Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You and Your Cinematic Vision - A Relationship Story

Over here at FA, we're always hammering people about their "vision". What is their distinct world-view? What is their unique aesthetic perspective? What is the crucial oddity that defines them as filmmakers?

Why is this so important? Well, if you aren't sick of me answering that question for the 1,237,986th time, I will do it again,...briefly. First, no one cares about you as a filmmaker if you don't give them something to care about that they can't find to care about elsewhere. Period. Whether you are an art filmmaker or a studio filmmaker....what makes you unique as a filmmaker is what makes you meaningful to those who can help establish your filmmaking life.


Secondly, and more importantly, discovering and expressing what is unique within you as a filmmaker will provide you with a level of creative satisfaction I cannot even begin to describe with words. Will it make you a happy, fulfilled, grounded person? Not necessarily. Unfortunately, one doesn't guarantee the other (although they aren't mutually exclusive, either, despite the "tortured artist" myth). But it will allow you to be in touch with something deep inside of you and can fill you with a sense of purpose in this life.

So, how do we access and develop this "vision"? Well, accessing it is a somewhat mysterious process that evolves sooner for some than for others. I try to blog about this process as often as possible to help guide filmmakers from a multitude of approaches and perspectives. But the process doesn't end once you ultimately seize upon that "vision". A brilliant idea may suddenly and excitingly flower inside your head, but it means little if it does not come to fruition in your work. Once it comes to life, however, you must treat it like a separate and distinct life form.

What does that mean? Well, let's use an analogy to an actual life form - be it a child, a family member, a life parter, a pet or any living thing about which you truly and deeply care. Here are some general relationship rules that apply beautifully to developing and applying your vision.


Any relationship need nurturing. How does one nurture a vision? Much in the way you nurture any relationship. You give it time, thought and energy. You consider its needs then give to it what you can. Developing a vision may demand discussion, interpretation, experimentation, fleshing-out or any number of creative exercises that will give it form and context.

Your relationship needs acceptance. Do not judge your vision. And do not judge what it means to you. Accept it for what it is. That does not mean do not question or change it. It simply means understanding it apart from what you want it to do for you...apart from any external agenda. It also means understanding it apart from any personal or moral judgements you may impose on it. This is your distinct and unique vision - whatever it is and however it came to you. Wrap your arms around that fact and let go of all else. If you find at any point this vision doesn't work for you, simply let it go and find another (like any relationship).

Your relationship needs respect but not obsessive co-dependency. Your vision is a gift. It's unique energy is indeed irreplaceable. Respect that. But remember that just because it is special, doesn't mean it is infallible. Meaning, it should not be immune to questioning and challenging and changing. Don't let it become constricted by a pig-headed determination to control it by treating it like some precious, unassailable treasure. It is a treasure, to be sure. But like all life forms, it must be open to adaptation or risk dying.

The relationship must evolve! No life form remains as it is at conception. Not even amoebas (well, maybe amoebas....and television commercials - which are clearly an alien life form). It is important that you view your creative ideas as life forms and allow them to grow organically. A toddler becomes a teen-ager and a teen-ager becomes an adult and an adult becomes an old codger (if they're lucky). Your relationship with and to that person changes at every step of the way. Your vision - and your relationship to it - will naturally change in the same way. Be prepared to fall in and out of love with it. And at key points, this is actually necessary. It's important to reassess your vision and your relationship to it. Is it deepening? Is it still serving you? Is it true to itself? Is it reaching its full potential?

These key evolutionary points are at the script stage, pre-visualization, production and post. The script will become something apart from the original conception. As you pre-visualize it, it will become something new, again (assuming you engage in pre-viz, which too many filmmakers do not). In production, it takes on yet a new life and of course, in post, the film can be totally re-conceived. It's key to be able, at each point, to stand-back, re-assess, challenge, re-appreciate and in generally engage in a totally new relationship with your vision so that you may successfully realize the full flower of it and, together, ride off into the sunset.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Indie Film Distribution - Nice Independent Film Week follow-up post

The following is excerpted from the latest Filmmaker Magazine newsletter.....
By Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo
My name is Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and this is my guest post for the just-concluded Independent Film Week here in New York. Along with Zachary Lieberman (co-creator of The West Side), I spoke on Monday’s panel “Your Film Online,” and I wanted to expand here on some thoughts I shared during that panel — mostly in response to the prevailing wisdom that “the sky is falling” on independent film.

(This is also cross-posted on my own blog, No Film School).

I’m a New Face of independent film, not an Industry Veteran, so maybe it’s naiveté that leads me to have a very different outlook on distribution than The Film Department CEO Mark Gill, whose comments in June were still on everyone’s lips at IFW. After proclaiming, “As it relates to independent film, the sky really is falling,” Gill’s solution was for the indie film world to make “fewer, better” movies. Unfortunately, that’s not actually a productive piece of advice. After he spoke, did most of the audience pack it up and leave to pursue a different career? No. Everyone’s already trying to make the best film they can, and telling financiers or filmmakers to try harder isn’t going to materially affect the market.

While Gill obviously gave the right speech at the right time and touched nerves across the industry, if we take a step back from the shake-up currently going on, the future is very clearly brighter than ever for independent productions; we just need to embrace a number of fundamental changes in distribution. Ten years ago, to get someone to pay to see your indie film, you had to mobilize a local crowd in dozens of markets in order to get butts into art house seats. Now we’ve got a global interconnected audience of millions of online movie watchers and the answer is to make less movies? No. The audience is larger than ever; we don’t need to make fewer movies. The answer is we need to make it easier to watch movies.

The way independent film distribution currently works is self-defeating. Let’s say I’m reading the current issue of Filmmaker and I find out about a film that opened at Sundance. I want to see it… but I can’t. The film showed at the festival, a distributor bought the rights to it, and now it won’t come to a theater for six to nine months and won’t be on DVD for a full year. Here I am with my interest piqued, the title of the film foremost in my head, but in order for that movie to earn a dime from me — an interested, paying customer — they’re going to have to count on me remembering the film several months later. They have to count on me actually becoming aware of its release through an advertisement or a listing of showtimes during the theatrical window, they have to count on me being in town and having some free time during that brief period, they have to count on me being able to interest someone else in the film as well (like most people I prefer not to go to the theater alone), and on top of all of that, they have to count on me actually remembering the article I read nine months ago and connecting that to the title of the film currently listed on the marquee next to several other titles.

What kind of consumer product is intentionally made this elusive? In the above situation, if I do eventually realize I want to see the film, I’ll add it to my Netflix queue at position 336, which is not a great value proposition to the distributor or filmmaker. Even worse, after reading the Filmmaker article, I might never hear about the film again, and, like so many other movies I was interested in at one point, it might fall through the cracks and I’ll never see (or pay for) it.

It doesn’t make sense: if your film has someone’s interest piqued, they need to be able to plunk down a few bucks and watch it NOW. Not tomorrow, not next month, certainly not a full year from now.

