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The fourth and final day of CinemaCon featured two studio presentations: 20th Century Fox in the morning, Warner Bros. in the afternoon.

With extensive new content from anticipated Summer 2014 releases X-Men: Days of Future Past and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fox’s presentation seemed to generate more buzz. Meanwhile, the Warner Bros. event was packed with stars, but the footage wasn’t quite as impressive.

For X-Men: Days of Future Past, Fox showcased the first five to 10 minutes of the movie, which is scheduled to open over Memorial Day weekend. The clip featured a mutant compound being attacked by Sentinels in a dystopian future setting. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) were the familiar mutants, while a handful of new ones also took part. The action was exciting and unique, with portals factoring in heavily.

A look at Dawn of the Planet of the Apes seemed to receive the strongest reaction from the CinemaCon audience. An extended trailer of sorts, the footage showed apes and humans living separately, but in peace, in a post-apocalyptic world. But that’s not to last long, and the clips featured plenty of conflict as well. Highlights from the footage included apes riding horses and wielding human weapons, and a terrific final scene that really got the crowd excited. Apes looks like it’s going to be a huge hit this Summer.

The presentation also included first looks at David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Matthew Vaughn’s Secret Service. Gone Girl looks exactly like what one would expect from a Fincher murder mystery: the footage wasn’t game-changing, but it also wasn’t discouraging. Secret Service, on the other hand, made a bold statement. A lengthy, impressive clip featured Colin Firth’s secret agent character beating up some thugs in a pub using a mix of gadgets and hand-to-hand combat. The whole bit was set to John Barry’s iconic Connery-era Bond score, which set the tone nicely. Secret Service is currently scheduled to open in October.

The Fox presentation also featured a few star appearances: Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann introduced footage from The Other Woman, while Shailene Woodley took the stage for The Fault in our Stars. Also, the presentation kicked off with an elaborate song-and-dance routine in which Ester Dean, B.O.B. and over 40 scantily-clad dancers performed a song from the upcoming Rio 2.

Later that day, Warner Bros. made this year’s final studio presentation. After taking a look back at their fantastic 2013 – over $5 billion in worldwide box office, plus 10 Oscar wins – Warner Bros. presented clips from each of their Summer releases.

They saved the biggest footage for the end of the show, though: after a Lord of the Rings retrospective, they unveiled around 30 seconds from The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Unfortunately, the movie is still over eight months away, so there wasn’t much of note in the footage. The most interesting shot was probably one of Elrond (Hugo Weaving) wielding a sword, which suggests he’ll join the fight this time around.

For its Summer presentation, Warner Bros. had an impressive line-up of stars in attendance: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman (Transcendence), Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore (Blended), Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone (Tammy), Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis (Jupiter Ascending), Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies (Into the Storm).

The biggest star of them all, though, was Clint Eastwood, who received a standing ovation as he took the stage to present a first look at Jersey Boys. The footage he unveiled wasn’t a trailer, which is odd considering the movie opens in less than three months. What was on display should be encouraging for fans of the show – the movie clearly breaks the fourth wall a lot – though it didn’t look like it’s going to have much appeal outside of that group.


With two studio presentations and a Q&A with Christopher Nolan, the third day of CinemaCon was a busy one.

Disney kicked things off with a brief look ahead at some of their titles. The highlight was a reel from next year’s Cinderella, which stars Lily James, Richard Madden and Cate Blanchett (as the wicked stepmother). While it’s the latest in a series of live-action fantasy movies from Disney, it looked noticeably different than its predecessors. Maleficent and Oz the Great and Powerful seem built mostly in a computer; in contrast, Branaugh’s take on Cinderella seems almost like a period romance that happens to have some fantasy elements (like a magic pumpkin, of course).

Disney also showed a lengthy clip from Pixar’s Inside Out, which is scheduled for Summer 2015. In the movie, human “emotions” are personified as little creatures controlling our actions via a control room in our brain (not dissimilar to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise). Yes, that sounds crazy, but the clip played really, really well with the CinemaCon crowd. As of now, this looks like a welcome return to the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that made Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up so popular.

Remarkably, there wasn’t any serious new footage on display for 2014 releases. The biggest surprise was that Disney didn’t show anything new from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy; instead, they played the same teaser that they’ve been showing in one form or another dating back to last July’s Comic-Con.

That is being a bit unfair to Disney, as they concluded their presentation with a screening of Million Dollar Arm. While I’m embargoed from sharing thoughts right now, I think it’s safe to say this is one to keep an eye out for when it opens in May.

A Q&A with director Christopher Nolan followed the Disney presentation. Many people, including moderate Todd McCarthy, were hoping that Nolan would spill the beans on upcoming sci-fi project Interstellar. Unfortunately, Nolan was as cagey as he ever is, and provided such tiny details that they aren’t even worth mentioning here. Perhaps the only newsworthy tidbit was the fact that Nolan shot more IMAX footage on Interstellar than he has on any other movie (that includes The Dark Knight Rises, which features around an hour of IMAX in the final version).

In contrast to Disney’s presentation, Sony focused entirely on their 2014 calendar. That included first looks at Sex Tape, When the Game Stands Tall, The Equalizer, The Interview and Fury. That was all trumped, though, when Sony ended the presentation with 30 minutes of footage from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which starts its international roll-out in three weeks.

The reel showed the first 10 minutes or so of the movie, then transitioned to the Electro vs. Spider-Man scene in Times Square that’s been featured prominently in previews. It ended with Harry Osborn breaking Electro out of jail so that Electro will help him break in to Oscorp (yeah, I didn’t really get it either).

Ahead of the footage, Sony’s Rory Bruer called it “the biggest and best Spider-Man to date.” After this look, I’m still skeptical: the effects and action were strong, but there’s a silliness to the whole thing (more so than in the past) that could hold it back a bit.

Earlier, Sony provided a first look at upcoming R-rated comedies Sex Tape and The Interview. Both had some solid jokes, though neither looked like slam-dunk hits. At least, the reaction to those movies paled in comparison to 22 Jump Street, which showed off some new gags that received huge laughs from the CinemaCon audience.

The Equalizer footage showed Denzel Washington’s vigilante character attempting to buy the freedom of a prostitute. When the pimps decide they aren’t having it, he takes them all out in a very violent fight sequence. Considering the movie is scheduled for September, a first trailer should be on its way soon.

