Friday, April 16, 2010

Guards and Vanguards

The last of our official short films screenings was last night. Now the work really begins. Over the next week or so, we will hash out who's in and who's not.

For those of you who have been notified that you are still under consideration, I hope you've kept your premiere status. World premieres have a major advantage for the coveted few screening slots. Like other festivals in Los Angeles, we will pass over films that have already been seen around town. There are just too many movies and too few screening hours to go around.

This part of the process can be a very bumpy ride. Last year we had a little feature out of somewhere in the mid-west that was adorable. It fit what I call "Primitive Filmmaking" style. (I'll have to post that essay during the off season). In short, it felt extremely regional in cast, location, and story – which gave it a charm you can't find outside of the festival circuit. We told the filmmakers they were in, and they freaked out a bit. Said they weren't ready and pulled out of the festival. That was a real shame, and it added to our bumpy ride. Suddenly, a slot we thought was filled, wasn't. A film we loved wouldn't be in the festival. Heartbroken, we had to push on.

I have no idea what happened with that film.

We watched another heartbreaker last night. An intellectual little film with a delightful lead actress looking for religious harmony in a convenience store. They didn't have any end credits, so we are all hoping and praying that they aren't finished, because their sound is not projectable. The entire movie needs to be looped – which is fine, happens all the time. The trouble for us is, we can't tell from watching the submission if the filmmaker understands what is needed to have a complete movie. Their submission might say "temp sound" but their idea of finishing might be to add a couple of effects and some music – which would only make it worse. Often, that's not a problem for a submission because, frankly, the rest of the movie is so bad that it can be easily assessed as is. In this case, the movie looks to be very good. The cast is good. The story is truly a short subject. But we could barely understand the words. We all made notes to pass this along to the filmmaker – and hope to see the finished product someday.

We also saw some of the worse submissions of the year last night. One was so bad that I began to wonder if it wasn't some kind of social experiment to see how long we'd watch (we watched the whole 30+ minutes, as per usual). I couldn't believe how bad this movie was. Have people not grown up in modern times? Have they never watched a movie or TV show before? Do they not understand what qualifies something as a film – or even a story?

But I've already lost 30 minutes of my life to that, so let's move on.

When I started the blog this year, I asked if we were entering a Golden Age of Digital Filmmaking. My thought was that shot-on-film moviemakers, who bring more discipline and craft to the table than most newcomers who have never experienced lab costs or the lag time between shooting and dailies, would raise the anti on quality. Would the increase in film-level productions squeeze out the fast & loose video-makers? Would we see more thought out stories, rehearsed scenes with better actors, more attention to details in set, sound, costume and production design?

Sadly, I think the answer is no. People who have a camera and some editing software, and therefore think they can make a movie worth our hard-earned time and money without bothering to learn the craft, still outnumber those with skills. The uber-independent film business has become like all others affected by technical revolution. First it was painting in the face of photography. Then photography in the face of cheaper, easier versions of itself. Writing with the electric typewriter and computers. And all the arts in the face of the digital age.

Just because a person can make a work of art, doesn't mean it's a good work of art. Just because a person can shoot a film and post it on YouTube, doesn't mean they are a filmmaker worthy of our attention.

So there must be guardians for the vanguards, gatekeepers to weed through the all to find the deserving. It has always been so, but never more needed than now. Never has there been more content of varying quality from so many sources.

How is an audience to know which film is worth their time and money and which one isn't? How can a reader know which e-book to download? None of us has the time to do what I've been writing about all these months, sift through every possibility to pick out the gems. We need someone to do it for us.

Artists have forever complained about the gatekeepers: the agents, publishers, producers, distributors, critics, professors, and film festival directors, but I have seen art unfiltered and it has made me an advocate for higher bars, greater standards, tougher values so that we as an industry of artists might deliver better product to our consumers.

I'll be blogging throughout the festival and the off-season, so please come back and point your friends to this unfiltered essay on the Arts.

Thanks for reading.


Manuel RZ said...

I particularly loved this post Robert!! For this one I give you 5 stars.

It's interesting what you say about the guards for art. Sadly we are going through a misinformation era, the internet, YouTube, the blogs. Everyone can stand up and say anything, film anything, or even write on an encyclopedia full of mistakes (Wikipedia). I feel that as humanity were going through a sand storm of information, and to find the good and worthy is so hard.

And about film making it's sad, that talented worthy new filmmakers have to struggle not only versus the established industry personnel, but also against all the worthless wanna be filmmakers, which end up finishing the patience of the juries, professors, agents, producers, etc. But I think that maybe in a few years the dust will settle and we will start seeing some of the best films ever. Some of us will succed and some of us will fail. From all this struggle amazing film master minds will come successful.

Again, amazing post.

RSMellette said...

Thanks for your kind words. :)

Anonymous said...

So, if we have not yet been notified that we are still under consideration, is it safe to assume we were not selected this year?

RSMellette said...

We get that question a lot.

It's as safe to assume that as it is safe to assume anything about the future. As I said, programming is a bumpy ride. We might have films drop out.

We might have a film that's already been seen in lots of places, but is 2 minutes long (easy to fit into a package of shorts) so we didn't bother to make early contact with them to hold their premiere status.

A film might not have been screened until last night, so they would not have heard. We don't screen in any particular order.

So, all things are still very possible.

Anonymous said...

It was the last of the shorts screening - but what about features? Are features still in review?

kenneth cheong said...

hmmmm... been informed sometime back about a second round. But it has been quiet since. Not sure if its considered as early contact. Crossing every part of my body and yes it is a world premiere if selected.

Anonymous said...

I check my email pretty regularly, and for these reasons I have a pretty loose spam filter, but I'm curious what happens to emails that get caught in people's spam filters or otherwise lost? Do you make another attempt to contact the filmmaker, or shrug your shoulders and cross it off the list? I'm not saying you have obligation to do anything, mind you, I'm just curious about how that process works in our crazy, electronic day and age. Like you said, it's a bumpy ride...

sooz said...

anonymous: be sure to add dances with films to your email contact list (address book), that will help prevent their messages from ending up in your spam box.

robert: thanks for the great blogging & the helpful Q&A!

Anonymous said...

Robert: Yes, regardless of our films being selected or not, this really is a great informative blog. If nothing else, I've learned a lot of things to avoid the next time around.

RSMellette said...

First - Leslee just reminded me that we still have features to watch, and even a few straggling shorts (usually ones on PAL).

Second, if we don't hear back from an e-mail, we'll call. Keep in mind, if we like your film we want it to be in the festival as badly as you do. As you might have learned here, good films are hard to find. :)

And thanks again for all the kind words, folks. If you know anyone thinking about making a film, point them this way so we can help them make a better movie - and I won't have anything to write about.

Good luck everyone.

Anonymous said...

Bummer. That this brilliant blog about selections is over, but also to get the rejection this way. Thanks for all the insights about filmmaking and the festival process.

RSMellette said...

Talk about the glass being shatter on the floor with all the milk spilled. :)

We haven't officially rejected anyone yet. And the blog will go on. No worries.

Anonymous said...

creeps, lol

Anonymous said...

Just curious, how many selection rounds are there?

RSMellette said...

Oh, I don't know that there's a number beyond 2nd round. We're making final decisions this week.

We're also famous for our rejection letters - the kindest in the business, I think. So you will hear one way or the other. You won't be left hanging.

Anonymous said...

Please let us know SOONER rather than later so we can purchase affordable plane tickets to LA