Saturday, May 30, 2009

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Rocks! - Great Directors Festival in June! least, their programming often rocks. Not sure about their corporate policies. There is some ridiculously bad stuff on fairly frequently, but even that can sometimes be enertaining. Besides, if they only programmed great stuff, I'd never get anything done.

In June, they are having mini-festivals of great directors every day - including Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Martin Scorcese, Orson Welles, John Huston, Francois Truffaut, Akira Kurosawa and many more. Obviously, there are nights that are more exciting for me than others. And there are many great directors not represented (including, unforgivably, NO women). But it's still awesome for what it is - which is like free film school for a month. Here's the line-up:

Schedule June 2009

1 Monday - Leo McCarey and John Ford
2 Tuesday - Victor Fleming and Frank Capra
3 Wednesday - John Sturges and King Vidor
4 Thursday - Sam Wood and Ingmar Bergman
5 Friday - Carol Reed and Steven Spielberg
6 Saturday - William Wyler
7 Sunday - Michael Curtiz
8 Monday - Fritz Lang and Stanley Donen
9 Tuesday - Michael Powell and Fred Zinnemann
10 Wednesday - George Sidney and Preston Sturges
11 Thursday - John Huston and Akira Kurosawa
12 Friday - Jacques Tourneur and Woody Allen
13 Saturday - Billy Wilder
14 Sunday - Howard Hawks
15 Monday - Clarence Brown and Elia Kazan
16 Tuesday - Robert Wise and Orson Welles
17 Wednesday - Tony Richardson And William A. Wellman
18 Thursday - Jules Dassin and Francois Truffaut
19 Friday - Blake Edwards and Martin Scorcese
20 Saturday - Mervyn LeRoy
21 Sunday - Vincente Minnelli
22 Monday - Edward Dmytryk and George Stevens
23 Tuesday - Otto Preminger and Ernst Lubitsch
24 Wednesday - W.S. Van Dyke II and Stanley Kubrick
25 Thursday - Budd Boetticher and Federico Fellini
26 Friday - David Lean and Norman Jewison
27 Saturday - Alfred Hitchcock
28 Sunday - George Cukor
29 Monday - Sidney Lumet and Cecil B. DeMille
30 Tuesday - Robert Z. Leonard and Anthony Mann

For the full schedule of films - with specific titles, synopses and times - go here:

Speaking of festivals, a bit of advice for filmmakers....

The previous blog was about what filmmakers should consider when selecting festivals and competitions to enter. But, coincidentally, a friend just emailed me telling me her film was in a festival, she was leaving for it today and what advice could I give her.

Well, I was all a-flutter. It was so last minute. Luckily, I had some hints/tips stashed away from missives past and was able to simply pass it on to her. Then it occurred to me to pass it on here, as well - especially as a companion piece to the previous blog.

Some of what is below has become too late in the game for for her to address. But hopefully not for you....

FESTIVAL HINTS AND TIPS (for filmmakers in the fest)

Prior to attending any festival as a filmmaker, there are three key things to do:

1. Research the festival. Where the hell are you going, anyway? What reputation does the festival have? Who goes to it? What do other filmmakers say about it? What does it offer in terms of professional goals? What does it offer in terms events and activities? Is it someplace really cool? Hopefully, the festival offers at least one thing that is worth the trip, otherwise why would you go? And why would you have applied in the first place?

2. Set realistic goals for yourself. Once you know what the fest is about, you can begin setting realistic goals for yourself based on that information. For instance, it is pointless to set a goal of meeting 10 agents and managers at a festival that does not attract any industry. But you may simply set a goal of promoting your screenings, or seeing 1 movie a day, or meeting 5 filmmakers, or meeting wealthy patrons of the festival, or building buzz for your DVD release, or getting shit-faced every night or simply enjoying the city.

3. Be prepared. Once you've set realistic goals for yourself, then prepare for them. Ask yourself what you need to do to accomplish them. That may mean getting in shape if you plan to do a lot of running around - or just plain running. That may mean printing posters, postcards and business cards, or making DVDs of your film or RSVPing to all the official and non-official festival parties (or investigating where and when they even are). It can mean all sorts of things as you think through the accomplishment of your goals. Jump on those things and make sure you have nothing to kick yourself about once you are at the festival.

