Last night at Sundance, Justin Simien’s Bad Hair premiered. Coming off the never-ending buzz of his last Sundance success Dear White People, this 80’s set Urban horror/thriller/satire stars Ella Lorraine as Anna — a smart and charismatic VJ at an Urban Music Video channel whose new dew suddenly gets a mind of its own and needs blood and a general never-ending slate of deaths to stay satiated.
It’s the social commentary of Us with the comic-thrills of Little Shop of Horrors and slightly reminiscent of the visual over-the-top, somewhat cheesy horror of Dead Alive.
And it was solid. Per our STNS post yesterday, we’re still standing by our prediction that this goes for $4-5 million to A24 or Neon, with most likely A24 winning the title due to their history handling narrative indie genre better than Neon, who is the King when it comes to documentary and foreign. The film is fun, well-done, and if Justin trimmed about 25 minutes out of the movie it would be perfect.
But that’s not the story. The story is about the ludicrous process Sundance has when it comes to admitting people to screenings. It’s insanity. And unfair.
People make their schedules weeks out for Sundance. They plan, buy tickets, coordinate rides and evaluate what phase the Moon is going to be in before they head out. There are the Richie riches who spend thousands to get the “I get to go in first” Pass, and I have no issues with that at all. There are those with the kinds of passes that let them wait in an overflow line in the event there’s extra seats. And then there’s the middle class of Sundance, with official passes and tickets who should be guaranteed a seat in the screening. Sundance has been doing this for eons, so they should be better about this.
But what often happens, is that the filmmakers and distributors and agents representing said films always throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings by adding last minute throngs of people into the mix. Often times, like was the case with Bad Hair, almost half the audience were guests of the filmmakers, crew from the film, friends of the parents of the cousins of the filmmaker and the dude who held open the door for the cousins of the parents of the uncle’s chiropractor’s assistant.
Now, for agents representing a film that doesn’t have a distributor, it’s in their best interest to stack the deck, so to speak. Pack the house with people they know are going to roll and rollick along with the film; being loud and laughing and screaming and giving the Executives in the room who are considering buying the film the kind of amusement park-ride experience they need to feel good about bidding a healthy amount for distribution rights. The more people the agents and producers can jam into the Sundance Bubble, the better the response.
Have you ever heard what mirroring is? Mirroring is a phrase my therapist uses all the time; it’s the common tactic they use to help people in therapy. It’s been proven that if you’re sitting across from or next to someone who responds to a certain situation in one way, you’ll often respond in a similar way — sharing in the energy they’re creating and putting out there. This is exactly what agents and reps and Producers are doing in the bubble. The more excited, raucous people they can put in that audience, the more you’ll pay for the movie. The better reviews you’ll get.
But it wreaks fucking havoc on getting in.
Even if you have a ticket.
Last night alone, the amount of established writers who were unable to get into Bad Hair was more than I’ve seen. And while I was lucky to have gotten in to see it, there were dozens who didn’t. And that’s a problem, because despite what you think, Film Festivals aren’t necessarily for the general public. If the general public disappeared tomorrow, Film Festivals would still happen, and the most important outcome of them (selling the films to distributors) would still happen. And then the films would still make it to audiences at a later date. But if the writers creating buzz and the companies creating financial opportunities for the films weren’t there, you’d stop seeing Film Festivals as numerous or profitable.
But giving priority to one group over another is just plain madness. And I’m not suggesting it, but rather offering up such a crazy suggestion so that we can bring it back to one that isn’t so crazy. How about looking at your theater, seeing how many seats there are, then only selling tickets for that number of seats? You can always have people waiting in standby in case people don’t show up, but to not let in people who have real tickets tied to real seats because there’s more cast members you need in the Sundance Bubble?
It’s bad form. And despite it not affecting me last night, it’s clearly going to at some point this week.
So fix that, Sundance. And cut twenty-five minutes from Bad Hair. Between the two things, we’re bound to be all good.