No one will give a damn about this website.
There isn’t a big enough audience nationally for regional film festival news to sell ads.
Why are you wasting your time with that? You won’t ever make any money doing it.
The first quote came from the Editor-in-Chief of Festworks.com. (Yeah, that would, in fact, be THIS website. I mean, I know, right?) The second quote came from a veteran sales person who has been selling ads in magazines and websites for a couple decades. She told me if I tried to do that I would grow to hate every aspect of what I was doing. Happy thought! And they actually both said (at separate times) the third quote.
But, you know something? I think they are dead wrong about the interest in what I intend this site to be, they are probably right (without a big struggle on my part) on the second statement, and I frankly, don’t really care about the third.
And there is a reason for that.
I am a true believer in the value and the “mission” of film festivals. I say this enough that I’m sure I’ve repeated it to people more than a few times. And as I get older, it will get worse, with people actually doing impressions of me stating that. And they won’t be kind.
But there are a couple key points to consider. One, is the importance of regional film festivals themselves. On this point, I will unabashedly sing its praises. There is an opinion out there I know that would disagree with me here. One person, in particular (an editor at another site I used to write for), someone whose opinion I value greatly, who believes if a festival is not a “market” festival, then it really has no point and certainly no newsworthy importance, and a foolhardy exercise of wasted effort and monies put into it. I could not disagree more. And it has nothing to do with the Kumbaya “growing the film community” arguments. No, it’s about “discovery.” It is about finding exciting new talent, seeing film artists develop that talent, trying and succeeding at putting stories onscreen and using new techniques and innovating in a number of ways that have no interest for big studios because it would never satisfy the largest lowest common denominator audience they seek.
At this past Sundance Film Festival, while hosting the NPR affiliate radio show The Daily Buzz, I brought up the fact that frankly, even that festival was limited in the true discovery process because – on the surface of it – so many films seemed pre-packaged for delivery into the media machine. They either had a couple top-lining stars to trot out, or they had been developed and nurtured through multiple Sundance labs so they were already teed up for their Quinceañera-like debuts. One of the journalists got somewhat defensive, stating that they were still reviewing and vetting the films and discovering talent, citing THE BIG SICK as an example. I thought to myself, “Who, exactly were we to “discover” from that film? Michael Showalter? I guess if we had never heard of The State or WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, etc.. Would It be Kumail Nanjiani, from “Silicon Valley” and “Franklin & Bash”? Holly Hunter? Zoe Kazan? Ray Romano? Those newcomers on the scene. No, it must have been the new producer on the block, Judd Apatow. That was her discovery.
Now, I would’ve gone for a couple people in the Next section, which is like the last bastion of hope for a filmmaker that hasn’t gone through the labs, or has a huge bankroll and movie stars behind their project, or is not an alumni of Sundance. Someone like Amman Abbasi, the director of DAYVEON. That kid came out of nowhere and showed a shit-ton of potential with the art and style infused in that film. Or Justin Chon of GOOK. Though he is still an alumni (at least as a cast member), due to his appearance in SOUL SEARCHING, and yes, he was in the TWILIGHT movies. Crap. Nevermind. He did show something truly special with that film. But I was the only one bringing it up at that table.
But look at how the talented Valerie Weiss has taken off since her film, A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET, screened at the Tallgrass Film Festival a couple years ago. Her next film will be at SXSW this year. Kieran Valla’s DELINQUENT is still making its mark at a number of fests following last year’s screening at Tallgrass. The Oxford Film Festival unleashed Mark Potts’ discount-store superhero SPAGHETTI MAN onto the world. The Dallas International Film Festival led the way for Shaun M. Colón’s puppet-laden rockumentary A FAT WRECK, as well as Livia Ungur and Sherng-Lee Huang’s other worldly narrative/doc hybrid HOTEL DALLAS. Indie Memphos gave some hometown love to Jake Mahaffy’s tough, uncompromising FREE IN DEED following its success at Venice, as well as Pritchard Smith’s timely doc on THE INVADERS civil rights efforts during the 60s. And my wife Justina Walford’s Women Texas Film Festival, in it’s first year, raised the profile of Christina Kallas’ Cassavetes-esque ensemble drama 42 SECONDS TO HAPPINESS, presenting it with it’s Best Feature Film honor, and put some wind in its sails for a number of film festival appearances and more awards throughout the past year.
There are a number of examples at each of those film festivals, as well as others that I represent as a publicist, including the Harlem International Film Festival, Sidewalk Film Festival, the Iowa Independent Film Festival, and the La Costa Film Festival. I, seriously, just came up with those off the very top of my head. Each of the fests mentioned has other films and filmmakers you could cite – easily. And that is a fraction of the truly great film fests across the country that are both giving films that were passed over by Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, Toronto, and Cannes, an opportunity to find their audiences, to capture the imagination of cinephiles despite a lack of top-lining talent or money or connections or money or experience or money. Or, took some of those films that debuted at those fests, but got buried under the avalanche of premieres and stars and hype and blah and blah and blah, and gave them a little more real estate within the sun to soak up some much needed attention. A great recent example was Bobby Miller’s one-of-a-kind bizarre tragi-comedy, THE MASTER CLEANSE, which received some much deserved attention at DIFF and other fests following its debut at SXSW.
