Monday, March 16, 2015

Why A World Premiere?

Last night I was digging through the bin of unseen short films looking for which ones we'd screen in the room that I'm in charge of, when I realized that you, the filmmakers who submitted these movies – as well as the filmmakers who might want to learn more about how film festivals work – might benefit from knowing what I was looking for.

The answer is easy. World Premieres.

Let me clarify. All the movies that have been submitted will be screened, but here's a kick in the head: Not all of the films have an equal chance of being in the festival.

Oh, shock! Oh, controversy! Quick, run to Twitter and say how unfair film festivals are!

Or… keep reading and see what I mean.

First, life isn't fair. It isn't a game of scoreless soccer. There are no level playing fields. If you are looking for anything remotely close to fairness, then the film industry is the LAST place you'll find it. Given all of that, Dances With Films bends the rules in favor of the indie filmmaker. What is a big advantage in the rest of the world – namely, names – is a disadvantage when it comes to competition at DWF. That leaves thousands of films a year fighting for the few screening slots we have. We try to make that fight as fair as possible – but that doesn't mean all films have an equal chance.

Why not?

Let's say there are two filmmakers. From the moment they each get an idea to make a movie, the inequality begins. One filmmaker has a story that he or she feel needs telling, and has a passion for that story. The other filmmaker has a passion for making movies, but no particular story to tell.

Advantage storyteller.

Given two filmmakers who both have a passion for a story, where one knows how to get a good performance out of actors, and the other knows lenses and camera moves – advantage actors – unless the other filmmaker gets lucky with casting.

And that goes on right up to the point of submitting to festivals.

Dances With Films has always been very clear that World Premieres are preferred. We also understand that you've submitted to more than one fest and it is extraordinarily hard keep your World Premiere status. So, given a film that has a world premiere status vs. one that doesn't, we're going to watch the premiere first. If it's good, we're going to reach out ASAP to let the filmmakers know we're interested and that they should keep in touch with us about the other festivals they've submitted to. We can't program these movies yet – we have to watch all submissions before we start programming – we can't make promises, but we can start the conversation with the filmmaker.

We went through a stack of world premieres last night, and have more to go, so obviously the conversation will start with the premieres before it does the others. Advantage world premieres. Then advantage North American premieres. Then advantage West Coast premieres. Then advantage LA premieres. 

Why are we so obsessed with premieres?

There are lots of different kinds of festivals. In my hometown, the Riverrun Film Festival does a great job of getting the community out to see movies that normally don't make it to North Carolina. Some of these already have distribution and have already been seen in New York, Los Angeles, etc. That's great. Good for Riverrun! They get support from local businesses who benefit from all of those people who have come downtown to watch movies, and indie filmmakers have a venue to build an audience.

Every year the Los Angeles Film Festival takes some heat for showing big budget studio movies. I say, good for them. Would you ask Detroit to do a car show and exclude Chrysler, Ford, etc.? If you're going to call yourself THE Los Angeles Film Festival, you'd better have some industry movies, because this is an industry town. A festival is a celebration, so I say go for it! Celebrate this industry that is as old and as American as the automobile industry. Good for LAFF.

Dances With Films is also in Los Angeles. I would bet that every day of the year there is a film festival happening somewhere in LA. Most of them no one has ever heard of. For the first 3-to-5 years Dances With Films was just another one of those. (Sorry, Michael and Leslee, but it's true). By being a premiere festival, by sticking to the No Stars rule, and by showcasing indie films at the beginning of their festival run instead of the end, DWF has not only survived for 18 years – it has thrived. We are on the radar of indie distributors and that industry that LAFF celebrates.

As the business model of film distribution begins to favor uber-indie, ultra-low budget movies, DWF stands by the mark that it spent 18 years carving into Hollywood. When the industry wants to see a good indie movie that no one has ever seen before… when they want to see actors that can carry a 90 minute story, but don't have recognizable faces… when they want to find a new DP with a clear vision… they don't play fair. They come to Dances With Films.

Thanks for reading. More about submissions next week.

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