Ping Pong Summer

Susan Sarandon Comedy ‘Ping Pong Summer’ Acquired by Gravitas Ventures

Susan Sarandon Comedy ‘Ping Pong Summer’ Acquired by Gravitas VenturesSundance: Michael Tully’s ’80s movie co-stars Amy Sedaris, Lea Thompson and Judah Friedlander

Gravitas Ventures has acquired Michael Tully’s crowd-pleasing ’80s comedy “Ping Pong Summer,” which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the companies announced Monday.

Gravitas plans to release the film in theaters and on VOD this summer, while Millennium Entertainment is nearing a deal to handle the film’s DVD release later this year.

Set during the summer of 1985 in Ocean City, Maryland, “Ping Pong Summer” follows awkward 13-year-old Rad Miracle as he attempts to live up to that name by becoming a master breakdancer, ping pong player and ladies man all before the end of summer break. The film is based on Tully’s own childhood experiences.

Also Read: Sony Pictures Classics Closing in on Mark Ruffalo’s ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’

Marcello Conte stars as Rad Miracle, while Amy Sedaris, Judah Friedlander, Lea Thompson and Susan Sarandon co-star, with the latter actress playing Randi Jammer, the table tennis Miyagi to Rad’s Daniel-son.

“Having been a fan of Tully’s work, both as a filmmaker and as a writer at Hammer To Nail, I was still not prepared for what a truly joyous blast of a film ‘Ping Pong Summer’ turned out to be,” said Gravitas VP of theatrical distribution Dustin Smith. “Anyone (i.e. me) who spent lonely teenage summers dreaming of rapping, breakdancing or even (gasp!) talking to a girl is going to love this movie. Plus, where else are you going to see Susan Sarandon wield a fish like a weapon?”

“I’ve been a fan of Gravitas Ventures since its inception, so when I heard the recent news about their venturing into the theatrical sphere I became quite excited,” said Tully. “In this tricky 21st century market, Gravitas has the intelligence, creativity, and enthusiasm to help make sure our 20th century movie gets seen. Not to mention their funky fresh addition of Dusty Smith to the Gravitas team, which further sealed the deal.”

Also Read: Gravitas Ventures Acquires ‘Brightest Star,’ Featuring Clark Gregg, Allison Janney

George Rush produced “Ping Pong Summer” with Brooke Bernard, Ryan Zacarias, Billy Peterson, Jeffrey Allard and Michael Gottwald, in association with Epic Match Media, Compass Entertainment and Nomadic Independence.

Rush and Submarine’s Josh Braun and David Koh negotiated the deal on behalf of the filmmakers, with Gravitas CEO Nolan Gallagher and Millennium’s Tristen Tuckfield handling duties for the distributors.

Distributor Shooting for Stars on Bigger Screens

Gravitas expanding into theatrical releases for bigger upside.

By Jonathan Polakoff

After building a sizable video-on-demand distribution business, Gravitas Ventures of El Segundo is making a play for the art house.

Gravitas, which distributes movies to cable operators’ video-on-demand platforms and digital outlets, last week announced the launch of a new theatrical division that will distribute about 12 indie films a year to theaters. The company hired Dustin Smith, formerly vice president of acquisitions and business affairs at film distributorRoadside Attractions, to lead the division.

Gravitas Chief Executive Nolan Gallagher said theater releases, in addition to on-demand-distribution, will help Gravitas acquire titles with known talent at festivals such as Sundance.

“Being able to handle theatrical in-house enables us to find stronger, cast-driven films,” Gallagher said. “Cast-driven films are the kinds of films that can overperform.”

Gravitas is hoping to find movies that will not only play well theatrically, but also contribute to its core video-on-demand business, which distributes films, for example, to Apple Inc.’s iTunes and Comcast Cable.

It’s always tough to know what will catch on with theater audiences, but Gallagher said the company is targeting three types of movies: documentaries, films with known actors and genre films with a built-in appeal to a cult audience, such as horror fans.

