Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Before March 6th: a Pre-Submission Checklist

Our regular deadline is March 6th.  If you're going to submit to Dances WithFilms, hopefully, you're at the point now where you think you're done.  You think you're ready to submit, but are you?  Here are some common mistakes we see that you still have time to fix before the late fees kick in.

·         PRE-SCREENINGS  There are two types of screenings: Vanity and Professional, and both have their merits. 

The vanity screening is the one you do for friends and family who you know are going to say nice things no matter what.  This is a lot like getting compliments from a stripper; you know the truth, but it's good to live the fantasy, if just for a little while.  And there's nothing wrong with taking a break from the exhausting, thankless, work of finishing a film to enjoy a pat on the back from an easy mark.  Just understand that, if you're going to get anything besides an ego stroke out of this experience, you have to work for it.  Ask them if anything took them out of the movie.  If they thought it felt slow.  If it was their film, would they change anything.  Don't lead them toward answers – push, but don't get specific.  You want to hear what they have to say, not have them say what they think you want to hear.

The professional screening does not mean the cast & crew.  Save that for the festival.  It also doesn't mean a screening for distributors.  You're not ready for that yet.  A professional screening means showing the movie to people who understand the business.  They know what's good and bad, and more importantly, they know how to convey that to you.  You need people who will give you the cold hard truth.

As you get more of these "beta testers," think of their criticisms as dots on the graph that is your movie.  Don't try to respond to every single comment, that's impossible, but look for patterns.  If the dots collect around a certain subplot, take a look at it.  Maybe you can cut it.  Maybe you can tighten it up.  If people say it dragged in spots, see if they agree on where those spots are.  You need to please all of the people some of the time in this business, not the other way around.

·         SOUND:  Sound is 50% of your movie.  Not giving it as much loving care and attention as you do the picture, means you'll get an F.  If nothing else, take it to a professional post production facility for an assessment.  Remember, you're not making an internet video here.  The speakers behind the big screen at the Chinese Theatre are the size of a house and crystal clear.  One tiny drop out, one clip, one bad hum, and you literally sound like you're not ready for prime time.
·         STUPID SUBPLOTS:  Every night we screen, we see shorts with subplots that just don't fit the main story.  I say shorts shouldn't have subplots at all, which is debatable.  Having one that doesn't fit, is not.  This holds true of features as well.  Do you really need that serial killer chasing the young lovers?  Couldn't they just be alone to collect their thoughts and get away from it all?  Cut, cut, add an ADR line here and there, and before you know it, your story is tighter and based on your solid characters, not some stupid dance contest/football bet.

·         MAKE IT SHORTER!  Two things I'm constantly shouting at the screen are, "BE OVER!" and "IT'S A SHORT!"   Shorts are an art form in and of themselves.  Part of that art is an economy of words.  Every year we have films that begin with a brilliant scene.  As that scene concludes, I'm thinking – or more often saying – "Be over!"  But, noooooooo... that was just the pre-credits teaser.  Twenty painful minutes later, the movie concludes, even though the story finished before the credits.  Be like George Kastanza.  When you peak, make your exit.

·         LISTEN TO ADVICE:  Hopefully, you have a team of people who have been where you are now.  They will tell you the mistakes they made.  They will tell you what they would have done if they could do it over again.  Listen.  Learn.  Apply.
·         READ MY PAST BLOGS:  I have a selfish reason for doing this blog.  I want to watch better movies.  Filmmakers are always asking Festival Directors, "what kind of movies are you looking for?" and the answer is always the same, "Good ones."  I've try to tell you all what we mean by that, so please take advantage of it.

For your sake, and ours.