Breckenridge woman charged with embezzling $200K from film festival

Jessica Smith, writing for the Summit Daily:

According to the affidavit, Foxx had been using film festival accounts from 2007 to 2012 for her personal use, in a manner not authorized by the board of directors. The affidavit stated that Foxx used fraudulent checks and credit cards for purchases of personal items, including clothing, rental cars, airline tickets, gambling and gardening supplies.

Gardening supplies? Their first clue that something was up should have been that a film festival employee had time for gardening.

Joking aside, the article goes on to say that the festival replaced its executive director and board of directors entirely in the wake of the previous administration's failure to detect that something was going on over a period of five years. It's remarkable that the festival was able to reboot in 2013 and is positioned to continue operating. Many festivals I know wouldn't be able to survive losses as large as the ones alleged here – which means they would be caught sooner, I suppose.

Digital Tape is Dead: Bidding “Adieu” to the HDCAM (and its cousins)

Digital Tape is Dead: Bidding “Adieu” to the HDCAM (and its cousins)

HDCAM? Festivals still accept those? According to Jeffrey Winter at the FIlm Collaborative, not anymore. Instead they want Blu-Ray.

Film Fest Secrets panel this weekend at Sidewalk Film Festival

Film Fest Secrets panel this weekend at Sidewalk Film Festival

It's been a few years since I've been to the Sidewalk Film Festival – it kept conflicting with Fantastic Fest, darn it all. But since I've relocated to Atlanta and Sidewalk has relocated to an earlier time of year, I'm happily returning to Birmingham, Alabama for one of the best indie film experiences the South has to offer. 

Sundance Director John Cooper - ask him anything on Reddit


This afternoon at 3pm Pacific time, Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper will take questions from the general public in Reddit's "AMA" ("Ask Me Anything") format. AMA is an interesting way to hold a mass Q&A with the general public, and if you've ever had questions about the inner workings of Sundance, this is a rare opportunity to get some answers. Sundance has held public Q&As before (like a live video chat back in 2010), but the AMA format is well-suited to the task of getting the most sought-after answers to an audience. (Reddit members can "up-vote" questions from other members to indicate common curiosity.) 

From Cooper's announcement on the Sundance site:

On Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 3:00 p.m. PT, on the heels of our announcement of the first 60 or so films selected for the 2013 Festival, I’ll be taking questions about just about anything — why we’re excited for this Festival, how we watch more than 10,000 films each year and narrow it down to 200, what it’s like to work for a festival that has launched the careers of many great artists, and why we love Park City, Utah!

The AMA section of Reddit is here - if you don't have a Reddit account already, go ahead and register for one ahead of time. Get familiar with how reading, posting, and up-voting works so you'll be ready to participate when the AMA begins. To see the AMA format in action, check out this AMA with animator Don Hertzfeldt, or this one with documentarian Eugene Jarecki.

Here's a link to the AMA with John Cooper, or you can read the full AMA announcement on the Sundance web site.

Stop waiting on Sundance - 2012 edition

DVD SubmissionThere are plenty of filmmakers who rush to finish their film for Sundance, fill out the paperwork, send off the DVD, and then... stop. There's nothing wrong with waiting anxiously to hear from what is arguably the world's most famous film festival, but if you're not submitting to other festivals while you wait you could miss out on the entire Spring season. Break out your list of target festivals (see chapter one of Film Festival Secrets for more on this) and get cracking. Here's a handy (but by no means complete) list of festivals with upcoming deadlines. Check each festival's web site for their late deadlines, submission rules, etc.

  • IFF Boston - October 31
  • Dallas International - December 14
  • Atlanta Film Festival - December 14
  • Cleveland - November 30
  • South By Southwest - November 1

Koji Wakamatsu, Japanese Film Director, Dies at 76

Bruce Weber, writing for the New York Times:

“Filmmaking isn’t something you need to learn in school; it’s about imagination,” [Wakamatsu] said. “The best place to learn about it is on a set, not by studying. If a person has got no talent, it doesn’t matter what you teach them. It’s the same for stuff like crafting things with your hands, cooking or architecture: you either have a sense for it or not.”

