Laura Blum, Blogger, FilmFestivals.com
Hoyt Richards , Actor/Writer/Filmmaker/Public Speaker, Tortoise Entertainment
Cirina Catania, Founder and Lead Creative, The Catania Group
Tara-Nicole Azarian, Actress/Filmmaker, Tara Cosplay
Philip Hodgetts, President, Lumberjack System
James DeRuvo, Film and Technology Reporter, DoddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we’re looking at film festivals. We start with Cirina Catania, one of the co-founders of the Sundance Film Festival, and a filmmaker in her own right, talking about how and why Sundance got started, along with her thoughts on why film festivals continue to grow today.
Larry Jordan: Laura Blum, blogger for filmfestivals.com and Thalo.com looks at film festivals and explains what it takes to create a successful event.
Larry Jordan: Actress and filmmaker Tara-Nicole Azarian has written a script, but more importantly than that, she’s turned it into a film, taken it to a festival and won awards. Tonight she shares her thoughts on creating an award winning film.
Larry Jordan: Technologist Philip Hodgetts sees a potential future where software can edit films that tell stores. Tonight he peers into a world of smart API’s and artificial intelligence that can take us there.
Larry Jordan: Hoyt Richards is an actor, a writer, and a filmmaker who has won nearly 200 awards at various film festivals with his two films, ‘Intersection’ and ‘Dumbbells.’ Tonight, he explains what it takes to create an award winning film and what winning awards means for commercial success.
Larry Jordan: All this plus James DeRuvo with our weekly DoddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking – authoritative – one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals – current – uniting industry experts: production, filmmakers, post production and content creators around the planet – distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry covering media production, post production and marketing around the world. This year celebrates our 17th year of podcasting. Hi, my name is Larry Jordan, and tonight we’re looking at film festivals. Over the next hour, we’ll discover how film festivals were created, how they’ve grown and what’s made them successful. Then, we’ll talk with two actor filmmakers about how they use film festivals in their marketing and promotion. And we’ll explore the relationship between winning awards and winning at the box office.
Larry Jordan: Finally Philip Hodgetts takes us into the future where films are edited by software. Tonight, it’s going to be a great show. I also want to remind you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week gives you an inside look at The Buzz, quick links to all the different segments on the show, and curated articles of special interest to filmmakers. And best of all, every issue is free.
Larry Jordan: By the way, big news. SAG-AFTRA today announced that they were considering a strike against video game companies on behalf of voiceover actors. This is potentially a huge deal as games are much bigger than Hollywood. Jonathan Handel will join us next week with analysis on what this means, so be sure to tune in then.
Larry Jordan: And thinking of news brings us to our DoddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo, senior writer for DoddleNEWS. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: So what’s the news?
James DeRuvo: Well, got a lot of Apple news this week.
Larry Jordan: OK.
James DeRuvo: The first thing is the invitation came out this week for the Apple October Event, and that’s going to take place on the 27th. We’re expecting refreshes for the MacBook Pro which is rumored to have the new Intel Skylake Processors, Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C connections, and even a customizable OLED function toolbar called ‘The Magic Toolbar.’ You’ll actually be able to customize each function key, which really could help editors I think.
James DeRuvo: The next thing we’re expecting is 5K displays are going to get their incremental upgrade with onboard GPU’s made by Nvidia and I’m guessing a Thunderbolt 3 connection. The 5K iMac will also get an incremental GPA upgrade. But there’s no talk of a new Mac Pro. We have heard that Final Cut Pro X may give some familiar updates in the timeline editor. I don’t know if you’ve heard anything about that though?
Larry Jordan: There’s always rumors James.
James DeRuvo: Always rumors. But lately they’ve been eerily accurate, which is what I find interesting.
Larry Jordan: The other thing I find interesting is that there’s a lot of rumors about laptops, but nothing about desktops. Not just the new Mac Pro, but also the iMac is suspiciously silent at this point.
James DeRuvo: I’m hearing that it’s going to get an upgrade in the GPU, that’s about it.
Larry Jordan: We’ve got tons of Apple news that we’ll hear more about on October 27th if my memory serves.
James DeRuvo: Correct.
Larry Jordan: What else we got cooking?
