Friday, December 2, 2011

Adventures in Gotham aka "HOLY SH*T, WE WON!"



As most of you know by now, our film GIRLFRIEND, (after a successful run of collecting Audience Awards at various festivals in the US and abroad), became eligible for the Festival Genius Award at the 2011 Gotham Independent Film Awards...

In case you don't follow me on Twitter, here's how it works: After selecting 29 films, the IFP website opened the first round of voting. From those 29 films, the nominees were cut down to the top 5.

After making the first cut, we were officially invited, as nominees, to attend the show at New York's famed Cipriani Restaurant and the after-party at Andaz.

Our competition was pretty fierce... BEING ELMO, THE FIRST GRADERBUCK and WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE were all extremely well-liked films.

To be quite honest, despite the groundswell of support from the Twitterverse, fans of 100 Monkeys, fans of Shannon Woodward (even a tweet of support by Katy Perry, herself, Shannon's good friend)... even after all of that, I still didn't think we'd win. Or perhaps that was just my way of tempering expectations.

Well. We won.


I'll back up just a bit now. Justin and I met up in Brooklyn an hour or two before the event.

We were almost headed out when Justin's wonderful girlfriend Sarah realized that his slacks didn't exactly match his sport-coat (I'm not ratting him out here, he admitted this to an interviewer from Style on the red carpet). Fortunately, he had the correct pair.

Sarah snapped this pic of us before we headed out:


Evan and Kristina would be arriving separately and so Justin and I headed for Wall Street. The event coordinators had told us to allow for significant delays due to the Occupy Movement nearby.

This was actually my first time in the financial district. The area was packed. People everywhere. We ended up there a bit early and decided to walk around for a while. Justin wanted to check out Zuccotti Park to see how packed it was. The idea made me a little nervous because, well, frankly, we were in costume as the 1% that night - no matter how far from it we actually are as indie filmmakers.

In the end, we didn't end up finding the park and we had to get back to Cipriani to meet our new Publicist Sarah (taking over for the fabulous Corie Chu who is out of the country).

We quickly met up with Sarah, Evan, Kristina and her father who Kristina kindly brought as her +1 since her hubby (producer/actor/composer) Jerad Anderson is touring Europe with the 100 Monkeys.

Sarah had all of our invitations and, before we knew it, it was time to head to the red carpet.

This, boys and girls, is truly an insane experience. Here's how it worked: Sarah walks first, ahead of Justin and Evan. She holds up two sheets of paper which read: "Justin Lerner, Nominee, Audience Award, Writer/Director, 'Girlfriend'" and "Evan Sneider, Nominee, Audience Award, Lead Actor, 'Girlfriend.'" As soon as she passes, the guys start their walk and the flash bulbs begin to go off. I had always joked with my wife that if I was afforded the opportunity to be one of the people who the papp's wanted a photo of, I'd probably have to wear sunglasses to avoid having a migraine... or worse, some sort of seizure. On this night, I realized, I needn't worry.

Kristina and I went next. Sarah did the info paper thing for us and, just as with Justin and Evan, we were blinded by a strobe of lights - "Over here! Shaun, Kristina! Look over here, please!" "Kristina! Right here! Look here in the middle!" "This way, guys, this way!"

It's pretty wild. These videos don't begin to do it justice... it's a bit of sensory overload, in reality... but have a look:

video 


video

We were followed up the carpet by Evan Glodell, director of BELLFLOWER and a very attractive young woman who, I believe, is one of his cast members from the film. Behind them was Beau Bridges who, along with the lovely and talented Shailene Woodley and the great Robert Forster, was there to represent THE DESCENDANTS with filmmaker Alexander Payne.



