Do you have a polished script that you want produced? A short that you want to expand into a feature or a feature that you want to find an audience for? Then you should have been at the noon day panel discussions for Dances With Films. Held at the Chinese Theatres on Hollywood and Highland, the DWF panels featured top professionals willing to answer questions of the festival participants.
The first day featured David Crockett (Executive VP at GK Films), Eric Garfinkel (Gersh agent), and Priscilla Ross (International Sales VP of TriCoast Worldwide.)
Mr. Garfinkel started out by warning writers not to send a random email query. "This is a business of relationships. Networking is the key to go. We all have assistants and we value their opinion. Make friends with them. Casting directors are another way to get to an agent. If they like a script, they will recommend it." He told writers to make it easy to pass and let us know that the first five minutes of the film or script have to be smashing. "Help the exec to envision what they are buying."
Can your film play TV? There's no more DVD really and VOD has yet to take off. Ms. Ross explained that there is a difference between a sales trailer and a trailer for the public. Domestic sales are only a small part of your sales. It's important to know what is selling overseas. She states that action and thrillers go over well, especially if you have talent attached, but comedy is harder. It's more subjective It doesn't translate as well. A lot of films these days are cross -genre, but you have to know where to market your film and how it will play in a certain territory. "When you work with someone make sure they have a reputable market plan and that their vision is your vision. Your sales agent really needs to get the intent so that the creativity of the film is not compromised.
Mr. Crockett, who sees tons of spec scripts daily, said it's important to be flexible. You won't make it in this business if you are not willing to be a team player. He stated that going for a studio film or an independent film makes a big difference in how it's distributed. He warned people that the likelihood of selling a first script is low. "You have to ask yourself. With TV being so good now, what will make someone leave their house and pay $15+ to see your movie. Why is it special? "
Wednesday's panel included Dama Claire (co-founder of the Film Incentives Group), Michael Fey (Shoot the Noise Productions - a music supervisor and agent), Laura K Lewis (CAA - feature film packaging) and Steve Wegner (executive vp of Alcon Entertainment.)
Like Jeff Begun, her partner and co founder, Ms. Claire instructed filmmakers to be aware of the incentives various states have to offer. "Louisiana is one of the best these days and we send a lot of movies down there, but there are other states that are good, too. You just have to know the rules. Some have minimums that you have to spend in the state to qualify, while others only give tax credits and not rebates. Even the smaller films can benefit from tax credits, however. And it's amazing how often a small city or town in Ohio can be doubled to look like New York, especially if you are doing interior scenes.
Mr. Wegner echoed the remarks of the previous day, telling writers and filmmakers that networking and getting to know the assistants. "It's a relationship driven business. Figure out who you know, but don't bombard them. There is a glut of material on the market and someone has to find what is out there. Our assistants help with that. They had 25 projects last year and only made three of them. "The pitch has to be so good that I can see the movie in my head. It's best if you can put a couple of elements together before you approach us." He let the filmmakers know that not only were dramas hard to sell, but family films are, as well. Period pieces are also a no-no. More P & A (print and advertising) has to be invested to release these films.
Mr. Fey, who has long standing relationships with music supervisors and who represents a lot of musical artists, says that music and sound are the most undervalued part of the movie and often the place where, if the budget has to be cut, will suffer. Yet good music can make a movie stand out. He quoted Stallone who said, "Making a movie is like getting dressed in a dark closet. You never know how it will turn out." What you think is good and what you think is bad in a film can flip in a moment's time. As far as having him look at material, he asks for referrals from managers. Offering to intern, he says, can often help you with your project.
Ms. Lewis, who does not only the packaging but talks with the investors for financing says that she looks out for what they want and that the ability to make foreign sales are crucial in the success of one of their films since the US is not pre-sale driven unless you have elements packaged with the script. She has to ask herself what tax credits she can get for her investors. "It's really the producer's job to package the film. Each film is a separate business on it's own. Working within the studio system is much different than working independently."
