Carruth hopes by releasing the film himself, he can position it as he sees fit. "It's not necessarily about revenue or that I don't think it will sell; it's that I get to frame this thing exactly the way I think it needs to be framed," said Carruth, who recently moved from Dallas to New York City. "I get to continue narrating through marketing, releasing teasers and artwork that you could make the case aren't the most commercial ways to sell this but they absolutely are in tune with the way I think of the film and what I want to communicate."
Urman said that the only other filmmaker he had ever worked with who wanted to maintain as much overall control as Carruth was Vincent Gallo. He recalled teaming with Carruth on "Primer" as "a challenging experience... I remember it vividly."
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2013: Complete coverage
"With a lot of independent filmmakers, they need a lot of information," said Urman of walking a first-time filmmaker through the steps of marketing and distribution. "And with Shane it was more of a tutorial. One definitely had the sense that as he was absorbing the information he was already thinking of his own way to do it and a better way to do it."
Even with "Primer," Carruth was forward-thinking in his deal making, taking less money upfront to hold onto the film's rights and the possibility of making more in the long term. "Primer" is now available for download via his own website and recently appeared on other digital outlets as he was planning how to release "Upstream Color." His mixture of curiosity and resolve has evolved into even rethinking the very purpose and value of a festival premiere.
"What most films would do if they're going to be in the dramatic competition at Sundance is wait for a [sales] deal," said Michael Tuckman of mTuckman Media, who is booking theaters for "Upstream Color." "I think that's the real novel part of this, to be able to look in the mirror and say, are we going to wait for a seven-figure deal, or are we going to put our own plan in place and use Sundance not as an auction but rather as part of a release plan."
While Carruth acknowledges he has taken out a loan for the distribution of "Upstream Color" and that he financed the film with his own money and contributions from friends — "it's definitely money that comes from people that are not in film finance," he said — he wants to keep many of the specifics of how "Upstream Color" came to be to himself.
"There are a few things I'm trying my best not to talk about," said Carruth, "and that's the tech specs on the camera and the workflow and the budget. Last time around, I was grateful to have some praise for 'Primer' but they would say, 'it's a great movie for the budget.' And I don't ever want to hear that phrase again. It would be shocking I think, if people knew, but I'm not going to tout it and I hope it doesn't ever get out."
Perhaps just as Terrence Malick went from a period of artistic silence to his recent concentrated prolificness, Carruth now seems energized to enter a phase of new productivity. He plans to be shooting another film, currently titled "The Modern Ocean," by this summer.
"I now know what I will be doing. I will be doing this," Carruth said. "I will be making films and I'm going to keep working, no matter what I have to do. And I don't plan to ever ask for permission from anybody."
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