Monday, November 5, 2012

I have a new short story coming out.  The Last Performance of the Neighborhood Summer Theatre Festival, published in an anthology called THE FALL.  This collection is a follow-up to SPRING FEVERS , where I had a story called The Idea Exchange.  Regular readers might recall an earlier blog on short stories being good source material for films.  It still holds true.

All of this publishing has my mind working on the subject of promotion, marketing, and the other I-I-I, Me-Me-Me stuff that so many artists, myself included, kind of hate.

Or at least, we pretend to hate it.
In the American South, where I grew up, it's called "blowing your own horn," and it is the height of self-aggrandizing rudeness.  Ask any Southerner who has moved to Los Angeles and you'll hear the same thing, "I just can't get into this talking about myself all the time the way people do out here."

If Southerners in LA are smart, they'll listen to their friends from other parts of the world.  "You've done good work.  You should be proud of it.  There's nothing wrong with letting people know what you're doing and how they can enjoy it."

And let's face it, the spotlight is a big part of the Arts.  Somewhere, deep down inside, we all got into this business because of our desire for that light.  For some this might be all ego-driven.  For others it might be a need to get our message out into the world.  Whatever the case, in many cultures wanting to be in the spotlight is considered a bad thing.
But in a world with nuclear weapons, starvation, drug abuse, genocide, rude drivers, hang nails, Congressional Representatives who won't compromise with each other, and the cancellation of good TV shows, is it really such a bad thing for an artist who has worked hard on something they feel is worth your time – and money – to say, "Hey, put the spotlight on me for a second."

Hopefully, that will take the spotlight off Honey Boo-Boo for a while.

None my above musings help with how to promote your work.  I think each project has its own special needs.  What I am suggesting is that, if you have a hesitation about self-promotion, then get over it.  If you think you don't care about the spotlight, then stop living in denial.  Art is made to entertain.  If you've created something you're proud of, then you're doing the work an injustice if you don't get out there and sell it.

And if you really struggle with self-promotion, then try rolling it into something else – like the opening paragraph of a blog on an entirely different subject.
THE FALL and SPRING FEVERS are available for download from your favorite e-book providers.  If you'd like an old-fashioned printed version, then you can get SPRING FEVERS here.  Look for a POD verson of THE FALL soon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Suddenly, Subplots

During this off season, I'm reminded of 2001.  Having won in 2000, I returned to judge in 2001 and a few months after the festival found myself at a party.  When someone found out I'd been a judge, I got an ear-full about "how could you not give the award to such-&-such film?"

I was a little in shock, and couldn't remember the movie right way, except that I liked it.  A few minutes later, the reason it didn't win came to me: a completely stupid, improbable, sub-plot.  In the middle of a wonderful, well-written, well-acted, well-directed film, there was a subplot from hell that belonged on the cutting room floor.  Unfortunately, the subplot was so bad, it dragged the rest of the film down with it.

So whether you're facing picture lock, or the final draft of your script, keep an eye out for that tacked on storyline that doesn't belong.  Trust your characters.  Trust the emotional engine of the story.  If you feel the need to introduce some kind of outside influence on your characters, try cutting it and see if the story still stands up.  If it does, then keep the cuts on the floor. 
Your film will fly higher without the extra weight.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

No, Really, Just Tell Us The Plot

We have a long, long wait until we're open for submissions for 2013.  I'll probably repost this when we call for entries, but in the meantime the information should help programmers for other festivals – and filmmakers as well.

When you're filling out your submission forms, there is a section for summaries.  I'm going to let you guys in on the reason why that's included.

After months and months of cramming movies into our brains, writing critiques, having our favorites, etc. etc., we sit down to figure out who is in and who isn't.  Inevitably, a title will be mentioned, followed by a room full of blank looks. 

"What did I write about it?" I'll ask.

Leslee will look up my notes on our absolutely fabulous title tracking program.  "You liked it.  You gave it a Must See and wrote, 'Great cast.  Good filmmaking in all departments.'"

"F*#k me!  Why didn't I say what the movie was about?"  I don't know why I'm surprised, my notes are always like that.

So we look up the summary from the submission form. 

This sweeping low-budget epic tale is a discussion about the inner meaning of the symbolism of life as depicted by the intricate handheld camera work and natural acting style fused with classical influences of Comedia International. 

Crap.  We have to dig out the DVD and watch the movie again.  Two minutes in, we say "Oh, yeah, the one about the unemployed PHD who has to take a job at McDonalds to pay the bills.  Yeah, we like this one."

So when it says "Summary," that's what it means.  Just remind us what the movie is about.  Save the film school stuff for ... film school.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On Gate Keepers In The Digital Revolution

While we're down until next season, thought I'd point you to another blog of mine that is also relevant to filmmakers.


Where I discuss Jeff Bezos's comment about art without Gate Keepers.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Looking for Your Next Short or Feature Film Project?

Funny how sometimes things can stare you right in the face and you don't see it for long time.

Regular readers will know that I am as active as a novelist as I am a filmmaker, and often write about Artistic Cross Training. I've been aware since I saw Rollerball (1975) as a kid that short stories are excellent sources for feature and/or short narrative films. The disciplines coincide well, since both require tight, economic, use of story, character, actions, etc.

And I'm not the only one to think so. In doing some quick research, I ran across this excellent top ten list on the subject.

So what's been staring me in the face? SELF-PROMOTION!

I am published in an anthology called SPRING FEVERS and THE FALL: TALES FROM THE APOCALYPSE  which are available on most e-book platforms. If you are a filmmaker looking for material, these collections are an excellent source.

Short stories are always a labor of love, since they never make any money. Authors great and small will be happy to talk to you about them, so don't hesitate to reach out.

If you're a filmmaker and not a film writer, I'd suggest you read as many anthologies as you can get your hands on. I hope you start with these.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


During the Q & A for In Heaven There Is No Beer, Steve Hicks from Fuzz Track City – who was gracious enough to come to just about every movie – asked a brilliant question.

"Do all scenes have to die?"

It was relevant to the film – a documentary about a magical time in the LA music scene – and it was relevant to so much more. The movie screened on the last day of the festival. The last day of year 15. From where I stood on stage I could feel the filmmakers scattered around the audience, or mostly, up in the balcony, have a physical reaction as they realized their scene was about to end.

