Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dances With Films Official Press Release - as Promised

the heartbeat of indie film

Dances With Films 15

May 31 - June 7, 2012

Call for Entries - Regular deadline: March 7

Come celebrate our 15th year of championing the truly indie filmmaker! Dedicated to discovering and championing unknown works from around the globe and providing them with a unique opportunity to screen in front of critics, audiences, and industry heavyweights.

DWF presents nearly 100 films each year to the Los Angeles filmmaking and film-going community. We are looking for full-length narrative and documentary features and shorts, as well as music videos of any type or genre - as long as they’re captivating and intriguing for as many minutes as they’re on screen.

Back this year is also the DWF Powerhouse Panels, which last year included Steven Wegner (Alcon Ent.), Jay Cohen (Indie Finance, The Gersh Agency), Tricia Wood (Casting Director of My Week With Marilyn) President of Fox TV Studios David Madden, JC Spink (BenderSpink,The Hangover), David Gale (Executive Vice President, MTV New Media) and many others - DWF will be expanding these sessions to include four days of panels by some of our industry’s top professionals.

In addition, DWF introduced the wildly popular “Cocktails & Conversations With...” A series of intimate, nuts & bolts Q&A sessions with some of film’s most gifted visionaries, including Academy Award® winning luminaries Alan Heim (Editor Network, The Notebook) and Russell Carpenter (DP Titantic, 21) among other greats, sitting down in the DWF Filmmaker’s Lounge.

Aside from DWF’s Grand Jury and Audience awards is the INDUSTRY CHOICE AWARD. All films participating in the festival are considered for this honor. In addition to the acclaim this special award generates, the winner receives a mentorship meeting with jurors, who for 2012, include acclaimed producers Steve Wegner (The Blind Side) and Mark Ordesky (Lord of the Rings).

Don't have a film to submit? Perhaps you would like to create one instead. Back for year 6 is the 2-Minute, 2-Step Short Film Challenge. You submit the script, we select up to 8 scripts then provide equipment and advisers to help co-produce a two minute or less film in four hours that screens the next night at the festival! Instant Film!

The LA Times called us "A breath of fresh flair," because we pride ourself on giving opportunities to filmmakers who may have been overlooked by other film festivals. Through the community that DWF has built and the success of its alums, DWF stands out as a one-of-a-kind opportunity for truly independent artists. DWF boasts a following of Oscar nominees, series creators, leading actors and many others working artists in the industry today.

For more information,


March 7, 2012 – Regular Deadline

March 31, 2012 - Late deadline


Success stories abound at DWF. After screening their feature film EASTER, Will Scheffer and Mark Olsen went on to create the hit HBO series BIG LOVE. As Audience Award-winner John Mann said after he was signed by WME immediately following his DWF screening, "DWF kicked me up to the next level." He is now writing MAGIC 8 BALL for Paramount and THE NUTCRACKER for Universal.

Please join us on our Facebook Page and/or our monthly newsletter. Also, DWF Staffer, Robert Mellette writes the fabulous Dances With Blogs where you can step behind the scenes to follow our selection process. It’s quite a fun read.

The Hollywood Reporter calls DWF “the defiant fest of raw talent,” and with good reason. If your film shares the spirit of Dances With Films, submit today!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I've never been a huge fan of Without A Box, but man do I miss their net forum. I know, I know... it's moved to Facebook, but that's just not the same. Facebook is where good forums go to die.

I'm particularly missing it right now because we're coming up on our regular deadline – which is basically mid-way through the screening process and I'd like to get word out to the people who have not yet submitted, which means people who probably aren't reading this blog. So please, help out our filmmaking community. Link, post, comment, shout it from the mountains on high – filmmakers around the world, check out this blog!

Why? Because I have a feeling about this year. Something tells me that – while we have seen some fantastic submissions – we have more open slots than great movies. Of course, we're not done, so that'll change, and I don't have any hard facts to back up my feeling – just 12 years of experience and a bigger gut than I'd like. I know submissions are down, but they have been for everyone since the crash of 2008.

