Simple, But Deadly Mistakes in Short Film Submissions...According to Georgia Film Festival Programmers

Adam Tawfik is a Georgia-based freelance writer and social media manager. He also owns and operates the entertainment blog The Tawfik Zone

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Answer our Survey: GA's Indie Scene Pass or Fail? National Reputation Good or Bad? What IS an Indie Film?

For some, working on indie projects can be a point of pride. They build community. They are spaces to stretch artistically and tell the stories that aren't being told. In the case of others, they consider indie productions a sure fire way to waste valuable time and resources, for little to no return. What do you say?

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The ‘Magic’ art of puppet films

Believe it or not, Atlanta has a rich history of Puppet movies. Recent short film like The Dark Companion, Puppets of War and Shadow Puppets have made their presence known on the film festival circuit and even the sock puppet feature film from Lynn Lamousin, The Lady From Sockholm have proven to be inventive takes on the genre. It helps that Atlanta is home to the fine Center for Puppetry Arts which is very committed to the magic of puppetry.

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Exec Resignation at Georgia Council for the Arts: What Does it Signal for Arts as an Industry In Georgia?

The announcement of Susan Weiner's resignation as executive director for the ever shrinking Georgia Council for the Arts hit email boxes via a press release yesterday afternoon and local papers, like the AJC, by evening.

As another chapter in a story that's had more downs than ups the last three or four years, this bit of news wasn't really all that shocking. At one point, with elimination over the horizon, Georgia almost became the only state in the nation without an arts council.

As Weiner fought to keep GCA going, her frustration was evident in more than a few of the pieces of correspondence she had sent out. With Nathan Deal's recent election, and the Republican fervor to cut taxes and programs they don't see as being in the public interest--of which the arts has increasingly fallen under since at least the early 1970s--a further reduction in GCA's budget and functions was more than likely, it was certain.

As the AJC article points out, the funding for GCA has dropped from $4.5 million* in 2002 to, as proposed for the current 2012 fiscal budget, $566,730 this year. At that level, the impact GCA once could have on any arts organization's fiscal year and mission is effectively nullified, which as been very much the case for the last few years.

What should draw people's attention the most, is that the agency is moving from being under the governor's office to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. As one of the folks who is ardently on the side of advocating for the arts as an industry and a major economic force, this should be an announcement that presages great things. However, this feels more like a smaller government via smaller powers move, and not a philosophical shift.

Which is a damn shame, because treating the arts no differently than any other industry could do wonders for a state in which the link between the arts and business communities is considered one of the weakest in the nation. In today's climate in which creativity, technology and innovation move at breakneck speed, with a lot of that pace being dictated from the bottom up, the arts have proven to be even more integral to the overall equation. It's in the arts that many of the new ideas on social innovation, interaction and information sharing spring forth, long before they have any monetizing value. And it's the arts that help create viable living spaces that make cities attractive to both businesses and employees as they search for places to live. In our ever more mobile society, being a livable community is a vital component to stopping and reversing a community's brain drain**.

With Weiner resigning after making "an assessment of the goals and objectives of the agency," it's a sign that the move to GDoED, at least initially, is going to be even more painful than many of us would like. However, maybe, just maybe, over time, the GCA can find new life.

The GCA had already amended it's mission from:

"The mission of Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) is access to the arts for all Georgians."

To

"The mission of Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) is access to the arts for all Georgians with the primary responsibility to the state's nonprofit arts industry."

While this announcement has an undertone of gloom and doom, let's hope that being a GDoED department will help GCA meet that amended mission. Beyond that, let's hope that more people will truly start to think of the arts as an industry and treat it as such.

 

* Admittedly,  I work for the Atlanta Film Festival, an organization that benefited from GCA grants.

** In a recent piece in Forbes, Atlanta didn't even rank in the top 10 of most brainiest cities, even though it boasts one of the highest concentrations of institutions of higher learning in the nation.

Is ‘Snow’ a 'Bluff' or all too real?

