Venturing into the festival circuit? Writers/directors/actors Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler of Apartment Troubles have been there and done that and are here to share their story of their own film’s 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival premiere and their advice to newcomers to the festival networking scene.
Film Independent’s Jade Estrada spoke with both women—Jess pulled over on the side of the road and Jennifer in New York, in her kitchen putting away dishes. It was an interesting interview to say the least.
The film—the duo’s first feature—follows two codependent roommates who venture from New York to Los Angeles in hopes of finding the fame they put only half their energy toward achieving, portraying the clash that occurs when flights of fancy are grounded by hits of reality. Following its premiere, the poignant yet wildly absurd and provocative film grabbed attention around the industry and within months, it was picked up by Gravitas Ventures, which is distributing it via On Demand, iTunes, Amazon and in select theaters nationwide–the indie filmmaker’s dream.
Here, Jess and Jennifer discuss everything from LA Film Fest’s Filmmaker Retreat, the usefulness of test screenings and the exultant glow distribution.
You had a doubly challenging road, being first time filmmakers and women directors. Did you face any challenges or hit any walls along the way as a result?
Jennifer: That’s an interesting question. I didn’t ever really think of us as being women directors, per se, as we were directing. We were just two people who wanted to make a movie together. You’re just making your thing. And then people ask you, “What’s it like being a woman director?” We never really had any power struggles based on that, or no one ever said, “No you’re just women. You can’t do this.” And thankfully, it was never an impediment. And I think we were really lucky to have the power of two of us, because I think we really magnified each other’s resources and talents and really strengthened each other and raised each other up. The power of one woman is mighty but the power of two women is–watch out! And we got really lucky with our crew. I think when people talk about women directors, I think those issues specifically are really seen on the bigger budget level, the studio level. I think there’s more of an issue for women to break in–to be given that chance for their first big budget movie. On the indie level, I think everyone has to really fight equally to really stake their power and their own vision or dream.
Tell us about getting accepted into the Los Angeles Film Festival. What was that like?
Jennifer: We were accepted in 2014 and it was awesome. We loved it.
Jess: We often said it was like our wedding to each other. We were so excited and we wore matching dresses. We worked so hard together on such a large project for such a long period of time. You know, you become sort of married to each other. You’re just so integrated into each other’s lives. And it was really fun to have this festive occasion where all of our family came to honor our relationship. And we had an after event. We had a first dance.
Jess: We put cake in each other’s mouth.
Jennifer: I don’t think that happened, Jess.
Jess: It all happened!
Jennifer: I will say that LA Film Fest is such a wonderful festival for filmmakers. What we were able to experience was we got to Palm Springs and go on this great overnight trip (the LA Film Fest Filmmaker’s Retreat) with the other filmmakers. We got to know them, and learn about their films and create personal relationships. And the Festival really put such an emphasis on that. And it was great after getting through the salt mines of editing and post-production to be able to come out and be celebrated in that way, and get to stay in a fancy hotel and get to swim around in a swimming pool with all these really talented filmmakers.
Jess: And make really good friends. Really, in the whole process of that, that was when we got to understand everyone, the filmmakers, and their process, and hear about what they had made. It was nice for us to all share our horror stories, like “Oh my gosh, how did you get music put on?” and all those things that are curveballs while filmmaking and how we all overcame those in our own ways. It was just celebrating this huge undertaking. There’s also something about finishing a movie where people are like, “That’s great! What a great job!” But unless you’ve gone through the process, you don’t get it quite as much. But then you’re around other filmmakers who get that, and are like “You finished a movie? Oh my god, me too!” You feel so proud of each other. There’s a different degree of understanding.
Had you done any test screenings prior to premiering your film at LA Film Fest?
Jennifer: Yes. We had done a couple in New York. But there’s a big difference in what we showed in those screenings and what we got to show in the Festival. We color corrected, added score. It felt like a much more full movie by the time we got to show it at LA Film Fest.
Jess: I highly recommend test screenings. I think most people know that. You don’t have to take all their advice and all their visions. But it’s really nice when you get your friends and fellow filmmakers involved. It’s really nice to see what other people agree on to really get a sense of how it’s communicating with the outside world. We actually did a few test screenings along the way. At one point we were deciding how the third act was going to go. There was a scene that was there and then wasn’t there, and then we were like, “No, it has to be there, put it back.” It would have changed the movie entirely and we’re really glad we had a chance to talk to people about it.
Can you explain what the night of the premiere was like? How was it seeing the film in front of an audience?
Jess: It’s such a nice feeling to be around people who love you and have been around you while you’re doing this for so long. Like, “Oh this is what you’ve been up to for so long.”
Jennifer: It felt like the seats were levitating off the ground. There were so many supportive friends and laughter. It was like a happy ending.
Jess: And the movie’s so absurdist. There were parts where we were like, “It’s absurdist. I hope people like it.” It was just nice to see people getting involved in the movie. It was relieving, like, “Oh, the absurdist translates.”
Jennifer: It’s definitely a great theater movie. And I feel like people really respond to movies differently when they’re in an audience. So it was a huge reward to get to experience that. And we were there with old friends, family, new filmmaker friends. It was extraordinary.
Jess: And it was so nice to have Megan [Mullally] and Will [Forte] there–to share the movie with them and the audience.
Did you have a distribution strategy going into the Festival? What was your collaboration with Gravitas like?
Jennifer: We just hoped we’d find distribution. And thankfully the Festival helped launch us in that direction. The Festival was in June. I think by the time of October or November, we had found our distributor. And the movie came out in ten cities on the 27th of March, and now it’s On Demand, on iTunes, and Amazon, and so people are getting to see it all over the place, and now it’s really exciting for us.
What’s it like seeing your film go from farm to table? From getting picked up to that first impending release day?
Jess: It was surreal and we were just grateful every step of the way. Jenny and I had only met like two months before we started writing it. So it all happened so fast—not knowing what was going to be the outcome of it all–and it feels like magic that it’s come out and it’s available, it being our first movie.
What was a key piece of information you learned about navigating the festival and distribution world that you would offer to newcomers, those screening films at LA Film Fest this year?
Jess: Stuff doesn’t happen all at once. The element of patience coupled with persistence, I think, is the only advice. And also, become really comfortable with rejection. You’ll get rejected from festivals and accepted into others. You’ll be crestfallen and you’ll want distribution immediately. But sometimes there are forces at play that are not really about your movie–more about what time of year it is, what’s going on, how your distributor’s cycle’s working. So you have to dance with it. There are so many factors at play, and you just have to be confident in what you made.
Jade Estrada / Film Independent Blogger
The 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival takes place from June 10-18. Pass pre-sale for Film Independent Members begins Tuesday, April 14. Passes will be available to the general public on Tuesday, April 21.