Thursday's panel consisted of award winning Cindy Cowan (owner of Cowan Entertainment); Jay Cohen (packager and financer of Gersh Agency); Jeff Kleeman (now an independent producer, but formerly an ex of MGM/UA) and finally Melanie Miller (VP Acquisitions of Gravitas Ventures.)
Ms. Miller stated that it is still possible to be in the right place at the right time, but sometimes you have to work at it and you need a fall back plan, too (like going for an MBA, which would serve you well in the industry.) She advises that filmmakers should not be shy. "Put yourself out there and talk to people." "Indy films are bigger than ever so there are more opportunities for producers. The trouble comes with getting a distributor on board. If you are writing a genre film, you need it as tight as possible. And be sure that you spend money on sound."
Mr. Cohen believes that TV is a business but movie making is an industry. "It's important to understand what each foreign territory is looking for and know where you can sell your film. Elevated genres like action and thrillers are a lot easier to sell than comedy and pre-sales are important. If you are doing a drama, you already have three strikes against you." He advises writers to go and option an article or a story and have the source material behind you to help with your credibility. If you are going to a festival, understand the festival you are at. Are they commercial like Toronto or do they have a niche category like the Midnight group at Sundance? "Understand what your goals are for your film."
Ms. Cowan stated that it was easier in the past to get a film made. "No one knows what we producers have to do. Don't fall in love with every script you write, but do find someone who believes in you and have faith in yourself. "If you believe in your dream, go for it, but don't overwhelm people." Writers, she says, often listen to agents and managers and don't want to write or rewrite on spec, but it's important to stay on the project for as long as you can. If you can, get an A lister involved. Spend the money and give a casting director a retainer just to make some calls for you. The talent agents will listen to casting directors whereas they might not listen to you."
Mr. Kleeman agrees with the idea of approaching assistants because most of them are hungry to establish themselves and move up the ladder. "Indy movies don't have five years to develop or money for several writers. They want to get it out now. For that reason, many indy films are underdeveloped." He recommends that you give your script to someone not in the business and ask them, after they have finished, what they have taken away from the story. Then you will know if they have understood your characters or what you need to do that will clear it up.
Now in its 15th year, the creator founders Michael Trent and Leslee Scallon of Dances With Films were once actors, themselves. Tired of waiting around for something to happen, they decided to write and then shoot their project to show what they could do. After submitting to a handful of festivals, they realized it was hard to get their film out.
"We started Dances With Films as a lark, without the intention of doing it for more than just the one year, but the film makers insisted that we continue. We wanted to show the filmmakers that we cared for them. We make sure that even if we have to reject them, we say something positive about each and every film we see. Our relationship to the filmmaking community is important to us and we want to help them anyway we can."
Even with the amount of material (they received over 1300 submissions this year), the screening process is rigorous. A minimum of three judges watch each film because everything is so subjective. There are many that are so close, but are underdeveloped and don't hit the mark. This year they will be screening 86 films - 28 features and the rest shorts. They only have one theatre so that there is no competition between filmmakers and they insist that the industry judges, for the Industry choice award, watch the films in the screening with the other guests and not just as home movies. "We narrow down the ones they see to about ten." Other awards are the Audience choice and the Grand Jury.
One other fun thing that DWF has is the two minute challenge. Given a three page script, the contestants are loaned Cannon cameras and given four hours to shoot and edit their material. "It's a fun project and a number of writers usually apply for it. The filmmakers get to experience the new technology and get to see their work on the screen.
Generously sponsored by Cannon Cameras,. CAA, The Lot, Showbiz Software, Sony, Variety, SagIndie, AudioRents Hollywood, IC, Final Draft, Movie Magic, The Actors' Network, Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and Spa, Level 3, The Grill on the Alley, Starbucks, Rolling Stone, Monster Drinks, Burke Williams, Deuce Brand, Crumbs Bakeshop, BoHo, The Trastevere, U Printing, Johnny Rockets, Southern Wine and Spirits of America, Inc, Ver, LA Splash, and others, the
Held each year in June, they usually start receiving submission around mid-November.
For more information go to www.danceswithfilms.com