Spirit Awards Tue 10.8.2013

How The Sessions Got Made — Filmmakers Share Their Journeys at the Film Independent Forum

Judi Levine, producer, The Sessions, on her “aha” moment
It is very rare to read something that gives you an “aha” moment – that moment when you realize someone’s words have impacted you in a way you could never have imagined, perhaps expressed your own deepest feelings more articulately than you ever could.  Writer/director Ben Lewin had one of those moments when he read Mark O’Brien’s essay On Seeing a Sex Surrogate.  Just a few minutes later, and already convinced it would be our next project, my husband and partner of over 30 years (that would be Ben) brought the essay to me….

Judi Levine

There’s a reason filmmakers refer to the filmmaking process as a journey. To get from that “aha” moment to the opening credits playing on the big screen, a very long distance must be crossed. And while every filmmaker’s journey is unique, there are countless ideas and insights to be gleaned from hearing about someone else’s path: what shortcuts to take, what dead-ends to avoid—usually lessons learned the hard way.

Levine, on getting into Sundance
There was a great sense of relief and excitement when we heard that we had been accepted into the US Dramatic Competition category of the festival.  4,000 films apply to Sundance; of those, 2,000 are for US Dramatic with a final number of only 16 entrants!  Those were very tough odds and we were honored to be one of the 16. As the excitement settled, the reality of what was ahead began to dawn on us.  Not only did we have to rush to complete all the technical aspects of the film, we had to look into the logistics of going to Park City, as well as taking some of the cast for the premiere.  Suddenly the $$ started to rack up.  Then the question of hiring a PR representative, sales agents and legal representation arose.  It’s true that you can go to the festival with nothing but your DVD and a backpack, but the competition for attention is fierce and we had concluded that we were going to give this opportunity our very best shot, even if it meant more late nights raising the money to do it.  We were also advised that it would be important to have our cast attend the premiere in Sundance to show support for the film, and that it was protocol with an A-list cast to finance their travel and accommodation.  Eek! More $$$….

Of course we all know where Judi Levine’s story ended: with an Oscar nomination for Helen Hunt, two Golden Globes nominations (for Hunt and John Hawkes for his portrayal of Mark O’Brien); and two Film Independent Spirit Awards for Hunt and Hawkes.

Levine and her partner — and director of The Sessions — Ben Lewin, are just two of the successful filmmakers taking part in candid conversations at the 2013 Film Independent Forum, October 25-27, where we’ll hear about the ups, downs and everything-in-betweens from producers, directors, financiers and other industry insiders including: Kyle Patrick Alvarez, writer/director, C.O.G.; Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, producers Dallas Buyers Club;  Ryan Coogler, writer/director, Fruitvale Station; Lauren Greenfield, producer/director Queen of Versailles; Matthew Greenfield, Senior Vice President of Production, Fox Searchlight; Jacob Kornbluth, director, Inequality for All; Brendon Chung, founder, Blendo Games.

Many of the speakers will be among those whose projects are featured in the 2013 Forum book of case studies, detailed analyses of filmmakers’ documenting the minute details of financing, producing and distributing their films, which are handed out to all attendees. These excerpts are from Levine’s personal introduction to The Sessions case study.

Levine on selling The Sessions
I cannot describe the sensation of driving back through the snow and quiet of Park City at 1:30am holding a small document that was evidence that we had just sold our film after five years of hard work and commitment.  We’d hit the jackpot of experiences at Sundance and it was exciting, overwhelming, emotional and surreal all at once.  I knew there would be very little sleeping that night and a lot of talking with press the next day.  We called family and friends, many of whom were investors, and the emails and texts were already flooding in.  2012 was going to be an extraordinary year.  This was just the very beginning of a new and exciting stage of the film process and, most likely, our lives would be changed in ways we couldn’t even imagine.  Since then, we’ve faced challenges and surprises we hadn’t anticipated and are still experiencing – but that’s a story that will have to wait for another time.

By Pamela Miller / Website & Grants Manager