Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We Begin Again - #DFW18

Welcome to all of those who have submitted to Dances With Films year 18!

Welcome to those who have not yet submitted to Dances With Films year 18.  Keep polishing that sound, tightening up those edits, and making sure your score is more than random notes on a piano.  As you follow this blog, you'll learn how much that helps.  Do try to submit before the late, late deadline, since that'll cost you a fortune.

For those who are past fans of the blog, welcome back.  This post will sound familiar.

I've been doing this blog for more years than I care to think about.  It's based on something literary agents do on occasion.  They will, without mentioning the titles or submitters, comment on the hundreds of query letters they receive on a daily basis.  By showing their reactions, the submitters learn how to improve their pitches.  I found it very helpful, so I've been paying it forward here ever since.

The Dances With Films screening process has two aspects: features and shorts.

For feature films, screeners – usually DWF alums – take home DVDs or have Vimeo links and passwords sent to them.  They watch the movie and send back comments.  Each feature is watched by at least three screeners, and at least one of them watches it all the way through.

About that.  Some of us have been doing this for 18 years.  I've been doing it for 15.  Deciding to turn a movie off is not something we do lightly.  Case in point, I have a DVD downstairs that I know I'm going to pass on, but it was the third movie I watched the first time I put it in.  It's very slow, which might be the filmmaker's voice and might prove itself to be the right pace.  So I will start it again this evening.  If I still don't make it all the way through, I'll pull rank.  A screener with fresher eyes will have to watch the whole movie.  If their comments come back positive, then I'll look at it again.  On one occasion, this happened with a movie that I believe won an audience award, now has distribution, and is one of my favorites.  I guess I just didn't spend enough time roller skating in the 80s.

For shorts, a bunch of us get together once a week to watch in two groups.  A minimum of three screeners must be in each group.  We eat, watch shorts, and write down our individual comments.  It's actually a lot of fun.  Any movie that gets good comments from one group will be given to the head of the other group for a second look over the week.

After each shorts screening session, I write an article for the blog.  My objective is to let you know the trends we are seeing, so you might avoid clichés, understand technical problems, and generally get a better insight to the uber-indie film world.  I never mention the name of a movie. 

If I write about bad things, I'm never talking about a single film, but a trend.  If I say something in a particular movie is outstanding in a good way, I'll drop enough hints so the filmmaker knows I'm giving them a pat on the back. 

For example: above I said, "…making your score more than random notes on a piano."  We must get fifty movies a year like this.  If you're still finishing your movie and have a slow piano score – often with cello droning in during the serious emotional scene – then it would serve you well to change that.

I also mentioned that one of my favorite movies is a period roller skating story.  Since that one screened in the festival, not only the filmmaker, but anyone who has seen it knows which film I'm talking about.

Looking for hints about your movie is a fun game to play while you're waiting to hear from us.  Keep in mind that if you read something not favorable that: 1) I'm not talking about your movie specifically, and 2) one problem never sinks a movie.  You still have a good chance of getting in.

This week, I didn't get to watch shorts.  I was stuck working on a new database for the festival, which reminds me, if you haven't gotten a confirmation letter from the festival, or your letter looks different from a friend's letter, relax.  I'm pushing my limited programming skills as fast as I can.

I will catch up on the movies I missed this week, but I want to leave you all with cautionary tale.

Please, please, please, before you shoot, run a test of your entire digital workflow.  Shoot a test scene in bright light, low light, with pans, movement, etc.  Have the editor you're going to use, cut these scenes together, transcode the files and burn them to a disc.  Then check for shutter flutter, dropped frames (jerky motion), duplicated frames (stuttering motion), etc.  Watch the test on different screens.  Make sure all of the motion is smooth.  If it's not, work backwards to find where the problem creeps into your work and fix it.

If you've already submitted your film, you can do the same thing, but if the problem is in your dailies, you're kind of screwed.  If your online screener has this problem, but a disc version doesn't, then you have a bad transcode.  Please fix it and send us another link and password – and always make sure to get us a DVD or Blu-Ray. 

Fixing the problem before you shoot will make your life a lot easier.  Fixing it afterward, if you can, will be necessary for distribution.

That's it for now.  Keep an eye out here the first part of each week from now until the festival and follow us on Facebook and Twitter #DWF18.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand - Order Now!

What good is having your own blog if you don't get to promote your own work?

Regular readers know, I'm big on promoting your work.  Without promotion, no one knows your work exists.  So, with that in mind...

My Science-Fiction Novel for the Whole Family is on Amazon!  Pre-orders for the Kindle version can be made now.  The book's street date is December 8th.

Book Description

"E = mc2 is no longer the most powerful force in the universe. Your wand is." 

