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Doc Fixer Monroe Explains Writing 'Summit,' 'Sound City,' 'Who is Dayani Cristal?'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 4, 2013 at 2:05PM

Mark Monroe came to this year's Sundance Film Festival as the writer of three distinctly different documentaries--"Sound City," "Who is Dayani Cristal?" and "The Summit" (new trailer below). The writer of Oscar-winning "The Cove" and this year's Oscar-shortlisted "Chasing Ice" is proving to be a valuable asset.
Mark Monroe
Sundance portrait by the LA Times Mark Monroe

Mark Monroe came to the 2013 Sundance Film Festival as the writer of three distinctly different documentaries--"Sound City," "Who is Dayani Cristal?" and "The Summit," which opens October 4 (trailer below). The writer of Oscar-winning "The Cove" and this year's Oscar-shortlisted "Chasing Ice" is proving to be a valuable asset. Not every documentary filmmaker is a writer-director like Alex Gibney, who brought "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks" to Sundance 2013. Some filmmakers need help organizing complicate features, such as Nick Ryan of "The Summit," "The Cove"'s Louie Psihoyos or "Chasing Ice"'s Jeff Orlowski.

Gael Garcia Bernal in 'Who is Dayani Cristal?'
Gael Garcia Bernal in 'Who is Dayani Cristal?'

That's where broadcast journalist Monroe comes in. He's also a filmmaker, but he's proving so adept at helping others realize their projects that he's got writing gigs lined up like airplanes at La Guardia.

Check out the new trailer for "The Summit," after the jump.

Anne Thompson: Give me, from your end, the calls from people telling you that one movie after the other was getting into Sundance.  How did that play out?

Mark Monroe: It was...beyond surreal.  

AT: Which one did you think would get in?

MM: I thought the Dave Grohl film ["Sound City"] would get in.  It’s a big, splashy doc, it’s entertaining as hell, so I thought that would get in.  Getting the call about "Who Is Dayani Cristal?" was amazing, because Marc Silver and Gael [García Bernal] had put so much of their heart and soul into this thing and we felt like it had come such a long way.  It was extremely special.  But “The Summit,” I have to tell you--we had so many arguments in our own camp about whether we had made the right film, and we didn’t even actually submit it to Sundance at first, because some people were down on the film and we thought, 'maybe it’s not the film we thought it was.'

AT: Like who?

MM: I can say we were second-guessing ourselves so much with “The Summit.”  So to get that call, and the way it’s turned out...

AT: It was one of the first sales of the festival, to Sundance Selects. 

MM: Twenty-four hours of emotion in the first two days of the festival.  We just went from zero to hero.  I can’t tell you how proud I am of Nick Ryan and Ben Stark, the editor, and all those people who worked on that film.

AT: So who has distribution on world cinema opener “Who Is Dayani Cristal”?


I know that the film will find a home, and it has (Mundial, the new joint venture with IM Global and Canana).

AT: And what is the “Sound City” distribution?

MM: That is through Dave Grohl’s management, and he’s an artist who wants to get his work to the people as soon as possible. They made a deal with Gravitas before we ever came to the festival, so you can get it on iTunes as of January 21st.

'The Summit'
'The Summit'

AT: So how did you wind up at Sundance with three movies?

MM: Apparently with documentaries, I don’t really say no. In order to stay alive, I juggle a lot of things.  I have a small company, Diamond Docs, with two other guys and we set out to make documentaries ourselves, and we have.  But we launched it right when the economy tanked and through word of mouth and people I know I started getting phone calls, and we realized there's a business model that’s not about starting documentaries from scratch but to help other filmmakers realize their dream. 

A lot of these documentaries are first-time filmmakers; they take years to do, years to develop.  A lot of times it’s just people who find themselves next to a story and begin to chase it, and then they become filmmakers.  So I started on the side, besides chasing my dreams, taking on these projects that seemed to need a form or a structure or a way to turn hundreds of hours of footage into ninety minutes.  So that’s how it began.

AT: That’s an editor’s skill, too?

MM: It is--I’m an editor, too.  I learned early in my career.

AT: Did you go to film school?

MM: No.  I was a journalism major--I went to CNN for five years after college and was a news writer for anchors.  I kind of burned out on that and eventually made my way to Los Angeles, made a lot of one-hour documentaries on television.  When the reality TV boom hit, I did a little reality TV for a few months and it was not for me.  And so I stuck with this biography form and that’s translated somewhat into film.  The first film I worked on was with the guy who’s my partner now, Paul Crowder.  He and I made a bunch of Behind the Musics.  I made a bunch of Beyond the Glories.  Paul made a bunch of television with Stacy Peralta and ended up editing his films, and we got a reject, basically.  Someone had approved Stacy for a film that had been started, and Stacy didn’t really see the value in it--it wasn’t for him.  So Paul was like, 'I’ll do it,' and he dragged me into it, and that’s how we made a film called “Once In a Lifetime,” about the New York Cosmos soccer team, America trying to buy soccer.  It was so much fun, I thought, 'I can do this.' And it started from there. 

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Chasing Ice, The Cove, Sound City, Who Is Dayani Cristal?, Gael García Bernal, The Summit, Interviews, Interviews, Interviews , Festivals, Festivals

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.