And I remembered mine. One week in June of 2000 on Sunset Blvd. Standing outside of the Sunset 5 ticket booth hearing a complete stranger say, "Two tickets for 'Jacks Or Better.'" Walking down to Dublin's Pub for happy hour – where some young woman tried to get us to sign up for something called a social website thing for artists. She told us it was a place where we could have a page promoting our work – and none of understood what she was talking about. Three years later it turned out to be MySpace.

I remember not buying a T-shirt and always regretting it. I remember hanging out with Meg and Mitch – and how brilliant their movies were.

The movies.

I remember them the most. Calling Bobcat – a Beer, Booze and Boobs movie about guys on a drinking binge who find Bobcat Goldthwaite's phone number and end up calling him. Goldthwaite isn't in the movie, but my friend and producer, Hilton Smith, had a contact to Bobcat's manager, so we got him to the screening. The last question of the Q & A came from a man in the back, who the filmmaker had to step over to get to the stage. "Yeah," came the iconic voice, "My name is Bobcat Goldthwaite..."

I don't remember the rest of the question, but it ended well.

I remember The Cat Killers hilarious scene of murderers breaking into a man's house as he writes his suicide note. I remember Final Rinse – and how we both landed at the Riverrun Film Festival when it was in Brevard, NC. I remember Cage in Box Elder, Little Red, The Pig Farm – what great people – Meg's True Rights, and of course, Attack of the Bat Monsters.

So many memories packed into such a small amount of time.

I suppose that's what a scene is, really. A group of people creating shared memories that are so burnt into their brains that, at some point while it's happening, they realize – these are good times.

That phrase is so much better in the present tense. "Those were good times," is nice too, but it's not living in the moment and aware of the moment.

People often ask me why I continue to do Dances With Films. I usually make a joke about it, but I think the real answer might be that I like being part of a team that creates a one-week-long, life-changing, scene for a group of fantastic people. It takes months and months of work. It springs into life, and then too quickly it dies, as all scenes must do.

And then, some 50 weeks later, it is resurrected. Those who have lived it, enjoy it in a different way than their first time. Those who are new, if they are lucky, will realize:

These Are Good Times.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Love It!

Obviously, I'm not one to live blog events.  There are times to do stuff and times to report on it.  This week is the time to do.

But I did want to take a quick moment this morning before running back to the 2-Minute 2-Step set to thank all of the people who have told me how much they appreciate the blog.  Applause, whether from a crowd or one person at a time, is a nice way to get paid.

Thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What I Love About Canon and the 2-Step

Here's what I love about Dances With Films 2-Minute 2-Step.

At the production meeting yesterday in the Canon Hollywood Professional Technology & Support Center, Tim Smith introduced our filmmakers to the new C300 camera they'll be using for this year's competition.

Of course, Canon is no slouch when it comes to field testing their cameras. They draw on still and cinematographers from around the world to pour their experience into every aspect of the design and technology, and Tim has been at the forefront of that effort. We love having his knowledge at our disposal.

So there our filmmakers sit, having been chosen not because they are great photographers, but because they wrote great 2-page scripts. We have an actress. We have a young man whose shooting had to be scheduled around his high school graduation. We have returning filmmakers who had only acted in films before last year's event, but are now 2-minute 2-step veterans. We have college professors.  And we even have some fantastic, professinoal, cinematographers.

One of these filmmakers plans to do stop motion animation. Yes, stop-motion with 4 hours total production time, including post. During the discussion of the particulars of how they will achieve this, Tim says, "I don't know, I've never tried that with this camera."

And what I love most, is the sense of adventure in his voice. He's not saying, "I've never tried it, so don't do it." He's saying, "I'm looking forward to figuring out how." Yes, we could use a 5D or a 7D – and that might be the way we go – but in the spirit of the competition, let's see how it could be done with the C300. Let's see what we learn.  Let's see what we can do with this tool that we didn't know we could.

Just for the fun of it.

This is the spirit that constantly puts Art a nose in front of Technology in the race toward new knowledge. Technicians hear what Artists want, and the good ones don't question it. They don't ask why. They don't even ask how. The good ones say, "gimme a minute."

Tim played with the camera for a while and outlined a strategy, and I had to laugh. All those years of testing. All of that input from around the world – which has been good, and created a great camera – but our little selection of artists came up with something they had yet to try. And by this time next week, the movie will be made and screened before a live audience.

Good on ya, 2-steppers. You done us proud.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

They Make Movies

During the introductions at this year's orientation meeting, I was struck by the number of times a group called We Make Movies was mentioned. In these days of impossible funding and cutthroat competition, I made a mental note to get to know who these folks are and what they're doing to be so successful.

Turns out, two of the founders, Sam Mestman and Joe Leondard, are Dances With Films alumni with their 2009 film How I Got Lost. That same year, they got together with actress Tara Samuel to form We Make Movies. Recently, I got in touch with all three of them to tell us more about their group.

DWF: Let's get the plug out of the way right up front. How many movies do you guys have in this year's festival, what are they and when do they screen?

WMM is very excited to have 5 films featured at this year's DWF. Two of them, All Roads Lead To Paradise (Sat. 12:30) and Empty (Monday 5pm), are WMM Original Productions making their Festival Premiere at DWF. We also have a feature, 3 Days of Normal (Sat. 930), that was workshopped through the WMM workshop, as well as as another feature Disorientation (Sat. 11:45) and the short Strange Date (Sat. 12:30) that feature WMM community members. We're also looking to have a large presence at the 2 Minute 2 Step.

DWF: That's quite a wide range, with the common thread that they are all top shelf in every department - Writing, Direction, Acting, Art, Production.  I can't wait to see what kind of party shows up for the midnight screening of Disorientation!  What makes these WMM films?

All movies funded by the WMM community are considered WMM Originals.

Any piece of writing that comes through one of our weekly workshop nights we support and endorse as a WMM film. Additionally, when active members of our community go out and make their stuff, we actively support their efforts in any way we can.

Basically, our interest is in supporting everyone who is active at our workshops and events, and doing our best to give our community members the largest possible platform for their work.

DWF: Explain what WMM is, how it works. You know, the sales pitch.

Pretty much, it's summed up by our tagline, which is that We Make Movies is dedicated to making the movie industry not suck. We Make Movies is a place in L.A. to come and make your films happen. All are welcome. Free to attend. Bottom line: We want you to make your films, and for that you need help. WMM is made up of other writers, directors, producers, actors, cinematographers, designers, composers - even some lawyers - all of whom want to help. Most important: Make the movie you want to see, make it fun while you do it, and use WMM to find some really cool people to help you make it happen..

