It is a restful weekend for us. After a week filled with work, day care tours, pediatrician meetings and baby classes, we are lying low as we wait for an oncoming late August heat wave.
Hope everyone in South Texas is hanging in there. My family has first hand experience with hurricane wreckage (twice, unfortunately). It’s always hard to watch others go through it. Stay safe and dry out there, Texans. My heart goes out to you.
And now some reading material:
Cinefamily was a hot topic this week amongst the LA film community. I heard grumblings of the hostile work environment from former employees last year and was glad to hear women were speaking up against harassment. It takes great strength and courage to do so. For the story, read here and here.
This last week of news has made me sick. Likely you too.
I was in the grocery store earlier this week when suddenly the power went out. I was in the back corner near the deli, milk and bread, so when the power went out it was dark (see photo above).Although only about a minute, it felt much longer before the emergency lighting came on. It was completely and eerily silent. In that moment, I wondered if this was due to some larger event and my adrenaline kicked in. “Do I know where the emergency exit is?” I thought. No one knew what was going on and yet everyone remained calm and quiet. A few people grumbled of Korea/Trump and others felt totally inconvenienced. As people began abandoning their shopping carts, it felt like a scene out of a zombie movie. In the end, it was only a major neighborhood power outage, so no need to fret. I stood in what little light came through the front doors waiting to see if I could pay for my groceries and took in the strange peacefulness of a dark and empty grocery store. That I even had a thought of more danger now seems ridiculous, but that’s how anxiety works. How sad that I even considered the worst while in the midst of such mundane tasks.
While I hoped to be more of an escape for you today, it doesn’t feel appropriate. Keeping it short with only a few links, so that you spend more of your day with someone you love.
In regards to Virginia, may I recommend a very topical documentary, ICYMI: Welcome to Leith (2015). Watch it here or here. Trailer below.
I still can’t get over how many filmmakers make 35-minute-plus dramas and call them shorts.
This week alone I have seen more than a dozen narrative shorts that are over this time mark in my batch of submissions.
It is driving me bonkers.
I have so many questions I want to email these filmmakers.
Who do you expect to watch your 40-minute film?
Besides the fact that its my job, certainly others likely won’t see it. Besides your mother or your partner, who do you really expect to give up 40-minutes of their precious, hard-earned free time to watch (and even, pay to watch) this story? So many films often accomplish whatever story you may be telling in 40 minutes… in 25 minutes or less. Don’t you think you’d rather watch the shorter one too?
Have you ever tried to cut your run time in half? Seriously, have you tried it? Editing is non-destructive. You can always go back. Your film can probably be cut in half. Easily. Most often with a drama of this run time, you’re repeating your point(s). Trust that the viewer is smart and will pick up the subtle clues you’ve laid along the way. Does each scene move the character or story forward? Does the scene make a point that is needed so the audience will understand or feel what they’re suppose to?
Where do you expect people to see this 40-minute film? There is storytelling on Snapchat and Instagram. These are 10, 20 or 30 second stories! While not directly competing with your 40-minute film, this is a form of storytelling that is creative and concise within our fast-paced, content-heavy world.
TV? A half hour episode is actually about 21 minutes. (Commercials make up the extra time). An hour” episode may be around the 43 minute mark, but is more likely considered episodic or series content. While some film festivals are dipping their toes into this genre of programming, if you’re submitting a stand-alone story into a shorts category, then the film likely doesn’t cross over well into TV or episodic.
Online? YouTube and Vimeo viral videos are not this length. Attention spans are smaller and people have busy lives. They don’t commit to that much time unless they care about the subject, or perhaps, you personally.
And so, this kind of film is submitted to a film festival because that is where filmmakers are “discovered”. But here’s the (not actually a secret) secret: If filmmakers do their research, they would notice that most festivals screen shorts in 90 to 120 minute blocks. Why? Because that’s how slotting screenings work.
