By NICK RUST
—Autograph January 2010
Tucked away high in the Uinta mountain range, Park City, Utah will once again be transformed from a small resort town into the number one independent film extravaganza in the United States. The 2010 Sundance Film Festival will take place January 21-31. For collectors it’s more than a film festival: it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. I got over 150 photos signed last year.
Established in 1978 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the original name was the Utah/United States Film Festival, and it was chaired by Robert Redford. The initial purpose was to bring more filmmakers to Utah and showcase American independent films. As years passed, the festival expanded to include international movies. It’s been administered by the Sundance Institute since 1985 and was officially renamed the Sundance Film Festival in 1991.
If you collect contemporary Hollywood, Sundance is your ultimate vacation destination. And the stars act like they’re on vacation too. They are approachable and most seem happy to sign autographs or take pictures with fans. Strolling down Main Street during the day is a collector’s dream. Stars and the entire cast of some films are available, doing press for the movies. You’ll have signing opportunities that would take months or even years to manage otherwise.
My Very First Time
My first trip to Sundance was 2006. My wife and I were on vacation in Utah visiting her family and decided to set aside a day to go to the festival. We arrived on Main Street about 9:30 a.m. and within moments I spotted Paul Giamatti riding by in a Volkswagen. I couldn’t help it—I took off running, yelling at my wife over my shoulder to meet me at the top of the hill. I caught up to him just as he was getting out of the car and he looked at me, gasping for air from
my sprint. He chuckled and asked, “You okay?” I told him I was fine and that I was a big fan and just wanted an autograph. He signed my autograph book and then went inside a building.
A building with one star inside, I knew there had to be more. My wife caught up to me and I told her we should wait there. Before I could catch my breath, Jessica Biel came out. She signed an 8×10 for me and is just as beautiful in person as she is in movies. Minutes after Biel left, music legend Neil Young came out of the same building and signed my autograph book. I’d been in town for less than an hour and already I got three big autographs. I was hooked!
We stayed at the festival for nine hours and I got more movie star autographs than I had in my entire autograph career. Besides Giamatti, Biel and Young, I got Minnie Driver, Lea Thompson, Matt Dillon, Michael Rapaport, Lily Taylor, Jamie Kennedy, Daryl Hannah, Corey Feldman, DB Sweeney, Joel Edgerton, Alexie Gilmore, Kevin Sorbo, Jack Osbourne and Matchbox 20 lead-singer Rob Thomas.
Independent films are also a great opportunity to get actors and actresses before they make it big. Just try getting Kristen Stewart’s autograph now. But the stunning actress who plays Bella in the Twilight movies wasn’t always the target of collectors and paparazzi. In 2008 she was at Sundance for her movie, The Yellow Handkerchief. I caught Stewart and the rest of the cast leaving one of the press stops. While other collectors were hounding William Hurt and Maria Bello, I went straight for her. She signed two 8x10s and a poster from the movie In the Land of Women. She seemed flattered that I even asked and her publicist commented on how cool it was that I had the poster. At Sundance 2009, Twilight had come out and Stewart wasn’t as accommodating. She did sign, but it was harder. She made a habit of sneaking out back doors to avoid the crush of screaming fans.
At Sundance 2006, Steve Carell was there for Little Miss Sunshine. This was just after The 40 Year Old Virgin came out and his stardom wasn’t near what it is now. Carell was very accommodating with fans and took time to sign whenever asked. Today you’re lucky if you can ever get him in-person.
Not only up and comers show up at Sundance. Some of the biggest stars in the business have attended in the four years I’ve been going. I’ve seen Robert DeNiro, Jim Carrey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Bruce Willis, Wesley Snipes, Jodie Foster, Michael Keaton, Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Steven Spielberg, Michael Douglas, Danny Devito, Robin Williams, Antonio Banderas, Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Jack Black, Uma Thurman and, of course, Robert Redford.
What Just Happened?
One of my most memorable moments at Sundance was the premiere of What Just Happened starring Robert DeNiro, Bruce Willis, Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn, John Turturro, Stanley Tucci,and Catherine Keener. It premiered at the Eccles Center and DeNiro, Willis and Tucci were the only ones to show up. The star-studded cast drew a crowd of about 75 people. Tucci was the first to emerge and he immediately came over to the gate, signed autographs and took pictures while he talked to the fans. You could feel the pressure mounting as we waited for DeNiro and Willis to emerge.
