Monday, April 29, 2013

Want to Know What It's Like To Be a Film Festival Programmer?

What's the most number of movies you've ever watched in a day?  I think my record of films in a theatre is five when I was at Sundance.  It's exhausting.

So let's take that as a baseline.  Watch five movies a day for... let's just say three days.  Never mind that Leslee and the rest of the final screeners have been doing this for last few weeks.

Okay, mostly Leslee.

If at the end of that three day sampler you still have your sanity, then e-mail each of the filmmakers to ask them about their projects.  Keep track of the answers, they'll come in handy later.

While you're in the middle of all of this, have people like me come question you about not only the 15 movies you've just watched, but also the hundreds of movies you've watched since January.  See if you can give a coherent answer.

Oh yes, and let's not forget managing the rest of your life while you're at it.

That's a little bit of a feel for life as a festival programmer.

Things are winding down in terms of programming, but WE DO STILL HAVE SLOTS OPEN, so don't say rude mean things to us too soon... 'cause you never know.

Speaking of rude mean things.  We are bracing for the pushback on our "No stars" rule.  Keep in mind that we define stars as anyone – in front of or behind the camera – who could get you funding just based on their name.  This is always a hard bit to measure. A movie with a recognizable face in a single role might not be weighted the same as an ensemble of recognizable faces. 

Plus, and this one hurts for some of us, those big stars you remember from the 1980s – while they were bankable names in memorable movies then – the 25-year-old financial rep at the bank now wasn't born until after those movies were made.  That is not to say that the actor has any less talent, or is any less of a star in our hearts, but stardom has always been, and will always be, a function of time.  Just like everything else.

There are also changes in the business to consider.  Money is tight.  Production companies headed around big names have trouble finding money, so our loose definition becomes even harder to hold onto.  Still, we do use it as a star to guide by... no pun intended.

One last note to help assuage the hate mail we get every year on this issue.  The rule only applies to films in competition.  So are you going to see recognizable people in competition films?  Yes.  Are you going to see stars from The Princess Bride and Chasing Amy in the same move?  Yes.  Will that movie be in competition? No.

Good luck.  I'll see many of you soon.  Others, please, come by the festival.  All are welcome.


Anonymous said...

Every year I hear someone at DWF say something, even if it's just quick in passing, about how a filmmaker was rude to them after being rejected, or put in a category they don't like, or some other evil deed... Every year it smacks me in the face like Moe smacking Curly. Really? Do they not know how this works? Do they really think they won't bump into SOMEONE from DWF ever again? Do they know that it's human nature to more easily remember someone who's a douchebag to you than someone who's nice? IDIOTS!

RSMellette said...

Oh, it's not so much that as it is a philosophy of life. Being nice is better than being harsh.

And, believe me, the good people we've met in the process out number the bad 100 to 1. It's my theory that for the most part good artists are good people. Especially working under the strains of uber-independence.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

uber-independence is an oxy-moron. i don't know how you guys have made it so long and trhived under the defiance banner. really offering a place for uber-independence to live. it seems to me every business has idots though.

Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,
Our short film received another email from DWF claiming we reached the third round last week, so we were pretty stoked to hear that. However, we haven't hear hearing anything since. Are you all still programming your shorts?

Thanks for the enlightening blog!

RSMellette said...

We are still programming everything.

And thanks for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, we haven't heard about reaching any rounds, so we can stop biting our nails and rest easy knowing we're out of the count! Best of luck, other Anon!

Love the blog. Thank you for sharing.

RSMellette said...

Before you start letting your nails grow, do check your spam filter. We have a few who have not responded to our e-mails.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Thanks, got the initial confirmation from submissions@danceswithfilms, that's it. Nails are lookin' good again! (Would've LOVED to play at DWF here at home, but the short has been doing extremely well, so I'm looking at it as good news for more films that will get a chance.)

John C. said...

Hi Robert - we too are one of the films that only got the initial email, but nothing since. While we're disappointed we didn't get programmed, the experience of submitting and specifically your blog, helped me understand what exactly we're up against, not just at DWF, but at any festival. The one big take away, is that it's not enough to make a great movie, it has to be the right kind of film that can withstand the tedium and weariness of your process. Your breakdown of the sheer volume of content you have to watch, and then evaluate, was eye opening. The process isn't perfect, and I'm sure good films get passed over (ours!), but DWF is as fair as it's gonna get, and for sure the most transparent. Thanks to you, Leslee and everyone at DWF.

RSMellette said...

What great attitudes! That will take you far, trust me.

"...the short has been doing extremely well..." Glad to hear it. Next time, save the premiere for DWF! :)

I'm glad you understand about giving another film a chance.

Great films don't so much get "passed over" as ripped out of our guts. Some of my favorite movies have not made the cut. That always hurts.

Come by the fest if you're in LA. Say hi. Anyone who submitted can get two free movie tickets (not passes, single movie ticket) - so put it to good use - and make sure to e-mail us early to make arrangements for that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. Ha, yep, if I understood then all I do now about festival strategizing, I'd have done a bunch of things differently! While I'd read all I could, there's no education like going through it. Premieres are tricky to figure out... if you bank on one you must oft forgo two or a dozen others, possibly missing out on all. Filmmaker roulette! Now I know, DWF first. :) Alas, it has been a far wilder ride than I'd expected.

I've admired all the festival organizers and programmers I've met. I sure don't envy the work of programmers. Hell, I struggled for weeks deciding whom to invite to my dang wedding and where to ideally seat them. And I didn't have to watch and remember a thousand movies first.

Here's to a great DWF14! Will do. Looking forward to catching some good films.

Anonymous said...


When will the films be announced. Great blog, thanks.