Ever since the phenomenal success of The Blair Witch Project, there seems to be a fascination as well as an eagerness to blur the lines between reality and fiction to keep an audience off guard as to what feelings to be drawn from what they are watching unfold on the screen in front of them. It can be effective marketing to boot.

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The Wild Wild West: We're All Freelancers

If you've been working in film for any number of years, especially the last 5 to 10, the subtitle of this post, "We're All Freelancers," probably seems obvious in the extreme. However, I'm thinking beyond just film and media. The very definition of career has changed.

We've mostly reconciled ourselves to the concept that no longer will people work for the same company till they retire, or that it's likely that anyone will work in the same type of job or industry for more than a few years. I'm not quite sure we've come to understand that a career will no longer be a series of promotions, in which once you've proven you're proficient at job X, you move up into management.

No, career is now an ever changing, ever evolving set of skill sets learned, refined, and re-purposed ever a few years. Then, as folks move on, they learn new skills, refine those, and again find new uses for said skills. Even for those who still work in "management", they too will have to continuously return to the well and make sure their skill sets are current.

A good  friend described our current climate (for filmmaking) as The Wild Wild West and I think that more than fits across the board. Of the folks I know who are most successful, they've been roaming from job to job the last few years, doing PA work here, AD work there, Producing somewhere else. For those who have specific skills, it's been a bit easier to find their niches.

One of the reasons I'm so big on Atlanta's media and film industry is not only because I want to see it thrive, but because I think it's uniquely poised to create the models and templates that can be applied to other industries.

For the last 20 to 30 years, we've been holding on to the antiquated notion that for our economy to thrive, we have to make stuff. Cars, mattresses, houses, etc. Those days passed us around about the mid 1970s and it's a shame that a phrase like creative culture receded before some of its ideas took root. We're beyond a service economy, we're in an evolution economy.

The sooner we start to realize that we're all freelancers, and that we'll not only be on a continuous job hunt, but that we all need to have an always learning mentality, the more quickly we can move on to defining how exactly our economy is going to function in the 21st century. From there, we can create better, more targeted educational programs, and from there, we can design policy that will be a true catalyst for jobs and growth and not just vote bait.

The Next Cool Thing - Georgia Film Industry Demonstrates Its Creativity and Its Power to Unite

Last night I attended the VIP Gala portion of The Next Cool Thing, a three day extravaganza displaying what Georgia's Interior Design community, inspired by the movies, as well as television, could dream up.

Impressively covering every inch of the 90,000 square feet of converted warehouse space, one could find booths featuring design elements influenced by classics such as Casablanca, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory and Ben Hur, as well as iconic characters like James Bond. Not to be excluded, recent releases including Black Swan and box office juggernaut Avatar were also represented. Adding a festive element and bringing a bit of movie magic to the night, there were actors, models and look-alikes walking the floor, taking pictures with guests, and performing mini-shows.

Russell Kozlosky Daniel Craig Look-Alike

As an event intended "to showcase local talent and resources for the purpose of building the infrastructure for the growing film and television industry in Georgia," I think using the word success is underselling what was accomplished this weekend. Pulling together nearly two dozen sponsors and 300 exhibitors is no easy feat.  And the result of all that hardwork--especially after TNCT had to move back a week, thanks to the recent snowstorm--was an energy, a vibe, and yes, even a sexiness, that was infectious.

I hope much praise is heaped on producers Higher Ground EventsTo The Trade Only and Entertainment Design Group. They did an amazing job. And, as a member of Georgia Production Partnership*, I'm excited to see GPP playing such an integral role in reaching out beyond the film community to ensure others are benefiting from Georgia's 30 percent tax incentive.

Making a film requires a small battalion. Building up a film industry requires an army of creatives. This weekend demonstrated we've got that army, and they're ready work.

*In full disclosure, I also serve on the Membership Committee.

Slo-Mo Punching to $15,000 in 30 Days: Anthony McHie's New Project

I first met Anthony McHie about four years ago at our second Rapid i Movement at the Atlanta Film Festival. Why do I remember this?