Twelve-year-old Billy Bobble and his best friend Suzy Quinofski didn't mean to change the universe. Billy, a quantum physics prodigy, just wanted to find a way to help his hoarding, schizophrenic mother – and maybe impress a coven of older girls in high school. Suzy, his intellectual equal, wanted to help her friend and cling to her last remnant of childhood, a belief in magic. Together they made Billy a real, working, magic wand, and opened a door to the Quantum World where thoughts create reality, and all things – good and bad – are possible.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

When is the best time to submit to a film festival?

Have you ever run a maze backwards?  It's a breeze.  Looking at the choices from the angle of the maze-builder makes it a thousand times easier.  The same can be said for film festivals.  If you're a filmmaker who has never worked for a festival, you probably don't know which way to turn.  I understand.  I've been there.  We all have in one way or another in different aspects in life.  It's nothing to be ashamed of.  In fact, if you didn't have questions, this blog wouldn't exist.

One of the many decisions you have to make is whether to submit to a festival early, to get the screeners while they're fresh, or later to be more on their mind when it comes time to decision making. 

For the most part, it doesn't make a difference to us… for the most part.  There are a couple of things that do make a difference.

First, whether it's late or early, do NOT submit your film before it's finished.  I mean, completely finished, including test screenings for a handful of other filmmakers for honest notes, then re-edits, then professionally edited sound, music that doesn't drag the film to a grinding halt, color-timing, everything! 

Yes, we accept works-in-progress, but look at the maze backwards.  We don't know who you are.  We don't know if your idea of "finished" matches ours, and we're spending month after month watching movies that people tell us are complete.  They aren't.  So we'll watch your work-in-progress.  If the story isn't good, or the acting is sub-par, then we're going to pass no matter how much work you do on it.  But if you've done a good job with the script, and the cast is good, then we're going to be interested. 

Now put yourself in our shoes and run the maze.  You have ten good movies, but can only screen three of them (obviously, the numbers are made up).  One is a work-in-progress.  The others are equally good and finished.  Which do you pick?

Another "for the most part" is the very late submission.  Every year we have extremely late films submitted.  By "extremely late" I mean on or after our late deadline.  The ones that come in after are usually from friends of the festival.  "Hey, is it too late to…?"

We take as many of these as we can, but they are a pain in the behind.  We have to watch them on short notice during our busiest time of the year.  Our first thought when screening these ultra-late movies is, "why are these idiots paying so much money at the last minute?"  But, they did pay, so we treat them almost exactly like any other submission.

I say "almost" because if you submit on or after our late deadline, it's going take us a couple of days to get to screen your movie.  During that time, we're programming the festival.  Sure, final decisions have not yet been made and technically you have the same chance as any other movie, but we're only human.  We have a list of our favorites.  We've contacted those filmmakers to update their premiere status.  We already have more movies that we like than slots to fill.  The ultra-late movie is going to have to be head and shoulders better than anything we've seen in nearly six months of watching submissions in order to bump a movie we already like off the list.  That's a big hill to climb.

Having said that, for some odd reason, many of these late submissions are really good.  We have programmed them before and will again – but it's not our favorite way to do things and it does hurt your chances to try to come in under the wire.  We have passed on perfectly good movies just because they were so late that we didn't feel they were good enough to bump off movies that submitted in a timely fashion.

So, those are the extremes.  Some people submit too early, before their movie is finished.  Some too late, while we're in the middle of making decisions.  What about the average movie?  Is there a best time to submit a movie that is completely done and ready for prime time?

No.  We've programmed movies that were the first to submit, the last, and everything in between.  During the final selections we go through every film – even the ones with passes from every screener – to make sure they have had a fair shot, and that we haven't missed a diamond in the rough.  Because, after all, those hard-to-find movies are what DWF is all about.

We're open for submissions.  If your film is ready, send it in.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Marketing – Books, Movies, Life

This is the off-season for Dances With Films, but I noticed a tremendous spike in page views lately.  Whether that is due to film festival submission season kicking into gear with Sundance's last submission deadline coming up, or because I've started promotion on my book, Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand, I don't know – but I thought I should give either audience something new to read since it's definitely too late to be a part of this year's festival (it was over in June and the subject of my last post).

My mind right now is on marketing.  As just about any experienced artist in any medium will tell you, they knew marketing was important, but didn't listen when they were rookies and someone told them marketing starts on the first day of production. 

In a way, all artists are marketing all of the time.  No matter what discipline, we are communicating something through our art, and so are trying to present that communication in the best possible way.  From the political, in-your-face, theatre of the 60s and 70s, to the pop-art of the 1990s, to the indie film and book circuits of today, every artist begins with a story to tell and a way to tell it.  That's marketing, like it or not.

Lately, artists have become more and more responsible for the marketing end of things.  Ask any author lucky enough to get an advance, and most of them will tell you they've rolled that into their own sales plan.  Alumni of Dances With Films know how much we push each filmmaker to have a marketing strategy, and many of them have come back to thank us for that over the years. 

As I now launch into sales of Billy Bobble, I'm learning a ton regarding internet marketing, that I'm not sure filmmakers know about – which they should.  Films are being sold side-by-side with books these days on Amazon, iTunes, Nook, etc.  The same campaigns that drive people to those sites for books can work for films.

One example is blog tours.  Now almost passé with books, I'm not sure many indie filmmakers are aware of them.  Blog tours reach out to the super-fans (or super-bloggers) for certain subjects and arrange interviews, guest posts, or reviews.  Reviews, of course, every filmmaker knows about, but most seem fixated on the Trades and The Times (New York and LA).  Sure, those are extremely important, but just as important are the super-fans on Amazon.  Getting good reviews from fans with large followings has become a must with indie novelists – and they should with filmmakers, too.

When dealing with these bloggers, be respectful.  There really isn't any difference between a critic on a blog and one for a major news organization – except that the blogger is usually a volunteer.  The blogger doesn't usually have a staff, and is often doing this on their own time just for the love of it.  They don't owe you a favorable review.  Hopefully, they'll write a good one, favorable or not.  Regardless, make sure to say "thank you."

That's it for now, and possibly for a while.  We are busy getting ready for year 18!  Some filmmakers may have already submitted.  That's fine, but submission don't officially open until sometime in October – I think.  I don't keep up with that part.  I just watch 'em and help pick 'em. 

In the meantime, filmmakers, finish your sound!  Short filmmakers, try cutting your movie in half and show it to your beta testers.  See if they like it better.  If so, LISTEN TO THEM!  If your music is a bunch of random cords (usually on a piano, usually with a cello coming in on the big emotional part), thank whatever friend you asked to do the music and go find a real composer.  If you've already shot your movie, these are the things you can be doing to make it better.

Believe me, everyone at Dances With Films wants your movie to be better!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

You Can Still Be A Part Of The Festival

Every year about this time I think of the movies I loved, but we couldn't fit into the Festival.  I'm tempted to mention the titles here, but I think that could open a can of worms.

I won't give the old line, "this hurts me a lot more than it does you." I know it sucks for you.  I've been where some of you are now.  I know.  But it is also hard knowing a movie that I've greatly enjoyed won't be in the festival for any number of reasons.  This is a tough business.

But if you've gotten one of our famous pass letters, don't think that it means you can't be a part of the festival.  I remember one year talking to a filmmaker.

"What film are you with?" I asked.

"My film didn't get in," he said.

I told him I screen for the festival, I might have seen it, and asked the title.

"Vitreous Floaters," he said.

It turns out I'd like his movie a lot.  It was in the running right up until the end, but when push came to shove, we just couldn't find a spot for it.  He had come a long way just to see the movies that got in.  He wanted to learn more about the festival circuit.

In my memory, we all treated him as we would any other filmmaker.  I hope my memory is right.  It certainly was my intent.

So if your film isn't in this year's festival, it doesn't mean that you can't be.  Come on out and see some movies.  Hold your head up high, because you are a filmmaker, and this festival is all about you.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Orientation - And The Wait Continues

I know some of you talk to each other.  I know some filmmakers in SoHo should make plans to share a hotel in Los Angeles.  I know a lot of you have posted how excited you are to be in the festival, even though we try to keep that hush-hush before our official press release.  Shame on you. 

I know the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow - African and European.

Our filmmakers' orientation meeting is Friday.  As is often the case, we might very well go into that meeting with slots still open.  As I write this, we have slots still open.  The wait continues.


If you are out of town, the filmmakers' orientation meeting is NOT worth flying in for.  It is worth a half day off from work.  It will be extremely hot, so dress for the weather.

Please do bring plenty of screeners.  These are not only for the press, but also for our key personnel.  We like to have them screen the movies ahead of time because: 1) they are too busy to see them in the theatre, and 2) to help the buzz on each of your movies.  When someone wonders in the lobby and asks about what movie they should see, it's nice to have a team there who know all of the movies and can help.

Those of you still waiting to hear, hang in there.  We are still hashing things out.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Don't Stop The Presses

Just a quick note...

You're going to start seeing some press about our official slate.  You're going to start hearing squeals of excitement from people who have heard they got into the festival.

Please note.  As of this morning, we still have 2 slots to fill for narrative features.

We still haven't programmed any docs.

We still haven't finalized our shorts schedule.

We haven't even begun to program Dances With Kids.

But the Press must go on, so sit tight.  Keep your hands and feet inside the car and don't remove your seatbelt until the ride comes to a complete stop.