That is what regional film festivals have going for them. And that is what we will write about on Festworks.com. Check out the site. It is still in its infancy, and underlining that reality is the fact that it seems like the John Wildman show right now, except for Miguel Cima’s and Daphne Street’s feature film reviews and our Guest Column, which has had contributions for the Dallas Video Fest’s Bart Weiss, and one of the truly old-school film writers and critics out there today, Edward Douglas. We are soon to add to our roster of contributing writers – among them, many more women, because I want this site to contribute to those voices being heard regarding how film and filmmakers are perceived, considered, spoken to, and analyzed. We will also make a pointed effort to feature and highlight the work of female filmmakers. A few other sites do that now and we will do our part as well.
Anyway, Festworks.com includes the following:
FILMS GONE WILD – My column finds a new home after the departure of Mark Bell’s Film Threat. I will be increasingly weighing in on film related news and topics as well as reporting from a number of film fests around the country and even the world.
FILM FESTIVAL NEWS – Right now, we are doing what many sites do and pretty much just cut and pasting press releases regarding other fests. However, the goal will be to actually do some reporting on the info given in those press releases. Like maybe even making a phone call or sending an email to ask a question of two about the film lineups, etc. But then again, that is A LOT of work, actually talking to people.
THEATRICAL REVIEWS – Because of course. Except, we likely won’t be doing the big releases. Because no one needs yet another review of a film that has been reviewed by 99 other sites and critics. Nope. We want to find something you might miss or pass by otherwise.
VOD REVIEWS – I watch the vast majority of films in general release online now. And I don’t think I am the only one. So, we have a section dedicated to those releases. The press is notoriously slow to pick up on how consumers actually consume. And this is a prime example.
10 BURNING QUESTIONS – These are interviews with feature filmmakers about the making of their film, their past, philosophies, etc. It’s also meant to be fun and show off their sense of humor a little bit.
SHORTS AND TO THE POINT – The same thing as 10 BURNING QUESTIONS, but featuring Shorts filmmakers and in a shorter (naturally) format. We are going to give some shorts filmmakers the platform they would otherwise struggle to get in the press.
SPECIAL FEATURES (LAST 10 FILMS WATCHED) – I stole this idea from Matthew Wilder, the screenwriter of DOG EAT DOG, and updated it a little to also include how I saw those films (in a theater, VOD, DVD, at a fest) to compare with each other not just what we are all watching but how we are viewing films today.
SPECIAL FEATURES (GUEST COLUMN) – This will be someone that I respect a great deal that has a story or interview they’ve been dying to do and we are the only outlet for it. We are the home for those ideas and rare journalistic pieces that other sites don’t believe they can exploit for profit.
Once we figure out the technology, we’ll add a video section which will feature a regular podcast as well as red carpet sound bites and one-on-ones from film festivals.
We will also have a photo gallery section as well.
Two final thoughts to throw out there as I re-introduce Festworks.com or at least the film and film festival news and reviews portion of it (more on the other part of Festworks.com in another column):
ONE – My personal review philosophy is to try and help the film fan or consumer find the film best suited to entertain or interest them – put the right butts in the right seats. I have no interest in tearing a filmmaker down or laying judgment on their talent or right to point a camera at someone. Something may not be in my personal wheelhouse, but it will likely be in someone else’s. And I’ll try to steer that person to the right film. Other people and sites can trash movies, make “Worst of” lists, etc. Not here. I represent films and film festivals and filmmakers as a publicist. I AM a filmmaker myself. And I also don’t believe I have the right to tell someone not to quit their day job. Now, that doesn’t mean that every review will be a love letter. There will be pragmatic analysis and criticism. There simply will be no bashing. Someone else can do that on another site.
TWO – I am a film festival and film publicist and I do seek to make more films myself. That’s just the reality. I like doing all of those things and will continue to do them as well as write for and edit this website. That freaks some people out. Someone I worked for at a Film Society lost her shit about that fact all the time when I was in her department. Didn’t want me to write. Didn’t want me to do interviews. Didn’t want me introducing films. Couldn’t handle the tearing down of those walls. But that is just the way it is now. I’m certainly not the only one that wears multiple hats in this area. I’m not even close to the most notable people that do that. But I’m acutely aware of and sensitive to the optics. I always have been absolutely transparent about everything I do and the relationships I have, and I will always invite everyone to take my opinions or critiques with as many huge rocks of salt as they deem necessary.
What I deem necessary is the existence of a film news website like Festworks.com. We need more coverage of regional film festivals. We need more attention paid to the filmmakers screening there. We don’t need more Clooney, Kidman, Lawrence, Adams, Streep, Cruise coverage. Monkeys can do that by this point. We need to find the new talent in film, and TV, and VR, etc. We need to give the new voices a forum to discuss their work. We need to help people find the golden film needles in the haystack of VOD titles we scroll past on Amazon and Netflix now.
That is what I believe. If you do as well, then start checking out Festworks.com. and tell everyone you know to do so as well.