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December 11 at 8:15am

Filmmakers Must Champion The More Disadvantaged Filmmakers, So….

By Ted Hope

I am not going to go to Sundance this year.  I need a break.  Consider it an experiment: what will I do if I skip that convention this year?  It long ago stopped being a film festival for me.  I only got to spend about 20% of my time seeing movies when I went.  I ended up doing meetings after meetings.

But that was when I was addicted to producing films. Now that I have kicked that habit, maybe I could return and just be there to enjoy the bounty.  But I don’t think so.  

If I attended Sundance, I would feel too tempted to “develop opportunities” (aka take meetings) and catch up with old friends and cohorts. And as a result I would probably miss the films I would most love.  As it is, that happens far too much at festivals now; I often get caught up with the buzz and see the popular films — and those aren’t what I personally love most. How do we make sure the undersung films get seen more?

One of the big failures I see in #IndieFilm these days is the lack of real peer review and support.  There are some nice exceptions, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s support of BREAKFASTS WITH CURTIS. But more of us need to champion the work we love of others.  We are in this all together and we have to reach beyond our personal boundaries. I want to help change that. So…

Years ago I helped start HammerToNail.com with the idea that it would be filmmakers posting reviews and interviews of the films they loved.  I felt we could be the filter and curator for the true indies — as they weren’t (and still aren’t) getting the coverage they needed to succeed. I am very pleased the site is still going.  Filmmaker Michael Tully (who has Ping Pong Summer at Sundance this year) has done a great job as editor. Still though even with that as an example the idea of filmmakers championing each others work has not caught fire the way I hoped.

So here’s what I will agree to do:  Any filmmaker with a movie at Sundance or Slamdance this year, be it a feature, short, doc, or narrative, that would like either myself or a well known filmmaker to review your film, email me and provide a password protected link.  If you want another filmmaker to review it, tell me your top three recommendations to do it.  If I like your film, I will then do my best to get either one of your recommended filmmakers or someone like them to review it. I know a lot of great filmmakers, so I can be of help here. If you want me to do it, just say so.  I will agree to watch and review at least 8 films. We will run the reviews on HammerToNail.  I will also provide links and additional commentary here. WE WILL ONLY RUN POSITIVE REVIEWS.  If we don’t like your film or would write negative things, we won’t write anything.  We will never tell anyone you sent it to us.  

We will run the reviews when you want us to run them, but I would recommend we do it BEFORE the film premieres so that we can help build buzz for your movie.  For years, when I was still producing for my living, and thus taking films regularly to Sundance, we would set up screenings or send DVDs to major critics to make sure we would get covered in their Sundance round up — this was particularly key when the film might be a lower profile title.  It helped tremendously.  

Granted, calling the films from Sundance or Slamdance “disadvantaged” is a bit off, but still many of the best films at each festival fail to develop an audience.  And as these fests come at the start of the year, why not get off on the right foot?

Good films do not get seen.  

It’s time other filmmakers stepped into to help lift the good work up.

This post is actually Part One of my Single Day Plan to make IndieFilm Better Simply By Being Kind & Generous.  Read Part Two here.

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  1. actiongrl / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Perfect and generous way to reframe your Sundance this year, Ted. Nicely done! Sharing – totally agree with you that filmmakers stepping up and talking about each others’ work is a key to the future of independent film.

  2. Sasha Santiago / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Way to go, Ted!

  3. miketully / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    I couldn’t agree more. I think when we started the site back in January
    of 2008, we all responded to what Scott Macaulay has been doing at
    Filmmaker for years with having filmmakers interview other filmmakers
    and that type of stuff. It’s just always more illuminating and exciting
    to me when I read filmmakers I respect talking about OTHER people’s
    movies. But whereas Filmmaker took a stand to not post reviews (until
    teaming up with us), that’s where we decided to pick up the slack. My
    favorite example of this is when Dave Boyle (WHITE ON RICE, the upcoming
    THE MAN FROM RENO) wrote me an email out of the blue saying he had seen
    an incredible movie called IN THE FAMILY by Patrick Wang at a regional
    festival and he just HAD to write about it. Of course, the fact that we
    aren’t paying big bucks (as in ANY bucks up to this point) for these
    types of contributions makes it so much harder to get busy filmmakers to
    commit, but I personally got a rush reading this post from Ted and am
    determined to pull as many favors as possible moving forward in order to
    remind filmmakers that a couple of hours of time on their end can go a
    verrrrrrry long way to putting some great vibes into the universe! –

  4. Ekim Namwen / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Umm…not to be a party pooper, but this does nothing to help all the filmmakers that aren’t already in your exclusive club. If a film that gets into Slamdance or Sundance can’t develop an audience then that filmmaker is an idiot and doesn’t deserve their exclusive status anymore or they didn’t deserve to be there in the first place.

    This is just a slap to the face to all the filmmakers that read this blog that aren’t going to Park City this year. Maybe you don’t realize this Ted, but your true colors are coming out. You aren’t actually committed to helping the film community at large, you’re just perpetuating the exclusivity of the circle jerk.