Each screening slot must allow for: loading in the theater, intros, pre-show commercials/trailers, the actual film, a possible Q&A and then loading out people (which always takes forever) and cleaning up the auditorium for the next show to cycle through again.
In other words, showing a shorts block takes time. Festival slots that run longer than 90 to 120 minutes means either:
A. a slot is lost completely. For most festivals, they try to get in as many as possible screenings because the org is paying for the auditorium rental by the day and need ticket sales as much as possible. More slots=more potential sales.
B. the next show starts late. And that is bad customer service. No one wants angry patrons.
When a programmer is comparing one 40-minute film versus two 20-minutes or four 10-minute films… which one do you think they’ll probably choose? The stronger film…which is usually the one that tells a better story in less time…so that the audience can have a fuller experience of storytelling, so more filmmakers can be included in a program, so more ideas can be discussed, or characters represented. Hard to justify one short hogging half the time of a potential block when you’re in that kind of competition.
You may disagree, but in my years of experience I can tell you, dear filmmaker of a 35-minute-plus short, you are not helping yourself with your epic run time. You have two options:
1. Cut it down. Be harsh with your scenes, thorough with your feedback. Editing is a skill and when used well makes a huge difference in creating a great film from a good film.
2. Develop it into a true feature film. This is no small task and takes equally if not more effort and thoughtfulness.
Either way, use this 35 or 40-minute film as a learning experience and move on to the next one. Think about where it will end up, who will see it and why you’re making it. All roads lead back to storytelling with intention. Good luck.
I’m spending long days watching film submissions (shorts and doc features) lately. Let’s be clear, most of these films are not comedies. If they are, they aren’t often that funny. So between that and the news lately, eek! Talk about a bleak world. To be sitting and feeling this baby kick during screening or reading the headlines only adds to my anxiety. It’s a rough world out there and finding some sort of escape amongst reality has been tough to say the least.
We’re also in the long stretch of summer and the heat is playing with my head. I’m doing everything I can to not eat ice cream regularly. I’m tempted daily to make a giant peach cobbler (because the yellow peaches here have been ah-mazing lately), but fear of eating it all by myself in one – maybe two – sittings. Something’s gotta give. Today may be the day where I go for it. What do you think?
Grab a piece of juicy fruit and take a break with some Sunday morning reading:
A mashup of two of my favorite things: Sesame Street and Beastie Boys. (And yes those are clips of Follow That Bird (1985), a film that made a HUGE impact on me. Lots of crying when Big Bird is turned blue (still to this day).)
Our favorite BBQ joint in Dallas, Pecan Lodge, has teamed up with Williams Sonoma for a new BBQ sauce. IF we do sauce in our house, it’s usually homemade, but may have to make an exception and try this.
Hope everyone had a lovely holiday weekend! Happy (belated) 4th!
A few weeks ago, I was asked by old friend and fellow programmer Landon Zakheim to participate on a panel at Palm Springs ShortsFest. It has been a few years since I attended this festival and the idea of having a little weekend LA escape seemed like a great idea.
Unfortunately, a heat wave took over the city that weekend so it was a little less than comfortable. Yes, the desert is hot in the summer, but this was a completely different story. Temperatures sat between 115° and 118°F. By 10:00PM the lowest it reached was around 95°F – practically balmy in comparison to the day. All this to say, my dream of sitting poolside with a mocktail for an afternoon went out the window. That and navigating festival events became a nightmare. I never wanted to leave whatever air-conditioned space I was lucky to be in at the time.
E and I drove east from LA on a Friday afternoon wading out the traffic (and multiple car accidents along the way). After checking in to the festival, we swung by the pool where our friends, Zoe and Amanda, from the San Francisco Film Society were lounging under a big umbrella. We lasted an hour in the heat before calling it and heading to our own hotel to check in.
