About Joe shoots resurrected cameras

I am primarily a musician/songwriter/composer currently studying music at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. I also take pictures.

On the festival circuit: Greetings from Durango

March 1-5, the Durango Independent Film Festival.

It seems that each festival I go to is a better experience than the last, but I don’t know that Durango can be topped.  They treated the filmmakers so nicely there, and it being 6 hours away from me, I decided to stay for the entire thing, which was definitely worth it.  I stayed in the General Palmer Hotel (living in Colorado Springs for so long, I could stay nowhere else) which looked largely untouched by time.  There were lots of activities I to do around town (like a trip on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad), plus a special filmmakers only-lounge in the basement of the local Irish pub…assuming you didn’t watch films, and I did try to catch as many programs as I could.  The best part though, was that the entire festival took place in the space of two blocks in downtown Durango, making everything nice and easy to get to.  I forged some great relationships with people and will definitely be going back in the future.

Say hello to the Fujica ZC1000

Well, what’s one to do when Kodak pushes back the release date for the new super 8 camera(again), and raises the price by 166%?  Go to their bitter rivals!  The Fujica ZC1000 was the top of the line single-8 camera back in the late-’70s which makes it a contender for the best small format camera ever.  It has many die-hard fans (especially in Spain, it seems) who consider Fuji’s cartridge design to be superior to Kodak’s in image stability.

The ZC1000 is among the most full-featured cameras available in the 8mm format, fully the equal of the Beaulieu super 8 cameras (and more robust in construction, it’s said) so comparing the specs to the new Kodak camera, it holds up quite well, only wanting crystal sync and a max8 film gate.  On the plus side it has a greater range of framerates, from 12-72fps, plus single frame (and can connect to an intervalometer), and I do prefer having all controls as easily-manipulable dials and buttons, not jogwheels and menus, with an optical viewfinder.  And if you do want video assist, it’s possible.

There is a downside, of course: with Fuji no longer making single-8 film, we’re left with using long-expired cartridges, cut-down 35mm reversal stocks from Retro8 in Japan, or reloading your own cartridges with Kodak super 8 film.  At least we have that option, and that the Fuji cartridges were designed to be reusable!  I don’t know how much trouble this is going to be, but I do admire the people who are keeping the single-8 format alive any way possible, and willing to give this a go myself.

As excited as I was about the new Kodak camera, I’ll wait until  it’s close to its originally-advertised price of $750 and skip the $2000 ‘limited edition’ version coming out in a few months.  And when I do have the new Kodak super 8, it should fit in nicely to my c-mount/8mm system I’m building here.  The Fujinon zoom lens is very highly-regarded, up there with the best Schneider and Angenieux zooms you find on the Beaulieus.  I’m sure the Fujinon will look great attached to the new Kodak camera…sacrilege perhaps, so I might as well go all the way and shoot some Fuji Provia super 8 film.

As well, I picked up the 10mm Kern Switar built for the Bolex cameras, and I hope to add a few more to that collection as well.  That Switar, incidentally, like the favorable opinions of the ZC1000 itself, came from Spain, from a filmmaker with whom I’ve become friends (This short film was shot with my lens on a ZC1000).  I found a British seller on eBay selling the single-8 cartridges and bought the entire stock.  The camera itself was, strangely enough, in Northeastern Colorado!  It was a 3-hour drive there, I tested out the camera for half an hour, then drove all the way back.  Even factoring in the gas money I’m quite happy with what I paid, and now have a great 8mm setup to make the leap from still photography to motion pictures.  It’s my goal to shoot my next film with this camera, and hopefully many after it as well.

Film festival information, pt. 3

The film festival submissions process still baffles me.  I have no idea if I’ve gone about this the right way, if there are things that I should be doing but aren’t, and what I can do from here to improve my chances.  One of the things I did is to send out emails to the festivals after they’re over asking for comments and some have been nice enough to respond.  I’ve gotten a few emails from festival directors who have taken the time to reply in depth giving me some interesting perspectives on my work, and it has helped me see exactly what these festivals are after, how I can improve for the next film, hopefully.  Actually, one of the most in-depth and longest critiques I got helped me understand how much of an idiot that festival director was (or at least how different out perspectives are), so at least I learned not to submit to that festival again.  I’ve also started taking the opportunity to get the programmers drunk and ask them in person when I go to festivals, to find out specifically why my film got in.  From my communication so far, here are some good points to take away:

-There will be festival directors and programmers out there that are idiots.
I appreciate the in-depth response that I got from this one guy, not least of which is because he took the time to respond: most didn’t.  And I don’t feel defensive about it, don’t want to use this post to lash out, but I will say this: he just didn’t get it.  Since none of you have seen my film anyway it’s hardly helpful to delve too deeply into specifics.  Everything in my film that other people have complimented me for was for whatever reason seen as a mark of amateurism, right down to calling it an ‘experimental’ film.  Some festival programmers will have no experience with (or interest in) experimental films, no art background, and no desire to play anything but the slickest Hollywood-style productions.  And to be fair, my film isn’t for everyone and probably wouldn’t have played well to that particular audience.  I’m still working out a way to know in advance which festivals my work will play well at, so I’m not wasting as much money in submission fees.

