MTV Overdrive on The Nines

MTV Josh Horowitz from MTV News wrote in to point out that The Flash business wasn’t the only thing they ran from our Sundance interview. In fact, the full version, now up on MTV Overdrive, succeeds in making both Ryan and me sound coherent, which is no small feat.

Here’s what you can’t see in the video:

  1. Ryan is sick with strep throat.
  2. I’m wearing a Daring Fireball t-shirt. (You can see it in some photos from that day.)
  3. There are about 30 people just off camera, being occasionally shushed.

Josh was a good interviewer, honestly, so I’m sorry to harsh on him for The Flash business. I soon hope to have comic book news of my own to avoid discussing.

Sundance, expanded edition

Throughout the week, I’ve been trying to convey the Sundance experience with the Twitter feed, but there’s only so much one can communicate in a sentence or two. So I thought I’d fatten out a few entries to give a better sense of how Sundance really went.

  • Checking through the itineraries and packing lists. Do I take a printer?

I didn’t, but it would have been a big help. We had to keep relying on itineraries printed out before we left, even though dates and times were continuously changing.

The publicists needed 100 copies of the production notes. We printed and copied them in Los Angeles, not realizing that 100 copies of a 20-page document is a pretty heavy box. It would have been smarter to make the copies in Park City.

  • Marveling that the gate agent in Burbank exclaimed, “John August of The Nines?” when she scanned my ticket. She had me sign it.

This was weird. It was so out-of-the-blue that I signed my “check signature” rather than my “poster signature.” Can I confess that I have no idea why anyone would collect signatures? Why not just ask for a lock of my hair? (If I had hair, granted.)

Or, “Pardon me, would you mind if I took a scraping of your skin? I’m hoping to clone you one day.”

  • Picking up rental SUV. Increasing carbon debt substantially.

I needed something fairly big for hauling around cast and family. What’s weird is that I never drove it. My up-at-Sundance assistant Tim became my de facto driver, which was terrific. He could drop me off and pick me up as needed, saving the massive hassle of trying to find a parking spot in the super-crowded little town.

  • Mooching wireless access.

The condo we were staying in didn’t have internet access of any kind, so the best we could do was piggyback on the nearby Marriott’s wireless network, which was frustratingly inconsistent. Far too often I’d spend five minutes trying to get connected, only to give up and read web pages on my Treo.

I’m certainly not faulting Marriott; it’s not their responsibility to offer their non-guests Internet access. But as I would look at the list of other password-protected networks in range, I promised myself I would leave a second well-firewalled port open on my own networks. And it seems like there’s an opportunity for wireless providers to reach outside of Starbucks and start providing hubs wherever people are likely to gather, like a ski resort.

  • Checking in with the Sundance folks. Putting faces with email addresses.

There are zillions of behind-the-scenes people who keep Sundance running, and to the person they were terrific. Assistant/driver Tim works for the institute in Los Angeles, so it was helpful that he was already a familiar face to them.

  • Buying snow pants for the baby.

It’s discouraging to pay $40 for a piece of clothing she’ll wear three times in her life. But those pants let her run around outside, which was essential for all of our sanity.

  • Figuring out how to make clip DVDs, and silently cursing those who said, “No, everything is still on beta. Seriously.”

While it’s easy to rip a DVD, it’s much more difficult to snip and assemble just the pieces you want and have it look good when burned again. Software like Handbrake specializes in making video fit on an iPod, but I never got the footage to look decent when put back to DVD.

  • Listening to Ozomatli warm up, right outside my window. This is gonna be loud.

I really like the band. I would go see them again. But the inescapability of it made those four hours a feat of endurance.

  • Wondering if the two-story tent for the UTA party is structurally sound. And if Heather Graham knows she dropped her purse.

The only reason we got into the party — as opposed to the hundreds of others freezing outside — was that my agent escorted us in. We even made it to the upper-level VIP area thanks to Ryan, who used his star power to overwhelm the poor girl responsible for keeping the cool kids separated from the rest of us. (Ryan is a cool kid, yet fights for the side of good.)

