As a filmmaker and a fan of indie film in general, I have always wanted to attend the Sundance Film Festival. It turns out I finally got to experience it through a movie.
It’s a comedy called On the Corner of Ego and Desire, the second feature from writer/director Alex Ferrari.
This tells the story of three wide eyed indie filmmakers who arrive at Sundance with the hope of selling their movie to an elusive power player who told them he would be there.
Making up this well cast trio are Sonja O’Hara (“Doomsday (TV)”, “Ovum”) as Julia, the director turned auteur of their movie, Robert Alicea (“Adulthood (TV)”, “Alto”) as Johnny, the producer who took a huge risk to make this happen, and Randy Ramos Jr. (“Headbands & Hoodies (TV)”, “The Week Of”) plays Lorenzo the actor and editor of this opus who often feels like the third wheel of the group.
The clock is ticking, these three could only afford to be at this legendary event in Park City, Utah for 24 hours. On the Corner of Ego and Desire is the first narrative feature to be shot entirely at the Sundance Film Festival.
When I first heard about this project I instantly knew this was an idea that had potential, especially given the guerrilla filmmaking style Alex and many indie producers work with these days.
For those who are not too familiar with Sundance it is one of the top five events in the world that celebrates all things Film. For around ten days out of the year this small mountainous town is taken over by industry pros and film enthusiasts from all walks of life.
Some of these shots burn with beauty and contrast, such as seeing Julia walk alone down the snow lined, well lit streets of park city long into the night. Some popular landmarks of this location were also utilized to great comedic effect.
It should be said that while this movie is one of a kind, this type of movie has been done before. The 2001 film Festival in Cannes was shot entirely at that major event and features celebrity cameos such as William Shatner, Faye Dunaway, Holly Hunter, Jeff Goldblum and Peter Bogdanovich.
On the Corner of Ego and Desire has plenty of indie stars to its name. Actor Stephen Kramer Glickman plays himself, The Room actress Robyn Paris plays herself as well, director/actor Robert Peters plays a filmmaking idol of Julia’s and plays a pivotal role.
The important producer these three are looking all over town for is Richard “RB” Botto, the real life producer/actor/screenwriter and founder of Stage 32, an online social network exclusively for filmmakers.
This premise is all one big inside joke for those who know who RB is. The fact that Julia and the others are looking to pitch their work to him is ironic, given that Richard Botto gives lectures on how best to pitch and network. He literally wrote the book on it, called Crowdsourcing For Filmmakers. Alex Ferrari plays himself, as a podcast host that gets to interview these three while they are at a major crossroads in their relationship.
Full disclosure here, I knew about On the Corner of Ego and Desire because I have been listening to Ferrari’s Indie Film Hustle Podcast for two years. I sought this movie out and was looking forward to seeing it.
After the movie enjoyed its UK premiere at the Raindance Film Festival I jumped at the chance to see if it lived up to my expectations. Some may say that it was self serving for Alex to play himself and mention his popular brand in the movie, I do not feel that way at all.
The podcast was only mentioned and not sold to us as an audience. Indie Film Hustle is an existing brand that Alex knew he could use and this element contributed to the story in a natural way.
With this movie, Alex went out of his way to give his audience what they would want, so why not include his podcast as a story element. It was a perfect opportunity, which is what low budget filmmaking and this movie is all about, seizing opportunities.
Because I listen to the podcast, I have many behind the scenes details that I am happy to share here. On the Corner of Ego and Desire was shot in four days at Sundance 2018.
It was shot with a Blackmagic pocket camera with a set of lenses. They used wireless mics to record the sound, all this to keep this roaming production small and unobtrusive.
Much like Mark Duplass and Joe Swanberg, indie filmmakers who’s work Alex Ferrari is fond of, this movie did not have a script, they had a scriptment. Basically, this is an outline of the story so the cast and crew had a general description of each scene, but it was up to the cast to fill in the details….. things like dialogue, actions, the stuff that characters are made of.
