Day Two at Sundance included premieres for Kristen Stewart in Camp X-Ray, John Slattery’s God’s Pocket, Fishing Without Nets, directed by Cutter Hodierne and the doc CAPTIVATED: The Trials of Pamela Smart. Today the fest is buzzing about Laggies, starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Keira Knightley, and Sam Rockwell, Zach Braff’s Kickstarter and second feature, Wish I Was Here and Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. We’ll keep you updated on the big news as it’s sure to be coming soon and today we bring you a Sundance guest blogger and co-producer from the hit film Whiplash, Garrick Dion.
Andrew, a promising 19-year-old drummer at a cutthroat Manhattan music conservatory, has little interest in being just a musician. Haunted by his father’s failed writing career and plagued with the fear that mediocrity just might be genetic, Andrew dreams of greatness. Determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps, he practices daily until his hands literally bleed. The pressure of success ratchets into high gear when he is picked to join the school band led by the infamous Terence Fletcher, a brutally savage music instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential. Under Fletcher’s ruthless direction, Andrew begins to pursue perfection at any cost—even his humanity.
“A DRAMA THAT PLAYS LIKE A THRILLER”: 20 YEARS OF REFLECTIONS ON MIRAMAX THROUGH THE EYE OF WHIPLASH
By Garrick Dion
Much has been written about the intrinsic, almost symbiotic relationship between Miramax and the independent film movement of the 1990s, to the point where it’s nigh impossible to think of, let alone discuss, the latter without addressing the former. Similarly, the studio responsible for helping bridge the divide between Art House and Mainstream, for having faith in movies otherwise dismissed as too provocative, challenging or unmarketable, and for making Tarantinoesque a go-to note for development execs (e.g., “This writer seems way too pleased with his own clever, would-be Tarantinoesque pop-culture references”) is indelibly linked to my own cinematic education, a love affair that remains ongoing to this day.
Walking the autumnal wonderland of the Ithaca College campus in the fall of 1992, I was convinced that the years I’d spent devouring B-movies at my local “ma and pa” video store and my very acceptance to the college’s school of Cinema & Photography meant I was well on my way to becoming the next Spielberg or Cameron. (I had heeded the wisdom of a blue collar father who suggested “find something you really enjoy, ‘cause you’ll pretty much have to do it for the rest of your life.”) However, before classes even began, I learned two huge lessons: the world of cinema was staggeringly vast, and I knew next to nothing about it – critically, culturally, or historically. Luckily, a college town is precisely the kind of place that caters to young folks looking to expand their artistic horizons, and Ithaca was no exception, although the smart kids studying to be doctors and lawyers over at Cornell somehow got the better screening series, of which I still remember my first: a Tim Robbins double-header of The Player and Bob Roberts, the latter of which is well overdue for another look in the age of Obamacare (“The times they are a-changin’ back.”). Even more luckily, that same fall kicked off a lengthy run of memorable, influential, era-defining films, many of which were ushered in with the radiant, pulsing, Zorro-like mark of the infamous (and now sadly missed) “Big M”.
- Jay uses Silent Bob's Russian cousin, a would-be metal singer, to impress girls. In this scene: Jay (Jason Mewes), Silent Bob (Kevin Smith)
- Tita places all her passion for Pedro into a meal of rose petals, which has a surprising effect on Gertrudis. In this scene: Tita (Lumi Cavazos), Mama Elena (Regina Torné)
- As Tita attends to her nephew, she overhears her mother's intentions for Pedro and Rosaura. In this scene: Tita (Lumi Cavazos), Rosaura (Yareli Arizmendi), Mama Elena (Regina Torné)
- Jay and Silent Bob stop by the store to give Dante a hard time -- and some good advice. In this scene: Dante (Brian O'Halloran), Jay (Jason Mewes), Silent Bob (Kevin Smith)
Whenever the weekend party cycle began anew, this was my cue to head downtown and begin another cinematic journey, with numerous stops along the way into Miramax country: from incendiary “upstarts” such as Clerks and Kids, to the mesmerizing visual poetry of Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy, to gorgeously exotic imports like Ju Dou, Farewell My Concubine and Like Water for Chocolate, the latter of which I vividly recall catching many weeks into its run in a wedge-shaped, postage stamp-sized theater, the kind where if someone stood up, the other nine members of the audience couldn’t see a thing.