Soon Willis’ unmistakable bald head came around the corner and fans began screaming, “Bruce! Bruce!” He came over and posed for pictures, throwing his arms high into the air, as if to say, “Here I am.” After posing, Willis came over to the gate and went to town. He grabbed a pen and began signing everything in sight. He was cordial and delightful as he chatted with the frenzied crowd. DeNiro came out an instant later and began going down the line signing everything put in front of him. Here I was with two of the biggest names—and hardest autographs—in the world. I came out with an 8×10 signed by each of them. Other collectors got multiples, but I was grinning like a kid on Christmas.
Polite Aggression and Liam Neeson
No matter how carefully you plan your collecting opportunities around the dozens of events planned every day at Sundance, there’s always a missed opportunity waiting to happen. Liam Neeson was almost my missed opportunity last year.
Neeson was in town for the premiere of Five Minutes of Heaven. I’d seen him earlier that day on Main and he shut me down, even though I was the only collector around. He’s known to be an elusive signer and I’ve heard he rarely signs Stars Wars or Schindler’s List photos if he does sign.
Later I saw Neeson leaving a press event, and five collectors, including myself, approached him and asked him to sign. He said he wasn’t signing because he’d already signed earlier. My friend Will Duran and I hadn’t gotten him yet, so I used a little polite aggression. I pleaded with him to sign for us and told him we weren’t in the group he signed for earlier. He said he knew he had signed for me. Then he looked me right in the eyes and told me he was a Jedi and he knew I was lying. “Jedis can tell these things,” he said.
I couldn’t tell if he’d completely lost it or if he was joking, and yet there he was, staring at me with humorless eyes. Crazy or not, he’s one of my favorite actors so I wasn’t going to stop trying until he was in his car and gone. I continued to plead with him and finally, just before he reached his car, he said he believed me. He signed my Batman Begins 8×10 and Will’s Darkman laser disc cover and that was it. The other collectors were left empty handed. I guess The Force was with us.
Stalking Robert Redford
I can’t write an article about Sundance without a story about Robert Redford. You’d think he would be happy to entertain autograph requests at his own festival, right? Wrong! Redford usually travels with a large entourage and is nearly impossible to approach.
In 2007, I made it a goal to try and get a Redford sig. Every time I saw him it was the same deal. I couldn’t get within 10 feet of the guy and all I’d get was a wave when I asked him to sign. On the second day I was there, three of us spotted Redford riding in the backseat of an SUV, so we went up to his window and began walking alongside trying to get him to roll down his window. When his vehicle stopped at an intersection one of his security guys jumped out and started yelling at us, saying, “Redford is not going to sign. Just leave him alone!” He said Redford knew what we were doing with our autographs—implying that we were selling them. I told him we weren’t dealers and we wanted autographs for our personal collections. If we wanted an autograph, he said, the best way was to mail something to Redford. He gave us an address and got in the SUV and took off.
I was the only one who mailed Redford and four months later I got the 8×10 I sent him back signed. Unfortunately, Autograph’s authenticators said it was a secretarial.
Last year Redford seemed to have lightened up a bit and he actually signed a picture for one collector. I ran into the Sundance Kid leaving the premiere of Push and asked him if I could shake his hand. He came over and I told him that Sundance was great and how much I admired him. He was pleasant and even took a picture with me. I didn’t ask for an autograph because I didn’t want to push my luck. Whether Robert Redford remembered me trotting behind his SUV or not, I certainly did.
As Sundance 2010 approaches I can’t wait to hit the pavement in the sometimes sub-zero weather. Planning a trip to Sundance requires warm attire. Bring a thick winter coat, beanies, thermal underwear, wool socks, waterproof boots, scarves and anything else to keep warm. Check out www.festival.sundance.org for info on tickets, lodging, dining, shuttles, transportation and other services. The Web site also has a list of all films and events with complete cast info, so you can plan what items to bring for signing. Just because an actor is in a movie scheduled to play at Sundance doesn’t guarantee they will show up. Likewise, many celebrities come to Sundance even if they don’t have a film screening. Autograph books are good to bring because they can be signed by anyone.
Sundance is Mecca for autograph collectors. Brave the cold and put in some time and you can walk away with hundreds of autographs. According to the adage, opportunity only knocks once. But lucky for us, it knocks every year at Sundance.