The strategy will be on display late this summer when Gravitas releases cop thriller “Felony” into theaters. The movie premiered in October at the Toronto International Film Festival and Gravitas closed the acquisition earlier the month. The plot centers on three Sydney cops played by actors including the movie’s screenwriter Joel Edgerton, who played Tom Buchanan in the recent “Great Gatsby.”

Terms of the “Felony” acquisition were not discloded, but Smith said Gravitas’ typical budget for an acquisition is in the low-to-mid-six figures. Releasing a dozen films a year is expected to run up between $1 million and $3 million in upfront acquisition expenses and marketing costs.

Recouping those costs at the box office is no sure bet, said Eric Wold, a media and entertainment analyst at B.Riley & Co.’s San Francisco office.

But he agreed that theatrical releases have other advantages for a video-on-demand company, as they can open doors to bigger movies and help spur downloads and other purchases in the future.

“You may be able to get your hands on films that you otherwise might not be able to,” Wold said. “Movies you can monetize downstream.”

“Felony” will be the first theatrical release Gravitas is handling entirely in-house, but it has partnered with other distributors to release movies into theaters before. For example, Gravitas teamed up with Submarine Deluxe of New York last year to release “Dear Mr. Watterson,” a documentary about the creator of the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip.

Gallagher said the positive results of those releases helped lead to the decision to launch a theatrical division. He said Smith will help the company book theater screens, for example, which is just one challenge for an upstart independent distributor.

At Roadhouse, Smith worked on the release of movies such as “Margin Call” and “Arbitrage.” Both pioneered the strategy of same-day video-on-demand and theatrical release.

“This hybrid model, where movies are available all over the country at the same time, is where the indie business is heading,” Smith said.

Smith said he still likes that model, but Gravitas will also consider other release strategies, including one that upholds the traditional 90-day waiting period between a theatrical release and home distribution.

Being flexible could be important, since some theaters, especially big chains, refuse to show movies that also debut on the same day on-demand.

Competition is also tough within the art house circuit. For example, Landmark Theatres, partly owned by Mark Cuban is known to set aside screens for movies from the distribution company co-owned by Cuban Magnolia Pictures. One logical outlet for Gravitas’ movies is L.A. art house chain Laemmle Theatres.

Gravitas will also handle theatrical marketing campaigns, which can cost the major studios tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. Competing on those terms is all but impossible for independent distributors, so Gravitas and the other rely instead on low-cost marketing tactics, such as participating in screening series – or garnering positive reviews from movie critics.

Gallagher said he’s planned the expansion for the long haul. It’s being financed by the company’s core video-on-demand business, which he said is profitable and has grown rapidly since he founded the company in 2006.

Gravitas now has 11 employees and operates in a low-profile building among several bars and restaurants on quiet Richmond Street in central El Segundo. It posted two-year revenue growth of 618 percent in 2011 to rank No. 3 on the business Journal’s list of Fastest Growing Private Companies in 2012. That pace has since slowed.

The company has released about 2,000 titles to on-demand platforms, according to its website. Now, Gallagher said he’s planning to build up a similar level of experience in the theatrical world.

“Theatrical is so important to the indie film world,” he said. “We want to be able to glean that knowledge ourselves.

Backstreet Boys

Gravitas Ventures Taps Dustin Smith To Head New Theatrical Division

Dustin Smith has been hired as VP of TheatricalDustin Smith headshotDistribution to oversee Gravitas Theatrical. Gravitas Ventures says it will release 12 films a year under the new division, starting with Matthew Saville’s thriller Felony. Gravitas Ventures founder and CEO Nolan Gallagher announced the move today on the eve of the 2014 Sundance Film Fest. Smith will primarily be responsible for developing the distribution and marketing strategy for Gravitas’ theatrical releases, booking global, attending film fests and advising on acquisitions. Smith will report to Michael Murphy, President of Gravitas.