Finally, Sony premiered footage from World War II tank movie Fury, which is set to open in November. While Brad Pitt and Shia LeBeouf are the biggest names in the cast, the movie’s protagonist appears to be Logan Lerman’s rookie tank driver. The footage was unquestionably good, though similarities to Saving Private Ryan (tone, style) and Inglourious Basterds (Pitt’s role) were a little bit too close for comfort.

CinemaCon wraps up tomorrow with presentations from Fox and Warner Bros. For live updates, follow along at @IMDbLive.


On the second day of the movie industry’s annual CinemaCon gathering, Universal Pictures presented a look at their upcoming slate. While Paramount focused almost entirely on their three Summer movies, Universal presented on a broad range of movies, including a few big ones from 2015.

While it was met with a fairly tepid response from the CinemaCon crowd, without a doubt the most newsworthy of the reels was for Fifty Shades of Grey. The highly-anticipated adaptation doesn’t open until next Valentine’s Day, though Universal presented what was essentially a two-minute trailer for the movie. Most of the time was spent setting up the romance between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, and leads Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan seemed to fit the parts nicely. By the end of the trailer, though, there were pretty obvious hints at the kind of steamy content that’s become so widely discussed.

For now, it seems like this trailer was for CinemaCon only. But it did look like a finished, polished product, so don’t be surprised if this makes its way in to theaters in the next few months.

Universal also showed footage from 2015 releases Fast & Furious 7 and Minions. The Fast reel began with the key characters parachuting out of a plane – in their cars. Classic Fast material. There were a handful of shots of Paul Walker, suggesting Universal isn’t going to shy away from highlighting the deceased actor’s presence. There were also brief glimpses of Jason Statham and Kurt Russell – both new to the franchise – though there weren’t any signs of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The footage ended with a line from Vin Diesel: “This time it’s not just about being fast.” The movie is set to open next April.

Some of the biggest laughs of the day came from Minions, which is a prequel to Despicable Me. The set-up is great: the little yellow Minions have existed since the beginning of time, and are constantly “seeking the most despicable master.” It then shows the Minions unsuccessfully working for a T-Rex, the pharaohs, Dracula and many more historical bad guys.

When the Minions find themselves without a master, three of them — Kevin, Stuart and Bob — head out on an adventure that ultimately leads them to New York City. The movie is scheduled for July 2015, and after seeing this footage it’s safe to say that it’s going to be another massive hit for this franchise.

Universal’s 2015 look also featured mentions of Jurassic World and Pitch Perfect 2, but left out the next Bourne movie (currently scheduled for August).

Of course, the 2015 footage came after a lengthy look ahead at the 2014 slate. There was a new look at Neighbors (very funny) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (which included a cameo that’s way too good to spoil). There was also a new trailer for The Purge: Anarchy which did a better job selling this movie’s bigger scope. A trailer for James Brown biopic Get on Up was also on display, though it wasn’t noticeably different from what’s playing in theaters right now.

Universal showed what seems to be a first trailer for Luc Besson’s Lucy (starring Scarlett Johansson), which is basically a crazier version of Limitless. The movie opens in August. There was also a first look at Dumb and Dumber To, which included plenty of “dumb” jokes that will work well with fans of the original.

The 2014 presentation concluded with an extended look at Unbroken, which Universal has scheduled for Christmas. Director Angelina Jolie took the stage to present the footage, which ran around 10 minutes. With an incredible true story, strong performances, and some gorgeous cinematography from Roger Deakins, this is absolutely a movie to be excited about. While it’s obviously very early, the buzz around CinemaCon for the rest of the day was that this is a legitimate awards contender.

Wednesday’s schedule consists of presentations from Disney and Sony, along with a tribute to director Christopher Nolan (which may or may not include new footage from Interstellar). Check back for coverage on these events, or follow along on Twitter at IMDbLive.



CinemaCon got underway today with an hour-long presentation from Paramount Pictures focused primarily on Summer 2014 releases Transformers: Age of Extinction, Hercules and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The CinemaCon convention – formerly known as ShoWest – is held annually at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Among other functions, it provides an opportunity for movie studios to show off their upcoming slate to theater owners.

For live updates on all things CinemaCon this week, follow along at @IMDbLive.

Paramount was the first studio to take the stage in front of a large crowd at Caesar’s Colosseum. Their presentation began with a brief look at their slate for the next 12 months, starting with this week’s Noah and wrapping up with next February’s SpongeBob SquarePants. This included references to undated movies like The Gambler, Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children and Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma, all of which may hit theaters by the end of the year.

The big focus, though, was on their Summer tentpoles. First up was Hercules, which is scheduled to open on the last week of July. After a long walk up to the stage, Hercules star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson worked the crowd with some solid jokes, though he did at one point refer to the convention as “Comic-Con.”

His trademark sense of humor was conspicuously lacking from the Hercules trailer, which featured the title character battling various supernatural creatures (and ended with Johnson yelling “I am Hercules” in a way that seems destined to be repeated in good and bad ways for the next few months).

Next in the lineup was Paramount’s live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, which is set to hit theaters in August. In a tribute to “Arrested Development,” Will Arnett (one of the stars of Turtles) and David Cross (not associated with Turtles, as far as I can tell) rode around the stage on Segways before the new trailer premiered.

For the most part, the Turtles footage was pretty heavy, though there was some levity from Michelangelo at the end. From the few shots of the Turtles, it does seem like the CGI look is going to work; of course, it remains to be seen if the rest of the movie works as well.

Finally, Mark Wahlberg took the stage to introduce around 10 minutes of footage from Transformers: Age of Extinction. Before the footage rolled, though, co-stars Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor brought Wahlberg’s 10-year-old daughter Ella out, which went over well with the crowd.

The Transformers footage focused on two sequences from the movie, which is set to open in late June. The first began with Wahlberg’s character bringing home a beat-up truck (as seen in the trailer) and ended with evil government agents getting taken out by said truck (now Optimus Prime). In between, there were some pretty standard father/daughter disagreements between Wahlberg and Peltz, who plays his teenage daughter.

The second sequence finds Optimus Prime facing off against an “Avatron,” which is an Autobot-esque robot controlled by a human (in this case, a lackey of the evil government agents). Due to some jumping around – it was a rough cut, trimmed for time – it was hard to tell exactly what went on the rest of the way, though the sequence did end with Optimus Prime and Peltz’s character getting abducted by a large spaceship.

Overall, the Transformers footage was very reminiscent of previous entries, which makes sense given that director Michael Bay is once again at the helm. The movie isn’t going to win any awards – though Wahlberg did suggest that it’s better than all three previous movies, combined” – but it is going to make a ton of money: the last movie made over $1.1 billion, and it’s hard to imagine this earning too much less.