One, his passion to do this film thing was evident when I saw him following RiM not once, not twice, but three times in two months.

I've been doing a version of this artsy Black Man thing for 18 years and focused on film exclusively in some fashion for the last 10 plus. Do this long enough and you'll come to understand that only about half the folks you meet who want to be filmmakers you'll see at least one more time within a year. Within two years, that number risesto about 80 to 90 percent.

It's not that folks are lazy, even though that can play a part, it's that this can be hardwork and be you a poet or a painter or a filmmaker, finding your ins takes time. And, for most artists, unless they shoot out the gate working, their day job is a time-suck. If they want to get that last page written, if they want to not lose their 12:05am spot so they can read their latest piece on stage, something's got to give. So sleeping eight hours drops to six, then five, then four, and eating three times a day becomes snacking whenever and wherever.

So seeing McHie that often in a such a short period made him instantly memorable.

However, the real reason I remember McHie is because of what he did in his RiM short that year. Of the one million and one pieces of advice we festival folks can give to most indie filmmakers, avoid directing kids is probably in the top twenty. Even when the writing, tech and directing are excellent, if a director doesn't have deft hand with actors under 12, even a so-so kid performance can derail the best of efforts.

McHie not only directed several kids, a few of them his own, he made a short that only featured kids. In a short film contest in which he had 50 hours to write, direct and edit the entire project. Oh, and did I mention it was an apocalyptic tale about a world in which all the parents have suddenly disappeared?

I'm not going to sit here and tell you the entire short is brilliant--dude, it's me...I'm a nitpicky bastard, and I ain't mellowing with age--however, I can tell you the first two or three minutes thrilled me and put McHie on my personal watch list. Naturalistic as hell, from the free floating camera work, to the "they're so good can you call it acting" performances of the kids, McHie totally sells the idea that we're in an alternate world.

The making of a good director is when they can take an inherently melodramatic idea beyond plausible and to make it feel tangible. The obvious direction would be to punctuate the opening frames with "holy shit the world has gone to hell." Yet, McHie instead chose to remind us that, in a world without adults, kids are going to be kids first. As a result, a shot of a young girl struggling to pour milk from a carton that's almost as big as her for her sister, is at first cute and touching. Then as one realizes what's happened, it takes on a horrifying subtext.

As with Crystle "Clear" Roberson, who I posted about earlier this week, McHie has started building up a name for himself in the ATL film community. And like Roberson he's got a project he's crowdfunding, Passive Fist, which will feature one of Atlanta's most ass-kickingest actors, Kely McClung of Blood Ties.

You can check out the pitch video for Passive Fist below and its crowdfunding page at Indiegogo.

Got to say, I'm loving the creativity and energy ATL filmmakers are demonstrating in their campaigns. I'm hoping they'll lead to more cinematic moments that will remain stuck in my brain for years to come.

Passive Fist Fundraiser from Anthony McHie on Vimeo.

Raising $80,000 in 60 Days, Crystle Roberson's New Project

If you hang around the Atlanta filmmaking community long enough, you'll eventually hear the name Crystle 'Clear' Roberson come up at some point. Since being awarded Women in Film & Television's Woman to Watch award back in 2008, Roberson's been busy building up a healthy resume including working on some of Georgia's most high profile productions including Zombieland, Vampire Diaries, Footloose and of course several Tyler Perry projects. She's currently working on her next project, Echo at 11 Oak Drive, and along with her producer they've set the crazy, insane goal of raising $80,000 via iFundie in the next 51 days.

The project itself, three stories set in 1951, 1973 and 2010, in the same house, and all sharing the same dialogue, sounds intriguing and also a bit dangerous, but in a good way. It's taking what has been done in movies such as HBO's If These Walls Could Talk and its followup If These Walls Could Talk 2, a few steps further.

One of the most basic acting exercises actors go through is making a scene out of raw dialogue stripped of cues, context and direction. At first glance it can be daunting and most beginning actors go for the obvious choices. However, when an actor is on top of her game, and she takes a few risky gambles, you can get something really powerful.

