It’s been almost a year since I first spoke with Cindy Baer about her film Purgatory House, which was written by 14-year-old Celeste Davis. Back then, the film was fairly fresh on the scene and being personally blown away by it, it was my wish that it get out there so as many people as possible could see it. That wish is coming true as “Purgatory House” is still on the festival circuit, wowing audiences all over the country. So I thought this was a good time to catch up a little with Cindy to find out how her year has been in Purgatory.
When we first spoke, you were just starting out on the festival circuit. How’s the experience been?
It’s been incredible! It’s exciting going from city to city, seeing all of these amazing independent movies, and meeting the different filmmakers. And as the tour goes on, you start to run into other filmmakers you’ve met at earlier festivals. The best part is that it really feels like the movie has a life. And it’s so interesting to see how the audiences vary in each place. Every festival is so different, but all of them have a deep respect for the films they are showing, and the work the filmmakers have done. It’s been amazing, and I’ve learned so much.
How has Celeste been handling her newfound fame?
Since she’s still attending high school, she’s only been to four of the festivals. But she’s having a great time! I think her favorite moments were receiving the “Best Screenplay” Award at the San Diego Film Festival (which was an engraved statue), and a “Best Performance in a Feature” Award at the Silverlake Film Festival at the Arclight in Hollywood. I’ve never seen her look so happy.
How have the audience reactions been to the film? I’m really curious to find out what younger audience members think about it as I’m such an old man.
He he. You’re such an old man! The audiences have been great. A big asset of playing the festival circuit is getting to see who our audience really is, instead of who I think it is. Our Q&As after the screenings are always enlightening, and turn into these deeply philosophical discussions from people of all ages. One festival director told me he was surprised to hear people asking questions about the nature of religion instead of the usual questions like “What was your budget?” And as for younger audiences: You know, I was very surprised at how positively they’ve been reacting to the movie! I thought that the slow pace in the film may not hold the MTV generation’s attention. But that’s not the case! They are loving it! And they seem inspired by it, which is what I really wanted. I am thrilled.
Any advice for filmmakers out there who are trying to get their films into festivals?
I recommend having a good plan. My goal was to play at only well-respected festivals, gain momentum and buzz, build a fan base, and nab some great reviews to help validate the film and secure distribution. My advice is to research the festivals you are interested in. (Don’t just submit to everything). Make sure it seems like it’s a festival you’d be a good match for, and that you would benefit from playing at. Look for festivals that get good audience and industry attendance, and good press coverage. Look to see what movies they’ve played in past years. Choose your World Premiere wisely, because you only get one. Make it count. Try and find someone well respected in the industry who is willing to champion you. We were lucky to find some great champions very early on, and it definitely opened some doors for us. In competitive festivals, know that not all films are placed into competition categories. Do your best to try and get your film into competition so you can be considered for awards. Have a good website, and build a fan base. And most importantly, don’t swallow the bitter pill, and stay away from jaded people. Attitude is everything.
Are there any distribution plans for “Purgatory House”?
We’ve been approached by several of the mini-majors, and over 25 sales agents. We were already offered DVD/VHS distribution on the spot (by companies I’m not familiar with) at two different festivals. I’m still learning about the process right now, and I don’t want to jump the gun and make a wrong choice. There are many balls in the air, and my goal is to have this locked down in the next 2 months. I would really love for this movie to pay for Celeste to go to college. If you want to follow our progress, feel free to visit our recent news link at www.purgatoryhouse.com.
Is Celeste working on anything right now?
She’s writing a book right now but I’m not allowed to say anything about it. It’s “top secret” you know! She has also started another screenplay that seemed really interesting. Right now her main goal is to finish high school.
What’s up next for you?
Getting this movie OUT THERE! I’m very single-minded, which is my biggest asset and biggest liability! I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do next. I’m sure there will be another film in my future. I will probably go back to my theater. (I co-founded the Mosaic Theater Company, and it’s been on a very long hiatus, since I’ve been working on “Purgatory House”). I’ve started writing a book called “Thirty-four” (which is my autobiography in 2 parts. The second installment will be in thirty-four more years if I”m still around). Of one thing I am certain: some creative project will come my way and fill me with passion, and take over my life. It always does.