James DeRuvo: Speaking of Apple, an interesting YouTuber by the name of Lewis Hilsenteger did a benchmark test comparing the iPhone 7 256GB model versus the 32GB model. And interestingly, he found that the 256GB iPhone 7 is roughly eight times faster at writing files than the 32GB model. He used an app called ‘Performance Test’ to do the test, but he also did some synching through iTunes to see if there was a difference, and there indeed was an eight times difference in how quickly the 256GB model of the iPhone 7 writes. Now if you’re into mobile filmmaking, that’s going to make a huge difference, especially when you’re filming in 4K. But it suggests to me that Apple may be using cheaper SSD’s in their less expensive models.
Larry Jordan: There’s also a separate issue which is the smaller the SSD, the harder the SSD controller has to work to be able to write data to it. So part of it is endemic in just the smaller size of the SSD and we should mention that read speeds are the same, so the playback speed is identical, it’s only the write speed that changes.
James DeRuvo: The playback is the same, but if you’re writing 4K video files, you’re definitely going to want to pick up the 256GB version, and not try to save money by getting one of the smaller ones.
Larry Jordan: Well not just the speed, but also 32 gigs is not a lot of storage for those size files.
James DeRuvo: No, and you have to remember that probably 25 to 30 percent of that is the OS. So a 32GB model is really 22? It’s not that much.
Larry Jordan: That’s right, if you’re going to do 4K get larger sizes, that’s true. Have we got anything else?
James DeRuvo: Yes, go all the way.
Larry Jordan: We’ve got two Apple stories, what’s our third?
James DeRuvo: The third one is this week Indiegogo released a crowdfunding handbook for filmmakers. It includes lessons learned from over ten years of doing crowdfunding for film projects, and tips about building a good crowdfunding team, because let’s face it, no man is an island. You need to have a really good team in order to build a successful crowdfunding campaign, and it offers tested advice for setting goals, keeping up your momentum, not only during the campaign but after it, and offering realistic perks that are easy to fulfill. You can download it in a PDF format, just go to indiegogo.com.
Larry Jordan: There’s no shortage of stuff that’s going on. Where can people go for all the latest news?
James DeRuvo: You can read about these and stores at doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Senior writer for DoddleNEWS is James DeRuvo, and James, as always, thanks for joining us and we’ll talk with you next week.
James DeRuvo: Alright Larry, take care.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: I want to introduce you to a new website, Thalo.com. Thalo.com is an artist community and networking site for creative people to connect, be inspired and showcase their creativity. Thalo.com features content from around the world with a global perspective on all things creative. Thalo is the place for creative folks to learn, collaborate, market and sell their works. Thalo is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers, and storytellers from photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between. Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Visit Thalo.com and discover how their community can help you connect, learn and succeed. That’s Thalo.com.
Larry Jordan: Cirina Catania is a successful writer, director, journalist and tech evangelist. She’s a former senior marketing executive at MGM UA, and United Artists, and, and this is so cool, one of the original co-founders of the Sundance Film Festival. Hello Cirina, welcome back.
Cirina Catania: Hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: Tonight we’re talking about film festivals so put your film festival hat on. Think back a few years, why did you join the team to create Sundance?
Cirina Catania: Back in 1978, John Earle and I were working on the Utah Film Commission and Sterling Van Wagenen was working for Robert Redford as President of Wildwood Pictures which was his production company, and we all loved films and the Governor wanted us to try to figure out a way to get more business into Utah, so we decided to do a festival.
Larry Jordan: It’s like Mickey Rooney, “We’re going to throw a party.”
Cirina Catania: There you go, sitting around at dinner going, “What can we do? Let’s do a festival.”
Larry Jordan: So what were the first two years of Sundance like?
Cirina Catania: Compared to today, it was really difficult to find… first of all we wanted it to be about independent American film, and at the time there was a big chasm between the movies being made out of Hollywood, and young people all over the country trying to get their films made using their parents credit cards and there was a lot of animosity between the two groups. The independent filmmakers, we called them regional filmmakers at the time, looked at Hollywood, and said, “I’ll never be able to get in there.” And the Hollywoods thought that we were unprofessional and not as good. So really the beginnings of Sundance were a way to bring the two groups together, and you would see some of the top people in Hollywood having coffee with young filmmakers who were doing black and white film.
