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What some people will do in the strange business of making films

Posted at 3:51 PM on September 22, 2005 by Euan Kerr

Euan Kerr wandering through the Maven neighborhood again....

Sometimes the story of making a film is more interesting than the movie itself. I haven't seen "The Talent Given Us," which opens in Minneapolis this weekend. But I talked at length with its director/producer/cinematographer Andrew Wagner, and boy, does he have a story to tell.

He says he has been in the film business for 20 years, but the cherished chance to direct a feature remained elusive. So he fell back on that marvelous institution that has supported artists since time immemorial - the immediate family.

Not only did he convince his parents and his sisters to appear in his movie, he convinced them to play themselves on a cross-country roadtrip going to visit an estranged brother living in Los Angeles (played by himself.) He even convinced his parents, both in their 70's, to do a bedroom scene. (This idea raises so many uncomfortable issues, but I'm just going to set them aside.) Anyway the month-long shoot cost $30,000.

Movie history tells us this project should have been doomed. Wagner's hours of handheld-camera-shot tape should just have ended up in a box somewhere gathering dust.

But they didn't. He spent a year editing his movie, and then hit the jackpot when the 2005 Sundance film festival screened it as an official selection. It got a hugely positive response.

He didn't get a distribution deal though, and again that should have meant the tapes gathering dust under his bed.

Wagner wasn't going to give up. He claims he walked up to the box office of his favorite movie theater in New York and asked the guy selling tickets who he needed to talk to if he wanted to show his movie there. After a certain amount of discussion he got through to the right person and convinced this highly skeptical individual to watch the movie. The result? An offer to screen the movie - if he paid for the advertising. He spent more money taking out ads in the New York Times than he spent on shooting the movie. Again the film got rave reviews and it ran in New York for seven weeks.

Now "The Talent Given Us" is playing in a couple of markets a week around the country. Wagner is working the word of mouth thing really hard, which is why he called me. I don't know if he really knows where this thing is going to go. But he says next time he wants to find someway that's a little easier.

September 2005
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