Where I’ll Be: Swimming with the Sharks this Saturday

I will leave it to you to determine whether I am one of the sharks or am merely swimming with sharks, but I will be at a “Shark Tank for Filmmakers” event this Saturday out in the wilds of Northern Virginia, where the passenger jets roam.

The event is organized by fellow filmmaker Ron Newcomb, who has been tirelessly working on building the narrative film community in the DC region pretty much since I’ve known him. While I have my own personal goals for the weekend, I’m hoping some projects get launched out of the event that benefit the local film community in general.

If I’m not mistaken, there’s still spots left for people who want to attend (and here are the panelists).

If you’re pitching, here’s some tips Ron provided. He also does an example of comps.

If you see me on Saturday, please say hello.

Film Festivals, Rejection, and Letting Films Escape

Ah, film festivals. Getting into one is always gives a good sense of validation to a filmmaker — and the best are a delight to attend as both filmmaker and audience member.

But what if your film doesn’t make it in?

I’ve known Jon Gann for most of this century and I know all the work he’s done in creating, improving, and advising film festivals. So when I saw he wrote a pair of articles about why films don’t get selected for film festivals (part one is here and part two is here), I thought they’d be solid.

Spoiler alert: they are. If you’re a filmmaker wondering about a spate of rejections from festivals, you’d do well to give both a read.

As with so many things in life, some of the factors are completely outside of a filmmaker’s control… and sometimes it’s good to remind oneself about that, so you can focus on the things you can control: like the picture and sound quality. Or, you know, the writing and the casting.

In some cases, I know it’s difficult to impossible to address some of the issues after a certain amount of effort is put into a film… and that films sometimes aren’t released so much as they ‘escape.’ But then I’d suggest every filmmaker set a deadline for themselves of when to let that escaped film go and turn their attention to their next film. I mean, you’re not a studio that can spend oodles of time trying to see if they can get this or that feature to be profitable.

As a film festival judge, I can tell you I’ve seen many submitted films that don’t lack skill, but are essentially “drafts.” Often, the films clearly don’t live up to their filmmakers’ ambitions. There’s no way those films will take the festival slot from a more polished piece. And as a filmmaker, it’s often better to go out and shoot new material than keep on polishing. As Jon explains above, even your best work can be rejected, so might as well keep on working and getting better. You make more films that way (especially if you’re practicing with shorts). And before you know it, you have a body of work. And yeah, that does mean more chances for more of your films to be rejected. But it also means more films that can be accepted.

And that feels good.

Mr. Gravitas, Paul Frees

Okay, I’m double-dipping here, because we posted the same links on the Jabberwocky Audio Theater website today. However, it’s not only a busy week, but I’m coming off of recording the first season of Quorum, so I’ve got voiceover artists on my mind.

And really, when isn’t a good time to check out Paul Frees’ demo tape?

It feels wrong to call him “inimitable,” because not only do people imitate him, Frees was a master at imitating other when called upon to do so.

My Social Media Strategy, Revealed

Not unlike business plans, it seems like one needs to have a “social media plan” these days. In the past year, many people I know have abandoned Twitter or left Facebook or joined Instagram. And I seem to be in the midst of that periodic flurry of people following me on Twitter or giving me a long treatise about why they want to connect with me on LinkedIn.

So for future edification, but mainly for my own amusement, here is my criteria for connecting with people on social media:

  • Facebook: I know who you are in the real world, either from schools or elsewhere, and want to keep up with your personal and professional exploits.
  • LinkedIn: I actually know who you are in the real world –even if only in passing– and also wouldn’t mind keeping up with your professional exploits.
  • Twitter: I may or may not know you in the real world, but I like the cut of your jib.
  • Google+: I can put you in one or more categories.
  • Instagram: I know it exists, but do not use it.
  • Tumblr: I know it still exists, and still do not use it.
  • Ello: I don’t know why it exists.
  • Pinterest: Who knows? I have insufficient pinterest.
  • Stage32: Meh, whatever. Sure.

If this does not make at least one social media maven’s head explode because of my lack of commitment to networking at all costs, I will be very disappointed.


Update: To answer some people’s angsty offline questions, no this isn’t a ranking of how great particular social media is or how valuable anyone and everyone might find it. Stage 32 has some great classes attached to it (seriously, if you’re a filmmaker, check some of their stuff out), but I see no need to curate my contacts to the same degree like I do on other sites. For example, on LinkedIn some recruiters clearly feel simply knowing your name is sufficient to connect… yet that connection is not valuable to me.

So yeah, see above. I am not disappointed.

They Like Me, They Really Like Me… But not as Best Picture

Earlier this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka the people behind the Oscars) announced they were adding a “Best Popular Movie” category.

(I mean, it’ll probably be called “most bestest outstanding achievement in popular film” or something like that, but you know what I mean).

On the one hand, it’s their awards and award process, so change away. On the other hand, why shouldn’t they tweak and adjust and change their award categories and methodology as they have just about every decade?

(By the way, I absolutely think one of the tweaks should be adding “Best Stunt Choreography” category — and no, you don’t need to eliminate any of the other awards to add that).