We met Zoe for dinner later that evening and when we discovered the restaurant was not at all crowded, we had to figure out post-meal adventures to kill two hours before the night’s festival party. First stop: the nearby casino. Casino’s are not my thing, but I’m game for taking a walk through one. My hometown has several casinos, so I’m attending one is nothing exciting for me and I’ve never been interested in gambling my hard-earned funds. Sitting at my first (penny) slot machine, I put in a dollar and lost 90¢ in 20 seconds on one bet. How were we ever going to kill time here? Zoe, E and I continued to walk around and played a little on different machines. Once I doubled my initial $5, I stopped gambling and cheered them on. E played another $6 and lost, so our household almost broke even in the end.
Leaving the casino, Zoe led us through the heat to The Tonga Hut, a local tiki bar. This spot was much more our scene: dark, cool and laid back. We ordered a round of drinks (a virgin pina colada for me) and played many of the games the bar had on hand. While she may not have won at the casino earlier, Zoe ended up being the Uno champion, beating us many times over.
We made our way to the ShortsFest party that evening at the Ace hotel. The party room slowly began filling with shorts filmmakers and an already warm room became hotter as most guests wanted to stay inside. We chatted with filmmaker Gillian Wallace Horvat and watched a filmmaker awkwardly corner actor Steven Weber next to us, bending his ear for an hour. As the night wore on, the room became warmer and it seemed best to call it a night.
Saturday morning, we grabbed breakfast at Cheeky’s and took a quick dip in the pool (that felt like bath water, but cooler than 98°), which was still empty and quiet by all accounts at our party-hotel.
We made our way to the ShortsFest HQ for my panel: Meet the Programmers moderated by Variety film critic, Peter Debruge. This particular panel is held yearly at the festival, to give filmmakers from the festival and the market an opportunity to hear insight and advice from those programming on the circuit. The main question is always, “what do you look for in a film?” Here we had an hour to talk about that and our respective processes of programming with each festival we represented (Sundance, San Francisco, Cleveland and Dallas/Denver/SIFF).
The difficult part about a panel like this is the spectrum of experience of those in the audience. Some have been to a few festivals, some have only finished their first film. There’s also a lot of variables involved with each festival and programmer. Each one of us have different taste and each festival a slightly different process based on how established they are or the structure and makeup of their staff.
One key point we made was the importance of story and the filmmaker’s intent. The film needs to speak for itself and every choice that goes into it needs to be intentional. That creates a clear and unique voice. For example, if a filmmaker chooses to make it in black & white (especially since so much of it is video and we know you didn’t shoot film), there needs to be a clear reason behind why you choose to do that artistically. What does that mean to the story? Is it creating a particular tone or message that the dialogue or action does not? We can always tell if it’s just a haphazard decision in an attempt to stand out.
Rejection is part of the process and we spoke to how often programmers see short films they may like, but are not programmable: they are not suited their particular audience or don’t fit within the scope of the particular shorts block (even when not programming blocks thematically). What may work for an audience in Texas may not work with an audience in Seattle or San Francisco. You may only need one or two family drama stories, but you have five to pick from. There was also the age-old question of whether filmmakers should receive feedback if rejected and how not to email the festival with a nasty reply. People like to work with other nice people. Don’t be a jerk is an easy rule to follow.
It really doesn’t matter if you include a cover letter on your application. You don’t have to email us to check if we got the film as long as you sent it through the official channels (know that the system created to collect films by these established organizations works, because undermining that only shows a lack of trust). In the end, what does matter: if you told the story as concisely and to the best of your ability as possible. Doing your research, both for the film and where it will have the best audience. Learn about the festival you’re submitting to, who programs it and what they’ve shown in the past – does your film seem like a good match? It all comes back to the intention you have set from the beginning with whatever story you feel compelled to tell. Doing that hard work upfront will usually take care of the rest.
