Jan 22 • 54M

Ankler Hot Seat: Sundance Cinderellas

Directors Jesse Moss of 'Boys State' and Liz W. Garcia of 'The Lifeguard' reveal their backstories behind going from unknown to acclaim in one stressed-out week

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Welcome to The Ankler Hot Seat, a new podcast that takes you behind the scenes of Hollywood’s big personalities, power struggles and ever-changing playbook. It is a production of The Ankler, a subscription-only newsletter. Please follow us on Apple Podcasts (and rate us if you like what you are hearing), and on Twitter.

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Before we get started with today’s episode…

We are proud to introduce you to The Optionist, a new Ankler newsletter out today about available intellectual property for the entertainment community, written by Andy Lewis. The Optionist aims to do some of your reading for you by highlighting the best material with rights still available from the worlds of book publishing, backlisted titles, journalism and podcasts (names of reps will be attached to each property when applicable). As anyone who works in this industry knows, the publishing-to-Hollywood superhighway has only expanded in the streaming age, yet the hours in the day have not. We hope this newsletter helps makes your work life just a little bit more productive through our legwork.

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Now, as for today’s episode 2 of our limited podcast series The Ankler Hot Seat: Sundance 2022, we look at a very special part of the Sundance experience.  At the center of the entire circus are the stories of lone filmmakers inspired to defy the odds and make a film — generally outside any formal system, with a hodgepodge of support and financing held together with Band Aids and Scotch tape.

The filmmakers who actually end up accepted to the festival defy stratospheric odds, not only in getting their films made, yes, but then in their acceptance to the world’s premiere launching pad for independent film.

But once filmmakers get there, the road out of Sundance gets even narrower. Some land splashy deals, great riches and enormous futures. Others scratch their heads wondering — what exactly was that all about?

Today, we talk to two filmmakers about what the experience suddenly going from a quiet under-budgeted editing room to the bright lights at Sundance was like.

First up, host Richard Rushfield chats with Jesse Moss, whose documentary Boys State debuted at Sundance in 2020, the last time the festival met in person. The film tells the story of a meeting of high school boys in Texas to form a representative government through an American Legion-sponsored program, and was wildly well-received upon its debut, ultimately selling to Apple and A24 for $12 million — one of the highest price-tags ever for a documentary feature.

For Moss however, the experience was a whirlwind of fear, joy, logistics and illness as he went into the Sundance barrel. There was even a bout of vomiting from anxiety.

We also chat with filmmaker Liz W. Garcia, who hit Sundance in 2013 with her late-coming of age drama, The Lifeguard which has gone on to become a cult favorite and touch stone for many women belatedly searching for their path.

Like Moss, Garcia found herself overwhelmed by the whirlwind of suddenly coming to Sundance and seeing the intimate drama she had carved with her bare hands premiere at the Eccles Theater, Sundance’s grandest venue.

Despite the thrill of the moment and the later glories to come, Garcia’s Sundance journey was made bittersweet by the chorus of all-male critics who didn’t connect with the female story, and pestered her with undermining and patronizing questions in their interviews throughout the week. For many female filmmakers, it will be a familiar story.

Join us for the next episode in our Sundance series, hosted by Janice Min and Tatiana Siegel, on Monday. Thanks for listening! And please subscribe to The Ankler if you like what you are hearing and reading.

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Also on The Ankler this week:

  • Again check out the debut of Andy Lewis’ The Optionist, hot off the presses.

  • ESG weighs on The Worst Case Scenario for Disney, between streaming winds and China problems, a perfect storm of risk is brewing for the entertainment giant.

  • Ankler Hot Seat Podcast: What to Expect at Sundance The first episode in our Sundance podcast series in honor of Hollywood’s big festival discusses the big titles, Dakota Johnson, swag bags, and the pinnacle, er nadir, of the festival: the Pizza Hut VIP lounge.

  • Hollywood’s China Grovel is Failing Writer Sonny Bunch dives into the absolute mess stemming from the studios’ decades of capitulation to the Chinese government. The Chinese government was badly embarrassed following American outrage over the revelations that Disney’s live-action Mulan filmed on location in Xinjiang province — where as many as a million Muslim Uyghurs have been detained in concentration camps designed to destroy their ethnic identity. Disney has paid a price ever since. None of Disney’s new Marvel Cinematic Universe films received a theatrical release in China. Not Black Widow, not Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which used Chinese iconography and Chinese actors in the hopes of appealing to Chinese audiences and winning approval of Chinese officials, and not Eternals, which was directed by the best director-winning, China-born Chloe Zhao, who has her own baggage with Chinese audiences after old interviews resurfaced in which she said China was a “place where there are lies everywhere.”

  • Broadway’s Crisis: It’s ‘Las Vegas on the Hudson’ As Broadway suffers its lowest attendance in a decade, omicron wreaking havoc, and audiences rejecting one new production after another, longtime entertainment critic and journalist Frank Scheck writes about Broadway’s risk of becoming Vegas-on-the-Hudson, a place defined only by longstanding mega-hits: "If the producing doesn't get smarter, the gap between the blandly commercial and artistically pretentious flops will continue to widen."

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