Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Martini

Regular readers and new submitters to Dances With Films might have taken notice that I haven't posted any blogs this season. There are many reasons for this. The long and the short of is, that I'm putting this blog to bed.

The last three or four years (out of the six that I've been working on this), I've been faced with writing the same thing over and over again:

Finish your script before you do anything else.

Finish your sound.

Use a bounce board.

Respect the art. Don't try to make a good feature script into a short film, it will ruin both.

Get a real composer.

Objective and Obstacle.

A good shot of bad acting is a bad shot.

If you've written a character of a different gender than yours, listen to the actor/actress playing the part. If they have problems, make changes.

You're not out of the running for the festival until you get your official pass letter.

Just because you don't get into Dances With Films, doesn't mean your movie isn't good. A lot of factors go into the decision-making process.

And so on.

If you want to know what's happening at the festival in March, go back to past years of this blog and read everything written in March, or January, February … you get the idea.

One of the things I've loved about doing this blog is that I'm one of the few bloggers who actually gets to meet my readers. Every year at orientation and the opening night party, I get a kick out of people coming up to say they enjoy the blog. Thank you all for that. I hope that will continue.

My participation in the festival will also be greatly diminished this year. Why? Suffice to say that I only have so much creative space in my brain, and this year it's being taken up with other projects. That's a good thing. When I watch your movies, I'm really just thinking about my novels, and that's a bad thing.

The blog will stay up here until the Army of the Twelve Monkeys finds a good use for it. Until then, I hope you'll point your fellow filmmakers in this direction so they might learn something from my babblings.

Since I've spent six years here giving advice to filmmakers, I'd like to leave you – especially those of you just starting out – with this bit of insight:

You might love the movie business, but understand this – the movie business will never love you back.  It's a business, not a person. Don't confuse the love you've gotten from the people you've met along your journey in the industry with love from the industry. An industry cannot love you. A business cannot love you. A camera cannot love you. 

So while you might enjoy making movies and watching them, don't waist you time loving them. Love the people who make them. Love the people who watch them. Love the people who have nothing to do with them, but for some reason have come into your life.

Because, after all, people are what films are all about.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Silence

Just an FYI for anyone who might be checking my blog for Festival Updates.

I don't do that sort of thing. It's not that I'm too busy. I could probably squeeze in an article a day, but I don't want to. I am busy... having fun! If you want a blow-by-blow of what's happening, our Social Media guru, Kim, keeps our Facebook page up-to-date. Like us and follow along.

If you're in the LA area, come join us. Buy a copy of Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand from the Alumni Store - or, you know, any of the dozens of films from past years we'll have for sale. I'll sign my book for you. The filmmakers will sign your DVD.

If you're not in the LA area, you can get my book, or their films, on Amazon.  I'll post links of what we have available once it's solidified.

Okay, back to work!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Minding The Store

This year Dances With Films is featuring something brand new that I think you'll be seeing on the festival circuit around the world in the near future. Remember, you saw it here first.

What is this new feature?

The Dances With Films Alumni Store.

Why will this become a mainstay on the festival circuit?

Honestly, it might not, but it should.

People see the digital revolution hit an industry and they thinks it's one & done, but in fact it comes in waves. A first wave will radically change everything, then a second wave rides in on those changes. Then a third, forth, etc.

Right now, the indie film industry is probably on it's 3rd or 4th wave when it comes to distribution. Remember video stores? Remember when watching something on Netflix meant a DVD was delivered to your house? Remember when scripted TV shows were actually on TV?

Okay, I'm maybe a year or two ahead on that last one - but the point is, things have changed. For the uber-indie filmmaker those changes mean they are not only the filmmaker, but also the film seller. Distribution now means having a film thrown up on iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, etc. with no PR or marketing support. Like novelists have had to do in the last few years, filmmakers now have to do their own shilling.

Well, Dances With Films is here to help.

At the Dances With Films Alumni Store, alumni can sell their DVDs directly to this year's DWF audience. If customers don't watch movies on DVD anymore, they can get information on how to download the films. These instructions will probably come with a request to post a review on Amazon. Reviews are a huge help to anyone selling anything online, so if you like a movie, book, song, etc. make sure to give it a review.

What does a filmmaker get out of selling a few DVDs at what amounts to a trade show booth at a festival? Well, for one thing, cash. Not a lot, but face-to-face sales are what work best in this business and building a fan base starts with one person at a time.

