Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What I Love About Canon and the 2-Step

Here's what I love about Dances With Films 2-Minute 2-Step.

At the production meeting yesterday in the Canon Hollywood Professional Technology & Support Center, Tim Smith introduced our filmmakers to the new C300 camera they'll be using for this year's competition.

Of course, Canon is no slouch when it comes to field testing their cameras. They draw on still and cinematographers from around the world to pour their experience into every aspect of the design and technology, and Tim has been at the forefront of that effort. We love having his knowledge at our disposal.

So there our filmmakers sit, having been chosen not because they are great photographers, but because they wrote great 2-page scripts. We have an actress. We have a young man whose shooting had to be scheduled around his high school graduation. We have returning filmmakers who had only acted in films before last year's event, but are now 2-minute 2-step veterans. We have college professors.  And we even have some fantastic, professinoal, cinematographers.

One of these filmmakers plans to do stop motion animation. Yes, stop-motion with 4 hours total production time, including post. During the discussion of the particulars of how they will achieve this, Tim says, "I don't know, I've never tried that with this camera."

And what I love most, is the sense of adventure in his voice. He's not saying, "I've never tried it, so don't do it." He's saying, "I'm looking forward to figuring out how." Yes, we could use a 5D or a 7D – and that might be the way we go – but in the spirit of the competition, let's see how it could be done with the C300. Let's see what we learn.  Let's see what we can do with this tool that we didn't know we could.

Just for the fun of it.

This is the spirit that constantly puts Art a nose in front of Technology in the race toward new knowledge. Technicians hear what Artists want, and the good ones don't question it. They don't ask why. They don't even ask how. The good ones say, "gimme a minute."

Tim played with the camera for a while and outlined a strategy, and I had to laugh. All those years of testing. All of that input from around the world – which has been good, and created a great camera – but our little selection of artists came up with something they had yet to try. And by this time next week, the movie will be made and screened before a live audience.

Good on ya, 2-steppers. You done us proud.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

They Make Movies

During the introductions at this year's orientation meeting, I was struck by the number of times a group called We Make Movies was mentioned. In these days of impossible funding and cutthroat competition, I made a mental note to get to know who these folks are and what they're doing to be so successful.

Turns out, two of the founders, Sam Mestman and Joe Leondard, are Dances With Films alumni with their 2009 film How I Got Lost. That same year, they got together with actress Tara Samuel to form We Make Movies. Recently, I got in touch with all three of them to tell us more about their group.

DWF: Let's get the plug out of the way right up front. How many movies do you guys have in this year's festival, what are they and when do they screen?

WMM is very excited to have 5 films featured at this year's DWF. Two of them, All Roads Lead To Paradise (Sat. 12:30) and Empty (Monday 5pm), are WMM Original Productions making their Festival Premiere at DWF. We also have a feature, 3 Days of Normal (Sat. 930), that was workshopped through the WMM workshop, as well as as another feature Disorientation (Sat. 11:45) and the short Strange Date (Sat. 12:30) that feature WMM community members. We're also looking to have a large presence at the 2 Minute 2 Step.

DWF: That's quite a wide range, with the common thread that they are all top shelf in every department - Writing, Direction, Acting, Art, Production.  I can't wait to see what kind of party shows up for the midnight screening of Disorientation!  What makes these WMM films?

All movies funded by the WMM community are considered WMM Originals.

Any piece of writing that comes through one of our weekly workshop nights we support and endorse as a WMM film. Additionally, when active members of our community go out and make their stuff, we actively support their efforts in any way we can.

Basically, our interest is in supporting everyone who is active at our workshops and events, and doing our best to give our community members the largest possible platform for their work.

DWF: Explain what WMM is, how it works. You know, the sales pitch.

Pretty much, it's summed up by our tagline, which is that We Make Movies is dedicated to making the movie industry not suck. We Make Movies is a place in L.A. to come and make your films happen. All are welcome. Free to attend. Bottom line: We want you to make your films, and for that you need help. WMM is made up of other writers, directors, producers, actors, cinematographers, designers, composers - even some lawyers - all of whom want to help. Most important: Make the movie you want to see, make it fun while you do it, and use WMM to find some really cool people to help you make it happen..

