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Selling Palm Springs for $17.5 Million at Sundance with Max Barbakow
I believe that most indie filmmakers have a dream of making a feature film, getting accepted to the Sundance Film Festival, and that film would be fought over in a massive bidding war that generates millions of dollars for the filmmakers. I’ve called this dream the lottery ticket mentally. I always say that someone wins the lottery every week somewhere.
Well, today’s guest is that lottery ticket winner. Today on the show we have director Max Barbakow, the filmmaker behind the largest sale at Sundance in history. His film Palm Springs sold for a record-breaking $17.5 million and .69¢. Those last cents are what broke the record.
The film stars Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, and J.K. Simmons and was acquired by NEON and Hulu at the festival.
When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honor Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated when they find themselves unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other.
I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to be a fly on the wall during a bidding war at Sundance. In today’s episode, I take you through the improbable journey of this first-time feature filmmaker and his adventures of getting his film Palms Springs from the page to the Sundance record books.
You can watch Palm Springs on Hulu.
Enjoy my conversation with Max Barbakow.
Learn screenwriting from legendary screenwriter James V. Hart (Hook, Contact, Bram Stroker’s Dracula)
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Alex Ferrari 0:02
Well guys, we are in the Sundance Film Festival season. It is just finished up but I wanted to take you on a journey I wanted to take you on the dream path that all independent filmmakers dream of making your first movie, getting accepted to Sundance and selling it for a record breaking $17.5 million. Well, that's exactly what our guest did. Today's guest is filmmaker max Barba CO, who is the filmmaker behind Palm Springs, which holds the record for the largest purchase price of any independent film ever at the Sundance Film Festival. And it holds that record by 69 cents. That's right, they paid him 17 point $5,000,000.69 there's a whole story behind that I promise you now in this episode Max and I talk about his rise on how he got the bill made how he was able to get Andy Samberg attached and JK Simmons, how they got into Sundance and I've never been in the room when there's been a bidding war at Sundance for a film. But in today's episode you're going to be a fly on the wall on what it's like to be in that bidding war in the middle to three o'clock in the morning in a hotel room somewhere at Sundance while the lawyers and the agents are all battling it out. And you know Max was literally there just front row seat just going oh my god oh my god. Oh my god and we are going to go through that journey. I hope this episode is inspiring to you because it inspired me so without any further ado please enjoy my conversation with Max barber co I'd like to welcome the show max barber co How you doing Max?
Max Barbakow 4:24
Good man. How are you? Thank you for having me.
Alex Ferrari 4:27
There thank you for being on the show man. I've always said I told my wife this and it didn't happen when I was going to one of my wife was pregnant I said if we have boys my boys gonna be named Max Ferrari which would be dope man. That would be an amazing they I actually wanted to go Maximus max for sure. I mean, let's just go straight up. Let's do this if we're gonna go and she's like, I'm so glad we didn't have any boys because that would have been an argument.
Max Barbakow 4:54
The girl My mom wanted to name my brother max. My brother's seven years older than me and my dad. It was like, no veto Max is a name for an old dude who smoked cigars. My mom was like, Alright, whatever. And then I come along, and I guess he changed his tune. Initially, I'll take it though
Alex Ferrari 5:13
I have absolutely bad. So, um, before we get started, man, how did you get get started in the business.
Max Barbakow 5:19
Um, just I mean, it kind of happened with Palm Springs, but I grew up in a family that really like valued movies. So it was always kind of something that I was allowed to dream about doing, which is cool. And a lot of people it's like a very foreign thing. And I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, just up the coast. So la was kind of like, right nearby too. And it demystified the whole exercise of making stuff. And I just always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. So like, started documentary filmmaking, which seemed like a little more attainable, just because you could go out and shoot and then figure out what the story was kind of like as you were doing it, you know, there's like a low, gray, less involved, less of a blank page just to stare out, let's say, started doing that was doing freelance documentary stuff, I made a documentary about my adoption. That was a that was a feature length film that was kind of the first real thing I ever made coming
Alex Ferrari 6:14
out of college, which is Mommy, Mommy, I'm a bastard.
Max Barbakow 6:17
Mommy. Which, by the way,
Alex Ferrari 6:18
that's a great story. I saw this, I saw that clip on your website. On the website, it was so hilarious when your mom was telling the story, like, hey, my mama bastard. But that must have been me as a filmmaker, that must have been cathartic, just to kind of go through that whole process.
Max Barbakow 6:35
Totally. I mean, just to start something, it was the first thing I started finished
Alex Ferrari 6:40
to, you know, like, that's, that's a big, cathartic, that's a big thing for a filmmaker, and a feature no less.
