Thursday, March 31, 2011


Just a note to acknowledge/celebrate this blog passing the 2,000 page views per month milestone. Granted, not sure what that translates into in terms of unique visitors. And it certainly isn't much in the age of gazillions per day for celebrity tweeters and traffic on numerous big sites. But it's a healthy number for a content-specific blog that posts stuff that's more like articles than tweets. And the number has been steadily growing since the blog first launched.

Thanks so much to all of you!!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

7 Laws Of Social Media Success

As we independent filmmakers try to find the most effective ways to connect our films with potential audiences, new technologies emerge every day that seem to provide an added piece to the puzzle...but without making the picture any clearer. Success still seems to be spotty and good films still continue to struggle. But one thing is definitely clear, social media, for better or worse, is an integral part of any community/fan-based fundraising or marketing campaign. But how do we best utilize social media tools? Is it enough to have thousands of friends on Facebook? Clearly, it is not.

The key is not numbers, but the number of those "engaged". Meaning, these are people who actually care about what your status update or tweet says, or who may even go so far as to comment or post or retweet or take some other kind of action. The goal is to get them to take the action of buying/dowloading your film or supporting your IndieGoGo or Kickstarter campaign....or maybe even going to see the film if you are taking the old-school route of actually screening the film off-line.

So, how do we "engage" our social media contacts? And, indeed, engage them in a way that is relevant to our end goal of getting our film supported, watched and/or promoted. I wish I could give a definitive answer. But I think it is necessarily different for each film. The subject matter, style and tone of the film will help dictate the different ways you can draw people into the "campaign". I use the word campaign because generating interest in a film is very much like a political campaign. The film is a candidate and their ticket/DVD/download purchase is the vote for your candidate. And like a political candidate who stands on some kind of platform or set of ideals, your film has to mean more to its audience than just the film itself.

Keep in mind, this campaigning stuff is a lot of work. If this is not something you have the time and/or desire to do, - or, you consider yourself "just" a filmmaker, and suck at marketing, then you must engage somebody who will be excited to take all of this on. Use Jon Reiss's suggestion of bringing on a new kind of Producer (you create great reciprocal benefit for people if you give them meaningful titles)....The Producer of Marketing and Distribution.

That said, here are my on own less-than-expert 7 Laws Of Social Media Success one should consider - even if each film's social media campaign needs to be unique to the film:

1. Launch your boat in moving waters. Didn't mean to use a metaphor here, but I couldn't think of a more effective way to say it. Your film is like a boat you've built. And now you need to get it on the water and make sure it takes you where you want to go. It's smartest to launch the boat in waters (or with winds) that will most quickly and easily carry you in the direction you want to go. In regards to social media, that means launching a website, facebook page, tweet campaign, iphone app or any other social media tool in a way that allows your film to benefit from the thrust of an ongoing, perhaps even growing, concern. Is there anything in your film that can tap into a pre-existing community or movement. Is there social action being taken about a specific issue that pertains to your film? Is there an enthusiastic fanbase already in place for the type/genre of your film?.....Use your social media tools in a way that speaks to this particular community or movement. If possible, create formal relationships with groups/organizations that are central to this community or movement. But to do this, you need to be clear why connecting with your film is meaningful for them.

2. Create reciprocal benefit. You are asking something from your peeps, so you gotta provide something in return. This is where you communicate why connecting with your film is meaningful to your potential supporters/partners/audience. It's answering the basic question for them of "what's in it for me?". And the answer's gotta be more than "You get to watch MY film!"....Unless your film is REALLY something special and that fact has been made obvious by more than just you, your family and your friends.......Do they become part of some exciting and important movement? In what way? Is the film tucked into some really fun and/or inspiring event? Do they get a gift? Do they get a discount? Are they connected with a very cool, but otherwise inaccessible community? Think long and hard about this. There must be something or some group of things that make connecting with your film something special and worthwhile.

3. Find/create reasons for your peeps to engage and provide the corresponding tools of engagement. You want your potential supporters/partners/audience to step forward in some proactive manner, not just accepting you as a "friend" or subscribing to your tweets. Give them stuff to "do". Essentially, you want to create a landscape of interactivity that leads to the purchase or support of your film. It's like laying a trail of crumbs for your audience to follow. Even if you are doing an esoteric art film, there are lots of clever and fun ways to excite your potential supporters/partners/audience to take action that leads to the support/purchase of your film. Invite comments/reviews/ratings on your posts. Upload or post things that they are motivated to share. Is there a game or quiz you can create related to your film? Can you create a cool, fun phone app (appropriate to the content/tone of your film)? Can you do a contest? Can you create a micro-event and/or community-based offline event they can be involved in? Be as creative with these ideas as you were with the making of your film. And make sure you provide clear and working links/buttons/apps/downloads/tools/etc. that allow them to take action swiftly and easily.

4. Start early. Start your campaigns early. In fact, give yourself lots of time to pre-campaign - develop "friends" and "followers", access/build email lists, forge agreements with partners, etc. After that, give yourself plenty of time to develop/launch anything you are planning. Finally, give yourself time for it to catch on. You can build an awesome website and create all kinds of cool iPhone apps, but none of that is fully effective if it all comes together with little time to catch fire before your Kickstarter campaign ends, your film opens (online or off) or any other key target date.

5. Be clear and direct. Again, you are asking your people for something. Don't pussyfoot around that fact. So you need to be clear in all of your communication with them. Be clear about what you are asking for, why you are asking for it and why they should give it to you. Also, be clear about how they can give you what you are asking for. Make everything as clear and easy as possible for your peeps. Take the guesswork out of EVERYTHING. That includes posts, links, uploads or anything else you float in front of their overwhelmed eyes.

