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SANDRA BULLOCK AT SUNDANCE — 20 YEARS AGO

    

    Sandra Bullock, 'Making Sandwiches' (1997)

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Twenty years ago at the Sundance Film Festival, Sandra Bullock marked her directing debut with a short film titled “Making Sandwiches.” Here’s my Deseret News interview with Bullock, published on Jan. 17, 1997, under the headline: ‘Star takes a turn behind camera.” The short stars Bullock and Matthew McConaughey, who was just coming into his own after hitting it big with the popular adaptation of John Grisham’s thriller “A Time to Kill,” in which he was third-billed after Bullock and Samuel L. Jackson. (It should be noted that Bullock has never again attempted to direct and has said in subsequent interviews that she prefers producing and acting.) And if you’re wondering what she’s doing now, Bullock heads a cast of women (Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna) for a distaff caper sequel, “Ocean’s Eight,” scheduled to open in June 2018.

“Hi, this is Sandy Bullock.”

Her voice is immediately recognizable over the phone as she calls from her Los Angeles home. And she’s so bubbly and enthusiastic and friendly that it’s easy to understand why Sandra Bullock has been dubbed “the girl next door” among modern movie stars. (OK, “Sandra” I can say — but for some reason it’s more difficult to call her “Sandy.”)

Bullock is undeniably the most popular female movie star in the business. And not just because she won a People’s Choice award last weekend.

Despite their appeal and megastar salaries, neither Julia Roberts nor Demi Moore – her equals in terms of salary – can “open” a film like Bullock. (In fact, when’s the last time anyone went to a movie because Roberts or Moore starred in it?)

But since her “overnight” stardom with “Speed,” Bullock has proven repeatedly that she is a genuine draw. Both men and women like her. “While You Were Sleeping” and “The Net” may have been cute films, but without Bullock they probably would not have become solid hits. Last year’s “A Time to Kill” was another smash. (Her latest “In Love and War,” opens next week.)

And no one doubts that when “Speed II” is released in the summer (with Jason Patric taking over for Keanu Reeves) it will burn up the box office.

So why is she coming to the Sundance Film Festival, with its reputation as a showcase for small movies by first-time filmmakers? Because she is a first-time filmmaker and her small movie is playing in the festival.

       

Sandra Bullock accepting the People's Choice award in 1997.

Bullock’s short film “Making Sandwiches,” in which she also stars, will be screened four times in Park City, as part of “Shorts Program II.” And Bullock is taking a few days off from her “Speed II” shooting schedule to help promote her maiden voyage behind the camera.

And she’s genuinely excited about it. (Of course, it’s not hard to imagine Bullock being genuinely excited about something most of the time.) But she’s also surprised that the film was accepted. “I was really shocked. I figured I’d be given a really hard time, just because it was me. I didn’t make it to sell. I just made it for me, as a learning process.

“And we just showed it to Sundance and said, ‘Look at it and tell me what I did wrong.’ And we got some great advice. But I really didn’t believe we’d get in. It was just one of those things, and it didn’t bother me because I’d already learned so much.

“So, when we got in it was a real shock — a huge shock. Because Sundance means a tremendous amount to me. All these other film festivals said, ‘Sure, come on in.’ But I said, ‘If we’re going to do a festival, I’d rather risk it and wait.’ Sundance is the hardest one, but it’s the one that lets you know you’re on the right path, or that you’re not.”

Bullock is so dedicated to seeing audience reaction to “Making Sandwiches” that she doesn’t even mind trading the gorgeous atmosphere of the island of St. Martin, where “Speed II” is filming, for the snowy cold of Park City. “I can handle it. I’ll just pack two pairs of boots and a couple of sweaters.”

Bullock will only be able to stay for the first screening of her film on Saturday afternoon, however — then it’s back to the salt minds … so to speak … for “Speed II.”

“Or as we say there, ‘Speed, Part Deux,’ ” Bullock says with a laugh. “Oh, yes, it’s rough. I’m there until the end of February. This one’s a four-and-a-half, five-monther. And you get banged up and thrown off of things and run over and have your hair pulled – but then it’s 85 degrees, and you get to see the most incredible sunsets.”

As for “Making Sandwiches,” Bullock says the story of a young couple with a struggling business is something she’s been pondering for a couple of years. “It was a story I’d had in my head for awhile. The premise, the idea, the people — I had 29 (script) pages in my head.

“And then, during one Thanksgiving break a couple of years ago (while filming ‘A Time To Kill’), I wrote it on the back of various periodicals in the room. I mean, I had 29 pages of this story that was in my head and it started to just pour out. Out of all my years, it’s the only story I have.”

To get the film made, Bullock said she called on friends, and she called in favors. “I wrote it with very specific people in mind, actors who I knew could do it well. And I went to a girlfriend of mine who had always said she wanted to be an A.D. (assistant director), and I said, ‘Now’s your chance.’

“I just got on the phone and called everyone I’d ever worked with, and so many people who didn’t have to do it, did it — and it was great.”

    

Bullock said she and her cast (including Matthew McConaughey and Eric Roberts) and crew (“The crew got paid, the actors didn’t”) took over the small town of Oxnard, Calif., for 2½ weeks, where her assistants found the perfect location, a sandwich/pizza shop directly across the street from a coffee shop. “They found this perfect place. It was the place I wrote about, but I had never been there. And we just talked these people into giving up their livelihood for two weeks. We begged, borrowed and stole. We got incredible equipment deals, and lots of free time, free equipment, free stuff — free advice.”

The hardest part, however, came after shooting was completed, when she had to go into the editing room and cut her film down from 50 minutes to 30 minutes. “I had to go away for awhile and then come back to it and edit. There were a lot of performances that were hysterical and great, but which didn’t need to be there. So we lost them. But I’ll work with those people again, and put them into something better.”

After “Making Sandwiches,” does Bullock want to take on the task of directing a feature? “I would never do it unless I was so passionate about it that I felt nobody else could tell the story but me. It would take a lot of development and careful scrutiny. I don’t feel the need for that right now. I don’t have the talent yet. I don’t think I have it in myself to do the hour-and-a-half thing.”

Still, Bullock says she found “Making Sandwiches” to be a singular, exhilarating experience. “I hardly slept, but I never had more energy in my life.” Which probably means that if that energy could be tapped, it could light up a city. Or at least the island of St. Martin.