Putty Hill Producer Steve Holmgren Talks Theatrical Opening, Release Strategies and Music Permissions

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01/07/2011 2:18 PM |

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The Baltimore-based director Matthew Porterfield’s Putty Hill, one of the notable American independent films of 2010, will finally be released theatrically this year: distributor Cinema Guild is opening the film at Cinema Village on February 18th, according to Steve Holmgren, one of the film’s producers. (He’s also the programmer at UnionDocs, in Williamsburg.)

The delay is partly due to the film’s producers having to do everything the producers of no-budget indie films have to do, including music clearances: just after Thanksgiving, cast and crew reunited outside Baltimore to reshoot a crucial scene because they couldn’t clear “Wild Horses” with the Rolling Stones’ publisher, despite their efforts: “We weren’t ever even quoted a figure.” (The production was apparently too small. There’s a million fair-use test cases out there, and none of them can afford lawyers.)

They did, however, get Dolly Parton’s permission to use “I Will Always Love You,” which actress Sky Ferreira sings, quite affectingly, in the same scene. (“Dolly’s been amazing and we’re hoping to get her on stage with Matt for a Q&A at some point,” Holmgren told me.) As for the reshoot—the scene, late in the film, depicts a wake at a local bar, with a karaoke machine—he says they’re pleased with the new footage they’ll be using: “We ended up going with a public domain track, ‘Amazing Grace,’ captured with true magic by a local who walked in to Dimitri’s Tavern for a beer that afternoon and caught us by surprise.” He elaborates:

“We had a short list of public domain songs and were having problems getting anyone to sing (most karaoke songs people have their “go to” picks and they are usually big songs), and this guy was a local who just walked in,” he told me. The film features a mostly nonprofessional cast—largely people Porterfield found around the neighborhood—in semi-improvised situations and in interviews conducted, from offscreen, by the director. It’s an organic film—a living thing, and, we see from this reshoot, an evolving one.

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Momentum is everything in independent filmmaking: the film built up a considerable amount on the festival circuit, and Holmgren tells me that for the film’s release in New York, they’re putting together a series of related events: Q&As, “Baltimore-flavored parties,” and gallery spotlights with photos and audition footage. The film will open in Baltimore shortly after New York; further bookings depend on the early numbers.

(Around the same time it opens here, the film will also be released in Germany, Canada, the UK and France. As the winners of the international competition at Festival de Cinéma la Roche sur Yon—you know, that one—the filmmakers received a grant of 5,000 Euros to support their efforts to prepare the film for distribution.)

Porterfield and many of his Putty Hill collaborators are currently working to put together funding for one of two scripts—one is a family story called I Used To Be Darker, cowritten by Porterfield and his partner Amy Belk; the other is about a man on house arrest outside Baltimore.

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