6. Don't be too aggressive/desperate. It's just like dating, folks. You have to win them over. Even seduce them a bit. Charm and humor (when appropriate) are huge assets - as are passion and sincerity. However, you have to keep your passion under control so that it does not cross the line into aggression/desperation. In general, respect the fact that your audience has their own life and it may not revolve around your movie - no matter how desperate your own circumstances may be. Sometimes pleading works, but it is NOT a good strategy.

7. Don't waste people's time. Perhaps more precious than people's money is their time. If you waste their time, they might logically assume you'll also waste their money. Engage them as efficiently as possible. Keep communications to the point. Do not bombard them with too much stuff. Certainly, don't overwhelm them with irrelevant tweets. Make sure everything you post and/or send is in working order. Do not make them click through 50 things to get to the thing you truly want them to reach. Keep everything sharp, crisp and well-functioning so that your peeps feel the respect you have for them and their time.

There you have it. But, as I said, I'm no expert. These are just general observations. But like all of my observations, I'm convinced they should be gospel. :)

However, if you want to get some info from a real expert, check out this email I got my friend, Marc Rosenbush, a smart, marketing-savvy filmmaker who has become a guru of sorts to other filmmakers trying to build and audience for their films.

Dear Filmmaker,

Making it as an independent filmmaker in this market is harder than it's ever been. So I'm not going to bother being subtle in this email because you NEED this information if you're going to survive and succeed.

To make it as a filmmaker you need only ONE thing...

Fans. TONS of fans.

And I'm going to show you how to get them.

If you want to build a MASSIVE, TARGETED AUDIENCE for your film, you need to watch this video right now:

Then make sure to use the coupon code:


To take advantage of a killer deal I'm only offering to the "insiders" on the Internet Marketing for Filmmakers mailing list.

The offer is only good until Monday, so watch the video now to find out about the most comprehensive, most cutting-edge audience-building strategy I've ever taught.

See you on the other side,


Thursday, March 24, 2011

ENVISION: Addressing Global Issues through Documentaries

IFP and the United Nations
Department of Public Information
Announce Opening Keynote Speaker, Films and Panels
for Third Annual
“ENVISION: Addressing Global Issues through Documentaries”

Opening Night Address by HARRY BELAFONTE
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and Envision Advisory Board Member


2011 Academy-Award® Nominee WASTE LAND

A Two-Day Forum Exploring Creative Solutions to Extreme Poverty and Hunger

NEW YORK (March, 2011) - The Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) and the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN DPI) announced the films and panels for the third annual "Envision: Addressing Global Issues through Documentaries" forum, to be held on Friday April 8th and Saturday April 9th at TheTimesCenter, 242 West 41st in New York City.

This jointly produced event combines film presentations with substantive discussions on pressing global issues. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) serve as the focal point for presentations, screenings, panel discussions and social networking. The Spotlight Focus for Envision in 2011 will be exploring creative solutions to poverty and hunger, specifically focusing on the MDG of eradicating extreme global poverty and hunger.

“As we launch into our third year of the Envision program, I can’t help but be struck by the dramatic changes that have occurred recently. This year’s theme of poverty and hunger are both concerns of a long term nature but have particular immediacy. The world has just experienced a natural disaster that has lead to an example of tremendous need. We are so pleased to be partnered with the United Nations in offering a platform for discussion and potential change.” said Joana Vicente, IFP Executive Director.

“I am very pleased that the Envision forum is returning in 2011. There cannot be a better time to bring together documentary filmmakers and humanitarian activists to discuss the critical themes of poverty and hunger,” said Kiyo Akasaka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.

“As the MDG target date of 2015 draws near, we must redouble our efforts to bring the crisis facing so much of the world’s population into the public eye. Documentarians, who present complex issues to filmgoers in ways that engage the heart and the mind alike, are crucial allies in that effort.”

On April 8th, Envision will open with a keynote address by Harry Belafonte, Goodwill Ambassador, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).“Mr. Belafonte personifies, through his life-long commitment to humanitarian issues, the goals of Envision. We are so honored to have him with us” said Vicente.

Over two days, Envision will present three distinctive documentaries exploring poverty and hunger from different viewpoints and in differing styles. A special screening of THE SOUND OF MUMBAI: A MUSICAL by emerging documentary talent Sarah McCarthy will open Envision. For one emotional night, a group of children living in a slum in Mumbai, India, get a chance to experience a different world as they perform The Sound of Music with a classical orchestra, fostering hopes that it could change their lives. As described by the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival,”In telling this story, McCarthy remains mindful of the gaps that lie between dreams and reality, rich and poor. The film never glosses over the difficulty of closing those gaps, but it joyfully expresses the effort of attempting.” THE SOUND OF MUMBAI is a presentation of HBO Documentary Films.

In an advance sneak preview screening, Phil Grabsky’s THE BOY MIR: TEN YEARS IN AFGHANISTAN follows the charismatic Mir from a childish eight to a fully grown eighteen-year-old. Over those ten years, the film charts a journey into early adulthood in one of the toughest places on earth; a journey that mirrors the current and vitally important story of Afghanistan. Grabsky first introduced Mir in his award-winning THE BOY WHO PLAYS ON THE BUDDHAS OF BAMIYAN in 2003.

Lucy Walker’s 2011 Academy-Award® nominated WASTE LAND follows world-renowned artist Vik Muniz, who journeys from his home in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Muniz photographs an eclectic band of “catadores”—self-designated pickers of recyclable materials. His collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate photographic images of themselves out of garbage reveals both the dignity and despair of the catadores as they begin to re-imagine their lives.

Additional clips from thematically-related documentaries currently in production will highlight the panel “On the Front Lines: Balancing Issues and Art in Documentary Storytelling” on Saturday, April 9th.

