Thursday, December 10, 2009

I Just Got Rejected From Sundance

Yes, I did. Apparently along with many thousands of you!! Here's what the note said:

RE: 7543-USF- My Last Day On Earth

Dear Jacques,

On behalf of our Programming staff, I would like to thank you for submitting your film to the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Unfortunately, we are not able to include it in our program this year. We received a record 9,800 submissions this year, and many tough decisions had to be made in order to narrow the field down to under 200 films. Please know that your work was carefully considered by our team, and we viewed far more worthy films than we had room for in the program. I sincerely hope that this decision does not discourage you in any way. We wish you the best of luck with your film, and we look forward to having the opportunity to view your work in the future.


John Cooper

Director, Sundance Film Festival

Nicely direct and honest. And having programmed screenings, I completely understand how difficult it is to make decisions (nearly 10,000 submissions ?!!!) about what to program and many good (sometimes even great) films fall by the wayside. And, admittedly, it is a bit easier for me to take because I've already had two short films in the festival and it doesn't feel as much to me like some mystical Holy Grail experience. But it is an extremely fun, prestigious, ass-kicking festival that strokes your ego in a dozen different ways and does indeed carry a lot of professional clout on your resume. So, like the rest of you, I'm disappointed.

But I will go to the festival because I love it (why else would I be disappointed?) and because I need to be there for professional reasons. And I will have those hangover-bleary, ego-fueled moments sitting in a morning shorts program and thinking "WTF?!! How could they program this abomination over MY film?!!" But experiencing art is a subjective experience as is developing a festival program. We and the programmers are not the same people so we will respond to things very differently. I know a lot of the Sundance programmers, by the way, and they are, by and large, smart, lovely people with a strong film aesthetic - even if it occasionally differs from mine. Ultimately, they made the right decisions for them, not me. And since they are the festival programmers and I am not, they made the right decisions for the festival, not for me. As it should be.

So, where does that leave me in regards to me film? Well, after having my internal mini-tantrum about what fools these programmers be, I settle into resigned disappointment. From there, I turn my steely gaze to my film.

"If I'd truly made a masterpiece, they wouldn't be able to reject it, right? Even if they got 10 billion submissions! Especially since I'm a festival alumnus. And I know the programmers!! My film must suck, then!"


Well, of course, it never hurts to look at your film objectively. And the fact is, if a film is truly a masterpiece or striking/original in a profoundly compelling way, it does leap to the top of most programming lists. My film will not be universally embraced as a masterpiece - or anything close to it. Nor is it profoundly compelling in any obvious way. It is a strong, beautiful film with a rather simple, but affecting energy. It may be profoundly compelling to some, but certainly not to others. Maybe the film does suck or, conversely, maybe it is incredibly brilliant in a way that is not obvious to the current programmers. There's no way to tell which is true (mostly likely, neither) at this point. I certainly have no objectivity about it. And, anyway, a film's true quality and character, short or otherwise, must take - and stand - the test of time.

"But can there really be 200 other films that are 'better' than mine?"

Well, "better" is, of course, a subjective term. There are clearly 200 films that are better suited to the festival's programming goals/aesthetic.

"But what if I don't get into any major festival? Surely that is proof that my film sucks - or that all festival programmers are idiots!!"

Certainly, both could be true. But I wouldn't lay money on it. Regarding my film - again, time and objectivity will tell me what kind of film I have. And regarding, the programmers. Most are certainly far from idiots. Most programmers at major festivals are pretty amazingly good at what they do or it eventually wouldn't be a major festival - or they wouldn't have a job at it. I've seen many good films that just don't have that indefinable quality that gets programmers across the board excited. Or it has a definable quality that doesn't allow it to fit into a lot of festival's programming agendas. But that doesn't mean it is a bad film. Conversely, I've seen films play in nearly all the major festivals that were good, but far from great. But they had something - sometimes obvious, sometimes not - that jumped out at festival programmers in a way that other films did not. You have to remember, that festival programmers, although all individuals who are very different from each other, share some things in common - like watching thousands of films as part of their job and often watching the same ones as other festival programmers. A sort of festival programmer zeitgeist can definitely emerge as a reaction to the type of work , over-all, that was submitted to them. If your film is a sensitive, coming-of-age film, as mine is, and they end up having to watch 100 such films in one particular year, then your film will have to be so wildly distinct - not necessarily "better", but wildly distinct from the other films - to catch anyone's attention. All that said, again, it doesn't hurt to, at some point, take a cold, hard look at your film and see it for what it is...and it what it could or couldn't have been.

I feel I have enough experience as a filmmaker, film lover and film programmer (even without time and objectivity) to be confident that I achieved everything with my film that I wanted to achieve - whether or not it excites programmers at any festival. It simply might not be one of those films that generates the necessary enthusiasm in programmers of major festivals who are looking at tens of thousands of short films. I'm also confident that, more often than not, a solid film, if submitted intelligently, will play in some solid festivals. So, a good festival experience is very likely. And I'll enjoy whatever festival experience happens to emerge. But the bottom line is that I did not make the film for festivals. I made the film because I had to. Because I am a filmmaker - meaning, the insistent creative energy within me demands expression through the medium of film. I made the film because, since I am a filmmaker, I want to continue to grow as a filmmaker and I can only do that by making films. Ultimately, I made the film for no other meaningful reason than the fact that I simply love making films.

That's not to say filmmakers shouldn't allow themselves to feel disappointment. Feel it. Tear your shirt off, beat your chest and wail in the streets. Cry and moan and shake your fists at the heavens. Because, having been to Sundance with films, I can tell you it SUCKS not to be there with a film. It is truly an awesome experience (if you can divorce yourself from the "professional" expectations you lay on top of it)! But know that, if you've made a solid film, other festival experiences await you. And if they don't, keep in mind the real reason you made your film. Because you love making films. And hold in your heart the deep, deep gratitude you feel for having had the opportunity to make your film. This will definitely lessen the sting of disappointment.....and energize you as you begin the journey toward the realization of your next filmmaking project.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


The following is a special "Tip Sheet" I created for my fellow Sundance filmmakers back in 2006 that I ammended slightly. But it can still be useful for this year's fest as well as for any festival filmmaker and even for non-filmmaker festival goers. Hope it helps!


First of all, CONGRATS to everyone for having your film at Sundance. And even bigger congrats for making your film in the first place. Be prepared to have a blast. And I mean that literally - be prepared. Hopefully this email/guidebook will help.

Of course, there's no way for me to know who reading this has or hasn't had a film at Sundance before, so I apologize in advance if some of this stuff proves insultingly obvious. But for those of you interested, I put this guide together to share some basic thoughts about how to get the most out of the experience. A few years ago, you could download the "Tips from Sundance alums" from I don't know if it is still available. In fact, I don't even know if they still have The Source - a web-based resource tool that the festival provided for its filmmakers. I used it back in 2006. Hopefully, it is still around and may even have been improved. The "Tips..." was 38 pages long with some good info in there from both the short and feature filmmakers. But it is one filmmaker after another commenting, so it can be incredibly repetitive and, sometimes, contradictory. It's also not organized by topic - but still well worth reading.

I hope this guide is more organized and direct. I've had two shorts at Sundance and been involved with numerous features and docs as well as having attended the festival many, many times in other capacities - as a film lover, director of a small alternative festival (Digidance 2001), president of a non-profit film collective (Filmmakers Alliance) representing the 11 films we've had in the festival and looking to introduce FA to creatively ambitious filmmakers, and finally as co-president of a private equity-financed feature film production company (FA Productions). So, if I haven't learned a thing or two over the years that I can share with others, I'm a complete idiot (entirely possible, of course).

It's important to keep in mind that having a short at Sundance is very different than having a feature. And your goals for the film and yourself should be correspondingly different. Sundance is a huge festival with a lot of noise. Rising above the din is very challenging. What a short offers media types, industry types and the festival itself (in terms of furthering or maintaining its visibility) is limited in comparison to a feature so getting attention from them is difficult, to say the least. Nonetheless, there will be many people at the Festival interested in shorts and in your talent as a filmmaker who can be meaningful to you at some point in your filmmaking future - if, indeed, you are even concerned about a filmmaking future. Embrace the fact that a short has its own life and meaning at this fest - in a way that it may not at other festivals - and make the most of that reality.

