I remember a friend telling me when he saw Rushmore he felt like the filmmakers had figured out a way to put their yearning to tell a good story into the story itself, that aching hope, that desire to make a good movie, they’d managed to put that in the movie, without making a movie about filmmakers. (Granted, they did make the protagonist a playwright, but because he’s in high school it doesn’t seem wanky.)
Todd Sklar has taken his sense of responsibility about finding an audience and interwoven it into the story of Box Elder. There’s an exuberance to the story that parallels the adventure of finding people who will respond, finding people with a pulse who don’t want another boat load of crud from a factory that doesn’t see much of a problem with making movie after movie about video games and old TV shows. Sklar doesn’t think it’s the job of an anonymous (now largely defunct) mid-level distributor to find his audience. And he’s managing, along with a few other filmmakers, to help shift the playing field to an extent that self-distribution isn’t a dirty hyphenate. When you watch his movie at one of Range Life’s events, it’s clear that the experience is all connected –there’s a clear through line for him.
With RSO [Registered Sex Offender] I wanted to see if I knew how to make a movie. (That’s an odd place to be for someone who’s made three already.) I knew I could simplify something that had been needlessly complicated in the past. And we wanted to make a movie that didn’t fit the festival paradigm, we didn’t want to make something designed to make the audience feel smart for getting it, we wanted to make a fun, entertaining movie, we wanted to veer in the direction of tasteless, we wanted to ignore high and low brow notions, and have the movie play at all altitudes of brow, winces, raised eyebrows, with candid disregard for sense and sensibility.
As such, we were lucky to find Todd, who carries these films around him like as if he’s the Statue of Liberty — he’s just basically disinterested in so much that interests the movie making machine, and he’s willing to work 126 (7 x 18) hours per week to do it, he’s willing to spell check emails to theater managers at the Joyo Theater in Lincoln, Nebraska, even if the turnout is a half dozen homeless alcoholics he lets in for free so they can escape a slush storm, and the seats smell like jizz and artificial butter
Bob Byington went to school at UC-Santa Cruz and received an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Texas. His short film Snap/dragon was produced through Fox Searchlight’s mentorship program, and his first feature Olympia premiered on Sunance Channel in 2003. Byington was recently named an Annenberg Fellow by the Sundance Institute for his script Harmony And Me.
My name is JJ Lask. I am going through a huge Beatles phase right now coming off a minor-Cash and mini-Dylan phase. The mini-Dylan was more like a relapse if anything else. Because back in 1996 I was in a full Dylan phase. These phases last about 2 years. The Beatles phase was brought on by Kevin Corrigan, the lead in On The Road With Judas. Kevin has been in a Beatles phase since 1986 maybe. And Kevin is hardcore because his favorite Beatle is George, that’s hardcore! I have a feeling on this tour we might find out who the Walrus is… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_The_Walrus
As for the RangeLife tour, I can’t think of a better way to show my film. The very nature of JUDAS is an underground character. From the book to the film JUDAS tours the country stealing Apple Macintosh computers. He steals, which is a metaphor for making films and writing books. Now the audience has a chance to steal. You will walk away from this film and you will have stolen something. And the RangeLife tour is this whole idea personified. Only the special people that search out adventure will see this film, YOU! And those are the people I made the film for. True Independent film like the four films being shown are intended for people who are sick and tired of watch six hours a day of The Amazing Race. They’re sick of going to the movie theatre and seeing another movie with Sammuel Jackson, directed by Clint Eastwood. True Independent film is about making a movie for a six pack of beer, not drinking a six pack of beer and talking about making a movie. We are all more special than that. And I can’t wait to meet you on this tour.
TaTa for now, Keep checking back for more posts
JJ Lask, grew up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, he never made it past the ninth grade, but to his credit he spent five years there. In 2002, Lask released his debut novel, ON THE ROAD WITH JUDAS; in 2007, he made his directorial debut with the film adaptation of the novel, which premiered in the Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival. JJ’s next film project, THIS IS NOT A PIPE, was selected for the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab.
