Monday, March 12, 2012

An Interview with Dances With Films's Industry Choice Awards Winner

Last year, with the help of some of our more connected staff members, we began a program called the Industry Choice Award, or ICA, which we're continuing this year.

The idea is two-fold: First, it gives us a chance to give your movies industry exposure – not only for the filmmaker, but the cast, the department heads, and all of the people on your projects who are playing at a professional level. We've always maintained that, while not every film in the festival is perfect, there is something perfect about every film.

The other goal for the Industry Choice Award is to give one filmmaker a chance to step up to the mound at the majors and throw his or her best pitch. Last year, the guy who got that opportunity was William J. Saunders, the writer director of the adorably charming feature, Sweet Little Lies. I recently followed-up with him about his festival experience and the ICA in particular.

William J. Saunders... Can I call you Bill?

(Laughs) People have tried. Joe seems to stick better.

We get a lot of alumni coming back to the festival their sophomore year, and I always like to ask, "How has your year been out on the circuit with your movie? Good stories? Cautionary tales?"

Gees, where do I begin? DWF was certainly the highlight, and I’m not just saying that. We had nearly our entire cast/crew out for that. Since DWF, we spoke with several small distribution companies. It was not a pleasant process. It opened my eyes to the incredibly large number of small indie films in distribution, most of which I had never heard of. Actually, I got in touch with J.C. Khoury, another DWF Alumni, [The Pill, 2011] to trade stories about distributors. It was a short but very helpful conversation. If anything it was comforting to know someone was going through the same thing. In the end SLL [Sweet Little Lies] went with a company called FilmWorks Entertainment, who were smaller than some other companies we were talking with, but FW was an ambitious new company. And most importantly, they were affable people. Some of the other companies seemed like car salesmen. So Sweet Little Lies had its officially release last month (iTunes, DVD, Walmart, etc).

I believe DWF was your World Premiere, yes? How did you like having your film on Sunset Blvd? What are some of your memories of the fest a year later?

It wasn't the World Premiere, but it was the LA premiere. The location of the festival was great. I have a picture around here somewhere of WeHo Jesus endorsing our film and the festival. That was a pretty funny moment. One of the most memorable moments was watching Richard Riehle approach the box office and purchase a ticket to my movie. I wanted to chat with him afterwards, but I missed him. Unless he left half way through! (laughs) …eh…I hope not.

You know we're moving this year. The Sunset 5 is no more. I can't yet announce exactly where we'll be, but ... let's just say, if your film wins an Academy Award, you'll be in walking distance.

I didn’t know you were moving…Egyptian Theater? That would be amazing.

Actually, no, but that's a good guess.

You were our very first winner of our Industry Choice Award, and I don't mind telling you, I'm jealous. Tell us about it – from winning, to your meetings, to now – was it good for you?

It was the single best award we won on the festival circuit. Both meetings I went to were great, and I’ve kept up with those contacts since. They’ve asked me to send my next project their way, and I plan to. Who knows if they’ll like it, but if they’re not interested, they may know someone who is and you get more contacts etc. This prize gives you the ability to significantly improve your career. That’s something incredibly valuable for someone who doesn’t have representation or access to those meetings otherwise. I’m not sure why other festivals don’t have something similar.

What advice do you give next year's winner?

Have a brilliant script ready for the meeting.

Do you have any suggestions for how we might make it better next year?

The only thing I can think of is including a talent agency into the industry pool. Getting a meeting with even a small agency would be great. That side of the business is really foreign to me, but seems like an essential step in the process. It’s the same principle with the producers I met, but I think an agent might be more willing to take immediate action – if they like you and your work of course.

What's next for you, project-wise?

Actually, I was working for Mark Osborne, director of Kung Fu Panda, who saw Sweet Little Lies at the DWF festival. He’s working on the adaptation of The Little Prince. It was a lot of fun to work in animation for a bit. Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on a documentary about a little known country musician named Billy Mize. It was accepted in the Film Independent Doc Fellowship Program and hopes to be done in May, so be on the look out: I’ve also been directing commercials, short projects, writing and slowly building momentum for the next feature.

Any parting words of wisdom?

100% of people who made it in this industry never gave up.

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