The Sundance Slotting Wall

Sundance Wall

A rare glance behind the scenes at the Sundance Film Festival from Roger Tinch. If this wall works anything like the scheduling walls I've seen at other festivals, each sticky note represents a film in a particular venue at a particular time. Unsurprisingly, this one is a bit more complicated than most of the others I've seen.

Oh, and Sundance announced their slate this week.

Festival Snapshot: Sarasota Film Festival 2010

Sarasota FF

This is how Sarasota Film Festival president Mark Famiglio arrived to the opening night screening of this year's fest. By comparison, actor Kevin Kline arrived in this. Thanks to Jennifer Huber for sharing the photos on Flickr; you can read her article about the festival here or visit the festival's official site.

Sarasota film fest programmer Tom Hall was profiled on Film Festival Secrets back in November.

Festival Snapshot: Dallas IFF

James Faust & Bill Paxton at Dallas IFF 2010

Photo credit: Real TV Films.

I'm currently in Dallas, serving on the jury for the Texas Features section of the Dallas International Film Festival. It's my first time at this particular fest so I'm looking forward to getting to know its personality as an event. I've met most of the festival team including Michael Cain, James Faust, and Sarah Harris at various other fests but I'm curious to see them on their home turf.

FFS contributor Jesse Trussell was here this past weekend and recorded a quick interview so you can look forward to a new episode of the podcast soon. In the meantime, check out this profile of DIFF Senior Programmer Sarah Harris published late last year.

Lessons about indie film at a big box store


Let us not waste time bemoaning the current sorry state of indie film distribution; blogs and podcasts galore exist to do that. Instead let's take a look at how the rest of the world perceives independent film, and what lessons might be applied to promoting your really indie film at festivals and elsewhere. (Those people are pretty easy to spot. They're the ones not reading indieWIRE and MovieMaker.) While strolling the aisles at Target, my eye was caught by this display (above) in the DVD section of "IFC Indies."

If I made a practice of buying DVDs at Target I might have seen it before now; apparently it's the result of a three-year deal between IFC and Target that started two years ago. When it began, Target had its own night of programming on IFC called "Cinema Red Mondays," but I couldn't find any mention of that on IFC's current web site. But there it is, large as life: a full display of "indie" films recommended to Target by IFC. Check out the pictures at the bottom of this post (click for larger versions) to see some closer shots of the display and for the visual evidence of my completely nutty claims.

Lesson #1 - To the outside world, "indie" is synonymous with "arty." Independent films star all of the same people in studio films, but these movies feature stories either too complicated or depressing for Hollywood to touch. Target's definition of an independent film in this instance is largely academic -- arty, but not too threatening. Notice that in order to keep the shelves stocked with recognizable stars, the catalog goes back ten years or more (The Red Violin was made in 1998).

There are some films here that could be considered "truly" independent, depending on how much you want to torture the phrase (Hannah Takes the Stairs is a notable exception), but for the most part, this is grim confirmation that the indie titles that make it into big box stars are the yuppie-friendly ones with recognizable faces. (Is this starting to sound like an unclever entry in the Stuff White People Like blog?)

Lesson #2 - Don't just find your niche, dominate it. Lookit that -- an entire shelf of Tyler Perry movies. Granted, Perry's first movie had a budget of $5.5 million, so its status as an "indie" film is once again dependent on your personal definition of the term, but the principle applies: if you can speak to a sizable audience and make them love you that much, the big box stores will come find you.

Lesson #3 - Piggyback on the success of something similar. Notice how each shelf positions the movies on it as ideal for people who loved some other movie? That's what you want to do with yours. Figure out who your piggyback film is and practice the phrase "If you liked X, then you should see my movie." Hackneyed? Obvious? Yes, but also effective. Don't run away from comparing your film to another, similar (and more familiar) film unless your film really suffers by comparison -- in which case you might want to think about making a better film.

Lesson #4 - Documentaries should feature grisly death or rock musicians. Preferably both. Rock stars are the name actors of the documentary film department. (Maybe I should call it the doc film ghetto, since it's relegated to the very bottom shelf.) If you can't find a rock star to make your doc about, then make sure it either confirms the viewers' worst fears about the world or features someone being eaten by a bear. For the love of Pete, make sure it isn't funny -- unless you're Michael Moore, and even then the point is debatable.

Lesson #5 - Until you start making movies with million dollar budgets and Zooey Deschanel, you probably shouldn't roam the DVD aisles at Target. Not that there aren't some wonderful movies represented here, but the thought that the world at large views the state of independent film through this particular lens could really drive you crazy.



Cinevegas 2008 Opening Night

Cinevegas ice sculpture, originally uploaded by stomptokyo.

Let's open with a cornball line.

They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. For the sake of film festivals everywhere, I hope that's not true -- there's plenty to be learned from this smooth operation by fests both large and small. CVHQ, for example: the hub of activity where registration and happy hour is combined to form one big room that is a mixture of business and pleasure. In this corner, the info desk. In that corner, press credentials. Over there, the bar. And hey! Cinevegas merch right over here to be perused while live music plays at a volume moderate enough to allow natural conversation. Compared to the hograssle that is registration at many other fests, it's a delight.

The opening night film was "The Rocker," a musical crowd-pleaser starring Rainn Wilson (a personal hero of mine, and I'm not ashamed to say I gushed as I shook the hand of the man who plays Dwight Schrute and so many other great characters). "Rocker" is one of a line of smart-playing-dumb comedies that have come out recently. The cast of SNL gets in its licks (including Fred Armisen and particularly Jason Sudekis), but in a good way. Not an earth-shattering film by any means but consistently funny and highly appropriate for Wilson's first starring turn.

The after party at Moon, the Palms club with a moon roof that opens from time to time, proved that Cinevegas has the clout to take advantage of the choice venues that the city has to offer. A lesser organization might have to make do with the trashier side of Vegas, but this group has their act together. This is borne out in the fact that a large portion of the staff apparently went bowling the night before the festival began -- showing a confidence and a level of organization that I haven't seen at any other fest. The staff members I've met are all friendly and unfrazzled, but it's early yet.

If the rest of Cinevegas is this good, I'm really, really looking forward to the next five days.

Marfa Film Festival Slideshow

Shorts 2 Q&A, originally uploaded by stomptokyo.

Had a great time in Marfa, TX during the first three days of the inaugural Marfa Film Festival. The town is tiny but there's a lot of potential for the festival to become the sort of boutique sleeper event that industry types adore. Enjoy this slideshow and I'll have more stills and a recap in the coming days.