What does my big gut feeling mean to filmmakers who have yet to submit? Opportunity!

What does that opportunity mean to filmmakers who have already submitted? Nothing much. Your chances of getting in are directly related to the quality of your movie. Sure, if we had one hundred screening slots and only ten submissions, quality wouldn't mean anything, so you wouldn't want more people submitting – but that's never the case. Even with the economy lowering the number of submissions, we have tons of quantity. Our job is to dig through that and find the ones worth showing to the public. So, if you've already submitted and you know filmmakers who haven't, give them a shout. Maybe you can share your DWF experience this June, or at least split a hotel room.

On a different topic: I know we have a press release coming soon with exciting news about our Industry Choice Awards. I'll post it here as soon as it clears the censors.

Movies this week: We saw a couple of incitement films that were cruising along nicely but didn't end well. Keep in mind, folks, that it's fine to shoot the first few pages of your feature – better by far than trying to condense the whole thing into a short – but the end of your incitement has to be satisfying enough on its own. Yes, leave us wanting more, but not so much more that we're pissed off or confused.

We had a couple of dramas that were too dramatic and way too slow. Think back to a time in your life when something dramatic happened. How many of the people involved talked slower, lower, or with a sense of self-importance? Want to know? I'd bet none of them. The more dramatic the situation, the more we all try to lighten the air. If you've got a script that screams DRAMA, then your actors need to work hard to defuse it. If it's heavy, make it light. If it's light, drop in some shadows. Keep us on our toes as we watch your story unfold.

We had a very nice essay film. The narrator was more in the primitive style, but the essay itself was great. When that's the case, this format can work well in a short.

Looking at my notes, I'm seeing "not a great voice" written a few times. By that I mean the filmmaker's voice. The narrative feels like it's coming from a disinterested party, which makes the audience disinterested as well. And voice is not synonymous with style. A film can be packed with style, but not have a great voice. It's like, the difference between a Quentin Tarantino movie and someone making a film in the style of Tarantino. The former will have voice, the latter probably won't.

We had a fantastic action film, that will look great on everyone's reel, but with horrible character logic. Action moviemakers can be like musical theatre directors sometimes. In the case of musicals, they often think that if the music is good, the story doesn't matter. WRONG. Same for action. If the logic, or psycho-logic of your characters is flawed the whole thing falls apart, no matter how much cool stuff happens on screen.

That's it for now. Remember, to save money, get your films in before the next deadline. Then look to see if I drop a hint about it here.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Trouble In Digital Movie City

First, a little business. Our regular deadline is coming up, so if you want to avoid late fees, get your movies in NOW.

There is a problem out there in digital movie-making land that we're seeing more and more. I'm not sure exactly what causes it, so please, any tech gurus chime in with some help. I had a discussion with the Adobe Premiere consultants about it during last year's 2-Minute 2-Step, and from my description they thought it might be a 3:2 pull down problem or a 24 frames per second footage on a 30 fps project issue.

The main symptom is subtle, jerky motion. It reminds me of the film camera trick of changing the shutter pitch – again, help me out cinematographers, you know what I mean. This is famously used in Saving Private Ryan during the battle scenes to give the audience the same kind of disorienting view of life one might have while being shot at. As you can imagine, that's not something you want people feeling in a romantic comedy.

The problem can be hard to spot, since it's not apparent during static shots with no movement by the actors, but something as simple as a hand gesture makes it clear. There's a prickly kind of something's-wrongness feeling to it. It gives a friend of mine migraines, and that's just on TV at home. On the big screen it's horrific. If one of these films slips into the festival, then we get accused of bad projection, but there's nothing we can do about it. That's the way the we got it.

Fixing this problem is a must, especially for features. You can't get distribution with this. Since I'm not 100% sure what causes it, I'm not 100% sure of what the fix is, but I believe you have to create a new project in your editing software to match the frame rates, interlace rates, etc. of your native footage, then bring in either your old project as a cut-list (not a single drop in of your old out-put, as that will include the problem), or re-cut your movie from scratch.

Yeah. Either one is a pain in the ass, but it must be done. Again, post production tech geniuses, please help me out in the comments section.