They also get a promotional opportunity. Pictures of them with their DVDs at the Festival to post on MySpace (sorry), Facebook (sorry), Instagram and Pinterest (with an auto-link to Twitter)! So for each face-to-face sale at the festival, they might get one or two more online sales from the promotion.

And remember those Amazon review requests? Online promotions are often based on software algorithms. Once an item gets a certain number of reviews, they begin to be recommended to customers who buy similar stuff. "Because you watched..." etc.

So, if you are an alumni, contact me about adding your films to the store.

If you're an audience member or current-year filmmaker, buy a movie (or... you know, a book like Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand) from an alumni. Get it autographed.

And next year, someone will do the same for you!

See you at the store.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Joys and Heartaches

I know many of you are waiting for one of those few letters of acceptance that have yet to go out.

Yes, that's right folks. Our competition films are going to be announced in the morning (Monday, May The 4th be with you) - but believe it or not, we are still working to fill some screening slots. 

Remember, nothing is decided until you get a pass letter, and those should all be out by the end of the week.

But that's not the point of this article.

There were somethings I didn't say at the Orientation Meeting that I meant to. Nothing big or deeply insightful, but hopefully helpful - if not at Dances With Films, then at whatever festivals may screen your film.


A good producer always has two extra tickets in his or her pocket, ready to hand to any VIP who might show up unannounced. As we said at the orientation, we don't give out industry comps. The people you want to use them never do, and the lost revenue is pretty much what kills theatre in LA. Any executive worth talking to can expense the price and should respect that DWF wouldn't have survived for 18 years by giving away free tickets. Still, some big shots in this town are either jerks, or legitimately can't afford a movie ticket anymore than you can. Unfortunately, you can't afford to not have them there, so make sure you have a pair of tickets ready. If they go unused, the cost is a cheap insurance policy against an awkward situation.


We said this at the orientation, but it's worth repeating. It's a good policy to check in with the festival to find out which restaurant sponsors might have deals on a screening party. Not only can you get a good price, but you'll be helping the festival tremendously by supporting those who support them.

This also applies to just hanging out, getting lunch, a drink, etc. Look through the program and go to the bars, restaurants and shops that have taken out ads. Wear your festival badges and make sure the staff know you've come in because they are a sponsor. If you want to have some fun, go make rude gestures to those merchants who didn't support the festival. (That's a joke ... really). 

Still on parties. Consider having everyone meet for dinner or drinks BEFORE your movie. This is helpful in getting a crowd. Old people like me, might not like the idea of going to a 9:00 movie with the obligation of a party afterward - but it's easy to meet before hand. This also gives you a time buffer for those people who are perpetually late.

Program ads. 

Some festivals give a hard and heavy pitch to filmmakers about buying an add in their program. They promise that distributors will see your ad, fall in love with your movie sight unseen, and make you a million dollar over-your-budget offer based on the ad alone. Don't let this shock you, but that's not going to happen. Sorry.

But there are some good reasons to buy an add in the DWF program. For one thing, it's not a cheap piece of newsprint. This program is collectible. They cost us more money than a xeroxed copy stapled in the corner, and your ad will help insure we're able to make the program something you'll cherish for a long time.

Also, a program ad is a fantastic place to thank your investors, cast, crew, mother-in-law, etc. Then, on the off chance that a distributor does flip through our program - and, actually, they do - they might not offer you a deal based on your ad, but they will know you're a class act.

In case of emergency. 

If for some strange reason you haven't given us a back-up copy of your film (Blu-Ray, DVD, etc.), bring it with you to the screening. I say this so I won't have to drive like a bat-out-of-hell back to your hotel room to get the back-up copy when it turns out the one on the screen was copied three frames out of sync. (True story, in the Tape days). 

See everyone's movie! 

I know it's hard to do, and chances are you won't be able to see the film that screens just before or after yours - but ask to trade screeners or Vimeo Links. The only thing worse than not winning an award yourself, is knowing nothing about the movie that did win. 

And finally - remember to have fun!

These eleven days are like summer camp for grown-ups, a brief time in your life that you will never forget. Whatever happens - good or bad, at Dances With Films or some other festival - celebrate it. You're an artist in the company of your peers presenting your work to the world. Damned few people on the planet will ever know the joys and heartache that can bring. The chance to have either, or both, is a blessing. 

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Getting Oriented

I know. I know. We haven't completely announced yet and I'm already talking about the orientation meeting that's coming up this Friday. That's the nature of this business, folks. Things move slow, slow, slow, then super fast.

