PARK CITY, Utah - Looking back on the Sundance Film Festical, I realize that, year after year, if you want to know what's going on - what star just got a bad case of nerves and spent his movie's screening pacing the lobby, what movie nobody liked, what melodrama about a cranky dwarf everyone loves so much the next screening was delayed due to an extra-long ovation - stick by the ushers.
This year my favorite Sundance anecdote comes from Ed Solomon, who is not an usher, but, again, opened up in their presence. He personifies the new breed of Sundance filmmaker, a variety unknown when the festival began in 1981: The First-Timer With Connections. He wrote the screenplay for Men in Black II, and was there with Levity, a drama starring Billy Bob Thornton, Holly Hunter, Morgan Freeman, and Kirsten Dunst. Nice cast. Solomon said he had the same money problems you hear other Sundance filmmakers complaining about.
Most Sundance directors don't cap their movies with a prominent thanks to Pat Boone. I asked Solomon if that was THE Pat Boone. He said, “Without Pat Boone I wouldn't be here.” So here now is The Pat Boone Story, the ultimate example of how the independent house that Sundance built and the mainstream have forever shacked up:
“This is the shortest version possible,” Solomon said. “We had eight weeks to make the film. Billy Bob promised his family he would be on a plane March 1 to Namibia, Africa. I had this amazing cast, this amazing cinematographer, and only with a tiny window to do the film. I said let's just go anyway. I moved to Montreal and started, but when I did a production schedule, it became clear: to make this movie, we couldn't finish by March 1. So every day I went to Billy Bob and said `I need you to work until March 9.'
“Billy said `I'm going to keep my promise. I'm not staying after March 1.' But I kept thinking `He's going to have to come around.' He never did. First week of January, I asked again, and he said, `Look, I want to be with my wife on that plane.'
“I said `Is that what this is about? What if I got somebody nice to fly with you?'
“He said, `Like who, like Pat Boone?' I said, `Um, yeah, what if I get Pat Boone to fly with you?' He said, `Ha ha. If you get Pat Boone to fly to Africa I'll work until March 9.'
“I swear to God this story is true. The next morning I said to my assistant, `Find out how to reach Pat Boone,' and she said, `You mean white-shoes Pat Boone?' She said `Is he still alive?' I said, `Even if he's dead, find out where he is.' She says OK and comes back with the phone number for his office. I call and say, `Can I speak with Mr. Boone, please,' and they say `What is this regarding?' and I say `I really need to talk to him,' and they say `He's having a root canal. Can I take a message? Is it an emergency?' and I say, `Well, in the scope of the world ...'
“Anyway, a week later, one in the morning in Montreal, the phone rings and I hear a voice: `What's this ridiculous request I'm about to get? Hi, this is Pat Boone!' I talk to him for an hour about the movie and the cast and the situation, and finally he goes: `Well, if it'll help your movie and it means something to Billy Bob - sure, I'll fly to Namibia with him.' I say, `Oh my God, thank you, do you want to stay there for a few days? Maybe there's a spa ...' He says, `Nope, I'll just turn around and fly back.'”
“And so, to answer your question, that's why Pat Boone is thanked, how he helped get my first picture made. Without Pat Boone, there would have been no Sundance.”