Sunday, November 16, 2008

Festival Reflections

Just got back from the Red Rock Film Festival in Springdale, Utah ("gateway to Zion National Park") and really enjoyed the long weekend. Part of my festival selection strategy is whether I want to visit the festival's location. This is probably the worst sort of promotional strategy - ranking location over prestige. But you know what, some of the best festivals I've been to have been smaller festivals in smaller towns. More on this in a minute.

Our 10th and last scheduled film festival is next weekend - the Paso Robles Digital Film Festival. As with Springdale, I am looking forward to visiting this beautiful location in Central California, near San Luis Obispo.

Now that my film festival run is almost over, here's a few observations.
1. The locals in small towns are generally more likely to attend film screenings, possibly because the nearest multiplex is at least 30 miles away. Or maybe it takes a true independent spirit to move to a remote location like Springdale, Utah. Even with local attendees, the most people I have ever had attend a screening, not related to me or a cast member, was about 20. This was at the Fallbrook Film Festival, and did not include the students I bribed with extra credit to attend. The smallest audience we ever had was at a film festival in Pasadena - zero. Probably because there are a million multiplexes within a 10 mile radius, and our screening time was something like 10:00 a.m. on a Thursday. We were also competing with three other festival films screening at the exact same time.
2. Some festivals will notify you well in advance (by email, possibly by phone) of your acceptance or rejection. Some are a little more belated than others. We did not find out til last week that we were accepted to Paso Robles. Some festivals do not notify you at all, such as the Temecula Valley Film Festival and the Malibu Film Festival. You just have to keep checking their website to see if they've posted their schedule. And when they don't get around to this until way after their official "notify" date (again, Temecula), you are clinging to hope for months and months. In my opinion, it is the epitome of rudeness to not take the time to notify a filmmaker whether they have been accepted or rejected. We have paid good money to enter their festival.
3. The festival that took the longest time to notify entrants was GirlFest in Hawaii. I believe they went 4 weeks past their official notify date. The West Hollywood Film Festival took a close second - 3 weeks.
4. Most rejection letters are polite and encouraging. "Thank you for your entry. We had so many wonderful entries this year that it was difficult to choose. Unfortunately, we did not choose yours. However, congratulations in the completion of your film, and good luck in the future." The tersest rejection came from the Mt. Shasta Film Festival: "Your film will not be screening at our festival this year." Maybe I read too much into this brief statement. But combined with the fact that this was the only festival to RETURN MY DVD, it seemed like they were so offended that they didn't even want the DVD to sully their trash can. Like an unwanted oijii board.
5. Festivals will charge filmmakers between $0-$150 to attend the award ceremony. Thank you Red Rock for not only providing a free award ceremony, but a free breakfast buffet.
6. Most festivals give participating filmmakers goodie bags, which are usually small gift bags with promotional items with the film festival logo (pens, pins, etc.) and small items donated by local merchants. I love goodie bags and even more, I love the FILMMAKER NAME BADGES. I have a whole collection of these. I would wear them every day if I could.
7. Some film festivals will only give out a few awards - Best Documentary Short, Best Documentary Feature, Best Narrative Short, Best Narrative Feature. When a festival screens over a hundred films over the course of a week (like the Riverside International Film Festival) , they should give out more awards than that . They're free to give out (we're perfectly happy with 8x10 certificates) and make the filmmakers very, very happy. The festivals that give out the most awards are the Digital Video & High Def Festival and the AOF Film Festival. Further, I enjoyed their awards ceremonies not only because I won an award, but because they showed clips of the nominated films, just like the Oscars. So fellow filmmakers - do a little research. Go to the festival's website and check out how many films they accepted the previous year (as well as the type), and how many awards they gave out. Also, if a festival only runs 2 days, chances are you won't even get accepted.
8. Don't limit yourself to the festival listings on WithoutaBox.com. There are several international film festivals with NO entry fee.
9. Don't get discouraged when you get rejected. Some people will love your movie, others will not. It's hard to second guess why you get rejected. Was the quality of the film production poor? Did the script suck? Was the content and/or dialogue offensive? Who knows, because 99% of the film festivals will not give you personalized feedback with your rejection letter. So don't try to second guess.
10. If you've been rejected by 100 festivals and accepted to none, then maybe you should try to second guess.
11. Do not shy away from 1st year festivals. Some of the best organized and executed festivals I attended were 1st or 2nd year festivals. You have a greater chance of getting in (because they will only get a few hundred entries, as opposed to a few thousand), and the enthusiasm level of the organizers is high.
12. Defying Gravity has screened in everything from small hotel conference rooms to large multiplex theaters. So don't expect a red carpet and searchlights. I am grateful for every opportunity I've had to share my movie, and I'm still amazed and grateful that people show up.
13. Every audience laughs at different lines. Sometimes they laugh at lines that I never intended to be funny, but more often than not they will not laugh at lines I do intend to be funny. However the three most consistent laugh-getters are (a) when Shore gets hit in the face with a water balloon, (b) when Jorge says, "That's an awful lot of energy. Do you need protective gear?" and (c) when Lola says, "Let's pick a font." Which is totally brilliant, because Willam ad-libbed that line.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Gravity picks up Momentum