Near the end of the red carpet, Justin was interviewed by the IFP... In the background, you can see me shooting (with my iPhone) the videos above.

video


Once we had made our way through the phalanx of reporters and photogs, Sarah guided is to the bar. From there, we wandered the room saying hello to people and talking with other filmmakers for about 40 minutes. The room had giant tv screens at either end as well as in the upper lounge area, and every so often, you'd hear the volume level rise to a fever pitch, look up at the screen and see Charlize Theron or Tilda Swinton... pretty cool.

Finally, they made the announcement that everyone should find their seats.

  HOUSE LEFT SIDE - CIPRIANI

I started the evening at a different table than the GIRLFRIEND crew and was seated with my friend at table 41 with the good people from RBC Bank, a co-sponsor of the event.

This is the view from my seat:

RIGHT IN THE CENTER OF IT ALL.
EVAN, PRE-SHOW.


DURING THE SHOW.

My friend, who I was seated with, is a well-known and extremely well-respected filmmaker, in addition to being a former Gotham Award nominee himself (not to mention Oscar© nominee!)  He was, most assuredly the reason I had such a great seat. In fact, he had served on one of the Jury's for the awards that very night. As actors Oliver Platt and Edie Falco began the festivities, he was feeling quite confident that the award would be ours. As I mentioned, I wasn't. Still, I was enjoying it all.

As it turns out, ours was the first award of the night! I actually hadn't looked at the program for the evening, so I had no idea that it would happen so fast!

When Zachary Quinto (who I'm a huge fan of) and Sarah Paulson (also a big fan of) took to the stage to introduce the nominated films and the short clip package, well... I got nervous. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to win. My friend put his hand on my shoulder. "You guys are going to win it. I can feel it," he said.

I should mention at this point that my friend had no access to results other than in his own category (Ensemble), so he really was just being hopeful and supportive...

We watched the clip reel with that amazing audience and fellow nominees. Finally, the moment arrived...

"...the Audience Award goes to... 'GIRLFRIEND'!"

I couldn't believe it! I looked at my friend who had let out a huge roar when they said "Girlfriend"... He smiled a huge smile and said, "Get up there, man! Get your coat and get up there!"

I could kind of hear Zachary Quinto calling out names... I know I heard Justin's, but that was it. Only later did I find out that he said all of the producers names as well.

I stood up, shaking my head in disbelief as I put on my coat. What you can't tell from the live feed is that there were more than 800 guests at the event slotted into gigantic round tables of 8 people each. I scanned the crowd toward Table 8, where Justin, Evan and Kristina were seated and watched as they made their way through the crowd with the same stunned expression I had on.

We reached the stage. Here's how it looked as it happened.

 
As we walked off, I shook Zachary's hand and Sarah Paulson's, thanking them. I was still in shock, but I did find a moment to be amused that I had just done what I had seen so many other winners do on various award shows - look around after the speech and be confused as to which way to walk off-stage!!!

I realized that I had left my phone at the table and was SO BUMMED because we got taken immediately upstairs to the press room for the post-win interviews which meant that I wouldn't be able to take the calls that I knew were practically blowing up my phone just then.

A funny thing happened on the way to the press room - our IFP chaperone was leading us upstairs when a very large Secret Service type tried to block our entry! Our chaperone assured the man that we had won and, after a moment of consideration, he finally allowed us to pass.

We took photos backstage with a couple of gorgeous Russian girls who were repping Standard Vodka - another of the evening's sponsors - while Evan signed some autographs and took some pictures. Justin got whisked away to do an interview with Filmmaker Magazine and then, while we waited, we helped ourselves to some more drinks and snacks - Being the first award, we were missing dinner!

Once we had completed our interviews, we headed back to our seats. A short time later, I joined the team at Table 8, where I was introduced to the very gracious producers of the other nominated films in our category.

The rest of the night was pretty great, I gotta tell ya. We talked with the other filmmakers, watched as Gary Oldman and Charlize Theron got their tribute awards... laughed at Patton Oswalt's hilarious conversation with her - she made him stay on stage with her while she gave her speech - and generally just enjoyed the night.