Lacking from Paramount’s presentation was any new footage from Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which hits theaters in November. There is an entire event dedicated to Nolan later in the week, though, so there’s still a chance that something new is shown.

Other notes on Paramount’s presentation:

-Found footage sci-fi movie Welcome to Yesterday has been retitled Project Almanac (which is close to its original title, Almanac), and tentatively scheduled for next January. The movie was originally supposed to open this February, but was pulled from the schedule at the last minute.

-When Paramount announced there would be a new SpongeBob SquarePants movie, the assumption was that it would be animated (like all other incarnations of SpongeBob). The very brief footage from tonight’s presentation suggested otherwise – it looked as though this was a CGI/live-action hybrid akin to Alvin and the Chipmunks, Yogi Bear, The Smurfs, etc.

-With no sense of irony whatsoever, Mark Wahlberg stated: “Transformers is probably the most iconic franchise in movie history.” Make of that what you will.

Tuesday’s schedule consists of a State of the Industry address, along with a presentation from Universal Pictures. Check back for coverage on these events, or follow along on Twitter at IMDbLive.

SXSW 2014: Veronica Mars

March 7th, 2014 | Posted by Michelle Nelson in SXSW - (Comments Off)

When Rob Thomas announced the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a Veronica Mars movie, I was excited. Not only as a Veronica Mars fan—yes, you can call me a Marshmallow—but also because I knew about the director’s long struggle to get the project to the screen. Although this is the film that started the debate “Should Hollywood Movies use Kickstarter to raise funds?” I have seen filmmakers at all levels struggle for film financing, and quite frankly, I wanted to see the film. And so I became one of the 91,585 backers of the crowd-funding campaign.

Over the past year, Thomas has become an informal pen pal, as he’s sent out over 84 updates to all of the film’s backers, covering everything from securing the funds, casting notices and the production, and they continue as we approach the worldwide release on March 14th, a year to the date that he set records on Kickstarter for the most backers, the fastest project to reach both $1 million and $2 million, the highest minimal pledging goal achieved, and largest successful film project.

The film takes place nine years from when we last saw Veronica. She’s living in New York with her boyfriend Piz, and is interviewing with prestigious law firms after recently graduating. Her sleuthing days are over, but when she hears that Logan has been accused of murdering pop singer Bonnie DeVille, an old classmate from Neptune High, she returns to Neptune to help out her old friend and soon gets pulled back into the life she thought she left behind. Veronica Mars brings back your favorites stars Jason Dohring, Chris Lowell, Enrico Colantoni, Ryan Hansen, Tina Marjorino, Percy Diggs III, Krysten Ritter, and of course, the lovely Kristen Bell, with a few additions including Gaby Hoffmann, Jamie Lee Curtis, Martin Starr, as well as a hilarious cameo from James Franco.

We sat down with director Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell to learn more about the making of this groundbreaking film.

IMDb: You have been working to get this movie made for a number of years. What kept bringing you back to this story?

Rob Thomas: Part of it was that I wanted to finish the story. We ended the final season on a really unsettled note. The network had come to me a few weeks earlier and said there’s a shot you’re going to be canceled, maybe you should wrap things up in a nice little bow. And I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go down swinging. I did not want to make it easy for them to cancel us. So I intentionally wrote something that would make people want to watch more to see what’s coming next. So like the fans of Veronica Mars, I wanted to see what happens next in Veronica’s life.

The other reason is because Veronica was that show for those of us who made it that, first we were proud of the show we were doing and we really liked each other. We liked showing up for work each day. And in normal life, people have a job they love and they keep getting to go back. In TV they cancel you and make you leave each other. So this was an opportunity to tell the story that I wanted to tell and work with the people that I wanted to work with again.

Kristen Bell: I’m not exactly sure what keeps bringing me back. Something similar to what brings the fans back. It’s like a convergence of it being really, really great writing, loving working for Rob Thomas, our creator. I feel Veronica very easily in my body. As an actress, it’s effortless. This isn’t really a job for me. I want to be friends with Veronica. There’s also a lot of similarities between me and Veronica. It’s easy and wonderful and I enjoy doing it very much.

IMDb: After so many attempts to get the film made, how did you decide to launch the Kickstarter campaign?

Thomas: Necessity. We had run out of avenues. It had gotten to the point that we felt like it will never happen. Warner Bros. owned the title even though I created the show, they owned Veronica Mars so it’s not like I could take it and get it independently financed somewhere, I had to do it in conjunction with Warner Bros and they are typically in the business of making big tent-pole movies. That’s what they do and what they do well. And we are way under that level of movie in terms of scope or budget or fan-base. So when I saw a friend raise $12,000 to release an album, I started going the math in my head. We had three million people that watched us. If we could get 70,000 people to donate $30 each, we could get two million dollars we could maybe get the budget for a very small Veronica Mars movie. And then I took it to my agent, who took it to the studio, and then we spent a year and half trying to convince Warner Bros it was a good idea. Then finally, they agreed with it.

IMDb: Over the years, did you have a particular idea where Veronica ended up versus what ended up in the film?

Bell: I don’t throw out my gut instincts about Veronica, I kind of wait for Rob Thomas to speak. I mean, I have Stockholm Syndrome for sure with him. I think he’s always been such a good captain that I… It’s not that I’m confident with my ideas but I would never trump him so I would always say to him first, “Where do you think she is?” It’s like, lay out the story for me. And he yet again showed his brilliance because he said, you know what, I think the opening scene is Veronica having gotten away from all of this, she doesn’t want anything to do with it. She doesn’t want to be a PI, which sets the stakes so high so all of the fans go, no way, get her back to Neptune. He’s very good at fish-hooking people.

IMDb: After you secured the funds and started production, you kept writing your fans who supported the campaign. Why did choose to do so?

Thomas: We wanted to make it an experience that at the end of the day, no matter what amount of money they spent, whether it was $1 or $25 or thousands of dollars to be a backer, we want people to come away feeling like it was worth it. That they were part of the team. And in some ways, it’s just wanting to please the customer for altruistic reasons–you hope that when the movie is released they are our ambassadors. That they are out there talking up the movie and so, yeah. And in some future, we can even kickstart the next Veronica Mars movie and we want to have 90,000 satisfied customers at the end of this.

IMDb: Now that the film is coming out, do you have the closure you were seeking, or do you still see life for Veronica Mars?