Filmmakers, check your footage! Not on the computer. Burn a DVD, give it to your friends and ask them if they see anything "funny" about it. Watch every bit of motion closely with your editor. I'd say 1-in-10 or 1-in-7 submissions have this problem, so it is very widespread.

Besides that issue, let's get on with last night's films.

Last week I talked about the trend of slow music, especially using piano and cello. This week I've notice more than one movie with good music that, for some odd reason, features banjo. So it's the year of the banjo. But, please, I would rather not see a ton of submissions next year with banjo music where it doesn't fit, so just make sure the music adds to the forward motion of the story, regardless of the instruments. Thanks.

We see a lot of films that are on-the-fence quality-wise that eventually get pulled down by a series of little problems. The dialogue will sound typed in one or two places. The director will cross the line in a two person scene. The costumes will be off a bit. Individually none of these things would make us pass, but collectively they add up. So, please, don't die the death of a thousand cuts. Try to make every little thing wonderful, then the big stuff will take care of itself... hopefully.

Stereotypes. I'm a Southern American and we get some good films from the South, which is great. Love seeing the trees and hearing my native tongue, but I cringe sometimes when an old, rusty pickup truck pulls into the shot, or the Sherriff is a Sherriff and not just a cop. Ya'll know what I'm talkin' 'bout? So I had to laugh last night after one movie that road very close to the line of Southern stereotypes was followed by a film out of Mexico that was full of traditional Mexican music. I didn't think anything of it, until the Latina in our group said, "Why don't they just play the Mexican hat dance?"

I laughed. "Now you know how I felt during the Southern one." She laughed.

Not to worry, though. Both films had some excellent qualities, and may very well show up in the festival. I'm not saying these things are wrong, just be aware and look for ways to nail your location without hitting the nail on the head. I remember a British friend who commented once about a British pub in Los Angeles. "You can tell this place is authentic, there's American music on the jukebox."

We saw a number of good movies last night. Love when that happens. Always nice to see a new variation on a well-warn horror genre. If you can write good dialogue and present difficult philosophical questions, you can't go wrong with two people in the desert – of course, if you're not so hot at those two things, oh baby can you go wrong!

We ended the night with a film that not only moved the camera with majesty, it danced. Director/editor, cinematographer, and crew worked together to create seamless, spinning, magical scene transitions that I hope replace all of this handheld, vérité, found footage crap we've been seeing for the past several years. Any idiot can bounce behind an actor with a video camera and do whip-pans until the audience vomits. These guys showed what thought, skill, planning and artistry is all about. I don't know how the final line up will shake out, but you have a fan in me. Schöne Aufgabe.

Now that I've given an ulcer to the DWF powers that be for being so specific, I'll say, until next week. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

MUSIC ... IN ... SPACE!!!!

If I say "Music" and "Outer Space" believe it or not more than one filmmaker reading this will say, "He's talking about my movie!"

For some reason this year, music in space is a thing. Was there some trendy movie I don't know about that people are paying homage to? Doesn't matter, quality is always what's most important, and we've had that, but ... who knew?

We had our first urination scene, followed almost immediately with our second one. In one case it was entirely unnecessary, though tastefully done. In the other one, it had less taste, but was more filling.

Have you all said, "Eww!" just a little bit? That's kind of the way we feel when seeing body fluids spewed on the screen. Seriously, though, one of the scenes made sense and was necessary for the narrative. The hint of tastelessness fit the comic flying F-bombs just right. This is rare, though, so if you're considering a scene were someone pees, vomits, has snot run out of their nose - just know, it's been done... and done... and done. You want to be original? Write around it.

We had several composers completely kill movies. Granted, they were on life support already, but the bad music didn't just pull the plug, it smashed the machine with a baseball bat. I don't know how many times we've seen films where the music sounds like the composer put his iPad on the piano and improved cords as the scenes came up. Filmmakers, tell your composers, counterpoint. Scenes in a minor key don't need minor chords dragging across them like a boat anchor. Lately, the stereotype of the requiem scores are not complete without a cello. If you have a moody drama, and the music is mostly piano cords with cello droning in between, consider a remix.