DWF: I'm constantly telling actors that they need to get to know writers. Writers who are not also directors, need to know directors. Writer/directors who aren't cinematographers need to find a few of those, etc. How does WMM help with that?

Show up. That's it. WMM attracts to its membership (you become a "member" by attending) - the kind of people who will go out on a limb for each other. When anyone attends a WMM workshop, they will invariably meet other writers, directors, cinematographers, and more. Come with the desire to help, and you will be met with the desire to help.

DWF: But all of those people need to find managers, agents, distributors, and other people with MBAs and law degrees. Is that something WMM gets into?

Definitely... and there's getting to be more and more of that as we expand. They are either already attending, speaking at our "How We Make Movies" night, or they are a part of our greater WMM business plan in the works. Pretty much, finding all these people and this information is much easier when you become involved, and you never know who's in the audience at our events... hell, we don't even know half the time, and the place is filled with people who know people if you know how to ask in the right way. Longer term, though, we want WMM to be a place where all of these people are coming to discover, fund, and promote new talent. As we continue to grow, our aim is to collectively create a platform for our community to distribute its work and create a better way for it to be seen, discovered, and monetized, which is unfortunately incredibly hard to do for most independent filmmakers.

DWF:  Ah, yes, the money.  Eventually, independent filmmaking comes down to finding the money – which is where a lot of the Kumbayah togetherness gets tossed for a game of tackle the financier with the ball. Do you guys help with finding funds?

Yes - we have already raised funds for two slates of short films - fifteen short films in total - via Kickstarter, all funded completely by members of the WMM community, most of whom had no active stake in the films, or direct tie to the filmmakers. We're well aware that money talks and the Kumbayah thing only goes so far, and It is definitely our desire to help filmmakers find financing and be able to get their films made and seen. However, I think the biggest thing a lot of filmmakers haven't learned is that it can't be all about them, and just their film. If you never help anyone else make their movie, how can you ever expect anyone to care about your movie. What we've found is that the more we help our community get things done, the easier it becomes for us to get the things we want to get done. Think there's a Beatles song about it or something. Anyway, longer term, we're putting some things into place now that we feel are going to really help us turn the corner into becoming a real way for our community get their work made and actually make some money doing it.

DWF: Is it too late to get in on the ground floor of WMM?

It's never to late. Come to a workshop. Meet us. Meet everyone. Then go make your movie.

DWF: Looking back on How I Got Lost, what do you take away from that experience most? What did you do right? What mistakes did you make?

Well, we'll start with what we did right which was going out and making that movie without fear. We never would have gotten through it if it weren't for the fact that we planted the flag and said we were going to do it no matter what. We did it, and for the most part, the movie turned out great and we were able to get it out there and get it distributed. We learned how to hustle with How I Got Lost.

As far as some of the mistakes, well, we made some of those, too. The largest of which is the whole reason that WMM exists in the first place, which is that when we were done with the movie, we just sort of thought the rest would take care of itself. We thought, and it's a common problem with indie filmmakers, that we'd just be able to take it to festivals, have distributors get really excited, and sell it for a ton of money. It was a rude awakening to experience firsthand the underbelly of the distribution pipeline and how rigged it really is against indie filmmakers.

DWF: Dances With Films was formed pretty much the same way for the same reason, but that was before my time. 

Really, the biggest mistake we made was just not budgeting enough for the endgame, and not actively building an audience around the film throughout the production. The biggest thing a filmmaker can do for themselves in this day and age is really work backwards and figure out how they're going to get their movie out into the world once it's finished.

Here's a deeper zen parable about this: If you make a movie in your garage, and there's no one there to see it, does it ever make money?

DWF: And, of course, for those uber-indie filmmakers who think making money equals selling out, a big reason you want your current movie to make money is so you have a chance to make another one.  What advice do you have for this year's crop of Dances With Films filmmakers?

Our advice to filmmakers is don't just make it about your film. See and support as many other films as you can. And stay in touch with the people you meet. Grab a couple other filmmakers you like, and promote together. Do some things for other people with no expectation of any return... you'll be surprised how much more effective that form of publicity is. Don't be a part of the shark tank. The sharks in there are much larger than you are, anyway, and you'll just get eaten. Oh yeah, and come hang out with us ( at the fest!

DWF:  I know I'm going to drop by!  Any last words?

Only a reiteration: The movie you have in your head: Go Make It. And don't stop until you're screening it. Start now. There are people waiting to help you.

DWF: Words to live by.  Thank you all so much for your time.  I'll buy you a drink at the Filmmakers Lounge ... because, you know, they're free.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


We are so excited and honored to announce that today, ICM has become an official sponsor of the 2012 festival! Together with CAA - Dances With Films has two of the most powerful agencies on the planet as sponsors!
This means so much, a big part of it meaning that they will be paying even closer attention to the many talents that are being exhibited with us this year. ICM joins an increasing list of sponsors this year - which we are very honored to have!


We are also lining up our speakers for the "Cocktails & Conversations With..." that will be happening in the Filmmakers Lounge. Just added to Alan Heim doing his master class with actually advising two lucky filmmakers who will get their film 'edited' by Alan, is Academy Award® Winner, Mr. Ron Bass, known for his work of RAIN MAN, MY BEST FRIENDS WEDDING, SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS, and AMELIA.

On a personal note, Mr. Heim did our first casual chat at the filmmaker's lounge last year, where I had the honor of interviewing him and hosting the discussion.  The man is a delight.  That day is a highlight of all my 12 years with DWF.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Just Real Quick

We read through the 2-Minute 2-Step submissions last night.  Always fun to dust off the acting skills, even if it is only table reads.

Just like the regular submissions, we have more good scripts than we do open slots, so I'd like to encourage all of those who submitted to produce their films.  In fact, I believe we have a short in the festival this year that was a 2-step submission we didn't accept last year.

Great stuff everyone.  Thanks for all who submitted.  To those that are chosen ... I think you're going to have a working Holiday weekend.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Let me first say that I am not complaining.  The stats I am about to point out are a part of human nature. which of course means that they are as aggravating as rush hour traffic. 

Have a look at this graph:

This is a graph of the page visits for the blog you're reading right now.  I don't know if you can make out the dates of the twin peaks, but they are right before we announce what films will be in the festival.

