Meet John Sloss, The Man Behind Some Of Your Favorite Indie Films

Feb 21, 2015
Originally published on February 21, 2015 5:19 pm

It's not easy to get financing for independent films. And it's not easy to get them into movie theaters. But over the past few decades, John Sloss has succeeded in doing both, and has been a key player for indie filmmakers. He's an entertainment lawyer, a talent manager, a film sales agent and a producer of films including Boys Don't Cry, The Fog of War and Boyhood, which is up for a best picture Oscar on Sunday.

It took 12 years for director Richard Linklater to make Boyhood, his coming-of-age film. Each year the cast and crew assembled to film a few scenes. It was up to Sloss to make sure financing for the production continued.

"Every year, we put in an invoice and they funded it," he says. "I mean, it was a film that got financed over 12 years without any hope of beginning to get a return for 12 years. It took a lot of persuasion — and faith."

Sloss is speaking in the living room of the Park City, Utah, home where he stays every year during the Sundance Film Festival.

"This is where Little Miss Sunshine went down, where we're sitting," he says.

Sloss is referring to the quirky 2006 comedy about the family of a little girl who enters a beauty contest. He says the bidding war for that movie was intense. In the end, Fox Searchlight Pictures bought the rights to the film in one of the biggest deals of the Sundance festival's history.

That also sealed the deal for Sloss's reputation as a fervent negotiator for indie films gone big, such as Precious, Super Size Me and The Kids Are All Right.

"He's a bulldog. He fights for the films he believes in," says filmmaker Matthew Heineman, who says Sloss has been his mentor for many years and got his film Cartel Land sold.

"If he's behind your film, he'll do anything he can to make it work," says Heineman.

Another filmmaker, Mara Stevens, says Sloss's track record is so good that she jumped at the chance to sign her film Zipper with his agency, Cinetic Media.

"I was actually in labor with our daughter Etta when we signed the deal with Cinetic," she says. "That's how important it is to me."

The director of the Sundance Film Festival, John Cooper, is also a fan.

"He has such passion," says Cooper. "He can be a little rough around the edges sometimes. I love to fight with him because it feels safe. And the arguments are always ... for the good of the film."

They argue over when a film will premiere, for example, and in which theater.

Sloss says he's well aware of his reputation. "I'm considered aggressive or something," he shrugs.

Sloss, 58, lives in New York City and grew up in Detroit, the son of a salesman who specialized in mobile-home plumbing supplies. He was a film buff, but became a corporate lawyer in New York. "That was pretty soul-depleting work," he recalls.

He became a partner at his firm but switched to entertainment law and started hanging out with filmmakers to build a client base. Playing pickup basketball with director John Sayles eventually led him to represent Sayles' 1987 film Matewan.

In subsequent years, Sloss opened several companies to finance, sell and distribute films by Kevin Smith, Todd Haynes and other independent filmmakers. In 2004, Sloss got a distribution deal for the offbeat comedy Napoleon Dynamite.

"When that film played for the first time at Sundance, it was magic. It's like someone had put nitrous oxide in the vents," Sloss recalls. "Not only was it hysterically funny, but it was so genuinely, organically odd that people just didn't know what to make of it."

Five years ago, Sloss was contacted by the elusive street artist Banksy to represent a 2010 film called Exit Through the Gift Shop.

"I got a phone call from this disembodied voice that said, 'We've done our research and we've determined that you're the right person and we want to show you our film,' " he recalls.

Sloss says he was bowled over by Exit, which may or may not have been a documentary. "The film completely did my head in," he says. "I had no idea which end was up when I saw that movie, and I just completely loved it."

So did audiences — and the film was nominated for an Oscar.

Sloss does seem to have a gift for predicting winners.

"I have a passion for film, and I trust my taste," he says. "So I wouldn't dispute that."

Sunday night at the Oscars, we'll find out if Academy voters shared his affection for Boyhood.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Getting an independent film financed is not easy. It's not easy to get it into the movie theaters. But over the past few decades, John Sloss has made it a little bit easier for indie filmmakers. He is an entertainment lawyer, a talent manager, a films sales agent and a producer of films including "Boys Don't Cry," "The Fog Of War" and "Boyhood," which is up for a best picture Oscar tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOYHOOD")

ETHAN HAWKE: (As Dad) You guys ready to have some fun?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Yeah.

SIMON: NPR's Mandalit Del Barco offers this profile of John Sloss.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: By now you may know it took 12 years to make Richard Linklater's coming-of-age film "Boyhood." Each year, the cast and crew assembled to film a few scenes, and it was up to producer John Sloss to make sure the production kept getting financed.

