Archive for June, 2010

Meet Jon Gann of DC Shorts

June 28, 2010

Jon Gann is a filmmaker, the founder of the DC Film Alliance and the creator of the DC Shorts Film Festival.  He and I talked last week and we hit on a number of subjects.

KB: How did all this come about?

JG: In 2003, I traveled around the globe to support my short “Cyberslut” — at the time, the most successful gay-themed short film, playing over 50 festivals. After visiting a few dozen festivals over the course of a year, I was disillusioned by the whole festival circuit. It was clear that many festivals were concerned about money and sponsors and patrons and parties, and caring about films and filmmakers — especially those who created short films — was not a priority. One festival, the Ashland Independent Film Festival in little Ashland, Oregon was an amazing exception. If you made your way to the festival, the organizers made sure you were fed, housed and had access to all of the filmmakers and films. It was an eye opener. By the time I made my way back to DC, the seed was planted. I called my dear friend, Gene Cowan, who had previously helped me with motion graphics for a few films, and is a techno-junkie. I told him my idea and he laughed!  Then in typical Lucy-and-Ethel fashion, he acquiesced and joined me.

It was around this time that I already created the DC Film Salon and was making headway into DC’s previously closed film community. I just figured a festival in with my idea of opening up the industry to as many people as possible.  After a few years, with the help of some friends and supporters, I formally formed the non-profit DC Film Alliance as an umbrella organization to manage all of these pet projects.

KB: What can filmmakers get out of DC Shorts that they wouldn’t get at others film festivals?

JG: DC Shorts was designed to be about the filmmaker.  From our detailed, yet easy-to-understand rules and entry information, to the bug event in which every visiting filmmaker is fed, housed, and offered entry into every film screening and party.  But what I am most proud of is our unique judging process — and our amazing feedback system. Our judges use a proprietary software program we developed which not only helps us choose films, but at the end of the selection process, is opened up so everyone can see the judges scores and comments.  This feedback, if used and understood, can help a film in its path to success.

KB: What is Script DC and how can someone apply?

JG: Washington, DC is a big film town — probably the third largest in the country.  With an industry that large, we have many organizations — all of which were programming screenwriting conferences.  I felt that 5 conferences a year — all offering the same courses — was a little much, and very taxing on resources.  I worked with these organizations to create ScriptDC — a single regional screenwriting conference.  One weekend, many courses for writers of every level — and plenty of opportunities to hear scripts read aloud, pitch producers, and network with filmmakers.

KB: You consult on Film Festival Strategies for filmmakers.  What does that entail and why is it important?

JG: Every week, I receive calls from young filmmakers who are looking for answers to why their film is not succeeding as they anticipated.  For some, it is the film itself.  For others, it is their festival strategy.  And for many, it is unrealistic expectations of the industry.  A few years ago, I started Reel Plan to help independent filmmakers plan the future of their film. Our consultants have many years of experience as award-winning filmmakers, festival judges, script analysts, directors of major film festivals, and successful media strategists. We have traveled the world attending film festivals, screening events and broadcast launches.

In order to determine if a film will benefit from our services, we begin with a written interview, which is followed up by a phone call and a viewing of the movie. From this information, we provide a quick analysis, some simple suggestions for how to start a new strategy, and a determination if your film is a proper fit for the next step.

Of the hundreds of short films we watch every year, only a small percentage of films have the chops to make the festival circuit pay. If we take you on as a client, it means we believe in you and your film. And we are going to do what it takes to help you achieve the success you deserve. While we can’t make any promises or guarantees, we can assure you that our strategies do work for most films.

KB: You screen a lot of movies, what is the biggest mistake you see filmmakers make?

JG: Well, it seems that we fixed the picture issues of the past.  Inexpensive HD cameras are everywhere (including your cell phone), so the look of today’s shorts is incredible. The biggest faults are: sound design and story.