Max Barbakow 6:46
Exactly. And then to pour yourself into it in a very intense way, and kind of do a lot of personal inventory in the excavation and kind of feel like I had become someone else, by the end of it, you know, and kind of like evolved was a super cool feeling. And I think I kind of got addicted to that, which is why Palm Springs is a little bit of the same way. It was a very personal movie, and a very intense kind of personal process with my buddy and DCR, who wrote the movie. And it's, it's, I love doing it, because that's I think I liked when I realized what making movies really was, I always like that to the idea that you would kind of chart your life through projects and kind of always go back to a moment and look at a project that you'd made or something and think about where you were, as you were making it. So it was always I don't know, I didn't I didn't know what I was doing. I was making a new bastard, which I also always trying to get back to, to that feeling of just like be like kind of learning a new language every time you're making something, and kind of just jumping off jumping into the deep end. But it really was just a great exercise in every facet of the process. Like I cut that movie myself, shot that movie myself. I kind of like, produced it myself. My brother did the music. But I got my feet wet. And I was able to get a job. I took that movie to a film festival and met a couple of producers that had done Silver Linings Playbook it was the year that that was out and I got a job is one of them had a kid that was adopted and kind of connected over the film. And I bothered the other one for a long time trying to get a job on David O Russell's next movie, which at that time was American Hustle and I got a job doing locations on that movie out Afton which was an incredible thing. It was kind of like I knew I wanted to go into narrative. It was a dream but that was kind of the bridge to go do narrative like the next year I went to film school at ASI. I kind of got into film school at the same time. And I was like well just watch that guy make a movie just made my my own movie. Now I could like kind of really feel like I kind of earned or like you had the necessary experience to go into like directing on a set, you know, working with partment heads and stuff like that. And then if I was great and and that was kind of like I met mbcr there who was a good buddy and a great collaborator and made a lot of stuff together. there with him and out of school decided we wanted to do a feature together, went out to Palm Springs to brainstorm came back with the idea of Niles and they kind of was in very unruly creative process from there like I know you said you like Groundhog Day, but it did not start as a time loop idea. Initially, we were very much arrived at that little into the process. But that's that's kind of how I got into making stuff.
Alex Ferrari 9:37
So okay, so you did a bunch of shorts with Andy as well. Um, yeah. And so I have to ask, because, you know, you're you're you basically lived out the dream of most filmmakers around the world. Where as in you make a movie. It's Yeah, there. You make a movie you you kind of live it You're living the dream that every filmmaker dreams of, which is essentially Hey, I'm gonna go write my movie with my buddy. And, and we're gonna go attach, you know an Oscar winner and really famous comedian and some other really amazing talent and, and then we're gonna shoot it and then we're gonna go to Sunday we're gonna get good assented to Sundance, get accepted to Sundance. And then we happen to go there and sell it and make it the biggest sale by 69 cents ever. at Sundance, I mean, you're essentially living the dream. So before we get to all of that amazing part of the story, how did you go from making shorts, to go into Palm Springs to figure out an idea for a script? Which, by the way, everyone listening right here is everyone's got an idea. Everyone's writing a script. Yeah. How did you get that package? How did you get Andy and JK involved in the project? Like, how did you get this whole thing up off the ground?
Max Barbakow 10:56
Um, well, the, the idea of going to make a feature, after a lot of shorts, and film school is just kind of an idea of desperation, kind of, you know, like we didn't, we didn't want to wait around and be and wait for an opportunity. And we had been given the opportunity to make a lot of stuff already. And we didn't want that to go away. So it's like, we got to make something we got to make something also, as I have been drilled so much in film school that I felt like I lost my instincts a little bit. So like the the mission with the movie was never to go attach big actors like that, or even make it on the scale that we made it out. It was like, let's go make something weird that feels like us, and could you know, around one location in a way that would help us rediscover our instincts a little bit. And it evolved from that place into something, you know, after, it wasn't even a wedding movie to begin with. It was it was like a I think it took place on New Year's and it was an existential comedy. We like to say it was like an absurd version of Leaving Las Vegas, like the dark comedy version of that movie, like a hipster goes to that Las Vegas to die, and then learns the meaning of life and decides to live. But it just evolved, it was kind of leaning into the process that we had kind of figured out for ourselves, Andy and I, which was locking ourselves in a room and trying to make each other laugh and try to make each other kind of acting as each other as each other as each other's therapists a little bit. And that's how a lot of those philosophical conversations about life and relationships. I mean, the movie was born out of a very busy wedding season where stuff started to feel the same. And I was like, hopeless, hopelessly single. And Andy had just gotten married in Palm Springs, and was kind of looking down the barrel at his life really stoked, but wondering if he was ever going to be as happy as he was on his wedding night, you know, and kind of those things were ingredients in this kind of this alchemic exercise, and it just got to a place where, you know, putting to commitment phobes stuck at the same wedding together felt like a really fertile premise for a movie, putting characters in their own version of hell. And we just follow the idea and worked really hard at it. And by the time the script was good, it it obviously gotten way bigger than a little movie, you could just go shoot in the desert, you know, there was like a time portal and dinosaurs and shed. So we you know, it just Andy's car siara got a manager who kind of knew what to do with it, he kind of became the third collaborator on the film and sent it around towns and around LA and it just got it got good reads. And it got passed up through UTA where Sandberg is represented and Sandberg Reddit was like, Okay, I'll meet these guys. And we went in to go meet with them and had a conversation and I kind of pitched the vision for the movie. And we got super lucky and that he was seeing the same movie that we were seeing, which was like, you know, comedy, yes, but something a little more driven by pathos, especially for him. There's, you know, it's a different term for him. And when we had the opportunity to meet with him in the lonely island as like potential producers, and then you know, him to star it was it kind of clicked. It's like, Oh, yeah, this could be our version of Eternal Sunshine, or punch drunk love a little more hard to comedy, but like, a generational talent and a goofball in terms of comedian doing a different turn something a little a little edgier for him, and it all kind of it all kind of clicked into like, Oh, this could be something pretty cool. And when he said, you know, that he wanted to do it and that they would produce and he would star and that I you know, was still gonna get to direct it to that level. It was an incredible thing.