DWF: I'm constantly telling actors that they need to get to know writers. Writers who are not also directors, need to know directors. Writer/directors who aren't cinematographers need to find a few of those, etc. How does WMM help with that?

Show up. That's it. WMM attracts to its membership (you become a "member" by attending) - the kind of people who will go out on a limb for each other. When anyone attends a WMM workshop, they will invariably meet other writers, directors, cinematographers, and more. Come with the desire to help, and you will be met with the desire to help.

DWF: But all of those people need to find managers, agents, distributors, and other people with MBAs and law degrees. Is that something WMM gets into?

Definitely... and there's getting to be more and more of that as we expand. They are either already attending, speaking at our "How We Make Movies" night, or they are a part of our greater WMM business plan in the works. Pretty much, finding all these people and this information is much easier when you become involved, and you never know who's in the audience at our events... hell, we don't even know half the time, and the place is filled with people who know people if you know how to ask in the right way. Longer term, though, we want WMM to be a place where all of these people are coming to discover, fund, and promote new talent. As we continue to grow, our aim is to collectively create a platform for our community to distribute its work and create a better way for it to be seen, discovered, and monetized, which is unfortunately incredibly hard to do for most independent filmmakers.

DWF:  Ah, yes, the money.  Eventually, independent filmmaking comes down to finding the money – which is where a lot of the Kumbayah togetherness gets tossed for a game of tackle the financier with the ball. Do you guys help with finding funds?

Yes - we have already raised funds for two slates of short films - fifteen short films in total - via Kickstarter, all funded completely by members of the WMM community, most of whom had no active stake in the films, or direct tie to the filmmakers. We're well aware that money talks and the Kumbayah thing only goes so far, and It is definitely our desire to help filmmakers find financing and be able to get their films made and seen. However, I think the biggest thing a lot of filmmakers haven't learned is that it can't be all about them, and just their film. If you never help anyone else make their movie, how can you ever expect anyone to care about your movie. What we've found is that the more we help our community get things done, the easier it becomes for us to get the things we want to get done. Think there's a Beatles song about it or something. Anyway, longer term, we're putting some things into place now that we feel are going to really help us turn the corner into becoming a real way for our community get their work made and actually make some money doing it.

DWF: Is it too late to get in on the ground floor of WMM?

It's never to late. Come to a workshop. Meet us. Meet everyone. Then go make your movie.

DWF: Looking back on How I Got Lost, what do you take away from that experience most? What did you do right? What mistakes did you make?

Well, we'll start with what we did right which was going out and making that movie without fear. We never would have gotten through it if it weren't for the fact that we planted the flag and said we were going to do it no matter what. We did it, and for the most part, the movie turned out great and we were able to get it out there and get it distributed. We learned how to hustle with How I Got Lost.

As far as some of the mistakes, well, we made some of those, too. The largest of which is the whole reason that WMM exists in the first place, which is that when we were done with the movie, we just sort of thought the rest would take care of itself. We thought, and it's a common problem with indie filmmakers, that we'd just be able to take it to festivals, have distributors get really excited, and sell it for a ton of money. It was a rude awakening to experience firsthand the underbelly of the distribution pipeline and how rigged it really is against indie filmmakers.

DWF: Dances With Films was formed pretty much the same way for the same reason, but that was before my time. 

Really, the biggest mistake we made was just not budgeting enough for the endgame, and not actively building an audience around the film throughout the production. The biggest thing a filmmaker can do for themselves in this day and age is really work backwards and figure out how they're going to get their movie out into the world once it's finished.

Here's a deeper zen parable about this: If you make a movie in your garage, and there's no one there to see it, does it ever make money?

DWF: And, of course, for those uber-indie filmmakers who think making money equals selling out, a big reason you want your current movie to make money is so you have a chance to make another one.  What advice do you have for this year's crop of Dances With Films filmmakers?

Our advice to filmmakers is don't just make it about your film. See and support as many other films as you can. And stay in touch with the people you meet. Grab a couple other filmmakers you like, and promote together. Do some things for other people with no expectation of any return... you'll be surprised how much more effective that form of publicity is. Don't be a part of the shark tank. The sharks in there are much larger than you are, anyway, and you'll just get eaten. Oh yeah, and come hang out with us ( at the fest!

