Friday, July 19, 2013

Sundance Shorts Lab: N.Y.C. Part two

Sundance Shorts Lab: N.Y.C. Part two

For more information, visit ShortsLab: N.Y.C. / Sundance Institute

Note:  I expanded my interview from the event in a previous post unaware that I did it in this one.  The notes here are closer to the event and more thorough in their relation.

Last Sunday I attended ShortsLab: N.Y.C. 
I brought a recorder with me if anyone's interested. I also have the program schedule with the names of the panelists in case anyone wants to review successful festival participants. There were 5 panels: The Sundance Short Program and background on the festival, Story Development, Collaboration, Working with Actors, and Shorts to Features. I'm providing some notes here.

From the Sundance panel:
They receive 8000 submission. They take that down to about 1200. Then they refine that to 300. Then they go somewhere and argue till it's down to 80. So 1% of shorts submitted actually screen. They promised there were no political shenanigans, HOWEVER they did say that lobbyists do exists and that can cause them to take a second look at a film. I would imagine that's enough some times.
-The industry is interested in shorts. They value new talent and new visions and people with the capacity to complete a project.
-The average film is 12-14 minutes but the big question is does the film work for the amount of time it takes? If it sorta works at 15 minutes but feels so much stronger at 11, that's a good reason to cut it down, even if your favorite shot is on the chopping block. Value for time is a big deal to them. So ask that question during test screening.
-Sympathy affects decision making: if you are undiscovered and the other guy has a film that's played at 11 film festivals already you might get chosen over the favorite IF you've done your homework with social media and given judges a way to see a little more into your story and behind the scenes of the show. They like to look up the film and filmmakers and use that to weigh out festival placement.
-Someone asked about festival strategy: ultimately its the film that counts, the festival throws promo material away, but the panelist couldn't talk for distributors whom, on the day, they noticed were indeed attracted to a little grassroots effort (posters, a press kit, buttons and pins with a table etc.)

From Story Development:
A story should have an inner question, a thematic through line that ties the film together and it should be in front of the script writer during all writing sessions.
-Dialogue written into the script may not always make the cut, but those scenes may help ease the characters into the less chatty and more emotional scenes where they need something to anchor them. I suggest the alternative of writing improv scenes that take place days before the diagetic timespace of the film so they have character memories to reflect on.

From Collaboration:
A method to fundraising comes through the casting director pathway, sending a good script to an actor is sometimes less important that the director they'll be working with. The director and the actor want to know who's directing them. Short films are a good way to build your argument. In this way, Story = project integrity, Actor = market, so the script should be actor-centric and performance based as well as tightly plotted.
-Each stage of film-making need not be dependent upon the original screenplay but be considered a re-write as new collaborators are involved and see its potential, such as editors who have so much influence on the final narrative structure.
-Credits can act as payment on ambitious productions (as in marketing ambitious; connections, promised advertising, or possible talent elements can influence hiring the same way a certain camera can attract a DP. For no-budget, incentive is everything).
-Production offices, when raising money, search up financiers through IMDB who have funded similar films and proposition them.

Dealing with Actors:
Again, they want to know who's directing and see examples. Shorts are valuable here.
-Some directors provide letters to the reader, along with the script, that describe what films are like the film they will shoot. They may also indicate for the actors, in their copy of the script, where there will be room for improv but they appreciate this balanced against clear script adherence.
-Know when to leave actors alone. They believe if you chose them, then there shouldn't be much to discuss on set. They absolutely appreciate the rehearsal time however to practice their craft.
-They appreciate knowing what the good takes are as well as being given a chance over multiple takes to provide differing performances and tones. For better performances, cut down your shotlist.
-Don't go deeply into emotional scenes during rehearsal. They like to reserve that for the shoot. 50% emo levels are fine.
-Don't shoot the first scenes on the first day. It's the first scene of the film and they are at their coldest. They need time to develop comfort.
-Give space to your actors from the hustle of the set.

Shorts to features:
Use what you know personally and what you own to make insta-unique cinema.
-If you are lucky and good enough to receive multiple accolades, stagger them, spread out the news to create a sense of ongoing importance rather that showing it all right away.
-Language and conviction are very powerful, tell investors/producers interviewing you that you are shooting this year, so they feel they are trying to jump on a moving train.
-Often you'll feel like you have nothing to work with, be down to lose it all anyway.

Let's get what we came for,

C.M. Sanchez III