Alex Ferrari 14:32
Yeah, that's so that's one thing I want to ask because I've sat in those meetings I've been in I've been in those meetings with with actors and things and getting you to be the first first time director and them giving you the reins. And I don't know what I don't know if you've even mentioned what the budget is. Can you say what
Max Barbakow 14:50
it was like under five or six credit but it was like at the time there was like four or something like that.
Alex Ferrari 14:56
So too, you know, and that's a fairly Large first film.
Max Barbakow 15:01
Alex Ferrari 15:02
yeah, with basically your only narrative being a handful of shorts, and you and you and your documentary that you had done, you know, samples
Max Barbakow 15:09
for it, you know, that weren't similar in any way to the idea. So it's not like you're here's the short that could be the feature.
Alex Ferrari 15:15
Right, exactly. So that way. So it was basically you had a champion and Andy Sandberg, he was he basically said, I see your vision, you're gonna direct it, let's make it happen.
Max Barbakow 15:26
Yeah. And it was, it was, it was beautiful, because I don't if we had an Indy car and I hadn't gone in together, I don't think it might have played out in a different way. I think they recognize because they're buddies, like the Lonely Island came up together. And their friends, I think they saw us as buds wanting to make this thing. They saw how they could help us make it even better. And they're like, that's cool. Like, well, we'll do it. You know, I'm so lucky. They were into that. So we spent the summer after we first met them kind of doing a polish on the script together in that room that Andy and I had been in exercising our romantic demons make each other laugh, it just kind of got bigger with those guys. And Becky servitor, who was our other producer ran their company. And it was it was it was amazing. You know, it was it was unreal. That's no,
Alex Ferrari 16:14
it is very dreamlike. I mean, as a director as you're walking through this path, I mean, you've heard that any every filmmaker has heard these stories has heard you know, I always use El Mariachi or you know, yes. You know, you use it the Kevin Kevin Smith, or, you know, these kind of stories that you hear of this happening, but you're like, but when you're in it, like how does that feel? Like you're like, did you have a feel? Because I know I did. I like I came, I've come close to many damn times to even count. But at some point, do you just go this is gonna fall apart at any effing second? They're gonna fire me any second now.
Max Barbakow 16:54
That's it? That's it. It's totally it. It's like, not really, you know, but what you can focus on is like, is the work you know, I think it would have been totally different if, if, again, we weren't seeing the same version of the movie, you know? But like, we got we got so lucky in that way. They really did. And it was it's not a normal, lonely island movie, either. It's not it's a little nuanced, you know, there's a blended tone. They definitely made it funnier, and helped us like with the comedy and stuff. They helped us with everything. But like, yeah, it's it I you quickly learn to there's no room for that kind of insecurity just because there's so much you so much stuff to do, you know, so much stuff to think about. And especially on an indie movie, too. It's like, you're it's still the same scrappiness that we probably would have made the smaller version with you're just dealing with incredible actors, which is makes life easier. Everything so much better. Yeah. So like, that was a thing when you're dealing with like, it's like anybody like niyati Sandberg JK Simmons on set, they'll do it. We didn't have we shot the movie in 21 days, too, so didn't have any time. And you're like, they'll do a tank, you know, like, that was good. And I have to go like pretend to talk to the grip or something to come up with it. Like a note for them as I'm like, I'll go talk to this guy. Because, you know, it's, it's, we got so lucky in a way. And I was across the board with all the department heads to who had the same twisted sense of humor that we all had, and you know, just really got what was at the core of this thing. So it was an incredible experience. In that respect, which is what I was thinking about being a filmmaker, I always kind of thought about that. It's about having partners in crime, you know, you want to feel like you get away with something.
Alex Ferrari 18:31
Yeah, absolutely. And Andy and I've been a big fan of Andy Samberg for a long time. Back from the SNL days. I mean, I've just followed his career. I've watched Brooklyn nine, nine, I mean, like he's, he's, he's awesome. He's awesome. And he's a very unique voice and the way he does this thing
Max Barbakow 18:47
don't really take years to I didn't really realize it until we were working all together. But those guys were some of the first filmmakers that I looked up to when they were making there because they were just making stuff together and putting it on the internet channel one on one YouTube all that stuff and you're, you know, in high school you're like, Oh, these guys rule you know, like, we should do that. Like the first step I made was like, you know, like rip offs of like, dear sister in the doing stuff. So it was really they they're filmmakers do not not just comedians or performers.
Alex Ferrari 19:19
No, absolutely not. So what point did the story turned into this? Groundhog's Day? esque you know, time loop thing because it please correct me is Groundhog's Day, the first time there was a time loop in a movie in a comedy or is it just the most famous version of it?
Max Barbakow 19:38
I think so. There's like as with anything that's successful, I think there was like controversy when it came out that it was stolen from something like a boardroom or something like that, but I think it's
Alex Ferrari 19:49
probably it's a French film. It's a double leak. It was like dabbling.