Basically, a week after returning from a 3-month jaunt to Southeast Asia, David Austin asked me to write a screenplay that we could shoot in his house. He was preparing to sell an old mansion that he had been living in that was once the home of Samuel Goldwyn. All week I had been attempting to see a revival screening of Luis Bunuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie at the Fine Arts Theater on Wilshire. It was Thursday evening and the final night of the run and I realized this at 9:40PM, 20 minutes before the final screening. On the drive, I called David and told him that I had nothing to offer, that I couldn’t think of anything to make a movie about, and that I was basically a useless human.
Knowing that this may be my final chance to see the Bunuel film projected, I sat down anxiously ready to go. An hour into the film, I realized that I had missed nearly the entire film as my mind had been running images of what later became IMOMF. I saw up to the moment where this couples enter a restaurant in the beginning of the film to find that there is a recently filled casket in the side room where some of the employees pass by in mourning intermittently, while coming back and forth from serving. As the couples realize what is going on, an extensive deliberation about whether or not to stay for dinner ensues. This image added to the fact that I had been spending a large amount of time at Robert Evan’s house, (which subtly reminded me of the house that David had offered), started taking shape and the core of the film was formulated. The energy of the subtle chaos at Evan’s house and all of the information that I had acquired about who he was, what he did, and all of the stories that we’ve read in his books, heard at parties, seen in documentaries, etc., etc., etc., stimulated an idea of what his hypothetical wake (and family) might resemble upon his death.
I immediately left the theater in the middle of the film and sat in the gutter next to my car on Wilshire jotting down everything I could before my brain collapsed, as it usually does when it gets overwhelmed with information. It was filled with the three previous years of my own personal chaos where I had allowed myself to be infiltrated and surrounded by the self absorption that tends to come along with young Hollywood. Though, while we were living within this state, we actually were trying to be as good of humans as we could be, sometimes obsessively and aggressively actually, but the awareness of the core of who we were and what we had become, wasn’t quite as developed as it was after returning from Asia with a bit of clarity and distance. We weren’t bad people, we were just intensely and desperately trying to hang onto a fleeting idea of what we were supposed to be within this illusory arena that composes the core of young Hollywood, and in many circumstances, Hollywood in general. I tried to think of all of the most unattractive, yet entertaining chaos that I had witnessed or participated in over the past years and began attempting to breakdown what was at the core of it all.
Five days later the script was complete.
The film was constructed in a manner that embraced the strengths and weaknesses of the actors and the locations that were available to me. The script was specifically written for a group of actors that I had been close to for significant periods of time and each of their storylines were sculpted and set within an arena that would potentially allow them the comforts and freedoms that I had always wished for as an actor. The pre-developed trust that we had within one another allowed for a symbiotic development of the characters and the rhythm of the action, and immediately, a safe environment was attained.
Over a four week period of rehearsals, the script was continuously rewritten to suit the nuances of the actors. Their participation during this period was extensive as each of them brought forth so many intricate levels of vulnerability, even to the point of allowing me the use of their own names. They were incredibly proactive with the work and many of them spent the majority of the four weeks with me, basically living at the actual location that we were about to shoot. This enhanced the comfort of the environment, resulting in a space almost representative of a heightened night of chaos with your friends and family. The dynamics of the film, or more accurately, the dynamics of the communication habits between the characters, are fueled by this frenetic, sort of, escapist energy which plays along a fine line of harsh honesty and honest absurdity (the absurdity that always tends to surface in emotionally frenetic family settings when people want to be heard and are taking themselves quite seriously). My main concern was keeping things bouncing along in a manner that kept the characters from getting too far inside of themselves prematurely, to set a tone that would push and pull without getting too sentimental or too angry, allowing the absurdity of the circumstance to keep things moving forward. I think the core theme that I was shooting for was basically a reminder that behind it all we are simply a bunch of little kids, living in an isolated space, acting out the roles and the clichés of “being an adult,” wanting nothing more… than to be loved. We really need to be trained from a stage early on, about how to deal with the ego and the self-imposed illusions that we allow to dictate our daily existence, consciously or unconsciously. And,on that note… I think I’ll stop now before I make someone vomit.
Chris Jaymes grew up working as an actor, mostly crappy television shows, TV movies and a handful of independent films where he transitioned to writing and directing. In his early twenties, he took two years off to play piano and study orchestration at Berklee College of Music and then traveled the world until he was completely out of money. Returning to Los Angeles, he began acting and writing again which quickly led him to his debut feature, In Memory of My Father, receiving 20 awards and nominations internationally. During this time, he also completed his first book, Boxing Day, about his experiences in the 2004 tsunami where he worked for six weeks during the disaster relief efforts.
