Hello my fellow writers, cinephiles, and artists:
It looks like I’m becoming one of those people who is beginning to hit the festival circuit. Within the past few months I have had the opportunity to learn more about this side of the film industry from the perspectives as a participant and as a volunteer. The reason I began embarking on such an endeavor is because I want to learn everything I possibly can about the film industry. So I’m trying to absorb everything I can and get my hands into everything I can. In fact, I’m even taking an acting class right now. Since I am in between jobs and job hunting like a madwoman, I have some time on my hands until I find my next place to land. So I figured I’d make the most of it and take advantage of some opportunities out there and share a little about my experiences thus far.
This January, I had the opportunity to traveling to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. The festival is held in Park City, the festival’s main base, and Salt Lake City for ten days in January. I attended the second week of the festival and stayed in Salt Lake City. Many of the films screen in both locations, but all of the extra events such as filmmaker discussions, panels, and formally organized networking opportunities were in Park City.
The features I saw were To The Bone, Landline, The Nile Hilton Incident, L.A. Times, and Band Aid. I did get to see a number of documentaries: Winnie, about Winnie Mandela and her leadership in the fight against apartheid in South Africa; The Good Postman, about a mayoral election in a disappearing Eastern European town struggling with how to handle refugees; and Long Strange Trip about the Grateful Dead. There is seriously no better title for a four-hour Grateful Dead documentary. I’ve always been a nerd about music (my family’s favorite pastime is quizzing me on my rock & roll knowledge), so it was the last film I saw at the festival and my favorite.
I did manage to squeeze in an afternoon in the gorgeous Park City, which was about a 45 minute drive from Salt Lake City. I spent some time in the Sundance TV lounge, learned more about Sundance Now – a new streaming service similar to Netflix, but exclusively for projects affiliated with the Sundance Institute. I even got a pair of Sundance Now socks for signing up 🙂 I did catch one of the Filmmaker Lodge discussions. Which was fantastic. The ticketing process was fairly easy and explained in elaborate detail. The site was set up as if you were shopping online, so it was very easy to navigate. I chose the 10-ticket package that came with two credentials. After being given a time slot by the Sundance staff (probably so thousands of people didn’t log on at the same time and crash the site – smart idea), you got to go onto the website and select which films you’d like to see, and then selected the box office where you’d like to pick them up. You have to pick up the good old-fashioned paper tickets in person. The title of each film printed on each one; which I actually prefer to an emailed or electronic ticket. Ticket packages are not mailed or emailed. That made everything much easier.
This festival clearly runs like a well-oiled machine. There were lots of staff and volunteers in yellow or black Kenneth Cole jackets and all of them were incredibly helpful, friendly, and enthusiastic about being apart of the festival. Most of the screenings were scheduled in the evening, so I got to spend my days exploring the city and trudging through snow for good places to eat and shop. There was more snow and less heat than I am accustomed to having as a Virginian, and some people quipped that the festival should be called “Snowdance” instead of Sundance. But the amount of frozen precipitation never put a damper on my experience. Everyone I met, whether or not they were involved with Sundance, was incredibly friendly. I was also happy that Reshma, one of my good friends from Hollins, was also in attendance. There was some overlap on our screening schedules so we got to attend some movies together and play a bit of catch up. So final verdict: if you ever get the chance to go to Sundance in any capacity – do it. It is worth every penny. If life allows it, I’d probably go again next year.
Since I got the opportunity to experience a film festival as an attendee, I figured it was about time I learned what film festivals are like from the other side as a volunteer. The film industry has been growing and drawing more attention in Virginia, especially with historically inspired films. Many strides are being taken to open up Virginia and make it a more appealing and competitive place for the film industry to thrive as Virginia becomes a more sought-out location. One of the many ways Virginia is working to increase its appeal to filmmakers is by hosting the Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF). This year was the sixth year of the festival. So it’s still young, growing, and evolving. The most recent phase of evolution was creating a SXSW type of vibe with film screenings and musical performances. This year was the first time at creating this type of atmosphere for RIFF. As both a volunteer and spectator, I think it’s a direction worth exploring and maintaining. Richmond has a rich and growing arts scene, the festival just needs time to grow.
Like any prospective volunteer, I sent an inquiry in response to an email requesting volunteers that came out of the Virginia Production Alliance listserv. I introduced myself as a Hollins University graduate student and recent Sundance attendee. This evidently made an impression since the result was an invitation to join the small group of volunteers that worked closely with the event producers. Which was cool. I got to help put together the RIFF website, add RIFF events to local online calendars, and work the RIFF table at the State of the Industry event.