A friend pointed out that I have been very lax about keeping this blog up-to-date. So, here's a pictorial overview of what's been going on the past few months, and let's see if I can edit the blogger html to get these photos in the right places:

BEST LGBT AWARD - AOF INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, PASADENA - July 31, 2008




Oh good, it worked. If you don't always want the photo glued to the top of the post, then take the style ="..." out of the img tag, then copy and paste the image to wherever you want it to occur within the text. Okay, enough html blogger hints. Back to the overview.

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE AWARD - WILDWOOD BY THE SEA FILM FESTIVAL, NJ - Sept.28, 2008


This award was completely unexpected and totally cool, because we won over 'Romance and Cigarettes', which was written and directed by John Turturro, executive produced by the Coen Brothers, and starred Christopher Walken, Susan Sarandon, and James Gandolfino. Considering that I was profoundly inspired by 'Raising Arizona', just to play in the same festival with the Coen Brothers was an honor. Also playing at the festival was 'David and Fatima' starring Martin Landau and Tony Curtis. Oh, I am going to milk this award for every drop of prestige and then some.

This was also a great event because my good friends Jack and Diane Adams attended, and also Mac's parents Jim and Bonnie Rankin. When they introduced themselves to the audience as Mac's parents, the audience gave them a round of applause!

AAUW (American Association of University Women) BENEFIT SCREENING, SANTA CRUZ - Oct. 4, 2008

This was a great screening because we helped raise money for the scholarship program of the Santa Cruz chapter of the AAUW. About 150 tickets were sold. I flew up Mario, Michael, Lexie, and Mac to appear at the screening, and they received a lot of positive attention from the audience, especially after the screening. They got to sign autographs! Afterward we went to a seafront bar and observed the sociological behavior of single people.

This screening was organized by Craig's mother, Phyllis Edmundson, who labored for months to orchestrate and promote it.

UPCOMING FILM FESTIVALS

Other Venice Film Festival - Oct. 12, 2008 @ 3 PM
The Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Avenue, Venice


La Femme Film Festival - Oct. 17, 2008 @ 6 PM
Fine Arts Theater, 8556 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills



Red Rock Film Festival, Springdale UT - Nov. 14 @ midnight & Nov. 15 @ 10:10 a.m.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Which Do You Want First - the Good News, or the Bad News?


I'm gonna give you the good news first. We've been accepted to the AOF (Action on Film) International Film Festival in Pasadena. We'll screen Monday July 28 in the afternoon. This actually qualifies as GREAT news, because it's been a while since our last acceptance, and I was beginning to feel like my 15 minutes of fame was over. (No retreat! No surrender!) So we're back in the saddle again.