A director upping that ante across time, and three radically different eras, and in something much more complex than a single scene, is something that excites folks like me. Hopefully Roberson can pull it off.

First though, is the funding. While the goal is ambitious, other folks have been able to raise 80k (although I'm curious why link to Kickstarter for examples of projects that succeeded when they went with iFundie).

Four things I really like about the way Roberson and her producer approached this is:

  1. They edited in previous work. Too few crowd sourcing campaigns from filmmakers include any examples of previous work to illustrate what the money raised might help fund.
  2. Roberson has a well written, and updated bio that exudes confidence.
  3. Offering some unique items. At the magic $20 level (that's where most donations come in) they're sharing a private link to "a never-before-seen music video" with The Wire actor Idris Elba that was directed by Roberson in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It's a nice bit of exclusivity--it's one of the reasons we all love special features on DVDS, getting to see the unreleased footage. And at the $100 level they'll let you in on the behind the scenes info of the film's making. Including sharing script changes, shot lists, casting decisions and more. Most folks won't dig all that deep into the info, but by offering such an intimate look into their process, the filmmakers are both acknowledging and honoring how much trust is involved in crowdfunding.
  4. They made the accompanying pitch video fun. There's no indie filmmaker, I'm broke, hand wringing. It's clear these two young ladies love what they do, have great personalities, and are excited about their project, and that's infectious. It also shows how much faith they have they'll reach their goal. Raising $80k? They got that.

As I'm wont to do, I do have one suggestion. Their logline is more of a tagline and they could use a succinct logline that gives a little more story detail. As someone who has to read lots and lots of loglines, vague ones are a pet peeve of mine. And, since the tagline includes, even if it's unintentional, the title of the aforementioned If These Walls Could Talk, a stronger logline would help their project stand apart more.

You can check out their pitch video below and the Echo at 11 Oak Drive iFundie page here.

Building Up Atlanta's Indie Film Scene Part 1: Does Atlanta Have an Indie Film Scene?

I'm assuming you're reading this site because you are either vested in Atlanta's film scene, or you have a passing interest in it. It's also probably safe for me to guess that if you're an Atlanta filmmaker, you'd answer yes to the above question. A few years a go, I too would have answered the same. Now? I'd say that at best, we have half a film scene.

True, we do have a lot of filmmakers. Many turning out new work every few months. And we definitely have one of the larger crew bases in the country.

If having a large filmmaking community was enough, we'd be all good. Yet, a thriving Indie Film Scene is more than about counting bodies and productions. It's not even about producing "better" projects. And it's not even about finding more money (what!?!). It's not even about exhibiting more films locally (WTF!?! FU Charles!).

Those elements each play a part, most definitely. However, having a dynamic film scene, an interesting film scene, is at its heart, all about conversations, continuous growth, new challenges and constant reinvention. It's about being in a place where risks are taken and filmmakers push each other creatively. It's about an environment that fosters the development of new voices and building up an excitement that extends beyond the core film community.

These last two points are key.

Metro Atlanta is a city of 5 million and frankly over the last few years, we--and that we does include where I work, I'm not letting myself or my organization off the hook--haven't done the best job of tapping into that population to create new film fans or find the folks doing interesting work and giving them a supportive infrastructure.

If we can't get beyond our friends, families and co-workers to see our work, what hope do we have in engaging audiences beyond Metro Atlanta? What hope do we have that what we do will be rediscovered 3, 5 or 20 years from now. If we aren't creating spaces that allow filmmakers to experiment and fail, if we aren't offering them useful feedback they can apply to their next projects, why should we expect to see anything new or daring?

So right now, we have half a film scene. We've got a lot of the pieces and the ambition and the talent is here. Question is, how do we bring the elements together to elevate Atlanta's Film Scene to another level?