My name is Todd and I made a film last year called Box Elder. I actually made it twice technically (we re-shot the entire thing after getting 80% of it in the can), but that’s a story for another blog. We’re here today to talk about this distribution tour we’re about to embark on, and first, a little bit more on the film that started it last spring.
Box Elder is a collegiate love letter that was largely based on me and my friends in college, although over the past few months, I’ve been told by most of the people who watch it that it reminds them of their friends in college, and that is without a doubt the greatest compliment one can receive with a film like this.
We made the film in Columbia, Missouri for about 60K using the Panasonic HVX (equipped with the Brevis 35 adapter), homeade lights, stolen sets, and a whole lot of blood, sweat and beers. We had a skeleton crew of 7-8 people, and most of the cast was either friends of mine from college, or friends that I had met working at the Sundance Labs during that summer, and we all went into the fire as beginners together. Only our DP had any prior film experience, and he served not just as our cinematographer, but also as the wise sage of the team, much like when a ball club picks up a veteran pitcher to guide the youngsters in a pennant race.
The film itself is a humanistic comedy with a lot of naturalism and improv, and although it was scripted to serve that purpose, a lot of the reason it breathes the way it does is because of the contributions of my cast and crew. As a responsibility to them and there work, as well as the film itself, I felt that I had to make sure it connected with an audience, rather than sit on a shelf, and that’s what originally birthed this touring idea. I wanted the film to connect with an audience and make them laugh, and maybe make them recognize something about themselves too, but the only way to do either of those things was by getting them to watch the film in the first place.
So how do you do that? There’s the obvious routes of applying to festivals and hoping somebody likes your film and thinks it’s marketable and wants to pick it up, but even that doesn’t really guarantee anyone is gonna see it, since the release strategy and marketing campaign aren’t structured around trying to find your film’s audience and connect with them. In fact, more often than not, the current model has most films hoping that an audience finds it, through traditional advertising and marketing, and in a crowded marketplace, that just seems a little presumptuous. So not being one for presumptions, I decided against the traditional route, plus I didn’t really feel like my film was likely to make a splash at a festival anyways (so much for not being presumptuous right?), and as a result, I decided to develop a release model that catered specifically to bringing my film to it’s intended audience.
As things progress, we’ll post more as far as the details concerning that model and the difference between what we’re doing and how a film is traditionally released and marketed, but a good brief metaphor comparing the two would maybe be;
If you needed a stick of butter to make some cookies, you could either hop in the car and go to the store and head to the dairy section, or you could walk outside and jump and scream and yell as loud as you can “hey I need a fuckin stick of butter….somebody help me” and hope that the right person is listening and interested.
Or, maybe a more apt metaphor for independent film would be, if you needed a stick of low fat organic danish truffle butter, you could either go to the wine and cheese store in the danish district of town, or you could walk into a walmart and start yelling “hey, i need a fuckin stick of low fat organic danish truffle butter….somebody help me” and hope that they carry it in stock and someone cares enough to bring you a stick before the floor manager ejects you for potty language.
Butter and metaphors aside, the tour itself is essentially another extension of the great American road trip, and one that includes an inherently progressive distribution model within it’s structure. It’s through this tour, and this model, that we hope to connect again with a lot of new friends and fans, and hopefully show them some great films before we move onto the next stop. In the meantime, we’ll all be checking in back here, giving you updates from the road, as well as insight into our distribution process in general from time to time.
Til then, eyes on the prize,
Todd Sklar watched The 400 Blows. Soon after, his short film Caught Naked in a Public Place screened at a handful of festivals you weren’t at. Late in 2007, he launched Range Life Entertainment, a niche-market oriented distribution company focusing on tour based platform distribution. Most recently, he ate his roommate’s leftover sandwiche without asking, and then read this bio out loud, without pants on. Box Elder is his debut feature film.
Todd Sklar is eating starbursts. He is the founder and president of Range Life Entertainment, a privately-held film exhibition and marketing company, which tours independent films across the country on a bi-annual basis. Focusing on event-based screenings and niche-targeted marketing, Range Life plans to program over 40 new features throughout 2009.