We were also nominated for 4 awards - Best Dramatic Feature, Best Female Filmmaker, Outstanding LGBT Project, and Best Actress in a Feature - Alexandra Mathews. I am so proud of Lexie, and so glad that her awesome performance is finally being recognized. Spoiler Alert - Every time I watch the desert showdown scene in which she finally speaks, I get goosebumps. Which is crazy, because I know what happens. I wrote it. I've seen it dozens of times. But she gets me to suspend my disbelief every time.

And of course I'm thrilled with myself for that BFF nomination. Now, if only they select a winner by means of roller derby, I'm sure I can put on my kneepads and snag that award.

Funny thing about the LGBT nomination. One of the directors of the festival called me and asked if the part of Lola was played by a ... "transgender individual". Yes indeed, I replied. He then asked if I would be offended if I were to be nominated in that category. Not at all, I replied. In fact, it would be an honor. The character of Lola is supposed to show an LGBT character trying to get through life just like the rest of us disenfranchised individuals. And if they wanted to nominate me for Best Project Involving a Cemetery, or Best Car Rental Lady Project, I'd take that too.

Just call me Festival Troll.

Which reminds me, I think the Car Rental Lady was a fascinating yet underrated character, layered with nuance, who deserves a movie spin-off. Something like, Untitled Car Rental Lady/Owen Wilson Project. Or Brendan Fraser and the Car Rental Lady. But I digress.

Oh yeah, the bad news? Ironic. I was glancing through the recently posted list of all nominations on the AOF website, and I almost spit out my diet Dr. Pepper when I saw none other than Flyboys. Oh shit, I thought, there goes the Best Dramatic Feature prize. I did a quick mental check - was it made by a woman? Did they have a transgender individual? No and no. And the bad news is actually not so bad at all. We are not competing against Flyboys in any of the categories. (I think they're in some category like Best Overall Feature). So they won't have to peel my fingers off the coveted Best Dramatic Feature prize just yet ...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fallbrook Film Festival, Part 2



Defying Gravity screened at the FFF on Sat. April 26, one week after the Riverside International Film Festival screening. Fallbrook is a wonderful small town in the northernmost part of San Diego County. This was their first film festival, but you'd never know it. Everything was a class act, from the Opening Night party up to the awards ceremony. We met some really cool fellow filmmakers, as well as the Festival Directors.

The local newspaper ran an article about the festival, with an emphasis on 'Defying Gravity', as I could almost be considered a local girl. (Escondido and Fallbrook are both North County.) We got a B+ review, and the reviewer wrote some very nice things like ""... a funny, poignant and always interesting little film, built on well-designed characters and a fine story." Here's a link to the full article: North County Times Article.

Fallbrook Film Festival invited us to participate on a filmmaker workshop panel, which we (Craig and I) gladly did because we are always happy to share our complete lack of knowledge with people less knowledgeable than ourselves, because it makes us feel more knowledgeable.

Our screening was held in the very quaint retro theatre on Main St., and this was the biggest audience we had yet. Okay yes, several of them were my Math Analysis students whom I bribed, I mean motivated, with extra credit. (They - the students, not the audience - also had to answer questions chosen from the following: (1) prime numbers (2) fibonacci numbers (3) perfect numbers (4) Riemann hypothesis. Coincidentally, just this week a mathematician claimed to have proven the Riemann hypothesis using some sort of Fourier analysis, but he was quickly proven wrong.) Actually, this would be a splendid addition to future screenings - a pop math quiz at the end of the movie.

But I digress. As I was saying, the audience was robust. A lot of locals showed up which was very gratifying. A wonderful Q&A session following the screening. It was also cool that Mac and Mario drove down, as did Shanna and Michael with his parents. I managed to get the actors and director on stage during the Q&A, but they kind of hung back behind me. I felt a little like I was taking the bullets. Which as producer, I am happy to do.