Before I get to that, we need to let go of a few of the basics:

  1. We must let go of the feature film and a theatrical screening as the holy grails. I'm not suggesting filmmakers stop making features or aiming for theatrical. I'm suggesting we expand how we tell stories and how we present (deliver) those stories. Not every story is meant to be a feature, not every film works best in a theater. And audiences want choices.
  2. We must let go of the idea that shorts are only good as calling cards. They need to be seen as being a part of a filmmaker's entire body of work. And they shouldn't be approached as if they're a culmination of everything a filmmaker has learned either. It's also silly to treat something that some will spend months and even years on as little more than an expensive, time consuming, business card.
  3. We must let go of the idea that we should make better films. Making better films as a goal is much too intangible. We need to be thinking about not only incremental growth, pushing ourselves to take chances in specific areas of our filmmaking. We should also be targeting filmmakers on a individual level. It's not the films we need to invest in, it's the people.
  4. We must let go of the idea that more money is the answer. Money is a tool, it's not a solution.
  5. If we have any fear of failure, we must let that go. If we're going to sit around, waiting for someone else to find the answers first because we don't want to put any skin in the game, we might has well not even participate.

If you have your own ideas about how to build up Atlanta's Indie Film Scene, please post them here. I'd love to hear them. They may even influence where I go with part 2.

ATL filmmaker Joseph Stovall is Coming Correct in 2010

Independent filmmaker Joseph Stovall has said, “Atlanta has a GREAT Film Community.” I definitely agree with that sentiment, but Joseph is also quick to challenge that same community to do better while not being frozen by the daunting tasks of doing so that it keeps them from simply doing it.

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Kicking Ass Only as a Feminist Knows How, Does Atlanta Have a Diablo Cody?

Via Women and Hollywood, one of my favorite blogs, Melissa Silverstein linked through to some soundbites on the state of feminism in Hollywood from Diablo Cody.

For some, Cody is a refreshing, original voice. For others, Oscar for Best Original Screenplay notwithstanding, her scripts are nails on a chalkboard. I personally think she's got some great chops when it comes to crafting characters. Her ability to craft characters and dialogue that can engender such a visceral response in audiences is a strength in my eyes, not a deficiency. If you are an anti-Codyite, please take a five second pause before the next time you bitch about weak dialogue and bland protagonists in some of this summer crop of films.

Putting her scripts aside, just as a woman writer in the biz, she is one of the only overtly feminist behind the camera creatives who speak out on a regular basis. It's a trait I admire because as someone who's drawn to great characters and as a black dude who has had to endure one too many craptacular minority characters who are best forgotten, I would love to see the pantheon of memorable female onscreen characters expand. Cody is one of the folks who can do it.

Of her quotes on Tressugar that jumped out at me, this one intrigued me the most:

On being a feminist filmmaker: "If anything we're less post-gender than 10 years ago. The Kathryn Bigelow thing was awesome, but it's difficult to be a feminist filmmaker. No one wants you pressing your feminist agenda on nice clean celluloid. It doesn't sell."

This got me to thinking. With the South's tradition of strong female writers in the literary world, is there currently a female filmmaker in the A who is creating overtly feminist work and known for it?

I'd like to be able to name a woman director/screenwriter based in Atlanta who has a CV that can answer that question in the affirmative. As someone who works for a film festival, you'd think I'd know.

It's 2010 and for a city that reinvents itself so often, as a region that has had such a complicated history with sex, gender and race, I feel like Atlanta should be the epicenter of some interesting work. We could blame funding and lack of resources, yet, with the number of short film projects out there, the ever growing number of festival submissions, and because I'm only asking for ONE freaking name, that would be a cop out.

As a city still missing too many diverse voices producing strong homegrown work, Atlanta's Film community would be a much more interesting, exciting, and frankly, fun place to be if we had a feminist filmmaker kicking ass behind the camera and in the community.

By the by, if you know someone who fits the bill, please post who they are in the comments here. Hopefully, we'll get a few names--and a starting point so I can un-ignoramus myself about who is here. If not, that's just a sign of what we got to do.