During RIFF itself, I worked ticket tables for a lot of music events. My first night I worked a hip-hop/rap event with performances from Supa Soop, Ace of Spades, Prince La’kid, KingTay, and Chance Fischer. The next night was a music video showcase and live music mixer with a variety of music. Performances ranged from hometown talent – like Rodney the Soul Singer and Noah-O, to musicians from around the country like Just B. Polo, and Smoothe da Hustler and Trigger tha Gambler from New York. Residents and guests of the River City also got a special treat with performances from international musicians Sparky Quano from Japan and Naomi Achu from Cameroon. Another night I worked an event called “Women in the Round” which showcased several female singer/songwriters: Susan Greenbaum – a Richmond favorite, The Belle of the Fall, Violet Dulaney, and Mary Bragg. I befriended Mary Bragg, a country/Americana musician. I gave her drink tickets so she later gave me a copy of one of her albums – which I’ve enjoyed listening to. It was tremendous fun and all of the musicians put on incredible performances, but it required many long nights that lasted until the early morning hours. I did work the ticket table one of the movie theaters one afternoon. But I think the music events were more fun to work. Most of the movies I wanted to see conflicted with times I had to work, so unfortunately I didn’t get to see many films. The documentary about the 611 steam engine was fascinating.
I was elated to see some Hollins friends make the trek to RVA. Although the visit was brief, I enjoyed and appreciated it immensely. Tim, Amber, Tyler, Jamie, Allen, and Alva: thank you for making your way to Richmond. I hope y’all enjoyed it!
I did work the ticket table for one event that I was really hoping to get to: the Flow Collective panel discussions. There were five panels lasting about an hour each. So like any studious individual, I took notes with the pen and notebook I keep in my purse. Because it’s not every day you get to sit in on panel discussions for free (well, in exchange for working the ticket table) 🙂 I was in the back of the room and the speakers didn’t have microphones, so it was a bit hard to hear them at times, so I scribbled down what I could.
People were able to come to the panel and pitch their ideas for projects or present their reels of work to a panel of industry professionals from casting, directing, composing, producing, and writing. I didn’t get to jot down all of the pitches themselves or the sources of all of the advice, but I did catch some gems worth sharing:
- “You’re the imaginative one in the room, most people in the room aren’t” and won’t admit it. That in itself is worthy of your confidence.
- “Communicate everything in your head so the audience can understand it.”
- “When you say ‘yes’ you’re making a commitment to yourself.”
- Jesse Vaughn, director of The Last Punch –“Sound = Picture”…”There is no excuse for bad sound. The only excuse is laziness.”
- “Create a win-win situation…If you want [career] longevity, create win-win relationships.” -J.V.
- “If you don’t ask, you don’t get it… you can’t be shy.” -J.V.
- You sometimes have to give people “gentle elbows” in order to accomplish a certain goal. -J.V.
- When beginning conversations about financing, don’t begin the conversation with “What’s your rate?” That’s a major turn off. Use language more along the lines of “What does it take for us to work together… Communicate what you have and what you need respectfully.” – J.V
- When asking for film score help, ease your way into conversations. For example, “I like your music”, “I like this bit here”, and “can I see more of this?”
- “QUALITY: It’s all about bringing in and wanting to create A-level work” – J.V.
- “Be sincere, but be flexible.” -J.V.
- “Present someone with a challenge and do your homework”
- One goal to have: wanting people to “leave the theater smarter/better informed than when they entered.”
- When making reels (actors, composers, cinematographers, etc): “Make reels tailor-made. Know who you’re presenting it to”. – Anne Chapman and Erica Arvold
- Make your reel lifelike with highs and lows, moments big and little, peaks and valleys.
- Figure out what it is you want and curtail your reel to accomplish the goal.
- “Display proficiency and flexibility” -Black Liquid
- Anecdote: Context – When Rambo was first made and introduced without a score people couldn’t sit through it. Once the score was added, people could sit through the film and enjoy it.
- Composer reels should be two minutes in length.
- Cinematography reels should show some variety in your skill set.
- One thing from employers: (this note was given in regard to cinematographers, but could easily apply to anyone in any line of work) What they are looking for is how well do you work with people. A big part the job is managing people and equipment. How well do you do that? How well do you work with people you do and don’t like?
Overall, my experience of working with RIFF was a positive and beneficial one. I enjoyed learning more about film festival and what all goes into planning. I’m also grateful to the film community as a whole for being incredibly welcoming. I’ve never once been belittled or ridiculed for lack of knowledge or experience. Whether I’m with writers, actors, or film festival goers, everyone is always so kind, generous, and encouraging. There is always something new to learn or experience and the enthusiasm people have in sharing what they’ve created is always inspiring. Richmond has so much to offer and is becoming a more sought-out place for a number of reasons, especially with a rich history to fuel a film industry. I can’t wait to see where this festival goes and how much it grows over time.
Richmond, VA was also ranked on MovieMaker magazine’s The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2017