Deep in the Nevada desert, 50,000 people met up at an event called Burning Man. Twelve people captured their experience of this profound social experiment about creation, destruction, and finding equal value in both. A hard look in the mirror, made them confront their fatal flaws. For one week, life accelerates to light speed, and as the dust settles you realize you are alive.
Box elder bugs are loud, scary looking, and dependent on group swarming. Yet, they’re also completely harmless. Using this metaphor to address a generation, Box Elder is an unapologetic portrait of a youth movement at odds with its own ambivalence, exposing a generation defined by privilege, potential, and self-induced paralysis. The film follows four best friends through their last years of college. Dependant on their parents financially, they take turns postponing responsibility, avoiding accountability, and looking for someone or something to substantiate their lives. It’s a collegiate love letter.
During the first few hours of the new year, Nicolette and Henry, embark on a late-night journey to the airport. Henry is meeting his estranged girlfriend there, while Nicolette is leaving the city for good. These two individuals, together, but very much alone, find in each other a person who sees them as they truly are, and an understanding of what it takes to make a change.
For Thousands of Miles
For Thousands of Miles is a documentary about the shift in perspective after traveling alone by bicycle from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic ocean. Sharing people’s motivations to leave everything behind, and to understand what they each take away from their overwhelming and painful journeys.
Harmony and Me
Jessica has broken up with Harmony, and she has moved on. Harmony has not. He’s hung up on how he could have done things differently. His family is tired of hearing about her; his friends can’t see what he saw in her in the first place; and his co-workers hit on her at the office Christmas party. The 30-year-old is at a crossroads, consumed with regret, and looks to his nearest and dearest for solace. Finding none, he decides instead to try and convince a woman who now barely acknowledges his existence to want him around again.
Heart of Now
Devastated by her boyfriend’s sudden withdrawal from their relationship, a young woman with a profound longing for a sense of family descends into a physical and mental spiral that thrusts her back to the emotional wounds cut a decade ago. Using the screenplay as a guide, the filmmakers and principal cast collaborated to organically shape the characters, endeavoring to explore the story “in the moment” through guided improvisations.
In Memory Of My Father
Boasting a top-notch ensemble cast, including Jeremy Sisto and Judy Greer, In Memory of My Father is an unfeigned plunge into second generation Hollywood royalty. Three brothers attempt to come to terms with their own quandaries, flaws, and failings amidst a bribe-driven documentation of their retired film producer father’s wake. A portrait of a self-proclaimed (somewhat justifiable) legend conveyed by the observation of his resulting, equally confused offspring on the day of his death.
In Search Of
InSearchOf is an unconventional drama where one hasty decision can force good people into severe circumstances. Desire will change everything. Zeke Zelker’s twisted tale of people searching for love, power, revenge, family, belonging and sex unfolds. Michael Rady leads this dynamic ensemble cast into the dark depths of human desire as a ruthless womanizer with a hidden agenda. An intense, spectacular, at times funny story, Zelker pulls no punches as he takes you through a world where a cheating wife, an OB-Gyn, an unsatisfied girlfriend, a high school virgin, a stripper and a prostitute will do anything to get what they want.
Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time
Elephant Dreams Pictures’ first feature film Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time follows an ever-evolving couple through the bustling masses of Tokyo, the tropical hills and crystal blue beaches of Taiwan; and after globetrotting their way into the art infested streets of Berlin, they discover a desire for an eternal life on the move and head deep into the forest and leave behind all of humanity. Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time’s unique structure and story will be shot over the course of three and a half years. This time period will be followed in order to truly understand the people and culture in each location and to allow Elephant Dreams Pictures’ dynamic community of artists to achieve their greatest work to date.
A Lonely Place For Dying
In 1972, the conflict in Vietnam continues. The creeping threat of communism grips the nation in fear. In an abandoned prison on the US/Mexican border, KGB mole Nikolai Dzerzhinsky waits for his contact from the Washington Post. He holds explosive evidence against the CIA, information he will trade for asylum in the United States. Special Agent Robert Harper’s orders are clear: take the documents from Dzerzhinsky and kill him.