Smith joins Gravitas after nearly a decade at Roadside Attractions where he most recently served as VP, Acquisitions and Business Affairs. While at Roadside, Smith oversaw the acquisition and release of Winter’s Bone, and also worked on such releases as All Is Lost, Stories We Tell, Mud and The Cove.

“Dusty’s track record has been unmatched over the last decade,” said Gallagher. “His reputation as a good-humored relationship builder with an uncanny knowledge of independent cinema made him an ideal choice to shepherd our new in-house theatrical division.”

Gravitas’ first pic slated for release is Felony starring Joel Edgerton, Jai Courtney and Melissa George.Felony - Malcom Toohey (Joel Edgerton) and Cal Summer (Tom Wilkinson)Felony follows decorated cop Malcolm Toohey (Joel Edgerton) who has it all until a tragic mistake, and the resulting cover-up, endangers his job, family and even his freedom. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and Gravitas plans a late summer theatrical release across North America. Felony, from Goalpost Pictures and Blue-Tongue Films, was produced by Rosemary Blight, Joel Edgerton and Michael Benaroya. Executive producers are Joel Pearlman, Lisa Wilson, Ben Grant, Seph McKenna, Myles Nestel, Craig Chapman, Ben Sachs and Logan Levy.

The deal for Felony was negotiated by Nolan Gallagher at Gravitas Theatrical and CAA on behalf of the producers. The Solution Entertainment Group is handling international.


Home Media Magazine

Consumer Spending on Home Entertainment Up Slightly in 2013

Consumer spending on home entertainment finished the year essentially flat with the previous year, with a total of $18.2 billion spent in 2013 on packaged media (Blu-ray Disc and DVD) and the various incarnations of electronic delivery.

That’s up less than 1% from total consumer spending in 2012.

Disc purchases for the year were down 8% to $7.78 billion, from $8.47 billion in 2012, according to numbers provided by the studios and key retailers and released Jan. 7 by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. Even the generally robust fourth quarter witnessed a 9.3% decline in spending, to $2.77 billion, although observers attribute this to massive discounting around the Thanksgiving holiday, with DVDs as well as Blu-ray Discs widely available for a few dollars. (DEG did not provide unit sales this year.)

DVD sales continued their steady decline, while Blu-ray Disc sales, after a slight drop in the third quarter, finished 2013 5% ahead of 2012.

But a steep increase on the digital side saved the day, with total consumer spending on digital content up 23.9% to $6.46 billion, from 2012’s $5.22 billion. Leading the charge was electronic sellthrough (EST), now rebranded as Digital HD, which saw a 47.1% increase in consumer spending to surpass $1 billion for the first time ever. According to DEG, consumers shelled out $1.19 billion buying movies and TV shows digitally in 2013, up from $808.42 million in 2012.

Driving Digital HD sales was the policy adopted by most studios during 2013 of releasing new titles two weeks earlier than their disc or VOD release — a policy change Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau calls “a game changer.” Further boosting Digital HD sales was a dip in pricing and much greater availability, thanks to new platforms such as Comcast’s digital movie storefront, launched in November, and Target Ticket, a digital store that was opened in September by the nation’s No. 2 discount retailer, Target Corp. — as well as new media hub consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlaysStation 4, both of which hit the market in November.

Digital HD wasn’t the only digital component to post significant growth in 2013. Consumer spending on VOD was up 4.8% to $2.11 billion, from $2.01 billion in 2012, while subscription streaming — a market segment led by Netflix — rose an estimated 32.1% to $3.16 billion, from $2.39 billion in 2012.

The year-end DEG report also found that:

• The number of Blu-ray homes continues to grow, with total household penetration of all Blu-ray-compatible devices (including BD set-top players, PlayStation machines and HTiBs) now at more than 72 million U.S. homes.

• There are now more than 15 million UltraViolet accounts, thanks in large part to support from most major retailers.

• Consumers bought more than 38 million HDTVs in 2013. HDTV penetration is now at more than 96 million U.S. households, according to numbers compiled by DEG from retail tracking sources.

