When I first laid eyes on Craig, it was in the spring of 2006 at Joe on Waverly and he was with a guy slightly shorter than him working on a screenplay. I didn’t know they were working on a screenplay; mostly, I wondered if they were a couple or just friends. When Craig went to get water, we made eye contact. A few weeks later, totally randomly, he looked at my Friendster profile (remember Friendster?) and I sent him an e-mail. We went on a date. And another date. And now we’ve been together for almost eight years. And that screenplay he was working on with his friend (who turned out to be Mark Heyman who’d later go on to write Black Swan and to marry my good friend Diana)? It became a movie–The Skeleton Twins–that just premiered to wild acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
None of this was inevitable. In fact, quite the opposite, The Skeleton Twins was a constant subject in our lives over the years, as it went from back burner to front burner to ignited front burner to totally doused front burner. I’ll never forget the night, a few years ago, when the film was fully financed and Craig and I went out to celebrate at Balthazar. We ordered champagne. Totally randomly, we ran into Bill Hader on the street that night (I had a whole conversation with Anna Kendrick about the pastries at Peels and didn’t realize I was talking to Anna Kendrick). The next day, the financing fell apart and Craig and I vowed never to order champagne at Balthazar again.
But, somehow miraculously, the movie came together. Last year, we went to New York for three months while he shot it. Then we went back in the spring while he edited it. All fall, he test-screened it and came home venting about the notes, the issues, the lingering questions. And then, after submitting it to the Sundance Film Festival in the early fall, the call came in November. His movie was playing in competition. He’d get to premiere it to the world in January.
Flying to Salt Lake City from L.A. is a funny experience during Sundance because the whole plane is packed with industry-types. How can you tell? Everyone’s reading screenplays on their Blackberries while chatting across the aisle with their colleagues about who’s repping such-and-such and how much they might expect to get for their deal. Upon arriving in Salt Lake, we took a shuttle to the Marriott–Sundance Headquarters–and Craig checked in at the director’s lounge; then we hung around waiting for our parents.
We all had drinks at the hotel bar. Actually, I couldn’t get a drink because stupidly I brought my hole-punched New York State Driver’s license (my California license was in the mail) which was also a pain at the airport. The Marriott bartender said “no way!” and I thought it would be a problem for the rest of my visit. It wasn’t. And the bartender at the Marriott was a total jerk about it. If he’s reading this, I’m not sorry for saying so.
That night, I went to dinner with my parents at a place called TableOne that may or may not be owned by Robert Redford. (Craig went off to eat with his parents and whole extended family who were also there for the premiere.)
I’m going to tell you a secret: the food at Sundance is way overpriced and not very good. There needs to be some cozy breakfasty places that serve biscuits and coffee and comfort-food dinners. As it was, there were a few fancy places like this one with $30 entrees that mimicked the kind of food you’d get at better places in New York or L.A. Here’s my trout which tasted good but was probably not worth the cost.
That night, I joined Craig and his sister for a few opening night parties. We ran into our friends, the Kyles–Kyle Buchanan and Kyle Patrick Alvarez–both of whom have appeared on my podcast talking about their respective work (film editor of New York Magazine; writer/director of Easier With Practice and C.O.G.):
The next day, the day before the premiere, was a chance to explore Main Street. I ate a pretty good lunch (turkey BLT) at the deli:
Did some shopping (this would be way less creepy if he were waring pants):
And ate dinner with Craig, his parents, my parents, Skeleton Twins editor Jenny Lee, Craig’s sister Kristin and Diana at a steakhouse called Prime Something-Or-Other:
The next day was the big day. Craig actually slept well the night leading up to it (though he hadn’t slept the whole night before). I was more jittery than he was; not nervous, just pumped up with excitement and energy and pangs of I-can’t-believe-this-is-finally-happening.
Craig had breakfast that morning with his team; so I joined Diana and Mark and Mark’s parents for lunch at a place that served my favorite meal of the trip, High West Brewery.
My salmon with bourbon-cooked greens was excellent:
And Diana and Mark both enjoyed their Bison Reubens with tomato soup:
At last, the moment arrived. We walked over to the Library, one of the Sundance venues, and stood outside as everyone arrived. Here’s Jared, one of the film’s producers, talking to Craig with Mark Duplass (the star of Craig’s first movie and another producer of this one) in the middle:
Here’s Craig with Mark posing for a picture:
And here we are, in our premiere outfits (his took forever to find!):
At last, it was time to go in:
Seats were reserved for the cast and crew (sadly, Kristen Wiig got really sick at the last minute and couldn’t make it; she sent her fervent apologies via text):
(Those Bill Hader seats were wasted because Bill can’t stomach watching himself on screen. He stood outside until it was time for the Q&A.)