After, say, 15 minutes of staring down on the gathering masses who didn’t have charming stars to pull them upstairs, I realized that (a) my drink was dissolving the Saturn-sponsored cup I was holding, and (b) that I was having a lousy time. The bouncers had no idea how we were supposed to exit. It had apparently never occurred to them someone might want to leave. The place was an industry roach motel.1

  • Meeting with producers to divvy up the tickets. A lot of little Sophie’s Choices.

Sundance gives you a set number of tickets for your movie, plus the option to buy an additional number. (The exact quantities depend on the venue.) We knew going in that we wouldn’t have enough to accommodate everyone we were expecting, so we urged friends and family to sign up for the online ticket lottery.2

I abdicated all authority for rationing the tickets to my producers, who in the end were able to accommodate just about everyone, including Doug Liman, who showed up moments before the screening. I hadn’t seen him since Go, so it was an odd but appropriate place to catch up.

  • Suggesting that if you’re going to tonight’s screening, please ask a question in the Q and A. 15 bonus points if you use the word “paradigm.”

In the end, no one got the 15 bonus points. Several reader/admirers did come up after screenings to confess they couldn’t figure out a way to incorporate the magic word.

  • Loving that random pedestrians gawk at Ryan, knowing he’s somebody but not sure who. “He was in The Notebook.”

This was on Main Street, which is the nexus of all that is unholy at Sundance. On Sunday afternoon, we had to walk up and down Main Street, visiting all the photographers for magazines and agencies. While the photo shoots themselves were painless, the process felt a little Devil Wears Parka, all bustle and schwag, with coffee and liquor always at hand.

At one of the storefronts, Ryan and I did a short interview for MTV news. The minute it was over, Ryan predicted that all they would use was speculation about whether or not he was going to be The Flash, a movie that doesn’t exist and to which he’s not attached. Sadly, he was right. Non-existent comic book movies trump everything, apparently. I need to remember that.

  • Getting sick of people asking, “So are you nervous?” Answer: Increasingly.

This is one of those un-answerable “When did you stop beating your wife?” questions. If you say yes, then the response will be, “Oh, you shouldn’t be nervous. It’s going to go great!” If you say no, then prepare to hear, “God, I would be. Eccles Theater is huge!”

Here’s my advice to readers whose friends or loved ones have movies premiering at a festival: tell them how good they look, even if it’s a lie. One false compliment will do more to ease nerves than hours of verbal reassurance.

  • Watching lights dim.

The premiere itself went great. All my fears of the tape breaking were for naught. Geoff Gilmore introduced the movie, and set just the right expectation: this is a challenging, potentially frustrating film. (Subtext: This isn’t LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.) I thanked but didn’t name the people in the credits, and gave a special shout-out to the husbands/wives/partners/roommates of filmmakers who make it possible to do our thing.

The Nines isn’t a comedy, but the first section in particular has a fair number of jokes. Jokes that a director completely forgets are jokes until he sees them with an audience. So that was heartening. There are also a few jolts in the movie, and with more than 1,000 people in the audience, the gasps were substantial. Also cool.

Having screened the movie with an audience before, I knew to anticipate a certain uneasy quiet afterwards while viewers pondered what they just saw and whether or not they dug it. I was worried the crickets would persist through the Q & A, but to my relief the questions came quickly. One hearing-impaired viewer asked about Elle Fanning’s character using sign language. I found myself remembering the real reason I made that choice for the character: so she wouldn’t have as much dialogue.3

One guy asked how I felt about Jesus. This was a recurring motif in the three Q & A’s I did. The movie takes a metaphysical turn at one point, and viewers inevitably try to look at it through their own personal philosophical-religious lens. By all means, that’s sort of the point. But trying to peg the movie to any one set of beliefs is only going to be frustrating.

And as for Jesus, I never met him, but I have to say I prefer his early work.

  • Floating outside my body, listening to myself answer questions.

Monday was all about press interviews. Usually, they’re a grind, and you find yourself repeating the same 10 sentences over and over. But partly because of the nature of the movie, reporters asked more interesting-slash-challenging questions than they usually do.4 Whereas I usually become a question-answering robot, this time I felt fully present — and yet, floaty. I heard myself being more eloquent than I expected, given four hours of sleep. Or maybe the lack of sleep was making my blathering sound coherent only to me.

