Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Final Cut vs. Adobe

No, this is not a review with dry comments about processor speeds, software engines, layout designs, or Mac vs. PC.

This is a throw down!

In a week, eight filmmakers are taking the Dances With Films 2-Minute 2-Step challenge. They've been chosen from a pile of script submissions as the best written. Starting next week, we give them Canon 5D Mark II cameras to shoot and Adobe Creative Suites to edit their two-minute movie and prove who's the best shooter.

And they only have four hours to git 'er dun.

Yesterday at the Showbiz Cafe off Sepulveda Blvd. in LA, the filmmaking teams were introduced to their tools. Sure, most of them knew the camera. Not like a year ago when everyone was in a panic over making a movie under such pressure with a camera they'd never used that looked like it was great for stills but not video. Now many of them own one. Almost all of them have shot with one, and the Canon representatives will be on sight to help. So no worries there.

But no Final Cut? How can they be expected to edit a movie in such a short time on software they've never seen before? I was expecting a riot.

Then we got a demonstration by the Adobe crew.

Folks, it is on!

Not a single editor balked, or said, "what about...?" In fact, it was the opposite. Most seemed to be chomping at the bit to get their hands on this stuff. I'm sure they've downloaded the trials and are practicing at home right now.

I'm not one to do product endorsements, but I can tell you this. We've been doing the 2-Minute 2-Step Challenge going on five years now, and in that time Apple and Final Cut offered no support whatsoever. Sure, we got some software to give away as prizes, big deal, but the computers came from Hula Post. They're great.

When we couldn't get Final Cut to lay back to tape without glitches, and had to screen our films before a live audience in a matter of hours, who could we call? Nobody.

And it's not like we were some punks trying to make our home movies. We had Canon's best people working on this – in the room. On the set. On the phone trying to get someone to help. The internet was lit up with the best forum masters around trying to deal with this issue. Editors all over the world were following our plight. Except, of course, the support team from Final Cut.

Turns out, there was an intermittent problem with loading footage from a Fire Store into Final Cut and getting it back out again. Final Cut didn't seem to care.

Yesterday, for the pre-production meeting with our eight filmmakers, Adobe brought two experts for the presentation, the North American Technical Sales Manager for Pro Video/Audio Products and an Academy Award-winning visual effects artist. They get it. Like the Canon techs who have spent many an hour on a film set, the Adobe folks understand that they are making tools for artists, not a killer app for selling hardware.

So the game's afoot. Adobe is up ten points in my book and we haven't even started yet – but then again, good filmmakers know you make your day in pre-production.

2-Steppers, feel free to comment below with your opinions, and they don't have to be positive. From yesterday's meeting, through your production, to the closing night party, your feedback is our education and entertainment.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Challenge

We're two weeks out from the festival and the challenge is on. Move over Donald Trump, this ain't no game show. It's the real deal.

Filmmakers are faced with two tasks at any Los Angeles festival. They have to fill the house, and they have to get the Industry to take notice of them.

But really, that's just one job. Of the films that have had the most success after their Dances With Films screening, almost all of them played to overflowing houses.

Think about it. An acquisitions executive sits in an empty theatre to watch a movie with no big names. Eh.

Same executive has to push his or her way through a crowd to find the filmmaker to make sure there's a seat available.

Both movies may be of the same subjective quality. In fact, some might argue that the movie playing to an empty house could be "better than" (whatever that means) the full house, but it is the acquisition exec's job to find movies that people will come out to see.

Filmmakers are artists, yes. They are part of the performing arts, which means they are show people. Your festival screening is a show. It's a show in the theatre and a show in the lobby. As the leader of this show you have to tap into your inner P.T. Barnum.

You have to figure out what is special about your film – above and beyond the thousands of things to do in Los Angeles at the same time as your movie. Then you have to figure out a way to tell the people who might be into your show that it's happening.

None of that is easy.

The only advice I can give is that Los Angeles is a different animal. You tell her you're screening a movie and it's special and great and she needs to get off her couch, or off the beach, or down from the mountains, or whatever to come out and see this amazing event, and she will say, "Hey, that's nice. It looks great. Good for you."

"Are you going to come?"

"No, but ... good for you."

On the plus side, there are over ten million people in the area. If you can find a way to talk to the percentage of the whole that will get off their butts and come to your show, then you're set.