All that said, once you are at a festival, the chips will fall where they may. But here's a bunch of general guidelines to follow to make sure the festival is the best experience you can possibly have.

• Drink lots of water. And rest when your body needs it.

• Be Active - Take part in everything offered to you.

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

• Meet and engage with the fest programmers, who can give you the inside scoop on all the great things about the fest and the surrounding city. They'll also handle problems quickly with a personal connection.

• Always be gracious and appreciative when dealing with festival staff - even when you need to complain about something. Killing them with kindness works great with stressed out festival staff.

• That said, don't be afraid to complain about stuff. The squeaky wheel does get the oil. Things to look out for - Is there proper printed info about your screening/film in the festival's materials? Are they doing their best to attract an audience? Are you getting the best projection quality the festival is capable of? Are you getting clear and comprehensive information about the fest and all its activities? Is the fest delivering to you everything that it promised you?

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

• 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.

• Don't waste time handing out postcards/flyers to random people. Put up posters, if you absolutely need to, but if you hand out postcards/flyers to passing strangers, they just end up in the trash. Keep postcards with you in case you engage somebody, then give it to them. In that case, the card has real meaning for them.

• If you are going with your crew/homies/family/friends, spread them out. Don't just hide away with them. Have them help you meet people. Make them your publicity/promotional force.

• 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.

• Watch films. Watch great movies and be creatively inspired by them. Watch bad films and consider thoughtfully what made them what they are and are not.

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

• Go to lots of parties. Get free drinks. Eat free food. Maybe "hook up". In general, just relax and have a great time.

• If the festival simply sucks ass, go explore the surrounding city/area. Even if a festival is in the armpit of the world, there's usually somewhere nice within a short drive. Go out and see it. Turn your bad festival experience into a good life experience.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Competitions and Festivals - managing the lottery mentality

As you may or may not know, Filmmakers Alliance has been in the submission phase (thru June 19th) of a competition we are presenting called the Ultimate Filmmaker Competition.

It's been interesting witnessing a competition from the perspective of the organizer - just as I once got to witness a festival from the perspective of a festival-maker when we did "DigiDance" up in Park City in 2002.

Festivals and Competitions are a lot of work. It's tough to manage and evaluate submissions. And on top of that, festivals additionally have to create and manage screenings, panels, parties and other interesting programs/events. It is a gargantuan, overwhelming endeavor. But on an emotional level, it's also tough to manage the expectations of the entrants for both festivals and competitions. Especially since I am a filmmaker myself.

The filmmakers' expectations show up in nervous questions about why they should submit - what is the submission process, what are their odds of being selected, what are the benefits of winning, etc. They get stressed out about deadlines and whether or not their submission has everything it needs to be "picked" or if the submission was received at all by the organizers. Hope (often desperation and sometimes flat-out delusion) is the engine that drives them - and that energy is often exploited by competition and festival organizers. These "opportunities" play on the lottery mentality of filmmakers (of our current culture in general, actually) that makes them feel "If I could just win, it will mean blah, blah, blah...". That could be a big "if" depending on the size of the competition/festival. And sometimes, even if you win, it can mean absolutely nothing in the end - in terms of moving your filmmaking life forward (other than what it means for your ego).

Although I truly believe the preponderance of competitions and festivals are on the level, some clearly are not. But even the well-intentioned ones can get caught up in their own needs and grand ambitions and promise things they have no real possibility of delivering. Or, at least, they have little to offer the thousands who submit versus the handful (or single winner) that is selected.


So, why should filmmakers ever bother submitting to things? Well, there are a few key, good reasons, and two of them have nothing to do with actually winning a competition or being selected for a festival. However, winning or being selected is indeed the primary benefit. It's the old lottery-mentality adage: You can't win the race if you aren't IN the race. Or the other one: SOMEBODY's gotta win. And despite my disparaging of the lottery mentality - and as much as our hope, desperation and delusion are exploited - these adages are, nonetheless, true. If you are doing top-notch work (that is also appropriate for the goals of that competition/festival), you will always have a shot - but only if you submit that work for consideration. And if you win the right competition or get into the right festival - your hopes, desperation and delusions can be addressed with real-world and meaningful benefit. But there are so many factors involved in selection (as I know well from the "inside") that you can never be sure of winning or getting selected no matter how great or appropriate your project is. So, it then becomes a sort of numbers game. You submit to enough places and you will probably strike gold with one of them. Sadly, it's no different than trying to find a life partner. You have to kiss a lot of frogs, as they say....But you can't apply to EVERYTHING - nor do you want to. Not all competitions and festivals are worth the price of admission - or even worth your time preparing a submission. There are things to research and consider before buying that lottery ticket.

