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Here comes SXSW 2009 - Book signing March 15, 1:30 pm

picIf you're one of the lucky few, uh– thousands headed to South by Southwest in Austin next month, please stop by the Southby Bookstore in the Austin Convention Center on Sunday, March 15th at 1:30 p.m. Go ahead, mark your calendar, I'll wait. Bring along your copy of Film Festival Secrets or buy a fresh copy from the bookstore and I'll sign it on the spot.

I'm really looking forward to this year's SXSW – they have a strong program this year and it's always fun to meet the filmmakers and tech types who come into Austin for this surreal celebration of entertainment, music, and technology.

If you're planning to attend SXSW interactive but think you might want to dip your toe into the waters of the film side of things, Agnes Varnum just posted a great article entitled A Geek's Guide to SXSW Film. (Did you know there are films that your Interactive badge will get you into even if you don't have a Gold or Film Badge? It's true!) Also useful is Jette Kernion's guide to SXSW film venues over at Slackerwood.

And finally, if you're lucky enough to be a filmmaker with a film in the program, here's a series of articles just for you: Last minute filmmaker tips for SXSW.

Film Festival Secrets Promo #1

Not wanting to limit myself to just the written word to promote my book, I took up these fine young fellows on their offer of some commercials for Film Festival Secrets.

These gents are all part of Singletree Productions, the creators of The Stanton Family Grave Robbery and the upcoming Simmons on Vinyl. If you're a festival programmer looking for quirky comedies to include from some up and coming filmmakers, look no further.

More to come!

New Yorker Films closes its doors

New Yorker FilmsIt's lights out for New Yorker Films, the boutique distributor that brought international films and "difficult" cinema to the U.S. for over 40 years.

From the New York Times:

One of the most influential distributors of foreign and independent films, New Yorker has amassed a library of more than 400 titles, including Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” and Claude Lanzmann’s epic Holocaust documentary “Shoah,” said Dan Talbot, who founded the company in 1965.

Mr. Talbot, 82, said in a telephone interview that the company was going out of business because its library was being sold. It had been pledged as collateral on a loan taken out by its former owner, Madstone Films, which bought New Yorker Films in 2002.

Lesson: Even if you sell the rights to your film to someone you trust, those rights can then be resold, traded, used as collateral, and foreclosed upon just like any other property. Think twice before you sign those rights away for more than a few years.

From the IndieWIRE article:

These are ‘difficult’ films, not popular mass-market films,’’ Dan Talbot told the New York Times in the 1987 profile. ‘‘They’re meant for a small, elite audience. And nothing has changed in 20 years; it’s still a very tiny, elite audience. There were other distributors who were bringing in these films, but I would say that our role was to introduce some of the more risky films that on the surface did not seem to have a wide audience. Distribution of that kind is a very financially masochistic business."

Lesson: There are distributors out there who love movies and who will help you get your movie in front of the audiences who want to see it. That doesn't mean that anyone will be getting rich in the process.

Mr. Talbot said he was crushed by the end of the company. “I nurtured this,” he said. “These films are like babies.”

Lesson: Distributors are people too.

Read the indieWIRE article and the NY Times article.

(Via John Merriman.)

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival announces 2009 winners

Ordinarily I would just link to this but since they don't have the winners up on their web site yet I'll reprint the press release here:

picBig Sky Documentary Film Festival Announces 2009 Award Winners

For more information, visit or
call 406-541-FILM.

Best Feature: Rough Aunties by Kim Longinotto
Artistic Vision: In A Dream by Jeremiah Zagar

Best Short: Bronx Princess by Musa Syeed & Yoni Brook
Artistic Vision: The First Kid to Learn English From Mexico by Peter Jordan

Best MiniDoc: Jennifer by Stewart Copeland
Artistic Vision: The Secret Life of Beards by Melanie Levy

Big Sky Award: Red Gold by Travis Rummel & Ben Knight

Programmer's Choice Awards
Best Editing: Crude by Joe Berlinger
Best Cinematography: Ashes of American Flags by Brendan Canty & Christoph Green
Best Music Doc: The Choir by Michael Davie

Missoula, Montana - The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is pleased
to announce its festival award winners, each of which will be
screened during a special encore presentation Thursday, February 19,
at Missoula's historic Wilma Theatre.

