Friday, November 21, 2014

Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand - Order Now!

What good is having your own blog if you don't get to promote your own work?

Regular readers know, I'm big on promoting your work.  Without promotion, no one knows your work exists.  So, with that in mind...

My Science-Fiction Novel for the Whole Family is on Amazon!

Book Description

"E = mc2 is no longer the most powerful force in the universe. Your wand is." 

Twelve-year-old Billy Bobble and his best friend Suzy Quinofski didn't mean to change the universe. Billy, a quantum physics prodigy, just wanted to find a way to help his hoarding, schizophrenic mother – and maybe impress a coven of older girls in high school. Suzy, his intellectual equal, wanted to help her friend and cling to her last remnant of childhood, a belief in magic. Together they made Billy a real, working, magic wand, and opened a door to the Quantum World where thoughts create reality, and all things – good and bad – are possible.


This book just doesn’t get boring… From the very first page [it] grabs your attention. There is a lot of stuff happening and I just didn’t want to stop reading.
                                                                 --MaureenB, Amazon Customer

This book was super cute!!! I read it with my nine year old… I can’t wait to read it again with my daughters when they get a little older.
                                                                     --Kristen Chandler, Shelf Life

Billy Bobble and Suzy are hilarious characters. I loved them, separately and together.
                                                  --Charlie Anderson, Girl of 1000 Wonders

A cross between Harry Potter and Enders Game, where science meets fantasy, this was a fast paced book that was a lot of fun to read.
                                                                           -- Laurie Jake, goodreads

A great read for children as well as adults.
                                                                             --Jan Farworth, Amazon

I must have been under a magic spell reading it – read it in one day, which I only do if the book is very good. I encourage all readers to pick up this book and spend an afternoon with the quantum-physics-knowing, often-bullied, lovable Billy Bobble and his intellectual equal, best friend Suzy Quinofski. This book has it all. A real, working magic wand? Yep! Thought-provoking science? Yep! Family drama? Yep! Edge-of-your-seat suspense? Yep! Unforgettable characters? Yep! And it’s incredibly well written. Can’t wait for the sequel!
            --books4thesoul, Amazon

Saturday, November 8, 2014

When is the best time to submit to a film festival?

Have you ever run a maze backwards?  It's a breeze.  Looking at the choices from the angle of the maze-builder makes it a thousand times easier.  The same can be said for film festivals.  If you're a filmmaker who has never worked for a festival, you probably don't know which way to turn.  I understand.  I've been there.  We all have in one way or another in different aspects in life.  It's nothing to be ashamed of.  In fact, if you didn't have questions, this blog wouldn't exist.

One of the many decisions you have to make is whether to submit to a festival early, to get the screeners while they're fresh, or later to be more on their mind when it comes time to decision making. 

For the most part, it doesn't make a difference to us… for the most part.  There are a couple of things that do make a difference.

First, whether it's late or early, do NOT submit your film before it's finished.  I mean, completely finished, including test screenings for a handful of other filmmakers for honest notes, then re-edits, then professionally edited sound, music that doesn't drag the film to a grinding halt, color-timing, everything! 

Yes, we accept works-in-progress, but look at the maze backwards.  We don't know who you are.  We don't know if your idea of "finished" matches ours, and we're spending month after month watching movies that people tell us are complete.  They aren't.  So we'll watch your work-in-progress.  If the story isn't good, or the acting is sub-par, then we're going to pass no matter how much work you do on it.  But if you've done a good job with the script, and the cast is good, then we're going to be interested. 

Now put yourself in our shoes and run the maze.  You have ten good movies, but can only screen three of them (obviously, the numbers are made up).  One is a work-in-progress.  The others are equally good and finished.  Which do you pick?

Another "for the most part" is the very late submission.  Every year we have extremely late films submitted.  By "extremely late" I mean on or after our late deadline.  The ones that come in after are usually from friends of the festival.  "Hey, is it too late to…?"

We take as many of these as we can, but they are a pain in the behind.  We have to watch them on short notice during our busiest time of the year.  Our first thought when screening these ultra-late movies is, "why are these idiots paying so much money at the last minute?"  But, they did pay, so we treat them almost exactly like any other submission.

I say "almost" because if you submit on or after our late deadline, it's going take us a couple of days to get to screen your movie.  During that time, we're programming the festival.  Sure, final decisions have not yet been made and technically you have the same chance as any other movie, but we're only human.  We have a list of our favorites.  We've contacted those filmmakers to update their premiere status.  We already have more movies that we like than slots to fill.  The ultra-late movie is going to have to be head and shoulders better than anything we've seen in nearly six months of watching submissions in order to bump a movie we already like off the list.  That's a big hill to climb.

Having said that, for some odd reason, many of these late submissions are really good.  We have programmed them before and will again – but it's not our favorite way to do things and it does hurt your chances to try to come in under the wire.  We have passed on perfectly good movies just because they were so late that we didn't feel they were good enough to bump off movies that submitted in a timely fashion.

So, those are the extremes.  Some people submit too early, before their movie is finished.  Some too late, while we're in the middle of making decisions.  What about the average movie?  Is there a best time to submit a movie that is completely done and ready for prime time?

No.  We've programmed movies that were the first to submit, the last, and everything in between.  During the final selections we go through every film – even the ones with passes from every screener – to make sure they have had a fair shot, and that we haven't missed a diamond in the rough.  Because, after all, those hard-to-find movies are what DWF is all about.

We're open for submissions.  If your film is ready, send it in.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Marketing – Books, Movies, Life

This is the off-season for Dances With Films, but I noticed a tremendous spike in page views lately.  Whether that is due to film festival submission season kicking into gear with Sundance's last submission deadline coming up, or because I've started promotion on my book, Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand, I don't know – but I thought I should give either audience something new to read since it's definitely too late to be a part of this year's festival (it was over in June and the subject of my last post).

My mind right now is on marketing.  As just about any experienced artist in any medium will tell you, they knew marketing was important, but didn't listen when they were rookies and someone told them marketing starts on the first day of production. 

In a way, all artists are marketing all of the time.  No matter what discipline, we are communicating something through our art, and so are trying to present that communication in the best possible way.  From the political, in-your-face, theatre of the 60s and 70s, to the pop-art of the 1990s, to the indie film and book circuits of today, every artist begins with a story to tell and a way to tell it.  That's marketing, like it or not.

Lately, artists have become more and more responsible for the marketing end of things.  Ask any author lucky enough to get an advance, and most of them will tell you they've rolled that into their own sales plan.  Alumni of Dances With Films know how much we push each filmmaker to have a marketing strategy, and many of them have come back to thank us for that over the years. 