• Traditional physical rental continued to decline in the double digits. Rental revenue at brick-and-mortar stores fell 14.3% during 2013 to $1.04 billion, from $1.22 billion in 2012 — not surprising, given the fact that by the end of the year the 300 remaining Blockbuster Video stores had nearly all closed. Meanwhile, subscription rental, again mostly through Netflix, was down 19% to $1.02 billion, from $1.26 billion the year before.

• Kiosk activity, dominated by Redbox, was flat, coming in at an estimated $1.92 billion, a slight drop of 1% from $1.94 billion in 2012.

"Jug Face" Review - Roger

By Marsha McCreadie

Jug Face Movie Review

In most of "Jug Face," Lauren Ashley Carter cleverly uses her "Bette DavisEyes" a.k.a. Susan Sarandon eyes: bulbous yet seductive, ingenuous, and most compelling. Judy Garland had them, too. But when Ada's (Carter) go all milky blue-white, that's when you want to look away from "Jug Face," for she's about to go into a trance as the spirit from The Pit takes her over. Say what? Yes, we're in a Gothic-Horror mode, with backwater residents that make the  "Deliverance" hillbillies look like Hamptonites.

The other time you might want to shut your own peepers and invoke your favorite protective spirit is when the slightly deranged local potter (Sean Bridgers) carves a "divine"-inspired image on his most recent jug. You have to hope it doesn't bear any resemblance to what you saw in the mirror while brushing your teeth: if it does, The Pit has a death warrant with your name on it. In the cult-like community tucked away in a spot that might be North Georgia or Tennessee (where the film's debut director is from), all hold to the belief that a hole in the ground with suspiciously reddish, sometimes gurgling, liquid contains a spirit that protects the group. The price of protection is human sacrifice. Ritual throat-slitting on the edge of the pit forestalls disaster.

In this moonshine-making community, dinner is roadkill if you're lucky. The poverty is so extreme they don't need any extra grief. The ritual is not fully explained, but a prologue shows a brief visual allegory: animated crayon drawings of the beginning of some sort of religion: a priest, families in prayer by the side of the pit, women in bonnets with a Puritan look. The sequence adds another layer to poet William Carlos Williams' famous description: the "pure products of America go crazy—/mountain folk from Kentucky/or the ribbed north end of Jersey."

"Jug Face" marks the writing and directing debut of  Chad Crawford Kinkle. He won a screenwriting award at the Slamdance Festival for this script, which he says was inspired by a pottery museum in North Georgia. His is not a name that you can make up, or easily forget, and I'm sure we'll be hearing it again. "Jug Face" is not uniformly polished, yet it's a breakthrough, not so much for gore, or terror, but because the director can truly do tension, maybe a harder trick to pull off.

"Jug Face" starts with one of those chasing-through-the-woods, near-date-rape type sequences, but Ada exercises a tad of free will and assents to the deed, which happens to take place near The Pit.  Bubbles and gurgles indicate that the pit is not happy with the event (which is intercut with the potter at work in his studio—a nice touch). A few scenes later we learn that her brother Jessaby (Daniel Manche) is the fellow she messed with. Beat.

Sometimes it seems Ada may successfully break for the border; other moments find her trapped in the web of heritage, kept in check by the strong-willed, mean mother Loris (Sean Young, of "Blade Runner"). Loris administers a primitive vaginal exam, lit cigarette in hand, to ensure Ada's virginity before marriage—or being "joined" as the community calls it—to a fellow Ada doesn't care for. It's terrifying. Ada is a gothic heroine, all right, in more ways than one.

And when Ada discovers her face on the latest jug, she buries it, hoping to escape her fate(s). She has other reasons to want to live. We root for her. She is spunky and also compassionate. She shows kindness toward her grandfather, who lives alone in a trailer. We also like the goofy potter, Dawai (Bridgers). You can't shoot the messenger when he's wearing taped-up eyeglass frames.