Larry Jordan: When you think back, it was sort of branching out into unknown territory. Who would come to see films? And now, film festivals are everywhere. What makes them so popular?
Cirina Catania: I think people love the art of film, but also there’s a need to learn more about the business of films. So in many of the festivals, you also have a market combined with it, and I think that’s why festivals like Cannes and Berlin are very popular. We had 11,000 tickets sold the first year of Sundance. That tells you something. People want to see movies. Back in those days, you were unable to move video cassettes around or even look at it on Vimeo the way you can now, so people just love movies. No matter what’s happening in the world, they want to be entertained, they want to see good stories. So if there was a way for us to help promote American filmmaking to the world, we saw Sundance as a way of doing that.
Larry Jordan: Not only Sundance, but you’ve mentioned Cannes, and also a film festival that you go to a lot which is Berlinale, the Berlin film festival. Why has that become so important, and why do you keep going back year after year?
Cirina Catania: That is my one big guilty pleasure every year, no matter what I’m doing. I go to Berlin because I see all the films in the main competition every year, between 25 and 30 films in ten days and I try to see other films as well. But I think Berlin has a huge market attached to it. They have over 500,000 visitors to that festival every year and they sell almost 350,000 tickets so there’s over 400 films screened. It’s a huge festival and you can find anything that you want there. It’s pure love of film, any kind of film. There’s no restrictions the way you have in other countries about what they can screen or what they can’t screen, so it’s really just a celebration of the art form which I love.
Larry Jordan: That is so cool, and I know that you’re also involved in the All American High School Festival, and we’ll talk about that another time. For people that want to keep track of what you’re up to, where can they go on the web?
Cirina Catania: Go to thecataniagroup.com, and that’s spelled thecataniagroup.com, and you’ll see some of the films we’re working on and that’ll take you to other links with some of our other work as well.
Larry Jordan: Very cool. Cirina Catania’s the founder and lead creative of The Catania Group, and former producer for The Buzz. Cirina, always fun talking to you, thanks for joining us. Take care.
Cirina Catania: Thank you Larry. Take care.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Laura Blum is a film and events curator as well as a Thalo.com contributing writer, filmfestivals.com blogger, and former film and television development executive with Sony BMG. Hello Laura, welcome back.
Laura Blum: Thank you, good to be back.
Larry Jordan: This week we’re looking at film festivals which I know is a love of yours, so I want to start at the beginning. How would you define a film festival?
Laura Blum: A film festival is a marquee event, a showcase of product, but also a coming together of community and talent and sponsors. You know, there’s a side of it that is really about art, and there’s a side of it more and more that’s really about commerce.
Larry Jordan: With the rise of online video delivery, how important are film festivals today?
Laura Blum: Great question. Some would say not and some would say all the more so, because we’re so atomized in our little miniature screens or big screens, and often in our own four walls. And film festivals give a chance for people to bust out of that and to come together and to have great conversations, and meet the talent again, meet the directors, filmmakers. So there’s a beehive aspect to it, a real buzz aspect to it.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like one of the big benefits of film festivals is the networking? A chance to meet other people?
Laura Blum: A chance to meet other people. Of course now in the middle of the screening, they’re Tweeting or they’re activating all the social media networks, so it’s also a hub from which to report to the world.
Larry Jordan: Are film festivals defined by their films? Or are films developed to meet the needs of a festival?
Laura Blum: That’s such a great question. Well certainly these days there’s a festival on almost every city block. I myself program a few, and when I program them, I am absolutely myopic. I only look at the films that fit that topic, so there’s that and then also more and more there are festivals that are not about film per se, but about content and the Tribeca film festivals are a really interesting leader in this space. I spoke to somebody about a half year ago who consults for Tribeca, and they said that they are actually wondering how prominent a role film will have in Tribecas to come, and that it’s really going to be more about the virtual reality and an augmented reality arcades.
Larry Jordan: What makes a film successful at a festival?