As I now launch into sales of Billy Bobble, I'm learning a ton regarding internet marketing, that I'm not sure filmmakers know about – which they should.  Films are being sold side-by-side with books these days on Amazon, iTunes, Nook, etc.  The same campaigns that drive people to those sites for books can work for films.

One example is blog tours.  Now almost passé with books, I'm not sure many indie filmmakers are aware of them.  Blog tours reach out to the super-fans (or super-bloggers) for certain subjects and arrange interviews, guest posts, or reviews.  Reviews, of course, every filmmaker knows about, but most seem fixated on the Trades and The Times (New York and LA).  Sure, those are extremely important, but just as important are the super-fans on Amazon.  Getting good reviews from fans with large followings has become a must with indie novelists – and they should with filmmakers, too.

When dealing with these bloggers, be respectful.  There really isn't any difference between a critic on a blog and one for a major news organization – except that the blogger is usually a volunteer.  The blogger doesn't usually have a staff, and is often doing this on their own time just for the love of it.  They don't owe you a favorable review.  Hopefully, they'll write a good one, favorable or not.  Regardless, make sure to say "thank you."

That's it for now, and possibly for a while.  We are busy getting ready for year 18!  Some filmmakers may have already submitted.  That's fine, but submission don't officially open until sometime in October – I think.  I don't keep up with that part.  I just watch 'em and help pick 'em. 

In the meantime, filmmakers, finish your sound!  Short filmmakers, try cutting your movie in half and show it to your beta testers.  See if they like it better.  If so, LISTEN TO THEM!  If your music is a bunch of random cords (usually on a piano, usually with a cello coming in on the big emotional part), thank whatever friend you asked to do the music and go find a real composer.  If you've already shot your movie, these are the things you can be doing to make it better.

Believe me, everyone at Dances With Films wants your movie to be better!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

You Can Still Be A Part Of The Festival

Every year about this time I think of the movies I loved, but we couldn't fit into the Festival.  I'm tempted to mention the titles here, but I think that could open a can of worms.

I won't give the old line, "this hurts me a lot more than it does you." I know it sucks for you.  I've been where some of you are now.  I know.  But it is also hard knowing a movie that I've greatly enjoyed won't be in the festival for any number of reasons.  This is a tough business.

But if you've gotten one of our famous pass letters, don't think that it means you can't be a part of the festival.  I remember one year talking to a filmmaker.

"What film are you with?" I asked.

"My film didn't get in," he said.

I told him I screen for the festival, I might have seen it, and asked the title.

"Vitreous Floaters," he said.

It turns out I'd like his movie a lot.  It was in the running right up until the end, but when push came to shove, we just couldn't find a spot for it.  He had come a long way just to see the movies that got in.  He wanted to learn more about the festival circuit.

In my memory, we all treated him as we would any other filmmaker.  I hope my memory is right.  It certainly was my intent.

So if your film isn't in this year's festival, it doesn't mean that you can't be.  Come on out and see some movies.  Hold your head up high, because you are a filmmaker, and this festival is all about you.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Orientation - And The Wait Continues

I know some of you talk to each other.  I know some filmmakers in SoHo should make plans to share a hotel in Los Angeles.  I know a lot of you have posted how excited you are to be in the festival, even though we try to keep that hush-hush before our official press release.  Shame on you. 

I know the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow - African and European.

Our filmmakers' orientation meeting is Friday.  As is often the case, we might very well go into that meeting with slots still open.  As I write this, we have slots still open.  The wait continues.


If you are out of town, the filmmakers' orientation meeting is NOT worth flying in for.  It is worth a half day off from work.  It will be extremely hot, so dress for the weather.

Please do bring plenty of screeners.  These are not only for the press, but also for our key personnel.  We like to have them screen the movies ahead of time because: 1) they are too busy to see them in the theatre, and 2) to help the buzz on each of your movies.  When someone wonders in the lobby and asks about what movie they should see, it's nice to have a team there who know all of the movies and can help.

Those of you still waiting to hear, hang in there.  We are still hashing things out.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Don't Stop The Presses

Just a quick note...

You're going to start seeing some press about our official slate.  You're going to start hearing squeals of excitement from people who have heard they got into the festival.

Please note.  As of this morning, we still have 2 slots to fill for narrative features.

We still haven't programmed any docs.

We still haven't finalized our shorts schedule.

We haven't even begun to program Dances With Kids.

But the Press must go on, so sit tight.  Keep your hands and feet inside the car and don't remove your seatbelt until the ride comes to a complete stop.

Friday, April 25, 2014

It's Own Special Hell

I just want to give a quick shout out to thank those of you who have received an invitation but haven't said anything publicly yet.  Sitting on good news is its own special hell.  It's almost as hard as waiting to hear news one way or the other.

Almost... not quite.

Those who haven't heard - sit tight, we're still working on it.  If you have suggestions for your fellow filmmakers on how to make the wait better, give a shout out!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

We're Getting Closer And Closer

The time is getting near. Keep checking your e-mails.

Again, until you get an official pass letter, you're still in the running. 

At this point, though, if you submitted before our late deadline and you haven't heard anything from us since we accepted your submission - and you get an offer for another screening... Do what's right for your film.

If you have received a second or third round e-mail from us, and you get an offer in the next few days, ask them to wait and GET IN TOUCH.  We will work something out that's best for everyone if we can.

Have a nice weekend.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Quick Observation on Women In Film

We're in the heat of programming, so no time for a long blog - but just a quick note.

Dances With Films could careless about who makes the movie as long as it's a good one.  Sure, when we enjoy a movie and then see that filmmaker isn't a rich white male, then great.  We're glad to support the cause.  But if the filmmaker is a rich white male, that's fine, too.  The merit of the film is all that counts.  Really, we don't care one way or the other.  Just please make a good movie.

The quick observation here is the number of women's names I'm seeing as Director's of Photography.  Anyone who has been in a film set knows that the camera crew - including Grip and Electric - is traditionally a testosterone-fest.  Not that you'll find bad attitudes toward women there, anymore than you'd find bad attitudes toward men in Oprah's studio audience.  A camera crew will get behind anyone who pulls their own weight and doesn't make their department look bad.  It's just that, traditionally, they've been men.

So, just a quick kudos to all of women heading up the camera department out there.  You won't get any special favors from DWF, but we're glad to have you.

Back to programming.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Hardest Part

Just a quick update:

Last night we went over and over on how to cram as many of the shorts we love into the festival - without sacrificing the features we love, too.