On the down side, there are too many stupid-looking shots of the gurgling pit, and dialogue only a movie hillbilly could cotton to. "The pit wants what it wants," says Sustin (actor-filmmaker Larry Fessenden), Ada's father—a notorious quote from Woody Allen with one word changed. A wraithlike presence from the spirit world is silly and slight, even given the film's obviously low budget. After all the thrills, chills, and jumped up machinery in both big and little films these days, there's not too much that can shake us up; show me something I can't get anywhere else, like "Jug Face's" rare joyful hillbilly dance sequence, with heels-tapping and spoons clanking.



Digital Home Entertainment

Film Review: ‘Jug Face’


Jug Face Review

An impressively oozing slab of indie horror that bodes well for first-time writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle.

Vibrantly lensed in rural Tennessee, “Jug Face” is an impressively oozing slab of indie horrorthat bodes well for the future of first-time writer-director Chad Crawford Kinkle. The brisk, brief feature appears more atmospheric than terrifying, but its bare-bones tale gets under the skin, telling of a pregnant teen whose impending sacrifice to a backwoods community’s worship pit causes hell to break loose. Creatively frugal f/x and a fine performance by saucer-eyed Lauren Ashley Carter as the freaked-out heroine should translate into solid word of mouth among low-budget horror buffs and a modestly successful VOD gross.

Following a series of stylishly creepy crayon sketches that accompany the pic’s opening credits, young Ada (Carter) is introduced on the run, scurrying through the woods in an attempt to elude Jessaby (Daniel Manche). That the two end up having sex against a tree may be surprising, but it seems less bizarre in light of Kinkle’s subsequent revelations: that Jessaby is Ada’s brother; that Ada is pregnant with his child; and that she’s forced to splash red paint on her panties in order to fake the old-fashioned pregnancy tests administered by her puritanical mom (a genuinely bloodcurdling Sean Young).

Likewise, while Ada’s cult-like community has her due to be “joined” to pudgy bumpkin Bodey (Mathieu Whitman), that’s nothing compared with her fate as foretold by pea-brained potter Dawai (Sean Bridgers), whose job in the village is to etch into clay the faces of those slated to be sacrificed to an allegedly all-powerful pit. Indeed, Dawai’s latest “jug face” belongs to Ada, who pisses off the pit by throwing her ceramic likeness in the woods, thereby defying her apparent destiny.

En route to an unexpected and fairly unsettling finale, Kinkle’s screenplay has sufficient fun with hick lingo without quite making monsters of the yokels, dumb as they are. Bridgers is allowed to lend a touch of feeble humanity to his turn as the moonshine-swilling jug-face maker, but an even stronger impression is made very simply by the effects team that renders a possession sequence in green tint and fast motion, with grinding audio. Never is it in doubt that the pit, as Young’s chainsmoking Momma puts it, “wants what it wants.”

Tech credits, including Bob Kurtzman’s ghoulish makeup effects and Christopher Heinrich’s widescreen cinematography, are ghastly good.

Film Review: 'Jug Face'

Reviewed online, Minneapolis, Minn., July 30, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 81 MIN.


A Gravitas Ventures release of a Moderncine production, in association with New Co. Produced by Andrew van den Houten, Robert Tonino. Executive producers, Lucky McKee, Arrien Schiltkamp, Loren Semmens. Co-executive producer, Sean Bridgers.


Directed, written by Chad Crawford Kinkle. Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Christopher Heinrich; editor, Zach Passero; music, Sean Spillane; production designer, Kelly Anne Ross; costume designer, Michael Bevins; visual effects, ZP Studios; sound, Jeremy Mazza; re-recording mixers, Andrew Smetek, Spencer Hall; stunt coordinator, Ian Quinn;associate producers, Armin Zellers, Russell Dinstein; assistant director, Drew Langer; casting, Cindi Rush.


Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Bridgers, Sean Young, Larry Fessenden, Daniel Manche, Scott Hodges, Katie Groshong, Alex Maizus, Marvin Starkman, Mathieu Whitman.


