Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We Begin Again - #DFW18

Welcome to all of those who have submitted to Dances With Films year 18!

Welcome to those who have not yet submitted to Dances With Films year 18.  Keep polishing that sound, tightening up those edits, and making sure your score is more than random notes on a piano.  As you follow this blog, you'll learn how much that helps.  Do try to submit before the late, late deadline, since that'll cost you a fortune.

For those who are past fans of the blog, welcome back.  This post will sound familiar.

I've been doing this blog for more years than I care to think about.  It's based on something literary agents do on occasion.  They will, without mentioning the titles or submitters, comment on the hundreds of query letters they receive on a daily basis.  By showing their reactions, the submitters learn how to improve their pitches.  I found it very helpful, so I've been paying it forward here ever since.

The Dances With Films screening process has two aspects: features and shorts.

For feature films, screeners – usually DWF alums – take home DVDs or have Vimeo links and passwords sent to them.  They watch the movie and send back comments.  Each feature is watched by at least three screeners, and at least one of them watches it all the way through.

About that.  Some of us have been doing this for 18 years.  I've been doing it for 15.  Deciding to turn a movie off is not something we do lightly.  Case in point, I have a DVD downstairs that I know I'm going to pass on, but it was the third movie I watched the first time I put it in.  It's very slow, which might be the filmmaker's voice and might prove itself to be the right pace.  So I will start it again this evening.  If I still don't make it all the way through, I'll pull rank.  A screener with fresher eyes will have to watch the whole movie.  If their comments come back positive, then I'll look at it again.  On one occasion, this happened with a movie that I believe won an audience award, now has distribution, and is one of my favorites.  I guess I just didn't spend enough time roller skating in the 80s.

For shorts, a bunch of us get together once a week to watch in two groups.  A minimum of three screeners must be in each group.  We eat, watch shorts, and write down our individual comments.  It's actually a lot of fun.  Any movie that gets good comments from one group will be given to the head of the other group for a second look over the week.

After each shorts screening session, I write an article for the blog.  My objective is to let you know the trends we are seeing, so you might avoid clich├ęs, understand technical problems, and generally get a better insight to the uber-indie film world.  I never mention the name of a movie. 

If I write about bad things, I'm never talking about a single film, but a trend.  If I say something in a particular movie is outstanding in a good way, I'll drop enough hints so the filmmaker knows I'm giving them a pat on the back. 

For example: above I said, "…making your score more than random notes on a piano."  We must get fifty movies a year like this.  If you're still finishing your movie and have a slow piano score – often with cello droning in during the serious emotional scene – then it would serve you well to change that.

I also mentioned that one of my favorite movies is a period roller skating story.  Since that one screened in the festival, not only the filmmaker, but anyone who has seen it knows which film I'm talking about.

Looking for hints about your movie is a fun game to play while you're waiting to hear from us.  Keep in mind that if you read something not favorable that: 1) I'm not talking about your movie specifically, and 2) one problem never sinks a movie.  You still have a good chance of getting in.

This week, I didn't get to watch shorts.  I was stuck working on a new database for the festival, which reminds me, if you haven't gotten a confirmation letter from the festival, or your letter looks different from a friend's letter, relax.  I'm pushing my limited programming skills as fast as I can.

I will catch up on the movies I missed this week, but I want to leave you all with cautionary tale.

Please, please, please, before you shoot, run a test of your entire digital workflow.  Shoot a test scene in bright light, low light, with pans, movement, etc.  Have the editor you're going to use, cut these scenes together, transcode the files and burn them to a disc.  Then check for shutter flutter, dropped frames (jerky motion), duplicated frames (stuttering motion), etc.  Watch the test on different screens.  Make sure all of the motion is smooth.  If it's not, work backwards to find where the problem creeps into your work and fix it.

If you've already submitted your film, you can do the same thing, but if the problem is in your dailies, you're kind of screwed.  If your online screener has this problem, but a disc version doesn't, then you have a bad transcode.  Please fix it and send us another link and password – and always make sure to get us a DVD or Blu-Ray. 

Fixing the problem before you shoot will make your life a lot easier.  Fixing it afterward, if you can, will be necessary for distribution.

That's it for now.  Keep an eye out here the first part of each week from now until the festival and follow us on Facebook and Twitter #DWF18.

Thanks for reading.