As I said, I'm not complaining, just making an observation.

One of the objectives of this blog is to give filmmakers an insight into what kinds of movies we're seeing in submissions and especially what problems we see over and over again.  I would hope that filmmakers thinking about their next film would come mine the gold we've been digging for all these years - and, in a selfish way, I'd like you all to make better movies because the bad ones are just too painful to watch.

But is that happening?  Obviously not. 

Just before we announce, filmmakers crash the blog to see if they can learn anything about the fate of their film. A fate which might have had a better chance if they had read the blog before they shot - or better yet, wrote - their movie.

I am not surprised.  Prior to all of this Internet stuff, filmmakers would ask me for advice and I would tell them, "You're looking at me now, and you think you're listening, but you're not.  I will give you some good advice.  Everyone who has experienced what you're about to experience will give you good advice ... and you will ignore it and do what you were going to do anyway.  I know this is true because I did it.  All of the people here did it, and we can see in your eyes that you're going to do it, too.  It's human nature."

So, please folks, if you're coming to the festival check out the panels.  Write down what they say and post it on your computer as a daily reminder.  If you can't attend this year's festival, or the panels, flip back through my blog.  Learn why people are falling asleep during your main character's introspective self-realization.  Figure out how to change it into something active; something that will engage the audience.

Learn from the filmmakers who went before you, and maybe you won't be so anxiously checking this blog on the run up to next year's lineup.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Pet Peeve – Two

I can't stand it when filmmakers don't help us help them.

I just came from a meeting with Leslee and our PR firm. We're putting together our package to go to Variety. You know, that trade magazine that's featured in every movie about movies or Broadway since the dawn of time. The magazine that is so inundated with request for reviews from film festivals all over the world that every year they tell us they aren't doing festival reviews, but, bless their hearts, every year they somehow find time to review a few of our films.

That Variety.

And we don't have screeners from some of our features. If we don't get them by Monday those movies may miss their one-and-only chance for a Variety review.

What can a review do for you if you don't have distribution? Consider: After my film premiered at DWF I was reviewed in Variety. At my day job, I cut and pasted the review and Xeroxed a bunch of copies which started a conversation with a Universal Development executive.

"Copies of my review in Variety," I said before he asked.

"You've got a review in Variety?"

"Yeah. 'Tautly written, briskly directed, this feature film debut from Robert Sidney Mellette shows promise for helmer-scribe.'" I had the pull quote memorized already.

"Really?" I handed him a copy of the review. He read a few lines. "Do you have a copy? Can I see it?"

Because of that review, instead of me begging a Sr. VP Creative Executive at Universal to please watch my movie – he was asking me.

I handed him one of my VHS copies. (Yeah, I'm old). Later, he told me he loved it. He told me so much he had to stop himself saying, "I'm gushing."

It didn't land me a job, but I'll never forget the comments.

Comments I never would have heard if I hadn't gotten my screeners into to Leslee! Come on people!

I'll get in trouble if I don't add – we can't guarantee that we'll get you a review in the trades. We can guarantee that if you don't give us your screeners and press kits that you will not get a review.

While I have you – the deadline for 2-Minute 2-Step script submissions is May 18th. Spread the word to your friends, family, writers groups, people you owe money to, etc. This is another golden opportunity not to be missed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Every year I am amazed by some of the performances I see in Dances With Films movies, and every year I'm astonished by the lack of attendance by the professional casting community.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Festivals have become more about the supposed auteur than the team of people it really takes to make a movie. Actors can also get lost in the shuffle, since they might work as little as a day on a movie that takes a year to finish.

But there is no reason that a film festival can't be as much of a showcase for actors as it is for writers, directors, photographers, etc. There is a huge difference between a one-minute reel and carrying a film.

Yes, I know that most of the job of a casting director is negotiating contracts for the stars, but they also have to fill those hard-to-find supporting roles. They have to have files for when a director says, "I want a fresh face." They have to be ready to strike a balance between a director's desire for "someone no one has ever seen before," and a producer's need for a professional who won't hold up production.

So, filmmakers of year 15, let's see if we can't make this the year of actors. Add your cast to our Facebook page. Encourage them to have the same open, positive, promotional sharing of information between actors in all the films as you have done.

Who has an agent that's coming to see the movie they are in? Who doesn't have an agent, but would like to get them to their screening? Who is an actor/writer/producer/director that would like to scout cast & crew from the other movies? Who has a good relationship with a casting director who should come to the festival? Who is going to make sure that the casting director from your movie is going to come to the festival?

Filmmakers remember, what's good for your cast in other films is good for you in yours.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Get Over It - Get To Work

Thursday, we had our pre-festival orientation meeting with as many filmmakers participating in the festival as possible. Typically, we crammed thirty minutes of work into a little over an hour and a half. Amazing how that happens.

After the meeting, our core group of volunteers snuck away for the traditional drinks and dinner.  We raised our glasses in a toast to the films we love that did not get into the festival this year. There are always more good movies than we have slots to fill, so sadly, we have to say good-bye to some fantastic films.

I thought of Italian dancers and Broadway cops. I thought of a guy hanging out in a men's room, and a mother and son who would see that as luxury. I thought of good performances in not-quite-so-good stories. I thought of all the people who put their blood, sweat and tears into someone else's dream – the cast and crews of all those indie films. Cheers to all of you.

There are also a slew of films that are ready for the shelf. Projects where those involved should take from them the lessons they've learned and put into them nothing more. Any good artist knows what I'm talking about: the scripts in a drawer, the novels in a trunk, the canvases ready to be painted over. In my case, the 35mm can in my garage. Cheers to the projects on the shelf as well.

And onto the next!

That could be your 2-Minute 2-Step entry!

We scouted the space for this year's 2-step and I think it might be the best yet. One of our Sponsors, the Renaissance Hotel, which is just ... 2 steps ... away from the front door of the Chinese Theatres, has graciously given us a conference room. This is the closest space to a sound stage we've ever had. High ceilings, a big empty space, plenty of power – and near enough to the theatre for us to put the edit bay in the lobby. Yes, that's right, you'll be finishing your movie in front of a live audience. We've done this before, and it's a blast!

So, if you are one of the filmmakers waiting to hear from us, you will soon – but, sadly, it won't be good news. You can wallow in your sorrow, or you can...

...Get over it, and get to work.