Award Screening Schedule

Fri. Feb 20, 2009 at 7 pm - In A Dream, Jennifer & The Secret Life of Beards
Sat. Feb 21, 2009 at 7 pm - Red Gold; Bronx Princess; The First Kid
to Learn English From Mexico,
Sun. Feb 22, 2009 at 8 pm - The Choir & Rough Aunties

Thanks go to the distinguished nine-member Festival Jury whose
members selected the 2007 award winners:

Documentary Feature Jury:
Dawn Smallman (Ridin' & Rhymin'), Richard Beer (Film Action Oregon/
Hollywood Theatre, Portland) , Brett Ingram (Monster Road,

About the Best Feature Awards, the jury said, "We chose to award this
film Best Documentary Feature because the bravery of the film's
characters is mirrored by the unflinching courage of the filmmaker's
vision. In Rough Aunties, Director Kim Longinotto's camera elegantly
captures compassion and humanity in a brutal world.

We chose to award this film the Artistic Vision Award because of its
seamless integration of style and content. Director Jeremiah Zagar's
cinematic artistry equals the stunning artwork created by his father,
the primary subject of In A Dream."

Best Documentary Short Jury:
Mike Bonfiglio (Crude, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), Kristen
Fitzpatrick (Women Make Movies)

About The First Kid to Learn English From Mexico, the jury said The
Artistic Vision Award goes to a film that manages to say a great deal
about a number of subjects in a very short time and with
extraordinary storytelling, sound and images. This
beautifully-crafted, lyrical, almost impressionistic work shows the
world of a fascinating individual through his own eyes, as well as
those of the world around him. It was difficult to decide which of
the two awards this film deserved most, but the more we thought about
the phrase, "artistic vision," the easier it was to figure out.

Best MiniDoc Jury
Joe Beringer (Crude, Brother's Keeper), Brendan Canty (Ashes of American Flags)

Big Sky Award Jury:
Chris White (POV), Anna Rau (Montana PBS)

The programmers of the festival also awarded three special awards to
film which exemplified the artistic spirit of nonfiction filmmaking.
The films were selected from the 143 selections in this year's

Special thanks to Sponsors of the 2009 Big Sky Documentary Film
Festival, including HBO Documentary Films, Montana Film Office, The
Washington Foundation, The International Documentary Association,
Montana Arts Council, The Canadian Consulate, Montana PBS, Montana
Public Radio, KGBA, Rockin' Rudy's, Missoula Art Museum, First
Security Bank, NorthWestern Energy, The Independent, Sony, Media 100,
Edgewater/Doubletree, Best Western Grant Creek Inn, Red Lion Inn
Missoula, Campus Inn, Big Sky Brewery, Ten Spoon Winery, Thomas
Kemper Soda, Porta Brace, Docurama, Vann's Electronics.

For more information call (406) 541-FILM or see visit

Being a hit on iTunes doesn't matter - yet.

Over on the B-Side blog I've written a brief response to an in-depth article from TV By the Numbers about the relative place of iTunes in the world of consumer video consumption. We have a long way to go before traditional network TV is ever really "endangered" by alternate viewing methods. On the other hand, it doesn't take a genius to see the writing on the wall. Who wouldn't prefer to consume video entertainment on their own schedule, wherever they want, on whatever device they like?

Read my response to the original piece here, and find a link to the original essay there.

Oh, and here's a fun YouTube video promoting Joss Whedon's new series Dollhouse, which is used as an example in the original article.

