The 1990s introduced the world to commercially successful independent cinema, largely due to The Weinsteins. They made “art” films and the small independent and foreign language movies that other studios refused to make, including Italy’s Best Foreign Language Film, Cinema Paradiso, the UK’s award-winning My Left Foot Steven Soderbergh’s Sex Lies and Videotape, Stephen Frears’The Grifters, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Jane Campion’s New Zealand pic The Piano. Miramax’s biggest cult hit of the 90s was Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, that went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes and seven Oscar nominations. Between 1992-2002, Miramax had a film nominated for Best Picture every year.
Miramax films have influenced so many emerging filmmakers and we are happy to have these filmmakers and industry players tell us about themselves and how they got started. We started working with these Guest Bloggers during Sundance and will continue to extend invites throughout the year. Today, we have a special Guest Blogger, producer Alison Palmer. Alison was very much a part of the 90s cinema, starting her career in New York surrounded by a film world invigorated by the independent scene.
For nearly a decade, Alison served as vice president of documentaries and features at IFC. During this time, she executive produced critically acclaimed non-fiction features including THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, an expose on the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings system from Academy Award® nominated director Kirby Dick; Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, directed by Xan Cassavetes; and A DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE, directed by Richard LaGravenese and Ted Demme, which was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Nonfiction Special in 2004 and won the 2003 National Board of Review William K. Everson Award for Film History. Alison also executive produced IFC’s Emmy-nominated series DINNER FOR FIVE, created and hosted by director Jon Favreau. In 2007, Alison partnered with NYC based producer Lemore Syvan on a variety of films, including writer/director Rebecca Miller’s THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE, with Robin Wright, Alan Arkin and Keanu Reeves leading an all-star cast; COACH from director Will Frears starring Hugh Dancy; and HENRY’S CRIME, starring Keanu Reeves, James Caan and Vera Farmiga.
Today, Alison talks to us about her early influences and her current film, generation Um, starring Keanu Reeves, in Theaters NYC and LA, May 3.
I can’t think about Miramax films with out thinking about the 90s. And if I go back to the 90s, I can only think of one person; Caroline Kaplan [executive producer BOYS DON'T CRY, PIECES OF APRIL]. She is without a doubt, the individual who was most influential in shaping my career as a film producer. I got a job at a Long Island based cable network with the title of “Scheduling Administrator”, which was really just a fancy name for a painfully monotonous data entry gig and Caroline sat across the hall from the glass office known as “the fishbowl” where I shared a desk with five other people, which was roughly four too many in case you were wondering.
I had no idea what Caroline did for IFC, the network we both worked for. She seemed to talk on the phone all day long about things that seemed fairly urgent and important, and she was clearly having a lot more fun than me. She was smart and funny and candid, she commuted out to Long Island every day from Manhattan, which drove her insane. I decided to make it my mission in life to work for her. And so after a year and a half of data entry and major lobbying on my part, that’s exactly what I did.
Caroline had recently Executive Produced IFC’s first feature length film, GRAY’S ANATOMY by director Steven Soderbergh, featuring the amazing Spalding Gray. She also made shorts by first time directors Sofia Coppola and R.J. Cutler. Caroline always had the unique ability to speak to creative people in a way that no one else could, and they loved her for it. It’s a blessing and a curse to be that rare producer who truly understands a director’s vision and is fully and completely devoted to helping them achieve it. I went on to work for Caroline at IFC for almost a decade, through out the heyday of independent film, when Miramax was king. I feel so lucky to have gotten my start working for a woman who championed other women without making it a “female” thing, for someone who was not only film smart, but a true intellectual in that great old school sense. I’m probably going a little over the top, but ask anyone, Caroline was and still is bad ass. She’s the bees knees and she’s loyal as hell.
The 90s were such a vibrant time for independent film. From RUN LOLA RUN to BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, IL POSTINO to RESERVOIR DOGS, SWOON to CLERKS; there were so many films being made by wildly talented directors. Films that thrilled me, scared me, made my heart swell, films that made me excited and proud to be working in the industry I was in. I was young, still wearing mini skirts to the office the size of postage stamps. I was not jaded.
Fast forward a decade or so. Caroline and I are older, maybe a little wiser, and somehow we’re still not jaded. About a year and a half ago, we got to produce a film together with the writer, director, editor Mark L Mann called generation Um. It stars one of my favorite actors, KEANU REEVES, who blew me away in MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, RIVERS EDGE and THE MATRIX. It also stars the talented actresses ADELAIDE CLEMENS and BOJANA NOVAKOVIC, Aussies who everyone will be seeing a lot more of for years to come. One reviewer noted that Gen Um was a throw back to 90s style of filmmaking, which is one of the biggest compliments you could give us. Because, for my money, the 90s were one of the greatest periods of creativity and freedom in independent filmmaking. So thanks IFC, thanks Miramax, and thanks Caroline.
Alison Palmer Bourke is the producer of generation Um….She lives in Los Angeles.
generation Um is available everywhere On Demand and opens in NYC and LA May 3.