"The only way certain films like this can get made is by hustling every little thing down that you can, and just praying and begging and borrowing and stealing. That's all you can do. You hope you don't end up in jail or dead!" laughs Alistair Banks Griffin, squinting at me in the last of the afternoon sun on the rooftop deck of the beach across from the Carlton Hotel.
Part hipster Harry Potter, part Johnny Depp from the 21 Jump Street days, Griffin looks hardly grown enough to choose his own outfit every morning, but it's obvious from the moment he opens his mouth that he's perfectly capable of expressing himself quite clearly.
Griffin is the director of Two Gates of Sleep, a feature film screened as part of the Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Two Gates of Sleep takes place in the backwoods of Mississippi and tells the tale of two brothers' journey moving the coffin of their mother upriver to honor her dying request.
Not only is it so remarkable in this attention deficit disordered age that such a young filmmaker has the guts and patience to direct a movie where no one even speaks for nearly 20 minutes, but also it's remarkable that he made the movie for next to nothing. A recipient of a modest grant from Cinereach, Griffin then got 2-3 more private investors to sign onto the project, and while he won't disclose the final figures, he will say, "There wasn't really a budget. It was the price of plane flights, meals, and gas, essentially." Griffin goes on to stress that most items, even the cameras, were donated.
Griffin edited the project himself with lead actor Brady Corbet -- "He was peeking over my shoulder constantly. I was giving him scenes to critique and finally I was like, 'It would save more time if you were sitting here in the room with me!' It was a very unconventional way to have an actor involved in the editing process. I was very excited about that," Griffin shares eagerly.
A bit further up the Croisette, the stunning force of nature that is Kathy Morgan of Kathy Morgan International, the crème de la crème of international sales agents behind the success of such pictures as Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001) and A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004), takes a rare morning breather in the Cannes market to sit down with me and report on her progress and the current state of affairs. At press time no ink has yet dried on her deals that are in the works, so details cannot be divulged, but for someone who's been there and seen all that in the business (and still manages to look like a million bucks), Morgan is adamant on her perspective that the climate is on the upswing.
"This market is more positive than the other ones (markets) we've had over the last year. The economic crisis was a worldwide event; it wasn't just an American thing. Everybody has been reading the front pages of all the newspapers, and it did affect the business dramatically for a while. Everything is cyclical in business and in life. Supply and demand has changed, the business has contracted, and that's a good thing. In this market we really feel there is an upturn again," Morgan concludes.
"The golden days of independent filmmaking where everything sold at some price everywhere doesn't exist anymore. I think we're all adapting, but nobody has the correct answer yet on how to monetize the new way of doing business. It used to be we would pre-sell the rights in order to get the movie made and bank the agreement. Audiences want their programming when they want it, how they want it, where they want it, they want it now," Morgan spells out, the Mediterranean behind the clear glass windows framing her head appearing like a soft gray blanket in the light morning rain.
Morgan delves deeper: "If the way people are going out is over the Internet where we can't get advances for that yet, how do you make the movie? Nobody has quite figured it out yet, but a lot of good minds are thinking about that. Maybe the younger filmmakers will figure it out," she offers.
It's clear from Griffin's near head rush of recent success that there is great value in the ability of filmmakers to extend their skills and talents to reach beyond directing, as Griffin both penned the script and edited the footage. Modern times are calling for filmmakers to tap into not only their own resources and solicit donations, as an example, but also to access the strength of the human capital of creativity that surrounds them.
I ask Griffin about the score, which, along with the physical landscape of his sparsely peppered dialogue film, serves as a crucial component of the mise en scène. "The composers, Saunder Jurriaans and Daniel Bensi, are very old friends of mine from art school, and I've been working with them on almost every project I've ever done. I work on their projects, they work on mine, and we have an incredible almost unspoken dialogue. I give them a little bit of temp(orary) music, and they come back with these extraordinary pieces of music. It's really fascinating. I think they're geniuses," Griffin gushes in respect and awe of his fellow collaborators.
Making art on the page, stage, canvas, film (or, in this case HD), takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears which can be easily forgotten in the consumption of a dusted off final product. "We had every kind of creature imaginable trying to get at us -- snakes, spiders, armadillos, and all kinds of things," Griffin remarks on the lush wilderness of the 18-day shoot.
"The closest gas station was almost 35, 40 minutes away -- even just trying to get milk, something simple like that, was almost impossible. We had put weight in it, we had to," Griffin refers to the heavy coffins the brothers are lugging throughout the better part of the film. "If we didn't, it would look fake. I actually saw some dailies where I realized we hadn't put weight in it, and they had to be cut because it just didn't work."
Not every director makes his first feature film and ends up in Cannes. And not every movie in search of a buyer in the market, be they independent or star-packed vehicles, will be sold. But if Griffin's journey that is just beginning and Morgan's journey that charts an undulating graph in this industry are any indication, it doesn't mean we should abandon all hope that movies of the future won't reflect the diversity of the human experience.
"There are peaks and valleys in what we do. I think we've been in a valley very recently, but we believe that the market's coming back," Morgan smiles warmly.
"This is my first Cannes," the Harry Potter/Johnny Depp doppelganger says aloud, almost momentarily stepping outside of himself to view the experience. "It's outrageous. It's an overwhelming place in every regard. This place is all about extremes. Extreme art, extreme tacky, extreme party, extreme exhaustion. It's just a magical place. I'm so happy to be here."