Whether you have a short or a feature, the most important thing is to define your goals for yourself and share them with other film savvy types who can reflect them back to you so that you know they are rooted in firm soil. Some of the things that people tell me they want out of Sundance are so unrealistic they might as well have stayed home and played the lottery. Here are a few goals that are in the realm of possibility:

• Watch great movies and be creatively inspired by them. Watch bad films and consider thoughtfully what made them what they are and are not. My personal favorites are the docs and world cinema.

• Relax and/or ski and/or connect with friends but, over-all, just have a great time.

• Meet lots of great filmmakers with whom to build a community of support and with whom you can exchange info, resources, connections, bong hits, etc., etc.

• If you are a feature filmmaker, build interest in your film with other festival programmers and potential distribution partners (not necessarily just distributors).

• If you are a short filmmaker, you can also meet and engage festival programmers who might program the film elsewhere. And you can also introduce your film to short film distributors who might take it to one of the various short film markets and sell it to domestic cable and/or foreign television.

• Introduce your talent to the entire filmmaking universe and generate awareness of yourself as a filmmaker to watch.

• Meet producers or production execs (less likely) who might work with you in the future (and help raise funding for your work). But And you can also garner support for your future filmmaking plans from cast, crew or anybody else that thinks they can help.

• Connect with the Sundance programmers to soften the road for your future films ("Is that really possible?" - couldn't hurt and they are really nice people - and obvious fans of your work).

• Meet and engage managers and/or agents who can help you build a career (for those so inclined to chase that, I mean, exciting/elusive industry dream).

• Go to lots of parties. Get free drinks. Eat free food. Maybe "hook up".

And all of these goals will have sub-goals or perhaps be more targeted depending on the type of film you've made. If your film is a work of experimental animation, and you want to meet/attract the universe that supports more of that work, your goals will be more targeted. If you made a work of experimental animation but secretly want to make a Farelly Brothers movie, I wish you luck and have no advice whatsoever to offer in meeting that goal. I sorta listed these goals according to my own priorities, (different for each of you, of course) although I probably should have put free food and drinks higher on the list. I left off "getting hired to direct a $20 million dollar film". I also left off "win an award for your film" because that's something you have no control over should never be a goal. However, once you've defined your primary goals, it makes it easier to decide what steps you need to take to maximize the experience. Below are all of the various considerations. I've grouped them by category and offered my two cents on each of them.

General notes:

• Be Active - Take part in everything offered to you, including the orientation meetings in NY/LA (sorry, rest of the country) and all of the official Sundance activities.

• Be prepared to be active. Take your health seriously. Budget appropriately for all of the stuff you'll need to do (Sundance can be a bit expensive - but not ridiculously so with all of the filmmaker perks you'll get).

• Read and respond to all of the stuff you get from the festival staff.

• Watch films. Duh!

• Meet people. Duh! Especially filmmakers. They are your extended family and future collaborators. Wherever you go, DON'T BE AFRAID TO TALK. But, please, don't sell. Chat. Be invested/interested in who you chat with. That simple approach can lead you in all kinds of exciting directions.

• Bring as much of your crew/homies/family/friends as you can. But don't hide away with them or you won't meet people. Instead, spread them out. Have them help you meet people. Make them your publicity/promotional force.

• Listen. Pay attention to conversations. Some are great to jump into and can lead to wonderful connections. Some have great information which can lead you to get more details. Some just have great dirt.

• Stay fluid - A lot of things happen on the fly or out of the blue. Some of those things are great. Allow yourself room to flow with them.

• Don't feel like everything has to happen in Sundance - important things often happen before and after.

• Drink lots of water (I will repeat this in the "health" section).

• Relax and have fun!!!

• Be yourself!! Whatever you do, don't be desperate! People will naturally be drawn to you if you're relaxed and having fun.

Where you stay:

• Hopefully, you have a place already. If not, don't panic. There are still a lot of spaces available. Finding them is the challenge. Tell everyone you know. Post on the Source. Post on Craigslit. Post on Withoutabox. If you do, something will shake loose soon. Worse comes to worse. Find a place to rent and find others to chip in with you. Worse than worse - sleep on somebody's floor. Worse than worse than worse - stay outside of Park City - even Salt lake - and then find someplace close once you get there.

• If you can't stay somewhere close when you first get there, find a way to get close once you arrive. Travel time takes a big bite out of the time, efficiency and fun. At the very least, stay close to the free Park City shuttle line.

• If you can afford it, buy privacy (you'll need downtime).

What to bring:

• This guide
• All your Sundance paperwork
• Warm clothes - with double pairs of socks.
• Waterproof shoes/boots - that won't slip on ice.
• Swimwear - Unless you insist on jumping into one of the multitude of hot tubs completely naked.
• Booze - Don't wait to buy in Utah (see food/booze).
• Postcards and Posters - Don't go crazy with these (see publicity/promotion)
• 50 to 100 DVD copies of your short film - all region (or at least region 1)
• Cell Phone - (see communications)
• Stuff to read that has nothing to do with films and filmmaking (for downtime)

Where to hang:

• Any of the festival theaters - Watch movies. Meet people. That's what you're there for.

• Filmmaker lodge - Last year located on Main St. Relaxed, fun. Great place to meet a ton of different people. Happy hour (free booze and drink) starting at 4 or 5 p.m., I believe every day.

• Festival HQ - Last year it was the Marriot near Prospector Square. This is the hub - where you check in, where the industry and Press office is located and where they have an internet lounge. Not really much room to "hang" at the press office but there are a few tables nearby. But there is a lot of traffic. Interesting traffic. It's right next to your filmmaker mailbox, which you should check pretty regularly. If not for any other reason than for an excuse to hang around the press office and meet people. The internet lounge is in the same general area. More interesting traffic. Go in there, do a little work and chat people up.

• Kimball Arts Center - A good place to check out starting from about 2 p.m. each day. There are often great receptions there no one tells you about but to which you are very welcome. They have internet stations there, too.

• Main Street - The best place over-all to run into people and fun stuff. It can be a bit obnoxious, but just wandering around it is still the thing to do if you are looking to make connections, re-connections and get info. Or maybe just have a drink or two with friends.


• Almost no need to buy food, unless you have special food needs. Most of the official parties (and unofficial ones) have food. There are so many receptions, brunches, etc., you'll be a porker by the end of the fest.

• Hit receptions early, before the food disappears.

• Restaurants are often very crowded and kind of expensive (at least right near the busy venues and Main St.). Park City is NOT a culinary paradise outside of the busy and expensive restaurants. If you do go to those places, you better make reservations as soon as possible.

• Big Condo meals ROCK! Have them with your housemates and/or with the people you meet there. Everyone shops at the Albertson's next to the Yarrow. You can meet people there, too. For hard-cores, there's a Trader Joe's and Whole Foods in Salt Lake City. Google them for directions.

• If you want booze in your condo, buy it before you go to Utah. It is a dry state, so you have to buy it there in "state stores" and it is very expensive. But there is so much booze to be had at parties - for free- that I usually book a stint in rehab for right after the festival.


• People MUST be able to reach you. Stuff happens fast. You must have a cell, blackberry, etc. that will work in Park City. If you are uncertain about cost/coverage, call your service provider to make sure you're cool. And anticipate serious minutes and potential roaming charges, so call your provider now to set up the cheapest way to deal with it.

• Don't give out your condo's phone number unless your housemates take great messages and/or you have a reliable voicemail on it. Otherwise, you'll only annoy and frustrate the people who want to connect with you.


• Shuttle from airport - Have you thought about how to get from Salt Lake City airport to Park City? There are shuttles that can take you for about $40 round-trip. But you should find them on-line and book them before you leave.

• Car rental - You don't need a car, but very convenient. Cars are great to have because so many parties run late and take place in farther off places like Deer Valley. You rent at Salt Lake Airport, of course. Parking is a bitch, but not impossible. Main street is the only place it really sucks. I will park on the streets above Main on either side of it (Swede Alley running parallel to Main - or the opposite side, behind the Treasure Mountain Inn side, with several streets parallel to each other as you ascend and connected by stairs). If I don't find parking there when I need it, I'll park at the Library parking lot and jump on the shuttle into Main Street. But you don't NEED a car. It's a convenience. You will meet plenty of people that you can catch a ride with.

