The University of Texas at El Paso's student paper, interviewing communications professor Roberto Avant-Mier:
According to Avant-Mier, festivals look for good screenwriting, and value theoretical concepts and depth, although he admits the assumption that independent films carry depth is not always true.
The article itself is probably of limited interest to anyone outside El Paso, but if you've ever watched a number of films submitted to festivals, you're nodding your head at that sentence. The article's headline is a bit misleading since the piece is more about the state of local filmmaking in El Paso than about festivals, but still worth a quick skim.
At some point in the near future I may write up a semi-serious response to this video, but for now – just watch.
Mark Potts is a good friend and one of my favorite filmmakers. I use him as an example all the time – of someone who relentlessly adds to his body of work, knowing that an important part of success is to keep moving forward even when you fail. Mark's expression of this philosophy is somewhat pithier than mine but you should definitely read what he has to say.
You know when people give you advice and you think, “well, that’s easier said than done,” and you get all pissy about it, and instead of focusing on the advice you focus on how hard it is to follow the advice? I do that a lot. It is really annoying.
But it is a habit I am trying to break because it is counterproductive. And it also goes against my new philosophy in life:
Just make shit.
Above: Mark Potts (left, holding corn dog) with film critic James Rocchi at the Oxford Film Festival.
One of my favorite veterans of the indie film world, Saskia Wilson-Brown, gives you the honest &#$!ing truth about the films that festival screeners see way too often.
The Soapbox Doc
Earnest in tone and pointing to legitimate problems in the world, the advocacy doc is also usually incredibly yawnsville. It is healthy and dull, like a brussel sprout for your brain. Like with a brussel sprout, it’s hard to get particularly excited about consuming it. Try adding some humor, a damn good editor, and an opposing point of view. And please: No more films about Katrina or global warming, at least for a little while.
Tate English and Lynn Mikeska (writer/director and star, respectively, of The Ballad of Friday and June) spent some time at the Oxford Film Festival recording a series of webisodes to document their festival trip. Rather than making the series a simple travelogue, however, they went out of their way to make each episode funny in a self-deprecating way. Well-made webisodes like these capture some of the local flavor of a festival town and involve fellow attending filmmakers involved whenever possible. (You want to give people a reason to link to your videos, right?) Off-the-cuff video blog entries are a fun, inexpensive way to build a fan base and to draw attention to your film's festival run.
See more Oxford FF travel videos at the Ballad of Friday and June blog.
Lucas Martell's podcast is a companion to the launch of his short animated film, Pigeon Impossible. Each episode is entertaining in its own way (check out episode 2, "Writing is Rewriting") and most of them focus on the animation process, but episode 12 speaks directly to the festival circuit. In particular listen to Martell's advice about output formats and why the extra expense of converting your short to 35mm film might give you a leg up on the competition. Now that's what I call a film festival secret.
Lately I've had the privilege of sitting on a couple of panels with Heidi van Lier, filmmaker and author of The Indie Film Rule Book. Heidi's advice is no-nonsense, funny, and wastes no time. If you're not reading her blog at the Film Independent web site, you should be. There she dispenses similar wisdom; I've linked to a few recent samples below.
A coincidence, I'm sure, but an amusing one:
|The 1983 Atlanta
Film Festival poster.
|The 2009 Independent
Film Festival Boston art.
Is there a common image source for both? Someone knowledgeable in art history, please let me know.
(Update: some Googling later, it looks like both works are the same take on an illustration in Gray's Anatomy.)
I got this excellent email "out of office" autoresponder from a festival contact recently:
Absence Alert! I'm out of the office and returning Monday, April 13.
I'll be warm and dry playing outside dressed in my Patagonia Cold Track jacket, Polartec fleece, OR hat and gloves and New Balance Shoes. I'll use my Deuter pack to carry extra gear and supplies from Gore-Tex, Mountain Hardwear, OR, Petzl and Mountain Equipment Co-op. You can find me in the beautiful pristince Yellowstone to Yukon region, making tracks at Mount Engadine Lodge, or skiing one of the fantastic areas of Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. Following a great day outdoors I'll relax with a Big Rock ale or a glass of Redwood Creek wine and enjoy reading about travel, exploration and adventure in National Geographic Adventure magazine. I may fantasize about tripping away with World Expeditions or Canadian Mountain Holidays.
I will check and reply to email only sporadicaly. If you need immediate assistance please contact [snipped for privacy].
Manager, Strategic Partnerships
Mountain Culture, The Banff Centre
Laurie not only turned her everyday vacation message into something funny, she also mentioned her strategic partners (aka "sponsors"), guaranteeing that existing sponsors would smile and that prospective partners would get the message: even when Laurie is on vacation, she's doing her job.
