Okay, technically I’m writing this on March 7 (it’s close to 1AM). But, you know, it’s my blog and I’ll….anyway…
That’s what the DALLAS FILM FEST is all about for me right now because we have to have them show up. Bottom line. And it’s always this ordeal of a process to figure out (say, in the case of the DALLAS Star Award) who you want to honor, who “deserves” to be honored, who would even consider making the trip, who is “easy” because they’re nice, their publicist isn’t lazy or an ass, or who you can simply call because you’ve worked with them in the past and their experience at your past event was amazingly easy for them, you had your thing down and they enjoyed themselves.
Okay, now I’ll take a breath.
So – I’m into that right now. And it is NEVER easy. But there is one thing that is leaps and bounds better than in years past with DALLAS FILM FEST: a lot of the conservative shroud has been lifted off what we are doing this year. In the past, the potential DALLAS Star Award honorees had to be vetted by as many people that have worked on the health care bill. There always had to be some major anniversary of a film or the person had to be ancient or a very typical honoree choice…but not too big, not such a big fish because that person needed to be utilized (read exploited) for something that could make some folks some money somewhere.
So, I’m really hoping that some of the people we are going after say “yes” because they won’t be people that have been trotted out countless times, they aren’t the kind of people where we’d just recycle their clip montages from Santa Barbara or Palm Springs or the Hollywood Film Festival, etc. It would be cool to give these people a nod. Sit down in front of a Dallas crowd to talk about their careers…
(And by the way, if you ARE a publicist reading this – YOU CAN NOT DO BETTER than a Dallas audience for your client. No audiences are as engaged as these audiences are. Not just fans – which they are – the Dallas filmgoers are appreciative, interested and absolutely fascinated by the artistic process. Liener Temerlin and Michael Cain knew what the hell this town wanted and needed when they created this film festival. Trust me on that.),
…and go on record as “saying” that this actor or actress or director or cinematographer, editor, designer, you name it is an artist and someone with a vision.
And then there are the jurors and the panelists and the people that will actually have movies in the film festival. I know that we have to get people here. I mean, that knowledge plagues me. Especially since I’m the freakin’ red carpet guy. You don’t put on the red carpet show without stars and filmmakers. You just don’t. That’s not a red carpet anymore. It’s a red heartbreak. For me, that is. For the press it’s irritating, if not infuriating. There’s a step-and-repeat behind it with logos and stuff, sure. But you might as well have your attendees taking prom-style pictures with powder blue tuxes and corsages and stuff. Because all-of-a-sudden, your event is the school dance with the “Under the Sea” theme. Sad.
Fortunately, we’ve already got a decent handful of people that we’ll be telling everyone about over the next couple of weeks, so no one has to worry about doing a slow dance to “Through the Years” with a lonely shorts director or the one actor that had family in town therefore they decided to make the trip. No, magic 8-ball says we’ll be well attended by out-of-towners once again.
THE VISION THING
That’s why FESTWORKS was created (by Rose Kuo). And that’s why the idea had me before she could completely say it out loud when she introduced it to me. I talked to her this morning and there are possibilities and things on the table for various film festivals and conferences and screening series all over the damn world. And no, the vast majority of them won’t happen. (I say, because I cannot fathom doing every single one of these jobs and projects.) But, how goddamn cool to work with someone that keeps pushing and pushing and saying, “Why not?” “Let’s try this?” “Have you considered this idea?” and “We should give this a shot because no one else has before.”
I was talking to a PR dynamo named Cristina Uranga on Friday. She has been one of the amazing stalwarts I sincerely lean on in Dallas to help us pull off what we do with this film festival. I’ve written about a few of them on this blog before, but I could write about them endlessly and I’d never be able to pay back what they make possible with this thing. To a person, they aren’t just absurdly generous with their time they ARE GOOD. They make me and the film festival look good and I consider them great friends too. Anyway, in 2008 Cristina was my Latin Media Specialist and she rocked the PR house. Just cut a swath through this town on behalf of our films from Mexico and Spain and Latin America. Smart, driven, relentless, charming, thorough – man, it was brilliant. Even wrapped it all up with one of those reports that they throw around in commercials for Kinkos and Fed Ex, you know, with pie charts and graphs and stuff. So, last year I say, “Hell, she pulled that off. Let’s have her run the entire Ethnic and Special Interest outreach! Give her the keys to that part of the kingdom! And let’s add on an “Adopt a Film’” component as well!” Didn’t work. And not because of her at all. Because I screwed up and tried to advance the plan to far and too fast and way too vast for just one person – even one that is a certifiable rock star like Cristina.