Laura Blum: A festival film that is a real success can be anything from a huge, these days, Hollywood tent pole where you’ve just got celebrities cavorting around and red carpet and excitement, and depending on the festival, it’s a chance to screen product that otherwise wouldn’t get any love and wouldn’t get any publicity. So a festival really allows films that wouldn’t get a standard distribution, although certainly the face of distribution is changing. But festivals really offer an alternative showcase, an alternative exhibition platform.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like a film can be successful just by generating buzz, which may not necessarily translate into commercial success, is that true?
Laura Blum: So true, and there are great jokes about Sundance that the more popular they are at Sundance, the less commercially successful they’ll be in the theaters. Of course that’s a little bit exaggerated, but yes, it’s certainly not a guarantee. And a festival audience can be so misleading. You can get people absolutely apoplectic in their excitement about a film, and then take that same film back to the multiplex, or even an art house theater, and it can sometimes die a sad death.
Larry Jordan: That brings up an interesting thought. Film festivals range from the very small, let’s get five or ten people together and screen five or ten films, to the gigantic. I think of Cannes and Sundance just off the top of my head. What trends are you seeing in films that are being presented at festivals? Are festivals always looking for the cutting edge, or are they following trends like the rest of us?
Laura Blum: There again, it really depends. Festivals can be thought of now as an international family, and you’ve got different family members, much like in a family, that have different roles. Let’s take for example, you mentioned Cannes, you know, it’s really a red carpet affair. Let’s take Sundance, it’s all about discovering new filmmakers and launching them and their careers. Toronto which is another biggy on the circuit, and getting almost too big for its britches some would say, is about world premiers and the films that kick off the fall stretch. And let’s just take a festival like Palm Springs, which is also all about particularly foreign Oscar submissions.
Larry Jordan: I can understand the importance of these big film festivals whether it’s Tribeca or Toronto or Cannes or Sundance, but there’s a local festival in New York. Tell me about that one.
Laura Blum: The New York Film Festival sometimes is called the Grande Dame of film festivals. It wrapped up its 54th season yesterday. It is presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, a very august body, so it comes in with gravitas. Of course as you mentioned, the home town is New York so that it has that going for it, and its timing is very auspicious. It’s September, so for all those reasons the New York Film Festival gets to present all of this fresh fare after it has been delighted in elsewhere, but before it has gotten stale.
Larry Jordan: What films did you see there?
Laura Blum: Wow, I saw at least 20, or at least 25. Let’s start out like the festival did, with the very first one and this was the first time ever that the New York Film Festival opened with a documentary, and it’s Ava DuVernay’s ‘13th,’ an astonishing documentary, and the title refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, but contained a particular loophole. That loophole is a quote unquote except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted. And that’s really crucial, so the film looks at the criminal justice system of today and yesterday’s slavery and Jim Crow, and it sort of connects the dots. After the Civil War, the south needed to replace the four million slaves that were really holding up the economy, and came to a solution of mass arrests that, along with the system of leasing out prisoners to private employers, led us to where we are today.
Larry Jordan: Take a step back. Rather than the individual films, take a look at the festival in general. Are there any overriding themes that you saw?
Laura Blum: A.O. Scott writing in the New York Times, talked about an overriding theme as being the defense of human dignity. While I certainly agree with A.O. Scott, I also discerned a theme, and I don’t think it was all intended, but I thought that much like the opening film, ‘13th’ about imprisonment, I found an ongoing theme of characters being stuck, characters being imprisoned, either literally in a space, or figuratively, meaning emotionally. Film after film, I think I came up with some 15, really were riffs on various aspects of imprisonment.
Larry Jordan: I was just reflecting Laura, you mentioned at the very beginning of this interview that one of the key film festivals is thinking that the future is not film, but it’s virtual reality and it’s augmented reality. Yet, the examples that you just cited are all typical narrative flows. How do I reconcile these two?
Laura Blum: What the New York Film Festival decided to do, and this is already in its fifth year, is put over a programming strand called ‘Convergence,’ with virtual reality, with augmented reality, very much stressing interactive storytelling and video installations and it’s a big question how all this wizardry affects storytelling. It’s kind of interesting that you ask about that, because we were just talking about themes of imprisonment in the more standard films, whereas I found in ‘Convergence,’ that ironically or maybe not ironically, but all of this participation invites the viewer to intervene to release the characters from whatever ordeal they’re facing. So we, the viewers, are allowed to you know, get in there and get them out of their imprisonment. Let’s take for example, ‘Cardboard City.’ I was speaking with the ‘Convergence’ programmer, Matt Bolish who said, quote unquote, “Cardboard doesn’t last forever. It can be moved and modulated and broken down.” So ‘Cardboard City’ is stories of 300 artists who are forced out of their Gowanus studios, due to a gentrification, but viewers can add buildings and storeys. It’s with stop motion animation using cardboard.
