Whew. Another Cowtown Film Series done. These things are a lot of work, but I do most of it myself. After that Look At My Shorts iV screening, it will be a really long time before I start delegating again. I am very pleased with many things, but I have my own criticisms of my own screening as well.
For one thing, the show was too long. I asked for too many movies, and then played them all. It was a little over 2 and half hours, which is hard to sit through no matter how good the movies can be. Between the Thursday show and the Sunday show, I re-arranged the play order. I moved the longer running pieces to be the last thing shown, plus bumped some of the faster paced movies to the head of the whole show. Programming is an art in itself as you never know exactly how an audience is going to react, and sometimes it takes sitting there with them to figure it out. Sunday’s show was better paced.
Some of the movies were dark. Now, I can’t be held responsible for the gaffing and lighting of other people’s movies, but digital projection is very different than film projection. Film has light being pushed through it, so the darks are still much greater in illumination. Video projection, even HD is pushing a dark light and that does not facilitate contrast or detail in the blacks. For Sunday’s show, I was able to lower the lights in the theater all the way and bump the brightness some on the projector. It wasn’t enough for some of the movies, but therein is the art of lighting a movie too. Looking good on a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) TV is not the same as thinking theatrically or other venues.
Attendance was decent. The final head counts were approximately 240 on Thursday and 160 on Sunday. Not bad, but ultimately I am disappointed. A free screening with all the press we got should have equated to more people in seats. We competed with another indie film screening on Thursday night at Studio 35 (they sold out), and Sunday went toe to toe with several key NFL games and a 48 Film competition. Combine that with some of the filmmakers themselves not promoting the screening and that’s why we didn’t have the full 403 seats filled. The simple math says 20 short films with their cast and crew, as well as a friend or family member for each should have easily filled 403 seats each show. I get the exact same feeling of disappointment for every single screening I have ever done, so why this is surprising is just my own ignorance.
I received complaints that most of the movies used the same actors too many times. Jon Osbeck was in 6 movies (plus 2 trailers), Bryan Michael Block was in 4, and Amanda Howell was in 3. Several other actors were in 2 movies. What can I say? Good actors get a lot of work.
Now on to the more positive aspects…
The program was exemplary. I couldn’t be happier with the movies. We had such a diverse range of movies, genres, styles, and moods. I split the program (even re-arranged) from Dramas into Sci Fi into Experimental into Comedy. Within each of those was versatility.
Having Johnny DiLoretto from Channel 6/28 host Thursday and Melissa Starker from the Columbus Alive host Sunday was a major coup. Their support was a surprise because I didn’t know how well they knew of our level of filmmaking in the city, except for some occasional support in their respective purview. I had little direct contact with either and they did a great job supporting us, mentioning it on their own Facebooks, etc.
In the past 10 years, I have programmed mostly on potential and less on the actual movies. This was the first time where I screened movies that were good and needed no explanation or asking the audience to look past some aspect, production value, acting, or camera work to see past that and see the potential at the heart. No, these movies actually had everything working well. I can’t single out anything because I could just type the names of the movies.
Audience reaction was fantastic. I make movies to sit in a dark room full of strangers and see how they feel about the things I wrote, shot, edited, and predicted they would. The satisfaction of getting the laughs, feeling the audience gasp, or going so quiet that you could hear a pin drop… this is why I make movies. When you think the audience will react, then they do, that is the definition of success in my eyes.
As for my latest movie ACCIDENTAL ART, this is where I feel the best personally. The movie went over exactly as I hoped it would. What I learned from these two screenings is that I made a movie for a theatrical experience, which I realize now is something I have always done. Especially with HORRORS OF WAR, I knew sitting with live audiences it was made to be a communal experience, and something definitely lost in a solitary viewing on a TV. ACCIDENTAL ART will be the same way. It plays so well with people who feed off each other’s laughter and reactions. I got the laughs in all the right places. The jokes played. The jolts worked. More importantly the emotion worked, which is the biggest gamble of the little movie. I am relieved. It “works”.
Brandy’s Holocaust documentary HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT was more or less the surprise hit. It’s a 10 minute sample from the 20 something hours of interview we already shot with the woman who wrote her autobiography. We’ll be doing a lot more work on this, since this project is set to dominate the spring of 2010 on our production schedule. What was learned was that we need a strong Voice Over as narrator, re-enactments of some of the key story elements, and other additional B-Roll to make the piece more visually interesting. Even with all this, the piece as it is played very well. Our subject, Betty Lauer compels the audience into her experience. The intensity of what she speaks about overwhelms people. I’m proud to be a part of the project, as this is one of the most serious subject matters I’ve ever dealt with and I want to treat it with the respect it deserves.
Overall, I consider this Cowtown Film Series 2009 a success. The pros outweigh the cons, and the venue was happy too, so we’re set to do something else in 2010 and most likely earlier in the Spring. I want to see what feature films get completed by that time and make some choices. I might do 3 weeks of features and 1 night of shorts, or something like that. Depends on what people get done.