But on the third hand –and it’s really better you don’t ask where the third hand comes from– there’s something of a whiff of desperation simultaneously coupled with a complete lack of understanding of why the general public does or doesn’t find the Oscars relevant that really should have been resolved during The Dark Knight “lack o’ Best Picture nom kerfuffle.”

(An article in Variety appears to validate that there is some desperation involved).

It sounds like a bad idea to me… and it also sounds like a bad idea to Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff who has many thoughts on the subject. I agree with many of them, including the notion that maybe it’ll not turn out to a bad idea.

Their track record at nominating worthy “genre films” for Best Picture does not reinforce that notion however.

UPDATE: The crew at Vox came up with 6 categories to introduce rather than “Best Popular Film” and I’m happy to say it includes one for stunt choreography. I generally am down with all the categories. I think the “Best First Film” would really bring some excitement into the proceedings the same as I see similar awards in other places. The one caveat I’d suggest from chatting about the categories on social media is that the “Best Motion Capture Peformance” should be awarded to the performer and the lead artists/animators. I think that’d be a cool way to remind people of the team creative effort it is.

What’s in a Married Name?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been handling the catering orders for our Jabberwocky Audio Theater recording sessions and revisited one of my life’s perennial sources of both comedy and drama.

People get flustered with my name.

This, in and of itself, is not an issue. It’s more when people seem to feel that I somehow picked this name just to make their lives more difficult is where it gets annoying. All of you with “odd” names know exactly what I mean. Despite all logic and personal experience for how people are named, the flustered person gives you a look that says, “Why did you choose to name yourself that and do this to me?”

I mean, I have mused before that perhaps I should have adopted a pen name for my writing, but it’s arguably too late now.

And people do choose how to name themselves all the time when they get married, though I would argue the flustering still belongs entirely to the flustered person, who really needs to get out more.

Nevertheless, since it’s so statistically unusual for a man to take his wife’s name, Carolyn Kitchener decided to write about it over in The Atlantic. There’s also some interesting follow-up in the form of letters from readers.

It could be the background studying anthropology and history, but I’m still surprised that some people are so adamant that the wife change her surname to the husband’s. My favorite solution is to combine the names into a new one (no hyphenates), but not all names are compatible in this regard.

We could also all go to a single name a la Javanese tradition, but the resulting head explosions from bureaucrats and record-keepers worldwide would make Krakatoa look like a solitary bus backfire.

Making Connections by Making Art and Making Art that Makes Connections

Most of the creatives I know instinctively want an audience. When they think about why, the immediate answers of “someone who likes my work” or “someone who buys my stuff” are natural. I mean, what’s not to like about emotional and financial validation? Bring forth the audience!

But building an audience is hard. In fact, it’s something of a slog — a seemingly Sisyphean slog (which I’m experiencing first-hand as I try and build an audience for my audio theater group). And the more one researches about how to best build an audience (and goes about the efforts to do so day in and day out), going to the gym every day seems easy by comparison (gym rats: ask your non-gym rat friends about what this means).

So, I took some solace in an article in Fast Company by Jeff Goins (whom some of you might know of from “Real Artists Don’t Starve”). The nominal title of the article is about why a creative needs an audience, but what I really got out of it was the importance of building connections, not only with an audience (e.g. readers, viewers, listeners, etc.), but with fellow creatives who might become potential collaborators (or just community support).

For me, this is crucial. Because as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not necessarily one who rushes to don the “marketing hat” — even though this website serves some of that purpose… and I’ll happily share articles about marketing. However, making connections with possible readers or viewers or listeners — that seems doable. Finding one more listener, getting a new enthusiastic reader, talking to another creative… all that sounds doable and manageable. It’s not as overwhelming as building “an audience” or “a peer community.” And yet, that’s what you’re doing, person by person. And, ideally, you can do it by trying to do what you should be doing anyway, making work that connects with people. That makes going to the metaphorical gym easier.

Screenwriting & the Perils of Pitch Fests

If you’re a regular listener of Scriptnotes, you’ll know that the hosts (especially Craig Mazin) have little time for screenwriting “gurus.” So you probably won’t be surprised by the this article by Stephen Galloway that was in The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week all about the high cost and non-return of many a “pitch fest” held in New York and L.A.

A Titan Against a Titan (aka Netflix and Amazon square off about streaming TV)

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I often post about both the future of TV and Netflix in particular. So of course I was interested in Daniel D’Addario’s piece in Variety about both Netflix and Amazon pitching their visions of streaming futures at the TCA press tour.

Enjoy the speculation.

I guess in this context, “the Eye” is CBS All Access.

Delia Derbyshire and the Doctor Who Theme

I know I’m not the only one who grew up collecting movie and TV soundtracks… and the opening themes of many works retain an almost Pavlovian response on me (and I’ve also tested this on my kids in the name of parent science: the Fraggle Rock theme still works).

So naturally, I thought of the memorable Doctor Who theme what with the current sweepstakes I’m participating in (as Jabberwocky Audio Theater).

Josh Jones over at Open Culture has a nice piece linking to some videos which gives you some of the background on the creation of the original theme — along with a montage of all the variations of the theme.

I’m looking forward to see how they’re going to adjust the theme for the newest Doctor.

In the meantime, if you like the idea of winning $250 worth of Doctor Who swag, the sweepstakes closes this coming Tuesday, July 17th.