Another element of the program is 1.4 Billion Reasons, a special multi-media presentation by Hugh Evans, Co-Founder, The Global Poverty Project. Based on leading research, this simple yet ground-breaking presentation clearly articulates the facts of extreme poverty and demonstrates that by making simple changes, everyone can be part of the solution. The presentation aims to deeply communicate the challenges and opportunities of extreme poverty and to work as a platform to inspire and facilitate individuals to become actively involved in eradicating poverty.

Additional panel discussions will include Breaking Point: Food Security and Countries in Crisis, moderated by CNN’s Jim Clancy, and The Role of Women in Alleviating Poverty and Hunger.

The full program schedule is available at

Leaders from the international filmmaking community, prominent United Nations representatives, entrepreneurs, activists, journalists, economists, public policy makers, and NGOs will be participating in the Envision program.

Envision is pleased to have The New York Times as it's Media Sponsor and host for 2011.

An Envision pass for access to all programs, including films and panels is $35.00.
To register, go to

Media seeking accreditation to attend this event should contact or

The non-profit Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) is collaborating with the United Nations Department of Public Information’s Creative Community Outreach Initiative to create an annual destination in NYC that unites the international filmmaking community, civil society organizations, entrepreneurs, activists, journalists, economists, public policy makers, NGOs, and the general public with representatives from the UN in the shared goal of envisioning a better world for all.

After debuting with a program in the 1979 New York Film Festival, the nonprofit IFP has evolved into the nation’s oldest and largest organization of independent filmmakers, and also the premier advocate for them. Since its start, IFP has supported the production of 7,000 films and provided resources to more than 20,000 filmmakers – voices that otherwise might not have been heard. IFP fosters the development of 250 new feature and documentary films each year through its Project Forum of Independent Film Week, Independent Filmmaker Labs and projects in its fiscal sponsorship program. IFP believes that independent films enrich the universal language of cinema, seeding the global culture with new ideas, kindling awareness, and fostering activism. The organization has fostered early work by leading filmmakers including Charles Burnett, Edward Burns, Jim Jarmusch, Barbara Kopple, Michael Moore, Mira Nair and Kevin Smith. For information:

As the public voice of the United Nations, the Department of Public Information (DPI) promotes awareness and greater understanding of the work of the United Nations, communicating the activities and concerns of the organization to achieve the greatest public impact. Launched in 2009, the UN Creative Community Outreach Initiative was designed to highlight critical global issues through collaborations with the film and television industries.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The first two minutes of this clip from Tarkovsky's THE MIRROR might be my all-time favorite cinema sequence EVER!


Here's a link to Scott Macaulay's Filmmaker Magazine article about Ed Burns' new no-budget feature "Newlyweds":

No matter how you may feel about Burns' work, there's good stuff to be learned here....

Monday, March 21, 2011

Legendary Filmmaker Rob Nilsson To Open Classes

Dear friend and legendary filmmaker Rob Nilsson sent me the following, that I am sending on to all of you. Both classes are an amazing opportunity for actors AND directors!


Hello Everyone,

Here are a couple of classes I'm giving. If you're interested, or if there is anyone out there you think could benefit, please contact me. The classes provide unique opportunities to explore the emotional, cathartic side of acting. I've been getting terrific results from people who want to explore these experiences in person. Others, unable to make it to the class, have benefited from on going class notes which can be sent by e-mail. I'm also available for one on one coaching.

I've spent a lot of years making features here and around the world. This is a class which comes from dust in the hair and blood under the fingernails. I think anyone could benefit.


Expressivity for the Actor (8 classes)

Quotes from Actors

This workshop is truly amazing! It encourages actors to dig deep within and to express themselves fully and without limitations. I recommend it to anyone who wants to grow as an actor.
Penny Werner: Actor

"Direct Action" with Rob Nilsson is an explosive acting experience. He motivates and provokes moments of beauty and human experience out of his actors.
Vincent Leddy: Actor

Extremely liberating and totally unpredictable! You often end up surprising yourself in ways you didn't even think were possible. Highly recommend.
Galina Pasternak: Actor

Class Description

Through his unique approach, the internationally-acclaimed, distinguished filmmaker Rob Nilsson will teach Actors how to experience strong emotion, cathartic energy and powerful human connection. Exercises in relaxation, concentration and strong emotional commitment will be used to enhance confidence and to eliminate mental blocking.

Through the techniques of Direct Action, a system designed for the creation of dynamic cinema, we will work to enhance the Actor's natural gifts, encourage free and courageous performances and to eliminate pre-conceptions, excessive rationality and fear of failure. The goal is an Actor alive in the moment and fierce in the expression of all things human.

All class-work will be recorded with digital-cameras on thumbdrives that the students will keep for their own records and further viewing.

Two Levels of the Class will be offered, at different times:

  1. All Comers: for beginner-to-experienced Actors
  2. Master Class: for highly experienced, seasoned Actors: workout and tune-up intensives.

Both classes are for 8-weeks and can be scheduled on Weeknights (7 pm - 10 pm) and/or on Weekends (12 pm - 3 pm).

Start dates: the week of April 4, 2011
Instructor: Rob Nilsson
Tuition: $400 for 8 weeks or $50 per class for "Drop-Ins".
Prerequisite: Approval of Rob Nilsson at:
For further INFO: please email Celik Kayalar at:

Rob Nilsson has made 30 feature-films and has won numerous international awards including the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the Grand Prize at Sundance, the San Francisco Critics Circle Marlon Riggs Award and several Lifetime Achievement citations. In June of this year, the Moscow Film Festival will hold a retrospective of his work.

