Friday, August 28, 2009

SXSW Panel Picker - it's time to vote.


Since 2007 the South by Southwest Film Festival (and its sister Music and Interactive events) have allowed attendees to suggest panel ideas and then vote on them using a web site called the PanelPicker. It's not the only method by which the SXSW team selects what panels to present, but it formalizes the process of gauging audience interest in particular topics. They've continued to use the PanelPicker since its inception, so I'm guessing it's a fairly useful tool for the programmers and it certainly makes the target audience feel included.

The PanelPicker for 2010 is currently open for audience voting, and for the first time I've submitted a panel idea: Short Film Secrets. I get a lot of questions from the creators of short films asking how the concepts in Film Festival Secrets apply to short films in particular. There are also a ton of questions out there about the distribution potential for short films, how they can be used to give your career a boost, and which festivals are best for short filmmakers. So that's the panel I think SXSW should host, and I hope you like it well enough to vote for it.

Some other notable panel ideas include:

  • Crawford filmmaker David Modigliani's "Adventures in Distribution: Innovative Filmmakers' Risks and Rewards"
  • Cinekink festival director Lisa Vandever's "The Porn Police are STILL at the door"
  • Atlanta Film Festival director Gabe Wardell's "Premiere status: saving it for 'marriage?'"
  • Toronto Film Fest's Jane Schoettle suggests "Festival Strategies for Independent Film"

    Voting ends in about a week on September 4th, so get in there to vote early and often!

  • Thursday, August 27, 2009

    Twitter, File Sharing and Pink Slime

    Brian Chirls on Jake Abraham's Tweet This.

    What this is really about is taking advantage of Twitter and other communication tools to play a major part in the global conversation about your work. (If there isn’t one, you need to start it.) Piracy on Canal St. happened before the Internet, and illegal downloading happened before Twitter. As Abraham acknowledged, you can’t stop it. Beyond pointers to free downloads, people are going to be saying lots of things about your film that you don’t like, including bad reviews, off-brand descriptions of your work and possibly even lies or personal attacks. The power of the Internet is that you can be in on it. You can know it’s happening, you can respond to it and you can preempt it.

    Read Twitter, File Sharing and Pink Slime.

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    Paper DVD labels: still evil (and three alternatives)

    If you've read the book you know about my campaign against paper DVD labels. They are a cheap and easy way to make your burned DVD-Rs look vaguely professional, but they can severely alter video playback to the point of making a screener unwatchable. Google it up if you don't believe me. The most compelling evidence comes from the Memorex Reference Guide for Optical Media:

    Paper labels are not recommended for DVD discs. The expansion and contraction of moisture in the paper and the accumulation of heat in a DVD drive can alter the flatness of a disc enough that it falls out of the tilt specification and may not be able to be read.

    This advice still hasn't quite made it into the conventional wisdom – I still see plenty of paper labels on screeners – but when prompted, festival directors tell me that most of their bad screener copies are adorned with paper labels. There are, however, some alternatives that will get the job done and preserve the integrity of video playback. They are:


  • Hand labeling with a Sharpie marker. Low-tech and the least professional-looking option, perhaps, but reliable and very inexpensive. So long as you write legibly, don't worry about a hand-labled disc hurting your chances of acceptance; the quality of your film will determine that, not the surface of the DVD on which it arrives.


  • The LightScribe labeling system can create good looking "printed" disc surfaces without ink or a printer. You'll need a LightScribe-enabled DVD burner and DVD discs with LightScribe coating. Here's how it works:

    The laser inside a CD/DVD disc drive with LightScribe technology focuses light energy onto a thin dye coating on the label side of the disc. Only LightScribe media has this special coating. The light from the laser causes a chemical change in the dye coating that shows up on the disc. With laser precision, the drive renders the text and images that you created for the label.

    Although the cost of LightScribe discs has come down quite a bit in recent years, they are still somewhat more expensive than regular DVD-Rs, even the ones with white printable surfaces (see below). Perhaps the biggest drawback to Lightscribe is the amount of time it takes to burn an image on the coated surface; I've seen estimates of a few minutes for a simple text label to up to half an hour for a complex image.


  • Printed DVDs, though more time-consuming and expensive than hand-labeled DVDs, can't be beat for looks. Buying discs with a white printable surface isn't much more expensive than the plain silver-surfaced media and the printers and ink are widely available. The big drawback here is expense; inkjet cartridges are pricey and notoriously fussy. If you've got a good label design and the funds to spend, however, this is definitely the best way to get great looking DVDs.

    A cheaper alternative is a thermal transfer printer like the ones made by Casio; they won't get you four-color printing but they will print on plain silver discs which are inexpensive and get you good-looking results.

  • Thursday, August 13, 2009

    Yet another DIY film distribution article - NY Times

    In anticipation of the upcoming Toronto Film Festival, the New York Times regurgitates what every filmmaker with an undistributed picture already knows:

    The glory days of independent film, when hot young directors like Steven Soderbergh and Mr. Tarantino had studio executives tangled in fierce bidding wars at Sundance and other celebrity-studded festivals, are now barely a speck in the rearview mirror. And something new, something much odder, has taken their place.

    Here is how it used to work: aspiring filmmakers playing the cool auteur in hopes of attracting the eye of a Hollywood power broker.

    Here is the new way: filmmakers doing it themselves — paying for their own distribution, marketing films through social networking sites and Twitter blasts, putting their work up free on the Web to build a reputation, cozying up to concierges at luxury hotels in film festival cities to get them to whisper into the right ears.

    Nothing new here but it's always nice when the major news outlets turn their attention to independent film and the problems we're facing now.

    Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Film Independent's Spirit Awards submissions opens Monday, August 10

    Spirit Awards

    From the Film Independent Press release:

    LOS ANGELES (August 6, 2009) - Film Independent, the non-profit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival, announced today that the 2010 Spirit Awards will be held on Friday, March 5, 2010, and will air live and uncut at 8:00 p.m. PST/11:00 p.m. EST on IFC (Independent Film Channel). The nominations press conference will take place on Tuesday, December 1.

    This year's celebration marks the 25th Anniversary of the Spirit Awards, which honors films made by filmmakers, who embody independence and who dare to challenge the status quo. To celebrate the milestone, Film Independent and IFC will be broadcasting the ceremony live in a special primetime event rather than the organization's signature Saturday event in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica.

    "The influence of independent filmmakers on the language of cinema and popular culture during the last 25 years has been phenomenal, and we have been proud to provide a platform for these talented artists at the Spirit Awards," said Film Independent Executive Director Dawn Hudson. "In planning this yearís significant anniversary, we decided to venture away from our beloved day at the beach to a Friday evening where we hope an even broader audience discovers us as we kick-off the awards weekend."
    Also announced, Film Independent will be accepting submissions beginning on Monday, August 10, with the early deadline of Monday, September 14 and the final deadline of Tuesday, October 6. Submission guidelines, applications, and more information can be found at