And while you're at it, don't forget to invite an executive or two.

Good luck. Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Today is National Cocktail Day, which is a good thing, but it is also a sad day. Dances With Films lost an important member of our family this morning. Lura Scallon, Leslee's mother, passed away after a year-long battle with cancer.

Both the Scallon family and the Coors Brewing company are in mourning, as Lura was no slouch when it came to her Coors Light. She was quick to laugh with a genuine smile that would quarter no pretense. Be you pauper or royalty, she didn't care as long as you were nice to those around you.

I always knew the festival was seriously close when Leslee's mom flew in from Oregon. She would hold down the home fort while Leslee lived at the theatre. Dinner at Leslee's months later would include something old-school delicious. "You like that?" Leslee would ask, "Mom made it when she was here. I just took it out of the freezer."

Year 12 she came to the closing night party. You'd have thought she had won the competition by the way she worked the room. I had the honor of escorting her home that evening. She was quite a date.

John Lennon said it best. We take the love we make. Lura takes with her more love than she ever dreamed she made. Filmmakers all over the world, raise a glass to a woman you may have never met, but to whom you owe toast of thanks. In no small way, she made it possible.

Panels! Panels! Panels!

Panels, you say? You want panels? Not only do we have panels, but we're giving you a chance to post your questions here ahead of time.

We are still working out the details, but they will be free to anyone with a festival pass. They will also be open to the public for a nominal fee. We're talking $5 right now, but that might go up to $10 depending on the venue. Still, cheap at twice the price.

Keep an eye out on our website and here for more details on the location, etc. In the meantime, here's what we know:

Jeff Begun (Partner, Co-Founder: Film Incentives Group)
Jason Constantine (President of Acquisitions, Lionsgate)
Jay Cohen (Head of Film Financing and Packaging, Partner, The Gersh Agency)
J. Todd Harris (CEO/founder of Branded Pictures Entertainment, Exec Bottle Shock, Exec Producer: The Kids are All Right)
Ari Haas (Director of Acquisitions, Myriad Pictures)
David Madden (Pres, Fox TV Studios, Producer: Save the Last Dance, Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Exec Prod Something the Lord Made, Harlan Country Wars, Director: Separate Lives)
Heidi Van Lier (Author, The Indie Film Rule Book and Film Threat contributor)
Steven Wegner (EVP, Alcon Entertainment, Co-Producer: One Missed Call, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Blind Side, The Book of Eli)

Jeff Begun (Partner, Co-Founder: Film Incentives Group)
David Gale (Executive Vice President, MTV New Media)
Rena Ronson (Co-Head, Independent Film Group, United Talent Agency) Exec Producer: Blue Valentine, The Other Woman, Producer: Twin Falls Idaho
JC Spink (Owner Co-founder of Management, production co BenderSpink, Producer The Butterfly Effect, A History of Violence, Exec Prod The Hangover, and I am Number 4)
Tricia Wood (Casting Director: Laurel Canyon, The Human Stain, Wicker Park, Shop Girl, Disturbia, Smart People, Twilight, Red, Lincoln Lawyer)
Frank Wuliger: (Partner, The Gersh Agency)

Of course, panelists are subject to change.

In order to help us guide the discussion, we'd love to know what questions you'd like to ask these folks, so please, please, please – post them here.

I'll start.

Tricia Wood, when people think of "the Industry" in terms of film festivals, they really mean "distribution," yet in 2007 we had a quirky little movie called One Day Like Rain with Jesse Eisenberg as a part of a tremendous ensemble. I think I could go through every year of the festival and point out other such pre-discoveries. This year I could name 10 films off the top of my head that every casting director should see. Besides the few clips on an actor's reel, how important is it for you to see undiscovered talent carry a movie?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Primitive Film: Why Should I Care?

The final installment of my Primitive Film series.

In one word: Marketing. Unless you’re a professor of film criticism, the existence of a new genre of film is about as important to you as the weather at the North Pole. But, the weather there will eventually find its way to your part of the world, so it does have some relevance.

Marketing films is changing by the minute. The technology changes on that end of the business faster than anywhere else. In their case, the idea of being able to package and sell low budget films under one heading, "Primitive Films," means they could carve out a new niche in the Netflix of the world.