A few of the questions asked were (1) Were Mac and Mario already friends before the movie? and (2) Does Mario really talk like that? The answers were (1) no and (2) no.

Mac got to give out his first official autograph after the screening, to one of my students. She did NOT get bribed with extra credit to request that.

Craig and I made it a point to watch 'Flyboys' at its screening the night before. Recall that Flyboys won Best Feature at the Riverside International Film Festival the week before. I have to say, it is a damn good movie. It's about these adorable pre-teen boys who get into mischief on a stolen private plane, and it starred Stephen Baldwin (!!) and involved mobsters, car chases, a plane crashing into a mountain, and a breathtaking parachute rescue. Clearly out of our league, and out of the league of all the other movies in the festival as well. The actress who conducted the Q&A said that the budget was $2 million. Note, this is about 25 times the budget of ours. Do the math.

As soon as I saw the movie, I thought, We're going to lose again to Flyboys. If you look at their homepage, they have won something like 20 film festivals. Most of them small town film festivals. Meaning most of their competitors are little films like ours.

So I am going to go on the record here, even if it comes across as sour grapes, and say, It's not fair. We're not in the same league. It's like putting Napoleon Dynamite up against Titanic.

Craig and I went to the award ceremony anyway, because it would have been bad form not to. We surreptitiously commiserated with other narrative feature filmmakers who also knew we were all going to lose to Flyboys.

Which is exactly what happened. Flyboys won Best Feature Film.

But, the Fallbrook Film Festival also decided to give out a Director's Choice award. I didn't even want to hold my breath for that. But hope springs eternal. I held my breath...

And we won! You can see me in the photo above holding an almost-translucent laminate film strip, which was our prize. What an incredible, magical feeling!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fallbrook Film Festival, Part 1


I first started submitting to film festivals in January. One of the first I entered was the 1st annual Fallbrook Film Festival because heck, it's the nearest geographically. I've always liked the quaint small town feeling of the avocado capital of the world.

Not long after I submitted - but significantly before the deadline for entries - I got a phone call from one of the festival directors. This was my first phone call from a festival director and I was excited beyond measure. She called to tell me that she loved the movie and how refreshing it was after watching endless submissions about middle-aged men having affairs with young women.

Tip for Filmmakers Making Movies about Middle-Aged Men Having Affairs with Young Women - Do NOT submit this film to film festivals in which the majority of the selection committee are women over the age of 40.

The director went on to say that while she could not officially confirm my acceptance into the festival, she felt that she could impress upon the selection committee how much she liked my movie. She wanted to know IF we were accepted, would we be available on April 25th to be the opening night film? And would we like to participate in any of the workshops? I promised her everything short of the moon.

Three months go by.

I am at school, it is 5 minutes before the final bell will ring, and I have forgotten to turn off my cell phone. It usually doesn't get a signal in the classroom anyway. For some reason, today, I not only get a signal but I get a call. I immediately fish it out, intending to turn it off (I have to set an example for my students), but I notice on the caller ID the name of the Fallbrook Film Festival Director. I have never answered ANY call in my classroom. But there was no way I was going to miss this one. I stepped just outside the doorway, and the festival director informed me that Defying Gravity was indeed an official selection. After ending the call, I was so excited that I yelled to my students, "Guess what! My movie is going to be in the Fallbrook Film Festival!!" And the students, thrilled at any opportunity to cheer loudly, cheered loudly. YAY!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Riverside International Film Festival



The Riverside International Film Festival was fun but uneventful. Craig and I attended both the opening and closing night parties, and I realized that champagne makes conversation with strangers a whole lot easier. Including Michael York, who was there to receive a lifetime achievement award. He definitely deserved it. He was truly a classy gentleman who gave an eloquent and heartfelt acceptance speech. He also seemed truly interested in each person who approached him and asked for a photo. (Who would do something like that?) The other gentleman in the photo is Dr. Dhillon, who is the director of the festival. Another very nice gentleman.

