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L.A. TWISTER: Forget Sundance

July 31st, 2004

Wednesday June 30 4:34 PM ET After being passed over by Park City, German-born filmmaker Sven Pape drums up an interactive prequel, a distributor and a June 30th premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. By Richard Horgan, Interactivity has always been a main topic of interest for filmmaker Sven Pape. It was the focus of his thesis at the University of the Arts in Berlin, where he studied before attending the AFI in Los Angeles; and it was certainly a central conceit of Hollywood P.A., Pape’s live interactive webcast from the Pennsylvania set of an independent film that, with the help of Microsoft, attracted some 250,000 visitors back in 1999. Among those drawn to the idea of being able to talk to a director and actors on location via computer was John David Cameron, the younger brother of director James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator 2). His recommendation led to assignments for Pape on another Titanic-related webcast in 2001, Earthship.TV, an editing gig on the recent IMAX film Ghost of the Abyss and the loan of five special cameras from Cameron for an unusual webcast designed to promote Pape’s latest directorial effort, L.A. Twister. “When we did the webcast for Cameron, I was actually on the boat to the return expedition to the Titanic,” recalls Pape. “We installed a whole bunch of remote control security cameras on that boat and basically Jim bought all of those cameras.” “I knew he still had them sitting there in the warehouse, not using them,” the 32-year-old filmmaker continues. “I just asked him if I could use them for the time being, and I pitched the whole concept to him, and he thought it was a cool idea and so he was kind enough to let me use them.” Over the course of six weekends ending this past Sunday, June 27th, two separate casts of stage actors performed the prequel play L.A. Twister: Canolis & Cocoa at the Hollywood Boxing Club. Once again, with Microsoft in tow as a partner, the performances and rehearsals were beamed out over the Internet in order to solicit active participation from the audience at large. It was after Sundance’s rejection last Christmas of L.A. Twister as an official entry in the 2004 edition of the festival that Pape enlisted Robert Cannon, an extra on the film, to write a play that fit in with the universe and two main characters of the film. In the film, Zack Ward (A Christmas Story) and Tony Daly (Dodgeball) play a pair of buddies struggling to make it in Hollywood. In addition to causing some initial commotion on the stage, some 7,000 visitors to the web site eventually cast votes to select an All-Star cast selected from the two different casts. Think of all this as basically an interactive version of Project Greenlight, with half the budget of that Miramax effort and more of a focus on the on-camera talent. “The actors were very intimidated and freaked out,” recalls Pape of the initial interactive rehearsal process for L.A. Twister: Canolis & Cocoa. “We had a web host in the theater that would read what was going on in the chat rooms, and if something would apply, she would then relay that to the actors.” “The actors basically, in the very first week, kicked out the web host,” Pape continues. “It really led to a huge discussion about whether she should be allowed back into the rehearsal space, and also caused one actor to drop out because he felt like this was just a reality TV show. So it took some time to make the adjustments.” When Pape spoke to FilmStew, he had not yet received confirmation from James Cameron that he would be attending tonight’s premiere at the 1100-seat main hall of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Ironically, for a film that exemplifies the very opposite end of the spectrum from Sony’s Spider-Man 2 behemoth, L.A. Twister was able to secure tonight’s prominent address after plans to open the sequel in that hall changed. Pape’s $500,000 production has been picked up by Indican Pictures, the distributor that has also handled The Girl Next Door, Boondock Saints as well as the upcoming releases Face and Fabled. Towards the end of July, L.A. Twister Movie will open in San Francisco, Houston, Dallas and L.A., with Chicago and then perhaps Portland as follow-on locales. “We basically want to stay away from New York until the movie has grown some legs, because it’s an L.A. story and we think we’re going to get killed,” Pape admits. Although Cameron may join other confirmed celebrities tonight such as Christian Slater, Jason Lee and Erika Christensen at the Grauman’s unveiling, the Berlin native confesses he’s most excited about the presence of a different kind of celebrity. “The person that I’m most excited about coming is Lamon Brewster, the heavyweight champion of the world who just knocked out Klitschko and who’s going to fight Tyson in a couple of months. I love boxing.” With the current reality TV craze showing no signs of abating, it would seem that the premise of L.A. Twister is perfect fodder for the fall 2004 schedule. Pape confesses that although he tried to set up pitch meetings for the tangential marketing of his film project on the small screen, he couldn’t get his foot in the door. “We tried pitching L.A. Twister as a TV angle before we got started, and we couldn’t get to the right people,” says Pape. “It’s all about who you know. But now that we have sort of a very good pitch piece, we’re going to try and do an L.A. Twister 2 that has a TV angle as well.” Pape is in the process of closing a deal for L.A. Twister with a German distributor and says that same firm is looking at financing his next movie, a modern-day Hitchcock thriller he plans to shoot in Nova Scotia in 2005. Along with his efforts to get into Sundance, Pape says his latest project was also short-listed by the 2004 Berlin Film Festival. Perhaps the most telling lessons for all would-be filmmakers slash marketers out there is that Pape quickly moved on from the rejection of Sundance and Berlin, making sure to first come up with a hook that differentiated his project in an increasingly crowded marketplace. “I started to realize I needed to find a different way to find an audience for this film, because it’s kind of a tweener, in the sense that it’s not really a festival film,” explains Pape. “It’s not a Whale Rider and, at the same time, it’s not really a Hollywood studio film because it doesn’t have the big stars attached.” “It’s a very mainstream kind of film that festivals don’t tend to play because they have different missions or they have different things that they want to portray in their event,” he adds. “And my film is not necessarily a good fit with their agenda. So I kind of thought to myself I needed to find a different way to stand out and find a unique point of view, so that I can get an audience emotionally interested in this little film. And that’s when we came up with the idea of doing a play and a webcast and all that stuff.” So how did the critical small group of Los Angeles alternative weekly and newspaper theater critics react to L.A. Twister: Canolis & Cocoa when it premiered at the beginning of May? Not well, says Pape. “Reviewers didn’t understand the project,” insists Pape. “They were looking at the play for the sake of the play, and when we were trying to explain to them that this is a process, that this play will change every week based on what the web audience’s response is to it and the directors trying to adjust to that, it never really sunk in. Just flew right over their head.” “I directed three [stage] performances where I had the Internet audience chime in during the show and have them give comments, as long as they were addressed in character, that then influenced the way the play was shaped,” Pape continues. “If someone said, ‘Hey Lenny, I don’t believe a word you’re saying, I think you’re lying to me,’ I would relay that back to the actors.” Both Zack Ward (Lenny) and Tony Daly (Ethan) made a small appearance as mirror images of their stage namesakes during one of the shows at the Hollywood Boxing Club. They have also gotten firmly behind the viral marketing of the film to help fill those 1100 Grauman’s seats tonight, with Daly’s connections as an L.A. nightclub promoter coming in mighty handy. In the end, tonight’s premiere of L.A. Twister Movie in the shadow of Spider-Man 2 is a testament to the ingenuity of Pape, someone whose marketing instincts are accompanied with some good networking skills and a willingness to take on free wheeling creative partners. “There’s a scene in LA Twister where they’re comparing Los Angeles to an atom,” says Pape with a laugh, who cites Steven Soderbergh and Christopher Nolan as two favorite directors. “You have all these electrons spinning in circles and you only have this tiny bit of matter that actually creates something. That’s kind of the metaphor that we use.” [Every Wednesday, Richard Horgan’s opinion column “Hollywood Spin” takes a look at a notable entertainment industry media, PR or marketing-driven event. To reach the author, please email To comment on this week’s topic, please go to our Hollywood Spin Discussion Board.]

Source: FilmStew.Com