This year more than ever, Rule One Applies - until you get an official pass letter, you are still in the running.  We might do a little magic to find time for more movies after we announce the "official slate."

Hang on.  I know the waiting is hard.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand - The Novel Coming in December 2014

My debut novel, Billy Bobble Makes A Magic Wand, is being published by Elephant's Bookshelf Press.  It will be available as an e-book in December. 

Why am telling this to a bunch of filmmakers who mainly come here to see if they can glean some tidbit of information on how their submission is doing during Dances With Films' selection process?  One word:


In order for any independent work of art to earn its keep, people who are not friends or family of the artist must buy (or in the case of a painter or sculptor, hear about and want to buy) the artist's work.  Let's think about that for a minute.

Right now on Facebook, I have 645 friends.  If every single one of them buys my book, it will be a failure.  By that, I don't mean it will be a bad book.  This isn't about measuring good or bad art by the number of people who buy it or how much they pay for it.  This about the artist becoming self-sustainable on their art alone.  Filmmakers understand this more than most artists, since they have to raise a ton of money to create their work.  Investors aren't likely to lose money more than once or twice, so making art that turns a profit is as important to the artist as it is the distributor. 

Back to my book.  How am I going to reach beyond the 645 people I can easily bombard with Facebook? How am I going to get complete strangers to shell out cash for my little story?

There's a 2-step answer: First, get good reviews.  Second, get those reviews out beyond my 645 friends.

Luckily the literary world is full of people who love to read and write.  Being dyslexic, I have never been one of those crazed readers, but I'm glad they exist.  These voracious reader/writers often blog about what they are reading, so independent publishers like Elephant's Bookshelf Press find the most influential bloggers and beg borrow or steal reviews.  Hopefully, these reviews written on widely read blogs will be seen by people who are not in my 645 friend-pool. 

That's one way it works for books.  How does it work for movies?

If you're reading this blog to find out how your film is doing in the selection process, you already know one of the answers.  Get your movie into film festivals.  Those laurels go a long way into letting strangers know that you made a real movie.

But, for many of you, Dances With Films has just sent a letter asking you how you're going to promote your Los Angeles screening.  "What do you mean?" asks the inexperienced filmmaker.  "I thought that was the festival's job."

It is, and DWF does a fantastic job of promoting… the festival.  It's up to you to promote your movie.

That job will be easier once you have reviews, but do you really want your film to play to an empty house when the critics and distributors are there?  I don’t think so.

There is no one right answer to how you're going to get people off their couches and into the theatre for your movie.  Truth be told, if the cast and crew all come and bring a few friends, you'll do okay for your premiere.  If you're satisfied with okay, then great. 

If you want a career, you're going to need a line around the block.  You're going to need us to add another screening because you turned away a whole second audience.  Even that won't guarantee that your movie has a successful run, but it'll help.  Every little bit helps.

I've said it before on this blog and others, but I'll say it again.  Book publishing and movie distribution have become so similar that it's hard to tell them apart.  Both are transcoding files for iTunes, Amazon, Nook, etc.  Both are trying to tweak their poster/cover art so the thumbnail image will catch the casual shopper's eye.  Both are trying get their metadata just right to make sure browse engines find them.  Both are trying to dial in the right download price for the right time in the release.

Normally, in the off season for Dances With Films, I don't blog at all.  This summer, look for entries about the independent publishing process, in the hopes that you'll gain some insight into the independent film process.

Why am I doing this?  Duh! I want you to buy – and also enjoy – my book!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Let's Talk About Pace

Before a track race begins, the crowd has an expectation of what the pace will be.  The longer the race, the more deliberate the pace.  Notice I didn't say "slow".  You would never call a marathon gold medalist slow.  Similarly, a sprinter would never start a dash with a light jog.

When we start a short film, we expect a certain kind of pace.  It doesn't have to be fast.  We don't want to watch only Michael Bay wannabes.  It just can't be slow.  There is a difference between a deliberate pace and a slow one. 

Deliberate pacing – be it a burst of flame or a smoldering burn – gives the viewer confidence that the storyteller is in control.  We, the audience, can relax knowing we're in the hands of a competent artist.  Pace is the engine of the story, and no matter what the story is, the pace must continue to move forward.  Marathoners don't start fast, but neither do they meander.  They move forward.  So should your story, so should your characters, so should your edits, music, etc.  Whether it's a sprint, or cross country, everything must move forward.  The pace will change at points along the race, but still – everything must move forward.

As we are moving forward in the selection process.  

From now until the end of the festival, Rule One always applies – until you get a pass letter, you still have a chance – but like the pace, that chance changes over time. Here's what you can expect over the month of April. 

We will finish screening the shorts this week.  Starting now, you should: 1) make sure you received a "thank you for your submission" e-mail.  This confirms your address is correct in our system.  If you haven't, shoot an e-mail to  2) check your e-mail and spam filter at least once a day.  Every year we have filmmakers that fall off the face of the earth.  This is particularly frustrating, as we've put a lot of time and energy in finding films we love – only to be snubbed.  Everyone hates that.

If you haven't heard a peep from us by the middle of April, rule one still applies, but if another festival makes an offer, don’t be stupid.  You can shoot us a quick e-mail to brag and ask if you should take the other festival.  We're not going to say, "You should take that, because our screeners hated your movie!" but we might drop a hint about a bird in the hand.

If you get a second round letter from us, then definitely stay in touch.  Don't worry if you don't get a 3rd round letter.  If you've responded well to our first communication, we might not have to send you another one.  Let us know if you're planning any kind of screening, or have offers from other festivals.  Again, we won't be able to make the decision for you, but we'll want to know what's happening with your movie.  If for no other reason than, we really like it.

Toward the end of April, we're going to have to kick the pace up again and start making announcements to the press.  Last year, some filmmakers who had received second and third round letters got upset when they read the "official" slate in Indiewire.  While that announcement was official – and will be again this year – it doesn't mean it is complete.  Rule one always applies.

Of course, if you haven't heard a peep from us since the "we received your movie" letter, and you see the slate announcement in the press, rule one does still apply.  You do still have a chance to be in the festival, but that chance is now in the realm of Global Climate Change not being man-made, or Evolution being "just a theory."  Believe what you will.  At least with Dances With Films, you'll get a definitive confirmation or denial of your beliefs in the form of a pass letter.  I say this here, so you won't miss out on any opportunities that may come up in the second half of April between our final selections and a "thanks, but" letter.

