Friday, April 20, 2012

Ask The Programmers 2012

Okay, we've come to the time of year when I run out of things to say.

I'll pause while those who know me make a joke about that.

While we're waiting, I noticed some people commenting on our Facebook page about this blog.  That's cool, but I don't go on the Facebook page that often.  If you want to make sure I see something, post it here.

Having said that, and not having anything else to say, it's time to throw it out to you guys.  Do you have questions? 



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Bueller...?  Bueller...?


Vincent Lowe said...

My question is this. How much longer do you think traditional film festivals can survive without redefining the term "film" and paying an increasing amount of attention to the new language of storytelling that's emerging in the audience's fancy?

What I hear around me is talk about webisodes, podcasts, and micro-series in the form of branded entertainment.

The exhibition industry is on the ropes, big-budget production houses are on the ropes (and that black eye being sported by John Carter looks really nasty) and scripted drama in broadcast is starting to look like a "lesser treasured" stepchild.

So what can festivals do to keep pace and remain relevant to their audiences?

Anonymous said...

Could you shed some light on the selection process? Do you use scorecards? What are the key elements you are looking for in a film that would be programmed? Do you write brief notes or in depth analysis? etc etc

PS Do you think the schedule of programmed films will be released by May 1st or sooner?


Gerry said...

I would also like to know more about the selection process, if you don't mind. How are notes kept, how are decisions made?

Also wondering about the schedule of programmed films. Very excited!

RSMellette said...

In the 1950's, when TV first came out, everyone said theatrical movies were dead. I just did a quick tally of the grosses for the top 10 movies as of today in the theatres - they've earned close to a billion dollars. One of those movies, Titanic, already earned over a billion dollars in the theatres by itself. And summer hasn't even started yet. If a billion dollar gross income is failure, let me fail some, too!

As for relevance of festivals - I get to see the raw submissions. Raw art, I call it. I can tell you, the public is not ready for raw art. Gatekeepers serve a purpose. An indie film with a few festivals under its belt can boast a seal of approval - our movie meets or exceeds the minimum basic standard of entertainment.

As to how we score and select the movies, I think I've covered that in my blog. One quick answer couldn't capture the whole process.

ben said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Popik said...

We've arrived at an exciting point in time when the tools required to make a film have become accessible to everyone, regardless of their education or financial status.

Since you cater to a particularly indie crowd, and have done so for a long time, I'm curious to know if you think the films you've been sent in the past few years have been different than the films you received ten years ago. I'm sure there's a higher volume now, and I'm sure that there are a great deal more amateur films -- but, I'm more curious to know if the content of the films has somehow changed with the decrease in associated costs.

RSMellette said...

That's a good question - I think I might have to do an article on that in the off season - but the short answer is - I think - The submissions haven't changed as much as you might think. Why? Sure, costs have gone down, but to make a narrative film, or a truly journalistic doc, is still a major undertaking. I think YouTube eats all of the people goofing around with the camera - leaving the festivals for more serious filmmakers.

There's more to it than that, but I have a ton of movies to watch before tomorrow...

Thanks for the good question.

Anonymous said...

I know DWF puts a huge emphasis on discovery and because of that considers premiere status an important element of the selection process, which certainly makes complete sense in my mind. But if a film first screens at a tiny festival in a place (in a random Midwestern state, for example) that no industry people are likely to see it, does that count as a world premiere? World premiere becomes a slippery concept, in my mind anyway, because of the simple fact that not all festivals are created equal. I understand that the definition of premiere means something like "first public showing", but from the perspective of the industry some of these small festivals in random U.S. cities seem to me as much premieres as showing a films to a group of friends in your apartment. So, I guess my question is how does DWF define world premiere and what are your thoughts about considering films that have screened at small festivals before? Is there a difference between "premiere" and just a screening? Do those films that have played at a few small fests (but nothing major) really have an advantage over films that have played nowhere at all (from the eyes of the industry). In the minds of many folks, premiere seems like a big deal and DWF offers that experience, but not all fests are able to make it a big deal. What do you think?

RSMellette said...

Is screening at a small fest outside of a major market a world premiere? You bet it is!

But... we do weigh the values of where a film has been. All things being equal in terms of the quality of two given movies - one that's screened in a small market outside of California is going to have a better chance than one that's screened at, say... Newport, or Beverly Hills. That same small-town premiere will have a strike against it if up against a world premiere.

This is why it's important to plan your stradegy. The major fests are going to prefer world premieres - the smaller destination festivals might do better with 1-Locally made movies and 2-Movies with a good festival petigree.

