Sundance Filmmaker Preview: Cindy Cowan, Producer of Red Lights
Producer Cindy Cowan wants you to know that virtually everyone else in the world is just as much in the dark about Red Lights as you and I are.
The thinking person’s thriller, which debuts this week at Sundance, stars Robert DeNiro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, and current It Girl Elizabeth Olsen, so you might think the filmmakers would have wanted to get it in front of as many people as quickly as possible. But Cowan insists, “No one has seen Red Lights. It’s literally getting its premiere next Friday night at Sundance and we’ve kept it very under the wraps from everybody up until now. Maybe six people have seen it.”
The mysterious film revolves around the possibility of paranormal activity, but Cowan is quick to point out that it’s far removed from recent films like, well, Paranormal Activity. “This is a psychological thriller, not to be confused with a horror movie,” she explains. “We’re much more along the lines of The Sixth Sense. We consider ourselves just a very smart thriller. We hope wedon’t get compared to these new found-footage smaller movie, although by the way they seem to be doing incredible out there. We hope that we’ve delivered a Hollywood film that people of all different ages can go to.”
Cowan was sent the script for Red Lights before she saw director Rodrigo Cortes’ first feature, Buried. That 2010 Sundance selection takes place, in its entirety, inside a casket with Ryan Reynolds. She eventually walked into a screening of Buried, if not skeptical, at least curious. “To tell you the truth,” she remembers, “I walked into Buried thinking, ‘How do you pull off a movie like this with one actor buried in a box for two hours?’ I went in not expecting anything, and walked out on the phone saying, ‘We have to meet’” And that was it. I immediately snatched Red Lights off the table, more quickly than most people realize. Rodrigo and I met about three weeks later when he was able to fly to Los Angeles, and the whole process then was pretty quick. We decided that we would work together and about three months later, we were all in Barcelona shooting this film.”
Red Lights boasts perhaps the most impressive cast in all of Sundance this year. Cowan laughs when she recounts all the “next things” her cast did after filming. “Robert De Niro got the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars. Sigourney Weaver goes off to Avatar 2 and 3. Cillian Murphy is at hot as can be and is such an amazing actor. To me, he’s got an Oscar in him one day. Lizzie Olsen, who we got so lucky with, is a gem and the Sundance darling of last year. And hopefully the Sundance darling again of this year! And even my smaller cast, like Toby Jones who is now in Hunger Games or Joely Richardson who just came out in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, they were all amazing.”
With so much going for it, what about that decision to keep it under wraps? “Protecting your premiere,” it’s called in the industry. And Cowan believes that, especially for a film like Red Lights, it’s crucial. “I just think that leaking it here and there runs the risk of different people’s interpretations. Things can come out on the web nowadays, things can come out all over the place. You get buyers angry that they saw it at a different time than somebody else. There’s just so many things that can go wrong if it’s not handled perfectly. So, to us, everyone’s in it together. The publicist hasn’t even seen it. My cast will be at Sundance; my director will be there doing Q&As. We’ve already sold out and we’re at the Eccles, which is the big 2,000-screen theater. I can’t even get any additional tickets for people. It’s completely sold out. I just think for many different reasons, it’s exciting to roll out films this way, where everybody is kind of in it together and we’re all there together, including the cast.”
One thing’s for sure—the buzz that night among the two thousand gathered in Park City’s Eccles Theater will be palpable.