Archive for Thursday, June 18, 1998

KANSAN MARKETS FILM AT CANNES FILM FEST

June 18, 1998

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A young Manhattan filmmaker hits France with his film ``Pep Squad.''

It is a good thing that Steve Balderson is out of school because none of this classmates would ever believe where he spent his summer vacation.

Balderson, a Manhattan native and California Institute of Arts alumni, recently returned from the Cannes Film Festival in France, where he is marketing the distribution rights for his first film, ``Pep Squad.''

One look at the promotional material and it is obvious Balderson has a love affair with films. Influences ranging from 1950s juvenile delinquent films to the work of Andy Warhol, John Waters and David Lynch are evident. Yet the film remains the vision of its 23- year-old writer-director.

Filmed entirely in Wamego over a six-week period, ``Pep Squad'' is a dark comedy about the murderous rivalry between Cherry and Terra for the title of prom queen. The film's middle-America schoolyard violence, sexual predators and comments on media sensationalism are made more topical in light of recent real-life school crimes.

Utilizing snazzy cinematography, hip '90s dialogue and a music score by Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano, Balderson's $1.5 million independent film is attracting strong Hollywood buzz.

Balderson was in Lawrence scouting locations for his second film, ``Firecracker,'' based on a real-life 1950s Wamego murder. Production for the film will begin sometime next year.

Balderson, along with Jennifer Dreiling, a Kansas University anthropology student and principal actress in ``Pep Squad,'' sat down for a talk with The Mag at The Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass.

How did you get your film into Cannes?

Balderson: Our co-producer, Eric Sherman, is also a director and played the evil principal in the film. He is a friend of Troma Entertainment president Lloyd Kauffman. They were roommates at Yale. Eric gave the film to him to see what he thought. Kauffman was so ecstatic over the film that he gave us some of his reserved screen time at the festival. We finalized an agreement for him to represent us as our agent for this film. It has gotten to the point where there are three major distributors who are interested in distribution rights.

What was it like at the film festival?

Balderson: It was all about business. People asked us if we had time to see an films, but we really didn't. We sat in an office every day. No one had any appointments, so people were constantly in and out. You could not get up and leave. The most hectic time was after lunch when the press would come around in hordes. The flash and glitz the media shows is for the few films in competition. Everyone else is very serious, focused.

Dreiling: We were a fledgling part of it, so it was very difficult to get tickets to a premiere, or invitations to screenings and parties. We were pretty much little specks.

Balderson: It was all arranged. Everyone had an issue or deal they were representing. Everything was planned.

Dreiling: It was a mind-blowing experience, and it was sort of boorish. It was all about who you know and don't know, how can I use your name or use you in this way. It was kind of disheartening in a way. It was not our scene.

Here is an ``Entertainment Tonight''-style question. Who did you see at the festival?

Balderson: I was in a lounge with a pack of journalists when Michael Stipe of REM came through. They didn't pay attention. Behind him was Tim Roth. The same thing happened. Then Andie MacDowell stepped out of an elevator and they went wild. It was weird to see how they respond to who they perceive as celebrities.

Dreiling: I meet Liv Tyler in the ladies room. She is a lovely young woman. I talked with Steve Buscemi at a party. He's very nice. He's been here and he likes Lawrence. While we were talking, Bruce Willis came up and I ended up slapping him on the back when he told a joke. It was that kind of evening.

Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?

Balderson: Yes. What I see every day I have to capture or I'll die. I knew I had to. When we were in high school, Jen and I had a TV show on cable access called ``Out of Step,'' and within it a show called ``General High School.'' They were good, though technically they were horrible.

Dreiling: But we were bounced off the network. (Laughs)

Balderson: Creative differences to put it lightly.

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.

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