Filmmaking | Interviews

The Anti-Sundance Kid: Filmmaker Bret Stern

1 Jul , 1999  

Written by Mary Phillips-Sandy | Posted by:

Dreaming of Sundance status? This is the film for you!

Bret Stern’s movie "Road to Park City" is a hilarious spoof about a hapless young filmmaker who’s desperate to get his film to you-know-where. Ironically, Bret himself is neither hapless nor desperate. Read on.

MPS: Did you submit "Road to Park City" to Sundance?

STERN: No, we finished after Sundance.

MPS: Are you going to submit it this year?

STERN: Sure. Why not?

MPS: How autobiographical is it?

STERN: I wouldn’t say it’s autobiographical. It’s just the sum of my experiences, which I guess is autobiographical. Okay, it’s what I’ve learned to date about low-budget filmmaking.

MPS: Did you go to film school?

STERN: I went to film school at the University of Bridgeport, which is now owned by the Moonies.

MPS: Really!

STERN: I’m trying to get a refund.

MPS: What are your thoughts about Sundance? Is it just another place for the movie world to do business?

STERN: It’s definitely that, and the weird thing is, everybody who’s making a film thinks it’s going to go to Sundance. And that’s just not going to happen.

MPS: Going to Sundance isn’t necessarily a guarantee of anything else.

STERN: No, except for getting cold. I’ve DP’d on films for other people, and I’d get calls–one or two a week–saying, "Hi, I’m Joe Schmo, and I have no money. I’m making a movie. Can you do it for free? By the way, it’s going to Sundance." So that was an inspiration. ["Road to Park City"] is all interviews of people in the film business you need to see to make a movie. We interviewed a lab guy: "So, what do you do in the lab? What’s that big vat of chemicals?" We talk about insurance, what kind of insurance you need to make a film.

MPS: People don’t think of these things.

STERN: Right, and we show the absurdity of it: "You need insurance against piracy." "What, that’s in case a one-legged man tries to steal our film?"

MPS: After film school, did you do your own projects, or did you hang around other people’s sets?

STERN: Both. I worked on some bigger commercials, and after a while I said, "Screw ’em! I’m going to take two weeks and make my own ultra-low-budget movie!" I learned through both of those [experiences]. You learn a lot just working your way through it.

MPS: That’s what a lot of people tell me: the way to learn the film business is to jump in, find people who’ll let you be on the set, watch and learn. You can read all the books you want, but being there is the best way to figure out what’s going on.

STERN: Yeah. Well, I also have a book out now called "How to Shoot a Feature Film."

MPS: Oh, okay then! Reading books is a good thing!

STERN: But in the book I point out you only need, say, one screenwriting book. They’re all the same. There’s only so much they can tell you.

MPS: Let’s talk about your upcoming project. Your father was a fashion photographer, Bert Stern. You’re making a biography of him.

STERN: It’s going to be a feature film based on his life.

MPS: And his life was fairly… interesting.

STERN: Fairly! He was a top fashion photographer in the ’60s and ’70s, and he grew a huge empire–a school building that became a studio, two apartments on the same block, a store. He married my mother, who was prima ballerina for the NYC Ballet. Then he started seeing the infamous Dr. Feelgood in the ’70s, and that was the start of his fall. He started getting crazy, like police chases over the rooftops, with gunfire. My mother tried to have him put in the loony bin, and he was constantly escaping. Over five crazy years, with stealing cars, drugs, the police… he lost everything. One day he just rode off to Spain.

MPS: Is that where he is now?

STERN: No, he came back. But he packed up everything into a crate and shipped it off. Dropped out. The movie, actually, it’s a love story between him and my mother. Through all the craziness, he kept trying to get back together with her, and she wouldn’t take him back.

MPS: And your parents are… excited about this project?

STERN: My father tried to do this project 15 years ago. They got into it, and he just stopped. He wasn’t comfortable talking about it anymore, but now he is. It’s a good thing. We’re meeting twice a week, talking, working with some writers.

MPS: Okay, Bret, is there anything else you want the world to know about you, your work, your life? In a nutshell!

STERN: Whoooo. We’re nice.

MPS: "We’re nice, see my movie."

STERN: Oh, no. I’m not going to beg.