If you're a filmmaker, you can use vacation auto-responders to send messages in a similar way. Set one up to cover your email while you're away at a festival, and be sure to include the screening times of all of your upcoming festivals while you're at it. Add a link to your trailer so that everyone who emails you will get a chance to check out your film -- even if they're just trying to sell you "mal3 en#anc3ment" products.
Festival directors reading this can steal the idea outright, but filmmakers may need a little more creativity to make it work for them. Either way, it's a clever and subversive way to boost your Twitter followers – the Atlanta Film Festival withheld the details about one of their parties, releasing the details only on Twitter. (You can find them at twitter.com/atlantafilmfest.)
Below is a quick snap of the party page of the Atlanta Film Festival's program guide.
While doing some research I came across this entry on the Environmental Defense Fund blog:
At the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the jury of film experts chose Forty Shades of Blue as the best dramatic film. The Audience Award went to Hustle & Flow. I don’t know which was a better film, but I do know Hustle & Flow went on to earn $20 million in wide release in the U.S., while Forty Shades of Blue topped out at $75,000. I’m sure it doesn’t always happen that way, but it goes to show that the experts don’t always know what will succeed in the marketplace of ideas.
We at Environmental Defense Fund just finished something a bit like a film festival — a competition that challenged participants to make a 30 second ad that explains how capping greenhouse gas pollution will help cure our national addition to oil. This week we announced two winners, one selected by our staff and another chosen by thousands of voters online. Like at Sundance, the voters and the judges chose different winners…in fact, the video chosen by us "experts" came in dead last in the online voting.
This in essence, is the guiding philosophy behind distributor (and my employer) B-Side Entertainment: the audience is never wrong. When putting together your own festival and distribution plan, polling a wide audience (who doesn't know you) through test screenings is essential. Even when you can't trust yourself or your friends to evaluate whether your film is
good or bad likely to appeal to festival audiences, your test audiences will tell you.
(Edited after Alex Orr rightly pointed out that sometimes "audience-pleasing" doesn't always equal "good.")
Photo by Till Westermayer.
This is a great example of what I call "next-level" humor in short films. So many comedies make jokes that only play on the obvious and go in the expected directions. Trevor's in Heaven lulls you into thinking you know what's going to happen next and then slaps you around for a bit, always escalating the humor to the next level. Just watch.
So this article's a few years old but it made me smile and still contains a ton of great, relevant ideas. Sneaky, low-down, dirty ideas, but still: ideas.
Before Bikini Bandits was even accepted to premiere at the Philadelphia Film Festival, [director] Grasse and [producer]Alan took out full-page ads in The City Paper, the local alternative weekly, promoting their participation in the festival. This naturally pissed off festival brass, creating more press in the ensuing uproar. When the film officially became part of the festival, the Bikini Bandits team purchased every available seat at the premiere, creating a sold-out screening and generating more frenzied buzz. They then threw a big ol’ party, let 3,000 in to celebrate and left 2,000 cooling their heels on the sidewalk. Buzz, buzz, buzz.
I love this article from the Collegian, in which a random college student who took a ski vacation to Park City during Sundance reveals her hurt feelings about being shut out of Sundance screenings.
"I primarily went out there to ski and see some friends, but I wanted to get a feel for how Sundance was, so yeah, I was a little disappointed," she said. "I thought it would be different. A lot of the stores were closed at like 6 or 7 at night for private parties and stuff. You would really have to know someone to get in."
Bird said she thinks the Sundance cannot be considered truly independent anymore.
It reads a lot like a facetious article from The Onion -- except that if it were in The Onion it would be even funnier.
Two things: if you can't get into a screening in Park City during Sundance, you're just not trying. Sure, most of the more anticipated flicks are sold out, but there are always smaller films or showings at odd times with tickets available. Then there are the satellite festivals -- there are no fewer than four other festivals besides Sundance (Slamdance and the Park City Film Music Festival, just to name a couple) going on at the same time. You can see some great movies at those fests, too -- particularly if "independent" (i.e. unknown low-budget) film is your thing. Parties are pretty much the same way -- for every high-end soirée guarded by a surly bouncer there are a handful of open-to-pretty-much-anyone parties going on at nearby condos, bistros, and retail shops. You just have to talk to enough strangers around town and make enough new friends to get invited to them.
The other thing? It's been a long time since Sundance pretended (if it ever did) to be anything but a festival for the very best independent movies out there. Sure, a lot of those independent films are well-funded efforts with full crews and big name stars, but Sundance prides itself on showing great pictures, not just the ones made by struggling and emerging artists. It all goes back to the question of "what is an independent film, anyway?" -- something people are going to be arguing about for years to come, probably without any meaningful resoluton.
You spend your fifty bucks, wait for what feels like forever, and what do you get?
Hear it straight from the Bitter Man himself.
Can't wait to hear him act out the complaints of other filmmakers.