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There are two approaches to the stages of production for a film. The more artistic approach consists of the idea that making a film has three sections: pre-production, production, and post-production. The more businesslike, on the other hand, asserts that there are merely two: making the movie and selling it. Things get sticky when the people who are used to the former formulation have to begin dealing, in great depth, with the realities of the latter. As more and more indie films struggle with their distribution prospects, filmmakers, traditionally used to making the movie and then letting a producer or sales agent take care of securing a buyer or distribution deal, are quite often having to broker those deals themselves.
This is an entirely different skill set from the one required to actually make the film, but that didn’t stop Ry Russo-Young, a New York-based independent filmmaker whose second feature, You Wont Miss Me [sic], comes out this Friday, December 10. Those learning of the film for the first time probably have no clue, but the movie’s path to distribution has been a long and circuitous path that began in January 2009, when the film premiered at one of the lowest-buying Sundance Film Festivals in history. In the midst of an economic recession, with distributors dropping like flies, very few deals were made, but thanks to a 2009 Gotham Award for the film, it wound up finding a home with Factory 25, a young distribution company.
You Wont Miss Me stars Stella Schnabel (daughter of Julian) in a bravura performance (Schnabel also co-wrote the film) as a young woman just released from a psychiatric hospital trying to readjust to life in New York. I had the chance to sit down with Russo-Young and Schnabel at the Soho Grand recently, to talk about the film’s winding journey to the big screen.
Tribeca: Let’s talk a little bit about how the film found distribution. Obviously, a lot of the time, when you get a premiere at Sundance, you feel like you’ve made it. Did you anticipate the route would be like this?
Ry Russo-Young: No. I mean, to be completely honest, I think part of what happened – the distribution path – was because the film was made very on the fly, Stella and I made it that way. I mean, I was talking to the producers of Precious, and they had this very plotted-out plan; they had been working on it for years. I mean, on this movie, I was my own producer.
Stella Schnabel: Ry was amazing. She had great ideas – getting grants, putting people together, promoting the film. I mean, I don’t think if I had made the movie anyone would have seen it! I think getting it out there is kind of a talent on its own.
Tribeca: It’s a different skill set, isn’t it?
Ry Russo-Young: It is, and it’s something I didn’t know much about. This movie was kind of training wheels in terms of getting it out there. And it is also kind of a different animal. It kind of operates on its own rules, this movie. It’s not, like, a romantic comedy, it’s not like we know how people will understand it automatically.
Tribeca: When you went into making the film – which was shooting in 2008 – the boat hadn’t quite left the harbor, there was still a vibe in the indie film world that you could make serious, artistic films that weren’t genre films, and still get distribution for them. And then with the financial crisis, and all of these distribution companies vanishing, things changed very quickly.
Stella Schnabel: Well, nothing was being bought. But I mean, I didn’t think about distribution, or the path it was going to have, or whatever. When I was making the film, I wasn’t making it and thinking about who was gonna see it – when I’m making something, I don’t want to be thinking about that kind of stuff – it takes away from the plane you arrive on artistically, when your mind is just going.
Ry Russo-Young: Sure. You’re not really thinking about that. And when it was done, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of – there was not a lot of expectation.
Tribeca: Visit Films was involved at one point, right?
Ry Russo-Young: Yeah, the sales company. I was working with them, but they’re not involved any longer.
Tribeca: And you brokered the deal with Factory 25 yourself?
Stella Schnabel: Ry is wheeling and dealing.
Tribeca: What’s interesting about the situation is that you have all these people in this industry whose skill set is making movies, which is a very specific skill set, but due to the nature of the situation of the industry, they are being kind of bent to become businesspeople.
Stella Schnabel: I feel like there isn’t that person in-between, the sort of person who would be going to see all the independent films, handpicking the movies they like, and then they are the business end and broker deals.
Tribeca: Well, that’s basically the sales agent.
Ry Russo-Young: Or a distributor. But part of what I’m saying about all that is that yes, there is a lack of viable sales agents in the industry, and there’s so much pressure to make money that their taste isn’t necessarily in the interest of the movies themselves, but also, I didn’t have a producer on this film. On my next movie, I have a producer, and a producer just really helps advise on the business and financial end, savvy about the industry in a way that filmmakers don’t necessarily have to be. That’s something I don’t think I fully understood.
Ry Russo-Young: Yeah. That did help. And then it felt like it was time to do something with the film. I mean, it’s not like we didn’t have options before that – there were offers, but they weren’t attractive. And of course, the film played at Sundance at the height of nothing being sold. The pinnacle of that moment.
Ry Russo-Young: Oh, yeah. I mean, my guy did the poster – Teddy Blanks. He’s super talented. I was the one to approve that. It’s a lot more work, it’s its own artistic mission, but it’s something I want to be involved in. So everything about this movie that anyone’s going to see or hear about are my choices.
Stella Schnabel: And any good movie I’ve ever known about, it’s been a situation where the director wants to be involved in the poster, the website, everything. If you really care about the product you’re making – the other day, someone was saying to me, I worked 18 hours a day, on some movie. And I was like, so fucking what, everyone does. Every great director is going to want to control all of these aspects of the film.
Ry Russo-Young: The DVD extras, where the party is, all these little things add up.
Tribeca: It seems like that’s becoming much more of the status quo – filmmaking is a process that goes right from the original idea through the film being released and coming out on DVD. Do you see friends of yours having to do the same thing?
Ry Russo-Young: Yes. Everybody is.
You Won't Miss Me opens December 10 in New York theaters. Don't miss it!
Watch the trailer: