Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Film Industry, You, and Us

There are some exciting things happening this year at Dances With Films. Plans have yet to firm up so there's nothing to announce, but our discussions with "the industry" sparked an impromptu chat before screenings started last night. Both independent filmmakers and industry professionals might benefit from what we had to say to each other, so I'll bring some of it out here to the light of the internet.

First, a cold hard fact: Most uber-independent films are not distributable via main line independent channels. That shouldn't be news to anyone, but we struggling artists do tend to ignore statistics thinking that our talent will rise above it all. If we didn't we wouldn't be in this business.

What has been enlightening to us at DWF is that "the industry" will look at an uber-independent film that is clearly not going to find distribution and say, "that's a bad movie."

No. It's not.

In the film festival world "the industry" is often confused with distributors. Distribution is only one aspect of filmmaking. Production is another. Sure, the whole film might not be someone's cup of tea, or the story might fall apart in the middle, but the photography may be great. One or two cast members might be worth following. I just watched a feature submission the other day that might get into the festival solely on the work of the cinematographer and one or two of the cast.

I'll never forget watching Dikla Marshall in East of Sunset and thinking, "that's the definition of a supporting role. Casting directors should take note."

At Dances With Films we reach out to the industry in a slightly different way. Sure, we love distributors. We even love them when they snub one of our films only to come back begging for contact information when one of the cast breaks out in something else. Distribution is extremely important, no question about it, but so is getting work.

Are you a production company thinking of shooting in India? You should have seen The Memsahib. No problem, we'll put you in touch with the director. Are you looking for fresh young actors? You could have seen Jesse Eisenberg in One Day Like Rain before he even dreamed of being an Academy Award nominee. You say you have funding for an edgy crime drama but you can't afford David Mamet to punch up the dialogue? We could put you in touch with the writer of Jacks Or Better.

Oh, wait, that's me. Just shoot me an e-mail from here. I could use the work, too.

Industry, take note. DWF is the place to get a jump on your competition and find the rising stars in front of and behind the camera.

Filmmakers take note. Distribution is your big goal, for sure, but there's more to it than that, right?

On to this week's submissions.

I have railed against indie filmmakers trying to be cool with excrement before, but when you have a girl running away from the torment of puppet germs and she does a header into a pile of pig poop, and we all bust out laughing, that's a good use of toilet humor.

We get a lot of movies that start with a sense of drama that is so pushed we're all silently saying to ourselves, "please be a comedy... please be a comedy." Last night, with a bolt of lightning, it was. Thank you for that.

We had another short that was a drama that got unintended laughs. That hurts. I've been on stage in that situation and it's not a good feeling. It happens to the best of us. I remember seeing a production of Streetcar when Stanley wasn't strong enough to sweep Stella off her feet after yelling her name. Suppressed giggles rippled through the crowd. Ouch.

In the case of the film last night, a couple of judges really liked it, so we'll see how it goes. Still, when you shoot at drama and miss, you hit comedy. Sometimes, it's worth a re-edit to make people think that was your target all along.

We had something we haven't seen in a while, but is still very common. A one-joke short film that goes too long. Leave us wanting, people – and by that I don't mean "wanting it to be over."

We also had a one-joke movie that was two-and-a-half minutes long and was absolutely perfect. Bravo.

A general note that I think is important to bring up. I thought of this while watching features this week.

There has been a change in the digital world over the past couple of years – and believe me I don't say this because Canon is a sponsor. This is real. When the chips in digital cameras got to be the same size as 35mm film, the industry changed forever.

Back in the film days, if you weren't shooting film you weren't taken seriously. Video looked like video, aka bad. Three-chip cameras came along, and video started to look a little better, but still, it was only tolerated because of the cost difference. If you wanted to make a movie, it had to be on film.

Today, video that's shot with video lenses is back to looking like video. It doesn't matter if it's HD, a movie shot on a camera with a fixed lens cannot compete with one using prime 35mm lenses. There are times when the lens does the acting – if the actor is smart enough and good enough to let it. A just-okay lens will give you a mediocre shot. The right one will make the whole movie pop.

That being said, a good picture of bad acting is a bad picture. Lenses and chips don't write and they don't edit. A beautiful movie with a bad script is like a musical with great songs and no story. Who cares? We can get that from the radio.

That's it for this week. A lot to digest. I'd love to know what you all are thinking, so comments are more than welcome.

Thanks for reading.


RSMellette said...

And, yes, I know... not all 35mm lenses are considered "prime" and today's zoom lenses can be just as good as some primes - the point is to have access to the best 35mm lenses.

film industry said...

I want to become a director and want to join any film making school. I want to go to film school but have not much money? Does anyone know any affordable school in New York?

RSMellette said...

If you don't already have at least a Bachelor's degree, I'd say NYU for sure. Good for a Master's there, too.

There are a lot of non-university schools that offer quicky certification courses, but those can be tricky... it's easy to learn how to direct a film (wide, medium, over, over). It takes time to learn to do it well.

At least with a degree program, you walk out of there with something that will pay for itself in the non-film world if you have to. Lots of jobs require degrees, but few say in what. :)

If you already have a degree and are really strapped for cash, then consider learning in the streets. Hold a boom for a low budget film. Do student stuff. Get some friends a make a movie on your own. You'll learn fast!