Monday, April 30, 2012

I'll Bring the Booze If You Bring the Coffee

That sounds like a country song - and it's a great tune to hear. 

We very much encourage filmmakers to support each other in ramping up to the festival, during the craziness that is the festival - and for as long as you're on the circuit.  You never know, you might be able to room together and save some bucks when you find yourselves at the same screenings down the road.  We've had alumni get together on projects that have come back to screen years later.

So let the networking begin!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Learning From Last Year

And this point, it's worth it to take a look at a post from about this time last year.

Why and What Next?

Brag Board 2012

Some - not all - invitations have gone out to films for year 15 of Dances With Films. 

Did you get one?

It's too early to send out a press release - but I think a happy shout out here wouldn't hurt.

If you don't get in - and remember WAIT FOR AN OFFICIAL PASS LETTER - but you do have success at other festivals, feel free to come rub our noses in it.  In truth, some of our favorite movies for one reason or another don't make the cut, so we'll be glad to hear of your progress.

So - brag away in the comments section.  Make sure you choose to get updates for new comments and as the year goes by you can follow each other's success on the festival circuit.

Congrats to those who have made it.  And best wishes to those that will make it done the line.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Pet Peeve

Filmmakers that don't get back to us.

Check your e-mails, people!

Of course, if you're reading this blog, then you're probably not guilty of this.

I can't tell you how frustrating it is to find a movie you like out of all the submissions.  Fight for it in the competition for precious screening times.  Then have the filmmaker not answer e-mails.

Every year one or two movies don't get in the festival because they never got back to us.


Monday, April 23, 2012

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Notifications have not gone out yet, so sit tight.

It is getting late for not hearing anything, though.  If you haven't heard a peep from us, the writing might not be on the wall yet, but the taggers are suiting up.

If that's case - and even if it isn't - you might want to enter a 2-Minute 2-Step script.  If you don't get your movie in the festival, you can still get your movie in the festival by making another one!  Even if you do get in, you can take half a day to make a movie and have two screenings!

So - hedge your bets.  Write a 2-page or less script and submit it.  You've got little to lose; you'll walk away with another film on your resume, and possibly a sweet Canon camera!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anyone Got Class? - Study Filmmaking Here

Yes, I'm hanging out my shingle.

If you'll notice, on the menu above, I've added a section for CLASSES.  I'm just starting this up and would love any and all relevant thoughts you guys might have on the subject.

Thanks in advance.

MOVIE SELECTION UPDATE - We're taking a second look at every movie.  Last night I watched a feature that one screener had passed on.  I loved it, and so did Leslee, so we're contacting them for more information.  Last time that happened, the movie that was originally a pass, won the festival!

Good luck everyone.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ask The Programmers 2012

Okay, we've come to the time of year when I run out of things to say.

I'll pause while those who know me make a joke about that.

While we're waiting, I noticed some people commenting on our Facebook page about this blog.  That's cool, but I don't go on the Facebook page that often.  If you want to make sure I see something, post it here.

Having said that, and not having anything else to say, it's time to throw it out to you guys.  Do you have questions? 



Favorite articles? 


Bueller...?  Bueller...?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Festival of the Unknowns

It's funny how objects change depending on our relationship to them.

At the beginning of each season the DVDs are just a pile of meaningless titles. Some have cover art. Most are just homemade DVD's with a title, running time, tracking and contact information, one last desperate note from the filmmaker, etc. making for a mess of multicolored sharpie scribble. This doesn't change much after screening the movies except the titles start to ring a bell.

Then, after watching hundreds of movies over a few months, it comes time to discuss who is in and who's not. We final programmers go through every single title, regardless of its scores, to discuss it. Most often, these conversations start with, "Is that the one about...?" If we can't remember it, we pull out the DVD – which still looks just like all the others – and pop it in the machine.

We don't have to watch the whole thing again, since we've seen it before. This is just a reminder. "Oh, yeah, okay..." I hit eject and the DVD has transformed. The scribbles all mean something now. The key art, if there is any, makes sense. This once-standard DVD has become as unique to me as the people who made it. Myself and a few others now hold a good portion of its Fate in our hands.

Deciding whether it is still in the running, or out until further notice, changes the DVD once again. It now looks like a decision made, or closer to being made – and for us – that's a good thing. We have a lot of those to make in the next week or so. If it's still in the running, the DVD feels lighter, happier. If it has been set aside to hope for an open slot along the way, there is a sadness to it. It almost feels heavier.

For some, we need more information. An e-mail is fired off, and the DVD is put back in the bin it came from. Somewhere in the world its creator has an anxiety attack trying to guess what that request means. I can tell you. It means your once-anonymous DVD is now known by the festival of the unknowns.

Good luck everyone, and if you haven't heard from us, that doesn't mean anything yet. Sometimes we don't get in touch because we know, no matter what, your movie is in. Sometimes we're just waiting to see how things shake out.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Times of Our Lives

As the festival gets closer, I start waxing nostalgic, which has lately turned my thoughts toward times of our lives. Dances With Films festival lasts a week. One week out of fifty-two in a year. One week out of thousands of weeks in a lifetime, and yet, when I see filmmakers I met during my one week in 2000 – people I might only see for an hour or so a year – it's like were never been apart. We shared something special together that only we can understand.

Life in production is like that. You might work on a film for a month, a week, a day, or years. However long you do, there's something special about that time. There's something special about the bonds you make. Whether you get to share a week with the filmmakers in this year's festival or not, I hope you will all appreciate the special times you've already had. Friendships forged in these conditions are rare and wonderful. Enjoy them.

After our screening last night, Leslee and I looked over the list of short films. "There are a lot of great films," she said. "It's going to be a good year."

I can't help but think of the week or two we have ahead. So many good films means not all of them will get in. This makes for one of those stressful, friend-forging, times – as it can become very emotional. We each have favorites that we fight for and the pushing and shoving can get intense. So if one of us snaps at you between now and May 1st, please understand. It's not you, it's life as a festival programmer.

When I speak at panels, or talk to filmmakers, I'm often asked what they can do to increase their odds of getting in. The first answer is make a great film. Now you've done that, and your great film is up against other great films – so here are some next level tips.

• Rule #1: Be a good person. Between now and our announcement of the line-up, we may or may not be in touch to get details about where you are now with your film – premiere status, etc. So, the Golden Rule applies.