Here are the proud parents getting ready for the movie to start:
To my left, across the aisle, was Leonard Maltin. Over my shoulder was Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly. This was a powerful crowd of tastemakers and buyers, to say the least. At the start, Craig went up to introduce the movie:
And then it played.
The movie is a drama with really funny elements; so it was hard to tell, at first, if the audience was on board. But pretty quickly, during a bit involving the book Marley and Me, the audience positively roared with laughter. From that point on, the audience was in the palm of the movie’s hand; the highlight being a big scene in the middle–I won’t spoil it (though most of the reviews do)–that had the audience actually applauding. Applause in the middle of the movie! This was good.
At the end, the cast and crew took the stage and fielded questions:
That’s Jenny Lee, Mark, Luke Wilson, Boyd Holbrook, Bill Hader, Craig, Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass (another producer). Then it was off to the premiere party!
We may as well have all taken drugs, we were so high from the screening. Here’s Craig and his sister, the real life Skeleton Twins:
At the party, Bill posed for this pretty bad picture with me and Craig and my parents:
I caught Craig and his dad in an emotional moment, with Steve telling Craig how proud he was. It was very sweet:
The crowd featured some notable people, including Bob Odenkirk (you can’t see him here) and Chris O’Dowd from Bridesmaids:
After the parents went home, the 30-somethings went off to find dinner. That was next to impossible with two hours waits everywhere. So Kyle Buchanan snuck us into the after party for another movie (I won’t say which!) and we stole their pizza and salad. Damn it, we were hungry!
The night ended in the weirdest way. CAA, one of the biggest agencies in Hollywood, was having a very exclusive party that was so exclusive, no one knew where it was. You just got into a van and they drove you there. Six of us piled into a van and we started a trip up into the mountains–pitch black roads with the occasional Christmas tree–until we arrived at an enormous mansion that’s apparently owned by the heir to the FedEx fortune:
Food was prepped on site: pigs-in-a-blanket, quiches, little crostini with roasted peppers.
There were movie stars there (Jesse Eisenberg, for example) but I was totally thrilled to recognize Billy Eichner from Billy on The Street. If you haven’t watched his videos, do so now. They’re hilarious. He posed for this picture with me and Craig:
And that was that. We went back, still delirious, and slept.
The next morning, the reviews started pouring in. A rave in Variety. A rave in the Hollywood Reporter. Best of all, a review from Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly that was so gushy and positive-towards-the-movie and Craig, I just have to quote it: “As directed and co-written by Craig Johnson, this is a tenderly sincere, and smart, and beguiling, and penetrating movie about the way that ordinary messed-up people can wind up stumbling through their lives….This is only Johnson’s second feature, but his voice as a filmmaker is sparkling, clear-eyed, and charged with feeling.”
I mean, does it get better than that?
After that screening, I barely saw Craig again. He was whisked off to do countless interviews, on video and in print, with Bill Hader–which looks like it was tons of fun. Here’s one you may enjoy:
Me? I went to many, many parties (which is sort of out of character for me because I’m not much of a party-goer in real life). One had a surprise concert by Damon Albarn from Blur and Gorillaz:
Take that, Damon Albarn!
What I realized on my last day at Sundance was that I really should’ve spent more time seeing movies. I didn’t really know how, I was so focused on Craig’s premiere. Turns out there’s an app you can download to get on the wait lists for whatever’s playing. I got on a wait list for the 20th anniversary screening of Hoop Dreams, a movie I’d never seen, and had no trouble getting in.
This was an exciting screening because the movie’s biggest champion had been Roger Ebert; his widow, Chaz, was in the audience. Then after the movie, which was really, truly powerful and moving and important (you should watch it on Netflix) the directors and producers came out along with one of the film’s subjects, Arthur, and his mom:
That’s really what makes Sundance great: you’re not just watching movies, you’re watching them with the people who made the movies possible.
That happened again that night, when I went to an incredible documentary that’s going to be on HBO in a few months called The Case Against 8.
The screening was totally packed:
At the end of the movie, which charts the story of the Supreme Court case that overturned proposition 8, all four plaintiffs–whose lives were totally upended as they put themselves and their families on trial–were there along with the filmmakers and others (including our friend Adam) who worked on the case:
At last, it was time to bid farewell to beautiful Park City.
I flew back yesterday–this time I was sitting next to two actors, a pretty man and a pretty woman, who “met cute” on the flight and exchanged numbers at the end–and came home to discover that Craig’s movie had sold to Roadside and Lion’s Gate and Sony Pictures. So far, it’s the biggest deal at the festival; more importantly, it means you’l be able to go see and support the movie this summer when it comes out!
Who would’ve thought, all those years ago, that the work Craig and Mark were doing at that coffee shop would lead here? It’s a lesson in perseverance and sticking hard to your dreams. I couldn’t be prouder.
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