Farewell To 2013

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Forget about money, hype and fan-base for a moment. Let go of the desperation, finance talk and box office chatter. As 2013 comes to a close I want to take a moment to reflect on the films and film related events of this historical year and hopefully find a mechanism to connect with filmmakers and their support base. I want to talk about the art of cinema and the importance of integrity in creation. 2013 was tumultuous at best and for me, at least, started out great and somehow, some way, morphed into absolute conflict, both at the social and professional levels and creatively. That conflict has finally begun to settle back down and while we’re not quite out of the woods yet, there is at least some light in the distance and creatively I’m bouncing back and better than ever before. From the feature film I wrote, directed and produced and am now in post-production of to my work behind the scenes of the New York festival circuit – things were crazy. How 2013 will be remembered is still up in the air, but one thing is for sure: 2013 was a significant year for me and a whole lot of other filmmakers and film enthusiasts.

Film Festivals

This past year, my peers in the independent film community have helped me realize just how truly important this art is to our culture and why maintaining a sense of professional integrity is vital in a world where one can easily throw their peers under the bus for the slightest bit of attention. My friends in the festival circuit have helped me to understand how much their series’ and annual events are teetering on the brink of existence and how a little bad press from the most sour of people can devastate one of these smaller, family run festivals. This year I ended my relationship with two film festivals so that I could concentrate my time on both my film and film writing but it’s important that I continue to support them in other ways just as it’s important that all indie filmmakers in the NYC community continue to support them. Boutique indie film festivals are in danger and they need all the help they can get to survive. With some of the more well sponsored organizations working night and day to quite literally take over the NYC film festival world, we need to step up our support of the smaller events or indie filmmakers will not have a mechanism to screen ‘nor a home base to build support for their work. I am thankful for the film festivals that I’ve been involved with and had an opportunity to screen at over the past few years and I would hope that all of you are thankful too. More so I am thankful they have given me the opportunity to continue supporting them, not just as a selected filmmaker but subsequently as a volunteer and in some cases hired help. If you’re a filmmaker who has screened at a festival this past year, make sure to reach out to the organizers and thank them for supporting your endeavors and if you have the time, offer to volunteer for them in their follow up season. There are few actions that will impress them more.

Film Journalism

At the latter half of 2013 I began writing news, oped and a bi-weekly column for Renegade Cinema and have been working to get moving with similar endeavors for various other publications. I’ve also been developing a plan to expand Film Anthropology. Most of the news I have been writing revolves around the future of film as a business and as an art form and other pieces deal with DC Comics news (as it relates to films being made out of DC material). The column I started is titled “The Case For” and every other week I make my case for why certain films deserve better treatment when they are released on DVD. The latest to be released was published on Christmas Eve and in it I make my case for why the Sydney Pollack film THE INTERPRETER deserves a Criterion spine. The most popular installment came two weeks ago when I made my case for the Sundance Award Winning Film RHYTHM THIEF. The column was started right here on Film Anthropology when I published the first incarnation: “The Case For Angus” (which was edited and published as the first installment of the RC column).

Eric Slate WoodsThe Spaceship

The beginning of 2013 was probably the best part of the year for me. From January through the first part of April I was in pre-production of THE SPACESHIP, my new sci-fi feature I directed and filmed almost exclusively on Staten Island. While the principle photography portion of the production which started in mid-April and ran through the first week of May was one of the worst experiences of my life (next to my time at film school), the footage is impeccable and the film in its current state is solid. While there is an enormous list of tasks that remain to be done (vfx, sound work and a huge reorganizing of the project on the business side) my hope is to have the film ready for festivals by the end of 2014 so we can offload it to a distributor and move on to other projects. It’s a long road ahead for this ballsy project but the fact that we’ve got it shot and are now on the 3rd pass edit is HUGE. The Spaceship is a film I wrote & directed and produced in partnership with quite a few other people and it was the first movie I directed that was shot under the union umbrella (which I’ll never do again as an indie filmmaker) and it was the first movie I directed that I didn’t shoot myself. On this project we hired a professional cinematographer with Hollywood grade gear to help us capture this highly original and entertaining story. To date it is the most expensive film I have made. Be sure to connect with the film by subscribing to the Facebook and Twitter feed.

Other People’s Movies

My favorite indie film from 2012, the musical comedy Welcome To Harlem finally made it’s way to DVD thanks to Amazon’s on-demand distribution service. While I feel that this film deserves a professional grade release, I understand the difficulties in getting a distributor to take a risk on indie work (even a high end production like WTH). In the grand scheme of indie film, this is never a bad way to go and I’m excited for filmmaker Mark Blackman and his cast & crew. They did a great job with the film and I hope that their DVD sales skyrocket. Pick it up here.

Other indie films that went on to do well this year were Shari Berman’s “My Life As Abraham Lincoln“, Mike Rader’s “Man vs. Ultraman” and the short film “Hope’s Portal” from filmmaker David Allensworth. I am a fan of all of these movies and all of these filmmakers and hope to see continued success with these films and their subsequent works.

In Closing

Before I end this and bid 2013 a farewell, I wanted to reach out to every filmmaker working and just starting out, whether an ultra indie artist or a mainstream director – I wanted to remind you that Film is a responsibility. This seems to have been forgotten by so many creatives this past year, especially with all the box office records being broken and the slumping economy. Film is one of the few art forms that actually affects us in ways that influence our behavior and aspirations. It is a medium that transcends art and commerce and is so phenomenally unpredictable that it is almost assuredly its own consciousness. Film influences the way we think, act, socialize and in some cases affects our decision making. It does so because it affects our subconscious and in some ways affects our dreams or more accurately the way we dream. To work in a medium this influential to the human mind is a serious responsibility and I don’t feel that enough filmmakers take this responsibility as seriously as they should. More and more I find that studios and indie filmmakers alike are trying to decipher what audiences want to see and not necessarily what they need to see and because of this have created a system of production that turns out lesser quality and utterly simplistic material that could otherwise be world changing content.

Film is not disposable entertainment and should not be approached as such as it would be irresponsible to continue to produce films for the wrong purposes (hype, box office etc). Forget the money, forget the 3D and the IMAX… let’s go back to story and let’s make a difference again. In the words of the great Jonas Mekas: “the real history of cinema is the invisible history – – history of friends doing the thing they love”. Let’s get together and do it because we love it and for no other reason.

Farewell 2013.

-Eric Norcross for Film Anthropology

Festivals & Filmmakers

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You have to wonder what’s going through a filmmaker’s head when they choose to burn their relationship with a film festival because they don’t like the venue of choice for their film, or the quality of the projector or the size of the screen or the fact that it’s not a surround sound auditorium – or one of the hundreds of other reasons I’ve seen filmmakers go crazy at festivals. As an alumni of some amazing film festivals, on top of being a contributing programmer and director of several festivals here in the city, I feel I have enough experience on the issues of filmmaker/festival etiquette.  Over the summer I’m going to publish a series of articles here on Film Anthropology to talk about my experience as a filmmaker working in the festival circuit on both sides of the festival system.  I want to elaborate on how filmmakers should work with the festivals to make their screenings top notch – but to also help them understand when they are asking for too much. The goal here is to learn how to take what the festival is offering and to make the best out of it.

With the exception of only a handful of festivals, most film fests operate on a break even budget. This is why most of them are registered non-profit entities. Some don’t even have 501c3 status because they cannot afford to go non-profit.  Many first time filmmakers entering the festival circuit are unaware of this and are often baffled by how so many festivals don’t have the bling and media attention as some of the majors like Tribeca or Sundance.  The festivals I primarily work with are boutique at best, or local screening series’ that specialize in the exhibition of actual independent cinema.

Yesterday we wrapped the 7th Annual Manhattan Film Festival, by far one of the toughest I’ve worked thus far.  MFF is one of the most filmmaker friendly festivals I’ve encountered, which is why, after attending as a filmmaker last year, I jumped on board to help them out this year.  Last year the festival had a crop of really amazing personalities and this year was no different.  The films and filmmakers were absolutely remarkable.  This year, MFF was the first festival for a lot of new filmmakers and so a lot of confusions came up from filmmakers who had never been involved in the festival circuit.  While this is something I am proud of, it’s also the cause of a lot of problems because there isn’t a concise expectations manual for first time filmmakers and what could go down at any given time at a film festival.  With that, keep in mind that no two festivals are the same and so you’ll need to use the opening couple of days to get to know the event, the planners and volunteers and gauge the best way to “work” the festival that your screening at.

In this article I want to talk about information dissemination.  It’s important to understand that most boutique festivals are run by two or three people tops, with a huge dependency on volunteers.  Many break even at the end of the festival, others go into the red and are often financed by the organizer’s personal funds.   Because of this there is very little resources available to disseminate information to the public on all the various aspects of the event.  This includes the screening schedule, filmmaker PR, all the various venues that the festival requires for the screenings, panel discussions and so forth.  This is why many festivals look for filmmakers who are working heavily to promote their work and their screenings.  One of the things fests look for when programming are filmmakers in tune with the latest social media or have gained attention in other ways, either in the press or in the blogosphere.  Obviously this isn’t make or break – I see plenty of films this year that haven’t been covered at all by the media, but it’s important that a good number of the filmmakers understand something about promotion.

This also ties into festival communications.  Don’t expect the organizers to get back to you off the bat, and when they do, don’t expect the answer you want. While festivals do their best to please the artists they program, it’s not always possible to keep 163 people equally happy.  Everyone has their own ideas about their work and what a festival should be and it takes a special kind of person to accept a festival as it is and just roll with it.  This is what I call “working the festival”.  Being able to work a festival regardless of its resources and operations is the kind of person a filmmaker operating in the circuit should become – because when you start to stress out because a festival isn’t allowing things to go your way, you’ll just end up making a fool of yourself.

-Eric  Norcross