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Director Brett Haley has been Mr. Sundance lately, premiering his last three films at the independent film festival. This year his latest, “Hearts Beat Loud,” closed out the festivities in Park City. It was one of the more popular players at the event, perfectly in tune with Haley’s brand of delightful, character-driven storytelling, starring Nick Offerman as a widower who strikes up a band with his daughter the summer before she heads off to college. They cook up a hit track in the process. Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson and Toni Collette also star.
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“I think I wear my inspirations pretty squarely on my sleeve on this one,” Haley says. “There’s a dash of ‘High Fidelity.’ There’s some ‘That Thing You Do.’ There’s a little ‘Inside Llewyn Davis.’ There’s a bit of ‘Once.’ I love those movies. I really feel a connection to those films. [The idea for this movie has] always been kicking around. As a filmmaker I’m constantly thinking about ideas and genres that I kind of want to be in. I’m a huge musical fan, but I also love band movies and movies about music. I’m a bit of a music snob and this was an avenue and a way to kind of get that part of me out there.”
Regarding Sundance, many at this year’s festival felt it was a weak slate, no doubt spoiled a year after an edition that included major Oscar players like “The Big Sick” and “Call Me by Your Name.” But Haley saw the 2018 fest as more in keeping with typicality, featuring a string of films many attendees enjoyed and talked about, rather than one built on one or two monsters that drown out the rest.
“I think it was a good Sundance when the dust settled,” he says. “Everyone was freaking out at the festival like, ‘Oh, things are a little slow.’ There was that feeling. But if you look at it, ‘Sorry To Bother You’ is getting a huge release and ‘Blindspotting’ is getting a massive push. We’re getting a push. It was more spread around. I think that’s good, when there isn’t one movie that everyone is talking about but rather five or six or seven movies where everyone is like, ‘I like these movies.’ That’s more ideal.”
There is also discussion of the independent film landscape, which Haley deems “incredibly healthy” thanks to the various avenues in place for filmmakers to connect their work to an audience. His recent films have often been released by the newer kids on the block — Bleecker Street for “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” The Orchard for “The Hero” and now Gunpowder & Sky for “Hearts Beat Loud” — but he maintains an affinity for movies of all scales, and distribution platforms of all stripes.
“The studio system, and I don’t blame them, is relying on IP and big things everybody knows,” Haley says. “Netflix is giving avenues for big movies to filmmakers and auteurs that maybe normally wouldn’t be there. Amazon is doing the same thing. To me it’s all good. You’re just looking at different stakes, basically. When your movie comes out in the theater, you’ve got to deal with how are the critics going to respond, because that’s going to drive business. How is the box office going to be? And then there is awards at the end of all of that. It’s just stress upon stress upon stress. And there’s something about this idea of, ‘Well, my movie’s on Netflix. There you go. I’m moving on with my life. I’m moving on to the next project.'”
For more, including discussion of Offerman and Kiersey’s chemistry and what it took to get Danson behind a bar again (not as much as you’d think), listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.