    If filmmakers going to those festivals this year read this blog, then essentially this posting is for a handful of people. So this begs the question- why in the hell did you post this????? It provides absolutely no value whatsoever to the 99.9% of the people reading it.

    And to call these filmmakers “disadvantaged” shows how out of touch you are with the real world.

  5. miketully / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    I hear that complaint, believe me. That said, in Ted’s/our defense, I would perhaps like to clarify that this is sort of a coming out party/attempt to officially publicly try something new—or at least OUTREACH in a new way—at Hammer To Nail. To clarify: THIS ISN’T A ONE-TIME PARK CITY ONLY TYPE OF DEAL. IT WILL APPLY TO ANY/ALL FESTS MOVING FORWARD. It’s the launching of a bigger idea (ala my example of Dave Boyle writing about IN THE FAMILY when he saw it either in San Diego or Hawaii, I forget which one now!). We’ve been approaching things this way all along but it is just very hard to get filmmakers to find the time to contribute in a way that we would love (I’m actually too busy right now to post a review of Drew Tobia’s SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY in conjunction with its screening at Migrating Forms this very weekend but, ho boy, that movie deserves a review!). So maybe this clarification still doesn’t make you feel any better, but I at least wanted to point this out. This isn’t just a Sundance/Slamdance-Or-Bust type of thing. It’s a “THE COLOR WHEEL first screened in Sarasota and that movie is awesome so someone needs to write about it!” type of thing.

  6. Rozaliya Dimitrova / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Hi I’m a filmmaker from Bulgaria,Europe. Recently I finished a documentary about two boxing girls. I sent it to the major festivals in Europe and in Tribeca, but unfortunately noone called back, they rejected the movie.So I’m an indy, a young filmmaker, a nobody for the big fishes…with no lobby at the festivals. How would I know if my film worth it? It’s funny, cuz I recently won a prize for a short movie, but that seems of not interest to the people in the showbiz. And here’s my question, how does an indy get’s into major festivals?

  7. Ekim Namwen / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    thanks for clarifying!

  8. miketully / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Thanks for understanding! At HTN, our dilemma has always been that ideally we are writing about movies that our readers can get their hands on as soon as possible, though when it comes to bigger fests, that isn’t always the case (if we didn’t cover that stuff then I fear our integrity would be compromised as we’d automatically fall behind the crowd). That said, we have decided to draw the line somewhere: we can/will only review films that have either screened at a festival and/or are available for public consumption in some capacity (though, as I said, ideally you can read the review and click on a link and, blammo, WATCH THAT THING). To conclude, allow me to point you in the direction of Kentucker Audley’s http://nobudge.com/ if you haven’t heard of that already. Some of these films haven’t found a life on the fest circuit but are nonetheless worthy of viewing and—hopefully as we move forward—will receive legit reviews at HTN. It’s a messy business, and, yes, having a movie in Sundance means that you have won the lottery, but as someone who can see it from many angles, I just really think that pretty much ALL OF US making independent films are fighting a seriously uphill battle.

  9. Sujewa Ekanayake / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    I think it would be OK to ask for filmmakers to pay a nominal amount ($20 – $50) for this service. As, if you actually plan on featuring any film that screens at a festival and or has a public screening and or is available on the web at NoBudge, etc, that’s going to be a lot of movies at some point soon. The payment from the filmmaker can go to help make taking time out to watch & review the movie easier for the reviewers. Also a part of the money can be used to maintain this site & the review project. Make the review either neutral or well balanced or positive, I don’t think it has to be just a positive review. If the film is being screened for the public, and or is available on line, then it deserves to have both the positive and negative aspects of the movie (if any) pointed out. Otherwise it is just an advertisement for the movie. Filmmaker Rick Schmidt has reviewed a couple of upcoming movies recently (my film Breakthrough Weekend’s rough cut, & Chris Hansen’s film Where We Started) and I published both reviews on a couple of my blogs. So this kind of thing is already happening. But, generally, a great idea.

  10. Kyle Henry / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Richard Linklater has been an amazing example of this through his constant support of other filmmaker’s work, not only my own, but almost all junior and up-and-coming filmmakers from Austin, TX, for the last 15 years.

  11. Ekim Namwen / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Why isn’t there any service where outsiders like myself can pay a small fee and get quality feedback on a rough cut, fine cut, or final cut of a feature?

    I’m sure there are a lot of filmmakers out there like me that don’t have a quality support system to turn to for feedback. I’m finishing a feature and I need feedback but friends and family aren’t necessarily honest.

  12. Sujewa Ekanayake / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Yes, I was thinking of the same thing w/ my posts re: this below. The present system is ultimately working on who you know in the indie film world, & who has the time to volunteer to review. That’s great for filmmakers who are good at networking or have the time to do so & have filmmaker or reviewer friends who have the time to review. But yes, it would be more fair & useful to have a site through which filmmakers can pay a small submission fee to help cover the operation of the project, and get their work reviewed by a qualified person. I got such reviews for free on my new film from filmmaker friends, and they were very valuable as I move from rough cut to fine cut. So, let’s look at starting such a service. This could also be a useful source of extra revenue for film reviewers & filmmakers who like to review movies.