The Believers

By J.R. Jones

In 1989 two electrochemical scientists at the University of Utah shook the world with their announcement that they had produced "cold fusion," a controlled emission of nuclear energy at room temperature, using simple seawater as fuel. This breakthrough might have revolutionized global energy production, but by the end of the year it had been discredited by physicists who couldn't reproduce the results of the initial experiment. Documentary makers Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross revisit the media and academic firestorm that engulfed the two scientists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, and interview some of the scientific cultists who still believe that one day we might all have our own nuclear reactors in the kitchen next to the dishwasher. The movie is affecting on a human level—the controversy destroyed Pons and Fleischmann's professional reputations—and fascinating for its glimpses of academic knife-fighting and utopian zeal.


Rolling Stone Movie Review: Sound City

By Peter Travers

dave grohl sound city

Straight out of a roofraising debut at Sundance 2013 comes Dave Grohl’s exhilarating documentary about what makes life worth living. Hold up. I know Grohl’s film is actually a look at Sound City (1969 - 2011), a studio buried in a corner of Van Nuys, California, as it moves from legend to the analog boneyard. But the Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer is up to something more than a nostalgia trip. He wants to celebrate the nondigital sweat that goes into making music. Archival footage takes Sound City from its 1970s glory days, when Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumours, through the 1980s, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Rick Springfield and Santana, and the 1990s surge that came with the sound of Nirvana’s Nevermind. It wasn’t the plush atmosphere that drew the talent. The walls look like shag carpeting. As one musician put it, “You could piss in a corner and no one would notice.” What you would notice – and Grohl makes a major point of it – is the sight of musicians working and recording together in a scuzzy room of near-mystical acoustics. No computers. No digital. No Pro Tools or Auto-Tune. Just the astounding Neve mixing console.

Fears of a jerko tech session are unfounded. Even Grohl, in conversation with inventor Rupert Neve, looks hilariously dazed and confused as Neve rattles on like a textbook. A subtitle under Grohl’s head reads, “Jeez.”

Machines are not the turnon in Sound City. That would be the sweaty, messy, argumentative business of music. Grohl brings in a staggering array of rock royalty to pay tribute, from Stevie Nicks and Trent Reznor to Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Fear’s Lee Ving. He shows how everyone who entered Sound City became a kind of family.

When Sound City closed, Grohl purchased the Neve console and moved it to his own studio, inviting his friends to join him in keeping the spirit of Sound City alive. This feeling reaches maximum intensity when Grohl icon Paul McCartney joins him to write and record. The soundtrack album, subtitled Real to Reel, includes the rabble-rousing “Cut Me Some Slack,” performed by McCartney, Grohl and former Nirvana bandmates Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear. As for accusations that Grohl made the movie as a marketing tool for the CD, cut him some slack. The recording sessions serve to bring the film’s message to vivid life. Grohl has made an intimate epic about music. But the film’s genius is the way it applies the lessons of Sound City to any job. “The human element,” says Grohl, “that’s what makes the magic.” In his directing debut, Grohl shows the instincts of a real filmmaker. Sound City hits you like a shot in the heart.


LA Times

Movie review: 'Sound City' is homage to recording studio equipment

By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic

High-spirited, emotional and funny, "Sound City" is, of all things, a mash note to a machine. Not just any machine, however, but one that helped change the face of rock 'n' roll.

That piece of equipment, the Neve 8028 sound board, was the crown jewel of Sound City in Van Nuys, a complete dump of a recording studio whose unkempt ambience and warehouse complex location didn't stop it from turning out more than 100 gold and platinum records, including epochal work by Neil Young, Tom Petty, Pat Benatar, Cheap Trick, Rage Against the Machine, Fleetwood Mac and Nine Inch Nails.

"Sound City" the movie wouldn't exist if director-rocker Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters hadn't shown up there in 1991 with his Nirvana band mates to record their groundbreaking "Nevermind" album. "We were just kids with nothing to lose," he says in the film's opening voice-over. "We had no idea that the next 16 days would change our world forever."