"Direct Action Cinema" Workshop for Actors & Directors (8 classes)

Quotes from Previous Workshops

Rob Nilsson's Workshop was a transformative experience. It was inspiring and liberating to meet other directors and actors, to work, experiment, and create together, and to challenge our fears and limitations under Rob's guidance.
Josh Peterson: Writer-Director

Rob's charisma, knowledge, and experience has gone way beyond inspiring me. It has shaken my very core foundation, it has allowed me to free myself of my own mental blocks and fears, and get rid of any falseness that sometimes gets in the way in traditional methods of movie making.
Tiziana Perinotti: Writer-Director

It's been a long time since I've felt this creatively energized!
Arthur Vibert: Writer-Director

Rob keeps it real. His style, his instruction, his direction is real. As an actress in his class, I felt free to express and that's what it's about. I was honored to learn from him.
Taylor Brock: Actor

What I discovered, then explored in Rob's Workshop was beyond any film workshop that I had ever experienced: The truth of the human experience. I now use "Direct Action" approach to prepare and rehearse scripted work. I highly recommend Rob's "Direct Action" Cinema Workshops.
Micci Toliver: Actor

Working with Rob is a pleasure. He is passionate without being pushy. He lets things unfold without forcing and being intrusive, pretty much what directing is all about.
Marianne Shine: Actor

Workshop Description

Direct Action Cinema is a grass roots method for conceiving and producing contemporary dramatic feature films. Developed by director Rob Nilsson, its techniques have been practiced in his films which have won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and numerous other international awards.

In this 8-week class, we will screen films done with Direct Action techniques, discuss the underlying ideas behind them, and practice the acting and directing methods used in their production. Working in teams, we will conceive and shoot Direct Action scenes to provide first hand experience of the method (all equipment including digital cameras required for shooting the scenes will be provided).

All class-work will be recorded with digital cameras on thumbdrives for the workshop participants to review and keep.

Directors and Actors of all levels of experience can enroll. A sample of short-films & clips generated during the previous workshops can be seen at Videos.

Start date: April 28, 2011
Class time: Thursdays, 6:30 pm - 10:00 pm (8 classes on: April 28, May 5, 12, 19, 26, June 2, 9, 16)
Instructor: Rob Nilsson
Prerequisite: Rob Nilsson & Celik Kayalar's approval at
Tuition: Directors - $400; Actors - $300 (Payment Plans are available. Please inquire.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

CAZT to sponsor FA screenings at Echo Park Film Center!

Our Filmmakers Alliance screening series at the Echo Park Film Center will now be sponsored by the innovative production services and casting company CAZT.

CAZT helps productions save money on casting by providing studios, cameras, video hosting and collaboration tools, all 100% free. Visit to find out how.

Our next screening is tomorrow (Monday, March 21st) at 7:30 p.m. at EPFC (1200 N. Alvarado).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

If they're gonna be bad, they better be very, very good....

It may come as no surprise to some of you, but I'm not always a "good" guy. Certainly, I don't always do "good" things. In fact, I have indeed done some very "bad" things in my lifetime. I like to believe that they are almost always the product of unconscious action or stem out of some excusable lack of awareness. But that isn't always true. When consciously done, however, these "bad" acts often arise out of poor judgement fueled by a kind of self-delusion for which I managed to create some very questionable rationalization.

But does that make me a "bad" guy or a "good" guy? It seems this question is mostly predicated by three factors: the ratio of "good" behavior to bad "behavior", the level of chronic, intentional malice and the outward impact of the "bad" behavior. Someone who parks in handicapped parking spaces (I've NEVER done that, by the way) is not generally considered on par with someone who sells crystal meth to elementary school kids (I hope I don't have to say I've never done this, either, but I'm saying it, anyway). However, both are aggressive acts of self-interest for which other people suffer, but for which the perpetrators have very clear reasons in their own minds for choosing to do. This is why I put "good" and "bad" in quotations. These are subjective and sometimes unclear labels that we put on behaviors/people that are either socially (or personally) acceptable/celebrated or behaviors/people we frown upon or even abhor. However, to lay blanket labels of "good" and "bad" on people/behaviors is to ignore the complexity of thought and/or action - and intricacy of character - that leads to these impactful behavioral choices. People can have extremely complicated motives for doing either "good" or "bad" behaviors, and those behaviors can sometimes be incredibly contradictory to everything else we may know about them. Cinematically, to create characters that are unrelentingly "good" or "bad" is just plain uninteresting filmmaking.

Rarely do I respond to "good" and "bad" characters in a film. There are certainly protagonists and antagonists - the lead character and the character that most impedes the protagonist's goals/needs - in the films I enjoy, but the protagonist is rarely all "good" and the antagonist is rarely all "bad". Sometimes, they are almost completely inverted. At the very least, the protagonist = "good" and antagonist = "bad" paradigm is often subverted in some compelling way. And the word "compelling" is the key. I believe we don't much care whether our protagonist is good, bad or somewhere in between. As long as he/she/it is COMPELLING. Meaning we, as an audience, actually give two sh**s about the character (and what happens to them) throughout the journey contained within the film. So, the question is, what defines "compelling"? What makes a character "compelling"?

Well, obviously, what's compelling for one person may be disgusting or boring or, in some other way, off-putting for another person. So, I'll just share with you 5 key traits for what I consider necessary in creating a compelling character.