Friends with Baby Wipes: Gayby's move from short to feature

Gayby Dan Heching, writing for Next Magazine:

Initially made as a short film that found impressive success on the festival circuit, the full-length Gayby features the same lead actors (who are real-life friends) and elaborates on the three scenes in the short, which laid the groundwork for their joint baby-making decision but left the rest quite open ended. “For a short, it’s okay to not answer questions,” Lisecki says. “I’m not big on answering questions.” This attribute, surely, is what helped him craft the feature version with a similar restraint.

Too often shorts are made as promotional versions of a director's dream feature project, which makes the short feel unfinished. Alternately, a feature version of a really good short often feels stretched, like a Saturday Night Live sketch that should have ended minutes ago. Gayby is one of the few short-to-feature translations in which both the short and the feature are fully-formed, satisfying films in and of themselves. When Gayby comes to theaters near you, go see it. You can rent the short for $2 (cheap!) on YouTube.

PGA Adds SXSW, Full Frame and AFI Silverdocs to Official Awards Eligibility List

Jay A. Fernandez, writing for Indiewire:

The Producers Guild of America has added SXSW, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival to its list of official festivals for awards-qualifying films. Among other exhibition methods, theatrically released documentaries that have screened in competition at these festivals will now be eligible for the Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Picture award.

Producer Ted Hope to run SF Film Society

Pam Grady, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle:

Ted Hope, an independent film master from New York who has produced nearly 70 feature films, has been appointed the new executive director of the San Francisco Film Society. He succeeds Bingham Ray, who passed away in January after only 10 weeks in the position, and will take the reins from interim Executive Director Melanie Blum on Sept. 1.

The SF Film Society is the parent organization of the San Francisco International Film Festival. This is a smart move for both parties. Best of luck, Ted.

Cannes Diary: Festival opens to controversy over lack of female-directed films

Milos Stehlik, writing for The BEZ about a provocative open letter written by French feminist group "La Barbe":

In presenting only films by male filmmakers, the writers said, the festival "show(s) once again that men love depth in women, but only in their cleavage.” Festival Director Thierry Fremaux responded by saying he agrees women lack opportunities to make films; however, he said, the problem exists year-round, not just during the ten days of the festival. Cannes could not, he said, start choosing films based strictly on the gender of the filmmaker. Undoubtedly this will not be the last word on the issue.


The Frustrated Users of Withoutabox


Anthony Kaufman, writing for Indiewire:

in emails Withoutabox threatened participating festivals to "deactivate all third party submission services in order to avoid disruption to your Withoutabox service." And 10 festivals dropped the new service.

Reddy calls Withoutabox's exclusivity claims "ridiculous." "The tech industry would NEVER stand for this," he said, in an email. "Imagine Hotmail threatening to block access to your emails if you tried Gmail. The tech world will chew them to bits. Amazon knows this, but somehow feel like they can get away with bullying small festivals outside the tech world. They have a lousy product and rather than work on building a better one they stoop to these exclusivity clauses."

There are some interesting quotes from festival directors here about the problems they have with Withoutabox (WAB), the automated submissions system for filmmakers sending their films to film festivals. 

As DC Shorts director Jon Gann points out in the article, this situation is unlikely to change until someone steps up to "challenge the goliaths." In this case, I think that means that a handful of prominent festivals (with typical annual submissions numbers upwards of 2000) would have to commit to using a different system. This will be accompanied by a blow to the number of submissions they receive, but introducing competition to the world of festival submissions might be worth it to them in the long run. The hard part of WAB's business to copy is its access to a large number of filmmakers with films ready to submit to fests. But if the only way to submit to some of the larger festivals were through an alternative solution, even that database of filmmaker prospects could be replicated over time.

(As an aside, I suspect that number of "400,000" filmmakers is mostly bogus. There may be 400,000 registered emails in the WAB system, but the chances that all – or even most – of those people are still actively submitting films to festivals is, in my humble estimation, pretty unlikely. It would have been nice to hear from a filmmaker or two in this article, since they are the people ultimately paying the bills.)