  • Keeping silent on issues that would make Whitney Pastorek happy.

Whitney Pastorek is the writer who was incredibly effusive in her teary-eyed love for the movie. There were a couple of self-identified superfans up on the mountain, and while everyone likes to be told their movie is genius, there’s a dark side. Praise is like sugar. It gives you this hit of energy, but twenty minutes later you’re hungry for more.

Between Google Alerts and the publicity office, we were soon getting a steady stream of the split opinions we anticipated. There were raves and excoriations, and like a fool, I read them all. Did I go into the festival knowing that some people would really dislike the movie? Yup. Did that offer any consolation? Nope.

The particular issue that would make Whitney Pastorek happy would be an announcement that we have a distributor, and I can’t say anything specific on that subject as of blogtime. But Whitney, from me to you, stay strong.

  • Gabbing with Leonard Maltin. Yup, I know him.

Film critic Leonard Maltin is best known for his work on Entertainment Tonight, but he also hosts the weekly 466 screenings of new films at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.5 It’s basically a Q&A with an alumni filmmaker. I’ve brought three movies to his class, and he’s always been a pleasure, even when he clearly didn’t like a film.

I ran into him in front of the Egyptian theatre, where I was trying to meet up with a reporter whom I’d missed earlier. Leonard and I exchanged hellos and happy festival wishes. (He hadn’t seen The Nines.) I said goodbye, only to find him on the same tiny plane back to Burbank. Awk-ward.

And that was my Sundance. I still don’t feel I’m really home. I keep reaching for my festival badge, which has hung around my neck for all my waking hours. But I was ready to come back. After a week of puffy parka-ville, I can walk outside in just a t-shirt. That’s huge.

  1. The Nines’s afterparty was in the same space the following night, with about one-fourth the people, which made it much better. That and the fact that I had just premiered a movie, and many people were telling me I rocked.
  2. A fool’s errand, as it turned out. I don’t know a single person who got a premiere ticket that way.
  3. In my defense, I didn’t know we’d get Elle Fanning, who is not only dramatically capable, but can imitate David Caruso.
  4. Typical press junket question: “When you heard Johnny Depp was playing Willy Wonka, how exciting was that?” Your answer is clearly supposed to begin, “When I heard Johnny Depp was going to be playing Willy Wonka, I was incredibly excited because…” Because it meant that eight months later I’d get to sit in a cramped hotel room with you, Tom, feigning interest in this charade of journalism.
  5. Still getting used to the new name George picked. I like it, though.

Some of The Nines

As promised, here’s your first look at The Nines, as scripted. The following represents roughly the first three pages of each section.

Part One: The Prisoner

A MAN’S HAND unwinds a short length of green string. We’re extremely close, with a shallow, blurry focus. It’s like the first moments after a dream -- just fragments.

Scissors cut the string. The man wraps it around his left wrist. A loop. A bracelet.

We see the man’s teeth, the edge of his chin as he pulls the knot tight.

His fingers pull against the string. Solid. It won’t break easily.



There’s no music. No sound at all, really, except for some distant birds CHIRPING.

Then a SQUEAK. A SQUEAL as rusty springs engage.

A GARAGE DOOR LIFTS, revealing GARY BANKS in silhouette. He’s 30, effortlessly fit, with movie-star good looks (although for now, he’s merely a TV star).

Like most Laurel Canyon garages, this one has never held a car. Instead, it’s the resting place for all the detritus of bachelordom: shitty Ikea furniture, a drum set, a styrofoam snowman, and the Harley he always meant to get running.

Gary spots what he was looking for.



Gary drags a beaten Weber kettle. One of its wheels is broken, SCRAPING against the deck.

WIDER, we see Gary’s house has an incredible view of the city. He couldn’t fucking care less.

He yanks the circular grill out of the Weber and throws it down the canyon.

He empties a garbage bag into the barbecue: mostly women’s clothes, but also some stuffed animals and photos still in their frames. There’s too much to fit, so he tries stomping it down with a flip-flopped foot.