The way I see it, there are two main problems with distribution as it stands today: one, release windows, and two, online experience.

In terms of release windows, I understand the arguments behind finding an audience and building hype. But the marketing costs that a movie incurs in order to achieve some sort of penetration into the collective cultural conscience is not befitting of an indie film. Besides, in the indie world, advance hype for something that hasn’t come out yet is more expensive and less effective than a simple recommendation from a friend for something that’s currently available. Regardless, if you’re going to spend money building an audience for a film, why not build that audience while the film is actually available for purchase instead of during an “advertising-only” window?

The supporters of staggered theatrical windows and expensive ad campaigns have a reason to want to stick to their guns: their jobs depend on it. Distributors are the ones whose companies are in trouble, so they’re the ones most likely to cry apocalypse. On Wednesday’s panel “The State of Independent Distribution,” Scott Kirsner of Cinematech asked Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard about the wisdom of continuing to use release windows in the face of piracy. Why not make a film available for paying customers if it’s already available for free via illicit channels? Bernard’s response: “Because people are used to windows.” Well, people were used to snail mail before e-mail came along, and most of us have managed to adapt (with the exception of a certain Presidential candidate). I doubt many of us would want to go back to waiting three days for cross-country written communication, just as one day I doubt any of us will want to go back to waiting for film reels to be shipped across the country for an exclusive theatrical window.

If release windows are completely done away with and we put every film online day-and-date, wouldn’t that put many theaters out of business? Probably, but for most major releases nowadays, the film is already online day-and-date. It’s on Bittorrent, it’s on Kazaa or whatever file-sharing service they use on college campuses these days, it’s available via any number of illicit online distribution channels. These pirated copies are popular for two main reasons: price (free!) and convenience (now!). It’s hard to beat the pirates on the price issue, but as it stands, the illegal option is also more convenient than the legit option, and that’s a problem. Not only is it more convenient, but it’s also often of higher quality: if you look around on Bittorrent, the community cares deeply about the quality of the films they’re downloading; they rip a movie from an HDTV broadcast if possible, they make it available with subtitles in several different languages, and in general a downloader can watch a better quality movie for free than if they actually ponied up the cash to watch it through an authorized download or streaming service. Ultimately, when piracy is offering a more convenient, higher-quality experience in addition to a cheaper one, we’re failing at digital distribution.

There are existing online distribution options — including nascent day-and-date release plans like IFC’s VOD program — but the currently available choices offer limited viewing options and no sense of ownership. Using myself as an example, at home I have several legal means to watch movies online: one is my Netflix subscription, with its Watch Instantly feature, but it offers an extremely limited selection (less than 10% of Netflix’s titles are available to watch online), and it doesn’t work at all on my Mac. So I turn to iTunes, Amazon, or my Playstation, all of which tout online video stores; each has a different catalog, however, so you never know if the content you’re looking for will be available on that particular store. Additionally, each store has a different pricing structure and different viewing limitations thanks to their Digital Rights Management. Only my Playstation is hooked up to my TV, so content bought at Amazon or iTunes is only viewable on my laptop. Whereas if I download a movie illegally I can play it on the screen of my choice, if I “buy” a movie from an online store the DRM often won’t let me transfer the film to other devices. And limited transferability is only part of the problem with DRM; mainly, the issue is the consumer’s ephemeral ownership of a product they paid real money for. I don’t have any faith that a movie I purchase online today will be watchable three years from now; I might have an entirely new computer that it won’t transfer to, or I might forget the password to an account I have to “refresh” my licenses with. Imagine if you bought a DVD at the store and it expired after a few days unless you logged into a server; no one would buy such a disc. They actually tried that with DIVX ten years ago… and no one bought it. Yet DRM today is essentially the same as the failed DIVX experiment.

After years of hemorrhaging money, the music industry is finally offering decent options for online music consumption: iTunes and Amazon (and Rhapsody, I should note, since I currently work there) are finally selling MP3s, which are DRM-free and thus work on any device. That sounds like actual ownership. That sounds like an experience finally equal to that of… what’s already available online via pirated means, for free.

And that’s where watching movies online becomes viable. If I want to buy something, give it to me free of restrictions and I’ll gladly pay money for it and start building a library. Indeed, if people are buying millions of unprotected MP3s from online stores — instead of just one person on the planet buying the album and emailing the files to everyone — I’m pretty sure consumers will buy a DRM-free movie, load it onto any device they own, and enjoy it however they want. They’re much less likely to email around a 2GB movie file than a 4MB music file anyway. As a final point, does anyone think that selling a protected file to the paying customer is going to prevent piracy when there are a million unprotected, pirated copies of that same song or movie already available online? All DRM does is screw the person who actually paid for it.

Consumers don’t expect to pay as much for a digital file as they would for a physical product that was manufactured and shipped across the country, and rightfully so. But as filmmakers we’ll sell a whole lot more copies of our movie at a lower price point, and we’ll end up making more money this way anyway (the same thing happened with DVD when it undercut the price point of rental tapes — the drastic increase in number of units sold more than outweighed the drop in per-unit revenue). Today, a $20 DVD nets the filmmaker how much after the physical production, distribution, and company overhead? $2? Environmentally it’s not a great time to be shrinkwrapping a disc and freighting it all around the country, anyway. If we sell it through an online store for $10 we’ll keep significantly more than $2 of that sale; if we sell it on our own site, we’ll keep the whole $10.

And that’s another point about the bright future of indie film: direct sales. Gary Hustwit (dir., Helvetica) talked on Wednesday’s panel “The Digital Download” about the revenue streams he was able to generate directly from fans; when asked how much they added up to, he tellingly responded, “a lot.” And thus ended the panel. Some of these revenue streams were just rounded up by Peter Broderick in a two-part post at IndieWire, “Welcome to the New World of distribution” (part 1, part 2). As with countless business innovations over the years, cutting out the middleman, or at least reducing his role, is of paramount importance for independent productions. Getting back to Gill’s speech, he predicted, “It will feel like we just survived a medieval plague. The carnage and the stench will be overwhelming.” He’s right, but the carcasses he speaks of will be the bodies of distribution companies and theater owners, not filmmakers.

The future of independent film is instant, digital gratification. As filmmakers, we’ve already brought down production costs down by shooting digitally; now we need distribution costs brought down by distributing digitally as well. Cut out the P&A — the 35mm blowup, the trucks across the country, the bloated ad campaign — and put our films in digital theaters and online, simultaneously. Make our films available anytime, anywhere: on our computers, on our iPhones, iPods, Playstations, TVs, etc. — all with the guarantee that if you buy it, it’s DRM-free. People will pay for something if they actually own what they’re paying for. In addition to hundreds of digital theater screens, we also now have hundreds of millions of computers with internet connections as our venues. That’s a lot of screens. I’m pretty sure the sky is not falling.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Independent Film Week


Well, it's over. IFP's Independent Film Week (IFW) has come and gone here in NYC and I'm already on my JetBlue flight back to L.A. (Burbank, actually). Independent Film Week is IFP's latest incarnation of what was once called the Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM) way back in the day, but was most recently known as IFP Market.