Bell: I will always see life for Veronica Mars. And if they stop filming it, I will still be doing it in my kitchen probably. Again, Rob is the kind of writer that purposefully dangles a carrot in front of your face. And that’s why you love him. He did not wrap this movie up in the slightest. In fact, if anything, the final scene of the movie makes you go, wait, where’s the next movie? Which is what he did on the third season of the show. Our final episode we were told, it’s probably not going to come back so if you want to wrap it up, go ahead and do so. And he said, “Am I going to make it easy for you to cancel us? No way!” I’ll give you the cliffhanger of the century. And that’s why he’s so great.

Thomas: I think as long as Kristen wants to keep making them, I will want to keep making them. I love doing this. I keep saying that we are a mini-Bond franchise. It’s something that’s set up to do more. You can always have another Veronica Mars mystery.

IMDb: I was curious about your distribution model. Why did you choose to release on VOD and in theaters simultaneously?

Thomas: I didn’t choose that. I’m supportive of it, but that decision was made above my head at Warner Bros. I’m excited about it because it was a bit of a necessity. Movie chains typically don’t want to screen a movie the same time it’s on video on demand. Because we had already sold the download of the movie to 90,000 fans, our movie sort of mandated a different kind of release model. so that’s why we are where we are. I think everyone at Warner Bros and certainly the filmmakers are eager to see what this kind of release does. We are guinea pigs on how to get a movie made and how to get a movie released.

Veronica Mars premiered at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival and will have its worldwide release in theaters and video on demand on March 14, 2014.

-Michelle Nelson

Sundance 2014: Winners

January 25th, 2014 | Posted by Michelle Nelson in Sundance 2014 - (Comments Off)

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons star in Whiplash

The awards ceremony for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival was held on Saturday evening, hosted by husband and wife Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash won two major awards: The U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award (Dramatic). The U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize went to Rich Hill, directed by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo. For World Cinema, the Grand Jury Documentary Prize went to Return to Homs, directed by Talal Derki, and the Grand Jury Dramatic Prize went to To Kill A Man, directed by Alejandro Fernández Almendras. See below for the full list of winners:

U.S. Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic): Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle

U.S. Grand Jury Prize (Documentary): Rich Hill, directed by Tracy Droz Tragos, Andrew Droz Palermo

World Cinema Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic): To Kill A Man, directed by Alejandro Fernández Almendras

World Cinema Grand Jury Prize (Documentary): Return to Homs, directed by Talal Derki

Audience Award (U.S. Dramatic): Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle

Audience Award (U.S. Documentary): Alive Inside, directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett

World Cinema Audience Award (Dramatic): Difret, directed by Zeresenay Berhane Mehari

World Cinema Audience Award (Documentary): The Green Prince, directed by Nadav Schirman

Best of NEXT Audience Award: Imperial Dreams, directed by Malik Vitthal

Directing (U.S. Dramatic): Cutter Hodierne for Fishing without Nets

Directing (U.S. Documentary): Ben Cotner & Ryan White for The Case Against 8

World Cinema Directing Award (Dramatic): Sophie Hyde for 52 Tuesdays

World Cinema Directing Award (Documentary): Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard for 20,000 Days on Earth,

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (Dramatic): The Skeleton Twins, written by Craig Johnson & Mark Heyman

World Cinema Screenwriting Award: Blind, Eskil Vogt

Cinematography (Dramatic): Low Down, Christopher Blauvelt

Cinematography (Documentary): E-Team, Rachel Beth Anderson and Ross Kauffman

World Cinema Cinematography Award (Documentary): Happiness, Thomas Balmès & Nina Bernfeld

World Cinema Cinematography Award (Dramatic): Lilting, Ula Pontiklos

Editing (U.S. Documentary): Watchers of the Sky, Jenny Golden and Karen Sim

World Cinema Editing Award (Documentary): 20,000 Days on Earth, edited by Jonathan Amos

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent: Dear White People, Justin Simien

Documentary Special Jury Award for Intuitive Filmmaking: Overnighters

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score: The Octopus Project for Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Special Jury Prize Use of Animation (Documentary): Watchers of the Sky, directed by Edet Belzberg

World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for the Delightful Ensemble Performance, and How the Director Brought His Own Unique Universe into Cinema: God Help the Girl

World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematic Bravery: We Come As Friends, directed by Hubert Sauper

Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: Mike Cahill, I Origins

The Short Film Audience Award:Chapel Perilous,” directed by Matthew Lessner

Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love was one of the most talked about films at Sundance 2014. The only problem is it’s almost impossible to talk about it without giving away the film’s unexpected and very original twist. Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss star as Ethan and Sophie, a married couple going to couples therapy in an attempt to save their marriage. Their therapist (Ted Danson) suggests they take a long weekend retreat at a beautiful vacation house. The weekend is relaxing and tranquil in the beginning, but when Ethan and Sophie discover a unique guesthouse on the grounds, they are forced to take a real look at themselves and the complexities of their relationship. Radius-TWC picked up the film for worldwide distribution, and the company will have the challenging task of keeping the plot a secret until the release. We sat down with Moss, Duplass, and McDowell at Sundance 2014 to learn more about the film, or as least as much as they could share without spilling the beans!

So, how did this project come together?

Charlie McDowell: Mark and I had more of a general meeting. I was always a huge fan of his, loved the stuff he acted in, directed, produced, wrote, and we just kind of clicked on a human level and really liked each other. I had another project that was going to go and then it all fell apart. So Mark called at the perfect time and said, “Hey – let’s make a movie together.”

Mark Duplass: I sabotaged your other movie, just so you know.

McDowell: (laughing) Well, thank you, I’m very happy about that. It just happened very organically from day one. And putting it together with Justin Lader, my writing partner, was such a fun, organic experience.

Duplass: Lizzie and I did a movie in Park City a few years ago called Darling Companion, Lawrence Kasdan’s movie, and we got to be buds. We were both working on our TV shows but we kept texting each other once or twice a year saying we should do something, we should find something. And I had gotten another text from Lizzie pretty recently in this time frame and so I flipped it to Charlie…

Elisabeth Moss: I think it was like a month later…

Duplass: … and we knew it was the right fit for the project. It’s very precarious… who you choose to work with in this filming environment. You want to have someone who is like a family member and you can hang out with, and they also have to be interested in the improvisation process, which is a very specific thing.

It was cool because Lizzie and I talked about it, and obviously “Mad Men” is a different animal—Lizzie, you can talk more about that stuff—but it was a new thing for her so it was exciting for all of us to watch her do it.