1. Accessible Humanity. Do we see something in the character that we can relate to as regular ol' human beings? It doesn't have to express the heights of humanity, just the fact of it. A super-villian with Irritable Bowel Syndrome is much more compelling than one who never has to use the restroom (as is the case with most movie characters). Conversely, a flawless superhero is incredibly hard to relate to if he doesn't have something in him with which we can relate as regular peeps. Christopher Reeve's "Superman" was an endearing innocent who's conflict between always saving the day and falling in love was something we could all relate to. But to step away from comic book heroes, you can look at Tarkovsky's three protagonist's in "Stalker". "Stalker" is a "dense, complex, often-contradictory, and endlessly pliable allegory" that is anchored by the trio's all-too-human frailties and desires even as their names are as opaque as Writer, Professor and Stalker.

2. Believable Contradiction. Although you could potentially bundle this into the above, it is such a key trait of humaness, that I feel it deserves a point all of its own. Without exception, the most compelling characters in cinema are not merely battling external forces bent on stopping them from achieving their goals, they are, more importantly, struggling with internal forces at odds with whatever it is they are compelled to do. And this struggle creates contradiction in thought and/or action. However, an animal torturer with a soft spot for kittens may be cute and surprising, but it simply is not believable. Same can be said of a die-hard animal lover who likes to torture kittens. Creating a contradiction simply for shock value or just for the sake of contradiction will ring false even if people don't understand why it feels phony. And the more distasteful the contradiction, the more off-put the audience will be by the phoniness of it. The contradiction must arise out of an honest understanding of how that character's overriding goals might conflict with their moment-to-moment actions/beliefs/compulsions.

3. Deep Conviction/Quality Rationalization. Contradictions aside, the character must always be driven by profound conviction or compulsion or commitment or whatever you want to call it. Basically, they are doing what they do come hell or high water....IN SPITE of the contradictions that exist within them. We are invested in characters only as much or as little as they are invested in themselves, their choices or their actions (or inactions). And, the more they are choosing to do something we cannot relate to, the better their rationalizations (spoken or unspoken) should be for doing it. So much so that, even when we can't fully empathize with them, we understand to some degree why they are choosing (or driven) to do what they do.

4. Risk Attraction. "No risk, no reward". A compelling character operates from this credo under nearly all circumstances. Even if you are creating a compelling character whose defining trait is an aversion to risk, there should be some serious risk in avoiding risk. I've heard some screenwriting gurus talk about the importance of "raising the stakes" and, while I don't always subscribe to the formulas these gurus espouse, I do believe there has to be something meaningful at stake for the character at nearly all moments - whether they are, in essence, protagonists or antagonists. And that means they must always move toward the greater risk.

5. Stylish Execution. Whatever it is the character chooses to do, they do it in a unique, surprising, stunning, funny, deeply perverse or otherwise must-watch kinda way. It's not just what a character does that defines them, but how they do it. Whether they are rescuing someone or destroying something...or just trying to get through the day, there is something about the way they do what they do that is beyond the routine or expected.

These are my 5 main key traits for creating a compelling character, although I'm sure there are many more considerations and sub-considerations. And I'm sure many of you can add to or expound upon this short list. But hopefully, this gives you something to think about as you draw your own cinematic villains, heroes and everyday schmoes. Perhaps it even gives you a little something to think about in your own character, as well.....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Change to program for FA Screening at Echo Park Film Center!

Hey All,

Michael Frost has gotten a film gig in Atlanta (hooray!), so we will see him and his film "Lana Turner Overdrive" at the next screening in May. Instead we will be screening James Blagden's "Dock Ellis and The LSD No-No". See details below and full program details here:

See you there!

Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No
by James Blagden
4 min. 32 sec.
In celebration of the greatest athletic achievement by a man on a psychedelic journey, No Mas presents the animated tale of Dock Ellis' legendary LSD no-hitter. The piece's s unorthodox origins are nearly as compelling as the short film itself. The film combines the former Pittsburgh Pirate's own account of the 1970 no-hitter he pitched while high on LSD with Blagden's totally original visual style. The resulting animated short has been hailed as, among other things, among the greatest baseball films ever.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My very second film festival programming meeting last night!...

It suddenly occurred to me, when I arrived for my very second film festival programming meeting, that my fellow programmers may not want me blogging about the process. No one mentioned to me that this was frowned upon. No one so much as suggested it. I'm fairly certain that no one is even aware I'm blogging about it. Of course, this may be why no one has mentioned it. Or maybe, it simply does not bother anyone and I'm creating a lot of useless drama in my own head. But the process of programming has always seemed a bit mysterious to me and other filmmakers I know. I mean, there's no clear equation, is there? But I wondered if this is by design. Perhaps programmers want the process to remain mysterious, even mystical. Or, perhaps, I'm just a drama junkie with a hyper-active imagination.

Nonetheless, all this occurred to me, because in many ways, programming is a very personal process...sometimes downright intimate. Each time one of us utters an opinion, we are sharing insight into ourselves. Our comments are a reflection of so much - our aesthetics, our personal preferences, our worldview, our education/upbringing/cultural background, our political ideology, our theology (if we have one) and even our sense of humor. If we are passionately arguing on behalf of a film, it can get emotional and even...well, intimate. Programmers may not want some obsessive hack blogger documenting all that stuff.

Programming meetings can get incredibly passionate...

This is only our second meeting, so no explosively passionate or achingly intimate moments have transpired as yet. And it will probably never get too deep/crazy/weird. This group seems far too grounded. But we did have a few moments of gently clashing perspectives about films and it was interesting to see how the dynamics play out.

In my case, one of the programmers was talking about a film that, last week, I tentatively suggested was worth a second look. She took that second look and did not respond to the film at all. She had an issue with the way the film was shot (as I did), but also had a very personal distaste for the character, the story and the over-all energy of the film. She simply was not at all compelled by it. At that moment, my insecurities could have immediately lead me to question my judgement. And typically, when I feel insecure, rather than shut down, I tend to investigate the opposing opinion. Why do you believe this? How do you justify YOUR opinion? That is sometimes followed by a verbose defense of my position, no matter how wrong it may be. It's part of my process. If I am barking up the wrong tree, I like to believe that, at some point, I'll actually listen to what I'm saying and get hit with an embarrassing moment of clarity...leading to a quick, humble capitulation.