JOHN SLOSS: Every year we put in an invoice and they funded it. I mean, it was a film that got financed over 12 years without any hope of beginning to get a return for 12 years. It took a lot of persuasion and faith.

DEL BARCO: We're talking in the living room of the Park City home Sloss stays in every year during the Sundance Film Festival.

SLOSS: Oh yeah. This is where "Little Miss Sunshine" went down. Yeah - where we're sitting.

DEL BARCO: Sloss is referring to the quirky 2006 comedy, "Little Miss Sunshine" about the family of a little girl who enters a beauty contest.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE")

ABIGAIL BRESLIN: (As Olive) Little Miss Sunshine?

GREG KINNEAR: (As Richard) Yeah.

BRESLIN: (As Olive) What?

JILL TALLEY: (As Cindy) Now she has a place in the state contest in Redondo Beach.

DEL BARCO: Sloss says the bidding war for that movie was equally intense.

SLOSS: Different distributors waiting to come make their case to the filmmakers and it was pretty hairy.

DEL BARCO: In the end, Fox Searchlight Pictures bought the rights to the film in one of the biggest deals of the festival's history. That also sealed the deal for Sloss's reputation as a fervent negotiator for indie films gone big such as "Precious," Super Size Me," and "The Kids Are All Right."

MATTHEW HEINEMAN: He's a bulldog. You know, he fights for the films he believes in.

DEL BARCO: During a party at Sundance, film maker Matthew Heineman says Sloss has been a mentor for many years and got his film "Cartel Land" sold.

HEINEMAN: If he's behind your film, he'll do anything he can to make it work.

DEL BARCO: Another filmmaker, Mora Stephens, says his track record is so good, she jumped at the chance to sign up her film "Zipper," with John Sloss's agency Cinetic.

MORA STEPHENS: I was actually in labor with our daughter Etta, when we signed the deal with Cinetic. That's how important it is to me. That sounds totally insane, but John Sloss has been amazing. Him believing in my project is also, I really felt like, him believing in me.

JOHN COOPER: John's Sloss, he has such passion.

DEL BARCO: John Cooper is the director of the Sundance Film Festival.

COOPER: He can be a little rough around the edges sometimes. I love to fight with him because it feels safe. And the arguments are always about - for the good of the film.

DEL BARCO: Arguments over when a film will premiere and in which theater, for example. Sloss says he's well aware of his reputation.

SLOSS: I'm considered aggressive or something.

DEL BARCO: The 58-year-old Sloss lives in New York City but grew up in Detroit, the son of a salesman who specialized in mobile home plumbing supplies. He was a film buff, but became a corporate lawyer in New York.

SLOSS: Yeah that was pretty soul-depleting work.

DEL BARCO: Sloss became a partner at his firm, but switched to entertainment law and started hanging out with filmmakers to build a client base, playing pickup basketball with filmmaker John Sayles led to repping his 1987 film "Matewan." Sloss opened several companies to finance, sell and distribute films by Kevin Smith, Todd Haynes and others. In 2004, Sloss got a distribution deal for the off-the-wall comedy "Napoleon Dynamite."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NAPOLEON DYNAMITE")

JON HEDER: (As Napoleon) Bring me my Chapstick.

AARON RUELL: (As Kip) No, Napoleon.

HEDER: (As Napoleon) But my lips hurt real bad.

RUELL: (As Kip) Just borrow some from the school nurse. I know she has like five sticks in her drawer.

HEDER: (As Napoleon) I'm not going to use hers, you sicko. Idiot.

SLOSS: When that film played for the first time at Sundance, it was magic. It's like someone had put nitrous oxide in the vents. It - not only was is it hysterically funny, but it was so genuinely organically odd that people just didn't know what to make of it.

DEL BARCO: Five years ago Sloss was contacted by the elusive street artist Banksy to rep the film "Exit Through The Gift Shop."

SLOSS: I got a phone call from this disembodied voice that said we've done our research and we've determined that you're the right person. And we want to show you our film.

BANKSY: The film is the story of what happened when this guy tried to make a documentary about me, but he was actually a lot more interesting than I am so now the film is kind of about him.

SLOSS: The film completely did my head in. I had no idea which end was up when I saw that movie and I just completely loved it.

DEL BARCO: So did audiences. And the film was nominated for an Oscar. John Sloss does seem to have a gift for predicting winners.

SLOSS: I mean, I have a passion for film. And I trust my taste, so I think yes, I wouldn't dispute that.

DEL BARCO: Tomorrow night at the Oscars, we find out if Academy voters share his affection for "Boyhood." Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.