DWF:  I know I'm going to drop by!  Any last words?

Only a reiteration: The movie you have in your head: Go Make It. And don't stop until you're screening it. Start now. There are people waiting to help you.

DWF: Words to live by.  Thank you all so much for your time.  I'll buy you a drink at the Filmmakers Lounge ... because, you know, they're free.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


We are so excited and honored to announce that today, ICM has become an official sponsor of the 2012 festival! Together with CAA - Dances With Films has two of the most powerful agencies on the planet as sponsors!
This means so much, a big part of it meaning that they will be paying even closer attention to the many talents that are being exhibited with us this year. ICM joins an increasing list of sponsors this year - which we are very honored to have!


We are also lining up our speakers for the "Cocktails & Conversations With..." that will be happening in the Filmmakers Lounge. Just added to Alan Heim doing his master class with actually advising two lucky filmmakers who will get their film 'edited' by Alan, is Academy Award® Winner, Mr. Ron Bass, known for his work of RAIN MAN, MY BEST FRIENDS WEDDING, SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS, and AMELIA.

On a personal note, Mr. Heim did our first casual chat at the filmmaker's lounge last year, where I had the honor of interviewing him and hosting the discussion.  The man is a delight.  That day is a highlight of all my 12 years with DWF.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Just Real Quick

We read through the 2-Minute 2-Step submissions last night.  Always fun to dust off the acting skills, even if it is only table reads.

Just like the regular submissions, we have more good scripts than we do open slots, so I'd like to encourage all of those who submitted to produce their films.  In fact, I believe we have a short in the festival this year that was a 2-step submission we didn't accept last year.

Great stuff everyone.  Thanks for all who submitted.  To those that are chosen ... I think you're going to have a working Holiday weekend.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Let me first say that I am not complaining.  The stats I am about to point out are a part of human nature. which of course means that they are as aggravating as rush hour traffic. 

Have a look at this graph:

This is a graph of the page visits for the blog you're reading right now.  I don't know if you can make out the dates of the twin peaks, but they are right before we announce what films will be in the festival.

As I said, I'm not complaining, just making an observation.

One of the objectives of this blog is to give filmmakers an insight into what kinds of movies we're seeing in submissions and especially what problems we see over and over again.  I would hope that filmmakers thinking about their next film would come mine the gold we've been digging for all these years - and, in a selfish way, I'd like you all to make better movies because the bad ones are just too painful to watch.

But is that happening?  Obviously not. 

Just before we announce, filmmakers crash the blog to see if they can learn anything about the fate of their film. A fate which might have had a better chance if they had read the blog before they shot - or better yet, wrote - their movie.

I am not surprised.  Prior to all of this Internet stuff, filmmakers would ask me for advice and I would tell them, "You're looking at me now, and you think you're listening, but you're not.  I will give you some good advice.  Everyone who has experienced what you're about to experience will give you good advice ... and you will ignore it and do what you were going to do anyway.  I know this is true because I did it.  All of the people here did it, and we can see in your eyes that you're going to do it, too.  It's human nature."

So, please folks, if you're coming to the festival check out the panels.  Write down what they say and post it on your computer as a daily reminder.  If you can't attend this year's festival, or the panels, flip back through my blog.  Learn why people are falling asleep during your main character's introspective self-realization.  Figure out how to change it into something active; something that will engage the audience.

Learn from the filmmakers who went before you, and maybe you won't be so anxiously checking this blog on the run up to next year's lineup.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Pet Peeve – Two

I can't stand it when filmmakers don't help us help them.

I just came from a meeting with Leslee and our PR firm. We're putting together our package to go to Variety. You know, that trade magazine that's featured in every movie about movies or Broadway since the dawn of time. The magazine that is so inundated with request for reviews from film festivals all over the world that every year they tell us they aren't doing festival reviews, but, bless their hearts, every year they somehow find time to review a few of our films.

That Variety.

And we don't have screeners from some of our features. If we don't get them by Monday those movies may miss their one-and-only chance for a Variety review.

What can a review do for you if you don't have distribution? Consider: After my film premiered at DWF I was reviewed in Variety. At my day job, I cut and pasted the review and Xeroxed a bunch of copies which started a conversation with a Universal Development executive.

