One of the key concepts to understand about making no-budget films is that for the most part, for these films to get noticed and seen, and to put you in a position to make the next film, (hopefully on someone else’s dollar), they have to be “festival films.” Film festivals offer the best overall platform for low-budget indies of all stripes to get press attention, attract audiences, and obtain distribution. For many of the most successful no-budget indies, festivals are the vehicle which catapult an otherwise invisible film into the Zeitgeist, (think “Blair Witch Project,” “Pi” or “Napoleon Dynamite”). With that in mind, an important idea that I stress in my classes is to understand what a “festival film” is. I’m reminded of what comedian David Steinberg said of actress Shelley Winter’s autobiography, “I think you should read a book, before you write a book.” Before you make a film that you expect to get into festivals, you really need to go to a few festivals to understand what kinds of films get programmed and what qualities those films share. You need to get a context for your film. And this doesn’t mean you can make the same films that you saw and liked—quite the opposite is true. My Mantra—Uniqueness is one of the most important qualities that these films share. But you will get a better idea of the “marketplace” for your film when you visit the market.
Fortunately for you, you don’t have to pony up three grand and trudge through snow to experience a world class film festival. The Los Angeles Film Festival, currently running through June 29th, offers an incredible variety of world premieres, Sundance favorites, foreign films, classic cinema, and previews of upcoming films. And, as we all know, it’s hot as hell here—no snow! Here are some of my picks from this year’s festival offerings:
1.) “BAGHEAD” - The Duplass Brothers (“The Puffy Chair”) are back with a vengeance in this hilarious and innovative comedy/horror(?) film, which expands on their trademark naturalistic performance and dialogue-driven technique, opening up it up to a more commercial sensibility, without losing what makes that technique so enjoyable. I interviewed co-director Mark Duplass after seeing the film at Sundance—please read my full write up: “Baghead” No-Budget Profile
2.) “MOMMAS MAN” - Another film I caught at Sundance, “Mommas Man” is a subtle, moving work that’s a little terrifying to watch if you’re over 40 and still single, (not me?). Director Azazel Jacobs’ 16mm film features a memorable performance from lead actor Matt Bowen, and credible perfs from his parents! Jacobs’ father is well-known experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs and the film is mostly set in the wonderland that is their New York apartment, where Azazel grew up. I also interviewed Azazel for my site—please read my full write up: “Momma’s Man” No-Budget Profile
3.) “BALLAST” - Your classic high quality art film—rigorous, uncompromising, and ultimately extremely moving, impeccably made and acted. A hit with audiences at Sundance and the reason you go to film festivals instead of movie theaters. This is the kind of film that critics and art film lovers get excited about, and your sister back in Texas would hate. There’s no excuse for you to miss this one!
4.) “AMERICAN SON” - Suffering from the public and critical backlash associated with films dealing with the war in Iraq, this well-made and entertaining narrative feature was mostly ignored at Sundance this year. Don’t let it slip by you! With vivid performances from Mr. Mariah Carrey (Nick Cannon) and new indie-film darling Melonie Diaz.
5.) “FROZEN RIVER” - I missed this one at Sundance this year, unfortunately, and it wound up winning the Grand Jury Prize. Don’t make the same mistake!
6.) “MAN ON WIRE” - I heard great things about this British documentary on French acrobat Philippe Petit, who in 1974 illegally walked a tightrope between the newly erected World Trade Towers. I guess he was a big Leon Russell fan!
7.) “THE WACKNESS” - It’s hard to see everything at Sundance and so I missed this one too, (thank God for the LAFF!). Big buzz film with audiences and I’m sure, with fans of “Drake & Josh”.
8.) “AMERICAN TEEN” - Another buzz Sundance doc from acclaimed filmmaker Nanette Burstein, (“On The Ropes,” “The Kid Stays In The Picture”). I’ve heard great things about this one on the festival circuit.
9.) “CINEMATIC TITANIC” - If you’re a fan like me of the old Mystery Science Theater 3000, (the early episodes when creator Joel Hodgson was still on the show), then you’ll want to catch this once-in-a-lifetime event—Hodgson and his other original cast mates rip on the 1959 Roger Corman classic “Wasp Woman” live at the Ford Amphitheatre.
10.) “THE PLEASURE OF BEING ROBBED” - While I always make it a point to catch all the Narrative Competition films, where the majority of no-budget films and also the few world premieres might be found, the one I’m most eager to see is this SXSW and Cannes entry, which has already received much critical praise. Josh Safdie takes the multi-hyphen thing to the extreme—writer/director/producer/actor/DP/editor. Mmmm, I smell no-budget here! My one question: how do you shoot a movie you’re in??
There are certainly many, many more interesting films to see and events to experience so pick up a blue festival guide, (found all around town in stacks near the free weeklies) or visit the website:
quid pro quo [kwid proh kwoh] n Latin
1.) Something for something; that which a party receives (or is promised) in return for something he does or gives or promises
Quid Pro Quo is the bargain that every independent filmmaker who wants folks to come out to their movie (if they are lucky enough to get it into theaters) makes with every other indie filmmaker who gets their movie into theaters—I will see your movie and you will come see mine. Something for something. It’s how an independent film community survives in a difficult marketplace for indie movies, and if we as filmmakers are not capable of holding up our end of the bargain, then there certainly won’t be a theatrical outlet for indie films by the time our films are ready for the big screen.
“Quid Pro Quo” also happens to be an aptly titled indie film opening today that we filmmakers should all go out and support. And not just because of the Bargain, but also because it is an excellent movie. First time director Carlos Brooks teams up with veteran producers Midge Sanford and Sarah Pillsbury (“Desperately Seeking Susan,” “River’s Edge,” many more) and a talented cast, (led by Nick Stahl and Vera Farmiga) to create an intriguing and unique mystery that is also in its way, very funny. It is beautifully shot by DP Michael McDonough (who incidentally shot Farmiga’s break-out film “Down To The Bone”) on the Sony F900 HD camera. Anyone who thinks you can’t get a “film look” from high def video (are there still people who think that?) should check it out just to see the wonderful film noir lighting so well realized with this format.
“Quid Pro Quo” premiered at this year’s Sundance to excellent reviews, but in this year’s bone-crunching environment, where crowd-pleasing hits from Sundance and other festivals have found little traction, it is imperative that we jump to see this film the first weekend so it will be around long enough for word-of-mouth to kick in. And this is one you’ll want to see on the big screen with a crowd.
So keep your promise—go see “Quid Pro Quo”!
“Quid Pro Quo” opens today at the Landmark in West LA.