Sunday, February 14, 2010

the final days of sundance

yeah, been a while. since sundance ended, i got (what i think was) salmonella, then did prep for a movie, took a team of newbies snowboarding (good times had by all), and worked a good, full week on said aforementioned movie. now that's it sunday night, i finally have some time to recount the tale of what happened two weeks earlier.

saturday was the last official day of the sundance film festival. i got the office around 11 and our dispatcher handed me my trip sheet: i had a pickup at 2:30. he then offered me a ticket to some movie, starting at 12:30, saying i should go. i was apprehensive, since a) well, you never know what you're going to get with sundance films, and b) it seemed like i wouldn't make it back in time for my pickup, which i thought he'd be concerned about. apparently this wasn't an issue for him, and he urged me and another driver to go. we had a friend drop us off (a nice perk of being on a team of drivers), assuming that someone would be there to pick us up when the movie was over.

the film was called double take, and neither during the movie nor at the end nor now do i have any idea what it was about. it reminded me very much of an orson welles movie called f for fake, one that i love dearly. welles's movie ducks and weaves in and out of several different topics--art forgery, perception, deception, illusions, howard hughes, charlatanery, and picasso--all chopped up and thrown together with welles narrating and commenting like a favorite uncle telling a story. it's absolutely a delight and it works. but welles was a genius, and masters make difficult things look easy. double take affirms the greatness of orson welles by saying nothing in 90 minutes. instead of welles, it begins with another filmic legend, a hitchcock impersonator, talking about meeting his own doppleganger in a room. this is mashed with footage of kennedy and khrushchev, commentary on how television affected cinema, and discussion on hitchcock movies, specifically the birds. all without managing to say anything about any of them. to be honest, i kind of liked it, but it never went anywhere.

we left the theater at 2:15 to find ourselves in our own mess; there were no drivers available and i should have been ready for my pickup now. my friend called to organize a ride back to the hotel for us while i checked my own messages. robert yeoman had called me, suggesting we meet up around 2 that afternoon. tragically, that didn't work, but i called him back and he suggested breakfast the next morning. that would be driving up from provo just for that, but when someone like that asks to have breakfast with you, you take it.

i was ten minutes late when i picked up my ride, a south american director with his wife and daughter. they mostly talked to each other (in spanish) but seemed to be very cool and fun. i dropped them off at the broadway, now thinking i should have gone to see his movie, as he would go on to win the award for best directing and best screenplay (reading the review in variety, his daughter noted that they compared him to luis bunuel; in spanish cinema, it doesn't get much better than that). instead, i called my sister, wondering if i could visit for a bit. becky said yes, then asked if i'd talk to mom. i hadn't, so i called her. mom asked if i'd talked with dad. i hadn't, and she said to call him. (why hadn't becky just told me to call dad in the first place? why couldn't someone just tell me what's going on??) i called dad (the van has bluetooth...) and asked him how last night was, just like mom told me to. the tone in his voice made me think that the cat had died or something. he said that the stake president had extended a call to him to serve as the bishop of the fargo first ward. while i know my dad was very humbled by the whole situation, all i can say is that it immediately and verily felt right. it felt good. after i hung up, i switched back to the radio. guns-n-roses was playing. i switched to the classical station.

i played with caleb as i talked with becky and brady about "bishop gustafson" and had dinner. becky has taught caleb sign language (which has eschewed any need for him to speak, in his opinion), and the sign for "cool uncle jeff" is for him to cover his eyes. it started out as miming "glasses" (since that's how my sister thinks of me, i guess), but with caleb, these signs tend to mutate ("drink" started out as miming taking a drink and has settled at "finger up the nose"); she tried to shift my sign to a sort of "bowtie", but the hands over the eyes was already firmly entrenched. over dinner, becky noted that i was wearing my "uncle jeff" shirt: my tally hall shirt with the "see no evil" monkeys, including one covering his eyes. and i was able to talk becky into giving me a haircut, too, all in time for me to be back to pick up the family from the broadway (they said the showing went great). later, in the hotel, the drivers would all be amazed that i found time to get a haircut during a run.

that evening was the awards ceremony, and i drove the south american guy and his family from salt lake to the awards plaza, having to swallow my pride and admit that i didn't know exactly where it was at 6:57, after my attempts find it turn up fruitless. thankfully, i was just a few blocks from it and they still got there on time.
i ended up back there a few hours later, waiting in the snowstorm for the "new african cinema" who, after 40 minutes, did not show up. it was party night, and several drivers spent the evening driving people from party to party. i was in the hotel room, on call in case the gang from sympathy for delicious needed a ride back from their party. the rule was that we had to wait until 2 a.m., but by 1 a.m. i was starting to eye the door. around that time, a friend came and said that because of the snowstorm, provo canyon was moving at about 10 mph. with me planning to meet bob the next morning, i decided i was going to sleep on the chairs in the hotel room (because i was NOT going back to the driver house....)
i changed into my pajamas, worked on my sunday school lesson for a bit (scriptures and teacher's manual all on my phone), and, when the last guys left around 3, got some sleep.