This is a good opportunity to speak to our friends and alumni.  After 17 years, if we programmed nothing but alumni, we would still have to turn some of you away.  It is unbelievably difficult to tell people who we love and respect, "you didn't make it this time."  It doesn't mean we don't like you.  It doesn't mean your movie isn't any good.  It might mean that some other filmmakers made better movies – but that's a judgment call.

Alumni or newbie – not getting into Dances With Films does nothing to diminish your accomplishments or talents.  We just don't have enough screen time for everyone.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Big Break Theory

I left my blog notes at the Dances With Films screening last night.  No great loss.  My evaluation sheets, along with everyone else's, were turned in and that's what really matters.  The problems we saw were all things I've already talked about this year – mostly bad piano scoring.  One film with this problem was good enough in all other departments to overcome the music.  I think everyone in the room recommended it.

There is a lot of great stuff going on in preparation for the festival, but nothing I can announce yet, so I'm a bit at a loss for words – which will make my many critics happy, and shock my friends.

In thinking what to write this week, I put myself in your shoes.  That's not hard, I've been where you are in the past, and am there now with book submissions and film and TV pitches.  Waiting.  It sucks, I know.

But I'm reminded of some advice I gave a senior class at North Carolina School of the Arts when I was home for a visit more years ago than I care to count.  We got to talking about "The Big Break."  Actors, writers, filmmakers, artists of all kinds are looking for that Big Break.  The project that pushes them forward into a career.

Many of you are on pins and needles right now wondering if Dances With Films will be your Big Break.  I can tell right now, unequivocally, whether you get in the festival or not, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Dances With films will not be your big break.

How can I be so sure?

Because you've already had yours.

When the sperm broke through the egg's defenses, and your DNA lined up in such a way that you were destined to grow up with a functioning brain, and for the most part, a functioning body – that was your Big Break. 

When you were born into a world where the economics were such that the arts as a profession flourish, that was your Big Break.

When you were born into a country that either was not ravaged by war, or if it was, recovered enough that you could pursue your dreams, that was your Big Break.

When you were born into a family that, if they didn't encourage, at least did not stop you from making your dream your career choice, that was your Big Break.

When you found enough friends, family, and friends who have become family, to get behind your dreams, share your vision, and roll up their sleeves (or take out their wallets) to help make that intangible collection of thoughts into something real… that was your Big Break.

The waiting is going to continue for a little while.  It will feel like an eternity.  Some of you will see getting in as winning, and it is.  But there is no losing here.  Creating a work of art – or, if you prefer, entertainment – is a win all by itself.  After such a win, you can't lose. 

You've done the preparation.  You've made your own opportunities.  You've made your own luck.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 24, 2014

After Midnight

Anyone who came of age in the 1970s knows all about midnight movies.  Those were the days of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Eraserhead and anything by John Waters.  Going to a midnight movie then was as much of a party as taking in a flick. 

But you need a special kind of movie to host such an event.  Not just any horror movie will do.  And they don't have to be a horror film.  Boobs and booze comedies make great midnight fare.  For the intellectual hemp heads, there is the absurdist school of, "dude, you just blew my mind," late night mind munch. 

Dances With Films has a long history of holding up the tradition of the classic midnight movie.  From The Corridor, to Chastity Bites, to Disorientation, and many more – we have done our best to keep the party going.  Last year when we expanded to 11 days, aka two weekends, it meant we doubled our midnight movie slots.  We're doing the same this year.

Why do I bring this up?  Because I don't think I've seen 4 midnight-movie-worthy submissions.  If you have a film you think a classy "discovery" type festival like Dances With Films might not accept – you're wrong.  We love crass, campy, crap (said with love).  Got a horror movie that sticks to the 3-Bs rule (Blood, Beasts and Boobs) – send it in.  Drunken frat boys trying to re-create a 1980's John Cusack movie?  Love it.  After the Dances With Kids have gone to bed - we're going to get the party started!

Speaking of movies we love – we discovered some new ones at this week's short screening.  I particularly liked a film that incorporated the sound mix as a major character in the story.  Nice work!

Something we saw last year, and a bit more this year, have been compilations of 4 or 5 episodes of a web series.  These can be fun, but they have a couple of drawbacks.  First, they've already premiered.  They're on the web.  How are we going to get people off of their couches to come see something they've already seen, and can see again anytime they like?  Next, is a lack of an ending.  By definition, a continuing series does just that, continues.  If the episode arc comes to a natural end, like a Tom Baker-era Dr. Who 4-episode story, then fine.  If not, it doesn't work well as a short.

Finally, as we come close to the end of the viewing process, we start to screen the movies with an "N" scribbled on the DVD in blue Sharpe.  The "N" stands for none, as in Premieres.  Not a World Premiere, not an American Premiere, not a West Coast or LA Premiere.  These movies can be frustrating, as they are usually good.  But because they have been seen so much on the circuit, we're less likely to program them, in favor of equally good movies that haven't had those opportunities. 

Often the World Premiere filmmakers have done their homework.  They know our reputation.  They have put other festivals on hold in hopes of a Dances With Films premiere.  Are they going to get preferential treatment?
You betcha!
Thanks for reading.  Good luck.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Round and Round We Go

The time is drawing near.  Our final deadline is March 26th.  Without A Box makes us do a super-final deadline of April 2nd  which drives us crazy!  Please try for the 26th to save our sanity.  FYI, if you HAVE to wait until April, and want to avoid the insane Without A Box late fees, apply directly through the Dances With Films website.  It won't improve your chances, but it might save you some cash.

As one of my commenters noted, second round letters have started to go out.  What does that mean?  What should you do if you get a second round letter?  What if you don't?

What does a second round letter mean? 

First, we don't have official rounds, so if you hear one film got a second round letter, and another got a third, it doesn't mean that you didn't clear to a third round.  We just don't have a good name for, "Screeners have liked this movie, let's check in with them to see what's changed since submissions."  Or, "Okay, we already got in touch with them, but we have a couple more questions."  So don't let that bother you.

Next, if you don't get a second round letter, that doesn't mean anything either… at least, not for the next month or so.  It's entirely possible for you to get a second round letter after we've announced our official slate to the press.  Remember rule #1 – until you get a pass letter, you're still in the running.

What should you do if you get a second round letter?

First, don't lie!  We're going to ask you about your World Premiere Status.  It is much better if you have not premiered, but we can live with a West Coast Premiere if we love the film and the filmmakers.  We'd rather be your premiere.  If you have screened somewhere else in Southern California, we're going to smack you upside the head and point you to the MovieMaker Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals Article – but we'll still love you and wish you well – and possibly screen your movie.  But if you lie to us, you're done.  We have the internet.  It's real easy to find out if you've screened anywhere else, so be honest.