Max Barbakow 19:57
But yeah, it evolved. I mean, it Really, we just started thinking about it really came from a place of character because we spent so much time working on like thinking about who these people were. And they're kind of compartmentalised versions of both like mbcr and myself, Sarah and Niles, that came first the foundations and Roy came in like, way, way later. That was like the last thing we put into the draft like a third person, he was here. It was so great. I sent it out. Yeah. When
Alex Ferrari 20:25
I said when that happened, when I watched it, that's a spoiler alert to everybody. But when that happened, when I saw that arrow, just show up. And then when you see it's like, oh, it's JK, oh, yes,
Max Barbakow 20:36
that's perfect. is the best. He's like, no, I we're gonna, you're trying to be on schedule. Right now I need to I will be running through the desert, I will be doing all that stuff myself. Like, this needs to happen, which is awesome. Which is the subject.
Alex Ferrari 20:52
All right, so so is working as a director, especially your first time working on a project of this magnitude? How do you direct an actor like Andy Samberg? Who's basically you know, he's, he does very, very good improv. And he's kind of like, you just kind of kind of like corral the lightning almost, cuz he's like lightning in the bottle all the time. Right?
Max Barbakow 21:15
Yeah. But he was very aware, because we had done work on the script together. And he comes from a writing perspective, too. And he's producer on the movie. So it was like having a real Christian came in, it was the same way. We had less time together like improv, but it was having like creative partners, you know, less than like, it was not like a mystery that you're trying to shroud an actor and they were very aware of like, what this thing was and why it was special. And their chemistry was going to be the engine of the movie. So for Andy, I think he was attracted to it, because it was a completely different term for it, that means playing like an indifferent defeated person. For the first part of the movie, you know, challenge, he was like, always very aware of anything that would be considered to arch, you know, or, or to wild or to goofy. And we were always kind of checking each other. But like he, he had it in, you know, he's done like, he's done turns on that are a little more serious, like in Celeste and Jesse did that movie. And that was one of those where you're like, oh, he has that, like, Is it like I could is a romantic lead for sure. He just had never met never made the decision to do it. So it was honestly just like a lot of communication, you know, and it was like, on this one, I realized every actor because we had a pretty big ensemble, it's like a two hander, you know, at its core, but there are a lot of different actors, and everybody worked in a really different way. So it's just about kind of like having that conversation upfront. How do you like to work? Like, what can I give you as a director, so I like to do things it's like, let's, let's talk about how it can be of help to you. And it with with Andy It was a lot of interest into was always a lot of like, conversations beforehand, like we did some rehearsals, and then just trying different versions of it on the day, you know, because we'd have a lot of time, like I said, so it's like, let's get it right. Just that intangible feeling where it's like this is this is the best version of it. Now let's go way this direction, way this direction, and then we'll do one that is completely out of left field. And then you kind of make choices in the
Alex Ferrari 23:13
Edit. So in you so we're working with someone like JK, who, obviously as an Oscar winner, he's he's amazing. He's an you know, he's played some very intense guys in his films. I'm assuming there was some sort of intimidation, just just meeting him and and having the potential of working with him. How does a first time director direct an Oscar winning actor? Like what is that process? Like? I mean, I had I've had other guests, and I've worked with Oscar nominees as well in my work. And I just go How do you want to be directed like, dude, I'm like, I'm just here. Because there's some people like if you're like, how can you direct Meryl Streep? Like, how, how does that work? So I'm assuming JK similar.
Max Barbakow 24:03
Yeah, I mean, he's intimidating just because of the roles that you associate him with. And he's also just been doing it for so long. And you know, he's, he's such a pro and such a legend. But the thing that I realized is everybody wants to be that that's what they're there for, actually want to collaborate actors want to be directed, you know, like he, he connected to the script and really liked the script. And he had worked with Sandberg before, too. So there was that familiarity they had played father and son and I love you, man. So they were they were friends. So he was there to have a blast and give it a go and like I, you know, you again, it's just communication. It's just something to work on. So like, how can we make this as easy for you as possible? A little movie for you legends, and it's like, I think he appreciated that too. And he, he came with so many ideas. That's the thing. It's like these people are legendary because they're so smart and so and so talented, but it is for them about the work if they're you know, they're not JK Simmons is not resting on his Oscar, you know, like and I'm sure Meryl Streep isn't resting on any of her nomination. She's just trying to do work that can make make her feel alive. Probably.
Alex Ferrari 25:14
Yeah, it's just about how I think you your answers absolutely on point, which is communication, like just seeing because everyone's different like Meryl and Denzel might want to be talked to differently and worked with differently than JK did and just have to have that open and then adjusting your directing style accordingly to them, not them adjusting towards you, because that's not gonna work as much.
Max Barbakow 25:38
Yeah, one thing I realize, like in it, it helps, even when it is everybody knowing what the coverage was, you know, obviously, like, was at the top of the scene and there again, there was no time. So just like, communication is everything. And if you if you could get through a scene, then you then you could have time to give people opportunities to play around, which is always great, because I mean, JK especially just had so many fun ideas. And we were shooting out of borders. And sometimes it was like, ah, who can't. We've already established that side. Like we can't do that. But that is like, that's why you're human.