By giving this style a name over-and-above "horror" or "comedy," and separate from the Miramax/Focus/Searchlight films, Primitive Filmmakers might enjoy the kind of sales that their indie-brethren had in the 1970’s with the advent of the midnight movie. Through primitive films we might find the next David Lynch, John Waters, or Will Scheffer.

Imagine the New York, Chicago, LA, Atlanta socialites going on about how they discovered this new little film, "It’s cinema primitive, don’t you know?" Or their teenaged kids, "Dude, it’s primitive… Totally!" When one’s Netflix choices have all been seen, and new products aren’t out yet, "honey, let’s see what this primitive thing is all about." Bingo. A market. A complete market, with comedies, horror, romance, and things studios and film school grads haven’t even thought of yet. If small distributors unite to brand this type of film under the heading of primitive, they can carve out a niche where the studios dare not go.

So spread the word!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ask Each Other

We have a ton of filmmakers from all over the world who couldn't make it to yesterday's orientation meeting who I'm sure have questions. We at DWF would like to know what was helpful and what questions you still have.

So here's a place for this year's filmmakers - and anyone else for that matter - to ask each other questions about festival preparations, marketing, industry info, or just a shout out to say how great we are.

'Cause, you know, it's all about us.

Use this blog's comments section like a forum. Have at it, folks.

Friday, May 6, 2011

2-Minute 2-Steps: Year One

I thought you guys might like to see our first year's 2-Minute 2-Step films. Some are great. Some are ... not as good as the great ones. :)


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Primitive Film: What Is It?

Continuing from last week's reprint of my 2006 article on Primitive Film.

Primitive movies are more than just independent. Movies with multi-million dollar budgets, big stars and major studio distribution deals somehow still get called "Independent" these days. We need a new label to separate the mini-majors from the kids in Kansas with a DV camera.

Primitivism begins as all great works begin; with a deep desire to do the best work possible. There is a lot of heart in these movies, and one gets the feeling these filmmakers aren’t trying to look primitive. They are truly making the best of what they have. I would actually hate to see this style catch on to the point that Steven Spielberg decides he wants to make a Primitive Film. Not that he wouldn’t do a good job of it, but the audience knows that he has all the resources in the world to tell his story. He should use them – just as the primitives uses all of the resources that they have available.

Along with technical limitations, Primitives face talent limitations. I’ve often said that a good picture of bad acting makes for a bad picture. Then some filmmaker will find a person who is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an actor, but they are honest.

I had an acting teacher in college who told us, "If you’re born to play the part, then you won’t need a thing I teach you, but if you’re a professional actor, you have to play the part you're given – whether it speaks to you or not."

A trained actor works hard to be as honest and relaxed in whatever role they play. In primitive films, people who don’t have the least bit of talent are often cast in roles that they are born to play – sometimes literally! It can take a while for someone who isn’t used to watching primitives films to get used to this, but if the filmmaker has done their job right, by the end of the movie, you couldn’t picture anyone else playing those parts.

Other departments, such as: art, wardrobe and sound, are often just getting by with what they can – though here talent can make up for lack of resources. In EAST OF SUNSET, for example both the art and wardrobe heads clearly had concepts that were noticeable to the trained eye, and invisible to the casual viewer – both an indication of a job well done.

I could name a hundred examples of fine Primitivism in film, such as: WHAT’S BUGGING SETH, ALICE’S MISADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, AMERICA 101, ATTACK OF THE BAT MONSTERS, MAKING MAYA, PURGATORY HOUSE, SELF LIFE, LOVE AND SUPPORT, TRUE RIGHTS, and so many more. And this list is just from a quick glance at the Dances With Films archives. The trouble is, unless you’re very much up on your truly independent films, you haven’t heard of any of these movies – so examples are hard to share. Which brings me to my final, and perhaps most important point.

Which I'll get to next week.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why and What Next?

First, we do still have a slot or two open, so as I've said a hundred times, nothing is official until it is. This posting is both for those films that have gotten in, and those who will soon receive our famous pass letters.

Why a film gets rejected.

The easiest reason to reject a movie is because it's just no damned good. I hope the people who make these movies understand this about their work. In my head they kick the dirt and say, "Yeah, we were just goofing around," or "Hey, I gave it a shot and it was a good learning experience," or "we had fun and that's all we cared about." Good on ya.