I think it's important to say here that, other than those emails enforcing the exclusivity clause, Withoutabox (WAB) isn't behaving in a particularly evil way.  The people who work there are generally terrific and the service is the backbone of the film judging process. Unfortunately, WAB is a cog in the great Amazon/IMDb machine. Amazon is perfectly content to let that cog continue spinning as it has always spun, feeding other parts of Amazon's business. And without competition to threaten the way that cog spins, there is very little incentive to devote development resources to improving WAB's software, service, or pricing.

Regardless, festival staffers will likely continue their love/hate relationship with Withoutabox for some years to come. Here's one of my favorite rants from the festival perspective: the criminally under-watched "Bitch Fest" from Project Twenty1.

Louis C.K. self-distributes standup special

picPeter Kafka at AllThingsD covers the recent release of Louis C.K.'s standup concert directly from the comedian's web site.

The new twist here is the way his experiment changes video “windows” — which determine when shows and movies show up on different outlets. By going direct-to-fanfirst, C.K. doesn’t shut off his chance to end up working the Big Media Companies he says he doesn’t want to work with. He’s just making them wait. So the people who really love him can get it right away, and he can capture almost all of that value in the transaction.

Kafka points out that there's plenty of room for traditional distributors to get in on the action after the first "fan-only" release:

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that a million people pony up for the concert — basically, that is, everyone who watches his (great) show on News Corp.’s FX channel. (News Corp. owns this site, too.)

That’s a wildly optimistic estimate, and it will still be a fraction of the people that HBO, which has some 28 million subscribers, can reach. You can fault Big Media for a lot of things, but it remains pretty good at rounding up Big Audiences.

Filmmakers looking for validation in the DIY distribution model need look no further – the more experiments like this that we see, the more likely it is that distributors will look seriously at filmmakers who prove their worth by finding their own audience first and building a platform for bigger things later. While distributors have traditionally viewed DIY distributed films as damaged goods (perceiving the sales already out the door as missed opportunities for them), the model of building on previous success may become more common. Let's hope so.


Find your local film blogger (and hey, the Muppets)


I don't think I've mentioned this here before, but I write a monthly column on upcoming movies for kids (particularly those showing in Austin, TX) for a web site called Slackerwood. Here's my column (titled Eenie Meenie Miney Movies) for November 2011.

I'll start mentioning these here when they go live just for a bit of cross-promotional fun, but since this is the first time I've done this, I'd like to talk for a second about local film blogs. If you poke around Slackerwood you'll notice that it homes in on the Austin audience. Like most other movie blogs it has the usual assortment of reviews and news, but if you live in Austin, it's an invaluable resource for what to see in town. Since not every town has the same special screenings, finding a local film blog in your area is a great way to discover new things to see. As a filmmaker, your own local film blog can be a great ally - note the special attention Slackerwood pays to local productions and talent at festivals, both near and far. Recruiting local film blogger to support your film is a great way to raise awareness of your film in your own neighborhood, even when you're screening elsewhere.

Local film & event bloggers are also a great resource when you're headed out of town. If you have a festival screening in a new town, Google around the town's name and use phrases like "local events" or "film blog" to zero in on likely suspects. Then fire off a friendly, personal email to introduce yourself and provide the writer(s) with the details of your film's screening and a short synopsis and/or link to your trailer. It's up to you whether you want to offer an advance screener, but I definitely recommend it. Why? Because like the local TV news, the local film bloggers may not mean much to you but they definitely have the ears and eyes of the local audience. When you're trying to put butts in seats, that's help that you want.

OK, enough of that. If you have kids and want to know what family films you'll be taking them to over the Thanksgiving weekend (hint: Muppets!), check out the latest Eenie Meenie Miney Movies.


Graham Leggat, leader of S.F. Film Society, dies

Calling Mr. Leggat's six-year tenure "transformative," Society board President Pat McBaine cited his "irrepressible determination, dash and design. His vision, leadership, passion, work ethic, tenacity, imagination and daring, along with his colorful language and wicked Scottish sense of humor, have indelibly marked our organization with a valuable legacy and left it in the best shape - artistically, organizationally and financially - in its 54-year history."