Alex Ferrari 26:12
Right? And when you work with people of that caliber, you just like God, you make things so easy as a director makes life so much easier than having to pull everything. Now what was your expectation for this film? I mean, obviously has Andy Samberg has all these big, you know, big stars, but it's still in the you know, how, you know, 5 million below indie film and a marketplace that is full of, you know, good content, what was your expectation for this? We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Max Barbakow 26:50
I mean, initially, before Sandberg, it was like, let's raise $50,000 or something like that from friends and go make something just get one, get an auction about and that still is what it still was. It's like, let's go, let's ride the creative energy of this and go make it and then when Sandberg comes on board, like in that first conversation, we all agreed the goal was to go to Sundance, you know, and sell the movie, like we weren't trying to go to a studio next It was like, let's go make this on the fly and have a Sundance experience and see what we can what we can do. And that was awesome that that we got in you know, we got, I got the call. And it was I was didn't pick it up because there's like a four It was like a I thought it was spam. And I picked it up. And it was a couple weeks earlier than I thought it would be calling. And it was a sprint to the Sundance deadline in the Edit to you know, that was kind of crazy. And they wanted us and then they wanted us in the US dramatic competition too. Which is like the real that's the, like 12 movies. Yeah, so like, oh, man, they're taking this seriously. So it still was like, let's go, let's have a good time. Like I learned very early on. Even going into that first meeting with the Lonely Island, it's like don't have any expectations. Just like enjoy it. Enjoy the ride. If you have any expectations there, it's going to be way different than you think it's going to be. So like we knew we had made something that we liked, we had no idea what to expect. We thought we had a good chance of selling it, but obviously not at the level that we did. And like a lot of people kept telling us when we're in the Edit, show to friends and stuff. And it would be Yeah, it does really feel like a like a Sundance movie demands like that's good sucks.
Alex Ferrari 28:26
Like, thanks for the next night. Thanks.
Max Barbakow 28:28
I think it helped us in ultimately in this in the sale and in the reception that it was there. You know, we were in a year there were a couple comedies but not really, you know, I think people it was kind of a cathartic release for people in that festival experience to go see something that was like, kind of full of joy and irreverence and a little different and, and kind of a kind of an escape from what normally is a lineup filled with like, amazingly poignant films that are really intense, heavy, heavy and darker. Yeah, heavy. So that helps but like, you know, I sat in the back and our screen and Park City or premiere and I had no idea how it really played. I know we got a laugh right at the beginning because it opens with a lonely island classics card and it was a roomful of acquisitions, people. So like that got a laugh. Okay, we got one out of the way. But, you know, I had no clue until we went to our after party and like offers started rolling in and then revealed like the response on Twitter was cool. So it was just, it was a blur, man, it was, it was truly insane.
Alex Ferrari 29:26
It was the first time you've ever been to Sundance.
Max Barbakow 29:29
Yeah, I never I never having a movie and so is cool. And it's what was that? Like? Everything? It's like the last film festival Film Festival for the foreseeable future.
Alex Ferrari 29:44
Exactly. So what was it like? I mean, because I've been to Sundance Scott's like, seven eight times in my life. And never had the pleasure. I've always been rejected. She's like that. Be the hot girl that always kind of teases you like maybe maybe we'll go on a date and Maybe in your mind, we're gonna go out on a date. But you just you ran up in first first one out. You got that day mean, even when you're there and you're gonna leave like is this? Isn't it the same feelings? Like at any moment someone's gonna come in the door and go, you don't belong here. Yeah. That's amazing. So you go to Sundance, you get, you know, you have this amazing, these amazing screenings, you're getting good stuff and then the offers are starting to come in from studios.
Max Barbakow 30:34
Yeah, from from, from like platforms and distributors and stuff. You know, it was at our premiere party it was, we were drinking really for the first time that weekend, like celebrating and then go to dinner. And it's the thing where they're like, Alright, stop, like sober up, like, we're gonna have gonna have some meetings tonight. And it became the experience that you read about and like, Oh, you know, all the books about and so on. I fit in one thing where we went back to a condo, and people just different companies came in, and were pitching us their vision for the film. And it was just so surreal to hear. Like, I always I love in prep, you know, like, we got meetings or you know, just page turn meetings and going through the shit that you're trying to pull off in a movie and everybody taking stupid stuff like blowing up a goat. So seriously, like talking about it. Like, it's great. Like, it's funny to me on that level, when you haven't really thought about pulling stuff off. And now you're dealing with acquisitions, people, like pitching their passion for a movie based on the same stuff, you're talking about, like, loads of money, you're just sitting there like, what is this is crazy, but it what it meant was that more people were gonna have a chance to see our movie, which was so cool, you know, that I kind of had contextualize the entire Sundance experience to it's like, well, the all this means is like, it's no longer ours really, like we've lived with this for so long. And like, we're going to this festival, people are gonna see it. And then like, people are either gonna hate us or they're gonna, you know, they'll be okay with it. But like, it's not going to be our little thing anymore. And, and when there was a response from from buyers, it was their offers and stuff. It was incredible because it just went oh, my God, like more more people beyond this festival are gonna see the movie, you know, are gonna bring it. Were you involved in
Alex Ferrari 32:17
that process? A lot. Because you producer as well on the project,
Max Barbakow 32:21
not not a producer, but they were super cool. And we were all you know, we were up all night and all in the same meetings and stuff like that. And
Alex Ferrari 32:27
so you saw you saw first that you were front row on all this stuff?
Max Barbakow 32:29
Yeah, yeah. No, I just didn't I just like this is great. Yeah. How much? Like how much
Alex Ferrari 32:33
do they like? I'm sure the first offer that came in, you're like, yes, take it. Yes. No. 5 million. 5 million. Yes. Take five. Yes. breakeven. It's fine. Let's just go Let's go.
