Articles from September 2010



Film School or Not to Film School?

I run into people that say they would love to work in film.  Young people ask me advice about film school.  My first question for people that would like to work in film is “what would you like to do?”  Most of them respond with, “I don’t know.”  That’s OK in the beginning.  Most people are star struck and want to be involved in some way or another and the reason I ask is that the advice is very different from someone wanting to work in computer graphic special effects and someone that wants to be a director.  When I went to film school most of my cohorts wanted to be directors so we had a different path from those that wanted to be screen writers, cinematographers or producers.

I never met anyone in film school that wanted to be a caterer.  I never met anyone at film school that wanted to be a dolly grip, a gaffer or a set builder.  Those guys don’t really need what film school has to offer although you would get exposure doing those things working as crewmen on class mates projects.  So there are tons of jobs in the film industry that you wouldn’t need to go to film school for. 

That brings us to the question of film schools.  To film school or not to film school?  I’ve heard people on both sides of the fence debate this question but my answer is, “it depends.”  It’s hard for me to recommend to anyone to not get a university degree and if you know you want to work in film it only seems logical to get your degree in film.  But there are plenty of people that skip right to working in film so again, it depends on what you want. 

I’ve never seen want ads asking for inexperienced directors fresh out of film school, but I often see ads looking for a sound recorder with his own equipment.  If you want to be a director should you go to film school?  It depends on a lot of factors.  There are lots of directors that didn’t go to film school, they just learned it on their own.  I never really held my degree from film school in very high regard and would often joke about it… until I worked on a significant project with a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced people who had not gone to film school.  After that frustrating experience, I never minimized my film school education again. 

The biggest woe coming out of film schools today though, in my humble opinion is the lack of business savvy.  I always tell people going to film school that if someone graduates from art school, they can take $100 and buy a canvas and some paints and produce their art.  A musician can set up a nice digital home studio for $10,000 and make their music.  But a director coming out of film school needs $1,000,000 to produce a decent first feature film.  I think anyone can figure out how to get a $100 and most people could figure out how to get $10,000 but how many film school graduates can figure out how to raise a million bucks?  Who in their right mind would trust you with that much money?  Can you deliver?  Can you squeeze that paltry $1,000,000 and make your film look like it’s got a real budget? It’s a process that builds and builds over time.

We have to go back to what do you want to do and how hard are you willing to work to get it?  Most people see the glitz and glamour of the film industry but do not realize the passion and blood that go into most of these jobs.  Most actors starve, most film producers make fairly dismal wages and most film crews work their tails off and try to line up their next job before the current project ends so they can keep working through out the year.  If you like security and 9 to 5 work days – run the other direction.  

 

Written by Shane Kester

 

 

Working in the Film Industry

Want to Work in the Film Industry?

Alexa Vega as Kat in "Broken Hill"

As people tell me they want to work in film I always wonder about their particular work ethic.  For most people in the film industry it is a labor of love, they have a burning passion to do it and work very hard at building their various careers.  I always tell people that want to be actors to go be an extra in 4 or 5 movies to see if they can really do the work.  It’s fun to see yourself in a couple of 3 second shots but was it worth the three 12 hour days?  I’ve seen people just walk off a set after only one day because they can’t stand the tedium that is part of film making.  There are 10,000 things that have to be ready before the director yells action and it can take a long time to get them ready.  Most people aren’t cut out for the hard work on the set making movies.  There are thousands of jobs in the “film industry” though and maybe the jobs on the fringes are better suited for some (more on those jobs later).

Making Movies is Hard Work

Not too long ago I worked the theatrical test release of the independent film “Broken Hill” that we tested on 33 screens in five different States staring Alexa Vega (Spy Kids 1,2 & 3, Ruby & the Rockits) and Timothy Hutton (Leverage).  The film was also competing in a film festival in an adjoining State and Alexa Vega was at the festival promoting the film.  We found out that she had one free day off between two days of promoting the film at the festival, so we asked her if we could fly her over and do a promotion spree all day and get her back to the festival for the next morning’s promotions.  She agreed and we got to work setting things up.

Shane Kester & Alexa Vega

She arrived with her make up artist early in the morning and put on make up in the back of the van we had rented to haul everyone around in.  As make up was being applied from the air port to the local television studio she gave several radio interviews over the phone (one in Spanish).  When we arrived at the television studio she rushed on and gave such a splendid interview that she was invited to continue on the morning show into the cooking segment, which she did.  We rushed out of the studio to another radio station for an in studio radio interview and then drove to another city while eating lunch in the van.  And somewhere in all that she also gave a face to face interview to a newspaper reporter.  We then arrived at a school that held a special assembly for her where she promoted the movie, talked about what it took to work in film and answered questions from the awe struck students.  We then rushed her to a local mall where she signed autographs outside the theater and went on a shopping spree with a young lady who had won the privilege of having Alexa Vega as shopping buddy.  Then in the evening she went from theater to theater signing posters and giving interviews via telephone all the way back to the air port.  She even found time to accept a call from my son who told her that he was her biggest fan and answered his 8 year old questions about making the Spy Kids movies with engaged sincerity.

She started her day at about 3:30 a.m. and ended it at about 2:00 a.m. the next day only to get up with only a few hours sleep to start promoting the film at the festival.  We worked her to the last second and I must say, she was as pleasant and lovely at the end as she was at the beginning and her personality was as consistently charming in private as it was in public.

It’s important to realize that most people are not willing to do one tenth the amount of work it takes to make it in the film industry.  Do you have a work ethic to make it in show business?

Written by Shane Kester

Which Independent Film Festival

Which Film Festival?

Berlinale Film Festival – East Berlin

This is an important question to the independent film maker.  You can’t possibly submit your film to all the festivals out there.  Some festivals will be more productive for you to attend than others.  If this is your first short film and it’s production value suffers from your non-existent budget and your best friends aren’t the best actors in the world and your story line could use some doctoring and your cinematographer (probably you) could have framed the shots with a little more expertise, you may not want to add your project to the avalanche of DVD submissions at Telluride or Sundance.  You might want to consider your local film festivals, some niche festivals or new festivals that are growing in popularity and garner some experience and recognition at the lower echelons of the festival circuit.  At the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year I listened to a panel of experienced directors, producers and film festival participants explain that if you’ve got something worth competing in the festival circuit, there are some great festivals out there that are not the major big dogs but that in some cases get your film more extensive exposure.  Some of these smaller yet experienced festivals still have a very personal touch and you can (respectfully) contact the people behind the scenes to make yourself known to them and find out what it is they are looking for that year.

Genre Film Festivals

There are some festivals that are solely dedicated to short films, some festivals are dedicated to a specific genre, some festivals have a specific mission or objective.  It wouldn’t sense at all to submit your horror story about a psychopathic cross-dressing serial killer who targets his list of ex-gay lovers in a campaign of lust, greed and revenge, to the Heart of Gold film festival in Australia which “screens short films that are entertaining, funny, thought-provoking, uplifting and present a positive view of the world and humanity.”

Film Festivals and Withoutabox

One of the best resources for the independent film maker to find out about film festivals throughout the world is Withoutabox.com.  Withoutabox is an online resource of a vast number of film festivals their submission deadlines and objectives.  You can set up a “watch list” and receive reminder emails that a certain film festival is approaching.  You can also set Withoutabox up with a festival search criteria that fits your desired festival such as Outside the USA, Start-up Festivals, Established Festivals, Deadlines, Call For Scripts etc.  Withoutabox will have a list of categories of competition and information about the festival.  Most importantly it will have the MISSION & OBJECTIVE section that will tell you what the festival is looking for in their competition.

Why Festivals?

So why go through all this expense and headache of getting your film to a festival?  Why for glory, honor and riches of course.  You spend all this time preparing, shooting, editing, eating, drinking and sleeping your film and now it’s time to show it to more than your friends and family, as well as hear what people really think about it.  The festival can help you accomplish your goal as an independent film maker and move you up the ranks to where it is you want to be.  So where do you want to be.  I as so many young people that say they want to go to film school or get in to film, what do you want to do?  And they don’t have a clue.  There are thousands of jobs you could do from accounting and law, to catering and clean up to acting and producing.  We will talk about some goals of going to “film school” or “getting into film” might be in later blogs.

Written by Shane Kester

The Film Festival Circuit

The last film festival I attended this year was the Edinburgh International Film Festival.  Some of the greatest films were premiers at EIFF including, Dr. Zhivago, Taxi Driver, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Pulp Fiction and E.T. to name a few.  I’ve made an effort to hit more of the major film festivals in Europe and learn the ropes at each one.  I run across a lot of people that want to do the “film festival circuit” and ask me a lot of good questions and I’m going to answer some of them.YouTube Preview Image

For those of you out there that have heard of the “film festival circuit,” you may catch yourself at some point actually asking, “what is the festival circuit?”  You hear independent film makers say they are going to do the “film festival circuit” with their film but most don’t really understand the process and what it entails.  Most independent film makers think that they will send their finished films to Sundance, Tribeca, Cannes, Venice or a myriad of other top festivals without realizing one thing… they are very hard to get into.  Not just on the basis of merit, because I’ve know a lot of great films that didn’t get accepted for one reason or another that still rose to high acclaim.  There are more reasons why your film might not be accepted to a film festival than there are differing opinions in the world.  Your film could be rejected because it’s not as good as you think it is or it didn’t fit into this years theme or out of the 100,000 plus entries they could only accept 10 entries in your category (dismal odds for anyone).

When contemplating the “film festival circuit,” most independent film makers do not take into consideration the high cost involved with submitting a film.  Just to submit a short film to Sundance you will have to pay between $30-$75 plus shipping.  To submit a feature film it will cost between $40-$100 plus shipping.  Other festivals can cost much more.  If you’re going to do the “film festival circuit,” how many festivals did you plan on submitting to?  Ten festival will run you between $300-$1,000 plus shipping just to see if you can get in.  Thirty submission will run you between $900-$3,000 plus shipping.  This is already exceeds the budgets of most short films. 

Submissions are usually accepted on simple DVD or video formats but if you are accepted to the festival there are usually rules about the medium shown at the festival.  It’s changing, but most of the top festivals still only accept actual celluloid films, especially for the feature catagories.  If they do accept other formats you will probably have to pay for transfers to DigiBeta, HD Cam or 35mm film at an additional cost that you need to be prepared for.  And if your film is going to a foreign festival, you’ll have to pay for translation and subtitling into that language.

Once you get accepted to a festival are you going to attend?  A few days in Park City or Berlin is going to cost you several thousand dollars or more.

You want your film to be seen by more than just your family and friends and film festivals are a great place to celebrate your accomplishment.  The independent film maker needs to always be prepared with a “promotion” budget to do the “film festival circuit.” 

In a follow up article I’ll discuss some of the options for the independent film maker when it comes to which festivals to submit to.  Sometimes bigger isn’t better and some festivals will only accept your film if it is a premier showing in a certain category.  All these tips will help you plan a more successful “film festival circuit.” 

Written by Shane Kester