• Buses - Park City has a great FREE bus/shuttle system. The buses are nice and dependable, but not good if you are on a tight schedule. They don't always run as often as you like. If you are depending on them, give yourself lots of time. GREAT places to meet other people at the fest. Don't be afraid to chat on the buses.

• Shared rides - A great opportunity to engage in collectivism. You can contact a group (about 4) of filmmakers to chip in for a car for the duration and then work out some schedule for its use. It may end up costing you about the same as using the airport shuttle and add way more convenience - and allow you to connect with others.

Festival help:

• Sundance Festival Publicists. Use them as much as they'll let you, especially if you want publicity and are doing it yourself. But engage them now, not when you get to the fest. They will be swamped and naturally give their attention to whomever they've already connected with. Bug them now to tell you what media outlets might be interested in your film. If they say they don't know, SHAME them (kidding, sorta).

• The programmers. As I said, they are your champions. They love being there for you. They are indeed really nice people. When they select a film, they commit to it through the whole festival. Don't pester them for support to the point of annoyance, of course. But have them point out important people to you. Have them guide you through what you need to be doing. And feel free to express your appreciation to them without sucking up.

• Volunteers. They ROCK! Not all of them, of course, but many of them. As a whole, they seem to be very smart and committed. Some are talented filmmakers in their own right. Some have no talent at all but are very cool human beings. They can be in support of you in a myriad of ways. Be nice to them. Talk to them (and be invested in that talk). And, hell, ask them for things.

• The Source. Again, not sure if they still have this. It was available in 2006 and was a great tool - although far from perfect, but still very useful. Log onto it as soon as you can to see what it offers. Use the contact info to set up meetings now (see below).


This is a big category, so think clearly about your goals before jumping into any of this. Do you even want to or need to publicize/promote? Not everyone does. You certainly don't have to do it to drum up audience as every screening (except early morning) will be sold out or close to it. You are doing it to create connections and visibility as a filmmaker. Or, let's be honest, just for ego. Maybe just to build a little scrapbook of the attention you garnered at Sundance. Whatever the reason is, just make sure that you have a reason so you know why and how you are putting energy into this.

• Publicist. Most will tell you don't bother with a publicist for a short - although they can be very important for features (narrative or doc). But again, that decision should be based on your personal goals as they can indeed be very useful. I used a publicist who did it as a freebie for my short in 2004. I got a lot of media attention and got into a lot of parties that I normally wouldn't. I also met a lot of people that I normally wouldn't. Did any of that move my filmmaking life forward. Not directly. The publicists (Dominion3) did a great job for me, but it did not immediately serve the life I am building for myself as a filmmaker. I'm glad I did it, though. It was fun. And my ego loved it. And I think, indirectly and over time, it did indeed help move my filmmaking life forward.

One way to defray the cost of publicity is for you to get together with other filmmakers and chip in to pay for a publicist together. Or, if you are a short filmmaker in a program of shorts, chip in with all the filmmakers in your program. Not all in the program will go for it, even though they will benefit, but if enough of you do it, it will save quite a bit. Also, since publicists can only wring so much from a short, define what you want from them and settle on a price accordingly. I only asked that they arrange a few key interviews and reviews and get us into a few key parties. That shouldn't cost too much.

• Sundance Publicity Liason. As mentioned earlier, bug them now to find out what media outlets would be interested in your film or you as a filmmaker.

• Mutual cross-promoting. Again, connect with other filmmakers. See if they have similar goals. Then, you can cross-promote each other's films. Maybe even put info about their films on your postcards. Or, if you are in a shorts program, chip in together to create postcards that have the whole shorts program on it. Remember, there is strength and savings in numbers. Even if you don't have a formal cross-promotion relationship with another filmmaker, when you see a great film, talk it up. It reflects well on you. And personally, I buy into the whole karma thing.

• Reviews. Reviews are, in my mind, the best thing you can come away with regarding press attention. If they are good, you can actually make use of them instead of just file them in your scrapbook. For shorts, however, it is tough to get any publications to review individual short films, although some certainly do from time to time. It's best to get all the filmmakers together in your program and create a single DVD with all the films that you can make copies of and send out to the various publications, both off-line and on-line. The local Salt Lake City papers are great for this. I would do the trades, as well. Can't hurt. Then, there's Film Threat, indiewire and many, many more. Also, papers in NY or LA have publications that review Sundance films, like the L.A. Times, L.A. Weekly, NY Times, Village Voice - definitely send it to them, as well. Please share your info with other filmmakers if you find other places to which they should send films for review. You give, you get.

• Print. Print other than reviews usually mean feature articles, which are tough to get and need a lot of lead time if they are magazines. You may want to angle to get yourself included in the festival wrap-ups that a lot of magazines do - MovieMaker, Filmmaker, The Independent, etc. But if you have an interesting filmmaking angle, I would still give them a shot now, although it is pretty late in the game. Also, you must again, consider your goals. Do you want to make an impact in the film world, or in the world that is explored in your film? If you are doing a film that deals with domestic abuse, perhaps that is the world you want to reach. What are the publications that service that world? Research it and reach out to them. Finally, if you have an interesting story angle, whether it be about filmmaking or is issue-oriented based on your film's content, you can try pitching it to the local papers or any of the hundreds - and I do mean hundreds upon hundreds - of news organizations that will be in Park City. Find out who they are and how to contact them through the Press office.

• Radio. I did a radio interview about my short at the Park City NPR affiliate, KCPW, that was arranged by my publicist. It was a great, fun interview. Call them to see if you can set one up. Call early, though. 1-435-649-9004.

• Television. Park City TV is where its at for promotion-hungry filmmakers. Sundance Channel and IFC do stuff, as well, I believe, but unless you can sell yourself as a big ticket commodity, or if your film has a "name" in it, or you yourself are a "name" who is directing a film, or you put a lot of energy into coming up with a unique and/or outrageous way to seize their attention, you aren't going to get much play with them. PCTV roams the streets looking for filmmakers to spotlight, but that is hit or miss. Contact them now to see if you can schedule and in-studio interview, 1-435-649-0045. Or see if they are interested in following you around at Sundance....

• Promotional Items. Shirts, hats, keychains, squeeze balls, balloons, etc., etc. with the film's name are commonly done, but cost bucks. Anything outside the norm will garner more attention, but cost even more. I'm not sold on how effective these things are. Personally, as a potential audience member, unless it is something really practical, I find them to be annoyances. And if they are practical, I don't even really pay attention to what's written on them. Every so often, I'll be struck by something really cool. And if you can afford it, some of those promotional items can be silly fun. But be sure to ask yourself if any of these things are even appropriate representations for your film? Will they detract from the energy of your film? They could, depending on the type of film you have. What would you hand out if you did a short documentary on starvation in Ethiopia? (insert tasteless joke here)? If I do anything, I prefer to use a simple sticker that I can paste on things all over the place, including clothing.

• DVD screeners. No, if you are a feature filmmaker. Absolutely yes, if you are shorts filmmaker. Bring 50 - 100 DVD screeners, if you can afford it. They'll go like hotcakes. Unlike features, you want your film spread around. It doesn't diminish its distribution value in the states because there virtually is none. Sundance Channel doesn't care if a hundred people get your DVDs. And you will meet many, many people who cannot make it to any of your screenings who you will want to see the film. Many are people who are "working" Sundance with whom you hope to work. People who are "working" Sundance (producers with features there, publicists, institutional funders, broadcasters, producers reps, distributors, etc.) have virtually no time to see anything. You may even meet the occasional rich patron who's time is limited. The beauty of Sundance is that everyone is there and so you never know who you are going to meet who can mean something to you in any or all of a myriad of ways. Be ready to grace them with your film. But again, this is for shorts and features that are not suited for mainstream commercial distribution. For films suitable for that kind of distribution, a different kind of strategy is usually necessary.