He cracks open a container of lighter fluid and begins drenching everything inside. He sprays until the container is WHEEZING air. He shakes it, making sure it’s really empty.

Then he cracks open a new container and keeps spraying. And spraying.

We follow the dripping fluid as it runs across a photo of Gary and a BLONDE WOMAN.

Her eyes are scratched out, making her unrecognizable.

Under the grill, lighter fluid is dripping in a stream, soaking into the wooden deck.

Finally satisfied, Gary throws the lighter fluid aside. He takes five steps back and pulls a box of matches from his pocket.

EXTREMELY CLOSE as the match SCRAPES, erupting in flames.

On Gary’s left wrist, we see a green string bracelet.

MUSIC STARTS: a pounding, hypnotic track that will carry us through these MAIN TITLES.

In EPIC SLOW-MOTION, we follow the burning match as it sails through the air, tumbling end-over-end.

Just as it’s about to reach its target, we...


A DIGITAL METER shoots to 100 miles per gallon. It’s the display of Gary’s Prius. We are...


Gary’s at the wheel, driving, as he finishes a fifth of bourbon. JUMP CUTS take us out of Hollywood, heading downtown. Our TRAVELLING MUSIC is serving us well.

Gary stops at a light. He looks left and sees himself on the side of a bus. It’s an ad for CRIME LAB (“This fall, Mondays are killer.”) Gary watches himself drive away.


Further along, Gary spots two THUGGY TEENAGERS sitting on a low wall. He calls out to them:


Hey! Do you sell crack?

The boys look wary.


It’s cool. I’m only a cop on TV.


Money changes hands.

Gary holds a small ziplock bag -- and has no idea what to do with its lumpy beige contents.



Gary pulls up to a curb. He’s now on Sunset Blvd. A matronly black streetwalker (OCTAVIA, 35) approaches the passenger window.

Gary holds up the little bag.


Is this crack?

She takes a closer look.


Do you know how to do it?



Gary and Octavia jump up and down on the bed, each trying to bounce higher than the other, LAUGHING all the while.

Part Two: Reality Television


We RUSH IN on a television set, which spins around revealing a blinding constellation of pixels.


Previously, on “Behind the Screen.”



GAVIN TAYLOR (30) walks to a meeting, with his laptop bag over his shoulder. He has a tidy, Banana Republic sensibility and an easy smile that belies his manic schedule.


Gavin Taylor’s one of the best TV writers out there.


Cluttered and corporate, with stacks of scripts and a few touches of arbitrary quirk.

SUSAN HOWARD (35) and Gavin kiss hello.


Every network would kill to work with him.




“Knowing” is a one-hour drama about a woman whose husband disappears. She starts to believe that her daughter is the key to a dark conspiracy.


Gavin pitches his show to the NETWORK BOSSES.


Basically, it’s like “Rosemary’s Toddler.”


Impromptu INTERVIEW. Gavin is beaming.


We sold it in the room.


Gavin leans into the speakerphone.


Just tell me Roger liked the script.


Susan is on her speakerphone.


You’re shooting a pilot.


Gavin has coffee with actress MELISSA McCARTHY (34), his best friend. He’s pitching her the idea.


Melissa McCarthy is my first and only choice for the lead.


I love it. I’ll do it.


An EPK-style INTERVIEW, on the set of the pilot.


Gavin and I have been friends for forever.


Melissa hangs out with her “Gilmore Girls” CAST and CREW.


It’s really hard to leave a show like “Gilmore Girls,” but I really believe in Gavin.


Gavin, Susan and a LINE PRODUCER go over the figures.


The only way we can afford to shoot the pilot is in Canada.


Gavin stacks up clothes on his bed, preparing to pack.


It’s really hard to think about leaving for six weeks.


Gavin YELLS:



A STEADICAM follows Melissa as she gets out the passenger door of a Toyota Prius, an alarmed look on her face.


Susan is on a cell phone call. She smiles at Melissa, who walks by with two cups of coffee.


Right now, this is probably our top pilot. But things change.



Part Three: Knowing


In a WIDE SHOT, we see a vast field, bordered by green mountains. Unseen BIRDS call out from the trees, while insects CLICK and WHIRR.

