or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and just Make Movies
So I've just finished a good little run through some festivals with my short film Unlikely Temptations. In one weekend I played in three fests: HollyShorts FF (Los Angeles), Revolution Me FF (Brooklyn) and Shredder Intl FF (Vermont). While I attended the week long HollyShorts festivities and screenings, the films writer (Mark Moore) attended the Revolution Me fest and we both walked away with lessons learned about craft and festivals in general. Now, I could wax poetic about how festivals are money grabs and really do nothing for your film, but then I'd be a hypocrite for doing so since I rolled the dice and entered my film in 60 fests. So I'll leave this as my message about festivals overall: If you can attend a festival to network, and share your film with an audience... then enter. If you've blown your wad on the production and you're back living in mom's basement saving for your next epic opus of awesomeness... then don't bother. Festivals are networking events. You meet people, see what other artists are doing, and maybe learn stuff from panels. #Done Moving on: I have another blog post I'll write someday on the battle it was to simply get Unlikely Temptations made - Safe to say, what was supposed to be a production of a story that featured a Man vs. Man conflict, actually turned into a Man vs. Nature production - that had me tied up in Man vs. Self dillema. (types of conflict) But what I want to focus on is the face value of participating in HollyShorts, some of the people I met, and the work I witnessed, and where festivals are headded. 1. Quality Shift. Two years ago when I attended a lot of festivals with a different production, it seemed that the order of quality for any given production was as follows: 1. Story (funny, arty, structured) 2. Talent (name/ skill level) 3. Cinematography 4. Production Value. Today things have changed and the focus seemed to be: 1. Cinematography 2. Production Value 3. Talent 4. Story. Simply put, I sat through a bunch of well shot films, that had killer sets, sweeping camera moves and either the acting or stories were weak-sauce (sometimes both). This thought was seconded to me when I had conversations with other filmmakers at the fest.
TIP: HOW TO MEET FILMMAKER AND NOT BE A WALLFLOWER: Usually after a screening, there will be a quick Q&A - notice the people who worked on the film(s) you may have liked and talk to them. It's easy, you just saw their work. Here's your opening line: "Hi, I liked your film." You'll spark a conversation and learn from their process and maybe make a new film compadre. #YoureWelcome 2. Tough Shit White Man. I can't change the fact that I'm a white dude who has always wanted to direct films. But the current tide of the industry is that festivals want women... Specifically female directors. A conversation I had with a programmer @ the LA Film Festival hinted that I (meaning you) should expect the 2017 film slate for many festivals to be specifically looking for films directed by women. As for subject matter the big tests will be looking specifically to include minorities and LGBTQ, both characters and plot lines. Does this mean I'm fucked? Hell no, it means I need to work harder to become a better filmmaker AND... develop and shoot films that break me out of my waspy Orange County upbringing. Sadly, I asked this same programmer: "If I'm directing a female driven film, by a female screenwriter, and produced by a women, does that help me?" Her response was simply: "We look at the director". #WellShit Where does that leave me? 3. Content is KING: No matter what, having a good film is what matters most. It's nice to spread your wings as an artist and do some experimental work. It's really fun to make a movie for the first time and want to show it to the world, but that does not make it fit for mass consumption. The fact is, you've got piss poor odds of getting into festivals, and therefore being able to enjoy the "whole festival experience", with just a "fun" film, you and your buddies made... unless you're a minority, LGBTQ, or woman. THEN: Go kick ass! You can do it! But for me, I've got to raise the bar. Get a great script, cast, set/ location, cinematographer and gear that fits the film I want to make. A simple bedroom, dingy apartment, mom's house set; filled with your friends running around trying to act as you film them on your iPhone simply won't cut it if you're #whitelikeme. So... How will I know if I'm on the right track with the films I want to make? There is a network out there for screening and selling short films, go to them first. However, like the industry overall, they're looking for certain movies to sell at certain times. So before I go into production, I'm gong to see if they would have an interest in the script/ story, before I even put a penny into it. If they like it, then not only will it be worth producing, but I am planting the seeds ahead of time to sell/ recoup when it's all done. What? The people SHORTS Movie Channel, Quiver, Indee or Fandor don't have time to read your script??? Then submit it in screenwriting festivals. Have teachers, other writers or professionals review it. Strong source material will be the foundation for everything else you do. If the feedback is good, or even decent (because remember current trends don't care about story) then you've got a big leg up. From there, get a great location you know you can film in, or that you can afford to have a production designer create. Then: cast, rehearse, crew, and shoot. No battle was ever won by winging it - improvising through FUBAR situations is part of filmmaking, but running a whole production shot in UCB Improv 101 mode is bound to increase your odds of failure. Lastly 5: FAIL. I've been hearing it a lot lately. Not about my film per se, but in general - Steven Tyler was just quoted as saying, "Seize the opportunity to screw up" in which he's basically plagiarizing his old lyric "You've got to lose to know how to win". In a conversation with an established director friend of mine he said: "Don't be afraid to fail upwards". Explaining, you'll still fail, but you never know what you'll gain, especially if you never try. And that's the big point DO IT.
In closing I only ask this: When you're done with your film... take a good honest look at it and decide if it's any good for mass consumption. Because if it's not... you'll save a lot of money, save face, and you still walk away with lessons learned. If you force-feed it to the public and festivals, you may end up broke, pissed, and resentful. And all the artists I know have plenty of resentment to spare, so we don't need yours.