• Check your e-mail! Check your spam filter. If you made a special e-mail for your film that's separate from your work/personal one, check it twice a day. Every year we have some filmmaker that falls off the map. Don't let that be you. If we can't get you by e-mail, we'll call, fax, whatever – but e-mail is our first choice.

• Have your own marketing plan. Yes, that's right, YOUR marketing plan. We market the festival, you market your screening, both to industry and the public. Start thinking now, if you haven't already, about how you're going to make sure the critic or industry professional in the audience isn't the only one there. Nothing impresses distributors like a line around Hollywood Blvd.

• Be patient. It is in our best interest to notify you as quickly as possible if you're in, so asking a thousand times starts to break Rule #1. If you have an offer at another festival, sure, get in touch – politely. We won't be able to give you a legally binding answer as to whether you're in or not, but the more we ask you think about your options, the more you should think and not act.

• Yes, we will notify you if you've not gotten into the festival, and we will do so as soon as we can. As I've said before, films drop out, don't get back in touch, break rule #1, etc. etc. – so it's not until we have everything locked that we send out our famous pass letters.

• Use this blog: If you look back to about this time last year, you'll see people asking questions in the comments section. Chances are, you have the same question. Chances are, the answer hasn't changed. If you still have a question – or just want to shout out to the world how excited you are – don't hesitate to post in any of the blog post's comments section.

I know the waiting sucks. I know that you're going to see posts on Facebook from other filmmakers, saying "We're in the second round of DWF," and you haven't gotten that notice. It doesn't mean anything at this stage. Sit tight. We've been doing this for 15 years. We'll all make it through together.

Thanks for reading. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

As The Deadline Nears ... I Hit The Jackpot!

As our final, ridiculously late, deadline approaches (April 9th), filmmakers who have submitted start to get antsy. Perfectly understandable. I've been there. I feel your pain. The thing to keep in mind is that, until you have one of our famously polite pass letters, your film is still in the running. Over the years we have had filmmakers turn us down thinking they'll get into a bigger festival – they almost always resubmit the next year with their world premiere status intact. We have had filmmakers disappear, not answering our e-mails, phone calls, etc. We've had filmmakers freak out, saying they aren't ready. In all of those cases, we've reached back to movies that were on the bubble and pulled them in.

Sometimes, we have one open slot and two good films. Film A has a delightful filmmaker who has been understandably anxious, occasionally posting a question or two, but not being a pest about it. Film B's creator rants on the boards about how festival's don't meet their deadlines, demanding answers, and generally being a pain in the behind. All things being equal, who do you think gets in?

There is a reason we have such a strong, active alumni.

Moving on; I want to say a word about the features. Each week after the shorts screening sessions we pull features out of the bin to take home to watch and review. Last week, I was the last one at the troth, so I just grabbed four films that no one else wanted. Picking good films with nothing to go off of but a title and maybe some packaging is like playing the lottery – you might think you can hedge your odds, but it's all luck. Mostly this year my luck has been bad. I've seen some okay films, but nothing to get me excited – and, don't worry... that means nothing about your particular movie. I haven't seen all of the features by a long shot. I hear good things, and look forward to watching them as the process continues.

That said, last week I hit the jackpot! Four terrific films in a row. From Ballet to Baseball, from the Northeast to the Northwest, you guys were rocking it. All kinds of styles – each with a clear filmmaker's voice. From commercially formula movies that were spot on – not as easy to do as people think – to quiet, personal stories driven by character. From the masculine to the feminine, you had it covered. Nice.

On to last night's shorts:

The accidental theme last night was "people getting dressed for... dates, work, we don't know what." We had five films, each with long scenes where nothing happens but people putting their clothes on, putting on makeup, showering, etc. etc. Yeah, we get it. They're getting dressed, we know how that works.

This led me to an important teaching phrase I made up last night. "Only show us what we want or need to see." When shooting and editing, ask yourself about each set up or shot, "Does the audience need to see this?" and "Do they want to see this?" If the answer to both questions is "no," and you're not making a horror/twisted film – where we enjoy looking away in disgust – cut the shot.

Every year we get three-to-five blind date movies. We saw two last night. One good, one not-so-much. If you're thinking of making a blind date movie, understand that you're going to have to up your game, because every comedy filmmaker in the world is doing the same thing. In the bad films of this genre, we are forced to watch a date that's that dull and boring just to see how dull and boring it is. When you're facing the blank page, thinking what to write, and you have a choice between dull and boring or hilariously horrific, which do you think is the better choice? We, as viewers, have the same choice.

Which do you think we're going to make?

I'll leave you with that question. Thanks for reading. Get to writing your 2-Minute 2-Step entries, and I'll see you on Hollywood Blvd.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Toys! Canon EOS C300

Canon USA will once again be joining us for the 2-Minute 2-Step Short Film Challenge, and this year is particularly exciting. Over the past five years Canon has used the 2-Step as a show case for their latest and greatest toys. In year one, it was the A1. A couple of years after that, we put the iconic 5D Mark II in the hands of our filmmakers, who had never seen anything like it before. The next year, half of the eight production teams asked, "Can we just bring our own 5D (or 7D)?"

This year Canon's new toy is the EOS C300.

Yeah, baby! In year one, the late Irvin Kershner (Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back) dropped by to see the A1. I have a feeling that our little 2-Step competition might draw more such visitors this year. I can't wait!

If you've already entered the festival and want to hedge your bets, start writing your best 2-minute script now. If you don't have a film to enter, do the 2-Step and you might have finished film by June 7th.

We generally close submissions for the 2-Step after we announce the festival line-up, so you have time, but a good 2-page script can be hard to write, so get those submissions in. It's cheaper to enter than a stack of lottery tickets, your odds are a lot better, and you get to have a blast doing it.

Speaking of deadlines, March 31st is our FINAL DEADLINE. Yes, Without A Box has us do some kind of late-late deadline, but you're going to pay through the nose for that – so why not just buckle down, get it done and save some money?

On to the current submissions.

We are seeing some great looking films, that are not so well written, acted or directed. All of the cool cameras I've just talked about have definitely upped the game when it comes to photography, but how many times do I have to say it? A good picture of bad acting is a bad picture.