Larry Jordan: Laura, it seems like there’s a never ending stream of examples for what film festivals are talking about. What do you see the implications for the future of film with the intersection of VR and AR and narrative storytelling, whether in fiction or documentary? What’s happening?
Laura Blum: That’s a great question Larry. Certainly you’ve got new players in the film space like Amazon and Netflix and they certainly were in full show at the New York Film Festival. Then, as we were saying, with the ‘Convergence’ folks, you’ve got all sorts of talent. Now at this moment, storytellers who are working in virtual reality and augmented reality still often are working with more traditional modes of storytelling and vice versa, so there really is a crossover. But in the future it’ll be very interesting to see if a career can be forged just exclusively let’s say, on virtual reality or on augmented reality.
Larry Jordan: It’s a fascinating time, and lots of things to look forward to. Laura, where can people go on the web to keep track of what you’re writing?
Laura Blum: Thalo.com.
Larry Jordan: Laura Blum is a film and events curator, as well as a Thalo.com contributing writer, and best of all, a regular on The Buzz. Laura, thanks for joining us today.
Laura Blum: Thank you so much Larry.
Larry Jordan: Tara-Nicole Azarian is a cosplayer, an actress, and a filmmaker. She’s written and directed six short films and two webisodes, and won five Telly awards and played at more than 150 film festivals. Hello Tara-Nicole, welcome.
Tara-Nicole Azarian: Hi, thank you so much for having me.
Larry Jordan: I was reflecting, just in your bio you do so much. Cosplay and acting, and filmmaking, but tonight, just so we can get done before dawn, I want to focus just on your films and film festivals. You recently spoke at Comic Con about what you do after you’ve written a script. What did you talk about?
Tara-Nicole Azarian: I was at a CD Comic Con and I did a film marketing 101 panel and it went over very well. I was talking about how to market your film once you’ve made one, because so many people are so creative and make such wonderful films, but then after the creative, fun part is over, then they don’t know how to market. So my panel was about how to help market your film.
Larry Jordan: I think a lot of people are confused about marketing because it’s changing so quickly these days. How do you market your film?
Tara-Nicole Azarian: First of all, the most important thing is you have to believe in your film, because if you don’t believe in your film, no-one else will. You have to submit to dozens of film festivals, because the average percent of acceptance for film festivals is eight percent, so if you want to get into eight film festivals, you need to submit to 100 and you’ll get into eight. You might get into 80 of them, but you will for sure get into eight. And only advertise your success. Don’t focus on the ten festivals you didn’t get into, focus on the two that you did get into. It’s all about how you market yourself, and how you promote the two festivals you got into versus saying you entered ten and only got into two.
Larry Jordan: If it’s a numbers game, if only eight percent of the film festivals select you, do you even consider which film festival to join, or do you just talk to everybody and blanket it, and hope that somebody says “Yes?”
Tara-Nicole Azarian: There are two amazing websites to add your film festivals on. They’re called Withoutabox and FilmFreeway. You can go on there, and there are tons of different categories, and different price ranges too that you can click on. So some film festivals are free, some are $15 and under, some are really expensive, some are really cheap. It just really depends. I tend to enter film festivals until I hit my max budget, and speaking of entering film festivals and hitting your max budget, a lot of first time filmmakers don’t have a very big budget to enter festivals with so it’s always best to start with the smaller film festivals. That way you have the experience of film festivals under your belt because everyone wants to show at Cannes and Sundance and Tribeca, and they’re amazing, they’re like the top dogs of film festivals. They are the festivals that everyone wants to show at. Everyone wants that amazing experience, but as a first time filmmaker, sometimes you don’t have the budget to enter or sometimes you don’t have the experience, so it’s always good to submit to smaller film festivals and get your confidence up and get experience, and then submit to the big guys. That way you have that experience and your film will be more prepared.