Like the name, the event seems to be ever-evolving, which is a good thing given the radical changes to the way independent film does business. For instance, removing the name "market" makes sense since distributors don't come to buy films, anymore. Why? Because distributors don't buy independent films anymore. At least not often. And rarely are they the type of truly independent films that IFW supports. And in the incredibly rare instance that those true indies are bought, it usually only happens after some triumphant Sundance (or other major festival) screening. But even that is starting to happen less often.

I don't think I've missed a year since 2001 and I first came to this event in the mid 90's. I confess I do miss the crazy, carnival atmosphere of those early years when any film submitted (along with $400 or so) was put in the market and hundreds of filmmakers descended on NY with their VHS copies and promo materials tucked under their arms - along with all sorts of wild strategies for trying to garner attention. But I don't miss all the bad films. Nor the desperation. I do wish they still screened short films, however. And maybe offered some prize for them - or other form of recognition - because of what they contribute to Independent Film. Even more than feature films, short films, as a whole, are a purely independent creative expression. Or they are integral to an independent filmmaker's creative development - often times, both.

But otherwise, the newly-named Independent Film Week accurately and efficiently reflects the new changes, not just to the event, but to independent film as a whole. It is a lean combination of panel discussions, screenings, meetings and parties all of which blend together dynamically to present and celebrate the next wave of truly independent film projects...and filmmakers. Filmmakers don't seem to come here with wild-eyed, hit-it-rich expectations, anymore. They come with a seriousness of intent and purpose, eagerly ferreting out connections and information....and then carrying on at night like a bunch of wild college kids (which some of them are).

RANDOM NYC SHOT #1 - the moon was freaky behind those clouds.

In essence, it has become a sort of indie film "convention" with the goal being to move your project forward, no matter where in the process it might be. Filmmakers submit their projects for selection whether they be scripts or works-in-progress. For the works-in-progress, they can be narrative or documentary (actually, documentaries are narratives, but the semantics of it all is a whole other discussion). If your script is selected, you get pre-arranged meetings (and any that you can set up on the fly) wtih all kinds of "industry" peeps that might help move forward the process of bringing the script to screen.

My trusted associate and new FA Executive Director, Amanda Sweikow, and I were there as industry peeps so we flew in on Sunday for meetings on Monday and Tuesday. Apparently, some stuff started on Saturday with a panel, a private dinner and an opportunity to meet with our recent VisionFest honoree, Kevin Smith. But we assume those were semi-private affairs since we didn't hear about them. Like a lot of these events, there are always things going on that you never hear about. Kind of understandable since these events can't always afford to accommodate everyone at every function. But not so understandable when I am on of the board of the Emerging Narrative Labs - from which they draw all the work-in-progress narrative films.

Amanda being a tourist and grabbing a shot of lovely NYC at dusk.

So, we came in Sunday after a restless red-eye flight and slept most of the day. I have to take a second, however, to mention how thrilling it is to be in New York City in September. Frankly, it's always thrilling to be in NYC. But it's thrilling and beautiful to be in NYC in September. Of course, I was born in Brooklyn, so it always kinda feels like coming home, too. But, although a bit desanitized these days, NYC is still unmatched for excitement. So, Sunday night we went to the opening night reception, which was brief and rather sedate - held in a big open room at the Fashion Institute on 7th Ave. and 28th St. - where or near all other activities were also held. This is another major change from the Puck Building farther south on Lafayette, where the event was held for several previous years. Actually, the Puck Building better lent itself to chance encounters (in a good way) and impromptu meetings because it had a central "lounge" space that you almost had to pass through and where people always gathered. That kind of hub was missing from this new location.

At the reception, we connected with a bunch of familiar indie film faces - among them Bob Hawk and Peter Broderick, as well as with our soon-to-be partner-in-crime for the whole event, Dallas producer Adam Donaghy whose film "St. Nick", written and directed by David Lowery, was included in the event. David hadn't arrived, yet, but I met them both at AFI Dallas when, as jurors, Harry Kellerman and I gave an award to David's beautiful short film, "A Catalogue of Anticipations".

RANDOM NYC SHOT #2 - Chinese Hispanic?!

Although there were a couple of unofficial after-parties, we were still tired and I was fighting a flu which had hit me just before I left L.A., so we called it a night. I crashed as soon as I got to our apartment. Which, by the way, I should mention was a cool deal we got on Craigslist. For the cost of a very cheap hotel, we had a good-sized two bedroom apartment on 1st Ave. between 2nd and 3rd Streets (Lower East Side - right in the thick of stuff) with air conditioning, wi-fi and a nice balcony. Of course, it was inside a housing project occupied mostly by elderly Jewish women, but that's part of the deal....and typically New York. It was a clean, safe building and the little old ladies were exceedingly charming. The apartment itself was aesthetically nice, too. The sweet, lovely woman who owns the apartment (or simply rents it) vacated it for us since we are paying her several times more than it costs her to keep it on a daily basis. We have no idea where she went while we were there or even if the rules of the housing project allow her to do this. But it was a win-win for us both.

We didn't stay in these projects, but you get the idea. Ours had a nice balcony and sweet little old Jewish ladies.

Anyway, the first day of meetings was only a couple of hours and we met with a bunch of filmmakers/writers in 15 minute sessions at a separate but nearby meeting space. All of the filmmakers (and one person who was strictly a writer) were smart and well-spoken. And all of the projects were interesting. We could not meet with all the filmmakers connected to all of the projects in IFW, so we were allowed to pick some of the filmmakers we wanted to meet in advance, which was great. Our goal was to see if and how we could help them and their goal was exactly the same. Three issues were constant in all of our meetings on Monday and Tuesday. First, although the scripts may be fantastic, how would we know if these filmmakers could realize them as films to their fullest creative potential? Many of the filmmakers had done precious little filmmaking and none brought examples of their previous work. What was interesting is that the one guy who had never made a film at all (Benjamin Bates, "Walrus Eating Baloney) brought the most arresting visual presentation - a sort of portfolio of pics, sketchings, writings and perhaps more that had a strong visceral appeal and displayed some real creative ambition.

The second issue, was that many of these filmmakers had never made a feature, but were looking for in excess of 2 million dollars to do their films - some far in excess of that. They did not seem to realize how difficult it is to get 2 million+ dollars, especially in this economic climate, for any film let alone a first feature. That's not to say it couldn't happen with the right script and the right talent attached along with the right connections to money and the tenacity to remain attached as director. But those circumstances all lining up are EXTREMELY rare and thus do not constitute what any reasonable person would consider a realistic plan for making a first feature. But who said filmmakers are ever reasonable?

