers, this film has been sold. As soon as the festival ends, it will be available on iTunes, Amazon.com and YouTube.

"This has been a dream scenario," says Woodrow, "because we've already sold the film. If there was that uncertainty, it would be a nightmare."

While Woodrow estimates the chances of selling a Sundance film through traditional means are somewhere around "one in 2,000," he believes the future of cinema is changing.

Woodrow quotes Francis Ford Coppola's hope that one day a "little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart." With the Internet, "this is that day," he says.

Even with monetary concerns addressed, Phillips has been uneasy at the festival.

When his film premiered in Park City, "the whole rhythm of the movie felt off." A second screening in Salt Lake helped ease that tension, despite a number of walkouts.

For Phillips, the Sundance experience has also been redemptive.

His first film, the story of his trek from Washington to Los Angeles was so personal "there was no way for my ego to wiggle out of any criticism." After releasing the film at a few small festivals, Phillips battled depression and found himself homeless for a short time.

"Finishing this film is me bouncing back," he says, driving to another interview.

Filming "Bass Ackwards" took him from Seattle to New York City over the course of a year. At times he worked without a script and sometimes asking girls at bars if they would be willing to act in a scene.

"When people watch this, I want them to love themselves," he says. "That's so cheesy. It's so stupid, but it seems to be such a fundamental problem for people. The fact that saying that is cheesy proves there's a problem."

Now Phillips is engaged, his wedding planned for late May — barring the completion of his next film.

"Maybe we'll be back here next year," he says.

Maybe then he'll have to dodge the cameras at the bottom of Main Street.

e-mail: afalk@desnews.com

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