Max Barbakow 32:47
I never I never understood I was all I was thinking while we were going through and I'm like, can't read this all go party and do this tomorrow, or go to bed and do this to really get down understand. And then it's like, oh, yeah, you do it all night. So they can't say like sleep on it and change their mind. That's why you go a night like that. That makes
Alex Ferrari 33:03
sense. That makes us exactly if you go to sleep tomorrow morning. This will not be here. No, yeah, that's how that's basically because if they wake up in the morning, you know, that wasn't that good. I can't, I can't. Is that high? It's that high of the Sundance screening. Was that too? How did you handle the altitude By the way, that must have been rough.
Max Barbakow 33:24
I was like, I honestly was just all adrenaline like, yeah, after I stayed the whole time, too, because I had never been so I wanted to see movies, and I wanted to meet other filmmakers and stuff and other like everybody else in the world kind of left on which it became this other experience, which I loved. Like I just was kind of like a film fan. They're seeing seen other stuff, but I I crashed after that, man. I like like, I like the adrenaline when and I was like, I I heard all over. Like,
Alex Ferrari 33:53
I'm not 20 anymore.
Max Barbakow 33:55
Yeah, I've been taking care of myself. Oh, that's right. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 34:00
Sundance, he has time. Isn't that does that to you? Yeah, that I've gotten sick almost every time almost every like last few times. I've figured out how not to get sick but you always altitude weather change. No sleep around a lot of people. It's I'm really curious to see what's going to happen this year with Sundance now because it's COVID and I can't force me they can't have a you know, there has to be a virtual version of it. But they can't be Park City is not there. Like you can't go to parks.
Max Barbakow 34:32
Yeah, though, and it's it's way different. I mean, I'm just so grateful that we had the Sunday live you could have played south by or Tribeca which would have been awesome. But that would have been a completely different experience. You know? So there's so many it's such a crazy year and there's so many great films that are you know, are getting lost. Change. Yeah, they got lost in there.
Alex Ferrari 34:54
Now what how did you guys come up with the whole 17.5 and 69 cents like how did that how does That happened.
Max Barbakow 35:01
That was a that was a key that one of our producer, like, just came up with that I think we're getting they're going back and forth. And 17.5 is the record. And rarely will ever gonna tie the record when they add like a little 69. And I just love that so much. It's like my favorite. It's my favorite thing because it also just holds a mirror up to the absurdity. And like, that was Akiva like, at 4am. Like she's Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 35:32
And now the thing is, to me, the amount of press that you guys got off of this off the sale was massive, I read somewhere that Hulu got like $50 million worth of press, just because they bought it for 17.5 and 16. And that 69 says, probably got it about another million or two of President would have gotten like that. But that must have been like, and I'm assuming everybody was bidding on it. But by the way, how did the neon get involved prior to the sale to Hulu or that together? They came in they
Max Barbakow 36:06
came in together it was partnership. And under looking at it, yeah. Which to me to begin with was like, pretty cool, because that just feels of this time, you know, it's like everyone, everything is gonna live on a streamer, you know that. But if you could have and you're gonna have a great theatrical release. And we did do drive ins with neon. And it's out film nation is now taking it out, like around the world, like it's playing in Italy in theaters, and it's in Russia and Taiwan and Taiwan and stuff, which is really cool. But like that to me, I was like, Oh, that's cool. That's a cool partnership like that feels like what how most movies should enter the world. Now. It's like you figure out where it's gonna live on a streamer. But then like team with a really cool taste making company to give it a little bit of a cultural moment, right and create a ripple so that that was always exciting to us. And they were great when the pandemic hit to just kind of like calling an audible and figuring out a way to still make it special. Despite the crazy circumstances, but then we did together and they they were great. They were when did it get released? What
Alex Ferrari 37:07
was the time like, what month July
Max Barbakow 37:08
time? so rough? It was rough, like in the neck you like so long? I was like, I don't even know. But it was definitely like, it was definitely the beginning just felt like one big snow day or something. You know, you're like, this is like, you know, like this is gonna be wacky and a little bizarre and maybe a little fun for a while. And July was definitely the point where like, God,
Alex Ferrari 37:36
everyone, just everyone just strapped in because the garden that I just started just started giving me tomatoes. And I learned how to make a mean sourdough like it's exactly, exactly. Now I have to ask you about how you know. So you have, you know, again, you you've got, you've lived the dream you've lived, I talked about the lottery ticket mentality, like so many filmmakers, what you said was basically their entire distribution plan is we're gonna make our $50,000 movie with no stars attached. And we're and our distribution model is to go to Sundance to get basically what you got. But the scenario, the timing, the cast the story, everything kind of it was a perfect storm, which is what a lottery ticket. You know, like I've said, and many I think even Robert and Kevin said this, like, El Mariachi shows up today, no one cares. You know, clerk shows up today, it's that no one's gonna see it. It's not gonna get you know, we don't see these directors. We don't those voices get squashed. Or it's not what we know it as today. So everyone's always looking at this lottery ticket. You know, at Sundance, Sundance is the lottery ticket. You won that lottery ticket. So I want to find out. What is it like winning the lottery ticket in regards to your career in regards to how the town treats you now? Because you're the belle of the ball, man, you won Sundance the biggest movie, and then you just didn't win Sundance, you sold the biggest movie ever at Sundance. So I'm assuming that comes with some sort of dancing, some sort of courting from people around. So how did the town treat you? And what was that experience? Like?