We had a lot of black & white video last night. One sort of thought about the choice. There was some texture in the wardrobe and the lead character's face, but for the most part all of these films just looked like they'd turned off the color. If you are shooting in black & white, particularly a feature, understand, you have shot yourself in the foot at the beginning of a marathon. You can still win the race, but it will have to be a Herculean effort. Everything is different when you choose black & white. Even the sound has to be tweaked. Wardrobe, sets, locations, makeup, lighting, camera angles, everything has to be considered in a different way. If you want to see it done right, get your hands on a copy of Mike Testin's 2010 short, The Salesman.

Every time we put a movie in the machine, we want it to be good. The bad ones are so painful and slow that we are pulling for your films more than you can imagine. Last night we got a submission from an alumni I'm a big fan of, so I was excited to load it up. He has an ear for dialogue that is pitch-perfect. I'd love to act in one of their films because I know the words will melt in my mouth like butter. We were not disappointed. They delivered great laughs, performances, direction, and quality in all departments. Sure, this film may not be for girls, but the women in the room were laughing.

Lesson to all of you submitting. We love this movie. We love these filmmakers. But it has been seen at a lot of festivals. When it comes down to one open screening slot for this movie or an equally good world premiere, we're going to go with the premiere. And that's as painful for us as it is for you, but this is a painful business. Of course, that decision is still some weeks away, so sit tight.

That's it for this week. If you've learned anything today, please pass a link to your filmmaker friends. Our goal is to see better movies, so when you're talking on the set while waiting for the next shot to be ready, load this up on your smart phone and hand it to the budding director next to you.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Artist vs. Executive

We pushed our screening back a day this week, so look for my regular post tomorrow.  In the meantime, here's a parable I thought of while walking my dog.

What's the difference between an Artist and a creative Executive?

On seeing a great and popular work, the Artist says, "That was great. I must strive to make a work equally great, but completely different."

The Executive says, "That was great. I must strive to make a work equally great, and exactly the same."

Feel free to discuss.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Age Appropriate Filmmaking

First, I have to give a shout out to the filmmaker who said being mentioned in this blog would be almost as cool as getting in the festival.

Well? Is it?

We had a night of solid acting across the board. Nice job, folks. A good picture of bad acting is a bad picture. I cannot tell you how important it is to get the cast right, and most of the films we saw last night did.

Among these good actors were a lot of kids – from high school to barely walking. I'm sure we saw more than one future star last night. I hope they'll come do some promotions for us when their movies are no longer eligible for competition.

Regular readers will be glad to know the "Good Logo = Bad Movie" rule is still in effect. I don't know if anyone has ever noticed, but most production companies with studio distribution deals didn't start with an expensive, grandiose opening logo. They put their energy into making good films. The big logo comes after your work has earned more money than you know what to do with. When I see a fancy opening announce the production company I think, "that's time, money, and effort that could have gone into another day of shooting or writing, paying a cast and crew." And every single time, the quality of the movie proves me right.

Last night one of our screeners said something we hear a lot. "If that film was made by my 12-year-old niece, I'd say it was brilliant, but..."

That's one of the difficulties of judging submissions. We know absolutely nothing about the filmmakers who submit – which is a good thing, as it helps eliminate prejudice – but, what if the film was made by a 12-year-old? We all passed on the movie because we're not a festival geared toward grade school filmmakers, and by adult standards the movie wasn't any good. Chances are nearly 100% that it was made by an adult, but there is that little bit of doubt.

So if there are any kid filmmakers who have submitted, don't take it too hard if you don't get in. Just finishing a movie is a huge accomplishment – even for adults. Keep up the good work.

If you're an adult and you've made a movie that looks like it was made by a child... keep the day job.

We had a film that was so incredibly unique that the creativity trumped the various little things that would have killed a lesser movie. Well done. We do get so tired of seeing films in the style of what's hot on TV.

We want your voice, not someone else's.

On that note, thanks for reading. See you next week.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Basics

Year 15 started out great. Good food. Good people. Good movies – well, at least two good ones.

