By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 12, 2012 at 8:38PM
"I didn't know this job was about fundraising," said new Los Angeles Film Festival director Stephanie Allain at Monday night's downtown soft-launch LAFF party in advance of the real opening night Thursday of Woody Allen's "To Rome with Love." This premiere was for Virgin Australia/Virgin Atlantic/Virgin America/Virgin Produced short film "Departure Date," which is of course an expensive airline commercial.
They call it branded entertainment. But the twenty-minute film is startling in several ways. Virgin Produced CEO Jason Felts hired actress-director Kat Coiro ("While We Were Here") after she came up with a pitch fitting the assignment--to shoot a limited number of actors on three connecting flights from Australia to the US and across the Atlantic to London. She hired "Mad Men" star Ben Feldman (copywriter Michael Ginsberg) as well as Australian Nicky Whelan, Philip Baker Hall, Luis Guzmán and Janeane Garofalo, and filmed a movie for the first time at 35,000 feet.
The backstory of how they shot the film in May over nine days and three continents --while meeting FAA rules, which wreaked havoc on the makeup crew--is fascinating. If the captain told them to get back in their seats and fasten their seat belts, they did, and other passengers trying to sleep were not amused. Cinematographer Doug Chamberlain had to place small lights and figure out when to sleep on the long flights in order to get what they needed in time. They shot one monologue with Feldman talking to himself in the mirror in the ladies room from the aisle with the door open.
Virgin Produced is making features as well ("Immortals," "Machine Gun Preacher," "Limitless"), hence a robust turn-out at the Ritz Carlton after-party (which promised Wolfgang Puck cuisine, but delivered bite-sized hors d'oeuvres on tiny trays). "Hatfields & McCoys" star Bill Paxton, who is raising money to direct martial arts film "Kung Fu" in China, made a bee-line for one of the Virgin production execs.
The movie will of course show on all Virgin Airlines, but Felts is hoping for a cable sale as well. It's actually not bad. Feldman, especially, is terrific as a young guy who falls for a girl on a flight and realizes he may have blown his one chance at true love. Haven't we all had that particular fantasy, of finding our dream partner in the next seat?
Sponsors are all-important these days at film festivals. Hence the big premiere for a commercial. The Sundance Institute too, recently sent out a news release about a fundraiser dinner sponsored by Tiffany & Co.:
"Filmmaker Benh Zeitlin and philanthropist and Sundance Institute trustee George Gund were honored with inaugural Vanguard Awards," read the release. "Paula Patton (who presented to Zeitlin) and husband Robin Thicke were on a “date night” – they got a sitter for the evening and were visibly excited to spend time together at the event; meanwhile, Lake Bell couldn’t stop smiling and showing off her new engagement ring to guests. Additional attendees included Jason Ritter, Danny Masterson, Julia Ormond, Cody Horn, Aubrey Plaza, Lisa Cholodenko, Christine Lahti (who presented to Gund), and more."
This is a far cry from the Sundance Insitutute I know and love. How does indie Sundance fit with 1% luxury brand Tiffany? When I queried Sundance, I got the following answer from an unnamed spokesperson:
"Sundance Institute is obviously not about luxury – at the Festival or our Labs - but about providing development, access and a platform for voices beyond the mainstream. But we are also a national non-profit arts organization, and funding to support our work is critical and comes from a wide community of generous donors, including philanthropists and others here in Los Angeles. This was an intimate fundraising event to increase support and visibility of our work and give our supporters a chance to meet our artists. Tiffany - while of course a luxury brand – is also a classic American brand that cares about arts and culture as well as environmental issues, and was wonderfully supportive of our organization in helping us do this event. I think the program in recognizing emerging talent and honoring our rich history was really true to who we are as an organization."