five hours of sleep on a hotel room chair (and a few ottomans) isn't too bad. i was grateful i'd brought my pajamas (that makes a huge difference) and toothbrush and wondered why i hadn't bothered to bring toothpaste. i tidied up the room and finished out my lesson on cain and abel and the ministry of enoch. sunday school started at 12:30, and if bob would call me to meet around 10, i just might be able to make it. he did call at 10, but said that his ride to the airport left at 11:55 and suggested 11:30. i said that would be great, knowing that it would put me about fifteen minutes too late to teach sunday school, conceding that we don't always get what we want.

i went down to the lobby and met up with bob, who regretfully told me that they had moved his departure time from the hotel up but said the he would be happy to meet for a few minutes. i said that was fine (rejoicing in my head that i might still be able to teach sunday school), and asked the two questions that i had prepared. i asked about his lighting design for the royal tenenbaums(yeah, i'm talking with the guy who shot that!), how he kept it so flat without becoming boring. (bounced soft light and good production design). and i asked him my million dollar question: how he balances family life, and his answer was the same as everyone else i've asked; it's hard. i was expecting that, and it's nice to know that the big guys have the same challenges as the guys i work with, affirming that my decision to find a more stable field is the one i want to make.

i thanked him and he offered me his e-mail address, saying to keep in touch and ask questions as they come. i then texted sam, telling him to tell the ward there would be two sunday school classes, and hopped in my van. i arrived the building just as elder's quorum was ending, and walked into sunday school wearing a tally hall shirt and leather jacket, with my lesson notes written on the back of some papers i'd grabbed from a recycling bin. i took a pair of old scriptures off the shelf and began the lesson, feeling awesome that i'd managed to pull all of this off. and it turned out pretty darn good, too.

the former 786, to answer some of your questions about the festival and driving:
  • we work for the festival. they pay the first year drivers comparable to a low production assistant rate on a movie. second year drivers get the same as a bad rate for a loader on a camera crew.
  • there are different fleets. i was on the "film maker fleet", said to be one of the best because we just drive directors to the screenings outside park city. "jury" is also a good fleet to be on, because you're just driving the jury members to their screenings. "premiere" is the one that drives the stars to their showings. it's cool because you get to say you drove [famous person], but you're also driving neurotic/obsessive publicists and crazy entourage members. and often from party to party until long hours. "paid packages" is just that: someone comes into town and hires a car and driver for X days. during that time, they own you. film maker fleet didn't brush me with as many celebrities as the premiere team had, but i had cooler people to talk with (the doc guys are much more down to earth than the fiction directors; you know, the movies with "acting" in them) and no really late nights.
  • i think there were about 11 of us on the film maker fleet, and i really liked those guys. i think jury had five drivers, while premiere had 15. ish? i was told that there were about 100 drivers total, meaning that paid packages has 70 or 80. i never saw nearly that many, but i guess they were off doing their own thing.
  • there are several different venues around park city showing movies, but those often sell out the day they go on sale in the fall. if you really want to see movies (instead of hoping to get a glimpse of a celeb), go to the showings outside of park city: the broadway theater and the tower theater in salt lake, the egyptian theater in ogden (very cool), or the sundance resort in provo canyon.
  • each fleet has a dispatcher, who assigns us a run. we had a room at the marriot hotel (the festival headquarters) that we'd hang out at in between runs. some guys had friends or family they'd stay with in park city, and there was a house for us to stay at, but my experience with it that one night was less than ideal. like most, i'd drive home every night (though a few people offered to let me crash at their place in salt lake, a little closer).
  • would i do it again? absolutely. it was an overall blast.


Becky said...

I am being attacked as I type because Caleb wants control over the computer (needless to say, I did not read your whole post), but I thought you would like to know that he recognized your shoes as soon as your blog came up and signed "Uncle Jeff"

The Former 786 said...

Thanks, Jeff! I was wondering if I was going to get answers and I'm very satisfied with the results.

BTW, I got to see Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Egyptian Theater in Ogden some years ago. Awesome!

~~* Shaun said...

Another Awesome story.

I am awed by your life, but also by your ability to articulate it. :)