Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rules of the Road

Screenings start this week, so I thought I'd do a quick rundown how things work around here.

Our screening committee is made up mostly of Dances With Films alumni like myself, and some people that have been with us for years who just love movies. If you are an alumni in LA and would like to screen, let us know, we'll see if we can make that happen. The committee gets together once a week to watch short films. We also eat, have a beer or two, chit-chat, etc.

But mostly, we watch tons of short films. Sometimes we'll talk about what we've just watched. Other times we just write our critiques and move on. At the end of the night, we take features home to screen and bring back next week. All films are seen by at least 3 screeners.

Each week, I write something here about how it's going. My objective has always been to give filmmakers a peek into what we're seeing – especially since we see a lot of the same type of movies over and over.

We see the same mistakes over and over.

And every year we see some movies that are so fantastic we want everyone to see them.

I would like to see more of the fantastic movies and less of the bad ones – so I started this blog. It's my hope that aspiring filmmakers will learn from those who have gone before them, so I don't have to watch the same mistakes ... over and over.

If you've submitted this year, not to worry. I never mention titles. When I talk about stuff in movies that suck, I am always – ALWAYS – talking about a trend we're seeing in more than one film.

So if you read something about poorly lit, handheld shots of a lead character slowly walking down the street silently contemplating life for ten minutes while a piano plunks out one or two notes before a cello drags a counterpoint note through the mud, don't tell me that you know for a fact that I'm making fun of your movie. Trust me! Practically every other film we screen has this scene in it.

And they all suck!

If, however, your movie is one of the fantastic ones – I might just drop enough hints for you to recognize that I'm talking about you. We get too much rejection in this business not to sneak in something nice from time-to-time.

If you think I'm saying good things about your film, please don't book a flight to LA for the festival. This blog is unofficial. We're a long way from June, and as you'll see, there are tons of factors that go into the decision-making process.

We are going to be as vigilant as possible in letting those films we like know, in advance, that we're interested, to keep you guys from popping your world premiere on a beach somewhere where no one will see it.

Early notification does NOT guarantee anything. It does mean you've got a good movie. That alone is something to be proud of.

If we pass on your film you will be notified, but those letters go out just before the festival. I know that sucks, but on more than one occasion we have had a last minute slot to fill, so we like to keep all options open as long as possible.

Finally, we don't screen in any particular order.  If you submitted in December and don't hear anything through February that means absolutely nothing. We don't make final decisions until all movies have been seen.

Good luck everyone! Thanks for reading. Make a comment every now and then so I know you're out there.

Friday, January 6, 2012

In Memoriam - Mark Nelson

Dances With Films and magicians everywhere have lost an unsung hero.

Mark Nelson passed away this week. He was a dedicated screener and legal advisor for Dances With Films and a jack of all trades for The Magic Castle.

When I think of Mark one phrase comes to mind, old-school, and I mean that in all the best connotations. There was nothing prefabricated about Marc. He took no short cuts. Anything he did, he did from head-to-toe.

He had a love of film and its history that ran deep. His respect for filmmakers showed in every submissions screening session. Most independent filmmakers have no idea who Mark Nelson was, but if they submitted to DWF, then they owe him a debt. He praised the good ones, and never EVER turn off the bad ones. When we say we watch all the movies all the way through, "we" was often Mark.

I've said in this blog before that other screeners disagreed with my opinion. I was usually talking about Mark. Our taste in old films was lock-stepped together. Our opinions of new ones often differed, but always with respect.

Politically we were as far apart as two people can be, but I enjoyed our debates. Unlike the current Congress, we could usually find some common ground, like the fact that the current Congress can't find any common ground.

I have no doubt that Mark's journey to the afterlife is exactly as Mr. Jordan described it. For Mark, that will mean a casting session in a grand old studio. Clarence, wings and all, will call his name. Claude Rains will him lead into the lush office with a whisper of confidence, "You're going to like this role."

The next bell you hear ring will be for Mark.  He's earned his wings.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tell Your Friends!

As we come up on screenings, I can see the writing on the wall. This year will be no different than any other. A few filmmakers will drop by the blog to read about the submissions.

If they read about something I say is bad, they'll think I'm talking about their film and maybe post a nasty comment.

If they read about something I say is good, they'll think I'm talking about their film and post questions about premiere status and should they book their tickets to LA now, or wait until later? (Definitely wait).

After reading a post or two, they won't come back... until April.

The closer we get to announcing what films are in the festival, the more my numbers spike.

And that's fine. I get that. You're excited about your film, as well you should be – but by then, most of what I write about is of little use to the film you've already submitted.

I write about the trends we're seeing in submissions. Mostly the bad ones. If you're thinking about making a movie to submit to festivals, then you'll want to read my blog BEFORE YOU WRITE YOUR SCRIPT. Find out what screeners are tired of seeing because every other filmmaker thought it was a cool idea. It probably was a cool idea when whoever did it first did it two years ago. Now, not so much.

Of course, I understand if you've already submitted that you're looking for any hint about how your movie is doing. I got the idea for this blog from a literary agent (that means books everywhere on the planet but Hollywood) who published her thoughts on query submissions without revealing any details about the work. I recognized her comments on my letter and made changes accordingly, and it helped.

Hopefully, you'll find the same kind of help as we move forward, but please – for our sake – tell your fellow filmmakers who are facing the blank page to read this blog NOW, not after they've spent tons of money and time on something no one wants to see.

Thanks for reading.