PARK CITY Every year when Sundance crashes this town, there is much conjecture as to what exactly constitutes the purest definition of an independent filmmaker.
But filmmaker Greg Kohs may have come closest when I asked him how much it cost to produce his documentary "Song Sung Blue."
"A lot more than my wife thinks it did," he said.
Is anyone going to accuse this man of being a poser?
Kohs, 41, is so sovereign his film isn't even entered in the Sundance Film Festival but in the Slamdance Festival, which is to Sundance what the Carolina Mudcats are to the New York Yankees.
There are your independents, and then there are your independents.
Kohs pulled into town the other day without any sponsors, investors, groupies, agents, lawyers or interested network heads. Just him and his executive producer that would be the aforementioned wife, Andrea. They're staying in a condo a ways out of town. And judging by the look on his face as he sits in a coffee shop on Main Street, he couldn't be much happier.
"The Slamdance people watched it and they liked it," he says, sounding a lot like Gidget at the Academy Awards but without the audience. "Just that right there is huge."
Sitting next to Kohs, wearing a similar satisfied look, is his film editor, 27-year-old Nicholas Kleczewski. The story of how they met is straight indie. To paraphrase Kohs, he had a brief lapse into insanity when he decided he should court sponsors, investors and editors for his documentary, so he put on a tie, had a few lunch meetings, came out of them feeling like he had turned to the dark side, and went to Plan B, which was to solicit a film editor on craigslist on the Internet.
Kleczewski watched the trailer, e-mailed back his keen interest and the two agreed to meet halfway. Kleczewski lives outside Richmond, Va., and Kohs lives outside Philadelphia. They rendezvoused at a truck stop on the interstate in Maryland and sealed their deal. They they drove the 3 1/2 hours back home.
"He got it," says Kohs.
"I got it," agrees Kleczewski.
The definition of "it" is the story-telling concept behind "Song Sung Blue," a documentary that probes the lives and adventures of a singing duo known as Thunder and Lightning that gained a brief burst of Midwest fame in the 1990s doing Neil Diamond, Patsy Cline, ABBA and Janis Joplin tracks.
Kohs and Kleczewski would have told me more details, but then they would have had to gag and bind me and lock me in the Treasure Mountain Inn at least until "Song Sung Blue" has its world premiere Sunday night at the Inn at 9:30 p.m.
"It's a roller coaster. Tragedy strikes. It's real as dirt," is all Kohs will say. "You have to see it."
The documentary will air again on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 4:30 p.m., also at the Treasure Mountain Inn, after which Kohs and Kleczewski will pack up their film cannisters and head back home. If they get picked up by a distributor, great; if not, well, it's not why they're here.
"I'd like to gain respect as a long-term storyteller," says Kohs, "whose day job is producing 30- and 60-second TV ads and spots (and who, Kleczewski points out in an aside, has won 10 Emmys working for NFL Films).
Or, more to the point, as a long-term storyteller who did it his way, "with no compromise for commerce sake."
"There are documentaries here at Sundance with $20 million budgets," he says. "At Slamdance, you can't go over $1 million."So there you go, Andrea. At least we have a ballpark.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to email@example.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.