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it was clear none of the projects had thoroughly considered the back end, meaning, the big "D" - distribution. How was their finished film going to make it to market? Films need to be made so that can succeed on one of two levels, preferably both - 1. to make money. 2. to gain exposure. Exposure alone is not preferable, but it can at least build awareness, reputation and prestige that can lead to more lucrative successes down the road with other projects. But, of course, money is always important - even if it is an unapologetic art film - because making money allows us to make more films and to not burn the bridges you've built with investors (who are often also family and friends). You can only make money and/or gain exposure if the film is distributed. And the tired belief that the film will play at Sundance and then get bought for lots of money by a major distribution company is a ludicrous fantasy that filmmakers have been clinging to for far too long. The market has changed too much and filmmakers, like it or not, must take an active role in the film reaching its potential audience (but all of that is for another blog).

RANDOM NYC SHOT #3 - Hells Angel's NYC Chapter on E. 3rd St.

The other important point about distribution, however, is that it forces you to think about the film's value in the marketplace. Who is the audience and how well can the film perform with them? Can it break-out from that? Thinking about this should motivate filmmakers to work back and think about their budgets so that they are not so ridiculously out-of-line with where they are as first-time feature filmmakers. You want to do an art film? I hope so. But realize it will have a limited audience and therefore make limited money. You want to make a more mainstream film, but with no recognizable talent? Same situation. And this will be a first-feature film with a few rookie mistakes no matter how brilliant you are. Take this all into account and budget realistically.

But the bottom line is that we came away excited about the ideas, energy and talent of the filmmakers we met and look forward to reading their full scripts. At the end of the first day of meetings, we rushed off to the conference, which is the full day panel discussions that went on every day of IFW. It was the first day of the conference for us....and our last. As usual, the panel discussions were the weakest part of the whole event. Now, I'm not singling out IFP for this. Panels and seminars are notoriously and ubiquitously bad at nearly all filmmaking events - festivals, conferences, expos, etc. - from Sundance on down. Which always suprises us. Especially at this event because the panel topics/descriptions are exciting, the panelists are accomplished and articulate, the moderators are smart. But, somehow, they rarely offer new, clear or specific information and often spotlight "success" stories that have very little if any relevance to the journey of all the other filmmakers in attendance. The panels we went to were part of tech day - with all the panels addressing the relationship between the film industry and new technology. But after 3 panels, we realized we either weren't going to hear anything we didn't already know or lots of what we didn't, and didn't want to, know. Lance Weiler was the most interesting speaker on all of the tech panels, but he is almost too tech savvy, using lingo that went over the heads of many of the filmmakers. And still, the practical info was not clear and specific.

Later that night, we went to a restaurant owned by friends of an FA member, Aqua Grill, and had one of the greatest meals either Amanda or I had in a long while. And I had perhaps the single best martini I've ever had. It put us both in the perfect mood for a screening of IFP-supported indie project, "Medicine for Melancholy" (to be commented on in an upcoming blog) and then to another party - this time at a club, where we hooked up with familiar faces, met a few more and continued to drink waaay too much - especially for someone battling the flu.

Tuesday was more meetings with filmmakers and, at night, we went to the always-anticipated Florida Film commission Sushi party. All you can eat sushi and all you can drink saki and beer. For filmmakers. It's always an awesome party and we connected strongly with a lot of filmmakers....which carried on into an after-party at a cool bar on the south side of Houston and finishing with a karaoke bar on Bowery. Adam was our MC through it all and seemed to know everything that was going on. Again, more bonding, but also more drinking. We don't seem to learn.

RANDOM NYC SHOT #4 - Young babes out for the night and displaying the manual they use to guide them through what they think they're supposed to do....

Finally, Wednesday, we swore off drinking and enjoyed the annual Feast of San Gennaro - a very old traditional ritual that has morphed into an Italian-themed street fair in Little Italy, which was just a few blocks away from our housing project. At night, we went to the Rooftop Screenings of the films in the event. Rooftop Films is an organization that runs a fantastic screening/event series run by the smart, charismatic Mark Elijah Rosenberg. As the name suggests, they often screen dramatically on rooftops, but not exclusively. Nonetheless, they are always in interesting locations. And there is always live music beforehand and a party afterward. The best thing about it, however, is the quality of programming - always top notch and usually with the filmmaker or filmmakers in attendance. Anyway, although IFW was screening clips of all of its included films as a regular part of the events, Rooftop held a special outdoor screening of clips from all of the included films. The screenings are held so that industry types (and anyone else) can get a feel for the films and step up with whatever support the films need to get finished and/or out in the world. It was great to see al of the films, back-to-back, and get a real feel for the breadth and quality of the included films. Amanda and I were most impressed with our buddies' film "St. Nick". Although we are admittedly partial, the film is definitely more of an FA aesthetic ideal than some of the other narrative offerings on display. As a whole, all of the films were impressive and had something noteworthy about them, but we still felt many of the narrative films suffered a bit from indie-itis (definition reserved for a future blog) and the documentaries seemed much stronger. But that is often the case at festivals, too.

The Feast of San Gennaro

The Independent Film Week Screening at Rooftop Films and (below) the Blogger's self-portrait watching those screenings...

On Thursday, which is really the celebratory closing of the event (even though the panels continue through Saturday), there was the Awards brunch at Chinatown Brasserie, when IFP brings together all of the key IFW board members and other contributors as well as selected filmmakers whose projects are singled out with impressive cash and in-kind grants. It was really great. It's always inspiring to see so many old school NY indie-film luminaries in one room, it's great to see all the filmmakers receive such awesome support and it's amazing to feel such a strong sense of community and shared purpose.The food was good, too. I got hammered by a whole new level of flu and was barely able to stagger to the brunch, then sat through it all like a zombie. But I was happy to be there. Our ego was gratified to see that so many of the filmmakers we'd requested to meet with were finalists in the Screenwriting category. And, guess what? Benjamin Bates, the filmmaker who'd never made a film, but impressed us with his visual homework, won the Screenwriting Award for "Walrus Eating Baloney". Here were some other winners:

Joseph Cashiola received IFP's inaugural $50,000 Independent Filmmaker Lab Finishing Grant for his feature directorial debut, the drama "A Thing as Big as the Ocean."

Dia Sokol's feature debut,"Sorry, Thanks." won the $10,000 Adrienne Shelly Director's Grant.

"The Promise of Freedom," by Beth Murphy won the $10,000 Fledgling Fund Award for Socially Conscious Documentaries.

Eight other filmmakers won Panasonic Digital Filmmaking Grants, but sadly, I can't remember who they all were.

The Awards Brunch with Bob Hawk right at the center of it where he belongs.