Max Barbakow 39:13
A lot of meetings, you know, you get to meet a lot of people, you get to just see you get kind of a fuller concept of what the, because you learned a lot putting the movie together too, right? We were trying to going out to try to find financing after the Lonely Island came on and we got to know kind of what the landscape was through the agencies and all that, but um, yeah, just get into to meet a lot of people. Getting to see what projects exist getting to kind of flirt and dabble and like think about projects and then realize, Oh, yeah, you always want to be self generating, like, like, anyway, you know, like, it's, I just, I'm stoked that I'm gonna get to work again. You know, that was the other thing at Sundance, when it went well. I'm like, Oh, yeah, we're gonna get someone someone's gonna pay. My mom is Like, employment, you know, it's like there's still a lot of speculative conversations, which are, it's always hard to sort out like, what's what's real or not. But that's just kind of, that's part of it. And I and I do say, I will say, like, I think the healthiest thing happened, which is that all this happened, and I've been at home, you know, like, there wasn't it, I think it would have been a little different if we were able to go places or go do a press tour, and it just like, it doesn't quite feel real still, it feels nice. It does feel real is having like certain work to do and projects to, like, get off the ground and stuff. That's really cool. And they're, they're actionable now because of the success of the movie. So, I mean, it's been, it's been cool, man, it's been, it's been a dream. It's like, it's always good to see something awesome to see something you made. People are engaging with it and makes you It puts wind in your sails. You know,
Alex Ferrari 40:54
that's why we do what we do. I mean, we, we make movies so people can watch it. Yeah, exactly. You know, and the more people that watch it, the more people connect with it, and actually like it. Oh, my God, that's the dream, you know, and if you can get paid. If you get paid somehow it can continue your continuous career. Why not? I love that, like, Hey, guys, we're gonna make another movie. This is awesome. Like, I'm actually employed for at least another couple years, at
Max Barbakow 41:24
least. Another movie and other thing and like another thing that we like, like and can choose from it. You know, it's like that, too. It's not just like taking the job for the sake of taking the job.
Alex Ferrari 41:34
And you said something, I want you to kind of clarify for people who don't understand when you say self generating as opposed to being like a director for hire, because I'm assuming you were pitched ton of stuff to direct and all that kind of stuff. And you've chosen I don't know, what what is your next project? And, and how do you
Max Barbakow 41:49
love that there's stuff that I'm attached to that, that were like directing assignments that but like, for me, it's always I'm, I'm about having that balance, like I want to work, I want to be working. And it's, I like I'm writing something right now. That's like a, like a passion project. And it's a labor of love. And I'm less, I like working with Andy a lot too, because there's another person in the room. And it's harder for me to stare at a blank page. And but I'm very passionate about this, I could do that. But like, I also want to go get back on set and stuff. So if there there's stuff that I could find a way into emotionally, and I think deserves to exist, you know, and I think it'd be really special. Of course, I'll go engage on that and try to get involved and make it. So for me, it's kind of like it's a balance.
Alex Ferrari 42:38
There. What is your next project? What's
Max Barbakow 42:39
the next project? Not not sure I'm writing this movie right now. That's that's about the the amazing Randy who actually just passed away yesterday. Rest in peace. That is super exciting.
Alex Ferrari 42:53
Isn't there a Jason momoa project that you're working on?
Max Barbakow 42:56
Yeah, they're trying to figure out when we could do that because of COVID stuff and scheduling stuff with that. Yeah, that's it's called the good, bad, good, bad and undead, and it's a it's very similar. It's Peter Dinklage and Jason momoa. It's like a buddy comedy. Nice, like a very, very self aware fantasy universe. I think we're just playing. The last Van Helsing version of Van Helsing is like, an alcoholic and a gambling addict. And no, as a vampire, we've taken a vow not to kill and a con artist comedy, they go around the village to village gone and people do this pretense to, to, to get them out. And they split the money. And then pretty soon, like a big bounce is put on their head and it becomes this giant chase movie. So it's like a very grounded human story about these two outcasts, you kind of bury a lot of their shame in this heightened world, which is kind of similar to Palm Springs. Right? That's, that's why I read it. I was like, this is really fun. Like, I could apply similar tools. You know, that sounds? That sounds awesome. I can't wait to see that. I
Alex Ferrari 43:58
hope I hope we are actually able to get that off. No big round one day, hopefully,
Max Barbakow 44:03
one day, hopefully
Alex Ferrari 44:04
to get on a set again, man. Just Exactly. I mean, do I mean, as I know, if I know a lot of directors and cinematographers who are working right now, depending on where they are in the country, or in the world. I mean, as a director, I haven't been on set since how, like, I don't want anyone to die. Because I'm making a movie. Like it's so yeah. How do you how do you how do you feel that you're going to get to back come back on the on the job?
Max Barbakow 44:31
I think from from what I've heard and and read it's it just is a lot you know, there's zones, it's a lot just very differentiated, like between shooting on film and shooting digitally. It's you have to be like very deliberate, you know, when the stakes are a little higher, and there's there's less room for for error. So I think it just is being very thoughtful with the number of people on set, which I think is good too. I think it's an opportunity, like redefine how many people you actually need to go make these things right. Think it's probably pretty hard for actors because you can't be as intimate. And for me, it's like, a no go go make something up. I think it's safe. But it's also you want to make sure that you're not. When you make something unsaid, I feel like it's already a set of compromises always. It's like once a compromise after caught, you know, you're always you're trying to just get it get into cancer, like this COVID thing is just a huge conference for everybody. Yeah, so it's, I don't know, man, I'm not I don't think I'm close to going back to anything. But hopefully soon, hopefully, in the new year.