But no need for any of that. There's no right or wrong here. Just subjective reactions to a creative piece of work. No need to feel insecure. My fellow programmer was merely giving me the opportunity to truly assess my reaction to the film on all levels. Was it worth mounting a passionate defense? And, if so, was I ready to share some insight into myself in the process of articulating my very subjective reaction to the film?...Uh, no. On both counts.

As I listened to her reaction to the film, I realized that we were both operating deep in subjective land. Her issues were clearly less with execution and more with the creative choices...and her gut reaction to them. I had to quickly assess my own gut reaction and decide if that reaction was not only something I was sure others would have, but one that others NEEDED to have. I quickly came to the conclusion that it was not. And if I did feel it was a necessary film for people to see, given the subject matter, there would have to be something a bit creepy about me. Maybe there is, but I'm certainly not able to cop to it at this point. And certainly not at a festival programming meeting.The film was indeed off-putting in many ways. Although I thought the energy was authentic despite or because of this, and that the filmmakers did a great job accomplishing their own creative goals, there just wasn't enough in those goals to get passionate about. Because I think the film is well made and authentic, and because there are others like me who will be perversely fascinated, rather than off-put, by the energy of the film, I do hope it finds a festival home. But I wasn't passionate enough about its subject matter to fight for it to be in this one. My silence sealed its quiet death at this festival.

This is all with the awareness that some filmmaker is sitting at home, biting their nails waiting for an answer. But as programmers, you can't think about that, even if you've been that filmmaker. You have to make it about the film, not the filmmaker. And you have to believe that your reaction to the film comes from a place of real love of cinema. You have to believe that the result of that honest reaction - good or bad for the filmmaker's chances of being in the festival - will ultimately be good for the universe of cinema. You aren't doing anybody any favors - not the festival, not filmmakers and certainly not the audience - by pushing forward films about which you aren't totally passionate. I'm learning that, sometimes, it's important to just shut your mouth and let someone else's passion speak the loudest.

Echo Park Film Center Screening March 21st

Hey All,

If you are in Los Angeles, Filmmakers Alliance will be hosting their regular screening series at Echo Park Film Center on March 21st beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Come and see what FA members and other members of the LA and global filmmaking community are up to creatively, and support the great work that the EPFC people are doing in our community. The center is a volunteer run organization that offers fantastic super 8mm film classes, youth classes, and much more, so we do ask that you leave a $5 donation at the door to help keep the Center going.

There is a brief Q&A after each film, not to mention complimentary food & drinks. So come on out and eat, drink, connect and watch!

The line-up is as follows:

Native Time
by Sean Morris
9 min. 30 sec.
A traditional Inuit hunter scours the barren landscape in search of food, braving brutal weather, winds and famine. An expert of this harsh wilderness, he is prepared for absolutely everything...except this.

Howling At The Moon
by Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims
8 min.
Matt and Harry receive an invitation to see a fellow employee's band. To escape the awkward coffee shop performance, Matt comes up with a somewhat decent excuse.

Lana Turner Overdrive
by MIchael Frost
13 min.

Screen legend Lana Turner takes a hallucinogen-fueled journey deep into overdrive. Life becomes stage becomes cinema as Lana spins out of control over loss, regret, spiteful teenage stepdaughters and LSD. Later, the Lana mythos is explored into a revealing excursion into her self-imposed exile.

The S From Hell
by Rodney Ascher
9 min.

THE S FROM HELL is a short documentary-cum-horror film about the scariest corporate symbol in history - The 1964 Screen Gems logo, aka ‘The S From Hell.’ Built around interviews with survivors still traumatized from their childhood exposure to the logo after shows like Bewitched or The Monkees, the film brings their stories to life with animation, found footage, and dramatic reenactments.

I Have Sinned
by Gabriela Tollman
7 min. 14 sec.
I HAVE SINNED is the story of an Iranian woman who confronts the violent consequences of her secret love affair. Based on the poem 'The Sin' by Forough Farrokhzad.

by Sean Meehan
5 min. 50 sec.
A young woman works another night at her strange and intimate job.

Charlie and the Rabbit
by Robert Machoian
9 min. 33 sec.
After watching BUGS BUNNY, Charlie, a four year old boy, sets off on an adventure to hunt down his own rabbit.

Total program running time: 62 min. 7 sec.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Distribution/Self-Distribution Gurus

As you may or may not know, there's some key folk out there with lots to say about Indie Film Distribution. You should check out what they have to say BEFORE you even consider making your next (or, especially, first) feature film. I won't rate 'em or review them (they are in order of when I met them). I know they are all good peeps with valuable information that may have varying degrees of relevancy to your project.

Marc Rosenbush (indie film marketing)
Ted Hope (indie film, in general)

Don't be DUMB!! U owe it to your investors, family, friends, crew - anybody affected by the making of your film - to get good information before you dive into this....

Now, go get it!!

IndieFilmFinanceModelV2011.1 : The Ten Factors

I'll keep going as long as Ted Hope's blog keeps going....

