Last week I got a text from Jason Carney, grand poobah of the Phoenix Film Festival. It read simply, “Wanna do something crazy?”
I didn’t need details. With Jason, my answer’s always “yes”.
What I had agreed to was this: a documentary had been pulled from PFF at the last minute, and they wanted OFFICIAL REJECTION to fill the slot. It’s not a completely alien notion – in the three years since premiering at the 2009 edition of the festival, OFFICIAL had screened several times for the Phoenix Film Society, and the possibility of a yearly encore had actually been discussed. But what was gratifying for me was that I wouldn’t just be a tourist this year – a filmmaker with nothing to show. While it wasn’t a new work, I’d at least get to play something.So today, on the first full day of screenings, the first movie I would hit would actually be my own. I was concerned about attendance, naturally – mine was an older flick that had been played theatrically to death and has been available on DVD in the festival store since 2010. Who was left that both hadn’t seen it and would want to? Nor was the screening time ideal – 1:30pm on a weekday. Hell, we were such a late edition we weren’t even in the program. And upon arriving at the Harkins I discovered, to my horror, that we’d been slotted for one of the larger theatres – the kind that really swallows up a small audience.
Remarkably, we ended up at about 50 percent full. This speaks volumes about the attendance PFF is able to generate. Today saw a record number of sold-out Friday screenings, starting with Blayne Weaver’s 11:20am screening of 6 MONTH RULE and continuing throughout the day.After OFFICIAL REJECTION I slipped right into the world premiere of Gary King’s musical HOW DO YOU WRITE A JOE SCHERMANN SONG. In true Broadway fashion, Gary had printed up complimentary Playbill-style programs and had his team handing them out to the waiting audience. Although Gary had shown me an earlier cut of the movie last year, I wasn’t prepared for just how well the final version plays. It’s a nothing short of a beautifully-made crowd-pleaser. Then it was time for my occasional collaborator Scott Storm’s new doc WE RUN SH*T. Also a world premiere, this long-gestating tale of music promoters up against the nasty underbelly of Miami’s club scene had been a big question mark for Scott. The characters featured in the flick were oft unsavory and he wasn’t sure if a tale of their struggles would play actually to an audience. His concerns – and those of his co-director Michael Rogers – proved to be unjustified. WE RUN SH*T brought the house down. Hard. Capping off the evening was the first big party of the festival, and this one was Karaoke-based. The stunt was a little too successful at riling up some of the attendees – one woman decided, during a musical break, to put down the mic and do cartwheels on stage, which revealed that she was – oh yes – without underwear. A few choice flashes later, and security ejected their first partygoer of the fest.
While I was enjoying a few complimentary drinks near the stage the boys from the upcoming movie BROKEN LEG burst into the party, dancing and doing stunts in a prop wheelchair. With six days left in their campaign, they’d just hit their goal on Kickstarter, effectively giving them the greenlight. Free pizza arrived, and that was it – the festival hit full tilt.
Paul Osborne is the director of film festival documentary OFFICIAL REJECTION & screenwriter of cult thriller TEN ‘TIL NOON. His latest movie, FAVOR, is in post-production. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulMakesMovies.