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

DMW’s Future of Music Event – Coming Next Week!

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DMW MusicOn February 20-21, Digital Media Wire (host to Future of TV and Future of Film) combines Digital Music Forum East and West into one large event simply named DMW Music. The event will be taking place at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, New York, NY. Film Anthropology will be in attendance of the event.

DMW Music still has open availability for music industry professionals interested in attending, along with 500+ of the most influential music and digital media leaders as they gather in Downtown New York to socialize, share ideas, do deals and learn about new technologies and services. This year’s event will be packed with great content, stellar people and a lot of companies that are new on the music-tech scene.

Register here: http://dmw-music.com/register/ For FilmAnthropology subscriber discounts, e-mail info (at) norcrossmedia (dot) com.

Future of Film Summit 2012

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Industry News:

FILM ANTHROPOLOGY will attend the FUTURE OF FILM SUMMIT in Los Angeles on December 5th.  Some of the topics will include: “What Is The Future of Studio Production Deals?” “Trendsetters of the New Platforms” “What Are the Latest Sources For Financing & Production Partners?” plus a whole lot of others. For those interested in attending, you can register at: http://www.regonline.com/Register/Checkin.aspx?EventID=1136105

Film is an ever evolving medium and the film industry occasionally needs to take stock of all the changes.  While Hollywood is always quick to take advantage of any new innovations that can be used to enhance production value, such as 3D, CGI, or, many years ago, sound, they can be slower to embrace new innovations that affect aspects of the industry beyond production.  In the last twenty years there have been massive changes in the way films are financed, marketed, distributed, and more.

Reading memoirs that detail life in the old studio system, they often seem like one of the “days gone by” anecdotes, like how they used to buy hot dogs for a nickel.  It seemed ridiculous, how could just a few studio executives control the lives of so many people?  Why didn’t all those audiences just rent a video?  There’s the never ending question of, if those execs knew how the industry would function today, would they have done things differently?

If, twenty years ago, industry professionals could predict how the internet would affect distribution, might they have altered the distribution model ahead of time or would they have put their resources into fighting the internet like they did?  The Future of Film Summit doesn’t discuss the existential questions of “what if“.  However, they do discuss the possible directions the film industry could head and how to utilize all the new innovations to anticipate the tomorrow.

Leading up to the summit we’ll be posting about their agenda here, so check back frequently or better yet, subscribe!

-E

Future of Television Conference East

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FOTV 12This year I was in attendance of Future of Television East, which is an industry conference held at the Holocaust Museum in New York City.  This one day annual conference is comprised of various panel discussions featuring selected industry participants who discuss the current state of the television industry and work to predict where it’s headed.

My roll was to support NewFilmmmakers New York and enhance their presence at the event.  As their Media Director and Social Networking Ambassador, I thought it best to take professional quality photographs for archiving on their Flickr and Facebook accounts.  Although I wasn’t there as a photographer, it seemed to be the function I participated in for the most part.  Many of the photographers who were in attendance seemed to gravitate towards the type of shots that portrayed the conference as an epic event, so in response I chose to stay small, concentrating more on the people who were in attendance and trying to portray them as individual characters rather than a part of the larger mass. Although I did take a few wide shots with the intention of using them on this blog (both of which are featured on this page).

Future of Television EastMany of the images I created are close up head shots with expressions of people in deep thought or engaged in thought-provoking conversation.  It was important for me to convey a sense of on-going dialog between the people I photographed, or with one’s self.  I ran into so many different people from so many different sectors of the industry. From the freelance “media producer” whom I related to on just about ever level  to the studio executive who I found I had to swallow my pride just to keep quiet when it was clear we could not agree on topics such as copyright law.  The gamut of people who are impacted by the future of television is massive.  I can’t help but to remind all of you that the people in attendance is just a fraction of the people out there who should have been but weren’t for one reason or another. The discussions being held at the FOTV events are vital to the future of media, whether we’re referring to technical formats, the art and entertainment that is created or the various professional fields the term “media” encompasses, for producers large and small and all the trades that come in between concept to delivery, we all have a responsibility to guiding the future of television in a direction appropriate for both industry professionals and the consumers, without whom our industry wouldn’t exist. We’re responsible to the entire gamut of people affected by the future of television – because it is essentially the future of all media.

Please view all of my selected photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/norcrossmedia/sets/72157632042178940/

You can view a raw set on the NewFilmmakers Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/newfilmmakersny/sets/72157632037633141/

Eric Norcross | November 18, 2012

Festival Submission

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I’ve been meaning for some time, to write a blog about what I’ve learned about the festival system over the past two years since I began submitting Caroline of Virginia to the festival circuit. It’s been tough getting this movie screened, mainly because of its awkward running time, but also it was clearly shot and completed without a budget, on a completely volunteer basis.  The dfilmmaker of the independent film The Waterhole comments in his blog that “the festival submission process is the filmmaking equivalent to the lottery.  Worse actually, because at least all lottery ticket buyers are playing on the same level. “. With that said, I still wake up astonished that we managed to pick up an award for it, considering we were up against $20,000 micro-budget shorts shot on cameras such as the Alexa and the Red.  To beat out our peers with an HDV shot 37 minute NYC fairy tale with edgy political and human statements, well, it really gets me going in the morning.  In some ways its better than coffee.

One mistake I made that I will not do again is that I began submitting Caroline to festivals before the film was finished, as a work in progress. Not many, but a few who insisted that if your “WIP” is generally close to what the final will be, then they would take the submission seriously. We didn’t get into any of those.  You have to understand that Caroline is not my first film, but the first that I truly thought was worth investing in and the festival submission fees certainly added up to a substantial investment.  Moving on, I proceeded to submit the picture lock as a  “Lock with ‘WIP’ audio”, meaning that our sound design was still a work in progress but everything else is there. With the exception of NewFilmmakers New York, this didn’t fly and no one else would take it. One festival had a “same day rejection” and another within 48 hours.  I will likely never submit to those festivals again (and these were noteworthy events, one out of Chicago and the other in New Jersey).  The funny part is, the WIP audio wasn’t that bad.  NewFilmmakers even screened the film with work in progress audio and the audience loved it.  They were truly reacting to the story.  We didn’t finished the sound design until our third screening at the Tribeca Grand’s “After Set” series and believe it or not, there really wasn’t much of a difference, except that some of the more subtle sounds were better mixed.

This week the final sound mix for Lipstick Lies will be finished and I’m happy to say that I’ve resisted the urge to submit the “picture lock with ‘WIP’ audio” to festivals.  It clearly didn’t work out with COV and I feel as if my submission funds could have been better spent had I waited for the sound to actually have been completed. In addition I did very little research on the festivals I was submitting to. A few things I’ve learned is that you absolutely should, if money is an object for you, review the previous three years worth of programming that a festival has exhibited before submitting. Understand which films they selected to screen, which made the final rounds of selection but weren’t screened and which films won awards.  If possible, try to gauge why certain films picked up awards.  Another option is to go to the event first and then submit next year.  I did this with a couple festivals over the course of the summer.  Some of them I decided I would submit to next year, others were not what they seemed to be at all and their programming was clearly not on par with what I was looking for. This is important because their website and their press coverage conveyed the opposite of the truth. So yes, if you have the opportunity to attend a version of the event first, I would highly recommend it.

Another mistake I made was that I blindly submitted to the festivals from the WithoutABox suggestion list, which I believe they send by e-mail every week or so. These are usually top brand festivals like Sundance, Tribeca, Slamdance and so forth. These festivals are a pain in the ass to get into because they’re not just considering programming that’s submitted through paying filmmakers, but they’re also going out on their own and hunting for star studded Hollywood films. Nevermind that they’re on a WAB “hey submit to these” list which other fools, like me, are going to be like “okay!” but they have feelers already out there, making backroom deals to screen films with successful talent.  Look at Tribeca, for example, in that they screened “The Five Year Engagement” starring Jason Segel and a variety of other stars. This is a film that had distribution in place already and in my opinion had absolutely no reason to be in a film festival. Film festivals are meant to discover new films, new talent and new storytellers.  As a filmmaker, a programmer and a blogger of film, this is a FACT that I absolutely have to call festivals out on when they start to pull this kind of jive.  Evidently, Tribeca closed last year’s festival with a screening of “The Avengers” as one final insult to the people like me who were actually dumb enough to pay the submission fees for our truly independent films.  Let’s also not forget the fact that they have the 1985 hit film The Goonies on their 2012 program as well.

I did not keep silent about this either, in that I had sent e-mails to all of the programmers to let them know exactly how I felt about such a decision.  I also asked for my submission fee back but never received it.  Whilst I have no doubt I’ve burned my bridge with the event, I can only hope that my warning to new and emerging filmmakers about submitting to these organizations isn’t taken with a grain of salt.  Perhaps if we stopped taking them seriously, they’ll start taking us seriously.  It’s a true problem and can only be resolved when filmmakers stop participating in such silliness.  The only suggestion I recommend for filmmakers that don’t have star studded micro or medium budget films is to not submit to these festivals period. In fact, if your film does well enough, let them come to you. If your movie truly is what they want, they’ll often invite filmmakers to screen and this is just about the only way to get into one of these festivals apart from having a budget and names attached, or receiving a review in a notable publication with national reach.

For the upcoming Lipstick Lies submission process, my approach in finding events is going to be based on three vital, non-negotiable components:

1. Submission fee | all submission fees have to be below a certain amount for the festival’s “regular” deadline and I will make every effort to only submit to “early” deadlines when possible. At this time I will not disclose the maximum amount I am allocating to spend, since this could reveal my personal financial situation, which is no one’s business, however, I will say that if their early and regular deadlines are above this amount, there’s something sketchy going on.  Most legit festivals shouldn’t depend on their submission fees to finance the event.  In addition I’ve found that WithoutABox, the only online submission platform on the internet that festivals are willing to use (because it’s owned by IMDB/Amazon) charges festivals a hefty flat fee if they want to have “free to submit” categories.  I learned this when I tried including one of my screening series events on the the site and wanted to accept open submissions without charging fees to the filmmakers.  This is why you will likely never find a ‘free’ festival on their site – they actually punish festivals for this!  I find its easier to good “free to submit to festivals” and browse any lists that come up.  They exist, they just won’t be listed on IMDB or WithoutABox.

2. Location of festival |I find that many of my films are New York centric and while the stories can be enjoyed by audiences nationwide (and in some urbanized areas, globally), I’ve found that with a story that is so heavily intertwined with NYC culture, history and people, that festivals in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all cities that in some way or another compete with New York for business, art and culture, tend to turn down the film.  So far all of the festivals COV has screened in, have been in Manhattan. LL is a film that is both set in New York and Hawaii, so this opens up the playing field a tiny bit, but not by much. I’d be interested to see what happens and whether or not my filming and story locations truly makes a difference.

3. Previous three years selection list | You can’t learn a lot about the programmers from their biographies or the films they may have been involved with previously (many programmers are also filmmakers).  The bios you get online is a form of controlled output – sometimes misleading and they certainly don’t give you the whole picture. They are resumes, so to speak, and without an interview and follow up interview, you wouldn’t hire them, right? So why would you offer them $60 to watch your film based on such little information?  One sure way you can learn of their tastes is by reviewing the films that they previously awarded screenings to in the past, by going down the list of past programs.  This is time consuming and often stressful.  Sometimes its difficult when festivals roll over their programmers (which is often done by bigger festivals to keep their tastes unpredictable ‘fresh’).  At times you get depressed because you might find an enormous amount of good material that you’ll feel you will never compete with, or such horrible material that you are positive they’ll never see your film for the gem that it is.  Regardless, this is the single most important thing you can do to achieve higher chances of being selected for a screening.

So far I’ve only submitted LL to one festival as a work in progress, because the submission deadline was coming up and there was no submission fee.  All I had to lose was a USPS Priority Stamp, which I’ve got plenty of.  Beyond that I have not submitted it anywhere, regardless of how much I wanted to.  As far as that festival goes, I have not heard back yet, ‘nor have they announced their official selections so I shall keep my fingers crossed and hope at marsec level 1!

Our preview screening at Tribeca Grand and upcoming premiere at the Anthology Film Archives was by arrangement with the coordinators.  This is possible because I understand their programming, they understand my work and they are both rolling screening series which means there is plenty of room to work with in fitting films in.  This brings me to another point: Screening series.  Often people just starting out (and some experienced filmmakers) are unaware of the differences between a festival and a series.  A festival is an event held annually with a very select number of films chosen to represent the festival in that year’s program.  Often the films go along with a pre-decided theme that they have not disclosed to the filmmakers who are submitting.  A series is a rolling event, that happens either weekly, monthly or seasonally.  With an on-going series there is much more room to program and so your chances of getting screened increase dramatically.  Many film series’ have roll-over policies where if they cannot fit your submission into the next series, they’ll roll it over to the one after and so forth.  While some of them say they roll over, but don’t, many who say this actually honor the policy.  As a submitter, I’ve established a personal policy that I will not submit to a screening series that doesn’t have a “roll over” policy.  It doesn’t make sense not to have it, in my professional and personal opinion.  Most of the more notable screening series’ are in New York City, but others are emerging on the left coast as well.  I suggest you take a look at them.

-E