Monday, February 23, 2015

LAND HO! Wins Cassavetes Award! #SuckItDude

The day before the Spirit Awards, where LAND HO! was nominated for the Cassavetes Award honoring features budgeted under $500K, producers Sara Murphy, Christina Jennings, and I, and writers/directors Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz were all emailing about transpo and logistics. Sara mentioned, almost as an aside, "Guys. I mean...should we plan what to say if the crazy shit happens and we win?!?" We all just kind of shrugged it off. The next day, as we finished our uneventful red carpet walk (we trailed Olivia Munn, so the press barely noticed us) and headed to the sponsor tents in a quest for alcohol, we huddled for a minute after throwing back a few and rattled off whom we should thank just in case we won.

Well, we ended up "winning," and kept our speech short, as instructed. But of course, there was so much more that we all wanted to say. Now that we have the Internet, there is perhaps less pressure to remember to thank everyone you need to thank on TV--and anyway, I thought that the Cassavetes Award was one of the categories IFC normally edits out of its broadcast, since no one famous ever wins it. But they did broadcast it, and we wanted to take up the hosts' advice to tweet/post/blog the rest of our thank yous so we wouldn't bore the audience.

So here are all the people we want to thank:

Gamechanger Films - Martha did thank Gamechanger on stage, for having the faith to finance a woman-directed film containing "dick jokes" and "fart jokes" as the company's first film out of the gate. We all want to second that, and in particular, thank the founders, Julie Parker Benello, Dan Cogan, Geralyn Dreyfous, and Wendy Ettinger, as well as director of operations & creative affairs Derek Nguyen and senior advisor Mary Jane Skalski, and of course, each of the wonderful, progressive, and committed investors who make up Gamechanger.

Sony Pictures Classics - Aaron thanked Sony Classics on stage, but we wanted to add that we're so grateful they took a chance on a weird little film with no stars, and put it in over 150 theaters and stores and VOD platforms everywhere. It isn't every day that a $300K indie film gets shelf/screen space in the likes of Walmart and Redbox.

Piaget - I thanked Piaget for giving me the $25K Producers Award at the 2013 Spirit Awards, but I didn't explain why this mattered for LAND HO! The grant came at a critical time when I had just finished shooting one film, and was trying to get the next one off the ground. Most indie producers don't make any money unless and until they get something into production. So the Piaget grant bridged the personal sustainability gap for me until both LAND HO! and Gamechanger Films materialized later that year.

Film Independent - I thanked Film Independent for supporting me throughout my career, and I want to say that again (and again). Between the Los Angeles Film Festival, the Fast Track project market, equipment and post-production grants, Project Involve, and yes, the Spirit Awards, FIND is critical to the development of directors, writers, and producers who start out knowing nobody in the film industry. Aaron's previous features have also been supported by FIND: COLD WEATHER screened at LAFF and QUIET CITY was also nominated for the Cassavetes Award a few years ago. And our star Paul Eenhoorn's last feature, THIS IS MARTIN BONNER by Chad Hartigan, won the Cassavetes Award last year.

Emily Ting - We can't believe we forgot to thank our dear friend, Emily Ting, who co-financed LAND HO! Emily is becoming the Megan Ellison of microbudget cinema! Through her company Unbound Feet Productions, she was also an investor in fellow Cassavetes nominee MAN FROM RENO by Dave Boyle, and had invested in Yen Tan's PIT STOP, which was a Cassavetes nominee last year. Emily herself is a great producer, director, and cineaste, and generously opens her home and her heart to like-minded indie filmmakers. For that, we love her.

Cast - There would be no LAND HO! without Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson. These two crazy kids were amazing sports throughout production and distribution, and kept us in stitches the whole time. Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee, and Alice Olivia Clarke were fantastic on-screen foils for these rowdy boys, offering nuanced portrayals of real, independent-minded women.

Crew - We don't advise that you make a $300K film over 16 days in Iceland and 2 days in Kentucky with just anyone. You'd better be really simpatico with all the folks with whom you're going to be sharing meals, bathrooms, and beds, and enduring crazy roads and climates. Not to mention a 6-week picture edit, 3-week sound edit & 1-week sound mix! We'd like to deeply, sincerely thank our entire crew, with special shout-outs to cinematographer Andrew Reed (not many microbudget films shoot on 2 cameras the whole time!), composer Keegan DeWitt, who was scoring another Sundance film simultaneously with ours, and who whipped up our incredible theme song after we found out the song we originally wanted cost more than a quarter of our budget, and EP David Gordon Green, our earliest supporter.

Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW, IFP - LAND HO! premiered at Sundance last year, and we want to thank them for accepting us, but all of these festivals and organizations have played huge roles in our development as filmmakers.