So, what’s the point? I’m getting to it – patience, already. The point, as I told Cristina, is that we tried something that didn’t work. But we tried. We tried to do more, we tried to go farther, and we weren’t satisfied with the amount of press and attention we got for our films and filmmakers the previous year so we tried something even more ambitious. And, of course it doesn’t always work. And, of course, it will never always work. BUT, it will ALWAYS work in one very important way. It will keep us from being mediocre. It will keep us from being lame. Complacent at best. Hacks at worst.
So Cristina had gone to the International Film Festival Summit in Vegas in December. Now, I had gone too but I went during a different portion of this thing. Second year I’ve gone. And I think this “summit” has a lot of potential to do good stuff and spread some information and help a lot of regional film festivals (and the people that put them on) all over the country. But Cristina had gone to a part of this thing specifically to learn more about everything she could about the film festival machinery. And what happens? She gets told (as did the rest of the unfortunate people attending this “class” with her) by some PR or marketing type that they all needed to forget about social media because it was pointless and never helped a single filmmaker actually get people to attend their screenings, blah, blah, you’re fucking blah, kidding me, blah.
And that’s why FESTWORKS is important. And that is why I so appreciate Rose Kuo. Because there are people out there that pass themselves as being in-the-know veterans that are gonna give you the lowdown on how to put on your event and the truth is, they’re gonna regale you with stories of what they did during the Toronto Film Festival for that Disney film in the mid-80s or how they pulled that Oscar winning director out of their hat for their film fest two decades ago.
And you won’t learn a thing. Because that’s how long it has been since they knew anything worth learning. Which is fine unless you’re passing off bad info to a Fresh Princess of PR like Cristina. Man, that story pissed me off.
A NEW HOPE.
I’ll finish with this: This morning I got a call from a friend letting me know that she had a conversation with someone at a production company about STRIPPED. Now, I’m still meeting with anyone that will let me in the door or on the phone or in a crowded elevator about getting the last of the funds to finance this thing completely before we start shooting at the end of May. So, apparently this guy at this production company is a good script read away from giving me that golden production ticket and more.
And, of course, I’m not holding my breath anymore than I am about the two indie movie stars that have the script with the idea that they could reunite on my film giving me three “box cover names” for a project that Justina and I had conceived and developed and produced expressly so we would not have to depend on “names”. And then, of course, Rose’s husband Larry Gross got on my case for not putting it out there because, in his opinion it was more than worthy for snagging someone stellar (stature-wise) due to what Justina and I written. And when a guy with a Waldo Salt Award, a try to keep up with the cool filmography and the kind of film knowledge that send you running for the Criterion section of your DVD store after the most casual of conversations prods you like that….
Anyway, we’re trying. And now this thing. I mean, we have four or five people circling with their checkbooks and it’s all very promising but I won’t be able to imagine that aspect of it (even as I design business and marketing plans to go along with the actual film itself to make it as investment tasty as I can), because with everything that I’ve done all around the camera and various offices and events and shows related to moviemaking – the reality is that this will be the first time that I have done this one specific thing: raise funds to make a feature film.
Movie stars and money. And no mediocrity. That’s what we’re working for here.
What’s Actually Happening – March 3
I feel bad. I feel guilty. Because I started this blog about a year ago at Justina’s (my wife) urging and I was into it and writing fun stuff that was behind the scenes and naming some names and taking some artistic licenses and people were starting to follow it and pay attention to what was actually going on in my life with the stuff that I do.
Then I kept getting busier and busier. Which you would think would make it more and more interesting except that I stopped the actual blogging stuff and just posted press releases and interviews and movie reviews. Which I want everyone to see but that isn’t the point, is it? If I’m asking you to check into this damn thing then I should make it worth your while.
So, I’m taking another stab at it. Because there is A LOT happening and a lot happening with me wearing various different hats. So I’m going to try and stop being a perfectionist with the prose and just start delivering some goods – rough on the edit edges or not.
