Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sundance/Park City Wrap-up

Well, it's done.

And almost a week later, I'm still recovering. But for me, Park City '08 was a huge success. But how do I define success? There is so much going on in Park City, that there are a multitude of experiences to have there, so everyone's definition of success is different. I define success in these primary ways:

- A perfect mix of business, movies and parties - heavy on parties the first half, heavy on films the second half and business throughout.
- Made the contacts I needed to make and cemented the relationships I needed to cement.
- Gave myself time to explore non-Sundance Park City (like the SoCal Cinema Slam on Main St.)
- Had time to get necessary work done.
- Gave myself time to rest.
- Didn't catch the Park City flu bug (either during or so many others have).

Here's a quick review of the parties and movies I experienced:

I'm getting old. My favorite parties are always the small condo parties and dinner parties, of which I got to go to two: Our friend/filmmaker/Park City local Stacy Dymalski and her husband George had a group of us over for a fantastic evening. And we also got to go to the nice shindig put on at the lovely condo of Christo DiMassis and Elana Krausz (had a nice pool table, too) on our last night there. Of the bigger parties, my favorite is the World Cinema Party. Great band, cool venue and design, and an inspiring and inclusive international flavor. I always love Effie Brown's party at Celsius because people actually dance and it has a full bar. And she's just fabulous herself, knowing how to always keep the energy alive. Netflix put on a nice "industry" shindig with good food and peeps, nicely bridging the gap between several levels of indie-archy (I will explain that term in my next blog). My two perennial favorites, The Adobe Shorts Party and the Kodak Party were nice, as usual, but not as great as in the past. Adobe has scaled back dramatically, without the same quality of food or cool Adobe software gifts. Plus, the D.J. was awful. But it had lots of great peeps and fun hula hoops. The Kodak party is a victim of having too good of a food table. It seems everyone is there just to eat, crowding the food table in a frenzy, elbows a-flyin'. In the other room, there was a too loud and too mediocre cover band making conversation difficult (get a great D.J.!). But there were a lot of good peeps there, too. And the Kodak people themselves are so sweet and supportive. And the food is good.


I loved "Ballast", as you know. Very much liked "Frozen River" (of course I'm partial because one of the producers, Chip Hourihan, is a friend of mine - a great guy). It's like a really good cable movie, which is no insult. Found "Mermaid" odd in a good way - inventive and visually exciting. Liked much about "Sugar", but found it a bit by-the-numbers at times and lacking depth/complexity. The filmmakers are incredibly skilled/talented/honest, however, and really nice peeps. Liked some things in "American Son", although found it to be a bit over the top with some of the acting and incident. Thought "Choke" was silly fun and funny, but felt it was a bit "lazy". I don't mean to imply that anyone's efforts were lazy, but that it lacks tonal cohesion and directorial vision. Absolutely hated "Donkey Punch" - slick filmmaking, but sleazily exploitive, pointless and, at times, just plain dumb. "A Good Day To Be Black and Sexy" had a lot of great, fun stuff and fulfilled the director's goal of presenting urban black sexuality candidly and, sometimes, humorously. Very rough and uneven, over-all, though. However, the director was very funny in the Q & A.

Finally, here's a quick pictorial glance of our Sundance '08.

Lines in the Sundance ticket tent - first weekend

Lines in the Sundance ticket tent - toward the end of the festival

Director Kerry Prior ("The Revenant") and Amanda discussing something vitally important while in line for tix


The Sundance Filmmaker Lodge

Amanda and producer Nina Parikh ("Ballast") at the Filmmakers Alliance outreach table at the Sundance Filmmaker Lodge

Park City street in snowstorm

Me in that same snowstorm

The Kodak Party In Full Swing

The dance floor of the Adobe Shorts Party


The band at the World Cinema Party

Monday, January 21, 2008

Random Sundance pics to prove I'm not lying...






A Sundance MUST-SEE!

I wasn't planning on writing anything today. Too much to do. But I just saw a film that I thought was amazing. I'm a big fan of the Dardenne Brothers and this film is a worthy successor - beautiful, honest, under-stated and affecting. And just plain damn good filmmaking.