In the distance, we spot swatches of bright colors moving our way. It’s a family: father GABRIEL (34), wife MARY (33) and daughter NOELLE (8). They’re returning from a short day hike. Mary carries a small videocamera.

Seeing that Noelle is already a ways down the path...


Noelle! Don’t get too far ahead.

Noelle turns around. Instead of speaking, she moves her hands in sign language (She’s mute, not deaf).


No. You had ice cream at lunch.

Noelle begs to differ. More signing.


(to Mary)

Apparently frozen yogurt doesn’t count.


I’ll make note.


The family walks up to their car, a blue Toyota Prius. Gabriel sheds his daypack, trying to open the hatchback. It won’t lift.

Mary goes to open the passenger door. Locked.


Did you hit it?


Shouldn’t have to.

He fishes the keys out of his pocket. Presses the remote entry button repeatedly.

Gabriel tries to open the driver’s side door. Locked. Even Noelle knows something’s wrong.

Gabriel pulls the small mechanical key out of the fob. Unlocks the door and climbs in. Opens the door for Mary and Noelle.


I think we left the overhead light on.

He taps it. Moves the switch.



Noelle signs her made-up representation of “shit.”



Gabriel slides the key into the slot. Hits “START.” Nothing.


Battery is dead. Least the starter is.

Noelle leans forward, aware that this is something serious.


How do we...?


We call the service. That’s all we can do.


It’s just the little battery that’s dead, right? The big one is probably fine.


I guess.


We can’t jump it from one battery to the other? Cross-over somehow?


Who did you marry? MacGyver?

He gets out of the car, retrieving his cell phone. Mary follows him out. Noticing that he’s not dialing...


Are you getting a signal?


No. Do you?

She checks her phone. A long beat.


Yes! One bar.

They’re both relieved. Finding the AAA card in his wallet, Gabriel takes the phone and dials.

It’s at this moment we notice the familiar green string bracelet around Gabriel’s wrist.

In the back seat, Noelle KNOCKS on the window. She signs, asking if everything is okay.


We’re okay. Daddy’s calling people to help us.

Gabriel pulls the phone from his ear. Looks at the screen. Hits redial. Fuck.


The minute you try to place a call, the bar goes away.


Keep trying.


Okay, I’ll keep trying, Mary. But it will keep happening.


Well, what do you want to do?


I don’t know.

He tries redial.


Maybe if you hold it up higher.

Humoring her, he holds it at arm’s length. No good.


The problem is we’re boxed in. It’s a canyon.

A beat.


Where we turned off the main road, it was more open. And higher, too.


That’s at least a mile.


I can run that.


So...we stay here?


You okay with that?


I don’t think we have a choice, so, yeah. Go.

Half a beat, while each waits for the other to think of a better plan. Neither does.

Gabriel leans down next to Noelle’s window.


Daddy’s going to get a truck to help us out. You take care of your mom, okay?

Noelle nods.


I’ll be right back.

Gabriel gives Mary a quick peck and starts running down the road.

We MOVE IN on Noelle, who smiles a little.



Gravel CRUNCHES under Gabriel’s shoes as he runs. He keeps an easy pace.

About the live updates

geek alert! If you’re reading this site via the RSS feeds, you may not be aware that the “real” site features a continuously updated list of what I’m doing at Sundance. Call it microblogging. It’s powered by Twitter, and doesn’t show up in the main feed.

However, you can subscribe to the just the Twitters through the previous link.

(Update March 2011: Yes, I called them “Twitters.” I don’t think the term “tweet” had been solidified yet.)

Sundance panels

In addition to the screenings, I’ll be a panelist at two different events at the festival.

HD House

Cinematographer Nancy Schreiber and I will talk about the HD of it all, with clips from the movie.
Monday, Jan. 22nd, at 7 p.m.
Yarrow Theater 2

BMI Composer Roundtable

Composer Alex Wurman and I will be talking about the music in The Nines, including the cool Yahama thing we did.
Wednesday, Jan. 24th, at 11 a.m.
Sundance House / Kimball Art Center
More info here.