Monday, March 17, 2014

Round and Round We Go

The time is drawing near.  Our final deadline is March 26th.  Without A Box makes us do a super-final deadline of April 2nd  which drives us crazy!  Please try for the 26th to save our sanity.  FYI, if you HAVE to wait until April, and want to avoid the insane Without A Box late fees, apply directly through the Dances With Films website.  It won't improve your chances, but it might save you some cash.

As one of my commenters noted, second round letters have started to go out.  What does that mean?  What should you do if you get a second round letter?  What if you don't?

What does a second round letter mean? 

First, we don't have official rounds, so if you hear one film got a second round letter, and another got a third, it doesn't mean that you didn't clear to a third round.  We just don't have a good name for, "Screeners have liked this movie, let's check in with them to see what's changed since submissions."  Or, "Okay, we already got in touch with them, but we have a couple more questions."  So don't let that bother you.

Next, if you don't get a second round letter, that doesn't mean anything either… at least, not for the next month or so.  It's entirely possible for you to get a second round letter after we've announced our official slate to the press.  Remember rule #1 – until you get a pass letter, you're still in the running.

What should you do if you get a second round letter?

First, don't lie!  We're going to ask you about your World Premiere Status.  It is much better if you have not premiered, but we can live with a West Coast Premiere if we love the film and the filmmakers.  We'd rather be your premiere.  If you have screened somewhere else in Southern California, we're going to smack you upside the head and point you to the MovieMaker Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals Article – but we'll still love you and wish you well – and possibly screen your movie.  But if you lie to us, you're done.  We have the internet.  It's real easy to find out if you've screened anywhere else, so be honest.

This brings me to another point.  The relationship between filmmaker and film festival is a partnership.  One of the reasons we send out so many "rounds" letters is to vet our future partners.   We're going to be working together over the next several weeks, and if you're difficult, we will choose a film of equal quality with pleasant filmmakers.  There is a reason why our alumni network is so strong.  There is a reason why you'll make some of the best friends of your life during this festival.

There's a reason why you should answer your "round" letter quickly, politely, and informatively.  It's called being professional.

What if you don't get a "Round" letter?

I said it before, I'll say it again and again and again… until you get a Pass letter, you're still in the running.  Sure, if it gets to be the first week in May, and a press release has come out saying "the official" slate, and you haven't heard a thing, then your odds are getting long – but it has happened.  If you get an offer from another festival in the next few weeks, please, get in touch with us.  We can't tell you what to do, but we can drop really big hints. 

Okay, enough business.  Let's get back to the quality of what we're seeing in submissions.

Our screening room saw some fantastic short films, and some that were just okay.  Any screener will tell you, they're happy to see great films, and truly horrible ones are easy to reject.  It's the so-so movies where we earn our money.  In many cases, a movie can just lay on the screen.  Nothing jumps out as exciting or stupid.  The audience is left with a feeling of … eh. 

For the filmmaker, it's important to recognize this lack of enthusiasm before the movie is made, while it's still on paper.  Have table reads.  Ask your cast.  Don't take their first response as a viable answer.  They want to be in your movie, even if they think it's not the best script they've ever read.  If the script jumps off the page for the readers, you'll know it.  The energy will become electric.  If the reaction is anything less, then don't go into production.  Re-write.  Find your voice.  Make it pop.  Don't commit to production until every character's objectives are life and death, and every obstacle is insurmountable. 

Speaking of life and death, we saw a great film from the American Film Institute, but my challenge for an AFI comedy still goes unanswered.  Come on, AFI, not every film has to be foreign and important.  Have you seen Sullivan's Travels?  Laughter is as important as drama… often more so.  Make us laugh!

I'll leave you this week with an issue we see quite often – sudden bad language.

Don't get me wrong, I drop the F-bomb as much as the next person in the film industry.  Some of my favorite words have four letters – but if I've written an otherwise family-friendly film, I'm not going to allow a character to start cussing.  This happens late in movies sometimes, which makes it even more noticeable, even offensive to an ear as jaded as mine.  If you've started clean, and are mostly clean, keep it clean.  You will find your screening opportunities widen greatly.

Thanks for reading.  Don't get too nervous over the next week or so, we're still watching movies.  Good luck.


sooz said...

Thanks for your explanations about the rounds and for keeping this blog! I don't have much to comment on but wanted to let you know there are avid readers out here. Rock on!

RSMellette said...

Aren't you sweet, Sooz. Thanks! :)