So, here’s some stuff to look forward to:
DALLAS International Film Festival. I’m into it BIG TIME. We’re like five weeks out or something and there’s great, exciting stuff and there’s “what the hell?!” stuff and there’s a lot of praying – to uhmmm…no one in particular. Because that’s how it works in film festival land. AND, this is the first year with no AFI involvement. Training wheels are off, baby! And I just might throw in some thoughts later as to why I believe that was a HUGE mistake on their part. I’ll give you a hint: It’s the “vision” thing. Or lack of it.
SXSW (or South by Southwest Film Festival for those of you that need this shit spelled out – literally). I’ll be covering the film festival for Movie City News, like I just did for the Sundance Film Festival. And once again, I’ll try to write about every damn thing that happens to me so you’ll have an idea of what the experience is like. Of course, you’ll have to go to Movie City News to read it, since Dave Poland promotes the fact that I’m reporting/writing/reviewing for him, so he’s kind of like you to read it on his pages instead of mine. And since I would kind of like him to pay me for doing that…it works for me.
FESTWORKS. At Sundance, Rose Kuo (Artistic Director), Robert Koehler (Director of Programming and film critic extraordinaire, David Rogers (Festival Producer) and myself joined forces to form our own version of a film festival super group. Hopefully, less like Asia and more like Derek and the Dominoes. But with less heroin and more staying power. Anyway, we all left AFI after beating the odds and the house with AFI FEST last year (if you know what I mean and if you don’t….well, I’ll talk about that at some point too, I’m sure) because we love film festivals in a way that we want them all to be the best damn things ever. And we think we can help various ones do that. Sometimes, it will be just some simple consulting, some times it will be us recommending some kick-ass person we know would be great for the job and a great fit and sometimes will swarm the place, roll up the sleeves and bust our asses side-by-side with the teams in place to make something work. Anyway, I’ll be announcing the first “official” project soon and it will be very, very cool.
STRIPPED. The movie. My first feature film as a director. And the first feature film for Justina and myself as producers. It’s a post-feminist horror film. Three guys on a birthday outing talk their way into the wrong house with the wrong women inside. Think TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or THE DEVIL’S REJECTS with a “family” of women orchestrating the proceedings…
We are scheduled to shoot this thing at the end of May going into June and as much experience as I have doing various jobs in front of and behind the camera and watching as many films as I do and working with as many filmmakers at the film festivals as I do – well, there is a HUGE learning curve with this thing every single day. Producers on the film include one of the guys responsible for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake and the other producer has cool-ass films like David Lowery wonderful ST. NICK and current SXSWers EARTHLING and AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK under his belt. We already have the horror dynamo known as Tiffany Shepis on board as well as Samrat Chakrabarti, an Indian actor that despite an amazing international filmography we’re getting on the ground floor with because various dumbasses haven’t cast the guy in some weird-ass network sci-fi series where a strange incident has tied a group of random hot people together in a world where truth is false and pretend is sexy….or something like that.
Anyway, Justina and I actually bought the house we’re shooting this thing in. Which I’m living in right now. I’m sleeping in the room that will be inhabited by ‘Crystal’ a hot little sociopath that like the color pink, scrapbooking and uhmmm…cutting things. Our friend Marc Lee is staying in “the killing room.” Fun! So, I’ll clue you into the process as we hurtle along toward the shoot not too unlike one of those test rockets they show in stock footage that would freak you out if you were standing anywhere in the vicinity while it blasts off the blocks and careens not entirely toward its destination.
Here are some fun things about the house: It’s in South Dallas. Which is not a “great” area. But it is a cool two-story four-bedroom place with close to two acres of land and a freeloading horse named “Money” that is taken care of by an old black rodeo guy named “Peewee”. Oh, and we are surrounded by Baptist churches. And a train. One final thing, when we cut the chains that had kept the garage closed since we bought the place we found an old cabinet that had in it (among other things) a bee keepers outfit and smoker, random mason jars with weird stuff in them and two chainsaws! Made to order for Justina and John, the couple that gets romantic when they’re watching OLDBOY.
