Thursday, July 24, 2008

On the importance of the festival experience

Blake Etheridge's interview with Tomas Alfredson (director of the upcoming Let The Right One In) includes this interesting tidbit that I think perfectly captures the collective experience of filmmakers on the festival circuit. Making the rounds with your film can have its share of disappointments but it can also be transformative.

Twitch: How important is the film festival circuit and experience for you as a filmmaker and what was your Tribeca experience like?

TOMAS ALFREDSON: It’s of course fantastic to have the opportunity to travel the world with your work. The world of film festivals can really be a gamble - In worst case you arrive after ten hours in different means of conveyance at The No Name International Film Festival to a dead quiet hotel room, sitting on the bed like Bill Murray in ”Lost in Translation.” Nobody tells you anything about what to do or where to go. In the evening you’re invited to a party celebrating the car manufacturer who’s the main sponsor. You and end up in a corner with as greasy bacon snack in one hand and a glass of undrinkable sparkling sweet wine in the other, like a shy idiot from Sweden with a badge on your chest with your name on it. Nobody’s seen your film but say they have heard about it and that they probably will watch it on Sunday. Maybe. The volunteers are running around stressed to the breaking point and the screenings of your film are not punctual, the projection is horrifying and people are going in and out of the theatre and on the Q&A nobody asks any questions except the moderator who pronounces your name incorrectly.

And it can also be fantastic, dynamic, professional, full of interesting meetings and bring you $25,000 dollars and the big prize from the hands of Robert de Niro like I did in Tribeca. That was one of the most memorable moments in my life.

Read the full interview with Alfredson at Twitch.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cinevegas 2008 Video Wrap-Up

Episode 3 of The Show by B-Side highlights Cinevegas 2008, which took place in June. Most of the footage shot by yours truly, and it was a blast. You can watch it here or go to the YouTube page and watch it in high quality. (You have to click the "high quality" link beneath the video.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

A filmmaker's guide to getting your movie on (the right) screen

A terrific primer for getting started on the festival circuit by Ali Selim, director of Sweet Land.

...the fact is, film festivals are egregiously misunderstood: They are not about films and they're not about your film; they're not about selling or buying movies, and they're not about making stars out of new filmmakers. Film festivals aren't about film at all, really.

Film festivals are about audiences, and they're sustained by the energy that happens when a film connects with viewers and vice versa. The fact is, audiences are interested in product, not process. True, if they love a finished product, then they love to hear, during the post-show Q&A, how the movie came to be. But the moviegoer's relationship to a film is two hours long, plus whatever residual effect may linger in their hearts and minds.

iPhone Web Apps for FIlmmakers

Karina over at Spout pointed me to this great list of web apps for filmmakers with iPhones. (Note that these are web apps, not iPhone apps you download.) Paul Harrill at Self-Reliant Film put it together.

My favorite:

IMDb iPhone Client

Web interface with support for looking up actors, characters and movies. The client also helps you find trailers that are suitable for viewing on the iPhone and view additional information such as: Goofs, Soundtracks, Trivia, Quotes, and Crazy Credits.

Monday, July 7, 2008

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.