I still see beautifully filmed projects which sound as though the microphone was a block away.  Or music mixes which drown out the dialogue.  Audiences will forgive bad picture, often thinking it was an artistic choice.  No one can forgive bad sound — as soon as an audience member thinks, “what did he say?!” you have lost them — probably for the rest of the film.

Filmmaking is visual storytelling.  All films — even experimental — rely on a coherent and compelling story.  Most film schools are quick to stress the technical aspects of filmmaking — and often forget about the writing. It shows in their students’ work, and it shows on screen.  Concentrate on the story, and the rest will come together.

KB: If I want to know about how you can help me, how can I get hold of you?  Or can I?

JG: While I try to help every filmmaker who emails, I often need time to concentrate on DC Shorts or other projects I am managing.  My consulting practice is online at http://ReelPlan.com — and there are links there to email me with your questions or comments.

KB: What obstacles did you have to overcome to make the DC Film Alliance work?

JG: I found that other festivals were concerned about how a new event would affect them. Many had been around for a while and invested a great deal to ensure their continued success. I think they were amazed that by adding a new festival, it created more demand to attend other film events.

Since starting the DC Film Salon and DC Shorts Festival and then rolling them into the DC Film Alliance, I have found that organizations are reluctant to share resources for fear of becoming irrelevant or having to use their energy to compete. The truth has been that as the film community has become more open (in part to the digital revolution), organizations are seeing memberships increase, and their role as more influential than before. I honestly believe that if we all played in the same sandbox, we’d all be a lot happier, and maybe relaxed.

KB: Was there a moment when you knew that DC Shorts would work?

JG: The night before the first screening, we sold out the show. Then the phone began to ring with people clamoring for tickets and to be put on the wait list. When I arrived at the theater at 10 AM the next day, there was a line to be included on the list for the 3 PM show. That’s when I finally began to relax.

KB: What did you gain from creating film festival?

JG: My hair went grey faster, and I gained a few pounds. But seriously, I think the experience — and the planning of subsequent festivals has allowed me to put my talents into perspective. I see hundreds of short films every year. I see some awful crap, and a few films of true genius.

I might be a good film director, but I am not a great director. It’s better that I help talented filmmakers to reach for a higher level — linking them with the right people and community. In helping them achieve greatness, I get the satisfaction of making the industry a little better. And the praise is more than enough for me.

KB: I understand that you are going to be touring with me for part of the Fall Tour, are you and Pilot the opening act, or am I?

JG: I think we are both the opening act for Pilot.  In my opinion, there are few people in the industry as genuine and honest as you — which is precisely the reason why you (and I) are sometimes shunned by the so-called “insiders.”  Filmmakers deserve honest and clear answers to their questions.  I think that this is the quality which endears us to audiences — and why people often come to hear us speak.

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My New Film

June 23, 2010

My New Film is almost 28 years old. And that’s why I need your help.

I started shooting my documentary Dangerous: Kay Boyle in 1986.

This film needs to get finished and that’s why I am posting this.

Kay Boyle was an extraordinary woman. When I met her she was one of the last living American Expatriates from Paris in the 1920’s. She witnessed and wrote about almost every major of the event of the 20th Century. In addition to the eighteen novels, sixty short stories, children’s books, the volumes of poetry and essays she wrote, she still found time to have three husbands and six children. She lived a life that most of us could only dream of and she always went out of her way to help people that were less fortunate than she was.

I got to know Kay in the last few years of her life and she was a vibrant personality. I filmed with her, Studs Terkel, Grace Paley, Jessica Mitford, and many other close friends and family. Her legacy needs to live on and it will in this film.

I need to raise $6000 to have the 25,000 feet of original camera negative transferred to tape so I can edit this movie. I have negotiated a great price with a company specializing in film to tape transfers.

I know times are tough and the economy is in bad shape, but I am hoping you could contribute something. $25, $50, $100 or more. However you can help.

Please go to my website (http://www.angryfilmmaker.com) go to the menu bar, scroll over “Kay Boyle” and learn more about this amazing woman. You will also find PayPal Donate buttons there at the bottom of the pages. It only takes a minute to donate and it would mean a lot to me.