The film is called BALLAST.

If you're in Park City, get to one of these remaining screenings:
Tue. January 22, 3:00pm, Screening Room, Sundance Resort
Thu. January 24, 8:30pm, Racquet Club, Park City
Fri. January 25, 8:30am, Racquet Club, Park City


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sundance Film Festival Day 1 and 2

Awww, yeah. I'm in it. Already in the thick of the annual pilgrimage called the Sundance Film Festival. Maybe some of you have heard of it.

I'm writing from my condo at the Park Plaza (awesome hook-up from my friend/filmmaker/Park City local Stacy Dymalski) while watching the NFC Championship game. I take heart in the fact that it is colder in Green Bay than in Park City.

Is it a ridiculous scene? An over-crowded madhouse? A confluence of some of the most outrageous egos in the "independent" film scene? Absolutely. But somewhere in all of this is a damn good festival (the little things I like to bitch about notwithstanding). Although you can complain about the exhausting glut of name-driven programming, there is plenty of truly indie (and impressive) fiction and documentary features and shorts. There's good stuff to be found here. And good stuff to be found even in not-so-good stuff. Oh, there's bad stuff, too. But there's no reward without risk.

(below) FILMMAKERS ALLIANCE BABES AT SUNDANCE - Deb Lemen, Jule Janatta, Amanda Sweikow and Kruti Majmudar at the "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" party. (Jule was the editor of the film)

And many of the people I need to meet or re-connect with are here in one place. It is easier to see them here, sometimes, than in Los Angeles. It's good to be here, even though I had to suffer with witnessing a Paris Hilton sighting that looked like a mobile circus with frantic paparazzi, overzealous bodyguards and cooing syncophants vividly demonstrating how much extraneous bullshit goes on here. But hey, what's that got to do with me?

Anyway, here's the quick rundown - Drove in from L.A. on Friday afternoon wit FA cohort Amanda Sweikow. Hit insanely nasty traffic that created a 6 1/2 hour trip to Vegas (normally 4 hours) where we crashed at Kerry's house (the filmmaker whose film "The Revenant" I am producing with others). Didn't gamble a cent. Got up right away and drove the rest of the distance to Park City. Noticed a lot of sneaky, undercover cop cars in Utah. Highlight was singing classic rock at the top of our lungs from an iTunes-burned CD.

Hit Park City about 7 p.m. and quickly settled in. Grabbed a bite and headed out the the premiere party for "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" (about steroid use and cut by FA member Jule Janatta). Nice party. Good peeps there, including FA members Mia Trachinger and Rebecca Sonnenshine, whose film "Reversion" is in the New Frontiers section at Sundance.

Got home at 1:30 and got up at 6:30 to go see the 8:30 showing of "A Good Day To Be Black And Sexy". Gotta get there early for wait list, but we got there way too early for a Sunday morning. The film was uneven, and often felt like the first feature that it was, but it had a lot of great stuff and gave us a depiction of sexuality that had an honest, striking, refreshing and unapologetic black urban perspective. And I liked the thoughtful way in which the filmmaker thought and talked. And he's funny. I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Then, onto the SAG Actor brunch, where I saw the fabulous head of SAGIndie, Darrien Gipson, whose good energy, humor and professionalism makes her irresistible. It's important to know that SAGIndie is there for producers NOT to represent the needs of actors. They let SAG worry about all that.

Then, back to the condo to catch the AFC Championship (and a nap). Then out to the Withoutabox party where they celebrated their big sale to IMDB. I was once Chief Communications Officer for Withoutabox and was almost a partner. Of course, I don't own a single share of stock. Story of my life. But I'm very interested to see what this will mean for independent filmmakers. IMDB is owned by Amazon. Small companies that service small filmmakers traditionally lose all relevance for indies when they've been sucked up by the big corporate giants. But Withoutabox has such promise through it's services, community and database, I hold out hope that it will prove an exception and develop even more services for indie filmmakers.