When the event came to a close, we milled about for a while talking to various celebs - Felicity Jones (winner for Breakthrough Performance for LIKE CRAZY and the one serious upset of the night), John Hawkes, Alexander Payne, Jim Jarmusch, David Cronenberg, Elizabeth Olsen...

Evan had his eye on two or three people he really wanted to speak with though, and he got them both:

Evan and Christopher Plummer.

Evan and Stanley Tucci (Sorry it's hard to see!)

I walked over as Evan was wrapping up (what I'm told was about) a 10 minute conversation with Mr. Tucci - the man was soooo nice and so kind.

Finally, we made our way over to Andaz for the after-party.

No pictures from that. What happens at Andaz stays at Andaz. : )

In all seriousness, it was amazing. We got to talk to a ton of celebs, including an actor who gave one of my favorite supporting performances this year (and who got nominated for a Spirit Award the next morning!). It was an amazing night!

Evan headed out as things began to wind down and Justin and I headed for SoHo to an after-after-party.

That night, when I arrived at my friends' home in Brooklyn (where I was staying), I found signs his kids had drawn tacked to the front door - "Congratulations!" "Winner!" - and the next morning, woke up to a flurry of articles about our win... a few of which even mentioned my name!

Here are a few of them:

(When you've been reading the Hollywood Reporter since about age 11, seeing your name in that thing is quite a win!)

Love what they say about Evan here.


So that's basically it. My adventure at the 2011 Gotham Independent Film Awards!

I'll close with this... (posted to my Facebook status after I got home from the parties that night):


"Tonight, we won a Gotham Award... but we were only able to stand up there on that stage because of YOU: Our cast, crew, family and friends. Your unwavering support of us and our film has been nothing short of extraordinary, and your votes made it happen... so thank you. You made our day/night/week/month/year. You rock." - Shaun O'Banion



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ok. So... I lied.

At the end of my last post, I mentioned an idea that I had while walking around the city - specifically, I mentioned that I would tell anyone who's reading this about that idea.

As it turns out, I have decided not to share that idea. Instead, I'll tell you another one that's equally enjoyable should you find yourself in New York in the hopes that you'll forgive me for not sharing the other idea... Here it is:

Buy one of those small Moleskin notebooks. Go to New York. Go to Manhattan. Ride the subway. Walk through Central Park. Walk the High Line in SoHo. Walk through Times Square.

Every time you hear an interesting snippet of conversation, write it down. Here are some examples (things I actually heard during a few of my New York adventures):

Brooklyn. 7am. Man in suit, walking while chatting on his cell phone: "You tell that guy, if he tries that with me again, I'll shove a Chalupa up his ass - sideways."

Manhattan. Subway. 4pm. Two young girls talking to one another: "I slept with him." "You did?? Oh! I'm so happy for you!!" "It wasn't my first time..."

Brooklyn. Subway. 8pm. A Puerto Rican man sits across from me. He is listening to music on those odd sort of wraparound Bluetooth headphones. To his left is a pretty redhead. He glances over at her continually in that way that let's me (and the redhead girl) know that he wants her to glance back. She doesn't. Occasionally, feeling his gaze, the redhead glances at me with that look that says, "Ugh." After a few stops, she finally gets up and exits the train. He waits a beat, then, over the persistent blast of music in his headphones, shouts this to me: "Did you see that?! She couldn't look at me! I was too attractive for her (pronounced 'ha')! On account of my Puerto Rican-ness."

I just smiled and nodded. Oh, and for the record? Not an attractive guy.

Anyway! Just some fun examples of the crazy shit you hear in New York.

So. Where was I before?

Yes. New York. I'm obsessed.

I spent a few days walking around the city where I encountered so many amazing things and people. I shared a lunch table with a Lawyer from DC and a Doctor from Jersey at

If you haven't been? You haven't lived.

Them later that same day, I had a meal with an elderly couple from Trinidad and Tobago... (the most beautiful, lyrical accents.)