Because of Grohl's rock star status, he's been able to convince an impressive number of celebrated musicians to sit down for on-camera interviews, including Young, Petty, John Fogerty, Trent Reznor, Stevie Nicks and Rick Springfield.

But because grungy Sound City was the kind of place it was — Barry Manilow says it was "more family than any studio I've ever been in" — some of the film's most memorable stories involve less celebrated folks like unflappable studio managers Paula Salvatore and Shivaun O'Brien, ace producer Keith Olsen and co-owner Tom Skeeter, who genially insists he was only in it for the money.

The film's best stories cluster around the studio's most celebrated event, its central place in the formation of Fleetwood Mac.

Buckingham Nicks, created by the romantically involved duo of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, had been the first group to record at Sound City, and when Mick Fleetwood came to the Van Nuys locale looking for a place to record, he heard one of their tracks. Fleetwood thought of Buckingham when he needed a new guitarist and was told, "If you take him, you'll have to take his girlfriend, too." He agreed, and in 1975 the revived group recorded at Sound City.

A bit uncertain about the new sound, remembers producer Olsen in one of the film's many tart interviews, was band member John McVie. "He said, 'It's a little far from the blues.' I told him, 'It's a lot closer to the bank."

It was the determination of Skeeter and co-owner Joe Gottfried to attract top bands that led to the purchase of the sound board in 1973. Designed by Rupert Neve, now in his 80s and interviewed in the film, it was one of only four in the world and the only one custom-ordered. Skeeter remembers that it cost $75,000 at a time when he bought his house in nearby Toluca Lake for half that amount.

"Sound City" goes to some lengths to explain why the Neve is so good at what it does, emphasizing how expert it is in recording the human voice and the drum tracks that are central to rock success. Guitars sound pretty much the same everywhere, says famed producer Rick Rubin, but drums change from room to room, and the sound at Sound City was among the best.

The film (which was written by Mark Monroe and edited by Paul Crowder) is also an education in how the music business works, which is not always in the warmest, most humane manner. Being a producer, for instance, is described by Olsen as "getting creativity onto tape in a way that is accessible to the marketplace."

The most unexpectedly emotional parts of "Sound City" involve Springfield breaking into tears as he talks about his regrets at the way he handled his rupture with Sound City partner Gottfried, one of the men most responsible for his success.

"Sound City" also goes into fascinating detail about how the change from analog recording on two-inch tape (the studio's bread and butter) to the digital way of doing things was the death knell for the Van Nuys establishment.

While Neve technology had made its success possible, the rise of easy-to-use Pro Tools equipment trumped their advantages and led Sound City to close its doors and sell its legendary console to Grohl, who moved it down the road to his own Studio 606.

That purchase prompted Grohl to consider a 12-minute short about the Neve for the Web, which morphed into this genial feature. "Sound City's" final half hour, which features Grohl jamming with other musicians, including Paul McCartney, for a forthcoming album tribute to the Neve, is less involving than what has come before. But the filmmaker cares so much about this board of boards that it's hard to begrudge him this pleasure.


Man From Reno

Sound City: Sundance Review

by David Rooney

Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty and Trent Reznor are among the many artists and producers reflecting on the contribution to American music of the Van Nuys studio in Dave Grohl's impassioned tribute.

PARK CITY – If you’re a first-time filmmaker celebrating the legacy of a legendary recording studio, it probably helps in terms of interview access and music rights to be a member of Nirvana and Foo Fighters. But Dave Grohl has more than clout in his corner in his terrifically entertaining documentary Sound City. He brings elements that can’t be faked -- passion and heart -- to this lovingly assembled insider account of what it feels like to make real handcrafted rock music.

Scheduled for simultaneous theatrical and VOD release Feb. 1, the film serves as an appetite-whetting sampler for the accompanying Butch Vig-produced all-star album of new material (due March 12 from Foo Fighters’ Roswell Records label), recorded using Sound City’s sacred Neve recording console.