I just want to drop a quick note to filmmakers who are not in easy road trip distance to LA. As famous as Dances With Films is for being the only film festival (we know of ) to have an orientation meeting - it's not worth a plane ticket and a hotel stay. We have had filmmakers fly in for the meeting, and they said it was worth it - but, personally, I'd save your money.

If you are in the LA area, it's definitely worth a 1/2 day off from work ... unless, you know, you're a brain surgeon or something. I highly recommend getting to know your fellow filmmakers. You're going to see each other again in the festival circuit and you'll want to trade stories about which are good, bad, and indifferent.

If you're smart, you'll use your festival passes to come to all 11 days of the festival. Soon, you'll be hanging out every night with your fellow filmmakers and when it's all done, you'll have made friends like you haven't since summer camp.

For those who don't get into the festival, you do get two free tickets to a movie. Use them. Better yet, buy a festival pass and learn from an 11 day intensive on uber-indie filmmaking. You won't regret it.

Okay... sorry to have interrupted your obsessive waiting rituals. Go back to pacing, biting of nails, gnashing of teeth, checking your e-mail every five seconds, and trying to read Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

And The Dance Goes To...

We will be announcing our slate soon.

Just a reminder, as with anything in life, what is said publicly and what happens in reality are not always 100% the same thing. We have deadlines to get out a press release about our slate - and that press release is always 100% true - but, it doesn't mean that it represents every film in the festival.

There are always one or two slots still open.

And yet, every year one or two filmmakers go on public tirades about how they had to hear that their movie didn't get into the festival via Indiewire. Here's a news flash for them, if their film was still being considered for those one or two slots, they just made a difficult decision very easy for us.

When the slate is finally complete, it's always a bitter-sweet time at DWF. We're ecstatic about the films that are in, but sad for our favorite movies - often by alumni, who have become friends - that are not. I also feel bad for the films that we have sent so many e-mails to, grilling them about their plans for the film, getting them excited about how well their movie is doing in the selection process, only to end up passing.

I've been there so many times with my film, my scripts, and my books. The near miss is more painful than the miss by a mile. When you're not even close, you get to think, "Maybe I'm not very good at this," and move on to something better. When you're good, but don't get what you're looking for, you have to keep going. You have to keep banging your head against the wall because you know you've found a soft spot.

Let's just hope the soft spot is in the wall, not your head.

Good luck to everyone who submitted. To those who do not get in, remember that one festival is not going to make or break a career. It's just one step on one path - and there are as many paths as there are steps.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Harvesting

This is always the most difficult time of the year. 

Deciding what films get in the festival is easy. Deciding which ones don't get in is not.

Some of my favorite movies of all time submitted, but didn't get into, Dances With Films. Usually this is because the film has been seen at a number of other festivals - especially Los Angeles Fests. Filmmakers don't seem to understand that premiering their movie at a two-year-old festival named after some neighborhood in LA burns their chances of screening pretty much anywhere else in LA without doing their own 4-wall rental. They don't understand how hard it is to get the trades to review their films in these smaller fests. They also don't understand how hard it is to fill a theatre for a second screening.

Yes, filmmakers, premieres are also about ticket sales. Our mandate of "No Stars" in competition movies means we have a hard time getting sponsors. We are not a destination festival funding by a local Chamber of Commerce. We have survived for 18 years because of ticket sales. If you are a first time filmmaker, you probably have all sorts of arguments ready about how your movie is different. If you've been around the festival circuit - or Equity Waiver Theatre, you've played to empty houses and know what I'm talking about. 

Another frustration is when filmmakers don't answer our e-mails. One told us, "I don't check this e-mail address very often, can you just text me?"

"No," is the answer to that question. We have thousands of people to communicate with in order to produce this festival. We can't make an exception for each submitter. If we like your film, but haven't heard back from you, we will go to extraordinary means to make initial contact - but what we'll say is, "Check your e-mails."

This leads to another reason films don't get programmed - the filmmakers are unprofessional. This is rare, because I've discovered that good movies are usually made by good people, but it happens. If you're one of the exceptions to that rule, then you're probably not aware of it, so nothing I say here will help. If you're one of the good people, then yes, we notice. We appreciate it. Your attitude helps your cause.

Right now we are still making decisions. We are re-watching movies. We are sending out e-mails asking about your marketing plans. If you haven't gotten one of those e-mails, that doesn't mean anything ... yet. If another week goes by and you haven't heard anything from us, then the writing is on the wall and you should make decisions accordingly. We do send out nice pass letters, so you won't be left hanging.

Here's hoping no one reading this gets one of those.

Good luck.