Cinevegas gives away copies of "Film Festival Secrets"

If you're more of a Twitter follower than a newsletter joiner, you can get your free PDF copy of Film Festival Secrets simply by following Cinevegas on Twitter.

You've got 12 days to do it, so get cracking. Check out for more info.

If you have a Twitter account, please spread the word by posting the following to your own Twitterstream:

Follow @cinevegas and receive a FREE copy of "Film Festival Secrets", a $25 value, at

Thank you!

Doonesbury does indie film


I think this strip pretty much sums up the indie film experience for many filmmakers, but you can read some recent strips to get the full flavor.

On the writing of synopses

I'm back from the Oxford Film Festival (more about that in a future entry) and have been completely overwhelmed with backed-up B-Side work, neglected consulting clients, and watching a handful of SXSW films to write some promised synopses.

Distilling the plot and spirit of a film into a hundred words such that any random reader might happen upon them and be compelled to see the film is serious work. Not only is there the economy of language to consider but also the politics of the situation (how to approach a controversial topic without appearing to be glib or bigoted?) and the simple fact that one might not always like the film in question.

Still, it's not something that I encourage filmmakers to attempt for their own films, at least not if you can help it. Grab a friend with an English degree. Steal the synopsis from a festival you've played (you can always ask permission). Hire a publicist. Whatever you do, find someone with a gift for words and a love of movies to write about your film in a way that you cannot. You won't be sorry.

The Wisdom of Tiki Bar TV as it pertains to independent filmmakers

Tiki Bar TVTubefilter interviews Jeff "Doctor Tiki" Macpherson and Tosca Musk about creating a successful web series. Musk & Macpherson hit on an incredibly important point – while there is a large emphasis on the freedom in independent film to create movies according to your own creative vision, there has to be an awareness of what the audience wants to see in order to create something that will earn a following.

Some filmmakers mistakenly assume that the world is simply waiting for their unique vision to emerge. Unfortunately that vision is sometimes too unique to appeal to enough people to sustain it, or not unique enough to be considered remarkable. "Market research" and "focus group" may feel like the dirty phrases of the Hollywood establishment but they may have some relevance to your work – if only in an informal way.

Tubefilter: So what would you tell a web series creator starting out today? What advice would you give them?

Musk: Make it for the audience and not for yourself.

Tubefilter: Interesting, what do you mean by that?

Musk: I find that many filmmakers have this story that they want to tell and its very personal and they want to keep it that way. A lot of people don’t necessarily relate to the story in the specific way they want to tell it. We make a very concerted effort to make sure that we make each episode with the viewer in mind. And we cut out a lot that we love but we know that the audience may not want in there.

Macpherson: We have that hypothetical audience member in mind. I read that book, the only book of Stephen King’s that I ever read, called On Writing, and he says to have that hypothetical reader in mind. And we do. When we make this we don’t make it for our own greatness. It’s probably the same effect, but the filmmaker I was six years ago. was the one of ‘I’m going to make this and people will come.’ And they didn’t come.

And then I learned to have respect for the audience and not take them for granted. I think the film festival circuit really whipped me into shape in that sense. When I watched so many opening acts of films and I would think, ugh, ‘do you know you have an audience sitting here? So engage it!’ I felt really frustrated that they knew they had a captive audience here and they would waste it. It would be this really slow opening, I called it the Canadian opening act. I was thinking, man the Americans have really figured out how to open a film. When you sit down in a theater and in the first couple of minutes you’re like, ‘awesome, this is going to be one of those movies. This is going to be good.’

Read the Tubefilter News interview with Tiki Bar TV.

Join me at the Oxford (MS) Film Festival this weekend

Oxford FFI will be attending and moderating a panel at the Oxford Film Festival in Oxford, MS this weekend (the festival begins Thursday and runs through Sunday).

Marketing and Distribution: The Pillars of a Succesful Film

Saturday, Feb 7

Malco Studio Theater

Time: 5:00 p.m.

Learn more at the Oxford Film Festival web site.