After the panel I was able to chat with a few filmmakers and give advice where I could, before grabbing a late lunch. We cooled down in our hotel room again before heading to another festival party. Sadly, that event was in a small un-air conditioned room. I quickly downed two lemonades and staying for all of five minutes before bailing. The heat was unbearable and I don’t understand how there was not a fan running somewhere in that room. We avoided the 117° heat and sat in our hotel room, watching as the pool was crowded with late twenty-somethings drinking and dancing. It was dehydrating just to watch them.
We tried to eat dinner at The Rooster and the Pig, but with five small parties ahead of us and the wait outside on the patio that plan failed as well. In the two minutes we considered waiting for a table, I started to feel sickly and a fleeting thought of “this is what heat stroke feels like” crossed my mind. So we quickly left and found the closest In-n-Out, drove through and watched the sunset from our car.
By 9:30pm, the hotel pool crowd had gone back to the rooms so we decided to take a dip. The temperature had dipped as well (to a mere 99°F!) which made the air breathable outside for the first time that day. Couples slowly emerged from their room one by one, dressed up to go out to the local bars. While we intended to make it to the festival party that night at 10:00pm, the day’s heat had worn us out emotionally and physically, so we decided to stay in. Just as well, as our friend attended the party and said they were charging for water. BIG party foul, festival. Good grief. We made the right decision.
While this festival wasn’t the most enjoyable thanks to the weather, it was memorable. Hopefully six years won’t pass again before I can return to Palm Springs ShortsFest. While I’m not a fan of the market (I don’t think many industry actually attend it to make it worthwhile for filmmakers), the festival’s forum can be educational for those shorts filmmakers new to the circuit.
Do you think our panel advice is helpful? What other tidbits would you like to hear about?
June brings a wave of summer movie watching on the festival circuit. A few festivals sneak on the calendar after Cannes in May (one of three seasonal “tent poles” of festivals, the others being Sundance in January and TIFF/Telluride in September) to grab audiences before the summer really hits.
As previously mentioned on this blog, this year I joined the programming team for the 43rd annual SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival). With newly appointed Executive Director Sarah Wilke, Interim Artistic Director Beth Barrett (a friend of several years) took the helm this year after veteran Carl Spence’s departure from the festival. After a few conversations last winter, Beth brought me on to the team to help cull through the thousands of film submissions they receive.
SIFF is the longest film festival in North America: 25 days! A whole ‘nother kind of marathon event. E and I had planned a trip to Seattle for mid-June for my sister-in-law’s graduation from Seattle University, which luckily coincided with the last week/weekend of the festival. Since this trip was a mix of business and family time, I didn’t get to experience SIFF in full. Our mornings were spent exploring the city and drinking a lot of coffee.
Much of that coffee was from La Marzocco, a cafe and showroom located with Seattle’s hip radio station KEXP. La Marzocco is known for their high-end espresso machines, but opened a speciality cafe in Seattle where each month a renowned coffee roaster takes over the space and implements their own special menu. It’s a remarkable feat to consider. Our close friend, Amy, manages La Marzocco and she filled us in on how she and her team curate a new, unique experience every four weeks (long story short: it’s a fast-moving environment and no easy task). We tasted many incredible drinks, but our favorites were the Cafe Miel and the affogoto. Amy was so kind to give us a “backstage” tour of the KEXP studio and office space, filling us in on the history of the station. (The music library was impressive and I loved seeing how they are slowly and methodically digitizing all their materials – an epic job on its own.) If you’re ever visiting Seattle, I highly recommend checking out La Marzocco for a truly unique coffee experience.
Back to festing, we stopped by the festival lounge where E and his sister tasted tequila from a festival sponsor and I got to catch up with friend and SIFF’s Director of Philanthropy, Ben McCarthy. By the time the staff is on day 20+, many are running on a mix of autopilot and few hours of sleep. Seeing a fresh, friendly face is a delight and laughter helps a lot.