I met an actress on the subway, and an art professor from Paris. I spoke with an art student from Seattle and her friend who she often paints as a subject. I admired the extraordinary architecture and marveled at amount of people on the street... I walked around for hours with my friend Lynn, talked with strangers, admired, well, everything... and just had a stunning time.



Even the view from my room was incredible!

Here are some more pictures from my adventures:












Can't wait to go again. And share the new adventure with you.

S



Friday, November 11, 2011

To Mill Valley... And beyond! (PT. 1)

Justin and Evan got invited to the Mill Valley Film Festival and Justin was kind enough to see to it that I also got to attend.


Despite having been to San Francisco and even living in Northern California for a lot of my childhood, I had never been to Mill Valley. If you have never been, I highly recommend it. It's a very romantic and magical place. You might compare it to Carmel (if you've ever been), only it's a little less, um, sleepy. In other words, you can still get dinner at 11pm if you want.

The Festival has a lot of support behind it (Lucasfilm, AMPAS [Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences], Whole Foods), and because of their generous sponsors, they are able to really take care of their filmmakers. We were nominated for, and later won, the Best US Feature Audience Award (shared with the stunning PARIAH).

While we were there, I got to see BUTTER which had a stellar cast and was a pretty funny (thinly veiled political parody) film. I also ran into Michelle Yeoh, who I've known for years, whose film THE LADY received very strong word of mouth and also won an award at the Fest.


GIRLFRIEND played its first (sold out) showing across a bridge and down the road a bit in San Rafael, Ca. at the Rafael Theatre. San Rafael doesn't have the quaint, village-like feel of Mill Valley proper... it somehow feels like a cleaner version of Haight Ashbury... at least the part that I saw, which was a four block stretch of 4th Street.



Our next showing was in Mill Valley, but neither Justin nor I could be there, so Evan did the Q & A himself. I hear it was a great success.

After a great two days in the Bay Area, we drove home to LA before Justin went off to the Festival in Ghent and I headed for North Carolina to make a little money on the Disney film I'm working on.

North Carolina, while beautiful (see below), is not a place I will necessarily be rushing back to. Truth to tell, I'm not much for nature - and there's lots of it there. Lots and lots of it. We were shooting additional photography on the Biltmore Estate. 80,000 acres of stunning foliage. The first day, it poured rain on us, but the second day was pleasant enough.




 During that first week in North Carolina, I found out I would going to New York for the weekend. Friday, I'd be helping out during ADR for the Disney film and maybe have some free time in the city before flying back out on Sunday.

I arrived into JFK and, while waiting for my bags, met a very nice woman from San Francisco (but who is Malaysian). She is an architect and was in New York to see a performance by her favorite dance troupe.

Since she needed to get into Manhattan and my cab was being paid for by Disney, I offered to share the cab to my hotel, after which, she could continue on (for far less money) to her destination.



We talked all the way into the city and when we arrived at my hotel, exchanged cards. It was just the beginning of what was going to be a great weekend... and the beginning of e new idea I will tell you about in the next blog.

This has been a short(er) blog than usual, but the next will be coming soon!

Thanks for reading!

S






Monday, October 31, 2011

Hell's Half Mile and Beyond...

 I arrived in Michigan for the Hell's Half Mile Film and Music Festival and, along with filmmakers Rider and Shiloh Strong & Alexandra Barreto, we were driven from the airport into Bay City, where the festival takes place.

Bay City is a sleepy town on the Saginaw River that has a rich and storied history - in addition to being a fascinating area from a historical standpoint, it's also a place that's ripe for film crews... it's a very picturesque town and no matter where you stand, you can envision any variety of scenes. The one that kept coming up in my brain was a zombie flick - odd since I'm not a huge horror fan. But yeah. Zombie apocalypse. You're probably thinking: "Why zombies?" Well.