This brings me to another point.  The relationship between filmmaker and film festival is a partnership.  One of the reasons we send out so many "rounds" letters is to vet our future partners.   We're going to be working together over the next several weeks, and if you're difficult, we will choose a film of equal quality with pleasant filmmakers.  There is a reason why our alumni network is so strong.  There is a reason why you'll make some of the best friends of your life during this festival.

There's a reason why you should answer your "round" letter quickly, politely, and informatively.  It's called being professional.

What if you don't get a "Round" letter?

I said it before, I'll say it again and again and again… until you get a Pass letter, you're still in the running.  Sure, if it gets to be the first week in May, and a press release has come out saying "the official" slate, and you haven't heard a thing, then your odds are getting long – but it has happened.  If you get an offer from another festival in the next few weeks, please, get in touch with us.  We can't tell you what to do, but we can drop really big hints. 

Okay, enough business.  Let's get back to the quality of what we're seeing in submissions.

Our screening room saw some fantastic short films, and some that were just okay.  Any screener will tell you, they're happy to see great films, and truly horrible ones are easy to reject.  It's the so-so movies where we earn our money.  In many cases, a movie can just lay on the screen.  Nothing jumps out as exciting or stupid.  The audience is left with a feeling of … eh. 

For the filmmaker, it's important to recognize this lack of enthusiasm before the movie is made, while it's still on paper.  Have table reads.  Ask your cast.  Don't take their first response as a viable answer.  They want to be in your movie, even if they think it's not the best script they've ever read.  If the script jumps off the page for the readers, you'll know it.  The energy will become electric.  If the reaction is anything less, then don't go into production.  Re-write.  Find your voice.  Make it pop.  Don't commit to production until every character's objectives are life and death, and every obstacle is insurmountable. 

Speaking of life and death, we saw a great film from the American Film Institute, but my challenge for an AFI comedy still goes unanswered.  Come on, AFI, not every film has to be foreign and important.  Have you seen Sullivan's Travels?  Laughter is as important as drama… often more so.  Make us laugh!

I'll leave you this week with an issue we see quite often – sudden bad language.

Don't get me wrong, I drop the F-bomb as much as the next person in the film industry.  Some of my favorite words have four letters – but if I've written an otherwise family-friendly film, I'm not going to allow a character to start cussing.  This happens late in movies sometimes, which makes it even more noticeable, even offensive to an ear as jaded as mine.  If you've started clean, and are mostly clean, keep it clean.  You will find your screening opportunities widen greatly.

Thanks for reading.  Don't get too nervous over the next week or so, we're still watching movies.  Good luck.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Good Actors Behaving Badly

We had some fantastic short films this week, starting with an animated piece that answers the question of the answer to the ultimate question of the Universe.  When it was over, one of our screeners said, "That was a nice way to start the evening."  I couldn't agree more.

Another terrific animated short was in a style invented forty years before the Vogons thought about building a galactic bypass.  The former film was an exception to the "good logo, bad movie" rule.  The latter, was a fantastic use of black and white, which I've often complained about when not done well.  Thanks to everyone involved in those films, they made the night go faster.

Later in the evening we watched a film with a scientific name and the perfect blend of three voices.  Nice job!

Of the movies that missed the mark, most did so because the actors were put in bad situations.  That's not to be confused with putting characters in bad situations.  That's a good thing.  Treating actors that way is not-so-good. 

There are many ways to leave your actors hanging.  The most obvious one is bad dialogue.  We had a film last night where the characters sounded like they'd been lifted straight from a novel.  If that had been an obvious style decision, like with any Raymond Chandler script, then great!  But, that was not the case.  Every sentence was grammatically correct with vocabulary words any spelling bee winner would be proud of.  Consequently, the actors not only sounded like they were spouting memorized lines, but they all sounded like the same person.  There was no "separation of characters." 

The actors might share some responsibility for this if they didn't bring it up on the set or during rehearsals.  If they did, and the director didn't listen, then that's on the director.  If you're ever directing a project, and the cast say, "This dialogue doesn't feel natural," you have two possible answers:

1)  I know; it's a style – followed by a discussion to make sure the cast are all aware of the style you're shooting for, or:

2) Really?  Show me what you mean – then you listen to what they are saying, and – if they have good point, don't be afraid to go with what they are saying.

Remember, if you have cast, well-trained, experience actors, then you have a tremendous resource on the set.  Use them.  They're actors.  They are used to being used. (That's a joke.  You can laugh).
Bad set-ups are another way to handicap your cast.  If the audience isn't sure what's going on because of the way the shot is framed, then they'll miss the performance.  If an actor looks like they aren't in the same scene as everyone else because of a bad eye-line or background, then their performance will suffer.  Throw in some set dressing, and adjust the shot a little, and the same performance will be a thousand times better.
Sound is also important to an actor's performance.  If we can't hear them, then we won't believe them.  If we hear audio drops, or changing room tone with every cut, then we're taken of the scene without really knowing why.  The actors might look bad for reasons that are beyond their control.  That's not the end of the world, but it does make it harder to cast your next project.
That's it for this week.  We have some exciting things in the works for our almost legal year.  Continue to follow events here, on Facebook, and Twitter #DWF17.  That's for reading.

Monday, March 3, 2014

I Hate Streamers

I don't know if I have regular readers, or if people just check in here to see if they'll find some insight about how their submissions are going – but either way, you might have noticed I didn't post anything last week.  Unfortunately, the flu quarantine we tried a couple of weeks ago didn't work for me.  I missed last week's screening and am just coming out of the fog of yuck.  I'll end up taking home a stack of the shorts to make up for the missed time.

While I was down, I got some online screening links sent over.  We've done a couple of these for last minute submissions in the past, but for some insane reason a few filmmakers have insisted on only submitting via streaming video this year. 


Not so long ago, filmmakers were hesitant to send out screeners of any kind.  They spent years making a movie for the big screen, so they wanted it evaluated in the best possible conditions.  Now, people seem perfectly happy to have us watch their movie on a watch… or a phone, or a tablet.  You have worked so hard, why do you want us to watch it under the worst possible conditions?

Hopefully, you have slaved away to finish your sound, so when it is presented on speakers as big as elephants it will be perfect.  Why then do you want us to listen to it on a laptop with speakers the size of a quarter?

"But," I hear some of you saying, "a DVD screener is SD, and the online file is HD, which is SOOO much better."

