Dealing With Arrogant Films

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 4, 2009

Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, then later today we’ll be rolling out the full schedule for this year’s AFI DALLAS Film Festival. And if all goes according to a still forming new plan, there could be some cool surprises in that schedule that may be added almost up until the last minute before I hit the send button to rocket that thing off to the first journalist to make it all official and in-the-news.

This is the time where Artistic Director Michael Cain and Director of Programming James Faust (or as you probably know him: Faust-About-Town) trade phone calls and e-mails with various studio, production, and distributor heads, agents, managers, and publicists to get a final determination on whether or not we can screen those last few films we want on our schedule.

But more to the point, they – along with the charmingly British Artistic Coordinator Emily Hargrove and AFI’s tireless, yet gentle Talent Coordinator Christine Calandra are trying to get an honest bead on what directors and stars will accompany those films to Dallas.

Because it’s a film festival. And, the truth is, that’s why we go to film festivals – to see the films and then see and hear the people who made those films and were part of the creative process – talk about them. We want to see them in person, we want a chance to ask them what their inspiration was, how they pulled off making an accomplished feature film for the price of an economy car, did they luck out when that butterfly flew into the shot or was it planned, and what the hell were they thinking by not having the guy kiss the girl in the third act?

Stuff like that.

Otherwise we could watch these films when they come out in general release or when they hit the Sundance Channel or DVD or on our laptops.

The worst part about this time is when some studio or production company decides it’s not that important to send anyone at all to represent their film at our film festival. This kills me. Kills me. Let me put this simply: Rare, oh so rare is the film so good, so brilliant, a work of unqualified genius, that we are blessed just to bathe in the glow of its glorious cinema.

We have a few films that have major stars in them that can’t find their way clear to make it to Dallas for a couple days to show up for a Q&A or two. Now, for one of those films they are able to pull off a trip to South By Southwest a week or so earlier but Dallas – yeah…well, they’ve got this thing and it’s tough but they’re like busy and stuff and…

For another, no one out of a good half dozen possible cast members we’d be thrilled to have can make it because they have a press day scheduled two days after their film screens at AFI DALLAS. The hilarious thing is that the production company originally said that none of their stars could attend because they were too busy promoting their film. Uhmm…wait…we do this thing called a film festival and one of the super neat things it does is like, totally promote your movie!

In the third case, we’ve got a producer who wants to hold back his biggest star because he’s saving her for a New York premiere.

And you know what? I can respect that. Of course, I get it. The guy has a tiny indie film, and he has a money-in-the-bank star that will help him sell it AND he knows that he has her for a limited number of appearances on behalf of that film so he has to parcel out his cast as best he can. He’s dealing with personal publicists that are telling her to do as little as she has to do because it’s not something they can exploit to great effect and so he needs to pick his spots. And he’s been up front about it from the beginning. Now, we may go after the personal publicist ourselves if he thinks that will buffer him from the responsibility for the “ask”. Or we may just settle for another couple of stars from the film. But at least it is all above board and we feel he’s playing fair and respecting us.

Those first two examples. Not so much.

Let’s take version number one. I understand the desire to go to SXSW. This is only our third year and we don’t have the same cache yet. Not by a long shot. However, there is a PR philosophy behind what we do on behalf of the films that come to AFI DALLAS and AFI FEST (not to mention IFFLA, Lone Star and Feel Good) that is aggressive and personal and inventive. We work hard for each film and filmmaker we have here. And frankly, to not even consider coming to AFI DALLAS is lazy. It’s rote. And it smacks of a dump. The film company gives us a few of their titles, but doesn’t see any need to support those screenings either by sending talent or screeners (for press) or even posters for the films.

Arrogant.

Version number two. We caught this film at Sundance, immediately got onboard and invited them to AFI DALLAS. It’s all going to be great and then suddenly there is a New York press day that has been scheduled and that press day takes precedence over the film festival. The problem is, no one informed us as to the date for that press day as we were putting together the schedule. AND – even after we made efforts to move the screening dates after the fact, no one was willing to budge.

What’s interesting about this is that I used to work for the PR firm handling that film and consider them friends. I have even pinch hit for them at screenings and events long after leaving for AFI-land. But the truth of the matter is that kind of thing rarely, rarely, let’s do this one more time for emphasis – rarely…matters. Because that kind of consideration and possibly extending yourself to make something work in a case like this can fly right out the door once the key voice of reason and integrity for your company goes on maternity leave.

And what’s left is arrogance.

So we will work even harder on behalf of the films with filmmakers coming to town, we’ll exhaust every idea to get the word out and make sure that the theaters are filled and that national and international press takes note of those films as well. It doesn’t mean we’ll score features for each and every one of them, but each one of those filmmakers will know they had a lot of people genuinely busting ass for them.

And those others? Well, check out the AFI DALLAS website. We’ve got a lot of movies this year…

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