In the nearly two decades since those college years (yikes), I’ve had the opportunity to wear a variety of hats in the creation of a number of motion pictures. What I’ve come to realize is that my obsession with cinema ultimately comes down to an obsession with story – the very art and craft that goes into the telling of tales. In particular, I love being tickled, awed, and even occasionally flummoxed by a story that unfolds in such a cleverly unexpected manner that it can perhaps be compared only to a magician’s trick: “How did he/she do that?” Or, even: “CAN you do that?! Can you convince people to go on one sort of ride, only to leave them floored when it reveals itself to be something else, yet simultaneously satisfied enough to want to watch it again, RIGHT NOW, to figure out how the hell he/she pulled it off?!” I have a strong pull toward movies that unfold in a kind of “Trojan Horse” manner — you tuck into your popcorn, convinced you’re about to see a comedy or drama, only to be swept along in a wholly different direction that, in the end, is perhaps all the more rewarding due to the very nature of preconceived notions. Projects of this sort are rather hard to come by, but it was filmmaker Damien Chazelle’s sure handed pitch for his compulsively readable screenplay Whiplash – it would be a “drama that could play like a thriller” – that convinced me and my colleagues at Bold Films that it was one well worth pursuing.
Miramax’s history contains a number of these kinds of unique experiences, perhaps none more famous than Pulp Fiction, a rule-breaker in every sense that injected such a strong spike of adrenaline into my brain that it became the 1st film that ever sent me back the very next day seeking to analyze just what Tarantino had accomplished (and which sent a needle-phobic friend stumbling out of the theater in a nauseated panic). And I would place Neil Jordan’s chameleonic masterpiece The Crying Game at the very top of the “Bet you did not see this coming” list, its many strengths standing the test of time well beyond the daring, novel and game-changing twist for which it is most famous. (Jaye Davidson remains one of the most alluring, charismatic visions ever to grace a noir.) From its elegant opening tracking shot set to the longing strains of Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves a Woman” to the sober epilogue where things are brought full circle as Fergus relays Jody’s tale of the scorpion and the frog to Jude, the ways in which the film subtly, deftly evolves from an IRA thriller to a psychological drama to a soulful love story feel thoroughly organic and unanticipated.
- An unlikely friendship develops between a kidnapped British soldier and his captor, an IRA volunteer named Fergus. When the hostage-taking ends up going horribly wrong, Fergus escapes and heads to London, where he seeks out and begins dating the soldier’s lover, a hairdresser named Dil, who knows nothing about Fergus’ IRA background. But there are some things about Dil that Fergus doesn’t know either. Starring, in alphabetical order: Forest Whitaker, Jaye Davidson, Jim Broadbent, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Rea
- After a few drinks, Dil and Jimmie move to her place and things really start heating up. In this scene: Dil (Jaye Davidson), Fergus (Stephen Rea)
- To protect Dil, Fergus, now going by Jimmie, asks her to make a drastic change. In this scene: Dil (Jaye Davidson), Fergus (Stephen Rea)
Perhaps my favorite film that unfolds in the “How did we ever get to ‘Z’ from ‘A’?” manner is Atom Egoyan’s Exotica. While The Sweet Hereafter is arguably Egoyan’s best known and most-praised film, the enticingly complex narrative pleasures of this gem have stuck with me for going on two decades. The story’s onion layers are gradually peeled back so as to connect seemingly disparate components including the titular strip club (watched over by its DJ, a one-man Greek chorus played by the always welcome Elias Koteas), the disappearance of club regular and tax auditor Bruce Greenwood’s daughter, and Greenwood’s audit of a pet store involved in the illegal import of Macaw eggs. Like Greenwood’s character, we are initially seduced by the sultry appearance of Mia Kirshner into expecting a Canadian art house spin on “Skinemax” late-night thriller, only to be dazzled by the innovation and confident execution of its multi-layered story. It’s quite probable Egoyan first conceived of the reveals behind Exocitca’s central mysteries and worked backwards from there, but you’d never know it from the seamless, emotionally resonant way in which he weaves his narrative tapestry together. It’s a film that demands repeated viewings — and is overripe for a spiffy Blu-ray release so as to better experience Paul Sarossy’s alternately cool and warm cinematography and Mychael Danna’s slinky score.
