Not too long ago, Paramount Vantage seemed like one of the best faux-indie arms out there. As recently as 2007, the studio indie had two major heavyweight pictures: No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. But the label was folded into the heaving, tentpole-happy bosom of Paramount Pictures, a process which has left pictures essentially orphaned, waiting to be dumped. One of them is Todd Louiso‘s The Marc Pease Experience, and the filmmaker is understandably frustrated by the decision. Read More »


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With only two feature films and one TV show to his name, writer/director Jody Hill, is now synonymous with ignoring the boundaries and “genre rules” of modern comedy and creating anti-heroes that laughably burble with nihilistic rage, scary faux pas and hot-air egos. But there is also an internal depth to these macho doofuses played by Hill’s longtime pal and writing partner, Danny McBride, and comedy star Seth Rogen, to surpass the high art of a perfectly-timed and pronounced “fuck.”

Hill’s work on Observe & Report, The Foot Fist Way, and his cultural breakthrough, HBO‘s Eastbound & Down, contains more glass-darkly social commentary and life-lived expression than the work of any hotshot young novelist in recent memory. Rather than document the cold realities and indulgent pleasantries of another big city with bright lights, Hill is set on exploring the very place that so many creative-types vacate upon the arrival of their first Visa card or college acceptance letter: the American South. Moreover, as many middle-class and broke white American males face sobering, if inevitable, realizations and disillusions about the future, laughing at Hill’s moronic, unhinged versions as they champion outdated movie/sports star heroics atop small-town kingdoms is like homemade medicine. When it comes to countering the monotony of the average day-to-day? Eastbound is harder to beat still. The sight of Kenny Powers “dancing” in a middle school gym under the influence of eggrolls and ecstasy or ejecting a topless broad from his Jet Ski is priceless. Like cheetah-spotted gold or “a bulletproof tiger, dude.”

A native of North Carolina, Hill is the latest progeny of the North Carolina School of the Arts, alongside McBride and creative partner Ben Best, fellow EB&D director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), and EB&D cinematographer Tim Orr. In the first part of my interview, we discuss the show in-depth, including some of the surprising and vile admissions and special features on the Season One DVD. We also talk about what it’s like to be a young director coming from, and staying in, the South, why so many comedians today are from there, and why the region was overdue for a proper comedic depiction.

Hunter Stephenson: Hey Jody, how are you?

Jody Hill: Hey Hunter. Good, good, good. Hey man, I wanted to say that I was sorry I wasn’t there when you visited down in Wilmington [Eastbound & Down set, 2008]. I remember the piece you wrote, and it sounded like a really good time. [laughs] Sucks I couldn’t there, man; I was editing my film (Observe & Report), and Warner Bros. wouldn’t let me go. When you have to do a director’s cut, they want to lock you up for 10 weeks. [laughs] Everybody said they had a blast…and I was editing.

Yeah. I expected to interview you there. And I didn’t know about the change, that David Green was now directing the majority of the episodes while you were in L.A. But it all worked out, he killed it. My first question: Legend has it that when you, Danny [McBride], and Ben [Best] first conceived of Kenny Powers you were sitting in a kiddie pool in North Carolina drinking beers. [laughs] Is that accurate?

Jody Hill: [laughs] Yeah, this was before we made Foot Fist Way or anything. We were trying to come up with ideas for shows. I was between jobs; I had been working this really shit reality show job, doing motion-control for Behind the Music and shit like that. [laughs] It was pretty lame. And so, yeah, we were in Charlotte, in the backyard of Ben Best’s house. And yeah, we were literally sitting in a kiddie pool with a case of beer. And Kenny was one of the ideas that, uh, we came up with. [laughs]

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Jason Reitman, director of Thank You For Smoking and Juno, joined Twitter a few days ago to provide a few updates about his post-production work on the forthcoming Up in the Air, starring George Clooney. “A brief chronicle of my attempt to finish my film in time for the Toronto Film Festival,” he calls it. (I’m continually pleased by the evolving capabilities of the Internet to allow me to observe creators at work while making me feel as is I’m working at the same time.) So while the film may well still have a December release date, it could well premiere at Toronto (editors note: or sneak premiere at Telluride), just like Juno did.

The two posts that followed had some good, if brief info. First, that he’s nearly done with the first edit, which currently clocks at 2’04″. (Though I generally hate even reporting this; anyone who isn’t a distributor or exhibitor shouldn’t care about running time before seeing the movie.) The other is that Shadowplay, the outfit that animated the titles to his first two features, is doing the same for Up in the Air. Read More »

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

Paramount Vantage has released a new movie trailer for The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard on Moviefone, but Trailer Addict has the red band version. The film stars Jeremy Piven as a Used-car liquidator named Don Ready who is hired by a failing auto dealership to turn their Fourth of July sale into a majorly profitable event.

Basically, Piven is doing the same act that he does on Entourage, but instead of being a Hollywood agent, this time he’s a car salesman. Don’t get me wrong, the fast talking asshole character Piven has perfected is incredibly funny and suits him well. This film however seems to go for corny over-the-top gags, which just isn’t my brand of humor. Watch the trailer embedded after the jump.

