Sundance, Day 2

This article was originally part of the Insider Cinema guide to Hollywood, a website from the mid-2000s. We are reposting it here as both a writing sample and a guide for those seeking to get their foot in the door in Hollywood.

The Sundance film festival awoke to a major coup Tuesday morning, when a late addition to the program schedule, Hamlet 2, was the subject of a massive bidding war that raged into the late hours of Tuesday morning.  After major players such as Summit Entertainment, the Weinstein Company, Lionsgate, and Warner Independent duked it out, it was Focus Features that walked away with the prize, for a total price tag of 10 million dollars.  The picture’s reps, CAA, closed the deal starring Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler, and David Arquette.  The story follows a high-school drama teacher who writes a sequel to the Shakespeare play in order to save his drama department.  

But that was not the only surprise that startled Sundance, as the tragic news spread of Heath Ledger’s untimely death.  Rumor mongers debated if the death was an overdose, or a suicide, or both.  Even though the festival is largely viewed as a film market, you could see a visible lack of energy in people’s steps compared to the day before.  

One of the events I attended today was a USC party since over a dozen films at the festival had USC alumni or current students involved.  The hard-nosed students spoke in hushed tones.

While at the event, I noticed a well-dressed man, standing quietly in the corner, who seemed to be intentionally looking at his iPhone, and ignoring the networking around him.  As I approached, I was outflanked by a beautiful woman, who instantly welcomed me over to speak with him.  These were James Kerwin and Chase Masterson.  I got to speak with director James Kerwin of Yesterday Was A Lie.  He, along with his actress and producer, Chase, spoke with me about the origins of the film.

RT: So what is the film about?

JK:  The film is based on the classic film noir, shot in black and white, and is a love story, but it’s much more than that.  It’s about a girl with a sharp mind and a weakness for bourbon who finds herself on the trail of a reclusive genius, but because my background is in quantum mechanics, I also used a lot of physics in the subtext.  You see, what’s going on with the characters, and what’s going on in their heads, is actually based on principles of quantum mechanics, but the audience doesn’t know that at first.

RT:  How did you go about making this film?

JK:  Well, one thing that was essential to this was that I made the film as part of a 501 c 3.  A lot of investors I was talking to didn’t want to be involved in a long-term investment, so coming from the theatre, I just took the business model I used there and used it in film.  It allowed my investors to put money into the project, and get a straight-up tax deduction.  There are only two downsides: I had to get the script approved by the IRS; and any profit the film makes can’t go into my pocket, it goes back into the company for future projects that meet our mission statement.

CM:  You see, we focus on making movies that have a great deal of intellectualism in them, and merge intelligence with entertainment.

RT:  What was the process of getting the project approved by the IRS like?

JK:  It was so surreal I couldn’t even tell you.  You submit your script, and you submit your reasons why this project is beneficial, charitable, and worthy of this program, and then they just get back to you.  

RT:  What are you working on next?

JK:  I’ve got two more projects that have already been approved by the IRS, and I’m looking forward to them.    

After we parted ways, I followed a group of fresh-faced USC students to Doolan’s pub down the street, and I listened to them as they compared networking stories: the spoils, the losses, and the anecdotes.  There was a reminder though how truly caring these students were when they raised their glasses and toasted, “To Heath Ledger.”

As the students left for the night, I made my farewells and headed to a few more Sundance parties, but I couldn’t shake that toast.  In our culture, and our industry, film students are often pegged as artsy and bourgeoisie, and USC students are often portrayed as incompetent and sometimes vicious, but these students knew about the great talent that was needed to make movies, and they were ones that truly honored it.  It was a sign that the future of film, was in good hands. 

THE TALLY (alphabetical):   


Celluloid Dreams acquires international rights 

Domestic rights are still available, and pic is being repped by William Morris Independent

The Black List: Volume One

HBO acquires all rights 


Fox Searchlight acquires world rights, with exceptions to some national territories for five million dollars

Hamlet 2

Focus Features acquires all rights for ten million dollars

Henry Poole Is Here

Overture Films has acquired all U.S. rights for three and a half million dollars

Polanski: Wanted and Desired

The Weinstein Company acquires all foreign rights for mid-six figures

HBO Documentary acquires all domestic U.S. rights

Up the Yangtze

Zeitgeist Films acquires all rights

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