Dan Bonnell

Go Big or Go Bust: New Efficiency Model - Sundance A Cautionary Tale (Part 5)

In November, we left for Toyonaka outside of Osaka, ‘the business capital’ of Japan.  Normally I would have been a nervous wreck, figuring that I’d lose myself, my focus and any film momentum I might have gathered now that I’d be a faculty wife in exile in suburban Japan.  But with my new status as a successful filmmaker with a feature in competition at Sundance, nothing could stop me.  Or so I thought.

Lea Floden as Louise with Michael Moneagle and William Zimmer

Lea Floden as Louise with Michael Moneagle and William Zimmer

From the minute we arrived in Japan until the day we left, my love for our lodging, the Guest House of Osaka University, its minimalist architecture and heated floors, never diminished.  On the contrary, the charm of my new social situation wore off faster than the jet lag.  

Mr. Green came home from his first day at the lab, his eyebrows raised, “These people work twelve to fourteen hours a day!  I’m not going to get into that.  I want to enjoy you and Frank and our time here.”  I raised my inner eyebrows.

Within the week Mr. Green was working twelve hour days.  Hey, I’m not a pathetic person clinging to her husband’s arm, I’ve got stuff to do too.  I’d soon be leaving for Sundance!  I set out to lock in a babysitter a few afternoons a week so I could collect my thoughts before setting off on the festival circuit.  

At eleven months, Frank was a terror on all fours.  He knew he wasn’t allowed in the refrigerator but as soon as its door swung open, he’d dash over at his top speed crawl, lace little fingers between the wires of a shelf and pull himself up to standing, shrieking with delight.  For extra fun, he’d grab things off the shelves and hurl them into the room.  

My first inquiries about getting some relief were to narrow-minded traditional types who tipped their heads to the side and screwed up their faces.  “Babysitta?  In Japan, babies stay with mother.  Or grandmother.”  Seriously? I thought to myself.  Get a life.  Weeks into my search for a few hours of relief, I realized that I was up against something a whole lot bigger than I’d ever be.  According to everyone I asked (this was 1989) I would not find anyone willing to watch the kid if I scoured the entire country.  Peoples’ best suggestions were that I take him to Baby And Me Swim classes.  I’d meet other mothers, too!

I turned to dark chocolate and more and more coffee trying to bring my energy up so I could make do on less sleep, getting something done while old Frank recharged his batteries.  Unfortunately, the stimulating effect reversed and made me more tired than ever.  

Heck, I figured, what’s there to do to ‘get ready’ anyway?  We didn’t have the budget for a publicist.  Lea Floden would join me in Park City and we’d do the best we could.

One month before setting off for Sundance (and dropping Frank at his grandparents in New Jersey) I started giving him more bottles of baby formula and weaning him from nursing.  He was eleven months old and though I’d loved this incredibly tender and intimate part of motherhood, it had to end in order for me to go to Sundance alone.  A measured tapering off would spare both of us the misery of going cold turkey.  One afternoon, watching his beautiful profile, peaceful and confident as he nursed, he pulled off my breast and looked up into my eyes, his mouth full of milk. He cooed at me with such love, the memory of it is a high point of my life.  

Note to filmmakers who haven’t been to Park City: before you go, read up on how to prevent altitude sickness.  “Headache, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath … the common symptoms of mild altitude sickness can be similar to a bad hangover.”  I knew about this and I thought I took precautions.  Maybe I didn’t do enough.

In Park City the festival organized for me to stay in a condo with other filmmakers. They all seemed to know each other and to sleep in ripped t-shirts. I remember one of them looking me over in disbelief (and what felt like hostility) in my nightgown and housecoat. Here I’d made it to Sundance and now was going to feel alienated … because I wore a nightgown?

Jet-lagged, with the altitude sickness and now feeling ostracized by my immediate peers, I wasn’t in top form to face the career opportunity of my life.  Legendary PR man Mickey Cottrell and Doug Lindeman and I exchanged cards on the bus to a screening and Mickey said he’d heard good buzz about How To Be LouiseClaudia Lewis, young, hip and smart, sat in front of Lea and me at a screening.  She’d worked on Drugstore Cowboy.  She encouraged us to stay in touch.  

Pretty much the rest of the festival is a blur.  There were parties.  There were lots and lots of people all of whom I knew i should at least be trying to connect with.  But how do you do that?  Especially when you feel tense, when you feel needy.  Opportunities were certainly all around and just as surely slipping through my fingers.  I was anxious, wanting to try but not to try ‘too hard’, and always feeling in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Roger Ebert and Steven Soderbergh were on the judging committee. I don’t remember ever even seeing them.

We had our packed screenings which seemed to go well and after them our Q&A’s where there were lots of questions.  People approached me afterwards, people with cards from companies I’d never heard of, saying they’d like to talk about distribution and television sales.  Naturally when I glanced down and saw that neither Sony Pictures Classics, Miramax or Orion Classics were on their cards, I'd smile politely, knowing that our film was destined for greater things.  Lea and her husband Dan Bonnell convinced me to leave Park City for twenty-four hours to go skiing at Powder Mountain and get our feet back on the ground.  When we returned to Park City, I went back to crash at the condo only to find someone else sleeping in my bed.  Hmm.  Sorry Mick Jagger, I’ll have to disagree with you here:  You can’t always get what you want, you get what you get.  

I left Park City for the airport without having talked distribution with anyone.  

(to be continued)

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