"Copies of my review in Variety," I said before he asked.

"You've got a review in Variety?"

"Yeah. 'Tautly written, briskly directed, this feature film debut from Robert Sidney Mellette shows promise for helmer-scribe.'" I had the pull quote memorized already.

"Really?" I handed him a copy of the review. He read a few lines. "Do you have a copy? Can I see it?"

Because of that review, instead of me begging a Sr. VP Creative Executive at Universal to please watch my movie – he was asking me.

I handed him one of my VHS copies. (Yeah, I'm old). Later, he told me he loved it. He told me so much he had to stop himself saying, "I'm gushing."

It didn't land me a job, but I'll never forget the comments.

Comments I never would have heard if I hadn't gotten my screeners into to Leslee! Come on people!

I'll get in trouble if I don't add – we can't guarantee that we'll get you a review in the trades. We can guarantee that if you don't give us your screeners and press kits that you will not get a review.

While I have you – the deadline for 2-Minute 2-Step script submissions is May 18th. Spread the word to your friends, family, writers groups, people you owe money to, etc. This is another golden opportunity not to be missed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Every year I am amazed by some of the performances I see in Dances With Films movies, and every year I'm astonished by the lack of attendance by the professional casting community.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Festivals have become more about the supposed auteur than the team of people it really takes to make a movie. Actors can also get lost in the shuffle, since they might work as little as a day on a movie that takes a year to finish.

But there is no reason that a film festival can't be as much of a showcase for actors as it is for writers, directors, photographers, etc. There is a huge difference between a one-minute reel and carrying a film.

Yes, I know that most of the job of a casting director is negotiating contracts for the stars, but they also have to fill those hard-to-find supporting roles. They have to have files for when a director says, "I want a fresh face." They have to be ready to strike a balance between a director's desire for "someone no one has ever seen before," and a producer's need for a professional who won't hold up production.

So, filmmakers of year 15, let's see if we can't make this the year of actors. Add your cast to our Facebook page. Encourage them to have the same open, positive, promotional sharing of information between actors in all the films as you have done.

Who has an agent that's coming to see the movie they are in? Who doesn't have an agent, but would like to get them to their screening? Who is an actor/writer/producer/director that would like to scout cast & crew from the other movies? Who has a good relationship with a casting director who should come to the festival? Who is going to make sure that the casting director from your movie is going to come to the festival?

Filmmakers remember, what's good for your cast in other films is good for you in yours.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Get Over It - Get To Work

Thursday, we had our pre-festival orientation meeting with as many filmmakers participating in the festival as possible. Typically, we crammed thirty minutes of work into a little over an hour and a half. Amazing how that happens.

After the meeting, our core group of volunteers snuck away for the traditional drinks and dinner.  We raised our glasses in a toast to the films we love that did not get into the festival this year. There are always more good movies than we have slots to fill, so sadly, we have to say good-bye to some fantastic films.

I thought of Italian dancers and Broadway cops. I thought of a guy hanging out in a men's room, and a mother and son who would see that as luxury. I thought of good performances in not-quite-so-good stories. I thought of all the people who put their blood, sweat and tears into someone else's dream – the cast and crews of all those indie films. Cheers to all of you.

There are also a slew of films that are ready for the shelf. Projects where those involved should take from them the lessons they've learned and put into them nothing more. Any good artist knows what I'm talking about: the scripts in a drawer, the novels in a trunk, the canvases ready to be painted over. In my case, the 35mm can in my garage. Cheers to the projects on the shelf as well.

And onto the next!

That could be your 2-Minute 2-Step entry!

We scouted the space for this year's 2-step and I think it might be the best yet. One of our Sponsors, the Renaissance Hotel, which is just ... 2 steps ... away from the front door of the Chinese Theatres, has graciously given us a conference room. This is the closest space to a sound stage we've ever had. High ceilings, a big empty space, plenty of power – and near enough to the theatre for us to put the edit bay in the lobby. Yes, that's right, you'll be finishing your movie in front of a live audience. We've done this before, and it's a blast!

So, if you are one of the filmmakers waiting to hear from us, you will soon – but, sadly, it won't be good news. You can wallow in your sorrow, or you can...

...Get over it, and get to work.