I only met Graham twice but it's easy to see he left big shoes to fill.

Read Leah Garchik's article in the SF Chronicle.

Film Threat heads back to print

picVenerable magazine-turned-website Film Threat looks back to its future with an IndieGoGo campaign aimed at returning to a print format. With less than 72 hours to raise the bulk of his $30,000 goal, publisher/editor Mark Bell decided to pull out the stops by staying awake for the remainder of the fundraising period while holding a "tweetathon" and live webcam feed.

No word yet on whether Bell will eat insects, perform obstacle course challenges, or dance with celebrity partners during the tweetathon, but we can certainly hope. Visit the IndieGoGo page to donate a few bucks to the cause.

Kindle version of "Film Festival Secrets" now available


picGot a Kindle? Now you can add Film Festival Secrets: A Handbook for Independent Filmmakers to your electronic library for just $9.99.

I got a Kindle of my own this year. Although intellectually I knew the importance of ebooks as an emerging medium, it wasn't until I started to prefer reading books on the Kindle for myself that I really got invested in making my own books available in the format.

Film Festival Secrets is now available as a Kindle download on the U.S., UK, and German versions of Amazon. All of the original content is included.

And before you ask: yes, I'm working on making an epub version available on the iBookstore as well as for the Nook and other e-readers. They will be comparably priced.

Enjoy your e-reading!

Tribeca and Sundance Film Festivals Plan Big Growth -

The New York Times on rumored plans by Tribeca and Sundance festivals to increase their distribution efforts:

Tribeca plans on Monday to announce a significant expansion of its fledgling movie releasing arm, Tribeca Film, which was founded last year as a test in releasing movies both digitally and in theaters. Tribeca Film plans to increase its annual output to 26 pictures, up from 11.

So of the roughly 5000 feature films that get made each year, fifteen more will have greater hope of seeing distribution. Let's be generous and assume that 500 of those films (the top ten percent) are actually worth watching. A plan for an additional fifteen seems like a drop in the bucket. Not that I'm criticizing Tribeca (or Sundance, who declined to comment for the article) for making the effort, but the problem seems larger than that.

Personally I'm more and more of the opinion that Ted Hope's fears are true: that the explosion of independent film (enabled by ever-cheaper movie making technology) has created an endless series of first-time hobby filmmakers. The career filmmakers will still emerge, but it will be harder and harder to distinguish who they are until later in their lives, and it will be harder for them to hang on through the onslaught of hobbyists who make one film and then decide that independent film is too hard.

I was also amused by the reporter's definition of the festival world, which seems to encompass only the top ten or twenty festivals nationally. In particular I chortled at the assertion that Sundance is unlike other festivals in that is a non-profit (most fests are non-profit) and that SXSW is "in the minority" in not having a department dedicated to distributing films that play at the festival. The festival directors I know are mostly busy figuring out how their events will survive from year to year to worry too much about what happens to the films afterwards. Not that they wouldn't love to help more, but distribution beyond the festival bounds isn't really in the mission statement of the vast majority of film fests.

Watch Twitter and the indie film blogs for much discussion about what this means to indie filmmakers (as a species, not much) and possibly a resurgence of the old "festivals should give filmmakers a cut of the ticket revenue" idea, something I wrote about back in 2008.

In short – it's always nice to see big festivals try new things, but a new model of compensation to flimmakers for their work is unlikely to be the result.

Edinburgh International Film Festival loses £70k deal

The Edinburgh International Film Festival has lost a £70,000 annual funding deal from Standard Life, Scotland on Sunday can reveal. The finance company's decision will be a heavy blow to the festival, which is already struggling with the end of a £1.9 million three-year grant from the UK Film Council.

Standard Life said its decision was part of a wider reorganisation of sponsorship programmes. The move came after the festival declared it was ditching awards and red carpet appearances by A-list stars that attracted widespread publicity.

Read Edinburgh International Film Festival loses £70k deal.