Along those same lines, good acting that can't be seen, is a waste. Yes, these new toys are fantastic in low light, but sometimes the light is so low – or the contrast between what is lit and what's not, is so wide – that we can't see the actor's faces. Yes, yes, sometimes that's a choice – but it's almost never a good one. You want it to be dark, fine. Get a flashlight, tape on a piece of diffusion and a nice color and stand behind the camera to pop in a little glow on your actors' faces. I've seen Dean Semler do that a thousand times. You should, too.

I've noticed a trend over the past couple of years of comedies that aren't the list bit funny, and they remind me of radio DJ's who think they are hilarious, but aren't. Since they can't hear if their audience is laughing or not, they have no idea if their bits are working. As theatre becomes a museum art form, film artists are getting further and further from training in live performances. Gone are the days of the Marx Brothers, who did their bits so many times in front of a live audience that they knew when to pause for laughs. Everyone in film should do themselves the favor of working in live theatre – there is no better way to get a feel for what works and what doesn't than an immediate response.

My head has bruises from being hit by filmmaker's messages last night. I'm not going to repeat Samuel Goldwyn's quote, "if you want to send a message, use Western Union." I like stories that have a message buried within it, but the burying is important. Let the audience find the point of the story, don't stick them in the eye with it.

We had a movie that was overall not-so-hot, but contained some good transitions and it reminded me how important those are. Getting from scene one to scene two in an interesting way can give a film voice, which is so important in telling any kind of story.

Finally, I want to give a f#&king shout out to a f#&king hilarious spoof of every movie we've ever seen in the submission process. We f#&king laughed our f#&king asses off, and that's f#&king real, man! That's the truth.

Thanks for reading. Mind the upcoming deadline, and get those 2-Step submissions in – 'cause it is ON!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

As Laker Fans Say Good-Bye to Derek Fisher – We Bid Farewell to the Sunset 5 and Hello to...

Dances With Films has found a new home! I can't tell you how excited I am. I think this partnership marks not only a landmark for Dances With Films but for all of Hollywood as an industry.

But, it does come with a touch of melancholy. For all but one of our 15 years, DWF has been held in a Laemmle Theatre, and every year they have been the best to us. Before I worked for Dances, I was a filmmaker just like you, and I will never forget how excited I was to premiere on Sunset Blvd at the Laemmle Sunset 5.

For those of you not from the area, or new here, the Sunset 5 was the place to be for indie film. Sure, sure, filmmakers can sit around a bar to argue the point like sports fans taking on Jordon vs. Kobe, but for a Valley boy, there was nothing like coming over the Hill on Love Street, and seeing the Sunset 5 like a beacon welcoming all to West Hollywood. And when that beacon held up a DANCES WITH FILMS banner, man oh, man... sweet. I will never forget standing outside the box office hearing a complete stranger say, "two for Jacks or Better." That's what it's all about.

But Laemmle's vacated 8000 Sunset in January, so our search for a new space began. We desperately wanted to stay with the chain that is as tenacious about indie film as we are, and we have, but it's not Laemmle. We will miss them as much as Laker fans miss Derek Fisher. We wish them all the best in their brand new North Hollywood home, as well as all their other venues.

Our new home is an old one under new management. The new guys in an old theatre have sworn a commitment to indie film the likes of which has not been seen since Chaplin, Pickford, and Fairbanks started United Artists.

...okay, so that might be an overstatement... but not by much.

This much is true: If you can't premiere on Sunset Blvd, there is only one other street in the world to be on – and that's where we're heading.

Hollywood blvd, baby! Dances With Films new home is The Chinese Theatre. Your films will premiere just spitting distance of where the Academy Awards are given. You'll be hanging out at Hollywood & Highland, taking the subway, checking out the footprints in the sidewalk, and buying cheesy tourist stuff along the boulevard.

But first – your film has to get in the festival, so on to the screenings:

I left my notes behind, and my memory hasn't been what it used to be, so this might be short and sweet. The unintended theme last night was period movies with foreign accents. Right now, I'm sure someone has shouted, "He's talking about my movie!" You might be right, but I'm also talking about at least three others. We watch the submissions pretty much at random, so it's a fluke that most of the movies last night had this in common.

The other thing they had in common was a certain amount of stiffness. Nothing bad enough to disqualify them from consideration, but if you're making a movie set in the past, read on.

When you're doing a period piece, you're asking a lot of your actors. This is where training comes in. The art of acting is to look like you're not doing it at all, and that is made more difficult when the clothes you're wearing, the culture you're portraying, and world you're in have nothing to do with your own. Any modern woman who has worn a hoop skirt or corset can tell you how difficult this is. Men, slip into a suit from the Victorian era, or the 1700's and then try to pretend how natural this is, and you'll understand. In theatre, actors rehearse for weeks in rehearsal costumes to get the physicality of the period. They have to get the muscle memory of how everything is different, in order to forget how different everything is. Once this is done, they get on with the job of portraying the character in the given situation.

Now, add to that an accent, or in some cases a completely different version of their native language, and you get a sense of the mountain your actors have to climb while appearing to stroll down the street. If you've cast actors who have not trained for the period in college or a stage play, then you can't leave them hanging. You have to give them the rehearsal time they need to look like they haven't had to rehearse at all. Otherwise, you're just going to have a bunch of modern day people in stupid clothes and wigs strutting around with accents that wash in and out like waves on a beach.

Not that all the movies last night had that problem – but you certainly don't want to risk it.

That'll do for now. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you all at the Chinese on Hollywood & Highland in June.

Monday, March 12, 2012

An Interview with Dances With Films's Industry Choice Awards Winner

Last year, with the help of some of our more connected staff members, we began a program called the Industry Choice Award, or ICA, which we're continuing this year.

The idea is two-fold: First, it gives us a chance to give your movies industry exposure – not only for the filmmaker, but the cast, the department heads, and all of the people on your projects who are playing at a professional level. We've always maintained that, while not every film in the festival is perfect, there is something perfect about every film.

The other goal for the Industry Choice Award is to give one filmmaker a chance to step up to the mound at the majors and throw his or her best pitch. Last year, the guy who got that opportunity was William J. Saunders, the writer director of the adorably charming feature, Sweet Little Lies. I recently followed-up with him about his festival experience and the ICA in particular.

William J. Saunders... Can I call you Bill?

(Laughs) People have tried. Joe seems to stick better.

We get a lot of alumni coming back to the festival their sophomore year, and I always like to ask, "How has your year been out on the circuit with your movie? Good stories? Cautionary tales?"