Also, I quickly dropped in on the NBC/UNI party to see potential sponsor Krista Bolling, then raced back to the condo for the NFC Championship game. After that, we go to the Indie Moguls party by Fujifilm/Fotoken and others. And from there, who knows? There are at least 20 other parties tonight.

Here's my schedule for tomorrow:
Movie (TBD) - 8:30 a.m.
SAG Filmmakers Luncheon 11 a.m.
Rest and work - 1 p.m.
Technicolor Party - 4 p.m.
Ivy League Entertainment Mixer - 5:30 p.m.
Netflix/Red Envelope Sundance Dinner 8:00 p.m.
Adobe Shorts Party 9 p.m.

Some quick Park City Reminders:

- The bus system rocks. I have a car, but parking is hell. Why drive unless it it out of Park city?
- The restaurants generally suck...and are expensive. I cook in the condo and starve until I get to party food.
- Glad I brought booze. This is Utah, after all. Can only purchase it from State stores during limited hours (and not on Sunday) that are really expensive.
- Morning screenings are waaaaay easier to get into if you have to wait list than any other screenings.
- Gotta drink a lot of water and pace myself. So many little time.
- Lots of people that give Independent Film a bad name, but many, many others are here that are the reason I love this life.

More in a day...or two.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Indie Film Financing...fantasy or reality?


Raising money sucks. Few filmmakers will tell you otherwise. So, of course, there are dozens and dozens of classes, seminars, workshops, panels, etc. to tell you how to do it - and for us to hear the "success stories" of those who did it. Most of them are crap. You'll either hear that you just need "stars" and the heavens will open up for you or you WON'T hear that most of these "success stories" are from people whose connections and/or family background are no stranger to wealth. You will rarely hear a true step-by-step formula (there is none) nor will you be handed a list of potential investors to contact. Well, you might get a list, but it will probably be a list of a whole bunch of people eager to get off the list.

Why does raising money suck so badly? Because most of us have money issues...that are tied to self-worth issues...that are tied to family issues....that are tied to spiritual issues....that are tied to money issues...and round n' round it goes. Even the most talented, accomplished and educated filmmaker can reduce themselves to feeling like a desperate, worthless free-loader when it comes to asking for money.

Also, filmmaking is not cheap. So, we have to raise rather ridiculous amounts of money - which turns the process from merely painful to painful AND grueling.

However, people do indeed raise money. It is not just an ever-elusive fantasy. I did it. Others did it before me and others have and will do it since. How? Well, apart from all of that (totally valid) psychobabble, most of us are simply lacking two things: knowledge/experience and access. And there are two approaches to moving past those formidable barriers. One way is to develop them for yourself and the other is to link up with someone who already has them.

I, of course, chose to develop them for myself - which I can't necessarily recommend, but which I was, as usual, compelled to do. I marvel at filmmakers who have the talent, confidence and/or sense of entitlement that attracts others to successfully raise money on their film's behalf. Maybe there is some luck involved, but I don't believe too much in luck. Yes, there is luck, but luck just provides timing/opportunity. The rest we filmmakers have to bring to the table.

So, what is it we are bringing to the table? Well, the biggest mistake filmmakers make is that they think that the most important thing to bring to the table is the ability to prove their film can make money. Wrong. Investors aren't stupid. They know in the back of their minds that most films are a bad business decision (although we don't need to say that aloud). They invest for other reasons - because it seems like a "cool" and unusual addition to their investment portfolio, because they are secret cinema junkies, because the movie biz is "sexy", because they love you (and are related to you), and many, many other non-business reasons.

No, the first and foremost thing to put on the table is your passion. Your passion is your greatest sales asset. And that is not a difficult thing to summon up even if you are the most jaded, misanthropic, nihilistic filmmaker on earth. The point is, you are making a choice to do something creative. Something both creative and difficult. Something is compelling you to do it. Something will push you through all of the obstacles. That something is "passion". That passion may manifest itself in you as an ardent belief/desire, it may manifest as obsessive-compulsive energy, it may manifest as an annoyingly bubbly enthusiasm, it it may manifest as steely determination or it may be some combination of all of these and others at different times. It really doesn't matter how it manifests, just that it does indeed manifest. Your passion will make investors feel like they are investing in something that matters and in someone who will make sure that investment is not wasted.