On The Road With Judas
Writer/director JJ Lask adapted his darkly comic satire On the Road With Judas from his best-selling 2002 novel of the same name. Set in the early 1990s, the story follows a seemingly conservative New York businessman (Napoleon Dynamite’s Aaron Ruell) who moonlights as a cutthroat computer thief. Lask employs an eclectic combination of formal elements in his creation of the film, including fictional narrative, pseudo-documentary, and several additional storytelling modes. Leo Fitzpatrick, Kevin Corrigan and Eddie Kaye Thomas co-star.
Play With Fire
The sun begins to rise but for some the night is still going. The hum from the smelter takes over the morning radiance. Then the shift change gauges and the town rises. This is the suicide hour. Set in the gutters of an industrial town, ‘Play With Fire’ follows the unsettling life of Christian. His best friend, Joel – a flailing megalomaniac – pushes him into a corner by getting him involved in a scheme crossing the wrong people. The love of his life, Melody, gives him the chance to start over by leaving town with her. This is where Christian’s story of twisted loyalty, love and loss begins.
The Red Machine
How do you steal something without stealing it? In 1935, professional thief Eddie Doyle is forced to help an icy Navy officer named Coburn break into the Washington DC apartment of a Japanese military attaché, dismantle a top-secret code machine, analyze it, then reassemble it without anyone knowing they’ve been there. Eddie is a brilliant thief, but he’s never tackled a job this big. Coburn was once a legendary spy, but after a notorious mission in Tokyo, he mysteriously shut himself down and ever since has accepted only the most isolated, menial assignments. As the caper unfolds, the two men begin to wonder, why them? Who’s really behind their mission? And can they trust each other enough to survive all the double-crosses coming their way? [official site]
Registered Sex Offender
A registered sex offender discovers that the only thing worse than being sent to prison for his crime is trying to reintegrate into society once he’s released in this darkly comic tale starring Gabriel McIver, Kristin Tucker and Kevin Corrigan.
A new series of short films about growth, change, comfort and exile. The story revolves around a young man studying in Uppsala, Sweden. In his journey, the man begins to explore new elements of everyday life. Heavily inspired by Krzysztof Kie?lowski’s The Decalogue, Sverige brings some universal truth to simple day tasks.
During the Gaza withdrawal, three young Israelis are forced from their homes, two soldiers are sent to evict them, and one activist tries to help her country avoid a war. UNSETTLED is the story of a generation on the front lines of a nation’s battle against itself.
What’s Up Lovely
In the dead of night, a recently unemployed insomniac wanders the streets of New York discovering a city beyond her wildest imagination. Luci loses her job and times are tougher than ever. Unable to sleep, she begins an after-hours journey embarking on a series of strange encounters as she wanders the dark metropolis. During one unforgettable night, Luci comes face to face with her innermost fears and desires as she tries to find her way back home. Based on a concept by Jenn Dees and Gary King, WHAT’S UP LOVELY is a drama about the struggle to survive the city while battling the enemy within ourselves.
Julie, a sweet, subdued career housewife seems perfectly content in her life with her record player, houseplants, cooking despite her irritable husband of 40 years whose hobbies are sleeping and/or watching tv on the couch. Provoked into a sudden state of fear – Julie’s once innocent eyes now become watchful and suspicious, and her perception of reality makes a dark shift. Her husband William is both the unsuspecting victim faced with his mortality; and the self-loathing villain guilty of bad decisions and haunting karma. Between them is an escalating WAR.
You Wont Miss Me
A kaleidoscopic film portrait of Shelly Brown, a twenty-three-year-old alienated urban misfit recently released from a psychiatric hospital. Starring Stella Schnabel, featuring Rene Ricard and introducing other notable New York personalities, the film gives pathos to the frenzy of the youthful desire for acceptance. Shot in a variety of styles and formats, YOU WONT MISS ME mixes non-actors with professionals, verité with staging, order with abstraction, to paint an evocative picture of a contemporary rebel.
Zak Forsman is an artist-entrepreneur whose emotionally-charged motion pictures are known for highly authentic performances and beautiful compositions. They have been praised by Ain’t It Cool News as “Brilliant” and “Absolutely Gorgeous” and by Filmmaker Magazine as “Very Accomplished, Amazing.”