No, it's not, and here's why.  Your HD file is streaming at a variable bit rate that you're not in control of.  You have no idea how many mps your streaming service has available, nor how many my service can take.  An HD file streamed at 15 mps is nearly impossible to watch.  It jumps and jitters, turning your hard editing work into Swiss cheese.  If your film is handheld, it will be unwatchable.

And even if the viewer waits to let the file load, you have no control over their processor speed, ram, or how many other programs are fighting for attention.  Your movie might look great on one computer and terrible on another.

Compare that to a well-made SD DVD played on my Play Station 3.  The system does a quick up-res to HD.  Not as good as Blu-Ray, sure, but good enough.  I have a 62" Plasma screen (as opposed to my 17" laptop) and 5.1 surround sound with nice Yamaha speakers.  Not only that, but I'm comfortable on my couch.  I have fewer distractions, so I'm less likely to play a quick game of Free Cell during a slow part of your movie.

Yes, I know that I can hook my laptop up to my TV with an HDMI cable and stream the HD file, but that only makes the slow bit rate or overworked processor even worse and it's a pain in the behind.  Why should I do that, when I can just pop in a DVD?

And those complaints are just the regular viewer side of the equation.  There are also Festival Director Things that make me prefer DVDs.

First, you have to remember, we see a lot of poorly made movies.  Often these have been shot on Digital SLR cameras by people who think reading the manual makes them a DP.  These movies are full of shutter-flutter that make them nauseating to watch on the big screen.  We see movies that are poorly edited, with cuts that don't match, or jump cuts for no reason.  We see movies with bad three-two pull downs, or shot at variable frame rates and pasted together without proper transcodes. 

When watching a poorly streamed movie, it's impossible to know if it's poorly shot, poorly edited, or beautifully made and just looks bad because there was a lot of internet traffic on the server when we watched it.

Another Festival Director Thing that seems petty – and okay, maybe it is, but that doesn't make it not an issue:  When it comes down to making decisions, we stack up DVDs.  "Yes," "No," "Maybe," "Robert's Stack," "Second Looks," etc.  Files do not stack well.  I don't know what we're going to do this year.  Maybe have a piece of paper with the title on it, but that's a poor substitute.  Many times, we need a reminder of how we felt about a movie, so we'll pop the DVD in, watch a few seconds, and say, "Oh, yes!  I love this movie."   Sometimes, the handwritten title on the DVD will spark a memory like the cover of a good book.  It's just not the same as having to find the website and the pass word and hope the wi-fi is working.

All of that said – we will still consider all submissions equally, and my opinion is not the only one at DWF.  If you can only submit online, we will deal with it.  But if you're one of those people who constantly looks for the tiniest edge in how to better your chances, you've just found a big one for DWF. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Just the Docs, Ma'am

We were quarantined this weekend due to the flu.  Since we didn't screen shorts, I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about one of our most difficult formats to program – documentaries.

Among the best things about screening submissions is the exposure to so many great documentaries I would not see otherwise.  If nothing else, they makes for great cocktail party chatter when I want people to leave me alone.  "Oh, yeah, I saw a documentary about that…"  Pretty soon, I have my choice of hors d'oeuvres. 

To me, a documentary filmmaker should think of his/herself not as filmmaker, but a journalist.  Yes, filmmaking skills are required, but a well-shot and edited documentary without good journalism will fail.  A well-researched, well-documented, story will work even if the filmmaking skills are at a minimum.

Another problem with the filmmaker-first approach to docs becomes apparent when we screeners get the feeling the project started with, "I want to make a movie," instead of, "I have an important story to tell."  Sure, it doesn't matter how a filmmaker or journalist started a project, but it does matter if the audience feels a lack of passion behind the camera.

But the hardest question for Dances With Films programmers when it comes to documentaries is, "will people come out to see this movie?"  As I've said here many times before, ticket sales are not a primary concern for DWF, but they are a big one.  We love the sponsors we have – and many smart businesses have benefited by their association with DWF – but, because we are a discovery festival that insists on unknowns, sponsorships are hard to come by.  Ticket sales are an important part of what have kept this fest around for 17 years. 

So when it comes to choosing docs, we have to take into consideration our audience.  Will Los Angelinos get off their couches to come see this movie? 

This is a good question for you, as a filmmaker/journalist, to ask before you submit, or even before you shoot, your movie.  Is this a story that needs telling, and if so, to who?  If your answers are "yes" and "everyone," then you are well on your way to a good documentary.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 10, 2014

On Our Way to Cinematic Gold, Silver, or Bronze

First, a little business.  We're coming up on our first submission deadline, so if you don't want to pay more money for no good reason, finish your films and get them in now.

Our first DVD didn't play.  This happens a lot, which is one reason you'll only see us screen a DVD or Blu-ray during the festival in the direst of emergencies.  In the case of submissions, we'll try to watch it on another machine.  If that doesn't work, we'll contact the filmmaker to supply a replacement.  So, if you think this might have been your movie, don't worry.  If it was, and we can't watch it, you'll know, and we will.

We had a very good "primitive" film with a tight story and a charming cast. While I didn't agree with the political message in the movie, I gave it a good review. Dances With Films takes no sides when it comes to hot-button issues, as long as the movie is well-made and the story is good.

Next was a Sci-Fi short, which is one of my favorite genres, and one of the hardest to pull off on a tight budget.  This one had an interesting way around the budget issue, but the story was hard to follow and wasn't presented in a cinematic fashion.

That film was followed by a wonderfully surreal story with a fantastic cast.  The movie both made sense, and didn't at the same time, which is hard to pull off as well as they did.  The cast & crew had to have a lot of trust in the filmmaker, and they were well rewarded. 

Our next film was bad for so many reasons that lessons can be learned.  Its biggest flaw was exposition.  Characters constantly told each other things both of them already knew they both knew.  We in the audience knew they both knew they knew, so it was clear the writer was having the characters tell each other stuff they know so that we, the audience, can know it, too.  But we don't want to be fed information.  We want to discover it.  Make us guess.  Make us beg to know.  Make it a mystery so we can play the detective.

This bad film also had a horrible sound mix.  Actors with big voices were all close to the mic, those that mumbled were off mic – which is kind of like being just outside the light.  Yes, you can be heard, but everyone knows something is wrong.  In this case, the mumblers couldn't be heard.  Since there was music (yes, bad piano plunking), I got the feeling this filmmaker thinks their audio is finished.  It's not.  This is a big reason why you don't want to submit your film before it's ready for a real audience.  You might tell us "Temp Sound Mix," but we have no way of knowing if your idea of a complete mix matches ours.

