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Ethel Skakel Kennedy, center, subject of the documentary film "Ethel," and her daughter Rory, the film's director, mingle with Robert Redford at the premiere of the film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City on Friday, Jan. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Sundance question: How to spend a billion dollars
First Published Jan 27 2012 10:36 am • Last Updated Jan 28 2012 09:14 pm

Park City » The million-dollar question at the Sundance Film Festival, home of low-budget stories shot on begged and borrowed cash, is this: What would you do if you had $1 billion to make your movie?

The Associated Press put the question to filmmakers and stars at Sundance, Robert Redford’s independent-cinema showcase that opened Jan. 19 and runs through Sunday.

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The query was inspired by the Sundance premiere "Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie," in which directors and stars Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim play filmmakers who squander the biggest movie budget ever and decide to rehabilitate a derelict shopping mall to pay back their menacing creditors.

Here’s what some of the Sundance crowd had to say about the notion of a billion-dollar movie:

Sean Penn » Star of director Paolo Sorrentino’s road-trip tale "This Must Be the Place":

"This is the first time I’ve ever been asked to conceive of that. Yeah, I could. Is somebody offering? ...

"I don’t know. If I made a film for a billion dollars in Haiti, there’d be a billion dollars’ worth of jobs that it would create and training that would create an expressive medium. But let’s be very clear that we are reaching."

Rory Kennedy » Director of "Ethel," a documentary about her mom, Ethel Kennedy, widow of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy:

"A billion dollars is a little excessive. Although in today’s marketplace, the truth is that you need a lot of money to make a film, and then you need a lot of money to get the film out into the world. Particularly for documentaries that are up against so many of the big films and kind of the mass-media marketplace. It’s really hard to break through. So if I had that money to use on making a movie, I might spread it out to kind of lift all the documentaries up a little bit and help market them all, because I’m such a fan of documentaries."

Rodrigo Cortes » Director of the paranormal thriller "Red Lights," starring Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro and Cillian Murphy:


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"A film that didn’t need it, it would be a terrible idea. I mean, the right budget is what you need in order to obey the needs of your film. It’s not about having a lot or just a bunch of dollars. When I did ‘Buried,’ I felt rich, because I had everything I needed in order to make the film moving and fascinating. That’s what happened in this case, and if I had a billion-dollar movie, I better have the right story to tell with that. Sometimes, when you oversize things, you’re doing the wrong thing. You spoil everything."

Edward James Olmos » Executive producer and co-star of the hip-hop drama "Filly Brown":

"I would make 1,000 million-dollar movies. That’s what I would do. That’s 1,000 stories."

Rapper Ice-T » Director of the documentary "Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap":

"I’d probably make a cheap $50,000 movie, and while everybody was waiting on the movie to be completed, I’d be someplace in Brazil getting my face lifted. ... You can’t give me that much money and then think I’d need success. At that point, that was the win. If somehow, someone managed to hand me a billion dollars, I’d be on ‘America’s Most Wanted.’ They’d be looking for my ass."

Lauren Greenfield » Director of "The Queen of Versailles," a documentary about David and Jackie Siegel, whose attempt to build the biggest home in America went sour when the recession hit:

"This film was an independent film. It was done by hook or by crook. Every trip was like, should we go, should we not go? It was a real sweat-equity kind of movie, and I feel it looks like a million bucks on the screen. ... But I’m not sure that more money necessarily makes a better product. I’ve certainly made commercials that are bigger budgets, that don’t kind of take the dollar as far. And so, in a way, it’s the same lesson as the movie.

Neil Young » Star, and Jonathan Demme, director of the concert film "Neil Young Journeys," which played at the rival Slamdance Film Festival:

Young: "You could make a movie about where the billion dollars went. A billion dollars is not enough, actually. We need more. That would be too low of a budget to really do a good job on that one. You need the Apple fortune. You need $76 billion to do that movie. That’s how we feel about it. Jonathan and I could do that movie for $76 billion. The Apple fortune. We could make our movie about how to spend the Apple fortune to make the world better."

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim » Writers, directors and stars of "Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie":

Heidecker: "Wow. I think we’d give most of it to charity. That’s probably the right thing to do. Because there’s nothing you could do with a billion that you can’t do with a million."

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