Alex Ferrari 45:33
Let's hope man, let's hope now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all of my guests, all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today? past COVID? Like,
Max Barbakow 45:43
yeah, they don't quit, you know, find a way not to quit. Like, that's the number. I think a lot of people just quit. But it's about perseverance. You know, and also recognizing, what idea is the idea to or project to really put, because I do, I do believe it's important to I mean, you want to have a lot of irons in the fire, but you want to put all your eggs in the basket that deserves those eggs. So it's about having the self awareness and like the taste, to know what the idea is worth, what ideas worth kind of really investing in a lot of your time. And because I see that a lot. Just, there's a passion project that it's like, Man, this is not, this is not the one you know, it's like, you just have to know you just have to kind of be aware of that way. And a lot of times it comes from that's a gut, a gut feeling in an instant, you know, it's the one it's based on character, and it's based on on emotion.
Alex Ferrari 46:39
Now, can you also let everybody know, because I'm assuming a lot of people listening right now think that you are an overnight sensation that you made one script, and it's just you walked it over to Andy. And Andy said, Sure, and you got 5 million bucks, you won Sundance and your career exploded, that, please tell everybody how long this overnight success actually took.
Max Barbakow 46:59
We went to Palm Springs, to I'm talking about like, the beginning of your career. Oh, like, I started, that I graduated college in 2013 or 2011. And started like, doing freelance doc stuff and writing then, you know, and then what is it 20 2020. So like, nine years of, like, chasing it in a way, but not kinda like that, that's, that's part of it. It's the journey, you know, you're never ready, like, nothing to put into the work if it just happens, you know, you have no, you have no foundation to stand like you need that. Always. And now, it's about even when you're done with a project, it's about starting over, you're back to zero. So you also have to, like, figure out who you are now, to, like, put that to put that into the project, which is a whole nother, you know, layer of, of the process, at least for me personally, yes, but input Palm Springs that started in like, 2015, the first seed of the idea and kind of, you know, in, in just in like 2000, mid 2016. So it's been, it takes time, you know, we're not doing just this, but it's like, you know, that's the one like I'm saying, I'm like, this is, this feels special, this feels like it could be really cool. So we can't quit on it.
Alex Ferrari 48:15
Now, um, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life,
Max Barbakow 48:24
I think patience. I mean, we're talking about it, but like, patience, you know, and being okay. With being in the moment, being okay, like very being sad about the work, you know, like, and just persevering, and not also not being turning off that whether it's writing or in the editor, whatever, turning off that critical voice in your head, and just kind of leaning into the process that that, that takes, I think, a little bit of experience,
Alex Ferrari 48:56
and what is the biggest fear you had to overcome to make this film? What was that thing that you had to kind of like, I gotta get past this in order to even be able to set foot on set?
Max Barbakow 49:07
I think failure you know, just just just, you know, getting past that and not putting the carpet like before the before the horse so to speak. And yeah, just not not even thinking about what it was going to end up as just kind of again, engaging with the process.
Alex Ferrari 49:26
And three of your favorite films of all time.
Max Barbakow 49:31
Oh, man. I would say Boogie Nights is definitely in there. I would say he gets alone either Fellini movie is really good. This makes sense.
Alex Ferrari 49:55
Both films that makes perfect sense so far, so far. You're on point you're on brands. So far so far.
Max Barbakow 50:03
And I would also say I look basketball a lot. I watched that again. Forever somehow under a movie. It is it is aged well, I think it's gotten much better with age, like sports fandom has become even more ridiculous on that, you know, it's like it's so
Alex Ferrari 50:25
and then it's that they actually created that entire sport. Yeah, like this rule. commitment. That's what like, again, learning from the Lonely Island and it's just like the silliest stuff. It's such commitment goes into that. And that's the genius of it. It's so all that silly stuff is always like so dense and so smart. And so well thought out, basically, boy, I just love that excellent, excellent choices. My friend. Excellent choices. Max has been an absolute pleasure having you on the show, brother, I wish you continued success. You are an inspiration to all of us independent filmmakers out here you you have walked the path that many of us dream to walk. So I truly appreciate you sharing your adventures with us and, and continued success. Man, I wish you the best.
Max Barbakow 51:10
Thank you, man. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
Alex Ferrari 51:13
Want to thank max for coming on the show and inspiring the tribe today. It is truly amazing to feel like you were in the room when these big deals were being made at Sundance. And again, it really, really inspired me tremendously. And I recommend everybody listening to go watch Palm Springs on Hulu. It is a really really great film. Now if you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at indie film hustle comm forward slash for 38. And guys, I know most of us were not able to make it to Sundance this year. But if you want to feel like you're at Sundance, you should check out my movie that I shot at the Sundance Film Festival about three crazy filmmakers trying to hunt down a producer and sell their movie at the festival called on the corner of ego and desire. You can check that out at ego and desire film.com it's free on Amazon and on ifH TV. Thank you so much for listening, guys. As always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.
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