The final movie of the night in our screening room, was pretty good but it didn't start out that way.  The photography made it hard to follow the story.  Why?  We couldn't see the actor's eyes.  The eyes are the windows to your character's soul.  With a tiny number of exceptions, if you can't see the actors' eyes, stop.  Fix that.  Use a flashlight with some diffusion paper on it if you have to.  Pump in a little bit of light from their eye level.  You won't be sorry.

Thanks for reading.  If you haven't gotten your submission in.  Do it.  Do it now.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The End Times

We took Super Bowl Sunday off from screening shorts, so I thought this might be a good time to go over what will happen between now and the time we announce our final slate.  For submitters, there is one rule to remember:

Until you get your official pass e-mail from Dances With Films, there is still a chance your movie could be in the festival.

“But Robert,” I hear you saying – because this is a really great internet connection, “you haven’t even sent out second round letters, why are you talking about the end days?”

No matter how many times I say the rule, people forget it.  They get angry when they shouldn’t.  They say things they shouldn’t, and pretty soon they have talked their slim chance down to none.

Case in point:  Last year we had to meet a press deadline with Indiewire before we had every slot filled for the festival.  So we sent the 90% complete list and called it the slate.  Better that story than no story at all, right?  Weeks prior to this, I kept saying, “Until you get your pass letter, you still have a chance to be in the festival.”

Most filmmakers listened.  They realized that, at that late date, their chances were slim – but slim is better than none.  They remained politely quiet, or vocally hopeful, and life was all good.  For them.

Other filmmakers decided we were the scum of the earth because they had to learn from the press that they weren’t in the festival.  They were vocally abusive.  No matter how many times I said that we still had slots to fill, they insisted we didn’t know what we were doing, and how could we be so… (fill in the insult of your choice).  Never mind that most festivals don’t do pass letters at all.  Never mind that some festivals don’t even send out acceptance letters, they just screen your submission DVD.  We were the mean ones.

Now, put yourself in our position.  You’re struggling to decide which film, and which filmmakers, you want to spend two weeks with.  Which ones you want to partner with in the insane process of 11 days of heaven and hell.  On one hand, you have people who are politely quiet, or vocally hopeful.  On the other, are people calling you names.  Obviously, the movies are of similar quality since they are both being considered.  Who would you choose?

Until you get your pass letter, there is still a chance your film could be in the festival.

Second round letters will be going out soon.  Some might already have gone out.  Not getting a second round letter this early in the game means nothing.  Do make sure you got your “we received your submission” e-mail, so you know we have the right address.  Do keep checking your spam filter.  Don’t worry if you don’t get a second round letter for the next few weeks.

Schedules.  Ignore them.  Without A Box forces us to say when we will make/announce our slate long before we know ourselves.  We might be a week or two late.  That’s our problem, not yours.  Please don’t tell us we’re late.  We’re aware of that.  Please don’t tell us we lied.  We didn’t want to set the deadline in the first place.  If you want to go on line to say how excited you are, and how you hope you’ll hear soon, that’s great.  Eager is good.  Anger is not.

Screenings start again next week.  Thanks for reading.  Comments are welcome.

RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman

Monday, January 27, 2014

Good Cupcakes & Good Movies

This week's screening started with maple syrup cupcakes topped with icing and sausage, bacon, or nothing for the veggies.  These were provided by Cuddle Cakes in Burbank, so please shoot Juanita an e-mail to thank her for supporting the festival, and order some of the little temptations for yourself.

From time-to-time on this blog, I just go straight through my notes for each movie as it happens.  This post is one of those times, with a few annotations where applicable.

Film #1 – Good sound.  Good cast (Spanish-speaking).  Filmmaker is in control.  Nice to see a film that's not set in the filmmaker's apartment.  MUST SEE.

ANNOTATION – The key note here is "Filmmaker is in control."  What I'm telling myself is that, from the combination of good dialogue, good cast, and good technical skills, I feel like I can trust this storyteller.  If I have a question about what's happening on the screen, I trust that I won't have a question by the end of the movie.  That's very important at this "raw art" level of screening.

The "filmmaker's apartment" comment is a little snide way of saying I liked the location.  In many ways it was just a family dwelling – at the same time, it felt like they were living in a cave.  It suited the story well, was completely dressed, and most important, it was interesting.  Nice job.

Film #2 – Bad Sound.  Bad Video.  Campy style.  Funny, but production quality is too low to put on a big screen.  Bad Ending.  PASS

ANNOTATION – Some people in the room liked this film, so it will get another look, but the audio is so bad I have deep reservations.  Most of the dialogue clips – meaning, in short, the volume was recorded in such a way that the sound waves were too big to fit in the machine.  Literally, the tops and bottoms of the sound waves are clipped off.  This makes for pops and clicks that, when played on speakers the size of a house like they have at the Chinese Theatre, are painful to hear.  Yes, we've screened movies with bad sound before, but those films have had exceptional stories.  This one – in my opinion, didn't have the story or filmmaking skills to overcome the bad audio. 

"Campy Style" by the way, is a compliment.

Film #3 – Bad acting.  Bad sound.  That over-used feedback sound effect.  On the nose dialogue.  PASS.

ANNOTATION – "On The Nose Dialogue" happens a lot.  Anytime you're writing a character telling us what they feel, then it can almost always be cut – unless they are wrong or lying.  Think about it.  How often in life has someone told you exactly what they are feeling, or doing, or explained to you for the benefit of anyone who might be listening exactly what the eavesdropper needs to know to follow the plot of your life?  Write dialogue like dialogue, not like a synopsis.

Film #4 – This filmmaker is in control.  Good characters.  Great Dialogue.  Brilliant movie.  Nice to see the snow in NYC put to good use.  MUST SEE.

Film #5 – Just really, really bad.  PASS.

Film #6 – Good cast.  Good dialogue.  Nice showcase for young talent.  Good, campy, horror.  Good ending.  MUST SEE


Film #6 – Good logo.  (FYI – the rule of thumb is, "Good Logo = Bad Movie").  Poetic dialogue.  Points for trying, but it becomes cliché.  Good filmmaking skills.  Uneven talent.  So-so script.  Big Logic hole.  SECOND LOOK.

ANNOTATION – I have a sensitive ear for cliché dialogue – and the "good filmmaking skills" is always worth a second look.  Often, in a discovery festival like ours, the talent of the production team might outshine the script or cast – and that can be worth a screening.  This film will be on the bubble.  Things like, the quality of all the other submissions, its world premiere status, is it local, etc. will help tip it in or out.