• Posters. Posters look great. But they are expensive and there are few places to put them in Park City due to city ordinances. The only places, really, are the Sundance-sanctioned kiosks around town. But as soon as you put them up, someone else tapes/staples over them. It's much cheaper to make smaller posters (11 x 17) and put them up everywhere. Then refresh them consistently. It's a lot of work though. Again, remember you are doing it to simply create awareness of your film in the Sundance zeitgeist since you don't need to drum up audiences. Personally, I would make the 10 posters the press office asks for and leave it at that and/or put small posters up all over my car, if I have one (or someone else's car, if they let you).

• Postcards. Good postcards are very important, but do not saddle yourself with a zillion postcards unless you are one of those promotional freaks that will roam Park City annoying the hell out of everybody. A beautifully designed card says a lot about you and your film and is a key introduction to your film and the details of the screenings (date, time, location). Use it as a business card. Put in your contact info - both permanent and in Park City - along with a synopsis, screening times, and any other pertinent info that you can fit on it without cluttering it. But be sure to design an arresting image on the front of the card in full color (unless your film is b&w). That will speak volumes for you and your film. Finally, you don't need more than a few hundred in my opinion. Take 500 to be safe. I only take about 100 because that's about how many new people I know I'll actually engage long enough to want to invite them to a screening.

• Poscards in badgholders. Postcards also fit nicely into a Sundance badgholder, turning you into your own walking billboard. Convince any other badgeholders not connected to a film to put your card - face out - on the opposite side of the badge in the badgeholder and create an ARMY of walking billboards. Or a least a few people who can walk around with your postcard in their badgeholder that others can see when the badgeholder flips, as it does invariably, to the opposite side of the badge.

• Photo ops. They're there. Take them. Why not? But don't waste time seeking them out. My publicist got me into a WireImage photo session. Those things are goofy and I have no idea what, if anything, they do for you. But, again, if you are committed to promotion and can get yourself in there without too much trouble, you might as well.

Making Connections:

• If you can, set up meetings that take place before you go to Park City - As exciting as it is to meet people at Sundance, they also tend to be very busy and distracted. Some are actually there to watch films and have limited time to meet. If you are in NY or LA or somewhere else close to the people you want to meet, use the fact that your film is in Sundance to arrange meetings with whom you want to connect. The fact that your film is in Sundance alone opens a lot of doors (no matter whether it should or shouldn't). Take advantage of that. If you are geographical unavailable or otherwise can't set up a pre-Sundance meeting, at least make a phone connection before you go so that you can complete the connection face-to-face in Park City. Who are these people to meet? That's for you to research based on your own stated priorities/goals.

• Panels. Attend the ones that interest you. The information can be good in itself, but you also can learn a lot about people in the industry with whom you hope to work by what they say on panels. Don't be shy about approaching them afterwards, although they tend to be mobbed right after the panels. If you see them later at a party or on the street - introduce yourself. Mention your movie, but don't sell it.

• Speakeasy. Not sure if they are still doing this, actually. This was the programmers' party of choice. Always after hours (after 2 p.m.). Usually happens at a particular Main Street bar, the name of which escapes me. But ask the programmers, they'll be happy to tell you. Great place to connect with other filmmakers and with the Sundance programmers - if you've got the party stamina for it.

• Movie/Ticket lines. When you find yourself in line for anything, don't just stand in line - talk to the people next to you!! You may discover quickly that you don't want to talk to them. Or they may prove to be a useful connection. Or they might just be great people with whom it is a pleasure to converse.

• Buses. Same as movie/ticket lines. Don't be afraid to talk.

• Main street. You'll often run into people on Main Street. And you'll often see people you want to meet. Usually they've done something or are doing something to make you want to meet them. Use that fact as an opening to meet them by acknowleding/appreciating what they've done or are doing. Stay away from celebrities. Those encounters are always unsatisfying and - who cares? Celebrities suck.

• Research your targets or find someone to be with who knows who is who. A big part of connecting with people is spotting the people with whom you want to connect. You will be at lots of parties and events. It's good to know who is in the room with you. Do a little focused research related to your goals about who is who. Or bring someone (or hook up with someone) who knows these people and can spot them or even make introductions for you.

Screening your film:

• Attend all of your screenings, if you can - If you are in Park City, you should be at all of your screenings. This where people discover you. This is where they make note of you. This is where you enter their thoughts and concerns. Be there to make sure that happens. And happens as you want it to happen. There are a lot of screenings, so you may inclined to miss one or two. Don't do it. You may miss something really important, least of which is the ability to connect with your Sundance audience. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how often filmmakers miss their screenings.

• Be vigilant of screening quality. The Sundance projection crew is truly amazing and among the best in the world. But stuff happens. Lots of stuff. Even If screening digitally, sound levels can be whacked. I like to stay close to a Sundance volunteer who can notify the projectionist of any issues until the film is running smoothly. But that's just me. If you worry about stuff like this, you should do it, too.

• Q & A. In general, be prepared. Know what you want to say about your film. Maybe have someone ask you random questions about it in preparation. Think about how to answer the two most general, basic questions. How did you make your film? Why did you make your film? Naturally, there are a zillion sub-questions. But if you've been thoughtful about these two biggies, you'll be able to answer most of the questions. Be as charming and distinctive (and humorous when possible) as your own personality allows. if you have that awkward moment when no audience members ask questions (inconceivable), have something ready to say. Don't hog time and go on about yourself ad nauseum, but be smart, succinct and impactful. Sum up what the making of the film meant to you and invite them to seek you out afterward. People respond to talent, but they also respond to how well you handle yourself and how your mind works. Be ready to impress your audience with more than your film.

For short filmmakers, keep in mind that if your short screens before a feature, you don't get a Q & A, so make the most of your introduction before the film screens without hogging time and being obnoxious. If you are in a shorts program, you should have a Q & A, although it is always good to check in with the person introducing the program to figure out how it is going to take place. Connect with whomever is introducing/moderating (and keep tabs on them) to be sure the audience is made aware of the Q & A beforehand, and that it starts promptly after the last film. And be considerate - of the audience, of the festival and of other filmmakers if you are in a shorts program - even if your film generates the bulk of the questions. Always good to be concise.


• Buy - or otherwise get your hands on - as many tickets as you can, or can afford, to your own screening. You'll want to have them in hand for people who you really want to be there, but couldn't get a ticket elsewhere. Or people that show up out of nowhere. That happens a lot.

• Ticket swapping. So, you get 10 measly tickets to other screenings (last time I checked). And you have to pick your films in advance of the fest or you wind up with vouchers - which means waiting in the rush line each time you go to see a movie - which can be fun and useful (see making connections), but adds an extra half hour to an hour or more to each movie experience. Build a network of ticket swappers, so that when you get to the festival, hear feedback, then don't want to see a film you pre-picked you can swap those tickets out with other filmmakers (or festival attendees) to go see something you are excited about.

• Collect unusable tickets. Many filmmakers have conflicting events/parties or they are leaving early or some other reason for not using all their tickets. Many tickets get frittered away. Don't let that happen. Collect them, if you can. You go see that movie or distribute them to someone who can. If you are a potential fritterer, make sure you give your ticket(s) to someone who can use them as far in advance as possible. If you are leaving town early and not going to the closing night award party, give your tickets to your friends or fellow filmmakers.

• Ask for extra tickets. Go to the shorts desk and ask for extra tickets to your screenings. Just ask. All they can say is no. But, sometimes, they say yes. But the sooner the better.

• Ask for extra badges. Same with filmmaker badges. Ask and ye shall receive. The sooner the better. These badges don't get you into movies or ticketed events like opening and closing night galas, but they do get you into the Filmmaker Lodge and some official receptions. Ask for a couple extra for your crew/friends/posse. All they can say is no, right? But sometimes.....

• Press Screenings. Not completely sure, but I think filmmakers can go to press screenings. Get a schedule from the Sundance Industry Office (SIO) or the Press office. These are easier screenings to guarantee seating. Although there are less screening times to choose from and they are in the uncomfortable Yarrow.


• Go to all of the official Sundance parties and events - At least drop in for a bit. Those tend to be more "serious" parties with interesting people who are equally passionate about film.