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Michael Moore

Overture Films and Paramount Vantage will release Michael Moore‘s next documentary, which is yet-to-be-titled, on October 2nd 2009 — the same week that Moore’s feature debut Roger & Me made its U.S. Premiere 20 years ago.

And this new film comes full circle, with Moore returning to the issue that began his career: “the disastrous impact that corporate dominance and out-of-control profit motives have on the lives of Americans and citizens of the world. But this time the culprit is much bigger than General Motors, and the crime scene far wider than Flint, Michigan.”
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Michael Moore vs. The Economy

Michael Moore has supposedly decided to rework his latest documentary to focus on the United State’s recent economic problems and the global financial crisis. Originally set around the United State’s foreign policy and the aftermath of the Bush administration, THR says that the yet-to-be-titled film will now have a “end-of-the-empire tone”, which Moore hopes will give it “a more general feel that will untether it from a specific political moment.”

Once referred to as a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore later went on to call it a book end to the series of films he has made over the course of the last two decades. Moore’s first film Roger & Me focused on American downsizing, and specifically that of the affects of the auto industry’s departure from Michigan. It will be interesting to see what Moore concludes from his six-film journey. I think many will admit that Sicko was has most mature film to date. Overture and Paramount Vantage have the distribution rights to the film, which could hit theaters as early as this spring.

Paramount has released a new trailer for Edward Zwick‘s Defiance, the upcoming Daniel Craig WWII film. The film ahs already been getting early award buzz, and the trailer looks powerful. The poster also premiered today on InContention. You can check that out below as well. As always, leave your comments and tell me what you think?

Official Plot Synopsis: Based on an extraordinary true story, DEFIANCE is an epic tale of family, honor, vengeance and salvation in World War II. The year is 1941 and the Jews of Eastern Europe are being massacred by the thousands. Managing to escape certain death, three brothers take refuge in the dense surrounding woods they have known since childhood. There they begin their desperate battle against the Nazis. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell star as brothers who turn a primitive struggle to survive into something far more consequential – a way to avenge the deaths of their loved ones by saving thousands of others.

At first it is all they can do to stay alive. But gradually, as whispers of their daring spreads, they begin to attract others – men and women, young and old – willing to risk everything for the sake of even a moment’s freedom. Tuvia (CRAIG) is a reluctant leader and his decisions are challenged by his brother, Zus (SCHREIBER) who worries that Tuvia’s idealistic plans will doom them all. Asael (BELL) is the youngest – caught between his brothers’ fierce rivalry. As a brutal winter descends, they work to create a community, and to keep faith alive when all humanity appeared to be lost.

DEFIANCE is directed by Edward Zwick (BLOOD DIAMOND, GLORY) from a screenplay by Zwick and Clay Frohman, based on Nechama Tec’s non-fiction book of the same name. The producers are Zwick and Pieter Jan Brugge. The team recreating the forest haven includes two-time Oscar®-nominated cinematographer Eduardo Serra (BLOOD DIAMOND, GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING), production designer Dan Weil (BLOOD DIAMOND, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) and Oscar®-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan (GOSFORD PARK, A ROOM WITH A VIEW).

Defiance hits theaters on December 12th 2008.

The following quote is attributed to Variety’s Pam McClintock:

“The worst thing that ever happened to indie film was that the studios decided it was a good business.”

And while I agree with that statement, I’m not sure I agree that Independent Movies are on the “endangered species list” as Variety editor Peter Bart writes in his latest blog entry. Bart claims that studio expectations for their art house divisions were too high. “Their production budgets were too lofty and their marketing budgets too ambitious,” Bart writes, pointing towards the downward box office trend for specialty films in 2008. Here are the Variety numbers:

2006: $416 million
2007: $330 million
2008 (so far): $161 million

While I do agree that the specialty film market is on a down turn, I think it is unfair to point to 2008′s numbers as an accurate indication of such. For example, Juno was probably the biggest indie film of last year, earning $143 million, and it wasn’t released until December. And there was no indication that it would be such a huge hit. Heck, no one had even seen the film until Telluride/Toronto. So I think it is far to early to count 2008 out.

That said, I think the quality of films being produced is not the real problem, but instead the marketing pushes behind them. For my money, The Wackness and American Teen were on level with the mini-major indies of years past, but both films were poorly represented to the mainstream public. One only has to look at the posters for each of the films mentioned to understand a problem exists. But this isn’t anything new. Picturehouse released King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters last year, and it barely went on to break a half-million dollars domestically. The film is one of the best reviewed movies of all time, and has huge appeal to the number one demographic in this country.

The problem is that the mini-majors don’t know how to sell a movie that can’t sell itself. Sony Pictures Classics doesn’t understand how to market a film, instead they prey heavily on possible award nominations for the needed push. And Fox Searchlight seems to be the only studio that knows how to market these type of films correctly. They have released eight “studio indies” in the past five years that have made over $32 million at the box office. But on the other hand, even Searchlight’s future line-up seems a bit weak. Choke is a low-budget R-rated comedy with the ability to reach the college-aged crowd, but it certainly doesn’t have the mainstream appeal of a Juno or Little Miss Sunshine. Don’t get me wrong, I love the movie, but there is only so far a film like Choke can go.

So what is the answer? Is independent film dead? And if so, who is to blame?

Discuss: What do you guys think?

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