SXSW 2015 Review #2: Sunday, March 15

Sunday was Day 2 at SXSW for my students and me. Check out my post about Saturday to see how I spent our first day on the ground. I am tired, already (as you can see from the lines in my face, below), but am still going, going, going:

Chris Reed SXSW 2015
Yours truly – going strong!

I saw two films, one network series premiere, a collection of title sequences (for TV, movies, and video games), and the keynote address from filmmaker Mark Duplass. Here are my brief thoughts on the day.

Mark Duplass SXSW 2015
Mark Duplass, March 15, 2015, Vimeo Theater, Austin Convention Center, SXSW 2015

Mark Duplass keynote address Duplass is a hero to many in the independent film world because of how he and his older brother, Jay Duplass, have carved out viable careers without compromising their artistic integrity. They began by making short films and micro-budget features, including their 2005 breakout movie The Puffy Chair. Like or hate their films (and I am not a consistent fan, by any means), you have to admire their resolve, ambition and creative and emerging financial success. My favorite takeaways from Mark’s speech were these:

  • “The cavalry isn’t coming” – you have to earn your own success. Start small, making short films every weekend with your friends; show them to everybody; note down what works and what doesn’t; submit to festivals; if your film gets in, go to those festivals and network, and start building your community.
  • Write stories that suit the resources and materials available to you. Once you get into festivals, make that $1000 feature that doesn’t look like a $500,000 feature shot for little money, but that has an aesthetic that suits your budget. If it gets into another festival, have another script ready, and go find that bored celebrity actor who is looking for a role tailor-made for him/her, and make another cheap movie built around that actor.
  • Share the wealth, if/when it comes, with the friends who helped you get there. Keep that community going.
  • “God Bless VOD for independent filmmakers,” as it helps you get your film out to the public without an expensive theatrical release. If you don’t get a deal that you like, find a way to release the film in some monetized way (even YouTube and Vimeo) so it gets out there.
Billy Crystal and Josh Gad at  post-screening Q&A for
Billy Crystal and Josh Gad at post-screening Q&A for “The Comedians” at SXSW 2015

The Comedians (FX Series, premieres April 9) This upcoming comedy series on the FX Network stars Billy Crystal (When Harry Met Sally) and Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer), both of whom were at the post-screening Q&A (see above photo). In 13 episodes, “The Comedians” will explore the comic shenanigans of Crystal and Gad as they create a sketch comedy show-within-the-show to air on FX. That’s right, it’s all very self-referential, with the two actors playing fictionalized versions of themselves, and FX standing in for . . . FX. Shot in the mockumentary popularized by shows like “The Office,” the series follows the misadventures of these two somewhat desperate souls as they try to salvage their respective careers. When the pilot opens, Crystal is told that a new show of his, about to premiere, in which the gag is that he plays all the roles, himself, will not air unless he gets a co-star who can skew younger. In comes Gad, fresh off the cancellation of his own series, “1600 Penn” – but still seen as a valuable property because of his success as the voice of Olaf in Frozen and the popularity of Broadway’s The Book of Mormon, in which he played one of the leads – who is suggested as the perfect solution. Does this sound familiar? Well, that’s because it recalls the dynamics of the “30 Rock” pilot, among other obvious influences. Still, in spite of the strained nature of the premise (wouldn’t a network looking for diversity reach into a radically different demographic rather than going from Crystal to Gad?), the pilot is terrific, and my face hurt from laughing so hard. Crystal (whom I have long loved) and Gad have true chemistry, and the writing and incidental characters are zippy and fun. But I was concerned that the second episode was significantly weaker than the first, showing – already! – the strain of the set-up and resorting to pot-smoking scenarios and jokes a bit too soon.

Still, if you like either Crystal or Gad – or both – than the series is definitely worth checking out, as their rapport is delightful.


SXSW Film Design Competition

Taking a break from full-length movie or episodic series screenings, I attended the 50-minute program of 23 title sequences in the design competition, my favorite of which was the 2D animation opener for Andrew Harmer’s The Fitzroy. There was a lot of great work on display, including that from the following films/shows: “Marco Polo” (Netflix), “The Man in the High Castle” (Amazon), “The Leftovers” (HBO), “American Horror Story: Freaks (Season 4) (FX),” and the hilarious (if not particularly innovative in terms of design) ending credits for 22 Jump Street. I had a good time.


Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015)

I have somehow lived to the ripe old age of 46 without knowing who Amy Schumer is, so I chose this movie more because of Judd Apatow and the fact that it was a much-hyped premiere than because of its star. That, and the fact that the screening was taking place at Austin’s Paramount Theatre, which I love. I also enjoy the energy of the big screenings and the crowds they bring in. We go to festivals to see smaller, edgier content, but also the headliner events. This was definitely the latter. Billed as a work-in-progress cut of the movie, Trainwreck brought the director, Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), the writer/star, Schumer, and her co-star, Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), to the theater. Below is a photo I took of the post-screening Q&A. There was, as I had hoped, terrific excitement in the place.

Trainwreck SXSW 2015
L-R: Janet Pierson, Head of SXSW Film; Judd Apatow, Director: Amy Schumer, Writer/Star

As for the movie, it tells the often funny, yet frequently overlong (Apatow’s comedies are always “soggy,” to me, meaning that they need significant editing down of most scenes) tale of misadventure that is the life of its main character, Amy (same name as the actress portraying her), a 30-something mess of an adult infant who drinks, drugs and ruts like an animal until she meets Hader’s super sports doctor, who repairs the knees of America’s sports celebrities, some of whom are in the movie, especially LeBron James (very funny as Hader’s self-appointed best friend). Will her relationship with Hader (whom I did not buy for one minute as a surgeon, though he’s appealing, as always, on screen) change her? What do you think? Also around to complete the cast are the ever-charming Brie Larson (Short Term 12), comedian Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk with Me) and a very funny and almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer). I laughed a lot, in spite of my criticism of Apatow’s pacing, so I give it a solid, if mildly qualified, recommendation.


Spy (Paul Feig, 2015)

Finally, there was Spy, which I saw (also in the Paramount, and for the same reason that drew me to Trainwreck, above) in spite of my dislike of both Bridesmaids (also by director Feig) and my frequent dislike of its star, Melissa McCarthy (Tammy), both of whom were at the screening:

Spy SXSW 2015
L-R: Janet Pierson, Head of SXSW Film; Paul Feig, Writer/Director: Melissa McCarthy, Star

To my surprise, I loved it, though with some of the same caveats as those that apply to Trainwreck: many of the scenes, as well as the film, itself, are just too long. Perhaps it was the enthusiastic audience, or just my exhaustion, or maybe the film is actually funny, but I found myself whisked along in a delightfully zany James Bond spoof that rewrites the rulebook of the spy genre. Rose Byrne (Annie), Jason Statham (The Transporter), Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine) and Allison Janney (The DUFF) – all favorites of mine (and Byrne, Statham and Cannavale were also at the screening!) – are along for the ride, and, with the exception of the criminally underused Cannavale, greatly add to the manic delights. Oh, and Jude Law (Black Sea) shows up as the 007-look-alike that, in another universe, would be the main character. But the film belongs to McCarthy as a CIA computer analyst who must go into the field when a rogue terrorist puts a nuclear bomb on the black market. Suspend all disbelief, prepare for much stupidity, and go with friends who can help you out of the theater after you laugh so hard you can barely walk. Good. Dumb. Fun. I can’t wait for my Day 3!

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