The Reeler attended last week's awards bash for the indieWIRE: Undiscovered Gems series, wherein their perpetually buzzed about boy-meets-girl-in-tech-addled-silence story Four Eyed Monsters claimed the Sundance Channel Audience Award -- netting filmmakers Susan Buice and Arin Crumley a distribution prize package worth about $100,000. The New York Times and Emerging Artists stepped up with half of it for prints and advertising and general overhead, while Sundance Channel booked the film for a future airing. The remainder of the cash was almost 10 times the split Buice and Crumley received following its Undiscovered Gems tour earlier this year; after almost two years of working on Four Eyed Monsters, they're making real money for the first time, like, ever, with more to come as the film receives a limited release.
"We're thrilled to pieces," Buice told me after Emerging Pictures president Ira Deutschman announced Monsters' triumph (Crumley missed the awards presentation, preoccupied with the last of their post-production work). She added they planned to pay back some of what they had borrowed from their parents; they intended to vanquish around $30,000 in credit card debt -- and maybe even have enough left over to "live for a little while longer."
"We could move to a third-world country and just live indefinitely," Crumley told her. "Do you know how far this money could take us?
"Basicallly, what we're hoping is, you know, Four Eyed Monsters won this, and then it starts to make money, then from there just continue to escalate, continue to extend," Buice said.
"That's what I feel like," Crumley said. "To be honest, I knew we were going to win."
"Well, not because anyone told you," Buice said.
"Well, no," Crumley replied. "Because I just... I was on the subway coming over here, and I was like, 'I hope we win.' Then I was like, 'Actually, I know that we will.' It's weird, but the reason why is because -- "
"Do you know how far off we were from the second-place film?" Buice asked him.
"One-eighth." (Georgia Lee's Red Doors finished second in voting.)
"A statistical impossibility," Crumley said. "Really, there's no reason we should have won, because one-eighth's not, you know, 'Landslide! We deserve to win!' Somehow, we did, right?"
"And it's because people voted, and we invited a lot of people from our video podcast out that got us probably higher than we deserved to be," Crumley said. "So in a way, we've gamed the system. But, you know, it's not a real representation of how our film stacks up with a general audience. But the reason that I knew we were going to win was that a lot of things were lining up. The cut of our film is done. And that's the other thing that nobody understands: We've never really considered our film done. Until today. We've considered it a work in progress; we'll say it's done, we'll show it at these theaters, we'll show it to distributors saying, 'Yeah, you know, this is our film.' But the film itself and why it took us so long to say it's done after premiering it, don't even ask me that. I have no clue, other than that we've been super-busy and haven't spent any time doing what we wanted to do to it -- a slight filmmaker to-do list of things to improve it." He looked at Buice. "We're not just tweakers, right? It really is that the final cut is a lot better?"
Yes? No? Follow the jump to find out.
"No, I think it is a lot better," Buice said, looking forward to the Independent Spirit Awards, where Four Eyed Monsters received two nods, including for the John Cassavetes Award (for the best film made for under $500,000) and best cinematography. "I mean we might have a shot at the Cassavetes Award now, whereas before, I was like, 'No.' I mean, it's great to be nominated, but..." She shrugged.
We talked a little bit about the Monsters DVD and their next project, which they seemed to hardly believe was possible now that their labor of love was complete. The consensus was that they want to continue exploring the nature of technology on relationships, possibly creating an interactive filmmaking effort with contributions from viewers online. ("Arin's been calling the film 2.0," Buice laughed.) Of course, my question had less to do with the logistics of how to plan the next project than with how to not only flourish but survive working closely with your significant other.
"That's one of the things that we're still trying to figure out," Buice said. "And one of the things we're interested in discussing just in terms of relationships in general is, like, 'How do you achieve that ideal space between a relationship and sort of being an individual interacting with the world?' Because even in a normal relationship -- when you're not working together, there's still a lot of, 'How can I be myself and be part of a unit?' Part of a conglomerate, almost, because you do everything by committee when you're in a relationship. And (it's the) same thing when you work on a project together and you're in a relationship; you're so by committee that, you know, my friends call me and say, 'This thing's happening this weekend, do you want to come?' 'Well, I have to check in with Arin.' Not because he's a controlling boyfriend, but just because I don't know if it fits in with everything we're trying to accomplish. And if it doesn't fit in, then no, I can't. 'I can't go out because Four Eyed Monsters needs me.' That's one of the things we've struggled with in our work and relationship together, and it's one of the things that we're still trying to figure out. Details on that to come."
"Yeah, we don't have that figured out at all," Crumley agreed. "We don't have the answers. The only way that we have functioned is basically in like a pedal-to-the-metal sort of freaked-out state -- almost like an adrenaline rush. It's been the only answer."
"Ever since we've gotten into Slamdance (in winter 2005), it's been deadline after deadline after deadline--"
"--and our whole lives have been these deadlines that we took really seriously," Buice continued. " 'Oh my God, we have to do this and we have to do that!' And it's been like that for so long that I think we're finally at a point where it's going to stop being like that, and there's going to be an interesting, defining period."
"And also, in this kind of adrenaline-rush state, we've had to figure out on the fly how we will be doing things," Crumley said. "Like Susan was saying, we couldn't really think for ourselves as individuals. We had to think as this... project. And that moves into your personal life, too. And that's what a relationship is in a lot of ways, when you think about it: Two people decide that they're a team and that they will do things by committee. But then, like, if that's the answer -- if that's what life on this planet is sort of designed to teach us how to do -- we're not doing a good job. It's hell in a handbasket the majority of the time."
"So we're trying to figure out personally, in our relationship, 'OK, well that's not the answer,'" Crumley said. "The answer is not complete enmeshment, or complete integration. The answer is being able to have everything basically be optional. Which is... weird. It's sort of like Four Eyed Monsters is such a mandatory thing -- "
Wait, wait, wait, I said. Optional?
"Or not optional, but voluntary," Crumley clarified. "That's the word I was looking for. For everything to be voluntary so... 'You know what I would like to do? I would like to create a scene with you tonight.' 'You know what I would like to do? I would like to go on a date with you tonight.' 'You know what I would like to do? I would like to spend every moment of the entire rest of my life with you.' No -- no one's ever going to say that to anybody, and if they say that, they say it insincerely."
"Well, they do," Buice said. "In the moment or whatever."
"At a certain point, you can't possibly be thinking that forever," Crumley argued. "So actually, when you're like, 'I would like to not spend this moment with you.' Or, 'I would like to not spend the next couple of days seeing you. Get the hell out of my face.' For example. Or vice versa -- however it goes down. Then you create a scenario, where you say, it's not like we built this thing, this entity, this machine of making episodes and putting them out and promoting our film and that keeps us spending every moment together and that's a 'relationship,' sort of, but it's more actually by choice -- we're voluntarily interfacing with each other either personally or in a collaboration. We're trying to figure that out."
Naturally, the couple got this whole thing on videotape, so I imagine it'll either wind up as some Four Eyed Monsters extra or video podcast that will reveal any gross decontextualization herein. At any rate I'm compelled, especially now that Buice and Crumley have a little more flexible means for doing their "figuring out"; I would never wish a Bergman drama on anybody, but the stone-hearted aesthete in me would be fascinated to see how relationship discord plays out over 15 downloadable installments. Except, you know, they'd have to talk a little more to each other. Or a lot more. Anyway, congratulations.
Posted at December 18, 2006 12:18 PM
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