-Don’t submit unfinished work: only submit the best possible film.
If the film you’re sending in isn’t ready to go up in front of an audience that minute, it’s a waste of a submission fee.  Programmers will not watch a film in its entirety if it sucks, and I’m sure they have to watch a lot of shit.  And whether it’s true or not, they say they can tell from the first few minutes (seconds?) whether a film is worth their time.  You’re not guaranteed to have your film watched all the way through.  For the other side, rough cuts aren’t accepted well.  A direct quote: ‘If they can’t submit a finished film before our submissions deadline, how can I trust them to finish it on time for the festival?’  Really, I think that’s a legitimate argument.  ‘Submitting late is better for you than submitting an unfinished film.  Or don’t submit at all, wait until next year.’

-It’s really out of your hands.  Also, shorter is better.
There was a programmer who really loved my film, had it as a contender all the way up to the final notification deadline, but still didn’t program it.  He wrote me that people programming festivals see a lot of shit (which I can firmly believe) and that originality is greatly valued.  Talk about mixed messages, considering that he rejected me, so I’m not sure how valued it can be.  But he said it would have gotten in if it were shorter.  ‘Programmers love short films that are in the 5 to 7 minutes range in total run time. Why? Because they can usually fit it in easily anywhere into the schedule.’  Unfortunately, Overwhelming Majority is 10:46.

-Programmers will read your cover letter
Evidently that’s one thing that set me apart, or helped explain my work, or gave insight into my film for one programming director.  And because it’s so rare, finding the one person who totally gets this film is great…especially when he’s the one who picks the films for the festival.  My cover letter’s description of central themes and inspirations helped him build a program around my film.  Also, that guy from above, who thought the term ‘experimental’ was just a mask for it being severely amateur, read my cover letter too, and mentioned it as another reason he rejected me.

Even other filmmakers I’ve talked to don’t have any special insight into submissions, they’re just as confused by the whole thing as I am, and they’re on their third or fourth film now.  And I sure don’t know why I got into the festivals I did, except that the programming directors that saw them liked them enough to include them.  So in conclusion, I really don’t know anything after all, but I’m slightly wiser going into the process and hopefully others will be as well.

edit: this is post #200!  Congrats to me.

Part One | Part Two

Scoring Session: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Aka “Too Many Hats!”  I wouldn’t consider these the absolute best pictures ever, but it’s hard to be the composer, conductor, and music producer, and also try to take a few pics on the side.  This is the recording session for a new ballet film based on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.  As a ballet, I had to compose the music and have it recorded by a certain date, without having seen any footage.  Now that it’s recorded, I’m hard at work mixing, mastering, and polishing, while my director Felicity works on the choreography.  While I’d like to say that I drew a great amount of inspiration from Wilde’s novel, reading it would have taken much time away from actually composing the music; I watched Albert Lewin’s 1945 film adaptation instead.

This marks the first time I have used the Canon 7 since Fall of last year, and I’m out of practice: there are one or two rather glaring focus errors, and while I think I would have been better suited with an SLR, I’d say that I really focused on the music first (pun intended), and only snapped a few here shots here and there when not actively recording.  The camera was lying around in a few different places and not all of the pictures were taken by me, as evidenced by the fact that I’m in some of them.  The main visual component was shot by the film director as a “making-of” documentary, so at some point there will be a video of the recording session floating around the internet.

The pictures are almost current, as the recording session took place just a week and a half ago, and a few days later I was on my way to the Durango Independent Film Festival.

Film festival information, pt. 2

My film professor gave me a couple good pieces of advice when I started applying to film festivals:
Don’t use Without a Box, do use Film Freeway
-Write a cover letter with your submission
-Apply to niche festivals, stay away from the big ones

Armed with only that knowledge, I started submitting to festivals left and right (I also found some other good information along the way).  Here are other things I wish I had known or followed from the beginning:
-Get the best festival you can for your film’s world premiere (oops…now I know…)
-Know the festival opening dates and earlybird deadlines, and always submit by that earlybird deadline.  It saves money and increases the chances of acceptance, before festival programmers are too burned out to care
-Look professional: get a website together, social media, etc, even for a short film (or maybe especially for a short film, if you want to set yourself apart).  An IMDB page isn’t a bad idea, either.
-Apply to festivals where you have a connection, like it being your hometown or the state in which you’re currently residing (I can partly attest to the efficacy of this one: the only state that’s been interested in my film is Colorado.  Even Ohio festivals don’t want me…yet)
-Research the festivals before submitting, know what they play to see if yours is a good fit