• Build/Share a Party list - Databases of Sundance parties will start floating around soon. Ask other filmmakers what they know of available parties. Add them to the list and share the info. When you talk to people on lines and buses, ask them what they are doing that evening and you'll automatically learn about 4 new parties. Then spread the word. Finding/Sharing party information is a fun, easy way for filmmakers to support each other. But don't waste too much time on all this. Parties at Sundance are part of the scene and even important. But you are a filmmaker, not a professional partier (although I personally know that some of you are both). Keep your priorities straight.

• RSVP now. As soon as you hear of a party, figure out how to RSVP and do it immediately. Those lists fill up fast and can mean the difference between eating fresh seafood with your martini or sitting in your condo stuffing your face with Top Ramen.

• Don't try to be at all parties at once. Don't try to hit everything you can. It tires you out and is ultimately unproductive. If you are having fun/feeling good at a party, stay there. Settle in. If you aren't, move on quickly.

• Avoid Industry parties unless you dream the BIG dream - That means big studio/production company parties, agency parties, magazine/trade paper parties. They may have the best food and booze, but the worst people. They suck, period. And they're hard to get into even as a filmmaker - although being a filmmaker allows you to talk your way into most things. Of course, if you really want to go, there are ways. You meet a publicist, ask them to put you on the list. Go with someone on the list. Schmooze up that guy/gal on the panel and ask them if they are going to be at the Variety party. Can you tag along (only super assholes ever say no). But in my opinion, the only reason to go to those kind of parties is if you dream the big studio dream and have made a film that speaks to that dream (and the people that feed that dream). I don't, so naturally, those parties make me ill.

• Avoid Harry O's and other "bar" parties - Those suck, too. Worse than the industry parties because you get absolutely nothing out of them except hordes of Salt Lake City wannabes who care/know nothing about film and, of course, surly bouncers. Run screaming.

• Speakeasy - (see Making Connections).

Sundance Swag:

• Swag does not equal validation - You get a nice swag bag from Sundance. Be content with it. And many parties will have parting gifts or gift bags. Don't go chasing swag even though you will hear stories of free shopping sprees at Fred Segal's. Those are reserved for high-level celebs and other people that don't need free stuff. In general, try not to load yourself down with a lot of meaningless crap you have to tote around for the rest of the night and then lug back home with you.


• Sleep - Get plenty of rest before you go (at least one week), because you won't get much when you are there. However, if you start to feel run down when you are there, stop immediately. Rest. There's a nasty flu bug that goes around every year. When you are run down and your immune system is vulnerable, you're in deep poo-poo. I was down with the Sundance bug for 5 of the ten days once, trapped in bed and begging my housemates to shoot me and put me out of my misery.

• Vitamins - Start taking them now to build your immune system. They won't be so effective if you start taking them once you're there. Some wait until they are already sick. Pointless. Start now.

• Excercise - Like the other two, this is more important before you go. Park City can be extremely rigorous and you need to be in shape to deal with it. Once there, this is usually not an issue because, like most people, you will probably be doing a lot of walking. And maybe some skiing. But if you are spending to much time just sitting in movie seats, you gotta do something to get the blood pumping.

• Layers - It is usually cold as crap outside and hot inside at an event or party. The weather can also be fickle, sometimes. Dress yourself in a way that allows you to peel off clothes accordingly.

• Emergency room - When my flu bug bit its hardest, I needed professional care. The nearest emergency room I could find was in Heber City - 20 minutes away. Keep that in mind if anything comes up.

That covers all everything I can think of at the moment. I'm sure I've forgotten a bunch of stuff. And I'm sure you'll have many questions. Please feel free to post additional questions to my Facebook wall so that others can see your questions - and my answers. What I can't answer, hopefully one of you can. My goal is to start a dialogue amongst us and open the channel to sharing resources and information. I apologize for the length and density of this note, but hopefully it helps. Look forward to meeting as many of you as possible and seeing your films....and having a blast in Park City.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Story-telling: Back to the future....

It's Thanksgiving Day '09. Almost 10 a.m. and my Mom and Dad are here at my home. My Mom is prepping the meal for later and my dad is eating his pancakes, which he obsessively makes and eats about 5 days a week. It's one of the most beautiful LA days of the year and I'm enjoying this early and still part of a lovely day of gratitude. But my mind drifts, as always, and here I am at my blog - while I have the opportunity. I'm thinking about all the friends coming by later and the stories we'll be swapping throughout the day, over dinner and even later during drinks.

And it reminds me how much I love story-telling. This is the essence of my attraction to filmmaking. But filmmaking for me is story-telling taken to another level with all kinds of opportunities for embellishment, texturing and layering. And when those opportunities are fully explored, cinematic story-telling does NOT, for me, need to have an obvious beginning, middle and other words, a traditional narrative. Of course, all stories, no matter how experimental or artsy-fartsy have a beginning, middle and end, just by virtue of the basic physical reality of them starting and ending at some point, with the middle being,...well,...the middle. But stories don't always have to follow traditional three-act structure, where things are set up in the beginning, complicated in the middle and resolved at the end.

As I've said, there are all kinds of ways to tell a story and for me, the stories - and characters within that story - that are most interesting never completely resolve. They are stories and characters that raise questions and explore issues, rather than place some neat and tidy bow on life's complexities. Now, because life is so difficult and demanding, I understand that the majority of movie-goers crave fantastical distraction in their cinema and, in the end, often like to have all of their fears abated and dreams vicariously fulfilled onscreen in simple, clean, heart-warming fashion. They want their films to be like a warm, fuzzy blanket - but one that feels new and familiar at the same time.

There is definitely a need for those kind of films. But I feel like supply far exceeds demand, so that other ways to experience cinematic story-telling have been completely crowded out. So much so that many movie-goers are desperately hungry on both a conscious and unconscious level for something new and different. Yet, they are also confused by alternative ways of telling stories because they are not used to them. In a sense, they need an orientation - or, actually, a re-orientation - to story-telling that falls outside the bounds of the dominant story-telling paradigm. I say re-orientation because there was a time when the dominant story-telling paradigm was very different. Ancient and biblical myths and stories, upon which most of Western story-telling tradition is based, are very complicated pieces of story-telling. Sometimes, they are even surprisingly messy and sprawling with conflicted "heroes" that are far from one-dimensionally "good" - often engaging in behaviors that are downright horrific by modern standards.


Clearly, most modern audiences feel that a story isn't a story if it doesn't have an obvious point. I don't completely share that sentiment, but I don't completely disagree with it, either. The bigger issue for me is HOW we come to understand the "point" of a story - which I believe has changed dramatically over time, with the means to understanding a story having been bleached out and homogenized by the pressurized washer/dryer combination of popular culture and commerce. In what has become the traditional story-telling paradigm, a main character has a problem and most resolve it by the end of the story. It always gets resolved, of course, and the point of the story (or "message" if the story is heavy-handed) lies in how that main character - or the forces of nature that guide the character - resolves the problem. But telling stories in this way has not always been the case. Ancient myths and stories were often epic in nature with no clear resolution. The story-telling journey was strewn with all kinds of metaphorical nuggets that you could pick up along the way or on any number of story-telling side-roads. It was filled with complication and contradiction, leaving so much of the story open to interpretation, thus demanding an investment of thought on the part of its audience. In other words, the story was about the journey, not the destination (or resolution).

Now, of course, when I speak of the traditional modern paradigm, I am speaking about films because that is where it is most prevalent. Books can use the art of words and imagination to take you into deep, interior spaces. And music is, well, music. It's called music, not lyrics with sounds. And, of course, musical lyrics can indeed be poetry. No, this traditional story-telling epidemic flourishes in the filmmaking universe. But, of late, there has been a bit of relief coming from a rather unexpected source - television. Cable television shows like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Carnivale, BattleStar Galactica, Big Love, Mad Men and more, are kind of taking us back to the ancient ways of story-telling. The "heroes" are, without exception, flawed. The situations are complicated and never easily resolved, with tough, even brutal, decisions being made - and actions taken - at every turn. And each of those decisions/actions mean something on a spiritual level. Something more is at stake than just the action itself. The stories play out over a long period of time allowing the space for gradual character development and surprising character turns as well as many side-roads, subtle parables and metaphorical anecdotes. At the end of their cable runs, nothing is ever cleanly resolved, just at a point where there is nothing left to say....and much to consider.