Of course, there was more partying on Thursday night, most of which I had to bow out of because of the flu. Otherwise, that was about it for us and Independent Film Week 2008. However, I must add that I've so far neglected to mention a thing called "No Borders". No Borders is that part of Independent Film Week that deals with international productions and co-productions. Similar to other parts of the event, the event tries to move these productions forward through a series of meetings, introductions and parties. But it is almost like a separate, but parallel event because all of the No Borders events are restricted to No Borders projects and participants only - of which I am not a part. So, unfortunately, I have no idea what was a-goin' on over there. Good things, I would imagine, as the No Borders projects are rumored to be slightly bigger projects that are always top-notch.

In the end - I had, as always - a great time, came across some great films and filmmakers, and connected/re-connected with some meaningful indie film community peeps. Here are some of the conclusions I've drawn from this year's event - some of which I've repeated to others ad nauseum from past events:

Independent Film Week, by any name, is extremely valuable. Despite my minor criticisms, I really love this event and think it is a really important independent film matrix....and I do mean TRUE independent film. It really supports emerging films and filmmakers and bridges artistic, technological and business concerns nicely. And it helps keep the fires burning for a real independent film community. Can it be even more dynamic? Certainly. But as is, it works pretty damn well and there's really not another event like it.

We need something like it on the West Coast. For all the reasons just mentioned, we need to do this twice a year and bring some of this energy to L.A. so that what is unique about L.A. can flavor the event and, perhaps more importantly, what is great about the event can flavor L.A.

NYC has a much more vibrant, aesthetically ambitious indie film community. I hate to admit it, but it's true. Please, LA filmmakers, prove me wrong. But the NYC community just seems to be more tight-knit and there are simply waaay more filmmakers and screening series in NY that suppport real cinematic ambition. Can we have that in L.A.? We keep trying....and will keep on trying.....

Indie film as a whole is changing rapidly in some new, exciting ways...and same as it ever was in other ways. New technologies seem to be cropping up daily to support both production and exhibition of indie film and we'd be smart to keep ourselves informed of them. More than that, actually....to master them. But in the end, it is still about creating great cinema (or content as some folks like to call it, now). Nothing new matters if the old stuff isn't taken care of.

There is nothing like NYC in Fall. I walked all over the damn city in some of the best weather imaginable. I'm still swooning....

RANDOM NYC SHOT #5 - Central Park In September.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Business Plans for Films

My friend and fellow FA Member, Destri Martino, asked me about a business plan for her friend's film - one that could help him raise money.

I truly don't know how effective business plans are in raising private equity money. Most first and no-budget features find their money through family, friends and credit cards. And those peeps could not care less about business plans.

Even with business folk and other private equity investors with whom you are not emotionally connected, there are, in my experience, other things far more important than the business plan. For me, a compelling combination of a solid track record and personal charisma seemed to be most effective. Do you have a track record? Can you show a history of successful films (either artistically or commercially - preferably both) you've been involved with on any level? Can you (or a partner) speak knowledgeably and compellingly about films and film business? Can you (or a partner) articulate a "vision" for the investment? Do you (or a partner) have good salesmanship skills and can "close the deal"?

Stylistic options in seeking funding for films

I've found these things to be FAR more important than the best business plan. That said, it's important to have a document you can lay in the hands of any potential investor - even a family member. Business plans can often give legitimacy to a project and, ultimately, always do more good than harm, if written properly. At the least, they can provide a business map for the filmmakers, themselves.

But many business plans are NOT written properly. In fact, most are a complete farce because they lack the key component - a thorough marketing/distribution plan, which is the only way an investor can see how the money will return to them. It's also the only way YOU, the filmmaker, will see money return to you.

He are two places (so I am told) you can go to get good info/education/support for writing a solid, compelling business plan:



Honestly, I haven't used either. I've simply heard good things about them from knowledgeable people. If you use either, I would love to get your feedback to share with our other readers. However, I have created business plans - usually stealing structure, ideas and even information from other business plans that impressed me.

Here are my own 7 key points in building a good business plan (having no idea how they jibe with the business plan courses mentioned above):

1. Tailor every single business plan to meet your investor's objectives. Do a little homework to make sure the plan is speaking directly to their interests. Surprisingly, those objectives are not always just about money (but they are rarely NOT about money).

2. Have a clear plan for distribution. That is how the money comes back. If that isn't not clearly worked out the investor will see no way to make a return on their investment. This includes a separate marketing plan. It's not enough to say that you will play festivals and hope some distribution company picks it up. That's not a plan, that's a fantasy (in today's marketplace).

3. Anything you promise or proclaim, you should be able to back up with hard numbers and a solid plan.

4. You must acknowledge the risk in no uncertain terms. Otherwise, you could get in big, big trouble.

5. Use lots of pictures and graphs. Keep the text simple and easy to read. They are busy peeps and want to get to the bottom line as quickly and easily as possible.

6. Don't include detailed budgets or full scripts. Just project outlines and budget topsheets. If they ask for more, give it to them, but don't inundate them with stuff or they'll be too overwhelmed to look at any of it.

7. Offer many comparisons to successful films or production companies. What films or companies are out there that have done well commercially and/or artistically? How is your film(s) or production company like them?

Of course, I must reiterate that a business plan is only an informational document - NOT a sales tool. YOU, the filmmakers, are the biggest sales tool. Your confidence, intelligence, experience, passion, determination, vision, talent, etc. is what will close the deal with a potential investor. Inject all that into the business plan, then bring it to the table in person when they agree to meet with you.

Go get 'em!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


As I've mentioned previously and often, it is my firm belief that it should always be a filmmaker's intention to make a film with a very distinctive aesthetic/thematic perspective and/or social relevance....that is, if you are passionate about filmmaking and/or want to have a life as a filmmaker. That said, I love the process of filmmaking too much to begrudge anyone wanting to make a film for any reason...as long as they know why they are making the film and what the expect from that experience. Too many filmmakers invest all of their money, and worse, their hopes, to make films that have absolutely nothing in them that will satisfy the lofty expectations they hold for the film.

Often, filmmakers think they will find both personal and professional gratification by emulating the great films they've seen. There are definitely benefits to mimicking a filmmaking genius, or even a solid Hollywood film....if it's done convincingly enough. But that is nothing compared to the excitement generated by an original creative voice. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but its the worst form of originality. Although, I think it's fine to steal techniques/ideas from the masters (everybody steals from each other, anyway), especially when you are still developing your own voice. But you have to find your own spin on what you steal. You've got to do something beyond simply laying trace paper over someone else's work and copying it wholesale. At least scratch off the serial numbers when you steal something!

And that doesn't take money. It simply takes imagination. And sometimes, a little technical ingenuity. But often, you can use financial or practical limitations to your creative advantage because that is where you can distinguish yourself from other filmmakers. Such limitations are where the imagination is really challenged and few are up for it.