Oh and Harris (my attorney) wants me to tell you that your contribution is not tax deductible. It is considered a gift. And no, you don’t own a piece of the movie, but maybe I can get you nice seats at the premiere.

Thanks for reading this I really do appreciate it.

Sincerely,

Kelley

PS If you would rather send a check Please make it out to Square One Productions and put in the memo space that it is for the “Kay Boyle Film” and send it to…

Kelley Baker
PO Box 8322
Portland, OR 97207

Birddog, The IRS and Why I Wrote My Book

June 20, 2010

Meet Jon Ashby of Film Rogue.

June 15, 2010

Film Rogue is a website dedicated to Independent film and is a favorite of mine, why sometimes I even write for them.  I talked to Jon last week.

KB: What’s your background in film/video?

JA: Years back in high school I already had a good idea what I wanted to do, so I took a job with a local post-production facility where I worked for school credit.  Basically enslaved myself for educational purposes.  From there getting into film school was pretty easy, but after a few years there I found out finding work in the industry was a little tougher, especially in Alberta.  So I took a job in news and worked my way up there, cutting ENG and directing our live broadcasts.  During that time I shot a few films, a web series, and a news-magazine style show called Rewind which promoted ultra-low-budget filmmaking.  It got pretty popular and spawned the website RewindVideo.com and its film festival state-side.

KB: You started a web site called Common Film which became Film Rogue.  Why did you start the website in the first place?

JA: Well after about eight years or so Rewind faded into the sunset so to speak, but I still wanted to promote film and support filmmakers in the way I’d done for so many years before.  On the other hand, I wanted to step things up quality-wise and see some more developed talent.  I came up with the idea of Common Film as a way for producers to share produced material in an open way under creative commons licensing.  (Thus the name.)  My thinking was that if we shared media and remixed each other’s stuff some cool things might come out of the ether.  After a year or so though it never really picked up, so I decided to turn my focus to what I’ve always done best, critiquing film and promoting production and distribution of indie cinema.  I revamped the site and renamed it Film Rogue, rebranded the podcasts I produce, and here we are.

KB: Why the name change?

JA: Well I ditched the creative commons experiment, so the name Common Film didn’t really fit anymore.  I wanted something that spoke more to the independent spirit of the films I was promoting.  And not indie as in ‘Sony just backed me for 3 mil’ indie, I mean REAL indie.  Shooting without permits indie.  Everyone on deferment indie.  I’m not against budgets, but I didn’t want to see that studio brand of fake-independent film.  I actually polled the membership of Common Film for feedback and ultimately decided on Film Rogue.

KB: What can filmmakers get out of your site?

JA: It’s a great way to share and promote released work or work in progress.  We have forums specifically for filmmakers where we discuss everything from things we’re working on to low-budget film and video technique.  It’s a tight little group but we welcome any creative spirits like ourselves to drop in and get involved.  For producers who have films out, we offer objective reviews from a panel of film critics, as well as interviews on our podcasts.  The MicroCinemaScene podcast has a great listenership and we jam with a lot of different filmmakers so it’s an excellent way to get word of mouth going.  Ultimately it’s a great site to seek out exposure for films that might otherwise have a hard time with it.  Down the road I plan to launch a new film event that screens the best of the entries we get.

KB: You review a lot of films, how do I go about submitting something to you?

JA: Right from the Film Rogue homepage you can click Submissions at the top.  It includes all the info you need.  Of course it’s really simple – just mail us your DVD screener.  A little patience is required; we get a lot of entries.  Eventually though we get to everyone and in most cases will arrange for an interview on the show.

KB: What are the advantages to being a member?

JA: Forum access is the biggest one.  As we amp up our marketing a bit we’ll have some giveaways and promotions that will be available to the membership.  Also members can get discounts now and then on things like subscriptions to film magazines, stuff like that.  I also offer free ads to members with quality sites and those fundraising for production.