  13. cauliflower / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Hi Ted (/whoever!?) this is a great article, opportunity, and generous offer. Can you tell me how to find your email address?? The link below this article doesn’t work for me and I can’t find anywhere else on the site. Thanks so much.

  14. Holly Herrick / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Thanks for pointing that out, Kyle. I wanted to add that the Austin Film Society (where Richard Linklater is the Artistic Director) runs a Works In Progress program. Any member of the Austin Film Society can submit their rough cut for peer review, free of charge. Our filmmaker advisory committee provides feedback to the filmmaker, or invites the filmmaker to do a rough cut screening at AFS which is opened up to AFS’ wider community of filmmaker members. At that screening, the filmmaker will receive direct feedback, both conversational and written, from other filmmakers in the community. To find out more about this program, please visit us at austinfilm.org.

  15. Miranda Bailey / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Count me in. Ill review and support.

  16. Miranda Bailey / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Id be happy to take a fee for that… :)

  17. Kyle Henry / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Yep, every film community should be so lucky as to have a supportive and positive organization like AFS. I’ve been happy to find a similar works-in-progress resource for documentaries here in Chicago with Kartemquin.

  18. Sujewa Ekanayake / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Great. Then set up a blog or a site w/ info on your film reviewing & other film work, etc related experience – maybe with some links to reviews, & w/ a way for filmmakers to contact you. Also for any public reviews, where these reviews may be published – the same blog or site perhaps, or a different one, etc. So that filmmakers can determine if having you review their films is a good idea. Maybe you already have such blogs or sites up & running, if so, share with us the links. I may need more qualified reviewers for some of the films of my clients (I help market films, filmmakers, actors, etc) in 2014. Thanks!

  19. Sujewa Ekanayake / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    At present this is a largely underdeveloped area in the indie film world. Good, affordable review, feedback, and marketing work, assistance with same is needed. More options for filmmakers when it comes to hiring such professionals is needed. Indie filmmaking as an activity is pretty massive right now. W/, according to Sundance, over 12,000 indie films being made recently.

  20. blake robbins / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    I have a very scrappy independent feature that is playing Slamdance this January. and your post here sounds like a fantastic idea. what do i need to do to put my film in the running??? thanks blake robbins (writer/director of THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL)

  21. Holly Herrick / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    That’s great, Kyle!

  22. Christopher J. Boghosian / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    A ton of Austin filmmakers in Sundance this year – wondering if there’s a connection?!

  23. Christopher J. Boghosian / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    I totally get your frustration, believe me – I’m a two-time Sundance reject.

    But your argument is based on the assumption that Sundance = success, visibility, etc.. True, you get the laurels and become a Sundance alum; however, the golden rule of movie marketing dominates Sundance too: no big names in your movie? Nobody cares. Even at Sundance!!!

    As Ted shared, Sundance is a whirlwind of activity and the most influencial people there, e.g., sales agents, talent agents, producers, etc., only have so much time to actually see movies. Watching movies is the last thing on their agenda!

    So imagine how they’ll determine which movies they’ll watch? Buzz. And we know how you get buzz – celebrities!

    It’s totally bizarre, I know, but even Sundance films without celebrity talent/directors get the shaft. They are “disadvantaged” in a way. So Ted’s extension to help is totally awesome and will be immensely helpful.

    Honestly, it really freaks me out to think that playing at Sundance is not enough – as if it’s not hard enough to get in. But, implied in Ted’s offer, is the very scary notion that an indie filmmaker can be ignored even AT Sundance. Now that’s a reality check for us all….

  24. Ben Berman / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    This is great. How can I contact you about this opportunity?


  25. Ben Berman / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Ted are you ok? Where’d you go? We’re just worried about you. Anyway we can get an email address to write you to pursue this opportunity?

  26. Ekim Namwen / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    y’all in Austin are extremely lucky.

  27. Ted Hope / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    connect with me on FB or Twitter and I will get in touch with you.

  28. Ted Hope / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    connect with me on FB or twitter and I will send it to you.

  29. tajmilan / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    This was an amazing post and one the the best comment sections I’ve seen. Let me know if you expand this to last years films at Sundance/Slamdance. I had a film at Sundance last year. Last year’s are the one’s that are now out and could use the help in the crowded iTunes, VOD, walmart marketplace in terms of actual monetize vs Park City buzz which is ephemeral and only a very small audience. Unfortunately an audience which mostly only watches films for free. Thanks again for creating a great forum. I’ll be back in Park City this year. While I don’t have a film there this year I still find a week at a film festival is better than 3 months in LA/NY taking meeting after meeting. Real people that are actually making things.

  30. ThePurgation / Dec 11 at 8:15am

    Great idea! I’m still in pre-production for my horror film project – http://thepurgation.com/ and am fearful of my finished movie disappearing into obscurity after years of hard work. I’ll definitely help read your film reviews and pay it forward by sharing with friends!

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