These beautifully written and made shows put most "independent cinema" to shame. Yet, they are still somewhat constrained by the demands of commerce and small-screen presentation, despite how far they manage to push those constraints. A big-screen masterpiece on the order of, say, Fellini's "8 1/2" or Tarkovsky's "The Mirror" makes it abundantly clear how far we can go in cinematic story-telling ambition and excellence. But let's not put too much pressure on ourselves. If I could leave this earth having been responsible for even one of the above-mentioned cable t.v. masterpieces (and any of the many others that have come before them throughout the years), I would indeed be a very contented fellow.

So, how do we go about creating this level of work - telling these kind of stories? Well, as always, immerse yourself in great works - music, art, books and movies while living life fully and observing (and deeply considering) the natural rhythms and complexities of it all. But, beyond that, a good first step might be to go back to the future. Meaning, re-discover the classics. Re-read the ancient myths and stories and get a feel for their structure and complexity - and get a feel for the way metaphors and ideas are integrated into the overriding narrative. By reaching back to them, we will be propelling ourselves forward to the future of story-telling. Because that future is not in new technologies (i.e. blogging, ARG's, transmedia, etc., etc.) and the instruments of delivery. The future is in the stories themselves. It is in the fresh, distinctive ideas and story-telling modalities that exist within each and every one of us. And to get the full breadth of that potential we may need to reach way back to what has been somewhat forgotten and bring it back into our consciousnes as a guide to our story-telling future.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The DIY life

I went to the latest LA DIY Days conference ( at the Downtown Independent Theater (a VERY cool venue, by the way) late last week. And, as usual with these new media-type things, I left with my head spinning.


It was organized by a bunch of wonderful peeps I know headed by the very cool, very smart filmmaker Lance Weiler, who is a bit of a tech genius and DIY evangelist. Lance also runs the Workbook Project ( and applies his passion and intelligence to not just exploring the technological possibilities that exist for filmmakers, but also to disseminating these new tools (and information) in as open a way as possible. In keeping with that, DIY DAYS was, of course, free to the public.

For me, Lance's opening summation of what exits in the online world for DIY filmmakers and how to think about those tools was the most concise and directly relevant presentation (aside from Jon Reiss's presentation on alternative film distribution).

But because Lance is so extraordinary, he is a poor example of how to succeed at DIY. Because the frank truth is that not everybody can handle the DIY life. For those of you who don't know, DIY is the (obvious) acronym for Do It Yourself. Which, of course, is about true independence and geared to those who recognize that there is much to be gained by taking complete control of your filmmaking life. Lance schedules these conferences to bring together people who have taken the DIY path - in one form or another - and/or can offer insight into how to best support the DIY life from various perspectives, but predominantly from a technological standpoint.

I won't go into the details about what I learned...because I can't. I tried to take notes, but I'm a lousy note taker when I am absorbed by something and even worse when I'm uninterested. And there was a equal balance of both for me at the conference. Mostly, I was left feeling a bit overwhelmed at the amount of things I could be doing (and guiltily felt that I SHOULD be doing - if there were 47 hours in each day) and that there is obviously much I have absolutely no interest in doing. But that's as it should be. These ideas are not meant for everybody. And, in fact, the DIY life itself is certainly not meant for everybody.

It is very important to think about the positives and negatives of the DIY life. The main positive, for me, is a sense of control. Although, if you are a filmmaker and depend on strong audience reaction to your work, there's only so much control you can have. But there is a lot. And you are not constantly waiting for someone to give you permission to do things or come to your rescue when you are doing them wrong. You do things on your own schedule, in your own way and learn from your own mistakes - with the support of your chosen team, of course. DIY doesn't mean you have to work in a vacuum. Quite the opposite, actually.

The main negative for some is the sense of insecurity - the lack of financial and structural stability that goes with with doing things on your own as opposed to being under the care of a large company or benefactor. But I think there is just as much insecurity - financial or otherwise - in being at the mercy of some thing or someone other than yourself. No, the biggest negative for me is not insecurity. It is the amount of f&#@ing work that has to be done!!

And I'm no slacker. But I'm sitting at this conference thinking "Where in hell do these people find the time to do all of this?!!" What Lance manages to accomplish with his own work simply boggles my mind. Not only is there tons of necessary research to figure out all the new tools and do-dads, but once you lock on to them, you need to figure out how to use them. Then, most demanding of all, you need to then actually use them. As you all know, just finding time to write this blog kicks my butt. How do I also, Facebook and Twitter and Flicker and Digg and create viral videos and create interactive games to support my films and crowdsource and crowdfund and stage/schedule webinars and online film screenings and do sponsor tie-ins and brand myself and podcast and yadda, yadda, yadda?......

Also, some of this stuff is just too much or too far outside the scope of my interests - thus becoming a whole other job or career in itself. There was a discussion about "transmedia" - storytelling/entertainment that makes use of multiple media platforms to "extend" the story - creating a kind of marriage of online and offline environments that also include cell phone calls and text messages....and maybe more. Basically, the "story" is flying at you from all angles. For me, however, the idea of a created or imagined universe imposing itself on your life so completely - even if by choice - sounds like nothing more than an expensive and complicated form of schizophrenia. There was also talk of Alternative Reality Gaming (ARG) - which is definitely an interesting, interactive form of story-telling, but it is a completely different FORM of story-telling than the forms of story-telling that most excite me. It is not the way of all things, simply an additional means to tell a story that will not work well for all stories. My friend Saskia Wilson-Brown, one of the organizers of the event, agreed, making the point that placing too much importance on these new media alternatives would be like telling Picasso at some point in his career that painting is passe and he should just be focusing instead on multi-media installations.

Finally, there was some discussion of using the new tools to build or "find your audience" and create work that speaks specifically to them. I think that is terrific as long as it is an audience that responds organically to the kind of work I want to do. Some of what I heard, however, sounded gimmicky and felt more like I'd be chasing an audience - looking for an opportunity to pander to them. I know there are strong niche communities out there - apparently, there is a huge knitting community that is woefully under served - and I know I can probably make a fine living figuring out ways to make life interesting for them. But if I do not have any interest in making 3-D knitting movies or creating immersive online knitting games and communities or twittering about the latest knitting news, then there is no passion in any of it for me. If I have no real passion for those niche communities and/or I am not expressing myself in a form that works for me, then it is all pointless.

And, anyway, does any of this work? Hard to tell from the examples that are out there. All this new-fangled stuff is still in its infancy and some of the people that have been successful are complete one-offs. Meaning, it worked for them and their idea, but is not necessarily applicable as a model for others to follow. But, I gotta believe that some of it does indeed work. Of course, some of these things are more useful for a certain kind of work and not very useful for other kinds of work. If Tarkovsky were still alive making films, I don't see him tweeting every hour to drum up support for his films and his "brand" or building a promotional video that he intends to go "viral". But I can indeed see him blogging and podcasting and having a Facebook fan page and crowdfunding and a few other things.

Here's the three key things I took from it all:

1. You have to decide if you have the stuff for the DIY approach - including having the willingness to embrace all the stresses of doing it on your own (and appreciating the joys, as well).

2. You must have some clear idea of what you want to create. Once you know that, it will give you some clarity as to what DIY tools will best support your creative goals. Know what you want to make and use the tools accordingly.

3. Not all flavor-of-the-week websites or cool, new online techno-toys are right for you and your project. Some of these things only speak to a certain kind of user - which may be people who will not respond to your work. Lance put up a chart that showed a demographic breakdown of online technology users and seniors fell to the absolute bottom. So, if you are doing work geared toward seniors, you can tweet your little heart out and it won't do a lick of good in attracting your potential audience.

But if you are stubbornly iconoclastic and determined to do things your own way - if you have the sweat and mettle to make it happen - then there is great stuff out there to support you. Just use the tools - and your time - wisely. What's exciting is that new technologies are giving us the option of taking responsibility for our own success - or failure - and learning/growing from either result without third-party filters that may cloud our ability to gain maximum benefit from the experience. This, for me, is what true independence is all about.