Andre Des Rochers - Our attorney from Gray Krauss Stratford Sandler Des Rochers LLP, whose guidance is always critical and appreciated.

Film Sales Company & Brigade Marketing - Thank you to Andrew Herwitz, Jason Ishikawa, Lucas Verga, and to Adam Kersh, Caitlin Hughes, Deirdre Synan, Morgan Ressa for being among the first people to believe in our little film, and for working so hard to position it in the marketplace in the best way possible.

Our spouses & families - You know who you are, and we love you and thank you for being you.

LAND HO! is so special to us. Earl Lynn likes to say that the film appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds because everyone goes through difficulties in life: divorce, failed dreams, sickness, death, etc. For all of us and many fans who wrote to us, the film helped us feel less sad about growing old, more appreciative of friends, and more excited for new adventures. Thank you so much, Martha & Aaron, for this wonderful, beautiful, kooky brainchild that has brought so much joy to so many people.

I also want to give a special shout-out and thank you to our fellow Cassavetes nominees. I don't know the filmmakers of TEST (but am now looking forward to watching their film!), but I consider the filmmakers of the other 3 nominees, BLUE RUIN, IT FELT LIKE LOVE, and MAN FROM RENO, to be friends, and I am honored that LAND HO! was nominated alongside their wonderful films.

The very first person who texted me congratulations yesterday was Anish Savjani, producer of BLUE RUIN, and the 2011 Piaget Producers Award winner. I met his immensely talented and gregarious director Jeremy Saulnier when we served as jurors together at an awards show, which was a really fun experience. But Anish and I go way back: we met in 2008 when IFP selected us as the American producing fellows for the Rotterdam Lab. For the last 7 years, even though we've never formally worked together, we have exchanged numerous crew recommendations, distribution experiences, production tips, financier warnings, and the like. Anish has been critical to my growth as a producer, and I'm so thankful that we are friends.

I first met IT FELT LIKE LOVE director Eliza Hittman and producers Laura Wagner and Shrihari Sathe when I was consulting for sales agent Visit Films. My production designer on COLD COMES THE NIGHT, Laurie Hicks, first told me about the film, which was shot by her talented, Spirit Award-nominated DP husband, Sean Porter. I sent the film over to Visit, and they ended up repping it at Sundance. I got to know Eliza, Laura, and Shri at Sundance, and kept in touch with them afterwards, not only because I liked them personally, but because based on their amazing debut feature, I knew they were going places. Shri also has a special talent for getting into parties--a very important producing skill!--which Sara and I joyfully discovered at Toronto last year. We even shared a meal with him after the Spirit Awards!

Finally, some of you may have noticed my special message on stage to Dave Boyle, director of MAN FROM RENO: "Suck it, dude!" Suprisingly, some people came up to us separately afterwards and, with concern, asked if I was being serious. So let me just make it clear: this*was*an*inside*joke! One borne from our mutual admiration and affection. I first met Dave at CAAMFest (then called the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) in 2009 when he was there with WHITE ON RICE and I was there with CHILDREN OF INVENTION by Tze Chun. We got to know each other on the festival circuit, and when traditional distribution eluded our films (because they both had primarily Asian American casts, and 2009 was the nadir of indie film), we decided to join forces to do a DIWO ("Do It With Others") theatrical release.

I would never seriously tell someone with whom I've driven from cafe to bookstore to supermarket hanging film posters and dropping off postcards to "Suck it, dude!" I said that to highlight the ludicrousness of our "competition" for the Cassavetes Award, and to give a nod to our camaraderie. Not to mention, I've known MAN FROM RENO co-writers Michael Lerman and Joel Clark for years, and producer Ko Mori was also a Rotterdam Lab Fellow in 2008 with me and Anish (by the way, along with Shri, we can claim that 80% of the Cassavetes nominees had Asian producers!).

When you find other filmmakers who try hard to make good movies for the right reasons, you cherish them. We respect each other's integrity, perserverance, and yes, independent spirit. With indie film faltering in the face of tentpole films, TV, and the Internet, those of us left raging against the dying of the light need to stick together.

So that is the backstory of #SuckItDude: a story about community, shared creative passion, friendship, and affection.

Now, please, everyone go and watch ALL of the Cassavetes nominees, as well as all the other lower-budgeted Spirit Award nominees (just FYI, women-directed or co-directed films are marked with *):

CASSAVETES (Under $500K)
Blue Ruin
It Felt Like Love*
Land Ho!*
Man From Reno

Appropriate Behavior*
Dear White People
Force Majeure
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night*
The Guest
Jimi: All Is By My Side
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Little Accidents*
Love is Strange
Norte, the End of History
Obvious Child*
The One I Love
She's Lost Control*
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Still Alice

20,000 Days on Earth*
Stray Dog*
The Salt of the Earth