Later in the week, E and I watched The Grifters (1990), one of several tribute films to SIFF honoree Anjelica Huston. Beth Barrett introduced the film and spotted me in the audience (we hadn’t seen each other yet), which created a hilarious improvised moment in her introduction of the film. It was the first time either E or I had seen this film and we were curious. Huston is great (as she is with pretty much every role) and the film’s ending is dark. So much so, I actually laughed out of uncomfortableness with the twisted, climatic moment. Annette Bening is also a standout (as usual). Both ladies made this noir story work for me. John Cusack, not so much.
After the screening we ate dinner at Momiji and sang karaoke at Rock Box (which I highly recommend) to celebrate E’s birthday. We then headed to a favorite college bar of my sis-in-laws, in which E, Amy, her husband and I were very much the oldest people in the room by ten years. (Being the sober, pregnant member of this party I was stuck out two-fold.)
Much of the remaining trip was with family and close friends as we celebrated the graduation. Since I only had a small slice of SIFF, I hope next year I’ll be able to spend a little more time with the event. With the long length of the festival, attending an earlier weekend would likely have a different feel since filmmakers or guests can’t stay for the entirety. From an industry perspective, the last weekend is a fun time to attend since the staff are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and the vibe is a little looser. I’m excited to see how the festival will grow and change under the leadership of Barrett and Wilke. The Seattle film community is in good hands.
In my next post, I’ll be sharing this past weekend’s travels to Palm Springs ShortsFest (spoiler, it was CRAZY hot) where I was one of the panelists for the festival’s forum. Stay tuned. In the meantime, have you seen The Grifters before? I need to talk to someone about the ending!
This is what’s been going down over the last three weeks:
Last time I wrote a Sunday Mornings post, I mentioned we were in escrow on a house. The exciting update is that we closed on it and moved in. (Side story: In the eleventh hour, this blog somehow help make the closing happen. The lender needed “online proof” that I was real, as though ALL the financial statements from every client, tax, receipt, or bank statement we sent was not enough. That and E’s IMDb page. Thus the life of a 1099 worker trying to buy a house in the 21st century. Absurd.) Homeownership has already kicked us around a bit and there’s still plenty of projects ahead. (If you know a great Los Angeles-based contractor to recommend, we are in need and all-ears.)
Within 36 hours of moving, we flew to Seattle for a week of SIFF activities and my sister-in-law’s graduation from nursing school. Will be posting about the festival fun soon.
Also, during these last three weeks, E and I learned I’m pregnant with a baby girl. That’s the other major-life-event that’s been happening in our world. We told many of our loved ones in person or over-the-phone when possible the past two months and only recently put it on social media. Being pregnant has been a surreal experience. The news itself was somewhat a shock to us (another story for an offline convo if you’re interested). Between the house hunting and work-filled spring season, I haven’t spent a lot of time letting the news sink in. Not to say that the emotions haven’t been there, because good. lord. the hormonal shifts are real/awful. Now halfway through this pregnancy and living in a new home, this new chapter is starting to sink in …and whoa. If you asked me in January what my summer would look like, this is NOT what I would consider it to be. I am excited, but cautious. Unsettled, but hopeful. And most of the time, just trying to remember to breathe every few seconds.
I hope this Father’s Day is a good one for you and your families. If you can spend time with yours, that’s amazing. (Facetiming the Captain will have to do for me.) If not, then perhaps toast in his honor. (Cheers to you, Tim. You raised one helluva man, who I’m excited to watch become a great father himself.)
As I consider our new house layout and what furniture works where, it means I am spending more time on interior design blogs. I feel like much of what I find is created for Pinterest and not actually liveable space. Also, it’s as though people forget how expensive all this decor can be. A very frustrating process. (Yes, #firstworldproblems.) I appreciated Emily Henderson’s honesty in this post on the “Effortless Expensive California Casual” look.
Have you been watching Twin Peaks? I’m loving how dark and FUNNY it is. Also, the plot is moving so incredibly slow, but I’m still fascinated. #CaseFiles
More soon. Although “soon” is used loosely these days.
Hope your day is filled with good coffee, smiles and a little laziness.