‘In the Soup’: How Matt Grady Rescued This 1992 Sundance Winner
How does a classic of early ’90s independent cinema — a Sundance Film Festival winner, beloved by critics, with an all-star cast — nearly fall off the face of the Earth?
In 2014, independent film distributor Matt Grady learned that the beloved indie comedy In the Soup was in danger of disappearing. The film, which stars Steve Buscemi as an aspiring filmmaker in New York City who teams up with a lovable con man (Seymour Cassel) to get his 500-page screenplay made into a movie, beat out Reservoir Dogs to win the Grand Jury prize at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival. It premiered to critical acclaim, receiving rave reviews in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Newsweek.
And yet, over two decades later, Grady couldn’t find In the Soup anywhere. It wasn’t available on streaming services or Blu-Ray, and its limited 2004 DVD run was long out of print. He learned from director Alexandre Rockwell that the last remaining archival print of the film — which was shot on a rare black-and-white film stock — was badly damaged, making digital reproduction and distribution impossible without a painstaking restoration.
So in 2017, Grady launched a Kickstarter campaign to restore the damaged print and host a screening of In the Soup to mark the film’s twenty-fifth anniversary. With the help of nearly 800 backers, Grady and Rockwell were able to restore the print — and now, the film’s anniversary screening will be held at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 24.
Ahead of the screening, we spoke to Grady about the process of restoring the film, what he learned from the Kickstarter campaign, and his favorite In the Soup scenes.
Last year, you launched a Kickstarter project to restore the damaged archival print of the film In the Soup and host a twenty-fifth anniversary screening. How did you find out that the film was in such disrepair?
I was a big In the Soup fan and ended up meeting director Alexandre Rockwell in 2014 at a festival screening of his most recent film, Little Feet. I ended up loving Little Feet and distributed it through [my distribution company] Factory 25. I would bring up In the Soup in meetings with Alex, and he would say that he didn’t want to talk about it until after we were done with Little Feet. Once we were done with [the] theatrical [release], he told me that he had the rights [to release the film], but the archival print was damaged. We ended up researching the best way to fix the film for over a year.
When we think of film restoration, we tend to think of films made during the pre-digital era. How did this 1990s Sundance award-winner become so damaged that it essentially fell into obscurity? And how was it repaired?
I believe a lot of low-budget indie movies from the early ’80s and ’90s that were shot on film will need restoring due to economics and inadequate storage.
In The Soup ended up having a shortened theatrical run when the [original] distribution company went out of business. After a series of other distribution mishaps, the film became unavailable and more or less stayed that way for the next quarter-century. An official high-quality copy of it does not exist digitally, it’s not on Blu-Ray, and the DVD release it had in 2004 is now out of print.
We were not able to find a negative of the print and there was only one fine-grain black-and-white master archival print left. Unfortunately, while being screened at a cinema in Los Angeles, this aging and fragile print was accidentally damaged during projection to the extent that moments of the first and fifth reel were virtually shredded. The Eastman High Contrast Panchromatic Film 5369 that the film was printed on hasn’t been manufactured in years. So the only way to maintain the look that Alex wanted was to repair the film.
We ended up using FotoKem in Los Angeles to physically repair the damaged reels. Then IndieCollect in NYC scanned the print in 5K using a Kinetta Archival Scanner, then digitally removed some of the scratches and other issues due to the damage and aging. This gave us a great digital source from which to make a 4K DCP [digital cinema package] to screen in theaters and use to make new 35mm prints.
It would be a crime to culture if these films disappeared.
On your project page, you say, “We cannot let this film disappear.” What spoke to you about the film? What would have been lost if this restoration hadn’t taken place?
If we hadn’t restored the film, it would have only existed as a long out of print DVD and a damaged print that couldn’t be screened.
The film won Sundance in a year that is seen as a turning point for indie cinema. The class of 1992 included films by Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Allison Anders (Gas Food Lodging), Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede), Gregg Araki (The Living End), Tom Kalin (Swoon), and more. These films are important and will be looked at with more reverence as time goes on. It would be a crime to culture if these films disappeared.
In your project video, you said that “Kickstarter is the best way for everyone who cares to get involved.” Why did you feel that it was important for other people to get involved with restoring the film?
The film itself was a passion project. It was made on a shoestring budget in the early ’90s with a young crew who just wanted to make a great film and a cast of super-talented actors who were not doing it for money but for the love of film and belief in Rockwell’s vision. [We’ve] maintained that feeling of [producing] a labor of love by having the people who want to bring this gritty film back into the world get involved. People really responded to the passion behind the project, and they were often surprised that a film that’s only twenty-five years old could disappear. No one wants art to disappear.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from running the Kickstarter campaign?
Don’t rush the campaign. Make sure that you have the best video that you can make, along with rewards that people will respond to, before launching. The biggest challenge for me was to make a video that explained what we needed to do and why in a concise manner. We had so much footage; getting [the video] down to under four minutes while saying everything we wanted to say took some work, but it was worth it in the end. Also, you need to have consistent public outreach and maintain communication with the people who pledge.
Tell us about your favorite scene from the film.
My favorite scenes are the two with Jim Jarmusch and Carol Kane. They make me laugh every time, and I’ve seen them quite a bit. I crack up every time Jarmusch says, “You know what we got? We got a dog that can read your mind.”
The film is getting the twenty-fifth anniversary screening you were hoping for at the Tribeca Film Festival. How does it feel to see your restoration project come to life?
It feels amazing. It has been a three-year process to restore the film [so it can] play at Tribeca. I can’t wait to watch it with a crowd filled with a mix of people who were part of it, and others who are seeing it for the first time.
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