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October 22, 2005


Joe Swanberg

I must say, the digital projectors are a nice touch, and will make life easier for a lot of filmmakers, but my attitude toward the whole project hasn't changed. I guess my major fear is that Landmark Theatres start filling up with shitty films that bought their way into the space, and in the meantime they have put all the "truly" indepent theaters out of business, leaving film lovers with no good place to see indie films on the big screen.

I can't say whether it's me that has changed over the past few years, or Landmark, but the Landmark Century Center in Chicago used to be a place I looked forward to going to, and there were always 2 or 3 films out of the 7 screens that had stuff I wanted to see. It wasn't uncommon for me to drive in from the suburbs when i was home from college and see a double feature there almost every weekend. In the past year, I think I've only gone to that theatre 2 or 3 times. I don't even really check their listings anymore, because there's rarely something I want to see. Maybe I'm a more discerning viewer now, or maybe the McDonaldization of the theater has totally turned me off. Either way, you don't find me at the Landmark very much these days.

AJ Schnack

OK, Joe, I'm sorry to butt heads with you again, but checking the Century Center website - http://www.landmarktheatres.com/Market/Chicago/Chicago_Frameset.htm - I have to wonder what you're talking about. The films currently screening at the Century Center are:

Good Night, and Good Luck
Tim Kirkman's Loggerheads
Luis Mandoki's Innocent Voices
The War Within

You're telling me that you're not interested in at least a couple of those films? I find that hard to believe.

Joe Swanberg

I went and saw Thumbsucker, which was the first thing I saw at Landmark since Grizzly Man, and I can't remember when I was there last. Mysterious Skin, maybe. And I only went to see Thumbsucker because I liked Mike Mills shorts. I was disappointed by the film.

Perhaps it's an overabundance of options in Chicago, but really, that lineup at Century Center can't compete with what Facets, Music Box, and the Film Center are showing on a regular basis. Like I said, maybe it's my taste that has changed, not the Landmark, but they seem to now be a holding tank for the Indiewood category of films with stars and budgets and subject matter that can hardly be called "indie." I'm just not interested.

Joe Swanberg

At least, not as interested as I was before. I don't mean to come off as snobby. Seriously. I'm not the kind of person that only goes and sees obscure art-house and foreign films. I have pretty diverse taste. But the middle ground films, the ones that are stuck in between being an indie film and a Hollywood film (Thumbsucker, The Chumscrubber, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, The Constant Gardener, Broken Flowers) tend to be really disappointing to me. I guess I prefer the extremes, the really small indie films, and the really lame blockbusters, and it tends to get shaky for me in the middle. These days, Landmark tends to show all the stuff in that middle shaky ground.

AJ Schnack

There's definitely a trend to pack an indie film with name actors, but while that may have picked up in frequency (less room for the Welcome to the Dollhouses of the world), it's always been constant.

Some of my favorite indies of the late 80s and early 90s (when you were, what? 10?) were films like sex, lies & videotape, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho - each with name actors in them.

While we all like to romanticize the "good old days", the fact is there are still films like Loggerheads or Keane in addition to Capote & The Squid and the Whale.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I'm glad that movie theaters are getting cleaner & the sound is getting better. Hell, I love the Arclight here in Los Angeles, where I pay 11 bucks and can drink at the bar and buy stuff in the gift shop. I'll take that over the dirty, cramped, uncomfortable indie 3-plex in my neighborhood any day.

Joe Swanberg

But this is exactly my point. The films you pointed out as the "indie" end of the scale have recognizable talent just like the Indiewood films, just to a lesser degree: Loggerheads (Bonnie Hunt, Kip Pardue) and Keane (Damian Lewis, who got a lot of attention for Band Of Brothers a few years prior). It seems like gone are the days when anyone will realease a film full of people you've never seen. Films that are successful on the Festival circuit like Funny Ha Ha and The Puffy Chair are finding it nearly impossible to get released because they don't have any recognizable cast members, while other films that don't have nearly the critical success or audience success continue to find their way based on the actors. It's a total bummer trend that the indie world has taken. As far as I'm concerned, "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," "My Own Private Idaho," and "Drugstore Cowboy" are great films, but my favorite has always been to see unknown people with no other association who really own the roles, and odd stories that nobody else is telling. The reason these films used to be made independently is because nobody with money would touch them. Now that people are putting bucks into "indie" films, the stories have gotten less daring, and the faces have become a lot more recognizable. Landmark seems especially fond of the films with the people you've seen before.

I think the "indie" film world is very healthy right now. I see great films all the time. But I see them in Festivals, and they never seem to find their way to the theatres. And unfortunately, Festivals don't pay the filmmakers to screen the work, which means the money is often only going out, not coming in. I suppose this is where Truly Indie thinks they are coming into the picture, but really, it will be a rare occasion that the $40K is recouped, meaning most filmmakers won't be able to afford it. This encourages people to go find a recognizable actor for the role, rather than look for someone fresh, which I think is disappointing, but I can understand the financial incentive to do so.

Melissa Cavanaugh

Please forgive the interruption. I couldn't find any direct contact links. I am interested in information on "The Heir Apparent." Do you know whether it will be showing anywhere else? Or do you plan to put it on a DVD? I appreciate any information you can share.

Thank you kindly,
Melissa Cavanaugh

AJ Schnack

Well, Joe, you'll get no argument from me on The Puffy Chair. I found it immensely entertaining and likable, but I've talked to a bunch of people who liked it less than I did. So maybe it's just an issue of personal taste - I found the acting in Puffy Chair thrilling, others have told me that it seemed stage-y to them. So who knows.

But really, Kip Pardue? Damian Lewis? This is your idea of "name" actors? I think someone's a name actor only if more than 5% of the public can identify them.

To me, the bigger issue with name actors in indie films is the desire to fill even small one or two scene roles with very recognizable faces. This works in big, broad comedies - or smart, funny movies like Gete Shorty for example - but it's less successful in a movie like Thumbsucker when suddenly Benjamin Bratt is smoking cigarettes in the bushes.

But I like that you are actively seeking the kind of films that you are making, Joe.

AJ Schnack


As Heir Apparent was made for the Bumbershoot Fest, I haven't pursued any additional screenings for it at this time. However, friends at different film festivals have asked about it, and it could possibly show up online or somewhere else at some point.

If so, I will definitely talk about it here on this blog.

I'm really proud of the film, especially of the actors involved, and we all had a great week and a half getting it together.


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