Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Toronto Film Festival Diaries
Toronto Report: The Drive to Sell "Driven", Part 2

by Kathleen Carroll

Toronto, Sept. 16, 1996

The so-called "friends of the court," that is Shoob's support team, were all on hand for the Toronto Festival showings of "Driven." Shoob and Linck had each worked themselves into a state of exhaustion in prepping for the all-important festival launch of the film.

To demonstrate how the film could be marketed, they created their own trailer which they mailed out to potential distributors. They'd dreamed up a promotion gimmick - attaching a one dollar Canadian coin or "loony" to a card which contained all the vital credits and screening information. The recipients were urged to use the coin to tip a cab driver. Shoob felt that giving this card to a critic could not be considered bribery because the coin was only worth 70 cents in American money. The gimmick did get people talking about "Driven."

The official leader of Shoob's sales team was Jeff Dowd, a burly pink-cheeked producer's representative who barreled through the festival like a giant Energizer bunny. "He really bear-hugs people into going to the movie," said Shoob who simply loved watching "Jeff in action."

Dowd's sales strategy is to try "to humanize" his clients for the media. "If they get to like the director," he explained, "then they just might go a little easy on the film."`

Dowd took Shoob, who's hardly a party animal, from one nightmarishly loud festival party to the next. "You just have to do a walk through," Dowd insisted before dragging the bone-weary director into a party that was so dark the guests were barely visible. At each party Dowd operated like a heat-seeking missile, instantly zeroing in on the one person in the room who was most likely to do Shoob some good.

At the first public screening of "Driven", Shoob looked as rigid as a soldier on parade. His mother drew aside another of his festival supporters - his 10-year-old niece, warning her: "We have to be cool and pretend we don't know Michael."

During the post-screening Q & A session, Shoob paced the stage. "This is my first feature," he blurted out. "Wow. Good job," responded a member of the audience. Shoob managed a weak smile.

In the days that followed Shoob experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions. "I heard that a CMA agent has it on his list of must-sees," he confided one morning, taking comfort in this latest rumor. His father, the judge, continued to agonize over Shoob's career choice. "I don't understand it," he declared. "In any other business if you're good at what you do - if you're a good lawyer for example - you usually do very well." Hearing of his father's lament, Shoob recalled his "favorite" piece of advice from his mother. "She told me 'to get into a recession-proof business,'" Shoob confessed.

"If only he'd made a movie about Australian cab drivers or cab drivers in Brazil, it would have been snapped up," said a veteran Hollywood executive ever so mournfully. But suddenly, the mood brightened. The second public screening of "Driven" took place in a nearly-full 600-seat theater. The print, according to Shoob's report, "looked fabulous." The audience applauded for some time.
The Q & A session was livelier.

What's more, the publicity campaign was having an effect. Shoob was featured in a front page story in the Toronto Star. He had been interviewed along with a local cab driver by one of the Star's film critics who led off her story by describing him as "a successful L.A. movie director." "If you had only known you wouldn't have had to do anything," a longtime family friend told Shoob who could finally laugh a little.

The film was attracting some new fans. A German distributor laughed so hard during the second screening someone suggested he should be paid to come to all the screenings. Two distribution companies asked to set up meetings. At yet another party Shoob was introduced to actor Matt Dillon who, with a cigar clenched in his teeth, responded by saying "Yeah, a cab driver movie in L. A. That's an oxymoron."

By the week's end the word-of-mouth on "Driven" had reached Roger Ebert. He seemed almost apologetic as he admitted he hadn't be able to see the film. "I hear it's good," he told me while savoring the fantastic Chinese dishes at a local restaurant.

The next morning Shoob held a meeting of his kitchen cabinet to try to figure out if they should offer to screen the film for Ebert. It was temporarily decided that the safest thing was to simply let Ebert walk around and tell everyone he's heard good things about the film. As Shoob left town two other distribution companies "left the door open", as they put it, and the "Driven" campaign appeared to have been a success.

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