Moss: I have always been a fan of Mark’s and a friend, but it’s rare, you always say “We should do something together”…

Duplass: Totes!

Moss: … but it never happens. I wish that happened to everybody that I said that to. But this was this really kind of rare occurrence, and we kept trying to get together to talk about it, remember? And we just couldn’t coordinate with our TV schedules, plus you get up in the morning, and I don’t. And then finally, I just said, “Okay, what is it? Just tell me what is.” And you sent me the script-ment, and I said, “That’s great!” It was such a great basic idea and story, which is so important with any kind of smaller film. So I think I was like literally, yeah, that sounds great, I’ll do it.

Duplass: Yeah, it was pretty fast. I was like, “Oh shit, she’s actually going to do it. We have to make this movie now.”

I love the idea of two people that wanted to save their marriage, but must confront both the best and worst sides of themselves in order to fall in love again. How did you develop this character that changes over time?

Moss: It’s so tough to talk about the acting part of it without revealing the story. I can’t wait to be able to talk about it because there was a certain amount of work that went into this certain part of the acting process. But I guess the theme of it is this idea of what men want. I was the female perspective of, what do men want in a girlfriend? What do they want in a relationship, and what do women present in the beginning that they think the guy wants? Like, “I love football!” And like, “Let’s drink some beer”…

Duplass: A couple of well-placed fart jokes early on for a girl win so many points.

Moss: … but it can only get you so far. I’m not like that and I know a lot of girls who aren’t like that, and you end of dropping that act at some point—which is why it’s good to not put it on in the first place, but we still do it anyway. So yeah, just exploring what a man wants, and what a woman wants and what do you actually fall in love with in the person, that no matter how much the person “changes” in little ways. What is it about them that you need and still love? And that’s what these characters are trying to find and get back to.

Duplass: I am in a 13-year relationship and my wife and I work together, so relationships were very much as the forefront of my mind and how complex and wonderful they are. That sine cosine wave of happiness to sadness is such a fascinating thing to me. When we started discussing this early on, we realized we have a concept here—a concept I don’t want to talk about just yet—that is going to allow us to explore what we perceived our relationships to be versus what they really are, and how that’s an ever-changing thing.

I just think it’s something that’s very dramatic in its nature and also very funny to me to watch people realize, “I married someone, or I am with someone who might not be as cool and emotionally above board and forgiving as they put themselves out to be.” And that can do two things to you. It can make you really angry, because you were sold the bill of goods that’s not yours. Or, you can also become more close and intimate with them because you see the same follies that you have. But it depends on the day and it depends on the couple. But it’s really fun to explore.

Could you talk more about your improv process?

Duplass: There was no full script written, we had what you would call a “script-ment”, a 50-page outline with varied details. Justin Lader, our writer, would give us pages the night before almost in a soap opera structure, so they would be fresh and we would use those as a guideline. Then we would have a communistic discussion amongst this central core team of Mel Eslyn (our producer), the three of us, and Justin. Lizzie and Mel were great at poking holes at how poorly we voiced the female characters and we were very good at making sure the dudes felt like dudes. We would come up with something that was plus or minus twenty percent of what that original scene was supposed to be. By letting it live and breathe, I personally think you get something that feels more like you.

And I want people to walk away with (the idea that) there are some really strange things that happen in this movie and some things that will probably never happen to anybody. But the core of this film is, how do you perceive the people that you love? And how do you deal with them when they start to change?

I imagine the editing was crucial to making the film work. Charlie, how much did the story change in the editing room?

McDowell: Well, Jennifer Lilly was incredible. She really helped structure the film. She’s so smart and had a great female voice in the editing as well, which really helped. The story, because it’s so intricate and there’s so many things going on, the story stayed the same, so there wasn’t cutting out big scenes. But for me it was really about keeping that really natural organic feeling that they had done with the improv, but not going off into tangents, and keeping it centered on what we were trying to say. But the most difficult thing in the editing was discovering what the tone of the film was, just because there are so many interesting, almost genre elements to it. It was really kind of honing in on what film is this, what are we trying to say, and figuring out stylistically what we wanted to do with it. The music was a big part of it.

Duplass: The music so such a big part. You have to lead people around but also give them room to interpret it the way they want to interpret it. And that’s a very fine line, and these guys did a great job.

So what’s next for you?

Duplass: I am about to shoot my new HBO show with my brother Jay called “Togetherness“. We start shooting in nine days and I’m a little scared, but very excited. It stars me, Melanie Lynskey, and my friend Steve Zissis. That will be my life for at least the next half of year.

Moss: I go back to finish “Mad Men”. We’re about halfway through. So I am going to go finish that nine-year experience.

Duplass: Tell her what happens in the end.

Moss: Oh that’s right, I almost forgot. Basically it’s just like the end of “Breaking Bad”. Actually we’re just going to air the last episode of “Breaking Bad” instead of our last episode.

Duplass: “Breaking Mad”!

 

- Michelle Bryant

 

I Origins: Interview with writer/director Mike Cahill

January 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Michelle Nelson in Sundance 2014 - (Comments Off)

Michael Pitt and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey star in I Origins.

 

Another Earth, winner of the Special Jury Prize and Alfred P. Sloan Award at Sundance 2011, is one of my all-time favorite films, and so when I saw that writer/director Mike Cahill would be returning to Sundance with a new film, I Origins, I put it at the top of my list. This film was, without a doubt, the highlight of my festival experience. Starring Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, and Steven Yeun, I Origins follows Ian, a molecular biologist specializing in eye evolution. Ian and his lab partner Karen are trying to find the genetic map for the eye in an attempt to disprove God. When Ian falls in love with Sofi, an ethereal model with rare and striking eyes who is guided by all things spiritual, she challenges his hard-nosed facts, but Ian remains grounded in science. Years later, when Ian stumbles upon scientific evidence he cannot ignore, he goes on a journey across the globe in pursuit of a truth that could offer a profound insight to humankind. I Origins won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at Sundance 2014, a $20,000 cash prize awarded to films that focus on science and technology as its theme.

Your film is a wonderful blend of science, spirituality, and romance. When you began to write this story, what area did you start with?

I started with the idea of a soul and if that means something. Are we just a bunch of molecules or is there a contained thing inside of us? And how we are connected with people romantically. There are different types of love in life. So they were sort of one in the same for me: love, science, and spirituality. Those three things are unbreakable in a way for me. I have been thinking about how scientists are deeply romantic. Because they study the universe, the study the human body, they study the tiniest things in the world. They are trying to find string theory whether light is existing in two places at one time. You have to be romantic to do those things because you are living with a meaning of everything. And so a story about two people doing that, who become romantically connected, and then one person who is the direct opposite, and how the opposite is the same.