Larry Jordan: You talk about, excuse me for interrupting, you talk about needing experience. I thought it was just a blind sending out of proposals? What do you need to be experienced in to be successful at a film festival?
Tara-Nicole Azarian: Each film festival is different. When it comes to experience, especially for the biggest film festivals, it’s always nice if you’ve been to a film festival and you know how they run and you’ve met other filmmakers and the whole nine yards. Something that I always find amazing is when I go to a film festival and I go support other filmmakers, and then after the screening I shake their hand and hand them my business card, and I’m like, “Hi, your film was amazing and by the way mine screens in an hour at whatever location. You should come see, I’ll save you a seat.” Then that’s another person that’s come and saw my film and it gives you the experience of meeting other filmmakers and being able to have that festival experience and it’s its own experience, it’s different from any other aspect of filmmaking.
Larry Jordan: It’s a fascinating subject, the whole concept of how to get people to show up to watch your film once you’ve got it done. Tara-Nicole, where can people go on the web to keep track of what you’re doing and thinking about?
Tara-Nicole Azarian: Well they can check out one of my websites, frontporchfilm.com is my website for my filmmaking. Taranicoleazarian.com is the website for all my personal stuff and my acting and nerdtabulous.com is the website to catch up with my web show ‘Nerdtabulous’ a nerd and geeky centric show.
Larry Jordan: Hold it, I’ve run out of paper to write on. Tara-Nicole Azarian’s an actress, cosplayer, and filmmaker. Thanks for joining us today.
Tara-Nicole Azarian: Thank you very much.
Larry Jordan: Philip Hodgetts is the CEO of Intelligent Assistance and Lumberjack System. He’s also involved with technology in virtually every area of digital production and post, and even better he is a regular contributor to The Buzz. Hello Philip, welcome back.
Philip Hodgetts: Hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: I’m intrigued with this idea of automated editing. I’m not sure whether the right word is intrigued or terrified. What’s happening?
Philip Hodgetts: Automated editing is something that relies largely on metadata, and you knew that metadata would be in there somewhere.
Larry Jordan: I was afraid you were going to say that.
Philip Hodgetts: Nobody really likes to get metadata, so the first step towards teaching computers how to edit and I do think that’s a long way in the future, but the first step is to get metadata automatically. Nobody likes entering wild notes, sifting through the material, so if you could have a computer program that’s what I’m calling a smart API, but an API being an application programming interface. It’s kind of a black box that sits either in the operating system on the computer where we call it a framework, or out on a computer on the internet where we call it an API, an application programming interface.
Larry Jordan: I thought an API allowed two pieces of software to talk to each other, and you’re using it almost as a destination? Is my vision wrong?
Philip Hodgetts: No, it is two pieces of software talking to each other, so you’re completely right. We’re using the API as a way of talking from our software to the software that does the transcript for example, and get a result back from that to our software. So it is communicating between two pieces of software. For example, IBM Watson you can send an audio file and it will transcribe that audio file in faster than real time back into the browser for you. Similarly, the ability to extract key words from the text that you’ve just generated from the speech is also just one of these black box APIs. You send it the text, and you get back however many key words you want and you can weight that, you can decide if you want five or 50, and in the case of Lumberjack where we do have these key word extractions already, you can just slide it and say “I want more or less key words.” So it will provide a lot of control in that way. That’s automatic extraction of metadata and that’s a great starting point. There are other of these programming interfaces that can recognize the content of images, it can recognize emotion, there are a lot of things that are already there that aren’t applied to our industry yet. But imagine just a little while down the road, where you simply send off to some magic black box your original source material and overnight it’s transcribed, its key words are extracted, the ranges that they applied to are identified as some clips or key word ranges, the content of all your B roll is identified for you, and this is all organized into your project ready for you to start doing the magic that is the editing.
Larry Jordan: Does this mean that this automated system can tell a story?
