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We thought we should toast outside at the Acura Studio to “Don Verdean” being acquired by Lionsgate!

This is great! Cheers.

Having one of the first significant deals of Sundance, does it take a little bit of the pressure off the rest of the week?

A little bit, a little bit. It’s kind of like a come down now because we must be the last ones to have finished our film, our film was completely finished Monday. It’s been weeks and weeks of no sleep so it was a nice thing to have that done. We are all just breathing a little bit. And now we can enjoy it. I think starting next week it will be smooth sailing.

You didn’t start off as a producer in the beginning of your career. When did you make the shift?

I guess that depends on how far you go back. I started out as the lowest level PA assistant. When I was in college that’s what I was doing. I was taking the trash out, fetching coffee, all of those sorts of things. I had a love for it and I thought I was going that way but then things pulled me towards technology and I ended up having a technology company. Eventually I ended up back in film.

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Who are some visionaries in the film industry that you look up to? But you can’t pick festival founder Robert Redford.

You can’t come to Sundance and not pick Robert Redford! Martin Scorsese is of course an amazing visionary in film. I think the films that he has done, the limits that he tests and the relationships he has with actors are amazing. I have massive respect for him. There are unique actors that I think have a voice that changed the way we look at things. From comedians like Bill Murray to very serious dramatic actors, when creative people are at the top of their game it’s truly fascinating to see.

Was there a specific moment you realized you needed to be back in the film industry?

As a kid I had just a great love for film. I’ll almost tear up if I start talking about sitting in “E.T.” with my late grandma, you know? I just remember some of the most memorable moments of my life were related to film: watching films, music I’d hear in films. It influenced my childhood, it influenced the decisions I made and how I was going to do things, how I was going to be. I’m not a great artist so having the opportunity to have some influence on art with people’s lives has always spoken to me.

Would you say you had a creative drive as a child?

I would say from a young age I certainly wanted to be creative, I don’t know if I was actually creative. [Laughs] But I’ve always wanted to think of myself as a creative person.

How would you describe your journey to Sundance but in only one or two words?

Surreal.

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It seems like everyone here has this challenger spirit. Is it safe to say that is a common thread of independent filmmakers?

In filmmaking there are so many bumps along the road and that’s not to say filmmaking is necessarily different from starting any business. There are so many bumps from the script to the financing to the editing to how you’re distributing the film. In order to have a truly great film it starts with having a great script, then having a great director, then having great actors that give a great performance, editors who do a great job editing and then sound guys who do a great job doing sound. There are so many pieces to making a film. There is nothing more fun, but it’s a challenge all of the way through. But if you love it, it’s a challenge you embrace and you want to do again and again. I sometimes hear people say, “Ugh, I just did a film, I don’t know if I’ll ever do another one.” Because you’re exhausted, it takes a lot out of you. But truthfully I think it’s invigorating. Telling stories through film can have such an impact for good, bad or just change that it’s worth it to keep pressing forward. What Sundance does is amazing to bring those films forward.

As the producer, what is the most nerve-wracking part of the process?

It just depends on what time of the film but for me there is that moment right before you step into a project or right before you start filming where I naturally feel self-doubt, fear and then you say, “I’ve just got to find peace,” and go forward. You put that behind you and you don’t think about it. There is that moment in every business where you just kind of go, “Is this right?” And if you feel it is, you move forward and the rewards can be huge.

With your tech background what technological advancements excite you the most in filmmaking?

You know it’s phenomenal to me now that when I was in college we were only doing stuff on film. I guess that dates me. The filmmaking process is never easy but because things are now digital it is much easier. I know some people feel that’s a negative thing but you’re able to do things now that were much more difficult, and in some cases were impossible, with film … For us in the last 10 years we’ve seen more technological advancements than my grandpa saw his whole lifetime. I think it will be fascinating to see where we go over the next 10 years.

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When you’re working on no sleep does that affect creativity?

Sometimes some real comedic genius happens with some very fattening doughnuts and energy drinks at 3 in the morning. The guys that did our music started calling me at 3:30 a.m. one night and said, “Can you come over to the studio?” I said, “No, I’m sleeping.” We were like five days away from finishing the film and they said, “We just re-recorded this number. It’s hilarious now because it’s so late and we’ve had no sleep in two days.” So sometimes you get genius at that time … I wouldn’t recommend doing it for the practice of trying to get genius at 3 a.m. [Laughs]

What was the funniest part of “Don Verdean” for you?

In the film Jemaine Clement, who plays a character Boaz, just absolutely ran the show. I saw his interview with you last year, so you know Jemaine. He is absolutely the greatest, nicest individual in the entire world. He is a gem of a person, but he is very shy. We were trying to have a cast dinner to get to know each other because we are going to spend all of this time together and he was so shy he politely said, “I’m okay. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” That happened for about a week but his performance and comedy was stealing the show. After about a week his shell opened up. In true life he is one of the funniest individuals you will ever, ever meet. So a long answer to your question, one of the funniest moments of the film is when he is standing with Sam Rockwell and he just found out Sam is a fraud and he’s trying to bribe his way into the United States so that he can get acid washed jeans and meet a wife that’s pretty like a stripper. It’s a very funny moment in the film.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?

I want to give a really profound answer to that but I’ll say the person who first comes to my mind. I turned the corner late last night when I was up here and ran into one of the Banksy street art paintings just up the road. The light was on it, there was smoke in the air. It was kind of a cool and unexpected moment. I think he’d be a guy I’d like to sit down and have a drink with.

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KIRSTEN MICCOLI PHOTOGRAPHY / A DRINK WITH

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