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Park City's Slamdance Film Festival was birthed out of frustration in 1995 when a group of filmmakers, perturbed at being rejected from the Sundance Film Festival, decided to go all punk rock and start their own fest.
Dan Mirvish was one of those filmmakers. Now he's put together a book, "The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking," where he drops advice, stories and tips on the entire indie filmmaking process, from scriptwriting to casting to directing to even mounting an Oscar campaign. There are also poems.
Slamdance began Friday and ends Thursday, and in the middle of it, Mirvish will sign his book on Tuesday at Dolly's Book Store in downtown Park City. (See box for details.)
So why a book?
It's kind of a cradle-to-grave guide on how to make independent films. I talk about the origins of Slamdance and what I call Generation Slamdance, which is the group of filmmakers who have come through the festival, like Christopher Nolan and the Russo brothers. It's a great list of alumni and a lot of them wind up having their subsequent films play at Sundance.
How has the independent film world changed since Slamdance began in 1995?
One of the themes in the book is change obvious things like technology and how you can make films much more cheaply now, even shooting on iPhones. But what I think is interesting is how little has changed, things like how the percentage of films that get meaningful national theatrical distribution is about the same as it was in 1995. There are more opportunities for almost every film to get some kind of distribution through video on demand, YouTube, things like that, but it still takes a lot of shameless self-promotion. When I made my first film, I literally had to strap on a sandwich board and stand outside theaters around the country to get it seen. You may not have to use a sandwich board now, but you still have to put a lot into Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
How's the relationship between Slamdance and Sundance these days?
It's definitely evolved. I think they finally figured out we're not going anywhere. For the first few years they were actively trying to kick us out of town. Now I think they've come to accept that we are sort of a de facto part of their festival in a way their earlier staff didn't quite get. It's taken them a bit longer to understand and appreciate how many of our alumni go on to show their second films at Sundance, and they wind up doing particularly well. We showed Christopher Nolan's first film, and his second film, "Memento," was at Sundance. "Napoleon Dynamite" started as a Slamdance short, and the feature version played at Sundance. We're sort of an incubator in a way for a lot of these filmmakers. Our focus is just different from what they do.
What are some moments that stand out for you?
1999 was the year we had rock stars, wrestling stars and porn stars our year of big hair, as I like to call it. We had everyone from Perry Farrell to Sheryl Crow and LeAnn Rimes here backing films. The Roots were our closing night party band one year, and Moby was our closing DJ a couple of times. But we also had some really amazing discoveries. People forget that 14 people showed up for Christopher Nolan's first screening because he forgot to pass out fliers, or that Steven Soderbergh discovered the Russo brothers here and brought them to Hollywood, and now they run the Marvel universe.
Where do you think Slamdance will be in 10 years?
We've always said that our focus is on first-time directors with limited budgets and little or no distribution, and that's been one of our strengths. We've resisted temptations to grow the festival because bigger isn't necessarily better. We have a great home at the Treasure Mountain Inn and our screening venues are small but intimate, and that's what people like. The vibe is so different, and that's what's been able to sustain us and hopefully will in coming years. And the city is very supportive, too. The guy who runs the Treasure Mountain Inn, Andy Beerman, sits on the city council, and he's been a close friend. It's very different from where we started when the sheriff was literally running us out of town.
"The Cheerful Subversive's Guide to Independent Filmmaking"
By Dan Mirvish
Book signing • Mirvish will sign copies of his book Tuesday, Jan. 24, from 2-3:30 p.m. at Dolly's Book Store, 510 Main St., Park City
The festival • Slamdance runs through Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Treasure Mountain Inn, 255 Main St., Park City. Passes and individual tickets are available at slamdance.com.