I first encountered manic pixie dream girl Parker Posey at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995. We were celebrating the "Party Girl" premiere at a Park City bash attended by that odd couple Jerry Lewis ("Funny Bones") and the drag queen the Lady Bunny. (P.S.: Lewis was dazed but not amused.) This was in the era before swag, cell service, and the agent locusts, before indie movies became calling cards for the Big Show or even dark-horse Oscar bait.
The Baltimore-born brunette, 43, got her break on the soap "As the World Turns," moved on to Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused," and became a Sundance fixture for movies like "The House of Yes" and a regular ensemble player for Christopher Guest in "Waiting for Guffman" and "A Mighty Wind." She's also done her time in big-budget movies like "You've Got Mail." This year Posey returns to Park City with Wednesday's world premiere of "Price Check," in which she plays a manic pixie dream boss, and she will emcee the festival's awards ceremony on January 28th.
Thelma Adams: When did you become the queen of the indies?
Parker Posey: The year I had three movies out.
TA: That was 1997.
PP: Right. I took "Clockwatchers," "The House of Yes," and "SubUrbia" to Sundance. That was the first year that Sundance felt really big, that indie film felt like it had really blossomed. But when I was there with "Party Girl"...
TA: In 1995...
PP: You could hang out on Main Street and go into little bars and drink and socialize and just have fun. I remember having a lot of fun, people talking about projects. And, of course, the things that I can't mention: People would party. I'm kind of a be-in-bed-before-two person. I remember that year of "The House of Yes," I introduced my director Mark Waters to his now wife. And that was the year that Interview magazine put me on the cover. And then I did "You've Got Mail" and it was all over.
TA: Why was that?
PP: It was over when it became really, really cool and you could make money off it. Then it was the rise of Miramax and the commodification of independent cinema. Everyone was in to win it. It became a moneymaker and it lost its essence and its purity in just talking about the movies. I remember EW wanted to interview me in the room at the blah blah blah spa at the top of Main Street. And I thought: Why would I really want to do that? I'd rather hang out with the other people that are here celebrating their movies getting into Sundance and talking about the process and just hanging out.
TA: And then it became a scene...
PP: It became an event for people who weren't filmmakers, or who weren't in movies. It became an institution. It's huge. And it started the rise of festivals all over the country. People will go across the country to see a festival, these pop-up cinema festivals, instead of paying $15 to see a filmmaker's second movie. That has changed so much in the last five years.
TA: Do you remember a moment when it hit home for you?
PP: I remember getting chased by cameras. I'd gotten in a car, and someone told me, "You're parked in the wrong parking lot." It turned out I'd been punked -- another film festival used that happening as a trailer for their film festival.
TA: That's too meta.
PP: When the other cameras came along, circa 1998, when everyone started picking up the camera, the attention shifted away from the filmmakers, into the hands of those people capitalizing on them. It became more of a spectacle. It's almost like Mardi Gras with independent movies. If you try to get into those bars and those movies, you better know someone.
TA: Do you see more changes on the horizon?
PP: A lot has changed and there's more to change. It's harder to raise money for a movie for $200 to $500 thousand. That's the right amount for a 23-day shoot like "The Daytrippers" or "Clockwatchers." And now there's just not a lot of money going into these really small movies. You shoot for 16 days and you ask for favors and people are generous and that's really great to see, people giving to these movies because they just want to help out. The movies are going to start becoming truly independent and the standouts are going to have to really stand out.
TA: "The Daytrippers" is one of my favorite indie movies.
PP: We were shooting in 17 days. That was also shot in film, and film costs money. When you hear about actors doing independent movies, we don't have 30 takes. You would have two takes. "Can we do two takes in this mag? Do you think you can do it, Parker?" Everyone concentrates. Everyone focuses. Everyone is on point in there. It can be so exhilarating, and you lose it with digital. I miss that kind of energy that came with shooting with film.
TA: I love those family car scenes in that movie.
PP: I remember Greg Mottola and the sound guy were in the back seat of the station wagon. I'm holding the clapper, the sun's going down, and "Action." I think we got it. It's those moments that you remember. That's what an independent movie is. It's not something that's easy. It's that energy under pressure. People really collaborating and showing up for each other and really believing in the script, the director's voice, and respecting that. It's not "I'm going to change this line and let's go to my trailer." There's no homage to movie stars. There aren't any agents on set because there's no room for them to sit. It has an energy that's really all about the work and being of service to the voice that you believe in. I love it.
TA: What drew you to your current movie at Sundance, "Price Check"?
PP: I love the script, and [writer/director] Mike Walker's voice and the character. We could have done much better with more money and more time. Fifteen years ago there would have been more money for a voice with a story like this. Today there isn't. It gets out there. It gets made. It hurts when it's not perfect, when you want it to be made without so many concessions and sacrifices. But, in that same thing, with all the limbs you have to cut off, there's exotic fruit, and there's something that's different about it. I don't know what happened to support of the auteur in this country. It's hurt me to see filmmakers like Rebecca Miller that can't make another movie, filmmakers who have these voices and will work under these constraints. It's hard for them to raise $1.5 million.
TA: Even an auteur like John Waters has trouble raising money, despite the enormous success of "Hairspray."
PP: Even John Waters, I was attached to his last movie, "Fruitcake." Then I was told they can't raise money with my name attached because I'm too much of an indie queen. WTF does that mean? And then John Waters wrote me back and said, "Indie Queen, what about ME???"