Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #5: Panel of American Independents

by Lisa Nesselson

May 14, 1996

Today is one of my favorite Cannes events, the panel with American Independents, sponsored by the IFP and moderated by Roger Ebert. In years past, I've been positively religious about tape recording or jotting down every pearl of wisdom, but this year I decide to just kick back and listen and enjoy. Here are a few of the things I scribbled down from panelists:

DAVID O. RUSSELL: I made "Spanking the Monkey" for $80,000. I used my skills I had developed as a tenant organizer in Maine -- you get people to follow you without getting paid. I made "Flirting with Disaster" for roughly 80 times what "Spanking" cost.

ROBERT ALTMAN: "Kansas City" is an experimental film structured like jazz music, with a basic melody and lots of solos and duets. The company that's releasing the film in France said "We're not gonna put "JAZZ" on the poster, because some people don't like jazz and they won't come."

ROGER EBERT: I love the whole concept of the Slamdance Festival. We should have one here. Maybe we could hold it in Nice.

JOHN SAYLES: I've written 40 or 50 screenplays for other people -- most of them unproduced, which is not unusual for professional screenwriters.

(In reference to Jury president Francis Coppola's assertion that nowadays 80% of world entertainment is controlled by corporations that treat making films as they would selling hamburgers, as a mass-produced item that must create profit at all costs):
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON (26-year-old director of "Sydney" in Un Certain Regard): I saw "Twister" before I left the U.S. and Jan De Bont has a vision. If it's a hamburger movie I'm okay with that, as long as it's tasty.

MARY HARRON (director of "I Shot Andy Warhol"): People believe that there's a formula and if they interefere enough, you'll make a successful movie.

ALTMAN: I'm very pessimistic. It's never been worse for independent filmmakers. It's either the Warner Bros./Turner group or the Disney/Miramax group. If young people make a film and don't succeed, their heads are cut off and they may never work again. There is no room for failure.
RUSSELL: The farther away we get from World War II, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the taste for subversiveness in movies declines. MATTHEW REEVES (director of "The Pallbearer" in Un Certain Regard): This firm did exit poll audience research cards for my film. The audience particularly liked the scene on the boat with Jimmy and that he died. But there's no boat in my film, no character named Jimmy and he doesn't die. Through "computer error" they had cut in comments about ANOTHER movie, "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead." I thought, can this company be trusted? ALTMAN: I don't know the names of most of the directors who influenced me because they made really BAD movies. I'd look at one of their films and say "I'm never gonna do THAT."

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