After that, new stuff that has just come up include doing some stuff with the Texas Frightmare Weekend screenings at the end of April, working with the Las Colinas Studios on a couple projects, possibly the Vision Awards benefit and definitely the Feel Good Film Festival.
I’m sure there is – and will be – more. Because that’s how things have been since January 1st. A very strange year and a very cool year so far.
So stay tuned….
ROSE KUO, ROBERT KOEHLER, DAVID ROGERS
AND JOHN WILDMAN
ANNOUNCE NEW FESTWORKS VENTURE
PARK CITY, UT (January 24, 2010)—Four former principals of the AFI FEST Los Angeles International Film Festival have joined forces to create a partnership that will offer a wide range of consultation services for film festivals.
Their new venture, FESTWORKS, will seek to provide consultation and services for film festivals of all sizes in the areas of festival operations, development, programming and communications.
Kuo (AFI FEST Artistic Director), Rogers (AFI FEST Festival Producer) and Wildman (AFI Head of Press & Public Relations) all announced their departure from AFI earlier this month. This announcement confirms Koehler’s departure as AFI FEST’s Director of Programming.
The fledgling company’s website states, ”As the film festival world grows more complex and mullti-dimensional, with greater demands placed on festivals to present exciting and relevant events to audiences while serving the interests of filmmakers and sponsors, there is a growing value for precise and informed services and solutions to the many needs that occur during the execution of a festival. FESTWORKS provides a one-stop service for festival operations, development, programming and communications.”
Kuo adds, “This collaboration allows each of us to have more creative freedom and is the best way for us to continue our commitment to artistic excellence and innovative film programming.”
Koehler added, “”We believe that the multi-faceted mission behind FESTWORKS reflects the current and ongoing changes in the film festival world, above all the need for exciting ways to devise, organize and execute festivals.”
“This partnership came together as a direct result of our experiences working together on this past edition of AFI FEST,” said Rogers, “And as the culmination of what each of us has identified as a need in the film festival community.”
Wildman concluded, “The four of us share a great passion for the art of film, for filmmakers and especially for the unique film viewing experience and interaction with those filmmakers that film festivals offer the public. It’s our hope that through FESTWORKS, we can help enhance the way things are done that will benefit both film maker and filmgoer and improve a way of seeing films that we truly love.”
Kuo, AFI FEST’s Artistic Director for the last three years, was recently named as Co-Executive Director of the Sante Fe Film Festival with Michael Hare and brings a wealth of experience in leading film festivals as well as film production. The architect of AFI’s successful “free festival” in 2009, Kuo is widely credited with the critical turnaround of AFI FEST. In December 2009, the International Film Festival Summit honored her with its prestigious IFFS Excellence Award. Kuo has worked for Mill Valley, San Francisco and Santa Barbara film festivals, as well as renowned directors such as Michael Mann, Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese. She is an occasional contributor to Movie City News.
After a celebrated career as Daily Variety’s film critic, Koehler joined AFI FEST as Director of Programming in a move that inspired a new round of enthusiasm within the film festival community and began a trend with other notable film critics following suit over the course of the year. Having returned as a critic and contributor for Variety, Koehler continues writing film criticism for Cinema Scope, Cineaste, filmjourney.org and the Christian Science Monitor.
Following a career producing film, music videos and commercials, Rogers joined AFI FEST as the Festival Village Producer in 2006. He subsequently became Director of Production at AFI DALLAS in 2008 prior to becoming AFI FEST’s Festival Producer in 2009. Along with successfully navigating the festival production and logistics of new venues in Hollywood and the festival’s move to Santa Monica during AFM, under his stewardship, AFI FEST enjoyed record crowds with remarkably smooth production details despite extremely challenging economic circumstances.
After his prior work with AFI, AFI FEST and AFI DALLAS, Wildman currently serves as the Director of PR for the DALLAS International Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and the Feel Good Film Festival (Los Angeles). He has also headed up the PR for past editions of the Lone Star Film Festival (Fort Worth) and the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. Wildman has produced, written and served as the publicist for the Vision Awards (which benefits Retinitis Pigmentosa) for the past four years. In addition, he writes about film and film festivals for outlets such as Movie City News, Moving Pictures Magazine.com and Envy Magazine, as well as his popular blog at wildworx.wordpress.com.