Rave reviews: And stellar box-office for <I>Agent

NEWS- Rave reviews: And stellar box-office for Agent

Barry Sisson got the treat of a lifetime in January when the first film he financed, The Station Agent, won three awards at the Sundance Film Festival– including the coveted Audience Award. Now the film is earning a new kind of audience accolade: crowded theaters.

Shown at just three theaters in its first weekend, The Station Agent delivered $18,500 per site gross– an "impressive" average, according to boxofficeguru.com. (For comparison, during that same October 3-5 weekend, America's #1 smash, School of Rock, starring Jack Black, took in $7,728 per site.)

"It's quite exciting," says Sisson, a Charlottesville resident. "It's cool stuff."

Audiences aren't the only fans. Roger Ebert calls The Station Agent a "treasure," Rolling Stone calls it "an absolute stunner," and the New York Times declares it "delicate, thoughtful, and often hilarious."

Pretty good for a film about a lonely dwarf holed up in an abandoned train station. Pretty good for a first-time movie mogul whose previous experience consisted of 25 years in the security business.

As revealed in a Hook story last winter [Facetime, "Sundancing: Sisson seizes the celluloid dream," February 6, 2003], the Sundance standing ovation had barely stopped when studio chief Harvey Weinstein flew out to Utah to sign the picture to Miramax.

Last week, however, Weinstein got waylaid in L.A. for the Kill Bill premiere, Sisson says, and missed The Station Agent's September 30 premiere at New York's Lincoln Center. However, Marisa Tomei, Ethan Hawke, and Candace Bergen made it to the red-carpet event.

On opening day in New York, the Times critic declared that The Station Agent, written and directed by newcomer Tom McCarthy, is "the kind of appetizing movie you want to share with others." So kids under 17 better bring a parent; the picture earned an "R" rating.

"I was a little surprised," says Sisson. "I think there are two or three scenes where they're smoking a joint." (The Motion Picture Association of America also noticed some vulgar language.)

"We're not unhappy about an 'R,'" says Sisson. "This isn't a film teenagers will understand; you have to have a little life under your belt."

Sisson is also excited about his latest completed project, Charlie's Party. An "off-beat sexual comedy" written by two British women, the film includes Sabrina Lloyd, who famously lost out to the blonde on the NBC's Stuckeyville-based series, Ed.

While Charlie's Party was shot over the summer in New York City and Connecticut, Sisson now wants to make films in Central Virginia, and he hopes to line up $2 million from local investors (including himself) to shoot his next two features.

"I believe that if you keep the budget under a million, and you make a good film," he says, "you can probably make a profit."

In an industry swelled by fat budgets and fat egos, Sisson's quick learning curve impressed Virginia Film Festival director Richard Herskowitz, an advocate of in-state movie-making.

"He really immersed himself in the production business," says Herskowitz. "He has made himself as much of a player in the independent film world as anyone out there."

Sisson won't reveal the budgets for the first two films he financed, but the fiscally conservative producer will say this: "I don't shoot films for over a million dollars."

Barry Sisson


Peter Dinklage and Patricia Clarkson in
The Station Agent .