One of my favorite scenes in the film was when Priya mentioned the Dalai Lama quote in which he stated that if he ever found science ever disproved religion, he would be open to it, and then asked Ian, “What would you do if you found proof of God?” That to me felt like the heart of the film.

Absolutely, that’s the thematic crux of the film, that scene. The Dalai Lama has an autobiography called The Universe in a Single Atom and in it he states that if science ever disproved one of tenets of the dogma he would change his beliefs. There is openness to everything and respect for science. And on the flip side, Albert Einstein, who Michael Pitt mentions in that scene, said “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws in the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”  This film is a metaphorical meeting of those two minds.

There are so many spiritual avenues you could take. How did you end up in India?

India is amazing place. It’s a beautiful place. It’s a vibrant place. But the movie in particular, the reason why it’s so important is because, for one, technologically India has this Iris Scanning program that is nationwide. The whole movie is based on real science and they still don’t know what to think of the duplicates yet. And I just conjectured… actually I leave it open to the audience to conjecture what they will. But India is scanning one hundred million to two hundred million people every day. It’s a massive program.

And at the same time, Indians nearly take reincarnation for granted. It’s a tenet of life. It’s like the air, we breathe it … it’s something that is so deeply rooted in society, technologically and spiritually, it’s the most magnificent place for the third act to take place for this very important character that Michael Pitt’s character is trying to find. And it’s just believable that a child would have been scanned if they were living in the slums.

For both Ian’s work in the laboratory to the iris scanning, what type of research did you do?

So much research. I didn’t want to dumb it down, and I had this little secret thing up my sleeve, which is an audience following emotion, words don’t really matter. If she says something that’s impressive and he’s attracted to her, we get the attraction. And yet what she says, I wanted it to be valid. So PAX6, for example, is a gene. It is a master switch in every species that has vision, it’s the first thing that turns on before an eyeball is made. And so you can take something like eight million species and a certain percentage of them that have vision all have this gene. Scientists found this out. And so I wanted to base it in reality. I did a lot of study and talked to my brother [a molecular biologist] extensively and met with a lot of different scientists both at John Hopkins and Rockefeller University in Europe. I tried to make it bullet proof all the way through.

I have been seeing 11:11 for almost the last 20 years. (Cahill gives me the high-five) In some ways, it felt like I had a spiritual experience watching the film. I was curious for Ian, was that scene the first time that it ever happened to him?

Yes, I think so. There are some things are so hard to articulate. It’s so hard to explain to someone that thing. What is it with 11:11, when you start following 11:11 and you start seeing it everywhere? And I wanted this movie to go right full on towards the things that are difficult to explain and almost impossible to articulate. So here’s this scientist who the last thing in the world he would do is follow these coincidences. And yet, every scientist will tell you that the moment four billion years ago when there was no life and then life emerged from no life, talk about a coincidence, you know? Life is founded upon the greatest coincidence of all time where the odds are so minimal. That’s interesting to me.

For the role of Sofi, did you cast Astrid by her eyes? Obviously they were one of the most important aspects by the film.

She came late in the casting process. I was really moved by who she is, her energy and all of those things but primarily, I just knew. You know, it was one of those instant moments where you know someone is perfect for the part. It was a difficult part to cast. I saw so many talented, wonderful actresses for the part but when I met her it was like Oh, hi Sofi. We met over Skype so I asked her “Can you take a picture of your eye really close-up with your phone and send it to me?” And when she did I told her, “you have the eyes that were written for this film. ”

There were a lot of weird things that happened like that. Like the white peacock, I wrote about a white peacock being in New York, I didn’t know there was a white peacock that is in New York, living at St. John the Divine. One of the production associates Googled it because we were thinking, we’ll have to get a wrangler, and low and behold it’s just there.

Is it wild?

It’s wild, yeah! It just lives there and everyone knows about it, apparently. Actually, nobody knows about it. Actually, most people live in New York their entire lives and don’t know there’s a white peacock northwest of the park. And I didn’t know until meeting Astrid that she had the eyes that Sofi should have, sectoral heterochromia eyes, which means having multiple colors in one eye.

Did you write the part of Karen for Brit Marling?

Yes. And she was amazing. Karen is so hard. In some ways, she’s the second choice that becomes the first choice. It’s interesting. This is a total tangent, but my wife’s from Croatia and we were on this little island called Brijuni, which is a beautiful island, where there are these ancient ruins that are two to three thousand years old and there was a civilization that lived there. It’s on the water, there are these rocks and there are dinosaur footprints all across them. And when I see these two things and I think, here is a civilization that has risen and has fallen and their kids probably played in the puddles of those dinosaur footprints and we didn’t discover dinosaurs until way later. So it was right under their noses the entire time. And yet they rose and fell and never knew that dinosaurs ever existed.

And I thought what is the thing in our lives that is right in front of our faces, that we don’t realize, that we could as a civilization rise and fall and never know the significance of it? And I thought, the eyes.

Why is that poets—Cicero, Shakespeare, DiVinci, Walt Whitman, Emerson– why do all these people say that eyes are the windows to the soul? Why do poets believe in reincarnation, why does everyone keep coming back to that? I don’t know. There is reason and there is intuition. And intuition works in a mysterious way. And reason works through fact one, fact two, fact three, proof. Fact one, fact two, fact three, proof. You can’t discredit intuition, so what if the eyes really are the window to the soul?

The film didn’t discredit science and it didn’t discredit spirituality, but suggested they can both exist at the same time.

If I had to guess where the future is going, and I don’t know if it’s five thousand years from now or maybe one hundred years from now. But I think science and spirituality are moving forward and they are going to connect and all of a sudden prove one another. They are going to serve as scientists and spiritualists will arrive at the exact same place. Well, maybe not the exact same place, but they’ll meet somewhere—and have a cup of coffee.

The end of the film almost feels like a beginning. Are you planning on a sequel?

Absolutely. Hopefully I will do it with Fox Searchlight. It is an origin story. It’s a story that opens up a paradigm. There’s this thing called the emergence, like I was saying, non-life turning into life four million years, that’s called an emergence. And from life emerged consciousness. That was an emergence, a major step that was seventy thousand or a hundred thousand years ago. From consciousness emerged society, which is what we have today, this big societal organism. And this movie opens up a new emergence, which is, here’s a new paradigm. We are all connected. We all come back. We can track ourselves after we pass away. Through the eyes, technically we are doing it now. What Pandora’s box will open? It changes everything. And to explore the stories in that world is really exciting to me.