So, how does a filmmaker create a great aesthetic for their film...on the cheap? Well, it's not simply by figuring out what is the coolest, cheapest camera on the market. It's not simply by getting film stocks, lenses, cranes, dollies, gels and other gadgets and/or post-production tricks that allow you to shoot from all kinds of funky perspectives. Those are just helpful tools. The single most important element to have is a thematically-relevant and/or viscerally impactful visual/aural strategy. Now, that's not nearly as simple as it sounds (actually it doesn't sound simple at all - and it shouldn't). Tapping into one's own original creative vision is difficult and a difficult thing about which to offer instruction. The process of creation is so mysterious because there are so many unconscious forces (and blocks, unfortunately) at work inside of us. They are what separate the geniuses from the merely competent....and then those from the horribly incompetent. So, frankly, there's no simple road map. But here are a few important guidelines to help take you deeper into yourself and your vision:

Develop a film that provides opportunities. Create your film with the intention of stretching your aesthetic muscles. Develop work that organically possesses the opportunity for deeper thematic relevance and unexpected perspectives. Then you create a visual strategy that compliments it. You wanna do a story about a boy who's family can no longer afford his dog and has to put it up for adoption? Heart-wrenching situation, yes. Plenty of drama. But what is that situation about beyond the dramatics? And how can the audience understand the deeper themes through the aesthetics of the film (visually, aurally, musically, editorially)?

Dig deep into your psyche. This is the trickiest among these guidelines to master, but the most rewarding. If you can successfully do this and translate it into cinematic vision, almost all else is secondary. How? I can't say for sure, but try a few different things. Record your dreams. Catalog your fears and obsessions. Look at simple things from a different perspective. What is life like for a hairbrush (if it had "life")? What would we look like if skin were transparent? Look underneath, behind, around and IN things. If necessary, disturb yourself with how bizarrely off-track your mind can wander, then make note of those feelings/images. Ferret out all of the things that you think are weird about yourself. Those can be your strongest creative allies because weird is just another word for unique.

Alternatively, plug into your own sensitivity. Try to feel things as deeply as you can and make note of what moments/images arouse the strongest feelings in you. Push yourself into those feelings and see what they conjure in your mind. And try to do these things without driving yourself, and everyone around you, crazy.

Know what has come before. Both to avoid it and to steal it. Again, you don't want to do a wholesale remake of "The Godfather" (even if you could afford it). Cinephiles might murder you in your sleep. But you may want to be inspired by the film - or outright steal this or that visual idea...maybe even build upon them or re-conceive them. Or build on thematic strains....This is especially true of genre films. If you don't know that genre and all of it's highpoints like the back of your hand, you are likely going to create a less than awe-inspiring retread.

Know your craft. Meaning, you must understand the language of cinema and the tools for speaking it. Some people get this quickly on an intuitive level and, indeed, I caution against doing too much"education" because it can also cause you to fall into traps. Too many rules, too many cliches. A shockingly large number of people think that a "real film" has to look a certain way...usually unoriginal. Despite all of that, however, you do need to get a feel for the creative properties of cinema and how best to bring them forth in your film - conceptually and on a practical level.

Inspire yourself. Read books. Go to art shows. Go to concerts. Go to plays. Go to photography exhibits. Stop and stare at street performers. Go lay in tall grass and notice everything around you....anything to get some "flow" of ideas...But even though you can do some of this on your computer...DO NOT. You have to truly live these things. It's the total, body/sensual, experiential element that feeds your imagination.

Know your limitations. Don't do some deep philosophical film if "Charlie Brown" is heavy reading for you. Conversely, don't do a horror film, if you've only seen two and hated them both. Also, know your budget and tools. What can you afford? What can you get for free? What can you build yourself? What locations do you have access to? Etc., etc. Don't conceive of shots with heavy CGI if you know nothing about it and have no money to pull it off. Define the scope of your creative concerns and practical possibilities then design an over-all aesthetic that brings those two together, stretches their possibilities and maximizes their potential.

See your limitations as opportunities. Now, examine those "limitations" and think about how you can pull off something that exceeds them (or at least appears to). Or completely re-conceive your aesthetic in a way that is radically more interesting. You can't do that long hallway tracking shot because the hallway is too narrow? Maybe you'll have to put the camera at a child's eye level at one end of the hall and let it statically capture all the action in the scene - then you discover that the whole movie should be from a static, but composed child's POV that adds dramatically to the emotional and thematic energy of the film.....Well, one can hope, anyway.

The following are a few examples of films that have a distinctive aesthetic that were made for practically nothing. Hopefully, they will inspire something in you besides out-and-out thievery. In each case, the filmmakers did pretty well for themselves....

(click on the DVD covers below if you want to go to an online store and order them...)







Friday, September 5, 2008

Palm Springs ShortsFest Wrap-Up

The short film is an art all of its own. And short filmmakers, whether they have or will make a feature, have an energy all their own. And a shorts festival has a vibe all of its own....

And the Palm Springs Shortsfest is, to my knowledge, the largest short film festival in America, so it has the biggest, baddest vibe of all. Hundreds of filmmakers descend on it, with all sorts of disparate agendas that converge behind a singular question "How do I continue to make films". And they fling themselves at this festival with reckless abandon because it attracts a LOT of short film programmers, distributors and other industry folk.

But what's great about PS Shortsfest is that it plays as much to the local audience as it does to the industry. Consequently, most screenings (at least the ones I went to) were good and crowded. Most people think the Palm Springs audience is strictly queer and/or geriatric. Not strictly true. But mostly true. And what's wrong with that? Within those two sometimes over-lapping demographics are a whole mix of ideologies, personalities, ethnicities, religions, etc., etc. It's a very sophisticated and very diverse audience if can you look beyond the broad labels. And it's a good lesson in respecting your audience and understanding who they really are. But there are also plenty who attend who fall outside of those demographics along with the aforementioned filmmakers and film industry types.

Filmmakers, audience, programmers, jurors, festival organizers and other tangential folk eat, drink and plot their filmmaking lives.

As usual, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with other people, including panels, discussions, workshops and a party every night at various venues around Palm Springs. A made it to 4 of them. You often see the same faces repeatedly and, over the course of a couple of parties, you quickly form kinships. As I always say, it may be great to meet this bigshot or that bigshot (who are always being solicited), but the best connections you can make are to other filmmakers. Among them, someone can always answer your question or point you in the right direction.

Anyway, I was brought down there again by friend/comrade/shorts guru/over-all fabulous woman Kim Adelman, who either puts me on a panel or has me do the One-on-One sessions with the filmmakers. Sometimes both. This year, it was just the One-on-One's...which I love. I'm put in a room cut in half by a room divider - my friend Ric Halpern from Panavision was on the other side - and filmmakers are brought in one by one for ten minute consultation sessions over a 2 hour period. If they're smart, they've done their homework on me and know how to focus their questions to make the most of my strengths. The filmmakers sign up in advance, choosing with whom they want to meet. Both Ric and I had full schedules. For some reason, Ric had all cute girls and I had all European men (with one Indian filmmaker).