End Of The Year To-Do List

1. Make a to-do list.

2. Continue fundraising for Filmmakers Alliance (FA).

3. Continue working on our gargantuan secret web project.

4. Finish re-conceiving the new FA with Amanda and the FA board.

5. Continue working on the Ultimate Filmmaker Competition.

6. Shop for and cook an amazing Thanksgiving meal for my Mom and Dad and various friends.

7. Finish planning/organizing the big B-Day party on Dec. 12th.

8. Submit my new short "My Last Day On Earth" to more film festivals.

9. Keep working (albeit incrementally) on my new script.

10. Write the bible for my spec cable series idea.

11. Plan trip to Sundance and other festival-related travel for 2010.

12. Schedule film-related conferences and events and consider what they truly mean to the future of independent filmmaking.

13. Write a new blog (does this count?).

14. Start looking for new FA headquarters.

15. Check in with the various projects with which I'm involved - especially "The Revenant", which should definitely find meaningful distribution...

16. Try and figure out who currently has the distribution rights to my first feature "The Dogwalker" and determine what the f^&% is going on with it.

17. Read and watch the 8,559,377 scripts and films given to me by friends and filmmaking acquaintances - then give feedback.

18. Make time to help others on their films.

19. Decorate my house for the holidaze.

20. Be grateful for the life I've had...and am having.

More hope from Hope....

Here are two more posts from Ted Hope. I know you all can just go to his blog, but just in case you are too foolish to go there on a regular basis, I will continue posting some key posts of his here...

The Twenty New Rules: What we all MUST TRY to do prior to shooting

I am prepping a new film with the shortest amount of time I have ever had to prep a movie. It is also one of the more ambitious projects I have been involved in. There is so much to do I can't afford to squander any time (luckily I have been prepping some blog posts in advance, so this doesn't take time -- it expands time!). The short prep is also unfortunate because now is a time that the producer has to do even more than ever before.

My To Do List may be more of a Wish List these days. Instead of doing everything I think I should be doing, I have to focus first on what absolutely needs to be done to get the film in the can.

Now is the time we should be doing things differently; yet given the opportunity to make the film I want, with the cast I want, even at a fraction of the budget that I want -- how can I let that opportunity go by?

Having more options and better tools, doesn't solve everything by any means.
These times are tough indeed. Everyone knows it is hard out there for an indie filmmaker, particularly for a truly free filmmaker. Most would acknowledge that it is harder now than it has ever been before. Few have revealed (or admitted) how the current situation will change their behavior. I think right now, with reality staring me in the face, I can only speak about what I wish I could do. There is still a big gulf between thought and expression. How does the present alter what we all wish to do on our films?

Personally speaking, I would say we need to evolve the definition of what it means to be ready to shoot a film. Granted, more can always be done on the creative level and that is certainly worthy of discussion, but here -- on TrulyFreeFilm -- we are discussing the apparatus, the infrastructure, the practices that can lead to a more diverse output, robust appreciation, business model, and sustainable practice of ambitious cinema. So, what would I do if I really had my shit together? I have been trying to answer this and share my thoughts along the way.

Today's version:
  • Recognize it is about audience aggregation: Collect 5000 fans prior to seeking financing. Act to gain 500 fans/month during prep, prod., post processes.
  • Determine how you will engage & collect audiences all throughout the process. Consider some portion to be crowd-funded -- not so much for the money but for the engagement it will create.
  • Create enough additional content to keep your audience involved throughout the process and later to bridge them to your next work.
  • Develop an audience outreach schedule clarifying what is done when -- both before and after the first public screening.
  • Curate work you admire. Spread the word on what you love. Not only will people understand you further, but who knows, maybe someone will return the good deed.
  • Be prepared to "produce the distribution". Meet with potential collaborators from marketing, promotion, distribution, social network, bookers, exhibitors, widget manufacturers, charitable partners, to whatever else you can imagine.
  • Brainstorm transmedia/cross-platform content to be associated with the film.
  • Study at least five similar films in terms of what their release strategy & audience engagement strategy was and how you can improve upon them.
  • Build a website that utilizes e-commerce, audience engagement, & data retrieval. Have it ready no later than 1 month prior to first public screening.
  • Determine & manufacture at least five additional products you will sell other than DVDs.
  • Determine content for multiple versions of your DVD.
  • Design several versions of your poster. Track how your image campaign evolves through the process.
  • Do a paper cut of what two versions of your trailer might be. Track how this changes throughout the process.
  • Determine a list of the top 100 people to promote your film (critics, bloggers, filmmakers,etc)
  • Determine where & how to utilize a more participatory process in the creation, promotion, exhibition, & appreciation process. Does it make sense for your project to embrace this?
  • How will this project be more than a movie? Is there a live component? An ARG? An ongoing element?
  • How can you reward those who refer others to you? How do you incentivize involvement? What are you going to give back?
  • What will you do next and how can you move your audience from this to that? How will younot have to reinvent the wheel next time?
  • What are you doing differently than everyone else? How will people understand this? Discover this?
  • How are you going to share what you've learned on this project with others?
As I've said, I know I am not doing all of these yet on my current production, but that leaves me something to strive for the one following. The goal is to keep getting better, after all. But man, I wish I could be doing more!

The desire to do more is so huge, but time and resources limit me, limit us. Sometimes it feels like an accomplishment to at least get the film financed. Still though, I can't claim to be doing my job (producing) well if I am not doing all of these. I have to do better. I know it is even harder on smaller jobs. Still though, as much as our job descriptions keep expanding as our salary level decreases, this list is what we must accomplish. Or at least it is the list I think we need to accomplish right now.

I am going to shut up now and get to work. There's too much to be done.

15 Ways To Show Your Collaborators You Appreciate Them

As an indie film producer, what can you do to show appreciation for all those that are helping you make your film?
  1. Do your job well. Make a film everyone is proud of. Give the team memories that they were lead well.
  2. Provide timely information and decisive actions, as clearly as possible. Don't try to hide anything. Don't sugar coat; speak truthfully about the situation -- reality may not be pretty, but presenting it clarifies your mutual trust.
  3. Recognize how well your collaborators do their jobs and show how much you appreciate them. Show respect. You can't make this film without them; they chose to join you and you are fortunate to have them.
  4. Learn everyone's name. Learn something about them. Take interest in their lives. Remember & celebrate their birthdays. Thank them for their work.
  5. Demonstrate that you are concerned for your crew's health. Provide vitamins and sun screen. Can you provide flu shots on set? When someone is sick, send them home.
  6. Have a true commitment to safety. If working long hours on location, provide overnight accommodations. Don't let people drive when they are over tired. Really have a safety meeting each day.
  7. Good food is quickest route to someone's heart. Provide thoughtful craft service: healthy food, fun food, new food, fresh food. Work with your caterer to make sure people are getting what they want.
  8. Provide a constructive work environment. Keep the workplace clean and orderly. Don't joke around camera. Don't let people read in view of others. Give everyone access to information.
  9. Don't contribute to a bad world. Help your team recycle. Don't force them to waste due to their work situation. Use less paper.
  10. Bring some fun into their world. Provide entertainment or education at lunch breaks. Do "dollar days" at the end of the week.
  11. Let them help the world at large. Organize a blood drive at lunch during production, a toy drive, or coat drive during the winter months. Get absentee ballots when they will be working during election periods.
  12. Adopt and post/display strong anti-discrimination, anti-sexual harassment policies.
  13. Help them enjoy themselves. On location, provide an extensive entertainment list for all visiting crew and cast, including restaurants, theaters, medical, specialty stores, massage, and directions. Organize some group outings during non-working hours.
  14. Go that extra distance to make things better for the team. On location, provide laundry service. In booking travel, always enter everyone's Frequent Flyer miles. Provide direction books in all vehicles.
  15. Recognize everyone as a key part of the process. Get them the tools they need to do their work well. Screen dailies and invite everyone. Create a blooper reel to screen for crew. Give them posters, DVDs, t-shirts. Inform them as to the progress of the production. Allow them to comment on the website.
When I have asked for some of these things from past production teams, I have occasionally met with some resistance. "I am a production manager, not a camp counselor!" "These people are adults; they should be able to take care of themselves!".

