Stars, Amateur Filmmakers Explore New Worlds at Canon's 'Project Imagination' Festival

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Ron Howard at Canon's "Project Imagination" Film Festival

Ron Howard, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and up-and-coming directors talk to THR about their inspirations for and how they were inspired by the endeavor.

Filmmakers both famous and unknown rubbed elbows at Canon's Project Imagination Film Festival in New York on Thursday night, which served as a glitzy celebration of 10 short movies created by stars and amateur directors and inspired by consumer-submitted photos.

Five of the films were created by Eva Longoria, Jamie Foxx, Marchesa designer (and wife of Harvey Weinstein) Georgina Chapman, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, each of whom was inspired by the opportunity to create something by stepping behind the scenes.

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For Longoria, her action short Out of the Blue was a chance for her to live out her dream of being a stuntwoman. For Foxx, his movie …And She Was My Eve, which he described as "Frankenstein meets Love Jones," gave him the opportunity to work with an actor he'd admired, Tyrin Turner, who starred in Menace II Society and, as Foxx noted, in Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" video. (He's the guy peering through the fence.)

Murphy, who introduced himself as "a retired singer from a middling rock band," hoped his film would be the first of multiple forays into moviemaking. And he was encouraged by the type of guidance he got from legendary director Ron Howard, who oversaw the project.

"Ron was kind of amazing in that he was available but he was like, 'Just have fun, pick the right people and trust them,' " Murphy explained to The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet prior to the films' premiere at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall.

For Stone, his short film Evermore was inspired by another bird-based creation, Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, and reminded him of the importance of teamwork.

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"I think my experience with Twitter helped me make this movie just in terms of my ability to depend on everybody on the team for what they're good at, to put my trust in their abilities and not to think I could do everything myself, because there's no way I could ever pull this off without all of the other talented people," Stone told THR. "Just like in Silicon Valley, founders get all of this credit as if they were the ones that built this entire system when that's absolutely not true, and the same thing I think is true in Hollywood. You know, I get to be on this red carpet as a director when really it's hundreds of other people that helped me put this together."

Stone also told THR he was surprised by Hollywood's embrace of Twitter, thinking it would reject the microblogging platform that's become so popular among stars.

"I actually thought that Twitter would be rejected by Hollywood because I thought the whole concept of celebrities was that you have limited access to them, so why would they give you access to their everyday life? You only get to see them in the movies," he explained.

On the eve of Twitter's IPO, during which Stone noted he's "not supposed to talk about future thoughts," he did reveal that he feels "like a proud papa."

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Howard was proud of the results of Canon's experiment, which didn't play out quite as he imagined it would and even ended up affecting his own approach to filmmaking.

"When I went into Rush, having been through the first phase of Project Imagination, I looked at our research photos a little more deeply," he explained. "And I think it influenced Rush in some very palpable ways."

Since Howard finished that film, which was released by Universal in September, that studio has had a few executive shake-ups.

When asked by THR how he felt about the changes, Howard seemed confident that he and Imagine partner Brian Grazer would be able to deal with the new regime at their longtime studio home, helped in part by their familiarity with two of the remaining executives, Donna Langley and Ron Meyer.

"We have been through so many different administrations, with Brian and I and Imagine, at Universal, six, seven different administrations, even ownerships," Howard explained. "It's an adjustment, but the team that's in place now is talented. We've known Donna Langley for a long time, of course. She's a friend and a creative ally. Ron Meyer is someone that I've worked with forever, and he's there. That's gratifying and comforting for Brian and I, so it is what it is, but onward and upward."

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Howard and his daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, selected the films submitted by non-celebrities, five of which were chosen to premiere at Lincoln Center. It was a process that, the younger Howard said, got "super-intense." But, she said, even though her father is a Hollywood veteran, the fact that he's her dad made her more willing to speak her mind and for the two of them to have a dialogue about filmmaking and the movies.

With the consumer-created short films, Howard again said he was surprised by the outcome of Canon's experiment. "I expected them to be more like quick weekend home movies. … I was wrong," he said. "I underestimated the power of these films, the creativity, the depth was daunting and exciting."

Among the impressive amateur films that screened Thursday night was Chucked, a movie about a relationship between a robot/book-deposit device and a girl, which was directed by Jared Nelson.

The film, which initially was inspired by a photo of a girl hugging a robot, was shot in a bookstore for $300 for eight hours, and Nelson's uncle made Chuck, the robot, for $100.

When he found out his was one of the films that was selected, meaning he could come to New York and meet Ron Howard and various stars, Nelson said "that was the most shocking thing in the history of Jared."

Meanwhile, another amateur filmmaker, Kalman Apple, whose movie A Day in the Country was selected, said he was relieved when he found out, noting that he "put a lot into this to get here."

All of the amateur filmmakers hope their success with Canon's Project Imagination can lead to exposure and perhaps representation or financing to help them pursue a career as a filmmaker.

As Apple, who said he met Weinstein Thursday night, explained, "I hope just to be able to continue, find someone here who liked my film and says, 'Hey, we think you've got some talent' and maybe find representation or find someone who's got a slate of pictures and may be looking for a director. That would be great. I'm open to anything."