What’s Actually Happening – March 6 (Movie Stars, Money and no Mediocrity)

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 7, 2010

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…

MOVIE STARS

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.

NOT ANYMORE.

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.

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Don’t expect me to just kiss its Palme d’Or-winning ass.

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 22, 2009

So the new D Magazine (March issue) just came out. D Magazine is the equivalent to Los Angeles Magazine (for those of you in L.A). Thematic pieces about the city it hails from, trends, social press with pictures of what happened the previous month and tons of restaurant ads, lawyer listings, and other essential stuff from their editors and publishes point of view about the city.

Anyway, in the front of the magazine there is a big’ol feature with full-page photo of James Faust and Sarah Harris. Now, I knew it was happening because I helped coordinate it, but….nice. Sometimes, the results of what we’re trying to do live up to the hopes you had for it in the first place. And while it felt like it kinda landed in my lap, there was still some pursuit and romancing of that magazine for a good couple of years to do this particular piece.

Fortunately, the editors and writers (in this case, Eric Celeste), while having to defend themselves against countless e-mails and pitches, etc. still manage to take the time to put stuff into context and respond and write accordingly. And it all worked out this time. Of course, you’re thinking, “Well, duh – they did an AFI DALLAS feature. Of course, you’re all about D Magazine now.”

Well, maybe you should slow down a little and not get ahead of me. See – here’s the deal: Originally, they were going to just do the feature on James. Which mind you, still would have been great except for this: We already had another feature due out on James in another magazine. And when you factor in the fact that the Texas Black Film Festival just honored him and he recently made a trip to the White House on behalf of AFI DALLAS, 2009 has already been showing Faust-About-Town a lot of well-deserved love.

And the truth is – those two are a true team. Yes, James is the Director of Programming and is clearly the leader, but if Sarah went down in a hail of crossfire at the hands of some rogue filmmaking storm troopers, then so would his protective programming force field. (and that imagery was all for James’ benefit, just so you know).

And to Eric’s credit, he understood that and decided to adjust his approach on the story. But here is the point I took so long to get to: I believe they are a great programming team because they argue with each other about the films they are considering and you can argue with them. They have opinions about the films they like and program and they’ll let each other and you know about it.

But here’s the best part – they don’t freak out if you disagree. And they’ll debate. Real debate. They won’t pull that crap about you having to love every damn film they program just because you’re one of the AFI DALLAS family. Because they’re bright enough and self-aware enough to know that will never happen. Certainly not with me. Now – to put this in the proper context – I absolutely can appreciate every film they program. Just as I can for AFI FEST, IFFLA, Lone Star and the Feel Good Film Festival. I can understand the merits of the filmmaker’s work, I can get behind the reasoning for the spot it is taking in the schedule, the politics that are sometimes involved, and how it all comes together as a greater whole.

But love everything? It’s bad enough nudging up against that “flak” description with this job; if I start edging toward “shill” then I descend into loathsome ‘Peter Keating’ territory from The Fountainhead. I think being tough on that is vital to me having any kind of authority to deliver the message on why people should come to the film festival or see the films I’m singing the praises of. Because, you have to be able to trust what I’m saying. Not that you’ll necessarily agree with me – but you will at the least be able to respect where it is coming from. Otherwise I’m another asshole flak just pushing product.

And that would be gross.

Two years ago, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the critically acclaimed 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. I understood where the praise was coming from, and it certainly was no mystery why it was a great film for us to have at AFI FEST that year. But it didn’t “do it” for me. Appreciating isn’t the same as liking. But, let’s just say there was a lot of “concern” that I didn’t want to automatically give the film a big wet smacker on its Palme d’Or-winning ass. And my response at the time was to challenge someone to justify it beyond a rubber stamp of what Cannes had done. Eventually, that did happen, but not until a month after the festival was over – during a conversation with Artistic Director Rose Kuo and her husband, screenwriter and scary-smart cinephile Larry Gross. And it was that compelling argument on behalf of the film and response to what hadn’t worked for me that put the film and my expectations as an audience member in a more appreciative perspective.

The inspiration for this thought is the fact that I have been particularly relentless about one of the films Sarah and James programmed for this year. And rather than give me a “just because” or use another festival as a not-to-be debated-with seal of approval, Sarah stood her ground and got the best of me in the deliberations. The jury would have easily ruled in her favor. And I would’ve had to pay the court fees too. AND I will be much better equipped to argue on behalf of that film myself now because of it.

And that filmmaker is lucky to have her on their side.