Even the tiniest indie movies can get big publicity at a film festival like the Tribeca Film Festival.
Over the weekend, reporters from outlets large and small congregated in the hallways on the 12th floor of the Manhattan hotel where the stars and director of “Free Samples” were doing interviews and photo sessions.
The film, a slight indie comedy directed by first-timer Jay Gammill, stars Jess Wexler, Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Halley Feiffer and Tippi Hedren. It had its world premiere at Tribeca over the weekend and will screen again later this week.
Ritter, 32, who has become a stalwart performer in independent films (“The Education of Charlie Banks,” “Happy Endings” and “Good Dick”) in recent years as well as a regular on such TV series “The Class,” “The Event” and “Parenthood,” showed up to help hype the movie even though he appears in only two scenes, and was only on the set for a day and a half.
Why come to Tribeca to promote “Samples” if he barely appears in it? “That’s a good question,” Ritter said with a laugh. “I feel like you begin to create a little community of independent filmmakers and actors and we support each other. Jess Wexler is such a fantastic actress that even if I had zero scenes in this movie I’d be telling people to go see it.”
A secondary reason for coming in from Los Angeles was the chance to visit the Big Apple. “The Tribeca Film Festival is in New York, and that’s a huge draw because this is one of my favorite cities in the whole world,” he said. “I hope to have a place here one day. I love it here. Any excuse, to work on a movie or a play, I’m always looking for excuses to come back here.”
The movie is a character study about a law school dropout (Wexler) who spends a long day handing out ice cream samples from a food truck. Ritter plays a slacker friend who is a member of a rock band. In the more notable of his two scenes in “Samples,” he takes a turn serving up free samples sans pants, his naked lower half shielded from patrons by the truck’s countertop.
“No, I didn’t just do the movie for the butt shot, though that was a big consideration,” he jokes. He said he didn’t train beforehand to get into perky shape for his derriere-baring scene. “One just takes one’s pants off,” he said.
Ritter has two more indie films opening soon, “The Perfect Family” on May 5 and “Bag of Hammers” the following week. “They’re very different movies and I’m really excited about them. I’ll be promoting both,” he said.
The actor first came to the Tribeca in 2007, when “The Education of Charlie Banks” had its premiere at the festival. The very first film festival he ever attended was the Telluride Film Festival in 1996. “I went with Billy Bob Thornton and my dad [actor John Ritter, of “Three’s Company”] to see this movie that my dad was in, ‘Sling Blade.’ It premiered at Telluride. Dad was really nervous. He was telling me, ‘It’s not like an MTV, some fast-cutting thing. It requires patience.’ “ (“Sling Blade” went on to become a critical and box office hit; director-star Thorton won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Best Actor.)
Ritter said that his least favorite question from the press, whether at a film festival or a junket, is when he is quizzed on whether something funny happened during shooting. “Of course, funny things happen all the time,” he said, “but immediately when I’m asked that question, I forget everything that happened during a shoot, and I can’t answer it and I feel stupid. So I’m trying to create something funny that happened that’s a lie.”
OK, we’ll play. Did anything funny happen while he was shooting “Free Samples?” Ritter laughs. He’s ready this time. “Jess made a lot of fun of me when I had to have my pants off. She was trying to make me even more self-conscious. She was telling the crew that she could see things that she absolutely could not.”