Defying Gravity was shown on a Friday night at 9:30 because they figured we were well suited for the 'late night' crowd. Unfortunately, there was not a big late night crowd. About a dozen people at most. But, the cool thing was that we played in a multiplex. This was our first appearance in a multiplex!

We did not win any awards. They only gave out one award in each category (feature narrative, documentary, short, etc.) and these were determined by audience votes. The winner for narrative feature was a movie called 'Flyboys'.

Stay tuned for more about the Flyboys ...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hell Yeah


Digital Video & High Def Festival 2008

We were nominated for 3 awards - Best Score, Best Drama, and Best Story/Writing. I would have been happy with any one of those. The first category we lost was for Best Score. Okay, I thought, there's still two more. We sat through endless awards - almost as many as the real Academy Awards. (However the organizers did an excellent job of emulating the Oscar ceremony - complete with film clips of nominated movies, and an attractive hostess ripping open the envelope with the award winner).

About two-thirds of the way through, we finally got to Best Dramatic Feature. Since there were only two movies nominated in this category - us and someone else - I figured this was our strongest chance. A 50% chance. If we lost this one, we would be the ONLY LOSER. (Conversely, if we won, that would mean we were only better than one other movie. But who cares, I would have taken that. I wanted the gold statue.)

The clip they showed for 'Defying Gravity' was the one in which Shore is in the cemetery teasing Cassandra with the sketchpad and beanie baby. This was possibly the least dramatic scene in the entire movie. I watched it and thought, Even I wouldn't select this as Best Dramatic Feature. So no surprise when we lost to the other drama.

At this point I was extremely discouraged and wanted to go home. But that would have been bad form. There was still one other category we were nominated in. I gave up mentally rehearsing my acceptance speech.

Finally - I think it was the second to last of at least 30 categories and a 3 hour ceremony - we got to Best Story/Writing. There were 5 or 6 nominated movies in this category. Our clip was shown last. It was the one with Jorge and Shore driving in the hearse, and Shore is ranting about Mormons and Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses. I was pleased with that clip.

The attractive hostess ripped open the envelope and handed the slip of paper to Tony, the Festival Director/co-host. He glanced at it, looked up, and said, "I just want to remind you folks, this award is for Best Writing. As in a story." I realized he was making a disclaimer. The kind of thing you would say so that your festival wasn't sued for religious defamation. That's when my heart started to flutter. That was my potentially offensive movie he was talking about. So I wasn't surprised when he said DEFYING GRAVITY.

I threw down my glasses and handbag and headed for the stage. I can't remember if Craig was following me or if I was pulling him up with me. I blathered some thanks to those who were there with us that night ... Bea Bernstein, Abbie Bernstein, Craig, and Wendy. I told everyone that Abbie was my first writing partner, and we'd come a long way since our first collaboration: "The Six Million Dollar Man Goes to the Planet of the Apes." Which I still think is a viable concept.

Craig took the microphone and thanked his father for dying last year so that we could spend his inheritance on the movie. I swear, that's what he said. I looked at him like he was crazy. So did the hostess, festival directors, and the entire audience. But he somehow managed to back pedal and say something about spending money on something that both our fathers would have been proud of. Without exaggeration, I think ours was the most memorable acceptance speech of the evening.

I carried my gold statuette around with me all night and the next day. I took it to school and shared it with all my students and fellow math teachers. Now it is on my desk, staring at me. This is even better than the trophy I won in 12th grade for 'Best Expository Speech'.

Next up: Riverside Film Festival this Friday.




Friday, March 21, 2008

Winning isn't Everything

Well yeah it is. Whoever said that was obviously a loser.

I am currently suffering a dangerous addiction. It's called Entering Film Festivals. I've entered a lot of them so far. I'm not going to tell you how many, because if I don't get accepted into 21 of them - oops, I mean 10 of them - it will be obvious how many rejection emails I received.

