Hollywood filmmaking is usually a practice in the art of patience and waiting. Waiting to pitch your idea, waiting on a rewrite, waiting for financing (usually the longest wait, by far), then waiting for the your talent to become available. Then, maybe if you're lucky, you can start shooting.
I was able to sit down recently for coffee with director Nancy Savoca and producer Richard Guay, who make for a delightful couple (they're married) and a couple of fearless filmmakers. Their latest feature, Union Square, has been making the rounds at art house theaters as of late.
Savoca is a director who was at the forefront of the indie film movement, her first feature True Love won the 1989 Sundance Grand Jury Prize Dramatic prize. To give some perspective, that was the same year as Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape, Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy, and Jarmusch's Mystery Train. Union Square finds Savoca going back to her formative indie roots with a digital twist. Wanting just to shoot something while waiting to film larger projects, she decided not to ask permission to make a movie, but just to do it instead. Armed with a Canon 5D, and little else other than her small crew and 12-day shooting schedule, Savoca turned a limited location film into a dramatic narrative and elicited award-worthy performances out of Mira Sorvino and Tammy Blanchard.
"The Canon 5D was so anonymous that no one knew what we were shooting," said Savoca. So the crew didn't have to shut down Union Square or a local dance club to grab a few shots with their star. "People didn't really care what we were doing. We live in a cell phone camera world now, so it wasn't that difficult."
Shooting run-and-gun, without permission, wasn't without it's drawbacks. "At the time the 5D had no external monitor," said Guay. "There was also no way to pull focus, so there were a lot of fuzzy shots."
Savoca warned that filmmakers today shouldn't be fooled by easy access to equipment that can make a decent image for a low cost. "You have to prepare. Even jazz musicians who jam, prepare. You have to eat, live and breathe this stuff in order to create something good... Union Square feels improved, but it's all scripted. We prepared."
Savoca also realizes that filmmakers who are coming of age now may never get studio support and that the responsibility of going it alone "can get heavy."
By not getting a project studio approved, you can be going it alone for all of your marketing needs, which can be daunting and, honestly, just a lot of extra work. "We've never been involved with the marketing to this extent," Savoca said of her grassroots effort to get the film seen. She and Guay have been slowly releasing the film in select cities, traveling, and doing Q&A's after many of the screenings to get the word out about the film as well as using Facebook and Twitter. "We don't have the power of the studio, but we have social media," she said.
Union Square might be playing at an art house near you, but you're more likely to catch it On Demand starting Sept. 15th or on Showtime in late November.
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