KB: What else do you want to tell me about Film Rogue?

JA: While I’ve been doing the film site thing for about a decade now, FR is relatively young.  I’m not just looking for members, but writing contributors who want to help get the word out about indie cinema.  I encourage members to write in about the stuff they’ve seen and to spread the word, if they caught a really cool film, if they had an interesting experience at a film festival, if they’ve gone broke trying to finance their film and want to share their mistakes so others can benefit. These are the sorts of articles I’d love to publish.  Hopefully we’ll get more writers involved as the site grows.  We’ve made a lot of changes recently to make membership fast and easy, so I invite anyone and everyone to stop by and check it out.  Just make sure your web browser is up-to-date – it’s an intense site!

Go to: http://www.filmrogue.com

Part 2 of the Interview by John Gaspard

June 4, 2010

This is part 2 of an interview I did with John Gaspard awhile back for his blog Fast Cheap Movie Thoughts (http://fastcheapmoviethoughts.blogspot.com/)

What’s the smartest thing a filmmaker can do before starting their feature? What’s the dumbest?

Spend time in pre-production!  Too many filmmakers think if you’re not shooting you’re not making a movie.  I spend 3 – 4 months easily in pre-production.  I try to work everything out long before I start shooting.  I rehearse for weeks, just like I’m doing a play.  I want all of the actors to know their parts and their characters long before we start shooting.

I only write for locations I know I can get, and I don’t write scenes I know I can’s shoot, (like car chases).

I continue to write throughout this period as well.  On Birddog I started pre-production with draft 11 of my script and still made changes throughout the process.  On all of my films I don’t even think about shooting until I have done a ton of drafts.  I have people I trust read my scripts and get lots of feedback.  Your odds of making a good film increase if you have really worked the script over and over.  If you have done the work to have a good script the odds get better that you’ll make a good movie.  You can still make a bad movie from a good script though, this isn’t a science.

I think you just really need to take your time in pre-pro, don’t rush it.  Since I never have any money the better organized I am the more efficiently I work and the smoother my shoots go.

As far as the dumbest, I think that is to hurry up everything so you can start shooting long before you’re ready.  And using your credit cards.  Using friends who aren’t actors in your films.  Your friends aren’t good actors no matter what you think.  Get good actors.  I think there are lots of dumb things you can do if you don’t take your time.

What’s the best advice you ever got about filmmaking?

You need to be a shameless self-promoter and self distribute your work.  We always hear those bullshit lines; I make my films by any means necessary!  Well why aren’t you getting your films out by any means necessary?  Why are you sitting on your ass waiting to see if you got in to some film festival?  Why aren’t you burning DVDs and selling them at screenings?   Why aren’t you promoting your movie on the internet?  You gotta get the word out, and you have to do it yourself.  It has to do with getting your films seen.  If no one sees your movies how are you going to build an audience?  I tour, I teach and I have developed a fan base.  One person at a time!  Has it been easy?  No.  It’s not supposed to be.  At then end of the day all you have is your work and if no one knows about it or you, whose fault is that?

Finally, which current filmmakers (independent or otherwise) inspire you?

I will watch anything that John Sayles does.  Same with Jim Jarmusch although I thought that Broken Flowers sucked!   I like Danny Boyd’s work, Brian Johnson, Beth Harrington, John deGraff, lots of people that most people have never heard of.  Janet McIntyre is a filmmaker to watch, she makes docs.

I watch lots of different types of films so I am inspired by films more than I am filmmakers.   I still try and watch lots of docs and foreign films to get a different point of view of the world.

I actually think I am more inspired by writers and musicians than I am by filmmakers.  I am inspired by people who don’t give a shit what others think, they push forward and make the things that they want to make.   I like things that are passionate in some way or another.

I don’t have a television so I read more than most people and I love to visit museums.  That is the way I have always been…

Did I answer the question?