But if winning or getting selected is not the only reason to enter, what other reasons are there? Well, you need to ask of the competition/festival, "What do I get if I don't win or get selected? Is there a second place? Third place? What are those benefits? What do I get just for entering?" Frankly, most festivals offer nothing if you don't get in. But they also have multiple slots for programming, so it is not a winner-takes-all proposition. And some competitions offer a wide array of consolation prizes, that open up your chances of getting something worthwhile out of your submission. On the other hand, some competitions/festivals just take your submission fee and that's the last you hear from them. You don't even get a rejection letter. That truly sucks. So the key here is to examine each competition/festival and look at your odds of getting SOMETHING meaningful out of submitting to them. Sometimes it is just feedback - which is plenty worth it for a lot of filmmakers/screenwriters.

Aside from that, what other benefit could possibly come from submitting to a competition or festival? Well, I'll give you an example. I submitted my feature film "The Dogwalker" to the Sundance Film Festival. It didn't get in, but it was seriously considered, and, it seems, admired by at least some of the programmers who were considering it. In fact, they admired it enough to recommend it to other festivals (to which I was subsequently offered invitations to screen the film or submit it with a fee waiver). Also, it kind of put me on their radar, so when I submitted subsequent films, they were looked at as part of a body of work or an evolution of it. My next two films played at Sundance. They were short films, but those are, statistically, even harder to get into Sundance than features these days. And it was made clear to me, once I got to know the programmers, that their awareness of me from my previous submission played a part in those selections.

Of course, the point here is that you never know who is reviewing your work. Competitions often build a panel of judges drawn from successful filmmaking professionals. Festivals do, as well, for their festival awards and also often have very well-connected programmers weeding through the top-tier submissions to make their selections. These people could ultimately be champions of your work in a meaningful way even if you don't win or get selected. Sometimes, especially if you don't win or get selected. They may feel your work, then, needs support more than ever since it failed to gain the benefit of the competition or festival. Or maybe they just become fans of your work and are looking for your next project so that they can get behind it even more strongly.

As a filmmaker, I will continue to submit to festivals and competitions. Especially given how tough it is to find opportunities for emerging and/or independent filmmakers to get their films made. Any bit of support is meaningful. But I submit to these things judiciously. Although each individual submission fee will not break the bank, they add up significantly when you are doing dozens of them. So, I simply ask myself a set of questions about each competition/festival before I submit. If all or most of them can be answered to my satisfaction, then I submit. And the questions are these:

For Competitions:
Is this competition right for my project and is my project right for it? (MOST important question. Otherwise, don't bother).
What is the competition offering as a prize?
What is the submission fee versus what is at stake?
Does the competition have more than one winner?
Are there consolation awards? If so, what are they?
Do you get anything at all for just submitting?
What is the competition's level of prestige/visibility? (will a win at least look good on a resume?)
What is the competition's history and reputation? (If it is the competition's first year, what is the organizer's reputation?)
Who's evaluating and/or judging the submissions?
Does it offer other opportunities to connect with filmmakers and/or beneficial filmmaking professionals?

For Festivals:
Is this festival right for my project and is my project right for it?
What is the festival's history and reputation? (If it is the festival's first year, what is the organizer's reputation?)
What is the festival's level of prestige/visibility? (will selection at least look good on a resume?)
What is the quality of programming?
What is the submission fee?
Does the festival offer awards?
What other events/activities does the festival offer?
Does the festival attract quality filmmakers and/or filmmaking professionals?
Does it offer opportunities to connect with them without stalking them?
Where is the festival located? (Is it someplace I'd like to visit, in any case?)