I’m really not good at following that last one: too long, boring and I hate watching most of the films.  My solution was to throw money at the problem (sort of the shotgun approach), and hope some would accept me.  Now, this way does work, as I can attest, being accepted to a total of 6 film festivals as of this writing.  However, that’s 6 acceptances out of nearly 150 submissions, so I don’t really consider that the best acceptance rate.  And you will pay the price for that approach!  I’ve spent $1700 of my own money submitting to film festivals; remember I made the film for $1000 (and $200 of that was dedicated to submission fees, so really I’ve paid $1900 in submissions).  Hopefully I’ve learned something about which festivals to submit to in the future and will be able to not waste nearly as much money next time.

That said, with all the wondering about festivals that program mostly from films that did not pay submission fees, I can say with confidence that it is possible to get into film festivals from blind submissions.  It’s happened to me several times, I’m happy to say, and hopefully will again sooner rather than later.  But I do happen to know one co-programmer of a local festival, so nepotism has also worked to my advantage.  I even submitted to one festival through their website where the payment was supposed to be sent in separately through Paypal, which I neglected to do.  A month or so later, I got an email from the festival director inviting me to screen at their festival, if and only if I paid my submission fee.  There are all kinds of festivals out there with many ways of doing business, and whatever the circumstances under which my film is accepted, I for one ain’t gonna look a gift horse in the mouth.  I’ve contacted festivals about waivers, but usually only if they’re available to students or for local filmmakers.  Usually they’re only applicable if you live in that particular state, but if an Ohio festival offers a waived fee for current residents, I’ll send out an email to see if I’m eligible for anything as a native Ohioan who lived his first 23 years there.  Sometimes the festivals can be generous.

I still don’t know about the whole film festival process though.  Maybe it will be a good stepping stone to making features later on down the road and hopefully learning the hard way with a short or two will make it easier in the future.  Let me talk about Film Freeway for a second: it’s definitely a double-edged sword.  Film Freeway makes things super easy on the filmmaker, as all one has to do is make a project, upload a screener to their server, find festivals that are currently taking submissions, load up the shopping cart, and connect to Paypal.  Isn’t modern digital technology wonderful?  But just like how DSLRs enable filmmakers to make a movie easily and cheaply, so it is with festival submissions.  Now that everyone can do it, everyone and their dog is doing it, and flooding the market with shit mostly, making it that much harder to get noticed.  On every rejection letter I’ve got (and there have been a lot of those), they always talk about receiving a record number of submissions.  Maybe it wouldn’t make a difference in my case if 500 or 5000 films were submitted, but either way the competition is growing year by year, and from here it will just get harder to wedge your foot in the door.  Any way you can set yourself apart (aside from making a really good film) will help, which is why writing a cover letter is so important.  I’ve had one festival director mention my cover letter in accepting me to a festival, so I don’t know if I’d be there without it.

So does the cream still rise to the top?  My professors seem to think so.  I could wish for a few more (and more prestigious) festival acceptances.  And I know I’m biased, but I know I made a good film; it’s the singular work I’m most proud of so far.  So getting so many rejections really does bruise the ego (and maybe that’s another consequence of that shotgun approach I mentioned at the beginning).

After all that, I’m still doing pretty well, having played 6 festivals since May:
2016 UCCS Short Film Festival (won best experimental film)
2016 Blissfest333 (won best experimental film, nominated best documentary short)
2016 Southern Colorado Film Festival
2016 London International Documentary Festival
2017 Durango Independent Film Festival
2017 Wales International Documentary Festival

film-banner8b1I’ll just post this again since it’s a relevant picture.  Free advertising!

One of the things that might have hurt me slightly is that I didn’t get the best premiere.  Of course I wasn’t thinking that when I submitted to my school’s festival but no one cares about your regional university’s student film festival, whether it’s in its 16th year or not (and according to my film professor school festivals are ineligible for premieres, which means that technically my world premiere was Blissfest).  He thinks that with a better world premiere I would have got more acceptances, say if I had held off for LIDF, though I think for an international premiere, I did quite well (Prof says there’s no such thing as an international premiere, but I’d disagree based on the criteria of some of the different festivals to which I’ve submitted).  So is premiering at a large, prestigious festival better than winning awards like I did at the smaller festivals?  I can’t answer that.  As it stands though, even if my film professor says it isn’t eligible, my world premiere was at the 16th Annual UCCS Short Film Festival.

Through all of that, the good side is that every festival I attend is better than the last.  I’m finishing up writing this from the Durango Independent Film Festival which has been a great experience for me.  After wondering whether it’s worth it sometimes (especially having spent $1700 of my own money), the counter argument is being able to attend a good festival, where people want to see your film, colleagues want to connect with each other, and everybody is there to have fun.

Part One | Part Three