Here's a picture of Bay City at around 2pm in the afternoon:

Here's another:

Curious what Bay City looks like at night?

So, yeah. Not much different. Now, to be fair, there is a thriving bar scene just across the River, but in general, Bay City proper, looks pretty much like these photos.

Anyway. The Strong Bros., Rider's girlfriend Alexandra (herself a filmmaker with a short in the Fest) and I got into town just in time for the opening night party...

Festival Director Alan LaFave and I at 
the Opening Night Party.

The next few days were pretty great. I got to see a stunningly beautiful film by writer-director Jasmine McGlade Chazelle called MARIA MY LOVE based on an extremely personal story by her friend (and now my friend) Lauren Fales, who also co-stars in the film. 



I also became fast friends with Rider, Shiloh and Alexandra.

Rider, Shiloh and Alex had three short films in the Fest that they had either written, directed, produced, or acted in. In a few cases, they had done all three.
The shorts all played together as part of a Shorts program and, when viewed as a whole, demonstrate a fascinating amount skill, creativity and talent... the first film in the series is called IRISH TWINS and was very impressive both in it's storytelling and tone. It's a drama that comes together very quickly and goes somewhere you didn't expect. 



The next short is called THE DUNGEONMASTER, which, not surprisingly, has garnered the brother interest in expanding the short into a feature. A unique and funny story that is well told and, again, impressive - especially when you know how low-budget it was.



Finally, I saw Alexandra's short METHOD about an actress who goes to some pretty extraordinary lengths to inhabit a role. If you know the film business and you know actors, it's pretty hilarious.


Living in LA and being in the indie film business can sometimes be a kind of soul-crushing affair. You love movies and telling stories, but the "business" end of "show business" is so often stifling... and trying to find money, particularly in this economy, is just hellish. Trying to shepherd a project through the development phase can take years, and that's just to get a script or property to a place where you feel comfortable taking it out to find funding. Funny thing is, these days, it's not too different in the big budget industry. The studios don't seem to have any interest in telling unusual stories or in creating challenging material - oh, sure, they'll do one or two a year to be able to champion during Oscar season, but by and large it's up to the indies to tell stories that don't have massive explosions or men with guns.

Sorry. Went off on a tangent there.

Going to Festivals is great because it offers you a lift - it reminds you that there are other people out there just like you, which as strange as it sounds, you can kind of forget.

Anyway. I was surrounded by inspiration at HHM.  Since I had been at the Festival before, in a way, there was a "coming home" element for me. Alan LaFave (the Festival Director) and I had become friends in the years that followed my last trip and so, when someone else fell out, Alan asked (on short notice) if I would be willing to moderate the panel on "Acting in Film." I was a little freaked out (not a fan of public speaking), but figured I could get by since the panelists would do most of the heavy lifting.

I raced back to my room and pulled up IMDB to get a better idea of everyone's work. It should be mentioned that, for a panel of people who are all younger than I am, they are a particularly accomplished group.

The panelists were: Rider Strong, Alexandra Barreto and Shiloh Strong (of the above mentioned short films), Lauren Fales and Brian Rieger of MARIA MY LOVE and Lynn Mancinelli who had appeared in a film which had played in an earlier year at the festival and who, in fact, was shooting a film in town while the Festival was going on! (She's fantastic, by the way!)

Me. Moderating the f*ck out of the "Acting in Film" Panel.

Shiloh Strong (L.) Lynn Mancinelli (C.) Brian Rieger (R.)


Rider Strong & Alex Barreto
(Thanks to Kari Maples for these shots)

After moderating the panel, we all hung out some more. And again the next day. And the next. We went to a few parties and had a really nice time. Somewhere, within those few days, GIRLFRIEND screened. I was really nervous, especially since I was the only person who worked on the film present and I knew I had to do the Q & A after... something I actually like to do, but get incredibly uncomfortable doing, nonetheless. 

