Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What I Would Have Done Differently

Someone asked me what I would have done differently if I were to make "In Montauk" all over again.  The answer is everything and nothing.  I'm not trying to be coy, but many of the things I would have done differently, I'm not sure I could have learned without doing first.  Distribution for instance.  It's kind of like picking a school for your child before you ever have children.  You can look at schools, you can get an idea for which one's are good and which you should avoid, but until you have the actual child, with their own likes and personality, it's nearly impossible to pick the right school.  I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying that you may not be ready to think about distribution until you've actually made the film.  At least I wasn't.  It's counter to all the advice that's being given right now, but I found it hard to focus on distribution, when just getting the film made is monumental enough.  That being said, it would be smart to have an idea of who your audience is and even better to have some ideas about how to reach them.  So, with the caveat that a first-time feature director probably has enough on his or her plate just getting the film made, here are some things that I would have done differently (and will do on my next project):

1. Script, script, script.  I wish I had spent more time on my script before going into production.  And that I would have listened to more of the feedback that I got.  Because when I made the first cut of the film, the things that didn't work in the script, still weren't working in the film.  That being said, I was going to lose the location and being on a deadline helped me focus on re-writes.

2. Given more thought to the audience.  While I have made a film for women, it doesn't fit into any of the "women's" categories that are being programmed at festivals.  It's not a social-issue doc.  It doesn't pass the Bechdel test. It is a film about a woman who doesn't fit into a stereotypical role of Madonna or whore.  The main character is an imperfect woman making imperfect choices.  Although a lot of women relate to it (and artists in general), it's not easy to describe why.  I may have gone for a genre film or a social issue film had I known all this, but then again, maybe not.

3. Worked harder for support for the film in the script stage.  In my vast experience (insert eye-roll), it seems that the top tier festivals are unlikely to play your film unless they've already heard of it and been tracking it.  How do they hear of it?  Through producers they know.  Through the various labs (Sundance, IFP, San Francisco Film Society, Film Independent).  Through the top graduate film programs.  Through various prestigious granting organizations.

4. Talked to sales agents before I started submitting my film to the festival circuit.  Not just any, but sales agents who'd been recommended.  Or perhaps this should be a broader statement: I wish I'd taken advice earlier on from anyone who was willing to give it, be it a cast member who'd seen another film succeed, an agent who had producing experience, or anyone willing to help.  This is in here because I got a lead to a terrific sales agent who told me that if I'd submitted to him before going on the circuit, he may have been able to get my film at better festivals.  (See #3.)  That being said, I also had a distributor ask to see my film, then tell me to stop submitting to festivals, only to never watch the film.

The one thing that I wouldn't change is that I did it.  I went into it without high expectations (except that my film would beat the odds and get into a top tier fest), had a terrific cast and crew, a wonderful editor, composer and lots of love and support.  I am very proud of the film that I made and will hopefully take my own advice next time out.

If you want to see "In Montauk" it will be playing Tuesday, June 25 at Anthology Film Archives in New York City as part of NYWIFT Member Screening Series along with an unsung short that I worked on, "That's What She Told Me."  After that, you'll have to sign up for my e-mail list for an announcement about digital distribution.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Bliss of Traveling on Business

I just got back from 5 days at the Woods Hole Film Festival, where my feature film "In Montauk" won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature.   It was a great trip.  And now I'm going to tell you a secret.  I love to travel on business.  On film business, anyway.  Not that I have to do it that often.  Sure, I miss my kids, but there's something indulgent about waking up in the morning because I want to, not because I have to.  There's something freeing about getting back to my room at 3 am and not having to worry about whether or not I'll be awake enough in the morning to get the kids breakfast and get them off to camp.  It's quite a relief to be able to sit and talk to someone for hours without feeling like I'm neglecting the kids, or worse, having them say every two minutes "Come on, Mom! Are we going, yet?"  Or to do something completely spontaneously, like going sailing because I don't have anywhere else I have to be.  But then, when I finally come home, I'm greeted with hugs and kisses and questions.  "How was it?"  "Did you have fun?"  And then I remember that I actually like my kids.  I like to be around them.  Being there for them is a small price to pay for having them in my life.  Okay, it doesn't always feel like a small price, but one that's worth it.  Until my next trip.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sign the Petition for more Diversity

Melissa Silverstein (my personal hero), blogger of Women & Hollywood has started a petition asking the jurors of Cannes to consider the lack of women in competition this year and to find ways to include more women directors. Over 1000 people have signed. Many more are needed.

Please take a moment to sign the petition.  It matters.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Some stats on Female Directors

I read a lot about women in Hollywood, at film festivals and in the independent film world and in the last few years as I've worked to make my first feature, I've become much more aware of some of the depressing statistics about women in the field. There is a yearly report put out by The Center for the study of Women in Televison & Film at San Diego State University called The Celluloid Ceiling. Here are some of the facts:

 - In 2011, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents an increase of 2 percentage points from 2010 and an increase of 1 percentage point from 1998. - Women accounted for 5% of directors, a decrease of 2 percentage points from 2010 and approximately half the percentage of women directors working in 1998.

- 38% of films employed 0 or 1 woman in the roles considered, 23% employed 2 women, 30% employed 3 to 5 women, and 7% employed 6 to 9 women.

One of the common arguments executives make against hiring women filmmakers is that their films won't make money. To that I add this statistic:

 - Examining the top 100 worldwide grossing films of 2007, the study found that when women and men filmmakers have similar budgets for their films, the resulting box office grosses are also similar. In other words, the sex of filmmakers does not determine box office grosses.

As a female director I find these statistics depressing.  As the mother of a girl, I find them distressing.  You may say it doesn't matter whether a man or a woman directs a film, what matters is the quality.  But all films are not created equal.  When women work behind-the-scenes, the number of on-screen women increases.  And more on-screen women means more diversity in the women depicted.  I want my daughter to see herself reflected onscreen, to see roles to aspire to, even to see imperfect women and girls who make mistakes and make fools of themselves.  And I want my son to see women as more than eye-candy. The Geena Davis Institute has done numerous studies on gender disparity in media and what it's teaching our children.

You may ask yourself how you can make a difference.  I'm voting for female filmmakers with my box-office dollars.  The last few films I saw at the theater were female-directed or female-centric.  How to find these films?

Here are some great blogs to help:

Women & Hollywood by Melissa Silverstein (my old standby)
Bitch Flicks - feminist film reviews
Thelma Adams on Reel Women - recently discovered

Go out and find your feminine side!  And let me know if you have any great blogs or sites to add to this list.