I don't agree. Everyone works hard. We need to show that we appreciate it. It's funny though, when I put this question out there to the Facebook & Twitter worlds, I think people mostly recommended alcohol and backend points. Money and booze, maybe that's all it takes...

The State Of Media

My friend Brian Newman discussing the State Of Media and being the smart, articulate, insightful guy that he is....

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Tips on how to be a successful filmmaker during the recession.

(reprinted from Filmmaker Magazine -

By Esther B. Robinson

What do you do when all the news is bad news? Layoffs, bank collapses, credit constriction. Gloom is the swine flu of our media ecosystem, and it's hard to ward off infection and hysteria. Our economy's become a dark, frigid sea that we're supposed to distance swim without instruction or a shore in sight. So what does that mean for us as creative individuals?

First and foremost, we need to recognize that we have unique resources. The news may be bad, but we started adapting to murky economic realities long before most people ever dreamed of a financial crisis. We've evolved for this extreme environment, like those crazy deep-sea fish — the glow-in-the dark ones with lamps on their heads. We may not be pretty, but we know how to survive in dark waters — and now the whole ocean's gone dark. Everyone else is panicking. They don't know how to live like this. But those of us used to late-night edit rooms, 20-hour days, Red Bull, ramen and shoebox apartments... we already know how to swim in these waters. We've already developed our weird adaptations in order to find work, food and friends, and now we're at an advantage. While everyone else slows down or stops, we can see clearly and keep creating. While others are blind in the dark, we can be proactive and fearless, and by taking some pretty simple steps we can make major leaps in our work and our careers.


1. Commit yourself to filmmaking.

First, stop equivocating and commit to the long-term goal of being a filmmaker. You're either in or you're out — decide. Then recognize that living day-to-day, throwing everything into the next project without regard for what follows may not work over the long term. It's a question of pacing. If you still want to be doing this when you're in your forties, fifties and eighties, then you need to construct a life that functions. Committing to being a filmmaker means making all parts of your life work well.

2. Dedicate yourself to a lifetime of making inventive, rigorous work that matters.

If you're going to do this for the rest of your life, then you must ask yourself, "What am I making?" Is what you make the best possible thing it can be? Have you done the thinking to bring real artistry to your pursuit?

Commit to rigor over fluff and meaning over flash. The world does not need more predictable fare. The world needs films that share something about our moment; something that cannot be seen in any other way. To be a great filmmaker you must be inventive and rigorous. So swear to yourself that you will be as fearless as possible in pursuit of this goal.

3. Use your creative skills to build your future, not to deny your current situation.

We've all heard someone (maybe even ourselves?) spin fantasies about "how it'll all work out." That financier, that funder and even Mom, in a pinch. Someone's coming to make it right. They'll fix our financial mess for us, and we can ignore life's harsher realities till that white knight arrives. But unless there is a trust fund on your horizon, this is creative fiction. And while your ability to weave creative fiction may serve you professionally, it will hold you back in your actual life. There is no buyer, funder or producer that is going to save you. You only have yourself. So decide to use your creative skills to build your way forward through the challenges. Instead of using your creative imagination to deny that things are hard or to ignore reality, learn from past mistakes and do not repeat them. You need to be able to look at your life, banish fear and say with unshakable confidence "I've got a new plan."

4. Spend with clarity and save with purpose.

Why is it that when someone says, "You can't make that movie," you think, "Yes, I can," and if they say, "You should have some savings," you say, "There is no way." Recognize that you are skilled at making a lot happen with little money and use that skill on your work and your life. You're a filmmaker, you know how to build real things from no resources. With planning and forethought you can both make your movie and slowly build up savings.

Be ruthless about the difference between what you want and what you need. Track your money, making sure you're spending it well and prioritizing things that really matter. The goal is to save. Set a target savings amount. If you can, buy only what you need and barter for whatever else you want. Use eBay and Craigslist for bargains on all those weird little things you cannot live without.

For your films, be clear that big movies need big partners. If deep-pocketed partners aren't in your future, you need to change your "at any cost" strategy. Narrative filmmakers may need to embrace the era of the small movie: small containable scripts, few locations, small crew. You also may need to deepen and wield your knowledge about local and international tax credits. Both narrative and documentary filmmakers need to really research the grant landscape and be realistic about the odds of receiving funding.

Also don't be afraid to slow down your schedule to benefit your work and your pocketbook (remember everyone is adjusting — no one will blink at a schedule change). A slower pace means you can fit your film around your money job and use the extra time to keep on solid financial footing and deepen the work. Keeping your money job allows you to move forward without falling too far behind. However if your film is topical in a way that means it must be shot right now, then you need to really know how much cash it will take to make it happen.

So be realistic and clear about how much your film will cost and which funding sources are likely and which are not. Make a plan for what you will do if none of the funding comes through. Next, make a plan for if half comes through. Your goal is to understand how much debt you can take on. Be realistic about this part and set a limit before you start shooting. It's important to know the answer to this in advance because during the crunch you can easily lose sight and get into trouble. You need to be honest with yourself — you may not sell this film. The debt you are accruing is yours and yours alone. Having a clear sense of this in advance can really help you make strong choices during production and post and could mean the difference between long-term debt obligations and solvency.

5. Get your credit in order.

Remember that access to capital when you need it is good but bad debt can sink you. So if you have debt, commit to eliminating it: Figure out how much you owe, figure out what your upcoming costs will be and determine how much you can realistically spend each month to pay down your debt. Three good online debt resources are Snowball down your debt, the smart money resources, and powerpay.

For those of you with no credit, you can establish credit by joining a local or national credit union and obtaining a debit card that you can then trade up for a credit union charge card.

Either way, dedicate yourself to raising your credit/FICO score. Use resources like the Filmmaker article from Spring 2009 to assist you so you have the credit resources you need when you need them.

6. Embrace multiple income streams.

Other forms of income make your work possible. Instead of fighting this, be grateful. It's amazing how much energy you save if you stop fighting this paradigm. If you need more money, find new sources of income based on your odd skill-set and apply No. 3. If your job is demeaning or bad, commit to finding a new job and leaving your old one. But remember that this is a recession. Don't just up and quit your day job. You might not find another one as easily. And frankly, your day job is keeping your movie happening even though it feels counterintuitive. Sure, you may need to make adjustments to keep your second (or third or fourth) job from interfering completely with your film, but it's likely necessary to keep you moving ahead financially in these times. By first adjusting your attitude you greatly improve your chances of making the whole thing work.

7. Create strength through community.

Your friends and colleagues are your greatest resources — they have skills, equipment, intelligence and savvy. Clues to survival reside with our peers and our community of fellow filmmakers and artists. The choices they make will help us solve our own problems and make better choices. Take colleagues you admire out to coffee, lunch or dinner, and ask questions about how they make it work. Also, do things that help you enjoy your community. Too often in the single-minded pursuit of filmmaking we forget to enjoy our friends. Movies get made by groups of people. Make sure that this group brings you joy. Communal dinners, caffeinated meet-ups, tequila. These are all tools to bring folks closer together, and the better we play together, the better we work together.

8. Manage your goals and chart your progress.

Set your goals in writing. Studies show that writing down your goals drastically improves your chances of meeting them. Break down the steps. Any goal, even a big one, is achievable if you break it down into the smallest steps possible. Then share your goals. Make yourself accountable publicly so that you have an incentive to follow through on things like debt reduction. Also, track and share your success. Use the discipline of goal tracking to bring order to your life. Then use the lists to remind yourself that you are making progress. It's too easy to think you aren't moving forward if your goals are really big, but progress is progress, so make sure you can chart yours.

9. Give more and participate in making the world a better place for all people.

When you focus on your own challenges it's easy to forget that the world is a difficult and challenging place for those less fortunate than yourself. Don't be a selfish artist, be a good citizen. Volunteer for a cause, a campaign or a soup kitchen. Help your friend or neighbor. Give advice, give your time, give your expertise. Especially do this when you're afraid. It will banish the fear. It will also lead you to new and unexpected opportunities. And remember, even when it's hard, we are blessed to be able to do what we love.

10. Make the decision to make your best work and be good with money and enrich the world.

Now go out there and kick some cinema booty.