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Basking In The Sun

Basking In The SunTufts graduate Gary Winick was a "hot ticket" at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival -- he earned top honors for his direction of "Tadpole," and a second film he produced received the coveted top drama prize. Park City, Utah.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.22.02] What does it take to make the "breakout film of the year" at the top independent film festival in the country? For Tufts graduate Gary Winick, the answer is 14 days, a budget of less than $500,000, a strong cast, a good script... and of course, superb directing. And last week, the combination of all of them helped Winick earn top honors at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

"When you've got a good script and great actors, you can make your movie on toilet paper and it won't matter," Winick said in a San Francisco Chronicle article, describing the importance of a film's substance over its budget.

The 1984 Tufts graduate should know.

His film "Tadpole" -- which he directed in just two weeks with a budget considered tiny by industry standards -- not only earned him the award for best dramatic directing at Sundance, but also initiated a major bidding war over his film among a pack of the country's top movie studios.

Describing the intense negotiations for "Tadpole," the New York Times reported, "Nine studios, virtually every significant player in the indie world, had made offers for the film, and that night it came down to Miramax ... and Fine Line."

In the end, Miramax offered $5 million for Winick's film -- which was co-written by Winnick's classmate at Tufts, Niels Mueller -- marking the largest amount paid for a film at the Sundance festival this year.

For Winick, the deal means increased exposure to his work.

"The big thing is that people are actually going to see it, because people don't usually go to see my films," he joked in a Reuters report.

But Hollywood critics and industry insiders believe audiences will flock to Winick and Mueller's "Tadpole" -- a comedy about a teenager with a huge crush on his stepmother.

"Some movies dead-on nail everything they set out to do, and Gary Winick's smart raucously funny family farce is one of them," reported the Associated Press, which said "Tadpole" was best described by "great humor, great heart, great brains and a great cast."

The Hollywood Reporter praised the screenplay that Meuller -- a 1984 Tufts graduate -- co-wrote, calling it "a wonderfully full-bodied story."

"Tadpole is a scrumptious amusement, one of the most satisfyingly cerebral and touching movies ever to play at the Sundance Film Festival," reported the highly-regarded publication.

The Toronto Star described Winick's film -- which he also produced -- as "a model of low-budget storytelling with big-budget impact."

Filmed with digital cameras and a small crew, "Tadpole" continues to increase the respect given to low-budget productions.

"There's an intimacy happening when you have a 12-person crew, fewer lights and the camera is small," Winick told an audience during a screening of his film at Sundance. "The actors relax and you just get wonderful performances."

Sigourney Weaver, Bebe Neuwirth and John Ritter were among Tadpole's cast -- which many critics cited as "outstanding."

But Tadpole's success wasn't Winick's only reason to smile during the Sundance Festival.

"Personal Velocity" -- another film Winick worked on, this time as a producer -- won the festival's top dramatic honor.

The film's director, Rebecca Miller -- credited the Tufts grad with helping to bring "Personal Velocity" to life.

"I have Gary to thank," Miller told CNN. "He was the only person who would give me any money. He is a great producer. He truly has vision."

After reading two short stories Miller was working on, Winick was immediately interested in turning them into a trilogy -- all they needed was the final story.

Miller went to work on writing the final installment called "Paula" -- which she sent to Winick when it was completed. According to Winick's film company, after he read Miller's third story, "Personal Velocity" got the green light.

The result was a film that the Associated Press called innovative and engaging. It earned the Sundance's top award -- the coveted Grand Jury Prize for drama.

Images courtesy of CNN, AP

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