Part One of an Interview I did for John Gaspard @ Fast Cheap Movie Thoughts

June 2, 2010

This is Part One of an interview I did with John Gaspard awhile back for his blog Fast Cheap Movie Thoughts (http://fastcheapmoviethoughts.blogspot.com/) It’s a good site, check it out.

Why are you angry?

I’m angry for a lot of reasons. I’m pissed that good films can’t get distributors because they don’t have stars. I am angry that all sorts of Hollywood 5 and 10 million dollar pictures are called “independent” when they’re not. I’m angry because a lot of doors have been closed to Real Independent Filmmakers and very few filmmakers seem to care. I see filmmakers give their movies to distributors for nothing, no advance. If you don’t get an advance you’ll probably never see any money!

I see too many people wanting to be filmmakers for the wrong reasons, to make lots of money and to be famous. And filmmakers aren’t working together to help each other. So many independent filmmakers from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were going to change the system, and now they are part of it. They are more interested in money and being critical darlings then fighting the system the way they once were. They have been sucked in to the system and most went down without a fight.

What’s wrong with independent film today?

The independent film industry is no longer even remotely independent. It’s been mainstreamed by
Hollywood and is now simply another over-hyped product. Like commercial radio, pop music and Starbucks coffee, the industry has become a homogenized mess of conglomerates owned by a
handful of extremely powerful corporations. It begs the question: Independent from what?

We need to take the word “Independent” back!

Indie has become a marketing phrase. I have a tough time sitting through a ten million dollar “indie” movie. I want people to recognize that “indie” doesn’t mean stars and all of that other
crap. WE are Independent Filmmakers” and WE make movies whether WE have a deal or not. I want to see more theaters and media art centers providing places for us to show our work,
instead of just giving us lip service about how they support independent film. I am fed up with these “independent” film festivals that show all these movies with big names in them.

Real Independent Films are still being made; they just don’t have access to audiences. I always say that independent filmmaking is a live and well, it’s independent distribution that is dead. You have to play by the industry’s rules to get your film seen if you want a decent sized audience.

I opt to do things differently. Like early punk bands we have to find our audiences and cultivate them. That’s why I spend half the year on the road touring and showing my films.

I’ve told filmmakers forever to never put their films on credit cards. Give me your best argument against that habit.

I’ll use my own experience for this one.

I spent a ton of money on my first feature, Birddog. A lot of people told me they would help me get distribution when I made my first feature. I believed them and I probably shouldn’t have. I was the Sound Designer on films like Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho, Far From Heaven and Finding Forrester. I had my “indie street cred” but that didn’t seem to matter ultimately. I had a screening for friends in LA and everyone liked the movie, then they told me how hard it was to get a distributor and they all walked away.

No one helped. So I arranged screenings for distributors, I screened in LA, New York, Toronto and London. We also had it at the IFFM. The distributors all said the same thing, “We really like this movie but we can’t distribute it because it has no famous stars in it”. I told them it was an independent film and they said that was fine, but if you make an “independent” film you still need a big star in it.

Anyway, I ended up owing a ton of money to the IRS… Since all of these people had said they were going to help me find a distributor I took all of the money I should have paid in taxes and used that to fund the film. When it didn’t get picked up … I still owed the money. It took my lawyer and I seven years of dealing with the IRS to finally get everything straightened out. Ultimately I had to sell my home of twenty years and just about everything I owned. It was hell!

I gambled and I lost. I understand that. I listened to certain people that I shouldn’t have trusted. Ultimately it was my fault. I made the decisions and I paid the price. I don’t want others to go through what I did.

There is no guarantee you will get a distributor, (if you want one), and most people end up paying off their movies working jobs that they hate at 30% interest.

Don’t use credit cards or go way in to debt; if you do you’ll be one of those people.

I’ll post Part 2 later in the week. Check back.

My No Budget Filmmaking Class starts soon in Portland

June 1, 2010

Don’t forget my class on No Budget Filmmaking starts soon. There is still space available.

For more information check out http://www.nwfilm.org/education/classes/core/#90

You know you want to take this class…

Kelley