Remember, the film industry is a business, so think like a business person. In my home state of North Carolina, it's easier to sell movies with reviews from major outlets than it is to say it's a World Premiere. In Los Angeles promoting "Hey, they loved this movie in NC," doesn't get you as much as "be the first to see this ground-breaking film."

It's not that we only take world premieres - but a film that has screened elsewhere has a strike against it, and you only get three.

Michael Rigler said...

The idea of a world premiere at DWF in the Chinese Theatres is still making me dizzy. I tried applying Stoli to the affected area last night. It certainly helped for a while, but I'm still vacillating between the Damoclean dread of not making the cut, and giddy vertigo realizing we have a shot at bringing our no-budget, B-movie from the wilds of Western Newfoundland to the lights of Hollywood Boulevard.

Just curious ... how do the other filmmakers deal with their emotions during this purgatorial phase of the process?

RSMellette said...

Hey, Newfoundland is putting out some kick-ass films! We had The Corridor here last year. One of the best psychological horror films of all time - but then again, you Newfoundlanders can work Damoclean into a blog comment with ease, so it's to be expected.

I know when I was waiting on Book Editors to get back to me, I broke open the good Scotch I was saving for publication. Good thing, too... I'm still waiting.

Michael RIgler said...

Finally, some practical advice. Thanks for that. I'll stick with the Scots. They know how to accept their fate with taciturn resignation .. the Russians are always looking for the grey skies and signs of rain.

Anonymous said...

I read that DWF gets over 1000 film submissions every year. How does that pie divide up into narrative features, shorts and docs? It would be interesting to know on average how many submissions you get in each major category. As a follow-up question, what percentage overall of films are nearly immediate passes due to poor quality? It would be nice to get a better sense of the competition.

RSMellette said...

The numbers on submissions is one of the many aspects of DWF I like to stay away from in detail. Just guessing, we get about 1/3 features, 2/3 shorts - docs-to-narrative, I have no idea.

I also don't keep up with how many are immediate passes - especially since every film is watched all the way through.

Getting a scene of the competition - We don't get films from distributors the way some destination festivals do. We don't get them from the mini-majors. For the most part, your competition are filmmakers just like yourself. They've scraped together what they can to tell their story in the best way they can - and often times they do an amazing job.

We are still finalizing our selections, but I know we have some awesome films this year. I can't wait to share them with the world.

Anonymous said...

How many features make it as far as the final conversation among programmers as you lock in the list?

Anonymous said...

Have all features been screened at least once? Meaning the first of the three screeners have seen all the features? Are you guys doing 2nd and 3rd round notifications this late in the process? And also if interested in a film do you always engage in the round notifications or is that when you also have questions regarding the film's premiere status etc?


RSMellette said...

How many films make it as far as the final conversation? Honestly, all of them. Granted, for some the conversation is a short one - but when we begin the days-to-weeks long "final conversation" we touch on every single film.

Have all featured screened once? God, I hope so! (I'm kidding). We have issues with the late-LATE deadline WithoutaBox imposes on us - which is why the fee is so high for that. This means we're in a mad rush to get late movies screened at least twice, and other films screened by all of the final programmers.

Are we doing 2nd-3rd notifications this late? Absolutely!

The job of programming a festival is like juggling octopus out of water while hearding cats. It's a difficult process, but once you achieve it, people are entertained.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for having such a high degree of integrity when screening films and really thinking that through. You guys are clearly a very honest group of folks. Thanks for supporting true independent films!

Anonymous said...

Do you anticipate that moving to the Chinese Theatre will increase awareness of the festival and attendance? Or do you think it will be about the same? Any other thoughts on the new exciting venue?

RSMellette said...

I think it will be about the same. Before I had my film in the festival, they were in Santa Monica for two years. I was in at the Sunset 5 - then we moved to the Lot, on year on Fairfax, and back to the Sunset 5 for the rest of the time.

It will be interesting to see if people can navigate their way to the specific theatre at the Chinese - and I might take to the subway for the commute from the Valley.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the caring treatment of filmmakers and their films. It is really nice to know that my film will be looked at AND played all the way through which is GOLD considering what can happen in the festival circuit. One thing I would like you to clarify - do you notify everyone who is on top of the list (so to speak) where they are in the 2nd and 3rd round notification of features. I know in your blog that you said 'not always', but comments made here from you and other filmmakers seem to go against that. While I am waiting for your answer I will go and get the scotch.... :)

Anonymous said...

What are the chances you will make a larger line-up this years since there are so many great films?

RSMellette said...

We have booked films without 2nd and 3rd round notifications. Happens fairly often.

There is zero chance for a longer line up. We have to book the theatre way ahead of time, and there are only so many hours in a day. That's what makes the selection process so difficult. There are usually more good movies than screening times.