I didn't mind. What I love most is the passion and enthusiasm these guys bring to the table that you don't find with a lot of feature filmmakers who are too busy stressing about how they will pay their investors back or set up a lucrative distribution deal. Those are non-issues with shorts, so the focus is on what can be done with the short and how can it lead to the next film. With the Europeans I spoke to, most were interested in how they can work in America...or at least make a name for themselves here. When you see the over-all production quality of the European shorts and the amount of government funding available (which doesn't exist here), I couldn't help asking them "WHY?".

Of course, I know the answer. America is the home of "professional" filmmaking and they want to do this for a living. But that is more illusion than anything else if you look at the numbers of aspirants versus the number of true "professionals". Nonetheless, I told them to take their filmmaking opportunities wherever they show up - in their home countries, America or Kazakhstán, as the case may be. The real key is getting your work SEEN here in America by the people that can assist in creating a life as a "professional" filmmaker.

But more importantly, I told them what I tell American filmmakers: if you want to attract attention to your filmmaking - from anybody - explore a story, theme or general aesthetic that is, if not personal, incredibly distinctive and compelling - inimitable in a striking fashion. A film that no one else could do...or perhaps even think of doing. Most stared blankly at me, looking confused. Maybe even annoyed.

However, I agreed to watch their films. Perhaps, they asked, I could recommend them to a festival or production company. I watched all I was given and, at best, saw a lot of really strong, polished work, but nothing that struck me as an original or genius concept, theme, idea or aesthetic approach.

But there was indeed some great work and plenty of good work at the festival. Here's a rundown of some of the award winners:

6.5 Minutes in Tel Aviv (Israel), Mirey Brantz
Lovers parting, families traveling, businessmen commuting -- a Tel Aviv bus station is the setting for an unexpected confrontation brought on by fear and panic in this part of the world where it only takes a minute for the landscape to become completely unrecognizable.

Marçal Forés, Friends Forever (UK)
Returning to school following the death of his closest friend, Chris, young George is bedeviled by his friend's ghost, who seems to follow him everywhere. But who is doing the following?
Honorable mention for this award went to Nicolas Brault for Hungu (Canada).

A Good Day for a Swim (Romania), Bogdan Mustata
This harrowing short film, winner of the Golden Bear at this year's Berlin Film Festival, follows the trail of a trio of young sociopaths as they pick up a young woman they find at the side of the road and take her to the beach for a day of amoral pursuits. Not for the squeamish.

Cairn (Norway), Hanne Larsen
Young Johan wants to be accepted by the cool guys at school, so he joins them in a cruel prank, shutting another boy from their class in a cold, dark cairn underground. When a series of circumstances cause him to leave the boy in the cellar, his actions have consequences that he could never have anticipated.

Hungu (Canada), Nicolas Brault
A deeply moving meditation on migration, traditions and family are visually imprinted in striking black and white animation.

The Witness: The View from Room 306 (USA), Adam Pertofsky
This riveting short documentary recounts the incidents leading up to, during and immediately after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, utilizing archival footage and photos, first-hand accounts, and interviews with a number of the people who participated in the events of that time.

Toyland (Germany), Jochen Alexander Freydank
When a young boy's mother, responding to her son's question about the whereabouts of his best friend (whose family has been put on a train for the camps), tells her son that his friend has been sent to "Toyland," the boy sneaks off to join him.

This Way Up (UK), Adam Foulkes, Alan Smith
Two undertakers run into a number of slight problems delivering a body for burial.

It was all incredibly fun and creatively inspiring. Get your filmmaking butts down there next year, if you can....whether you have a film in the fest or not. There's much to learn, many to meet and tons o' fun to be had.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

VisionFest 08 Wrap-Up

Yes, VisionFest 08 has finally come....and gone. It was truly an amazing event this year. But it runs over us FAers like a cement truck. Luckily, I've recuperated and reflected enough to share some of the thoughts that are resonating within me about the event. But I'm going to express those thoughts by addressing the oft-asked question: "Why do we do it?"!!

Anybody who has been to the event knows what a massive undertaking it is - even though it is just one night - for such a modestly-staffed organization. And, frankly, it is. It includes, but is not limited to, soliciting/managing sponsors and integrating their promotional materials, soliciting/managing restaurant and beverage donations, wrangling/implementing volunteers, designing/diseminating printed materials including the event program, setting up box office, publicizing and promoting the event, building the audio-visual team and executing the AV plan, designing the DGA's lobby and creating an event layout plan, dealing with the fire marshal, getting insurance certs, soliciting/managing award recipients, designing/creating the actual awards, writing speeches and a ton more stuff I'm too tired or forgetful to include.
all photos courtesy of Robin Swank - http://www.vonswank.com
This year, the Margarita King added an Amazon Warrior-Princess to his collection of provocative Margarita servers.

And despite all of our efforts, it never garners much press attention for Filmmakers Alliance, although a smattering of press shows up to interview and/or photograph the recipient of our Vision Award - and any others in attendance with even the slightest bit of fame quotient. It costs a LOT (and gets more expensive each year) but doesn't raise all that much money (although it definitely raises some) with tickets very hard to sell (we always end up giving out far more than we sell) even though everyone knows it is a fundraiser.

So, then, why the f&%# do we do it? Simple.....because it ROCKS!! The closest thing I can think of to describe it is like hosting the most awesome wedding you can imagine...every year!! It brings together friends and fellow filmmakers, old and new, with dynamic, celebratory and even inspirational energy. It truly has a sort of spiritual vibe that seems to seize hold of so many in attendance. It is a full and profound expression of community - our community - that allows Filmmakers Alliance, and all of us who are a part of it , to celebrate what we are and what we do.....in dazzling style.

The resourceful filmmakers on the left raffled off dates with themselves to fund their feminist date-rape movie.

It allows us the pleasure of creation, no matter how challenging. Simply seeing the army of volunteers and volunteer committee heads take ownership of their work and pull off an event of this magnitude in such a creative and professional way is breath-taking in itself.

It allows us to create the Nilsson Award, and present it to a filmmaker with true artistic integrity and social conscience....Rob Nilsson himself! He humbled us all with his gracious and heart-felt acceptance speech. By honoring him, we are honoring that part of him that exists in all of us and is worthy of exaltation.

Christo DiMassis (far right) demonstrates his excitement about the Nilsson Award by pinching Rob Nilsson's ass.

It allows us to hand out the LA Short Filmmaking Grant, which enlists the generosity of commercial production vendors, elevating their reason-to-be and allowing us to do the essence of our work through a single film - directly supporting work of high creative ambition and/or social relevance. This year's winner, Robert Beaucage, was gracious and exceedingly grateful in a way that, I believe, even touched the other finalists.