This is not new to me. I used to enter a lot of screenwriting competitions. At one point I was writing out a check to something like 'Dubious Distinction Screenwriting Competition' when suddenly it occurred to me, "Who are these people? How do I know if they know anything about good screenwriting?" At which point I decided to start my own screenwriting competition. I enlisted some judges peripherally connected to the "industry", started a website, and was on my way. Pretty soon those checks were coming to ME.

Note - it was a lot of work, I read a lot of painfully bad scripts, and I did not get rich. So don't try this at home.

So now here I am, nearly 10 years later, in the position of entering contests again. However this time I am smart enough not to think, "Who are these people? How do I know if they know anything about good filmmaking?" Actually I do think that, but only when I am rejected, and I do not follow it with, "I'm going to start my own damn film festival."

Here is where the addictive behavior comes in. 'Defying Gravity' has already been accepted to two of them. (One of them is the Digital Video & High Def Festival in Beverly Hills, screening next Sat. 3/29, and the other is the Fallbrook Film Festival, screening 4/26.) It's like getting high. It is so EXCITING to get accepted, it's such a RUSH, that you want to keep doing it again and again. So kerplink, I keep hitting that 'submit' button on withoutabox.com.

However, I have become a little more discriminating. I've learned not to submit to any contests which are 3 days length or shorter. This really cuts down your chances of being accepted. I've learned not to submit to competitions which have traditions of favoring movies involving B-list actors whom they want to entice into attending.

This is my new strategy. Apply to festivals with niche interests:

  1. LGBF themes (there are a lot of them!)
  2. containing the word "Women" in the title
  3. listing any kind of mission statement like this:
  • a movie that inspires us, lifts our spirit or transforms our lives. .. makes us feel more hopeful, more thankful, more connected, more passionate and better about life in general. We identify with the Film's characters on a deep, emotional level, and are motivated by their stories to pursue positive change in our own lives ... honors the belief that simple choices can change the world and inspires us to make a difference.
  • films that make a positive contribution to our world
  • The overall festival mission is to prevent violence against women and girls through education and art.
When I realize, in a few months, that my movie addresses none of these issues, and I am resoundingly rejected from all festivals promoting positive deep insights, then I will have to rethink my strategy.

Or start my own festival.

Monday, March 3, 2008

No Such Thing as Normal - The Making of 'Defying Gravity'

Behind the scenes with the cast and crew of 'Defying Gravity'.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Trailer

video
DEFYING GRAVITY - THE TRAILER

The Premiere!


The premiere fell on a rainy Sunday evening, however everything went beautifully. We almost filled the 150-seat theatre to capacity with friends and family of the cast and crew. It meant so much to me to have both old and new friends show up.

I cannot describe how surreal it is to watch your own movie on the big screen. And people genuinely seemed to enjoy it! I heard laughter at the right spots, and even laughter at some spots I never imagined were funny. Like when Shore told Jorge, "We have to find her. I don't think she's playing with a full deck." I guess they realized this was like the pot calling the kettle black.

The Chaplin Theatre at Raleigh Studios was beautiful, and they were great to work with.

At the end of the screening, Craig got up and thanked everyone involved (he's good at that), and then I answered questions from the audience. I was a little nervous at first, but then I got into it. I think the best question was when Wendy's friend Zane (with Aspergers Syndrome) asked, "You filmed at a lot of different locations. How hard was it to get all those permits?" This got a big laugh from the audience too, which was enough of an answer in itself. I told Zane, "I don't want to bore everyone with the details. Next time you come over to the house, I'll tell you all about it."

Some other questions were about the meaning of the title, and how I got the idea for the story.

It was nice to answer questions about something other than math problems.

We received so many compliments afterward. I don't know how to say this without bragging, so I'll just say it. It was a hit. Maybe, just maybe, this movie will be the little engine that could.