Obviously, the answers to all of these questions don't have to be ridiculously fabulous. But when assessing the answers, the positives should clearly outweigh the negatives. And if they do, then I roll the dice. And I rarely lose....because I've already proven to myself that something good will come out of it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Jarmusch's "The Limits Of Control"

One of my favorite things at Filmmakers Alliance is the various discussion groups we sporadically hold. Small groups of us get together to discuss anything related to film and filmmaking. And any member of the organization can arrange to have them. Often, they are around various filmmaking topics such as "Point Of View", "Color and Composition" or even "What is Cinema?" and sometimes they are set up for argument such as "Do We Need Antagonists in Film?" or "The 3-Act Structure: Time For It To Die?". Other times, we'll simply go see a film and discuss it. This is what we did last night.

Sometimes the more difficult (or even unpleasant) a film is, the more room there is for discussion. This couldn't be more true for Jim Jarmusch's new, inscrutable film "The Limits Of Control". I say inscrutable, although there is much in the film that seems completely obvious - even sorta campy. But the bulk of the film is anything but obvious. I don't want to have to give a spoiler alert so I'll avoid giving any details about the film - which is tricky given that I want to talk about what the film stimulated in our discussion - without giving away the specific elements in the film.


What I will say is that the discussion quickly became an investigation - with all of us trying to solve a mystery or put together a puzzle built from a number of cinematic set pieces. In Jarmusch's films, the director's hand is never hidden - sometimes it's directly in your face, even to the point of obscuring your own experience of the film - so it's easy to assume that everything you see is by design, intention. You can then just as easily fall into the trap - as we did via a post-screening discussion - of trying to figure out the "meaning" of what we saw. Or, I should say, trying to ascertain the director's intent. But the conversation became much more interesting when we each began assigning our own meanings to the film and making our own connections without trying to justify them through "directorial intent".

But if there is an intention to embrace in Jarmusch's film - and his work, over-all - it is to eschew clear intention all-together. I don't think he cares a lick about whether or not you get his "meaning". To me, he seems more concerned with investigating things for himself and allowing anything to be brought into question for the audience. He throws a lot of stuff at us that feels like red herrings - roads that seemingly lead nowhere and repetitious actions/sequences whose purpose is never made completely clear to us. But I don't believe they are as much red herrings as they are simply very idiosyncratic and personal back alleys Jarmusch enjoys exploring more than the path most familiar to audiences. Maybe they are a bit of both. No doubt Jarmusch enjoys playing with both form and content in his films.

This kind of stuff, of course, infuriates narrative traditionalists. When A plus B does not clearly equal C, some people begin to feel jerked around and angrily denounce the filmmaker as "self-indulgent", or, hit them with the even more dreaded epithet, "boring". Even for those of us that embrace non-traditional narratives - are starved for them, actually - there is much that can annoy us in Jarmusch's new film. His studied "cool", his use of interesting actors mouthing quirky, self-conscious, pseudo-profound dialogue, his sometimes obvious/silly film references and his occasional sledge-hammer thematics can all conspire to pull me out of his films at various times. Watching Jarmusch's films is, for me, like digging for buried treasure except Jarmusch is wielding the shovel and I am his captive, silent partner. Where he chooses to dig and how deep is beyond my control. I partner with him, nonetheless, because I know he will always find enough "treasure" to make it worth my while even if I'm not always compelled by where he chooses to dig and what he happens to find.


But in the discussion after the film, we ultimately did our own digging and found some of our own treasures. We were able, at some point, to let go of what we think Jarmusch's work means to him and focus on what it means to us. And, indeed, not everything we found was treasure. Or even pleasure. But how many films or filmmakers allow you to take your own journey - for better or for worse - inside their films? Many do, actually, but they are not always easily found. Jarmusch gets to do this kind of work with relatively substantial budgets and roll his films out on a scale that doesn't make it a chore to find the film. Is that a good or a bad thing? Depends on your perspective. Is this a "good" or a "bad" Jarmusch film? Again, it's all about perspective. But for me, those kind of subjective judgments are pointless and limiting. The film made us see, think and feel...and then discuss what we saw, thought and felt at length. It took us beyond the parameters of the cinematic experience. In that, lies the film's value...and, to my mind, it's true purpose.

In a Jarmusch film, the journey always seems more important than the destination - as it should be in life (since we all end up at the same lifeless destination, eventually). But my feelings about his (and others') films are the exact opposite. I may not always like the roads he chooses to walk, but I always like where they leave me when the trip is over.

Great Film Site For Those Tired Of The Ordinary/Mundane

Check it out: