Friday, August 20, 2010

FILMMAKING: Why You Need to Attend Film Festivals

On August 6, 7, and 8, 2010, I attended my first film festival, "The Indie Gathering International Film Festival" in Westlake, Ohio. I wasn't screening a film for competition but a 4 minute "experimental art video" I edited was being shown complimentarily by Ray Szuch, the event organizer. Who said there aren't any great humanitarians anymore?

EVEN if there is no other reason for you to go to a film festival, like you can't find a movie that interests you (this is hypothetical as there is no way this can happen), and you don't have anything showing there yourself (which happens.....too often...), there are still lectures and seminars that are given by people that have been successful and are there to help you become successful too.

Some of the seminars require an extra fee, and are most likely worth it. This seminar can be a workshop that can take hours and involves hands on learning from the pros. Lectures can be given by an individual or panels at no extra cost. Here's some examples of lectures that I attended. I couldn't attend them all and some of them were not beneficial to me as a filmmaker, such as the lectures geared towards actors.

One lecture I attended was on filmmaking from a Producer's perspective. This lecture hit on topics such as starting a different company for each film so that any unforseeable negative impacts do not also infringe on any other films you may make. The importance of release forms, location contracts, and all other legal permissions and releases of liability was stressed and examples given of "this would never happen" occurances happening. The speaker, Johnny Wu, also hit on what are considered "background images" that do not require releases when used in your movie and what situations require a release form for the use of a business sign, personal image, or other recognizeable image that appears in your movie. There is a legal distinction and this explains why you can make a pan of Time Square in New York City, and why you cannot use a medium shot of a McDonald's sign if you hold on the sign, without written permission to use this image.

Another lecture was on Guerrilla Filmmaking. This is a low or no budget filming method that enables you to get those shots you need while maybe not necessarily going about it the way everyone (authorities, property owners, etc.) may prefer. One example was a shot of Cleveland that was needed to set mood. It had to be taken in Magic Hour lighting of the sun, and encompass just the right angle of downtown. This was achieved by suddenly stopping their car on a bridge, placing cones around the car, setting up the tripod and camera, taking 2 minutes to get the shot, and leaving. The speakers noted that those orange cones seem to be "police repellants" and none stopped to see what they were up to since they were "properly equipped" for making a stop on the side of the bridge, complete with "safety cones." Another filmmaker mentioned buying a couple security uniforms from ebay and dressing two friends in them for a shoot in Cleveland. The filmmaker was able to shoot in the middle of the Town Square for 10 hours by having the two "security guards" posted at two corners of the square, pacing back and forth as if providing security for the shoot, and police car after police car went past and never slowed or questioned anyone.

There was an attorney present to speak about legal matters in the film industry and field questions anyone had. Hey, free legal service!

Another lecture was about lighting. This was actually a demonstration of lighting 3 different actors in 3 different settings. The principle of 3 point lighting was explained and demonstrated as well as creating candle light with a gel and the fingers from a stage hand, or hands as it were, literally. William Johns also explained how he built some of his own inexpensive lighting fixtures and reflectors.

Another reason to attend festivals is for the networking opportunities. There are few places where you will ever be around that many film people of all walks, experience, and backgrounds. These are people that can give you some advice, provide other contacts you may need, and maybe even help you with your next project. While I was attending this festival with the creator of Ghost Walk, for whom I am Director of Photography, we met Tiffany Apan. She is a wonderful singer who was exhibiting a music video at the festival as well as having a table set up to market her CD's and promote herself. Her voice and style have a perfect "gothic" sound that would compliment our story very well. A song had already been in the works for promotion of the project and we found our singer at the festival!

So, my advice is to attend as many film festivals as you can. You will make connections that will benefit your career, learn a lot about filmmaking from those whom have already had success at it, see some great films possibly from all over the world that you may not otherwise get the chance to see, and come away with a better understanding of this crazy thing called the Film Industry.

- Steve Olander

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  1. several good points Steve, one of the best things about festivals is also seeing what works and what doesn't work in a film. One of the best rules is to seek out pictures along the same style as you are going to make or are making, and see if the features pacing, acting, shot selection and sound/score fit that type of production. The more you question what was done and how the better yours will turn out.

  2. Excellent advice, Craig. It's a good way to see if anyone has done what you are considering and seeing if it works or not. Honestly I hadn't thought of that. I was on input overload at this festival as it was, so thanks for pointing that out.