Gees, where do I begin? DWF was certainly the highlight, and I’m not just saying that. We had nearly our entire cast/crew out for that. Since DWF, we spoke with several small distribution companies. It was not a pleasant process. It opened my eyes to the incredibly large number of small indie films in distribution, most of which I had never heard of. Actually, I got in touch with J.C. Khoury, another DWF Alumni, [The Pill, 2011] to trade stories about distributors. It was a short but very helpful conversation. If anything it was comforting to know someone was going through the same thing. In the end SLL [Sweet Little Lies] went with a company called FilmWorks Entertainment, who were smaller than some other companies we were talking with, but FW was an ambitious new company. And most importantly, they were affable people. Some of the other companies seemed like car salesmen. So Sweet Little Lies had its officially release last month (iTunes, DVD, Walmart, etc).

I believe DWF was your World Premiere, yes? How did you like having your film on Sunset Blvd? What are some of your memories of the fest a year later?

It wasn't the World Premiere, but it was the LA premiere. The location of the festival was great. I have a picture around here somewhere of WeHo Jesus endorsing our film and the festival. That was a pretty funny moment. One of the most memorable moments was watching Richard Riehle approach the box office and purchase a ticket to my movie. I wanted to chat with him afterwards, but I missed him. Unless he left half way through! (laughs) …eh…I hope not.

You know we're moving this year. The Sunset 5 is no more. I can't yet announce exactly where we'll be, but ... let's just say, if your film wins an Academy Award, you'll be in walking distance.

I didn’t know you were moving…Egyptian Theater? That would be amazing.

Actually, no, but that's a good guess.

You were our very first winner of our Industry Choice Award, and I don't mind telling you, I'm jealous. Tell us about it – from winning, to your meetings, to now – was it good for you?

It was the single best award we won on the festival circuit. Both meetings I went to were great, and I’ve kept up with those contacts since. They’ve asked me to send my next project their way, and I plan to. Who knows if they’ll like it, but if they’re not interested, they may know someone who is and you get more contacts etc. This prize gives you the ability to significantly improve your career. That’s something incredibly valuable for someone who doesn’t have representation or access to those meetings otherwise. I’m not sure why other festivals don’t have something similar.

What advice do you give next year's winner?

Have a brilliant script ready for the meeting.

Do you have any suggestions for how we might make it better next year?

The only thing I can think of is including a talent agency into the industry pool. Getting a meeting with even a small agency would be great. That side of the business is really foreign to me, but seems like an essential step in the process. It’s the same principle with the producers I met, but I think an agent might be more willing to take immediate action – if they like you and your work of course.

What's next for you, project-wise?

Actually, I was working for Mark Osborne, director of Kung Fu Panda, who saw Sweet Little Lies at the DWF festival. He’s working on the adaptation of The Little Prince. It was a lot of fun to work in animation for a bit. Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on a documentary about a little known country musician named Billy Mize. It was accepted in the Film Independent Doc Fellowship Program and hopes to be done in May, so be on the look out: I’ve also been directing commercials, short projects, writing and slowly building momentum for the next feature.

Any parting words of wisdom?

100% of people who made it in this industry never gave up.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Feel The Rhythm of the Music Getting Stronger

I'm a little late for this week's blog, sorry. I was at an audition at Paramount. Yeah, I dust off my picture and résumé from time-to-time and get back to what got me started in this business. In talking with my fellow actors I was reminded of something I've been meaning to say to filmmakers for a while:

Guys, girls, if you've gone low/no budget and promised your cast a copy of the film, DO IT. If you're afraid the movie will get pirated, then give the actors clips of their work. They need that to add to their reel – and having them distribute their work in your movie can only be good for your film. So, please, honor the work they've done for you and burn a few DVD's. It's the least you can do.

I blog here mostly about short films, but all of us watch feature submissions during the week, and there are trends in features just as much as there are shorts. This year it seems like every other movie starts with a couple having sex in bed. Nothing wrong with that, but if you're writing your next script, you probably want to figure out a different way to start the story if you want to stand out from the crowd of people in bed.

But whatever you do, don't go back to the alarm clock tripping, being turned off, followed by a shot of feet hitting the floor. We've seen way too much of that, too.

Last night it seemed like all of the shorts were not – short, that is. Regular readers will know my constant advice to all short filmmakers: "Cut it in half." All of the movies last night, even the good ones, could have done with a cut down.

During one of these too-long affairs , a screeners came up with a great quote. "Have something happen in the shot." That's great advice. When I was studying acting, we had to write out a simple action for every line of dialogue. This could only be what we were doing. Not thinking, not feeling, not saying, but what we were physically doing. Filmmakers on the set should ask themselves, "what is the action of the shot?" "What is happening in this shot?"

If the answer is, "This shows the character feeling..." stop. If the answer is, "this is where he's thinking..." stop. What is the character DOING? If they don't have anything to do, give them something or cut the shot. You can't photograph a feeling or a thought. You can photograph a person putting on a good face despite their feelings. You can photograph a person desperately looking for a pencil and paper so they can write down their brilliant thought – or, stopping and changing direction because of their new thought.

Shoot verbs, not nouns.

Someone help me out in the comments, who said, "if a character pulls a gun, it had better go off"? Whoever it was, s/he was right. If you've written in a gun and it doesn't go off in your story, then cut the gun. Chances are the story will be better for it. If you can't cut it, figure out who you're going to shoot.

And for all of those Homeland Security web crawlers that just flagged this blog – we're talking about fictitious movies here. No one is really going to be shot.

We had a couple of films that featured drama on drama. By that I mean, the script is packed with dramatic beats and so are the actors, camera angles, lighting, music, etc. If you're on the set and get the feeling that your cast has picked up on the drama of your drama, then they playing the atmosphere, not the actions. Have them lighten the load. Even in the most serious scene, an actor shouldn't play the drama, but the action.

Finally, as we do every year, we got some movies about dance. Thankfully, these were good films. One I particularly enjoyed, as it took me back to some of my own memories – not that I was a dancer, I'm just old.

Anyway, I want to make sure everyone knows that, even though we're called Dances With Films, it doesn't mean we are looking for movies about dance. I think we might have had a dance-themed movie in every year, but only because they were terrific films, not because we have a thing for moving to rhythm of the beat.

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading. I've heard some people have had trouble commenting on blogger in general. If that's the case for you, please shoot me an e-mail so I can get your thoughts out to the world.

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.