Everyone else had already screened their projects (and they were uniformly good) which only added to my stress level. Don't get me wrong, I know GIRLFRIEND is a good film... what I didn't know was how it might play in Michigan. And since film is a subjective medium, one never knows how it will hit an individual. You'd be surprised at the range of reactions we've gotten in the past year! The end of the film is particularly polarizing, as you might imagine. Would my new friends, my peers, like it? Would they be moved? Or would it not work for them?

Lauren Fales, as it turned out, would end up being my cheerleader. A little ways into the screening, she grabbed my arm, looked at me and gave the most reassuring smile... "It's really good," she seemed to be saying. It instantly calmed me down.

After, at the Q & A, my new friends got the ball rolling by asking some questions (something we had done at their screenings) and ... it was just a great experience.

Since I've been back, I've spoken either by phone or email to all of them - emailed some scripts back and forth with a few of them and hung out with two of them... I'm looking forward to hanging out with them more and, hopefully, working with them.

So, uh, thanks HHM!

Well. I feel like I've written 47 pages and whoever is reading this probably got bored 9 paragraphs ago... so, I'll continue next time. A bit about the fabulous Mill Valley Film Festival and then on to a brief stop in North Carolina before heading on to New York.

Thanks for reading.

S






Sunday, October 30, 2011

Having A Wander...

In recent months, I've had the great opportunity and good fortune to do quite a bit of traveling - first with (and on behalf of) the filmmaking team who created GIRLFRIEND and then along with writer-director Peter Hedges during the post-production process for the new Disney production of THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN.

What follows is the tale of my latest adventures...


This little travelogue begins this past July, when GIRLFRIEND opened theatrically at the QUAD CINEMA in New York, just a few blocks from Union Square.





The Quad is an old-school art house theater. As you can see in the photo below, our film was playing opposite an Oscar nominated foreign film, and an indie directed by John Turturro among a few others. Initially, GIRLFRIEND was only booked for a one week run, but after our receipts were higher than all of the other films that week, the theater decided to hold us over for an additional week... a phenomenon which has continued at recent venues.




I flew out for the opening weekend and grabbed this video on the night of the premiere...

video 

We had a great showing - continuing our streak of sold out screenings going back to our premiere at Toronto in 2010.

Here's an unusual artsy photo I took of our one-sheet in the "Now Showing" case at the Quad:


After the July showing in New York, I returned to Los Angeles and, with bills mounting, took a job... a job that would turn out to be one of the best of my career in the big-budget film biz...

The reason I would say it has been one of, if not the best experience I've had in the business, is because I began working, as I mentioned above, for writer-director Peter Hedges. Peter is an extraordinarily generous, kind and talented man. I have had the good fortune to learn a great deal from him during the process and I am proud to have been a part of his latest film. I will honestly be quite sad when it comes to an end in just a few weeks.

In the midst of post production on Peter's film, I also took on an additional job working for the lovely and talented Ms. Anne Hathaway on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I'd say more on that topic, but I'm afraid the Warner Bros. security detail would come smashing through my windows and cart me away only to lock me in the water tower with the Animaniacs. Not that that wouldn't be fun...

During these months, GIRLFRIEND began adding awards to our mantle...



We picked up the Audience Award for Best Feature at Woods Hole Film Fest as well as the Jury Award for Best Feature Drama.

Evan Sneider was there to collect the Award.

A short time later, the film screened at the White Sands International Film Festival, where we picked up Best Director and the Grand Jury Award for Best Feature...



Anne finally had a weekend where she wasn't scheduled to work on DKR, and I headed off to Michigan to the Hell's Half Mile Film and Music Festival, where only a few years earlier, DAKOTA SKYE had picked up the Fest Best Award.



Taking GIRLFRIEND there would turn out to be an amazing experience - not only for the reception the film received, but also because of the people I would end up meeting. A group of amazingly talented filmmakers with such unique and exciting creative voices that I left feeling truly inspired.

Check back for the next installment!