On the pages of Whiplash, as well as in Damien’s award-winning short excerpted from the screenplay’s first act, you could see that there would be memorable dramatic fireworks between band conductor Fletcher (JK Simmons) and earnest, dedicated drummer Andrew (Miles Teller). My hope was that we’d wind up with a visually intimate, sonically robust film that held you in its grip for every one of its 105 minutes despite the fact that, as Fletcher laments at one point, Jazz has becoming something altogether different in an era where it can be purchased alongside your morning latte at Starbucks. (And that JK would take his place alongside Full Metal Jacket’s R. Lee Ermey as one of the most fearsome instructors in scream/ screen history.) What I did not expect is that Damien would deliver a film that played like a psychological thriller, even a horror film, as it treated the pursuit of musical excellence as such a tangibly painful, adrenalized life-or-death experience. Confident that the rat-a-tat rhythms of Fletcher’s verbal lashings and Andrew’s pursuit of percussive excellence would, as they say, “let the center hold”, the creative team set about complementing the film’s dramatics with an ambiance that would echo the paranoia thrillers of the 70s – a rich, somber palette of noir, wood and brass that, to quote Damien, would give it a kind of “Gordon Willis” feel, a la Klute, All the President’s Men or The Parallax View.
Despite full confidence in our exceedingly talented cast and crew, it was not until I saw the first assembly of the film that I truly realized just what Damien meant by a “drama that would play like a thriller”. Marketing and presenting a movie to any audience is a challenge, but my hope is that this one will speak to a multitude of viewers, regardless of their interest in music, jazz or otherwise, and take them on the same kind of cinematic journey I still love stumbling upon – completely unexpected, but all the more rewarding as a result.
Garrick Dion is the Senior Vice President of Development for Bold Films. Since joining the company in 2006, he has been involved in the development of several titles, including Nicholas Winding Refn’s critically acclaimed DRIVE and the Golden Globe-nominated RFK drama BOBBY, as well as Ryan Gosling’s forthcoming directorial debut THE LOST RIVER and Damien Chazelle’s WHIPLASH, premiering as the opening night film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Current projects include NIGHTCRAWLER, a thriller written and directed by Dan Gilroy starring Jake Gyllenhaal; the upcoming SyFy Channel series DOMINION (based upon the Bold/Screen Gems film LEGION, starring Paul Bettany); CHILDREN OF THE GUN, a post-apocalyptic action-adventure to be directed by Fabrice DuWelz (VINYAN); and Robert Rodriguez’s life-action adaptation of Ralph Bakshi/Frank Frazetta’s FIRE AND ICE.
Prior to joining Bold, he worked as an executive for producers Joel Silver (THE MATRIX) and Denise DiNovi (BATMAN RETURNS), and as a story/script consultant on projects including the documentaries YEAR OF THE YAO and SO GOES THE NATION. Driven by a passion for storytelling in all forms, he is also a writer who has worked on a number of features, including Adam Shankman’s first film, the Nicholas Sparks adaptation A WALK TO REMEMBER.
A native of Cape Cod, MA, he currently resides in Los Angeles.