IndieFilmFinanceModelV2011.1 : The Ten Factors
by Ted Hope

Last week I went into some of the factors determining how the Model for IndieFilmFinanceV2011.1 may be set. Previously, over at my old home, I spent some time trying to better define that model. If you were taking notes you probably recognized that what follows below ARE a the key factors, but I thought it was worth jotting them down for our cheat sheets:

What Ten Factors Are Needed To Get Your Film Financed By Something Other Than Love Or Insanity:
1. Price point / negative cost below $5M;
2. “Estimated” Foreign Value at 80% or higher of negative costs;
3. Track record of collaborators in US Acquisition market to project 25% of negative costs;
4. Utilization of Soft Money/Tax Benefits as revenue—not enhancement;
5. Manufacture desire: inject freshness & an ability to cut through the noise;
6. Predetermined & Accessible Audience;
7. Aura Of Inevitability= Polished Script+Show Reel or Look Book + _________?
8. Urgency of the deal;
9. Something old (proven genre)
10. Something new (fresh scent).

What does this all add up to? Is there a formula we can use? I think so. Why don’t we just get to that another day? Stay tuned…. Much more to come on this subject.

Trans Atlantic Partner applications open!

Trans Atlantic Partners, the producer's international co-production training, is now open for applications:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sundance Institute's January Screenwriters Lab deadline

Hey Filmmakers,

Just a reminder that the Sundance Institute's online applications for the January Screenwriters Lab are available now in the Apply/Submit section of the website and must be postmarked by May 1.

It may seem a bit premature, but you'd surprised how fast how this date will come up on you and this is the only "open" application since it typically begins filmmakers' participation in the Feature Film Program.

Go here NOW:

My very first film festival programming meeting last night!...

I've done many things, but I've never formally been part of the programming team for a festival. Certainly not a large festival. Filmmakers Alliance took over Digidance (an early "all digital" festival that ran concurrently with Sundance in Park City) in 2002 from founder Shiron Bell and produced it for one year - and only one year, once realized how much work producing even a small festival can be and how far it can pull you from your core mission. Diane Gaidry handled most of the programming duties, along with a small team of people, and I just weighed in here and there.

I do pick the films for our regular Echo Park Film Center screening series and have been part of the selection committee for VisionFest, so I'm not a total stranger to programming. But our events are relatively small and very straightforward in terms of programming considerations. As for Echo Park, the question is simple - is it good or isn't it? If I think it's good, we show it. If I think it's bad, we don't. Well, that's not always true. I certainly try to refrain from programming bad films, but sometimes they are just too much fun. For VisionFest, it is the same basic question. If we have too many good films to show at VisionFest (it almost never happens), we jump for joy and try to find some alternative way to showcase the films we can't fit in the regular program.

For a big, world-class film festival there are numerous additional considerations - what is the over-all "brand" of the festival? What are the various program categories? What is the festival's relationship with the filmmaker or filmmakers? What core community/demographic are we servicing? Is there a thematic agenda or zeitgeist we want to capture? And on and on....

...Or so I thought.

I was invited to be an Associate Programmer for the Los Angeles Film Festival by Associate Programming Director Doug Jones. Doug is an awesome guy so I was honored both personally and professionally by the invitation. He didn't tell me much about what was expected of me beyond watching a lot of films and discussing them at weekly programming meetings. It was pretty exciting to think about those meetings and truly understand what it's like to be on the other side of the fence after having submitted various films to literally scores of festivals. At last night's meeting, I realized why Doug only told me about watching films and talking about them. It's because that truly is all I'm supposed to do. Watch films and talk about them. Intelligently and eloquently, if possible. I may have to introduce a few films during the actual festival...or not. Not sure, yet. But basically, my job is to watch films and discuss them. AWESOME!!

As an Associate Programmer, I am part of a programming team of about 12 or 13, made up of seasoned programmers and newbies alike (although only a couple of us newbies, I think). It is basically our job to make intelligent, articulate and even passionate recommendations to the programming directors and Artistic Director (David Ansen) who ultimately set the final program. The team is mostly made up of women with five of us guys in the mix. As it should be, in my opinion, but why I feel that way will be the subject of another blog. Anyway, the programming and artistic director (Doug and David) happen to be men, but there's nothing nefarious in that. It just seems to have shaken out that way over the years. They both obviously know their sh##, and have put in the miles, so to speak. Beyond that, however, the team is not particularly culturally or ethnically diverse, although I got a sense that our backgrounds are pretty varied. Although it's great to see diversity, I'm not sure how diverse the team needs to be if the programmers are smart, aware and sensitive and want to create as diverse and eclectic a program as the quality of submissions allows. And that definitely seems to be the case here. I really, really like everybody on the programming team and my first brush with the way their minds work.

What struck me the most in this first meeting was that - despite the size and scope of the festival and how political the process can be given we are in Los Angeles - the discussion was first and foremost about the quality of the films. Now, I know that sounds like a big "of course!!" But for a festival of this size, it's not always as simple as that. I'm also fully aware that quality assessments are very subjective at best. But as I already pointed out in my previous blog asking "Who the f#@$ am I to judge a film?" there are indeed clear ways to understand if a film displays basic cinematic competency and if the filmmaker is compellingly accomplishing their own creative objectives. And that's precisely what was discussed - intelligently, insightfully and sensitively. We each went around the room and talked about the films we saw, focusing on the ones we were most excited about. We gave a brief description of each film, our response to the film, and a brief critical analysis explaining how we came to that response. If others had also seen the film, they could weigh in with their opinions, as well (the films had been pre-screened and then went through another check process on top of that, so some of the films had already been watched by multiple programmers). But there was little talk of any other consideration than whether the film was or wasn't compelling for some reason or multitude of reasons. As the selections narrow down, I'm sure many other considerations will come into play (you don't want to program too many animated muslim lesbian karate films at one festival), but for now, it was all about quality.