The harder ones are the near-misses. We had an excellent road-trip documentary that covered a serious topic with a light sense of humor, but it was way too long. When we pass on this film we will encourage them to cut it down. Every year we have films that are moving along great, and then some left-field plot point turns the whole thing into a mess. We have good films with technical problems. We have pretty good films that don't pop off the screen (see my post on Voice). It's sad to see these DVDs in the "no" pile, but they are not the hardest, most heartbreaking ones to pass on.

That title goes to the great movies that have been seen by everyone. If I hear one more time, "...but it's showing at Newport," I'm going to scream. Nothing against the Newport Film Festival. They know a good movie when they see it just like we do. Nothing against Hollywood Shorts or the Beverly Hills Film Festival or any other small festival in Southern California or the world.

Yes, in a perfect world, each festival would program the best movies submitted, period. There would be no question of premiere status. All the festivals could just pass around the same movies each year. In the destination festivals, which are a way of attracting tourists to the area and so enjoy hefty sponsorships, that's practically the case. It's called the circuit. These fests are less dependent on ticket sales than the uber-indie crowd.

The cold hard fact is, world premieres draw better in a flooded festival market like Los Angeles. So while destination fests can live off their local Chamber of Commerce and angel donations, discovery fests like Dances With Films – which do have sponsors, and we love them dearly – are more reliant on ticket sales. Sure, some of you angry young artists may balk that film festivals should only be concerned with the art, period, end of story – but if that was the case, there would be no Dances With Films for you to be angry with. They would have gone under in year two. Since I didn't come on board until year three, I'm thankful they had a close eye on the box office.

Every film festival strategy book you read talks about the importance of your premiere. Most think that's just for the majors, and it is. Hey, if you get into Sundance, more power to you. Other regional festivals say they don't care. Well, let the word go forth from this day forward; Dances With Films takes the discovery part of being a discovery festival seriously. We are going to be a bitch about world premieres, not so much this year, but definitely in the future. Tell your friends and plan accordingly.

What next?

If your film is in the festival we'll cover this in e-mails to you. If you're in the LA area we'll talk more about it at the orientation meeting. I think we're the only fest that does these meetings, not sure. Doesn't matter. We've had filmmakers fly in for the meeting. That's not necessary unless you have more time and money than you know what to do with. If you can't make it, but have a friend in the LA area, send them to represent. If you are in SoCal, it's worth a ½ off from your day job for sure. I look forward to it every year.

If you haven't heard from us in the past few weeks and still want to be a part of the festival, get your 2-Minute 2-Step submission in ASAP. You'll get to make a movie that's in the festival the very next day.

Good luck.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Has Everyone Been Notified?

I'm seeing lots of questions on Twitter, Facebook, Without A Box, etc. asking if everyone has been notified. A couple of days ago someone said they saw screening times posted - this was before we'd even penciled in a schedule ourselves. Others are guessing at what have and have not been announced by what they see on our Facebook page (I think). Not every filmmaker is on Facebook, and we don't make selection announcements there until the whole schedule is set.

Here's a rough idea of the way it works. In the last few weeks we've sent out second and third round notices to start a dialogue with the films we're interested in. If you haven't gotten one of those it doesn't mean you are 100% out of the running. You have a lottery ticket, and about the same odds of winning - so work on your 2-Minute 2-Step.

Believe it or not, some filmmakers don't respond to our e-mails, so we have to call them to see if they're alive and kicking. If they don't get in touch, then a slot opens up and discussion of what film of the many good ones we haven't been able to program might fit starts up.

During this time, individual invitations are sent out, and we wait for confirmation from those films. We have had some films say they just KNOW they are going to get into, such & such festival but only if they are a world premiere, so they pass on us. I can think of two movies that did that and still had their world premiere status when they submitted the next year. When that happens, we go back to the good movies we couldn't fit in, discuss which one would be good for the open slot, etc. etc.

In the meantime, some of the films that have confirmed start Tweeting and Facebooking, but as you can see it's not a simple process of us sending out a bunch of e-mails and being done with it. That's why we can't give a simple yes or no to anyone just yet.

I hope this insight helps. Good luck.