- Michelle Bryant

Aaron Paul, Kat Candler, and Josh Wiggins (centered) with Dylan Cole, Deke Garner, and Camron Owens.

 

Hellion, written and directed by Kat Candler, is an intimate and heartbreaking portrait of Hollis, a single dad (Aaron Paul) who is struggling to raise his sons in a Southeast Texas town.  Newcomer Josh Wiggins makes a powerful debut as Jacob, a 13-year-old who loves motocross and heavy metal, whose delinquent behavior is about to send him to juvenile detention. Still grieving from the death of his wife, Hollis spends most of his time drowning his sorrows at the bar, so Jacob and his little brother Wes must fend for themselves. When authorities find out about the volatile situation at home, Wes is placed under the custody of his Aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis), leaving Jacob and Hollis determined to do whatever it takes to bring him home.

Hellion was based on your short film of the same name that premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.  Is the feature film a continuation of that story, or did you start from scratch?

Kat Candler: I think I would phrase it as the feature was inspired by the short. I actually tried to put that short story in the feature, but as I was going through it just wasn’t working. Ultimately, it was inspired by this single blue-collar dad trying to raise these hell-raising kids and it just kind of blossomed from there.

What was your original inspiration?

Candler: My uncle Frank, who was this hell-raising kid with his two brothers, set fire to my grandfather’s jeep when they were little. So I was inspired by the aftermath of what happened when my grandfather got home and discovered mass destruction in his front yard. It made me reflect on my own parents. As you are growing up, you realize that your parents are fallible and they make mistakes. And it’s not for being bad people, it’s just the struggles that as human beings we go through. We try and do the best we can but we’re all human.

One of the things that I really liked about this film was despite all the bad things that were happening with both Hollis and Jacob, there was no judgment, and it was obvious that it was a result their grief. But this wasn’t necessarily spoken—it was in between the lines. I was curious how you worked together on that.

Aaron Paul: It was her script, it was all in the writing. If it’s not on the page you have nothing. But it was on the page and so real, and so vibrant…

Josh Wiggins: It was so easy to connect with these characters. You could really tap in.

Paul: …and you could relate to everyone in the film. Especially with me and Hollis. I love him. I read this script and my heart was just breaking for him even though he’s not really “Father of the Year” to quote the movie. But you know his circumstances, you understand and relate to him. Even if you have never experienced anything like that, you understand.

We are seeing you in a very different role here. What intrigued you the most about it?

Paul: What intrigued me about it was to do something that I have never done before. And to try and be as far away from Jesse Pinkman as possible. The story was just perfect for me. I said, I just hope Kat is as beautiful as she seems. And so the moment I met this one it was a no-brainer. I said, “yes please, if you will have me, I want to do it.”

The main discussion in our meeting was we have to find our Jacob and that was going to be a hard thing to do because he just had to be so brilliant. He’s a young kid but he had to show so many layers. He can’t be a hellion and have the audience not like him. He had to be a hellion and have the audience feel for him and have their heart break for him.  When she sent me his tape I was just blown away.

Josh, this is your first film. It’s a really big role and a very intense character. What attracted you to this role and what did you see as your biggest challenge?

Wiggins: I loved Jacob. He’s incredibly misunderstood and he has all these layers. That’s what I was most scared about, tackling all these layers and showing that he does have good heart but he’s just so broken. And he relates to Hollis so much more than he would like to admit. He’s trying to bury all these emotions by these heinous acts that he’s doing.

You filmed partially in Galveston, Texas which still hasn’t completely recovered from Hurricane Ike. How did you choose this location?

Candler: Where we shot in Port Neches is about an hour from Galveston and as we were scouting for this beach house that Hollis is restoring as his last link to his wife, we found this house.  It was so haunting and just so sad. The woman who owned it, after Hurricane Ike hit, a few days later she went back into her house.  She had just adopted a new baby and there was so much devastation so she just left. As we went through that house for the first time when we were location scouting, I think the whole crew was tiptoeing around the floor about to just start crying because it was so devastating. I think it also helped a lot with Aaron in those scenes. Once you are in there you feel the weight of that loss.

Aaron, now that “Breaking Bad” is over, what are you most excited about as you go into this next step in your career?

Paul: It’s a little scary. I’m excited to just do different things and keep people guessing. And I’m excited about the danger of not working. I like that, it’s exciting to chase after projects. We’ll see what happens. And I’m excited to see what this kid does (motioning to Josh).

And what’s next for you, Josh?

Wiggins: Well, there’s some talk but there’s nothing set in stone…

Paul: There are very exciting things. Let’s just put it out there, there’s some really exciting things happening for this young man, and I couldn’t be happier for you buddy.

Wiggins: It’s all happening because of him. The agents, the manager, all thanks to him.

Candler: They are two peas in a pod. I’ve noticed they have started finishing each other’s sentences.

Paul: I just care for him so much and he’s such a good kid with such an incredible heart and he deserves whatever comes to him. And we want to protect him, but he’s going to stay focused and appreciate every moment and not be affected. I can’t wait for the world to continue to be inspired by you, my friend.

One last question for you, Kat. You’ve been with the characters for so long. Now that you’re done with this chapter, what’s next?

Candler: It’s kind of heartbreaking. We’ll be with these guys for a little bit longer but it is a bit sad to let go of them right now. I am working on another project, a short film that I’m expanding into a feature, so am taking the same path.  But I’m anxious to write and to get back into creating and exploring new characters and new worlds.

 

- Michelle Bryant

On June 22, 2011, the infamous gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was arrested with his girlfriend in Santa Monica, Califoria, after being in hiding for 16 years.  WHITEY: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, directed by documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger, takes us deep within the trial, giving a fascinating look into this criminal empire, and also revealing the institutional corruption within our own legal system.  WHITEY made its world premiere at Sundance 2014, and we sat down with Berlinger to learn more about the film.

Whitey was captured in 2011, and the trial began in 2012. When did you begin the film project?

I have long been fascinated by this story because I’m a True Crime fan. But there was a glut of media about him: over a dozen books, The Departed (which is very fictionalized and barely resembles the Whitey Bulger story), there are two films in the works and a TV series. And I just never thought I would have anything to add because I never thought that Whitey would be captured.  I thought he had been given a free pass by the FBI to hightail it out of town amid of all the corruption.