For this type of production to work, I feel you really need a strong cast that can think on their toes and rise to the challenge. The cast here is a true indie find. O’Hara, Alicea and Ramos Jr. have a great on screen chemistry and they truly embraced their roles. I always like when it is clear that the cast and crew had fun with the process, that was the case with this movie.
Having an experienced cast that could improvise, is what sets On the Corner apart from the early films of the Mumblecore movement which inspired it.
Even though On The Corner of Ego and Desire did not have a script, many story elements and visual choices were thought out ahead of time. Julia, the director, and her producer, Johnny, have a history that rises to the surface as the day wears on.
The movie’s title becomes a metaphor when the intersection of “Ego” and “Desire” make appearances in the movie at times when it relates to the emotional state these characters are in.
Richard Botto did a tremendous job playing the heavy in his own charismatic way. This scene was especially unique the way RB himself later described it on the Indie Film Hustle podcast. The scene was shot at an actual house party that was going on at Sundance. You may remember Swingers did the same thing, you get free extras that way, which is brilliant, but this does add some challenges.
Botto arrived at the party early while Alex and the cast were shooting other scenes. Alex said we’ll be ready around midnight. RB replied “I can’t promise you I’ll be completely coherent at this point.” With that, RB goes back into the party frey. The time came for them to shoot the scene out on the balcony in the cold Park City air. They need the privacy since RB’s character has agreed to watch the trailer for their movie.
This change of setting was far from comfortable for the actors I’m sure, but it was a nice touch which added another layer to the scene. And I am happy to say after watching the give and take between these four actors, Richard Botto was….. coherent enough.
Alex Ferrari has said it was intentional to shoot this scene later in the night, to get RB when he was naturally in that state after a long day of the festival grind.
Alex Ferrari has said On the Corner of Ego and Desire is like This Is Spinal Tap, but for filmmaking. I would say it is more than that. On the Corner is a love letter to filmmakers, delivered in the way they would want written.
I feel this is a big step up from his first feature, This Is Meg, which was shot mostly the same way but did not have a story that felt like the perfect choice to be told this way.
On the Corner of Ego and Desire was the right fit to maximize production value on a modest budget. Alex Ferrari also made some bold moves on this second feature.
For only a few brief moments, this movie breaks the fourth wall, the characters speak directly to us, as in Fight Club. The movie was book ended with black and white scenes, much like in Clerks 2. I love how these filmmakers show the trailer of their movie to people, and we the audience never get to see it.
The way people describe and critique the trailer fills our imagination to the brim. This technique also allowed this movie within a movie to be whatever Alex and his cast wanted to to be.
This was a labor of love for Alex Ferrari, he was not only the writer and director, but also a producer, editor and colorist. In fact, Alex did so much he had to use his pseudonym Jalapeno Humperdinck for his post-production supervisor credit so that it did not look like the Alex Ferrari show.
This is a fun and spontaneous look at the Sundance experience. Like life itself, it can be complex, the kind of “It’s so cold I can’t feel my face” and yet you are filled with warmth from the filmmaking community all around you kind of complex. Or feeling like you are on the way to the top, only to be crestfallen on the whim of a total stranger.
On the Corner of Ego and Desire is a must see for filmmakers and cinema junkies alike. Trust me, when you find yourself laughing at many of these jokes and references, you will realize you are part of the audience this was made for, and you will be grateful for it.
When you see it, be sure to stay through the closing credits for some outtakes. This movie is making the festival rounds now, I am sure it would be a rare and joyous experience to see it that way. Not to worry though, before long On the Corner of Ego and Desire will get at least a wide digital release, Alex Ferrari does too much hustling for it not to be.
– Curt Wiser is the Writer/Director of the Suspense movie Cam-Girl. While he has not physically been to Sundance…. yet, he is happy to watch other filmmaker’s work and share them with the rest of the world.