The next thing we need to bring to the table is a point of view. Why must your film exist? How is it different than any other film out there? How is it exactly like other successful films out there? How does it look in your head? You must not only be able to clearly communicate the benefits (not just financial benefits) of spending all of your time and their money making this film, but why your film and no other must be the one in which they invest. And that is all about your unique point-of-view.

Next, we need the sales tools. Yes, this is the "hammer and nails" stuff that must always be done. But it can be fun and creative. Basically, you need a business plan that outlines how the film is going to be made and how it is going to make money (yes, they know films are bad "business", but they are wealthy for a reason and don't want to be complete suckers). It should be loaded with lots of pics and graphics and as little text as possible. It does need the synopsis and background on the major creative players, but should also have lots of stills that create the look and feel of the film as well as some cool logo/graphics for the film. Storyboards are great, too. And if you can devise a compelling poster prior to making the film - that is a huge benefit. The package should also have a budget topsheet, a production plan (how, where it will be shot), along with some financial comparables (to other, similar films - both in style and budget) and a detailed distribution plan - I mean beyond the film getting picked up for loads and loads of money by a major distributor - which pretty much NEVER happens these days. And all of this should be available as a digital file AND a hard copy (although you will need far fewer of these, thankfully - because they aren't cheap to print).

Perhaps the most important of these sales tools is a website for the film, which should include much of the above as well as many community-building elements like message boards, blog and an email opt-in tool. Building a good film website is a whole course in itself. And your website will change as the film evolves and be very different when the film is finished. But you can never start building a website for your film too early.

Lower on the list of things we bring to the table, believe it or not, is a great script. Yes, you should ALWAYS have a great script (a whole separate discussion) because it will prove an important sales tool with many others who will be involved with the film. But rarely is it important for investors. Few investors read scripts. But you do need one. If only just to insure investors that you are indeed making a movie with their money and not remodeling your home.

Finally, we need some kind of creative history. Why should any investor have confidence in our creative ability if we have nothing to demonstrate it? If this is your first film...perhaps just a short do you prove your creative abilities? There are many ways. You can show any other creative work you've done - painting, photography, music, whatever. The more visual, the better. But any demonstration of creative ability is important. You can also do a no-budget video shoot - something brief and inexpensive (on DV with minimal resource demands) that demonstrates your visual style. If you are raising money for a feature, you should have at least one (and probably many more) short films in your creative resume. But stay away from trying to make a trailer of the as-yet-unmade film. They are very difficult to do and even more difficult to do in a way that does justice to the film you will eventually make - unless you do a more "artistic" trailer that does not try to tell the story and merely replicates the energy of the film. In any event, stick to your creative strengths. Just remember, It's not enough to just "feel like" a creative person. You have to BE one. You have to demonstrate your creative energy to investors, to filmmaking partners and to yourself.

So, you pull all of this together what? Well, here is where luck begins to play a hand. But you can stimulate "luck" through action. Start building a list of all the people you know who have money. And all of the people you know who know people who have money. It should be noted that nearly all first films (lower-budgeted indie first films, anyway) are funded close to home - meaning friends, family, business associates and.. *gulp* cards. So, don't be surprised if your list is small and close to home. Then, throw your money issues and ego issues out the window and start asking for money. Or ask to be shown where to find the money. And if someone can't help, ask them to recommend three people who can. Chase down every lead. Promote the hell out of the website. Draw people to you by hook or crook and let your preparation and passion do the sales work without you feeling at all like you are "selling".

If you do all of this, "luck" will find you. And if you have the goods, eventually, the investors you need will find you and support your film. If you don't have the goods, maybe you are not ready to make your film.