A dump of a place opened in 1969 in Van Nuys, in the San Fernando Valley, Sound City is a squat, ugly building with shag carpeting on the walls and furniture you might think twice about sitting on. But the avuncular business partners behind the studio, Tom Skeeter and Joe Gottfried, were savvy about forging relationships with their artists.

Two breakout albums in particular lured a slew of major music figures to record there. The main body of Grohl’s film spans the distant peaks of those game-changers: the eponymous 1975Fleetwood Mac album and Nirvana’s landmark 1991 release, Nevermind.

The earlier record marked the entry of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham into the lineup of what was until then a blues band headed by Mick Fleetwood. The album’s giant success spawned a sustained wave of recording artists drawn by the wide-open sound of the studio, its sweet-spot drum acoustics and the magic of the Neve mixing desk -- one of only a handful like it in the world.

Custom-built in England, the tank-like console cost $76,000, double what Skeeter paid for his house at the time. Resident engineer-turned-producer Keith Olsen called it “the facilitator,” whileNeil Young, who recorded much of After the Gold Rush at Sound City, describes the Neve as “mathematically crisp.” Given the widespread grieving for analog integrity in the processed digital age, it’s kind of touching to see producers and musicians from across decades and genres caressing this beast like it’s a holy altar.

Artists that followed Fleetwood Mac to Sound City included Santana, The Grateful Dead, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and REO Speedwagon. Grohl clearly develops a relaxed rapport with his interview subjects, coaxing engaging reflections out of Petty and Nicks, among many others. Rick Springfield reminisces about recording “Jessie’s Girl” there but also opens up and gets quietly emotional acknowledging his poor treatment of his mentor Gottfried.

There’s a ton of history here that will be catnip to Baby Boomer music fans, as well as those of the generation or two that followed; the wealth of choice archive footage and photographic material is slickly woven together by editor Paul Crowder (himself a former musician).

The influx of ‘80s hair bands kept Sound City kicking, along with punk outfits like Lee Ving’s Fear. But the advent of digital recording made the tape-based studio a dinosaur. The business was gasping for air when the virtually unknown members of Nirvana drove down from Washington state in a van (a journey re-created by Grohl at the start of the film) to spend 16 days recording Nevermind.

While this allows Grohl to position himself squarely within the studio’s fabled history, the I-was-there element never risks turning this into a vanity project. His respect and appreciation for the artists, engineers, producers and everyone else who worked the shabby rooms of Sound City make this a sincere tribute but also an infectiously inclusive one.

The wildly influential success of Nevermind gave the floundering studio a second wind, with bands such as Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age continuing the mini-rebellion against the Pro Tools revolution. During the same period, Johnny Cash also made his Unchained album there with producer Rick Rubin.

There’s considerable discussion, led by Grohl, of how digital recording sacrifices the vital human element of analog -- or, put more abstractly, the “feel.” His account of the way recording imperfections contributed to the bracing textures of Nevermind supports that charge.

Nirvana fans will eat up the footage and interviews dealing with the making of that classic, with particular attention paid to how the tracks “Lithium” and “Something in the Way” came together.

The inevitable end of Sound City, when it was no longer able to compete with the ease and cost-effectiveness of digital, is saluted with genuine emotion. In one of countless impeccable music choices on what is obviously a treasure-trove soundtrack, the studio’s demise is beautifully underscored by Young singing the broken refrain “It’s over” in “Birds.”

While the view here is definitely a biased one, rather than letting the film become simply a nostalgic eulogy for pre-digital rock, Grohl includes a mention or two of the positives of 21st century music technology. The most articulate defender of its precision and creative potential is Trent Reznor, though he concedes that laptop musicians who never do real studio time are missing out on something essential. Others are less charitable, saying that Pro Tools and Auto-Tune have enabled people with no business being in the music industry to become stars.

The film begins to feel a tad overlong in the closing half-hour devoted to the recording of new material on the Neve, which was purchased by Grohl and reassembled in his own studio. But the reappearance of Nicks, Springfield and Ving yields some great stuff. Even better is the unexpected raw energy generated by putting Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear together in a room with Paul McCartney.