I felt I was a little shaky in this first meeting as I was just imagining what was at stake for the filmmakers and not wanting to make any mistakes with this responsibility. I also wanted to be sure my responses were articulate or in some way easily understood by my fellow programmers. But ultimately, it really boils down to whether or not the film in question is one worth fighting to see on the screen. If you are really passionate about a film and feel it needs to be seen at a major festival, then you just know it in your gut and you don't second guess it. Also, your ability to articulate your response suddenly comes alive no matter how much of an indecisive stumble-bum you've been up to that point. Most of the films I saw in this first go-around had something to recommend them. Some were clearly far more solid than others. But few would have me fighting tooth and nail to screen at this festival. It hurts me to say that because I know how I would feel hearing a programmer say that about my film. But that's the truth of my response and that's all that I can rely on to guide me through this process.

And as I'm processing these raw responses to films, I'm discovering how much I'm learning/re-learning about filmmaking by watching these films through the lens of a programmer. Each fresh filmmaking moment feels palpably triumphant and each misstep feels like a punch in the gut. In essence, the filmmaking lessons I am gleaning are as clear and visceral as they can possibly be and hopefully they will not be lost on me in my own work.

Maybe it's not this way for all film festivals, but this one seems particularly "clean" and focused solely on the quality of the films. That's exciting. It will make it hard for me to grumble too much about a festival rejection in the future. In the meantime, I'm on this side of the fence and I get to watch a lot of movies. And talk about them. It kinda rocks.

The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1 Necessary Attributes

Another in the continuing series we've hijacked from Ted Hope's Blog...:)

The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1 Necessary Attributes
by Ted Hope

Last month, I started laying out what I felt was the necessary attributes of a project to get financed within the mainstream indie film industry these days, call it my IndieFilmFinanceModelv2011.1. Those posts have focused on budgets, foreign estimates & value, US acquisition price, and the type of investors involved in films these days. Today, we will look at other attributes that make a film viable for acquisition in different markets.

You might as well as forget about hypothesizing about the percentage of your negative cost that you might recoup in the US or foreign Acquisition Markets; they have to want in you the first place to qualify for such a gift. Why do you think your film will you get picked up? We are talking about a market, and for there to be a market, there has to be demand and desire. First thing you have to do is manufacture desire.

I see two principals usually at play in terms of manufacturing desire in the fields of indie acquisition: freshness and the ability to cut through the noise. Freshness is a close cousin of originality, but without the latter’s capacity for daring. Freshness’s greatest quality is its scarcity of stale. Freshness cuts through the noise in that it is sure to generate its own noise. The familiar cuts through the noise too but is never really fresh. “Trusted sources” do likewise and no longer have the burden of being fresh on them (or is it that they are eternally fresh?). Certain actors at certain times deliver both qualities, and they generally will not be the same ones that also possess that illusive foreign value—leaving the filmmakers needing to cast in two directions at once—that is if they want this IFFmodel to work.

If you are trying to get your project financed in the mainstream industry, it is important to remember that the movie business is all about people keeping their job. If you are trying to work in the business side of things, you have to look out for all your collaborators. On the finance side, what are your potential collaborators trying to determine with your film? You need to show them that there is an audience for your project that is reachable. The more that a film team has aggregated its potential audience in advance of shooting, the easier time the executive that is championing you is going to have getting your project greenlit. The more engaged that audience already is with both the subject matter and team, the easier it will be to roll film (or record x’s & o’s).

Fortunately, the script and the vision for a project still carry some weight in this world. Yet, many filmmakers miss what this really means in today’s terms. It is not just the conception and execution that is important here, but also the distance those elements have traveled and construction that they’ve generated around them.

For instigating value (the financial amount that a 3rd party accesses your project to be worth that actually allows you to raise funds) to be set on a film idea, we have to create an aura of inevitability around it. If that script still has room for notes and improvements, the financiers will delay their decision—for they believe all others will do likewise. There won’t be the call to action until they feel they know absolutely what they are getting. If an investor’s reader can still ask a question that starts with “why does…”, chances are they won’t finance your film. You get once chance these days to finance your project, and that requires a truly finished script.

Creating an aura of inevitability requires creating a fuller vision than what a script or a track record can provide. Image books certainly help, but show reels are becoming even more commonplace these days. When we hear tales of Michel Gondry and Aaron Ekhardt creating show reel for their collaboration, it doesn’t even matter if it is true or not; those of lesser genius than those men damn well better show what they got if they want to get it going. You have to come from a place of tremendous privilege to not have to demonstrate your vision prior to receiving funds. In addition to our image books, it’s time we started preparing to create show reels to jump start our projects.

As crucial as that quality of inevitability is, urgency is equally necessary. No one is going to act these days until they have to. Frequently urgency is created by market demand. If buyers and financiers all want your project, the urgency comes from fear of losing it. But we’ve been in a buyer’s market for some time now, and generally buyers are willing to wait until the last moment to acquire something. Urgency now is generally determined by availability of actors, locations, and seasons. Timing of the submission of a project for financing needs to balance realistic expectations with the potential to stimulate a sense of urgency.

Beyond strategies to stimulate commitment, some of the standard qualities still hold true. Of course the content of the script still matters, and in these times of mitigated risk it probably matters even more so than before. Yes, it needs to be “good”, but it also needs to have a proven audience and to somehow be fresh. Frequently these are looked at a contradictory elements: the need to be recognized as previously successful, and the need to not be like what has come before it. We tend to tread into genres to fulfill the prior demand: we know where to find or how to attract the fans of horror, thrillers, and several other genres. To commit to satisfying the dictates of these genres will increase that illusive foreign value. To also make it fresh, will create the hope and anticipation that you might be able to rise above the genre’s previous expectations.

So where does this leave as to determining to the model for IndieFilmFinanceV2011.1? Next week, I will recap and then provide the math. It is almost as simple as 1+1=2.

Yeah, right…