ST. NICK, David Lowery's treatise on the restlessness of youth (extreme youth, in this case) pitted against the authoritative controls of society and nature (my lame-o interpretation), played before an Austin Film Society member audience Monday night. It was the first public screening for the film, and my second time to see it. I'm not going to go into details, as David hasn't completed the film. I do think it is shaping up to be pretty darn awesome. The flow... the overall length.... The whole affair is poetic and takes its time, but certainly doesn't wear out its welcome.
The audience of primarily strangers, with no prior association to the film, reacted strongly (in our favor, thankfully) to what is still (technically) a rough cut. During the critique session Bryan Poyser held later, the fact that the attendees truly THOUGHT about the film became immediately apparent. I mean, the comments weren't simply 'it was good' or 'I liked it.' There was some real thematic brainwork going into the proceedings, the likes of which you don't typically see these days. It's refreshing to hear people process a work of art in total, instead of just glossing over it with the pre-ordained drivel of dismissive praise. This is the definition of a meditative film. David even did something extremely ballsy and old-school to open up the picture and establish the contemplative tone, which I won't spoil here (but if you're an aficionado of pre-80's theatrical epics, you may be able to figure it out). The funny thing is, you could really tell who in the room was a parent (and who wasn't). Kids in (perceived) peril! A key element of drama and a great button-pusher (in this case, the good button). Gets em every time!
Overall, a great event. One I think we all came away stronger for having been a part of. I'm probably one of those rare filmmakers who actually values the testing process, as long as it's done with the right audience in mind. I think the reason most Hollywood directors loathe it is because they have ZERO control over the attending audience. Every movie has an audience. For some films, that audience may consist of twelve people. For others, fifty million (Dark Knight, anyone?). The key to making a successful film is knowing your core audience, making the film right for them (no pandering!), and not exceeding a budget larger than their movie-going dollars will allow. A ten year old kid is not going to get a movie like SAVAGE GRACE. Likewise, a patron of the arts with a season pass to the Dallas Opera is probably not gonna be down with a screening of THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (I totally picked these examples off the top of my head, and it shows). I know this sounds like an oversimplification, but in the era of escalating costs (coupled with a horrific economy), I think it's something to consider. Not every movie can or even SHOULD appeal to every moviegoer. There's an old adage, 'when you try to satisfy everybody, you end up satisfying nobody.' Truer words have never been spoken about the creative process. Obviously, if your movie cost over 100 million clams to produce, you gotta get every soccer mom with a pulse INTO THAT DAMN THEATER just to break even. But, of course, then you probably have computer-generated dinosaurs, or Bruce Willis, or computer-generated Bruce Willis to help you draw in the crowds, so what can ya do. Butts + Seats = Moolah!!!!
On a final note about testing, it's a somewhat known fact that Spielberg was a test-happy-monkey who loved to screen his films with audiences outside of LA (to get 'real' so to speak). In fact, his favorite stomping grounds for such work was none other than my current residence of Dallas, Texas. The theater of choice, the late lamented Medallion Cinema (off Skillman and Northwest Highway, where the Target is now--in case you live around there). It's the first place an audience of the "general public" ever got to see such classics as JAWS and E.T. Is it just a coincidence that now the Medallion is closed and Spielberg sucks? Gotta wonder.
Anway, I wish I could talk more about ST. NICK, but I really don't want to compromise what is still, in effect, a work-in-progress. I will say that the film feels very complete, even in this nascent form. It certainly will only get better, and I say that because I know David, and I know what he's capable of. And if you're reading this blog, I certainly don't need to tell you where to go for updates on the project (but I hyperlinked it anyway).