It allows us to give the Community Vision Award to places like Echo Park Film Center and the Los Angeles Filmforum - places whose very existence restores your faith in humanity even if you never even walk through their doors. And at this year's event, Filmforum Executive Director Adam Hyman, gave a thoughtful, articulate acceptance speech and plea for support that demonstrated his passion for and belief in the work he does, as well as the spirit of true artistic achievement.

Adam Hyman of Filmforum impressing the babes with his award.

It allows us to display the selected work of the members in all of it's mad, eclectic glory and failure - reminding us also of all the work that goes on throughout the year that we aren't able to show. But we did indeed get to see a little more of that work with yet another program of films that played in the video theater during the party. It is a fantastic reflection of all the various creative energies at play in Filmmakers Alliance and it is enormously gratifying to see the filmmakers' excitement at screening in such a beautiful venue (in any of the 3 theaters there) in front of a vast, responsive audience.

And, yes, it allows us to bestow the Vision Award, - our event's eye candy for the larger public. But we don't just give the award to anybody. We give it to notable filmmakers whose work behind the camera and out in the world holds meaning for us. In recognizing them for what they do, we are holding a light to their work so that others can benefit from it and/or will be inspired to create their own, equally impactful footprints in the world. This year's recipient was Kevin Smith, who was hilariously and gloriously vulgar/irreverent but was also modest, encouraging and deeply appreciative.

Producer Scott Mosier, FA Executive Director Amanda Sweikow, me and Kevin Smith chumming it up after meeting less than 10 seconds before this photo was taken.

It allows us to connect (and re-connect) with our ever-growing community - to catch up with so many who are dynamically in our lives and others who once were but who've faded away from us....as well as others who have yet to demonstrate their impact. And we get to do all of this while noshing on a banquet of gourmet treats and quaffing a delicious selection of mind-altering beverages.

FA founding member and guiding force, Tyler Patton (center) cheerfully offers to kick anybody's ass who thinks FA is a bunch of artsy-fartsy pussies.

Finally, it allows us to send out an annual rallying cry to all of the people in our community and remind them that we are still kicking and screaming and implore them to continue kicking and screaming, themselves.

These women obviously don't realize that long-time FA filmmaker Kerry Prior (slightly off-center), director of the upcoming "The Revenant", has already cast his film.

Clearly, we do it for the experience itself, not necessarily for any professional benefit that may or may not arrive as a consequence of it. And for that, it's worth every dime it costs us along with every ounce of our energy...and more!

And for me personally, it reminds me that what I've chosen to do with my life has meaning and value. Not just to me (which is of no small significance as far as I'm concerned), but to a significant number of other people, as well. No, Filmmakers Alliance does not help feed starving babies in Darfur, nor stop wars, nor fight poverty, nor cure AIDS, nor protect the rainforests, nor reduce global warming. No, not directly. But the right films - films we strive to support - can indeed have an impact on any or all of that. Or they can simply open up a single individual intellectually, emotionally, creatively and/or spiritually. Do the films we show at VisionFest - or make throughout the year at Filmmakers Alliance - accomplish these things? Not always. But sometimes.....I think what VisionFest does most importantly in its celebratory way is remind us of what Filmmakers Alliance is really about - the power and possibility that exists at the intersection of individual creative expression and dynamic community action. And that alone is more than worth the price of admission.


A Month In The Life Of This Filmmaker

Okay, I started with A Day In The Life...that became A Week In The Life....now, it's A Month In The Life.... Do you see a trend?

The problem is, I'm not a natural blogger. Some people blog incessantly. Little short snippets of things all throughout the day, week, month, etc. Others write big long pieces that are basically like articles (more my style) on a very consistent basis. Me, I'm very inconsistent because I am not a journalist or blogger. I'm just a filmmaker who works within a specific community that has served me very well and feels an obligation to that community to share what I learn and experience.

So, that's my lame explanation. Along with an apology to those of you who want to check in on this blog regularly. Hope you can forgive...or at least understand - even my inconsistency fills you with bitter disappointment.

So, what have I been doing this past month?

Well, July-August is always a crazy time because of our big event, VisionFest, which I won't go into here (see my next blog), suffice it to say that it eats up a BIG chunk of my time and energy.

But attendant to that event were actually a couple of additional, but very exciting, CREATIVE demands. Two of the films in VisionFest needed a bit of accelerated effort to ensure they would be ready for the event. Specifically, they faced some editing challenges and I was asked to participate in that process in a very hands-on way. Wow, did that feel good! I was allowed to take their filmic sculptures and do some real work with them, getting my hands good and dirty. I was in there cutting this and shaving that, pulling out this piece, re-ordering those other pieces, etc., etc. And always in collaboration with the film's creative team. It was like really good group sex (I imagine, of course). I did it again later on in the month on close friend and co-worker Amanda Sweikow's latest piece of twisted genius. And with that one, I even got to play with sound extensively. I get to do it yet again very soon on a full feature project I'm sort of helping to produce, Kerry Prior's "The Revenant".

I can tell you how stimulating and inspiring this creative work is for me - especially given the amount of fundraising, managerial and administrative stuff I have to do. It reminds me that I am a filmmaker and how much I absolutely LOVE the process...and it's challenges.

Nonetheless, another big non-filmmaking (but film-related) project was/is on my plate. But this one fills me with breathless enthusiasm. As I mentioned in an earlier blog (the one on Community), we are building the web-based Global version of Filmmakers Alliance and a number of pieces of it needed to be put in place along with a fully fleshed-out plan/proposal. That work is necessary to lock in our funding and to clarify what we are doing for all the folks who will be involved. And there are many. The site will be an filmmaker (and eventually film audience) uber-site with everything - including the kitchen sink - a filmmaker could possibly need and access online...along with a few innovative personal creative tools as well as...*NEW PHRASE BEING COINED HERE*...."SOCIAL CREATIVITY" tools.

What is this new-fangled term "Social Creativity?" Well, you've heard of social networking. You join some site like MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, whatever...and you...well,...socialize. Social Creativity is not much different, only you do it with a creative purpose. It's creative collaboration and/or creative community support for your own project. It's not unlike having a feedback screening of your work-in-progress film or sending out your script to friends to get notes. Only we take it one step further...and it all (or mostly) happens online. That's all I'll say for now, other than...it will ROCK!

I also did my much-loved annual sojourn to the Palm Springs Shortsfest, the details of which you can also find in one of my soon-upcoming blog posts.

The month closed with my creative collaborator Sean Hood lighting a fire under my ass to finish my next feature script. He read me the riot act and then laid out for me his fool-proof plan for getting the script (not just a script, but a GREAT script) completed, even if you have a schedule - like mine - filled with unavoidable distractions/obligations. It seems to be working like a charm as I've already leap-frogged over what was stopping me and I'm suddenly standing under a waterfall of fresh ideas. I or Sean will detail the formula in another blog post. I don't want to bury that good information here...

That's it, for now. Got another busy month ahead including Independent Film Week in NYC. Ahh, the filmmaker's life. I love it.