I dreaded putting the first DVD into the machine, as it looked to be by actors about acting. Nine times out of ten, those are painfully bad. The experienced screeners in the room groaned as we wrote down the title, so imagine how happy we were when it turned out to be fantastic! This wasn't a movie about actors acting – it's about actors NOT acting. Nice job, guys. I'll see you at the next meeting.

We have enough submissions to split into two rooms and when the other group emerged at the end of the night they said, "We have the topic for your next blog – Beginning, Middle, and End."

I knew exactly what they were talking about, so let's start off this year with the basics.

Artists, by nature, are rule breakers. No risk, no reward. I'm right there with you. Go for it!


If you plan on re-inventing the wheel, keep in mind, your finished product has to do what a wheel does. A stone block is not a re-invented wheel. Whatever you come up with has to fit on a cart and make it move with ease or you have failed.

Some artists, especially young ones, think they are going to re-invent storytelling. They are going to do it in a way that's never been done before. Really? In the 3,000 years mankind has been writing down and performing stories they have never come up with what you have?

Okay. I say go for it. From your hubris something new might very well emerge.


When you're done, your story has to be a story. It has to fit on a cart and make it move with ease. It has to have a beginning, middle and end or you have failed. You might have failed valiantly. We might applaud your effort – but we won't be showing your effort to the public.

Sometimes these type of experiments are near-misses. If you dig into that sucker with an eye toward the basics, you will probably find a buried traditional structure. Bring that to the surface and you're golden.

In our screening room we saw a lot of DRRRAAAAMMMMAAAA! I have bruises on my head from how beaten I was with the seriousness of what we watched. Counterpoint, people! If your film is serious, find the humor. If it's funny, find the pathos.

Cello is the slow music instrument of choice it seems. I think I counted three films with slow, dragging, dramatic music over slow, dragging, dramatic action. I slowly dragged my pen around the PASS choice on our forms. One nice standout, music-wise, featured some happy banjo playin'. During an establishing shot of a man walking up stairs to a house I commented about how that would be different with the slow music we had in earlier films. As it was, a possibly boring shot was made entertaining. Nice.

We had one film with grandiose, feature-style credits. Looked great. Cut them. It's called a short for a reason.

Art department. This is where a lot of low-budget projects fall down. It's fine to shoot in your apartment, but remember – just because you're a starving artist with nothing on your walls and barely any furniture, doesn't mean your characters are. Dress up the shots a bit. Pull actors away from flat walls. Stick a plant back there. Keep the receipt, hide the label, and return it to OSH when you're done. It's free.

Pet peeve of the year. Filmmakers, STOP SHAKING THE CAMERA! It doesn't make the movie look more immediate. It doesn't make it "documentary style." Documentary filmmakers do their damnedest to make handheld shots look smooth. You should do the same.

I don't particularly like this style in major motion pictures either, but at least when they do it, they are working with heavy cameras, remote focus pullers, cable wranglers and dolly grips. When all of this moves there is some weight behind it. When you're bouncing behind your actors with a palm-corder, your film becomes less about the story and more about the camera and how cheap and self-serving you are as a filmmaker.

Please: Move the camera with majesty.

Question: What's with so many films coming out that are too dark to see? This isn't just indie stuff. I couldn't see J. Edgar, and Tom Stern is no slouch. There has to be a technical thing in the digital world I don't know about. Okay, there are a million technical things in the digital world I don't know about – but one of them makes for movies that are too dark to see. Let's stop doing that.

Prediction: With all the great SLR cameras out there, I have a prediction of what I'm going to be complaining about for years to come. Focus. A better camera is like a better, more powerful, piece of software – it's harder to use. Yes, just like the software, you can make it easy, but at the cost of professionalism. Like anyone in the modern world, I can point and shoot a video camera. Like anyone else who has made a little movie to throw up on the web, I can get the coverage and even edit it.

That doesn't mean I'd hire me as a Director of Photography. Technology makes things doable at an affordable cost. Skills, talent, and experience make them worth watching.

Thanks for reading.