Once he was captured and it was announced there was going to be a trial, that’s when Vinnie Malhotra from CNN Films and I were talking about doing something together and he actually suggested this. I have to give Vinnie credit because it was like suggesting the perfect idea for me because this is something I have long wanted to do.

Before you began, what was the primary goal of the project?

In the end of November 2012, his trial date was announced and it was clear he would be brought to justice. That represented for me a unique opportunity to add to what’s already been done and to do something different, using the trial as a present tense springboard to separate the man from the myth, to explore the reality versus all of the legend which has been built up around him, some of which has been perpetuated by the media. I wanted to try and find out who this person really is, and explore the routes of the corruption that has never been definitively explored.

I, like many people, thought the trial was going to go into those questions that any trial of Whitey Bulger would have to go into. My great disappointment in observing the trial was that it ended up being very narrowly defined by the government. Important areas of inquiry were excluded, most notably his inability to testify about his immunity deal.

Observing the trial while it was unfolding informed what for me became the mission of the film: not to take Whitey Bulger’s side, not to in any way make an apology for the vicious brutal killer that he is, but to use the film as a vehicle to explore the many important questions of institutional corruption that should have been explored in this case.

The government will tell you this was about the conviction of James Bulger, that the FBI and the Department of Justice were not on trial. And in some ways I agree. But in one large way I disagree. My belief is that there was little risk, almost an infinitesimal risk, that Whitey Bulger would ever emerge from that courtroom other than in shackles. And therefore, even as how preposterous that some people claimed his immunity defense is—that he was given a license to kill by a federal prosecutor—no matter how absurd anyone thinks that idea is, what is the harm in allowing Bulger to mount a full and meaningful defense? Because the city of Boston, the victim’s family, and anyone who cares about our institutions and how justice is served can benefit from those questions from being openly explored. That is the mission of the film.

I am not saying that Whitey was or wasn’t an informant. I am not saying his immunity defense was bona fide. But allow the guy to present his arguments to the fullest so that the dirty laundry can be aired and the people of Boston can decide for themselves what the level of accountability is for allowing him to reign unprosecuted for 25 years.

I was surprised at how closely you worked with the defense, and that they were even at the Q&A after the screening.

I invited the prosecutors to Sundance. In fairness, I have a very good relationship with the prosecutors and I’m not trying to make the prosecutors out to be the bad guys. In fact, I took great pains in the movie to separate the current prosecutors in this case from the larger institutional corruption that occurred that allowed Whitey to operate. Brian Kelly and Fred Wyshak were the ones 20 years ago that agitated for and pushed these indictments forward because they were new to town and said why is this guy not being prosecuted and pushed against institutional resistance in the very young DOJ to bring an indictment against Bulger. So I think they deserve a lot of credit for much of the corruption that has already been exposed. But in this trial, they were put in the odd position of having to defend the institution that they once pushed up against in order to bring these indictments to fruition.

I did invite them to Sundance and they couldn’t make it for lots of reasons. It looks like they will be present in Boston as part of Sundance USA. Sundance chose nine films to go to nine cities, and Whitey was chosen for Boston because it’s the obvious place for it.  Many people from all sides of the case will there, the prosecutors, the defense, the victims’ families, Kevin Weeks [a former member of the Winter Hill Gang] may be there…

In the film, one particular thing that Kevin Weeks said stood out to me: “What do you expect? I’m a criminal, I lie.” Everyone you spoke to shared his or her version of the truth. Out of all the statements you heard, was there one that you think is the more reliable?

Truth is a perspective so I don’t discount people’s perspectives. But the point of the film is really about the subjectivity of reality. But there are subjective beliefs and actual facts. And the question of whether or not Whitey was an informant, and whether or not he had immunity were central issues in this case, and there is a truth to that. I can’t tell you which side is correct. I think the point of the film is that these questions haven’t been answered and need to be answered.

Whitey wasn’t allowed to testify in court. Was the phone call [Whitey spoke to his attorney on a recorded call] a version of his testimony?

Just to clarify, it wasn’t that he was not allowed to testify, he had the right to testify, but he chose not to because so many of his witnesses were not allowed to be called during the trial. And because the immunity defense was excluded in a pre-trial hearing a judge determined that he was not allowed to bring any of those witnesses, and any of that line of inquiry into the courtroom. He felt testifying without the benefit of having those witnesses brought into the courtroom and without being allowed to present his full version of the truth would have put him in a very weakened position to not allow the truth. That’s his position, I’m not saying that’s the truth.

I am highly aware that the phone call was the defense and Mr. Bulger’s desired message being sent to the film. It’s a perspective I wanted in the film and it’s a historical perspective because no one has ever heard Whitey willingly participate in an interview.  The only audio of Whitey comes from 30-year-old wiretaps and recently at trial a couple of minutes of recorded conversations when he was talking to relatives. But those were unwilling and unaware that he was being captured on audio. The only audio of him willingly participating in a media project is in this film. It is by no means, necessarily, the truth.

The viewer needs to ask him or herself: is the filmmaker (me) being equally played by being a vehicle for his views? On the other hand, I feel like one needs to hear directly from him so the audience can make up their own mind about what they have seen.

You talked about separating the man from the myth. From Whitey’s perspective, he is a man who has committed so many horrific crimes and yet at the end of the day he wanted to be clear that he didn’t kill women and he wasn’t an informant. Why was it so important for him to protect this image? Was that a part of keeping his own myth alive?

You have to ask yourself: is this an extremely narcissistic, pathological criminal who wanted to sanitize his image on his way out of life? Because gangster code is that you don’t kill women and you don’t rat on your friends. So is it that or is it that he does has a criminal ethic and he really didn’t kill women and he wasn’t a rat?

In some ways, that’s one of the things that fascinates me.  One of the underlying themes of all of my work is the subjectivity of media, and that we accept it as objective truth. All media is subjective, including documentaries. I am fascinated with what goes into mythmaking, how we spin narratives, and how news is delivered because news by its nature tends to reduce things to their black and white simplicity when life and situations are usually more nuanced and gray. So from a media meta aesthetic standpoint, I am interested in those questions about how myth becomes fact and fact becomes myth.

You got incredible access for this film. Was there any pushback?

I am surprised at how much access we got. The 800-pound elephant in the film is the fact that the FBI declined to be interviewed for the film. They didn’t want anything to do with it and that’s a shame. I think it unnecessarily sends a message that they probably didn’t intend to communicate by not participating in the film. It would have been great to have heard from them.

- Michelle Bryant