And even if you are successful, that doesn't mean that all of it won't suck. It will, no doubt. But if you have a burning desire to make films, you ignore that fact and just put one foot in front of the other until you have what you need. Of course, the other option is to just write (or acquire) a great script and then just pass it around, waiting for someone to champion your fundraising efforts. That happens, too. All the time. Yes, it does....somewhere over the rainbow.....


Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Day In The Life Of This Filmmaker - Week 2

Well,...sorta week two. I skipped a week but I'll quickly recap it....Christmas. Parties. Driving. Family. San Francisco. Reading. Writing. Researching. Drinking. Eating. Sleeping. Frustrated that I can't get too much done.

That's it in a nutshell. Holidays for filmmakers are just like holidays for anybody else, but hopefully, you are witnessing the ritual dysfunction from an objective distance and finding ways to integrate what you discover into a piece of cinema. At least, I try doing that but usually just get caught up in it.


Sounds like I hate the holidays, but I really don't. I like them a lot, actually. I like the break from routine and from the constant pushing to move things forward. I like the warm, fuzzy energy that floats around. I like holiday lights. And L.A. is somewhat empty, since many scoot back to whence-they-came for the holidays, which is great. But it's all over, now. And time to get back on the horse.

Friday, Jan. 4th, 2008

6:30 a.m. - Wake up and quickly jump on the computer. Why? For the usual - web-marketing research, setting up affiliate accounts, work on the blog, work on the Self-Distribution handbook, answering emails, etc.

8:00 - Dog to the park. Cold and empty. Lots of time to think. A scramble of business and creative ideas. Yatahey seems easily tired, for some reason.

9:45 - Arrive at the FA office for a long, important board meeting. We're doing a lot of exciting new stuff that is testing the strengths of all of us on the board. We've got some great people involved and I feel good about where it's going and what it will be in the future. Can't say too much here, yet. But it's all good for filmmakers.

I also take down and put away the FA Christmas tree.

2:30 p.m. - Back at home in front of the computer doing all of the usual stuff with breaks to work out, let Yatahey out for a pee, and snack. I start reading one of the many scripts I need to read for FA Productions as we try to find films to put in front of our investors. This script is not a bad one, but not great. I hunger for something amazing so it's tough to stay focused. I get an email from one of our investors letting me know he will have to pass on our film "The Revenant" right now as he doesn't think he can arrange financing before March (we shoot in early Feb.). Not too much of a problem. We'll definitely need money, then, too.

6:00 - Hang out/private time. Let's leave it at that. It's interrupted by some emergency work that needs to happen on a couple of the films we are wrapping up. Most importantly, gotta call a bunch of actors to make sure they are available for ADR work on Wednesday.

10:00 - In the shower, thinking about a post on Buddhist Filmmaking at Cinema Lovers Unite! that my friend Sean Hood posted. Thankful for it. Very validating and inspiring. I asked him, by the way, to post it in the comments section of this blog, which he did - It gets me thinking about the type of films I want to continue making....about story-telling and dream logic....about the power of cinema....about why I've devoted myself to filmmaking. I get really excited about working on "Rust", but know I can't until some of the other stuff I'm doing is in place. I decide I have to make a short film in the next 3 months.

10:30 - Computer stuff. Boring. Interminable. Putting up code on my blog for affiliate partners. Answer some e-mails. The usual. Whatever.

Midnight - Off to sleep and some crazy-ass dreams. Maybe I can use them, somehow.

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Cinema Lovers Unite!

I started a new group on Facebook. Check it out. If you love classic and world cinema, and really want to understand what makes a great film - it's the place for you. It's by invitation-only so make sure you have a profile on facebook or a link to your myspace/website/whatever.....

Hope to see ya there!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Favorite Blogs, Sites and Pages

Just wanted to let you all know that I added links to some of my favorite film-related blogs, sites and pages. You'll find it halfway down the right side of the blog page. It's a starter list, so there will certainly be more to come. Your suggestions are more than welcome.

Some of it is great and nothing is less than interesting. Please do check them out, even though I know there is so much of it. But if you're like me, you can multi-task to get through it all.....