Film #7 – A recognizable character actor.  Textbook shots.  Good dialogue.  Good film.  MUST SEE.

ANNOTATION – I happen to love the actor who is in this movie.  If this film gets into competition, we'll get some flak from people outside of Hollywood about it having a "star," but DWF has never had a policy against working actors, or character actors.  Just because you recognize their face, doesn't mean they are a star.  If you have to say, "It's… you know, that guy, from that movie with the superhero…" then you're talking about a fine character actor – not someone that a banker will open their checkbook for.

"Textbook shots" is not necessarily a compliment.  It can also mean "well-done, but uninspired."  In this case, I think the filmmaker will soon throw the textbook away, and that will open his/her career to a new level.  There's two steps to any artistic training: First, learning the right way to do it - then forgetting everything and doing it your way.  Both steps are necessary for greatness.

We finished out the night with music videos, which are always hard to judge.  We end up with a few categories.  Good song?  Good singer?  Good band?  Good filmmaking skills?  The first one had it all.  The second was fun.  Good song.  Good singer for the genre.  Not the best filmmaking skills, but not bad.  I didn't bring home any notes on the third one, so I don't remember it.  That means, I'll probably have to watch it again when it comes time to decision-making.  After a decade-plus, you'd think I'd learn!

Thanks for reading.  Comments welcome.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Know Thy Market

We had three of four 30-minute-plus documentaries at our screening last night, which is fine for the festival world, but filmmakers – like every artist who has ever existed – have to be aware of their markets.  Plays from Ancient Greece all have about the same runtime, and most of them end in some kind of Deus ex machine.  Comedia del Arte used stock characters everyone could understand from a distance without having to hear the words.  Etc.

Yes, in every time, artists came along and broke the mold, but they are few and far between.  Yes, given the insanity of online distribution, no one really knows what the mold is anymore –but, there is still television, which is where most docs under 2 hours look to pay for themselves – which is important if the filmmaker wants to keep on working.  On PBS, a 30 minute doc can be truly 30 minutes, but most are between 23 and 28.  None are 32, or 34, or anything over 30 and less than 45 – which is where you begin to be an hour long doc. 

Festivals have problems programming shorts that are longer than 10 minutes.  We'll do it, but it's a struggle.  DWF, will often program long shorts on a similar subject into one screening block, but you have to hope your 30-minute doc fits thematically with other long-short docs. 

And I have yet to see a 30+ minute doc that wouldn't be better at 20-something minutes or less.

We had a couple of erotic short films, which can be fun.  One was a hit.  One prompted a screener to say, "How could they make porn boring?"  (Don't analyze that comment too much, all roads lead to therapy.)

I'm going to coin a new genre here – Techno-Romance.  We've seen a few of those in the past, some good, some not.  A Techno-Romance is any Romantic story where technology drives the coming together of the couple.  You heard it here first – even if You've Got Mail is an old movie.

We had film last night that speaks to the balance we talked about in some recent comments – that is, the balance between storytelling and filmmaking skills.  Come to think of it, the film last night that got me on this train of thought had neither, but we can all learn from it.  Some people have interesting stories to tell, but they have no idea how to make a movie.  Some are great filmmakers, but have nothing interesting to say.  Any good film needs to combine these two diverse departments at an equally high level. 

We ended the night on a good note, literally.  We watched what I called a "black and white Fantasia." It was a joy, thank you for that.  I believe it has screened in several festivals, so it will be a fight to get it into DWF.  That's a reminder to everyone – keep your powder dry when it comes to premieres.  As we become more of a premiere-oriented festival, it gets harder and harder to squeeze in one or two excellent movies that have been seen at some beach festival, or screened with a thousand other shorts in Hollywood.  

Still – I'll be in there fighting for the ink spots.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Please, Shoot the Piano Player!

We had a crowd of screeners last night.  It’s often that way early in the season.  We’ll see how long the new folks (or the old) last, as the new people learn that exposing oneself to raw art is hard work, the old folks burn out.

We were greeted by a night of horrendous piano music in both screening rooms, as it becomes clear that new filmmakers are not taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge presented here over the years.  Look back on past posts about film scores and you’ll see that time and time again movies come in with wall-to-wall piano plunking, often accompanied by a cello or synthesized strings.  People, film scoring is an art unto itself.  It’s not just any ole music played throughout, and no music is better bad music.  Seriously, if you haven’t submitted your film and you have a score of nothing but random piano cords, you’ll be better off taking it all out.  If you have submitted, and you’re worried that the music will make us pass on your film completely, don’t.  No film is perfect.  If you’re strong in other areas, we let my little nitpickings slide, but in general, the less we have to let slide, the better.

We had a nice short doc that made me compliment it for the journalistic integrity, which is rare these days.  If you’re making a Doc, or considering one, remember, you’re a journalist first, filmmaker second.  Even if it’s an opinion essay, like Michael Moore’s work, it still needs to be in the style of good journalistic editorials.
Speaking of essays – we had our first 100% voice over film of the season.  We get these a lot, and sometimes they are good, sometimes great, but more often they get a big PASS.  When you limit yourself to just a single voice in a movie, you have to understand what a burden you’re starting out with.  One voice, one point of view.  That voice and the story must be engaging enough to hold our attention.  The words must all be special.  And when the narrator isn’t speaking, the pictures must be strong enough to hold their own.  It’s a big challenge.  Live up to it, or crash and burn.

This brings me to another thing we see over and over again – the total hyphenate.  A multi-hyphenate is the writer-producer-director.  A total hyphenate is the idiot who does everything and doesn’t listen anyone’s input – and it shows.  At every level of production, from “I’m thinking of making a movie” through script drafts, on the set, and in the edit bay, get other people’s opinions.  Sure, they might all say “it’s great, honey,” so you’ll have to read between the lines.  You’ll also have to find people who give, good, professional feedback.  The film industry isn’t non-competitive soccer.  Awards (and jobs) do not go out to everyone who participates.  Get help at every step of the process.

We had a couple of movies with great kids in the cast in very different projects.  From 1960’s little-known Cold War History, to lessons on gun control & gardening – we saw some future stars in action.  Nice job, kids.  (And the adults, too).

I’d like to leave this post with a challenge to the American Film Institute.  We see your submissions year after year, and they are often some of the best films we see – but they are all so heavy.  The one we saw last night was fantastic, but just once, I’d like to see a comedy from AFI.  Please!
If you can do that, then maybe we can get USC to make a movie that isn’t a visual effects extravaganza.