Philip Hodgetts: Not really. I’m a little iffy about this because we had a project, the first one that we ever did, called ‘First Cuts’ that once it was given the right metadata, did an amazingly good job of building a story arc and so I’m not seeing that there’s anything that’s approaching that yet, but we would use neural networks in the future. A neural network is another of these black boxes, but these are combinations of software that can learn by example. Same way that most people learn. If you send 10,000 different examples of good B roll use, or bad B roll use, and tell it which ones are good and which ones are bad, eventually it will know how to make a cut and put in B roll that works the same way as an editor would. It would learn that basic rule of thumb and apply it. That’s what we had to do manually. I had to try and analyze what I was doing for the original ‘First Cuts’ product, as what do I do when I make an edit? But I think neural networks would allow us to teach the software how to do it by itself. But it’s still quite a way out from the day to day life of an editor.
Larry Jordan: To be able to use automated tools to help us do transcripts and key words and help us figure out where to go for a select could be a huge time saver.
Philip Hodgetts: Absolutely. It’s going to make people really want to use metadata because they will have the metadata without having to put the effort into it, and I think that’s a big step forward.
Larry Jordan: Anything that makes people say good things about metadata is a big step forward for you.
Philip Hodgetts: Absolutely.
Larry Jordan: Philip, where can people go on the web to learn more?
Philip Hodgetts: I’m writing quite a bit about this subject on philiphodgetts.com, so that’s a good place to go at the moment.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, philiphodgetts.com and the Philip Hodgetts is who we’ve been talking to, and Philip as always, thank you very much.
Philip Hodgetts: My pleasure.
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Larry Jordan: Hoyt Richards is an award winning actor, writer and filmmaker whose last two indie features Dumbbells and Intersection have won over 175 awards on the film festival circuit. Hoyt also coaches actors and writers in between projects and I want to learn more. Hello Hoyt, welcome.
Hoyt Richards: Thanks Larry. Good to be here.
Larry Jordan: My goal is to have you say that at the end of the interview as well. When you made the shift from acting to filmmaking, what was your goal in becoming a filmmaker?
Hoyt Richards: I wish more actors would crack the code, as I like to put it, because I think as an actor you are in a very replaceable position in the food chain of filmmaking, because unless you’re in a very rarified air of being a so called movie star, you’re always in a position where someone could possibly come and take your place, and there’s not much you can do about it. But if you recognize that the business is all about content, and you can become a content creator, then you can also start to drive your career by moving to that side and say, “Well listen, if I really want to do this type of movie, what’s the chances of someone writing that and finding me, versus me creating that and driving that project to fruition?”
Larry Jordan: You made the shift from acting, essentially into producing. Why did you start taking your films to film festivals?
Hoyt Richards: You know, film festivals are an opportunity for you to see your movie as you imagined it to be, meaning on the big screen. You get it in front of a live audience, you start to determine through multiple screenings who’s responding to your movie, and hopefully get a better idea of who your target audience is. Whether it’s one you were shooting for or one that emerges that you didn’t really expect. But it’s firsthand experience to see who likes your movie, who is touched by it, and who should you be targeting once it comes to marketing the whole thing.
Larry Jordan: When we were talking in an earlier segment with Tara-Nicole Azarian, she was saying that there’s about an eight percent acceptance rate between the film festivals you apply to and the ones you get accepted for. Did you choose to target specific film festivals, or did you blanket and talk to everybody?
Hoyt Richards: That’s a great question because I was working on creating a distribution business over the last year or so. I over submitted with the idea of trying to determine which films are the most appealing, or I’ll put it this way, what are the most legitimate festivals compared to other ones in the sense of trying to find out where your film should be swimming in what pool? So, I over submitted to try to determine that, and I discovered that our movie, because it had no stars, and because it had no named director, it could only basically get into a certain kind of festival. So once I realized that the festivals that had been around for maybe ten years, had gotten an attendance of maybe 15 to 20 to 30,000 people, those crowds are only driven by stars, and we just weren’t going to get into that kind of festival. So then you start to target the film festivals that really fit within the realm that your film really fits.
Larry Jordan: If I remember correctly, ‘Dumbbells’ was your first film. How did you go about marketing it?
Hoyt Richards: ‘Dumbbells’ is an interesting story because we actually got that film a distribution deal, but then the distributor really let us down as far as the film penetrating the market place because we kind of made it for…
Larry Jordan: I’ve never heard that story before.
Hoyt Richards: Yes, exactly. So we targeted it for college kids, but we never hit that audience, and so we ended up having to sue them and just recently we got the rights back, but in the interim I decided to take it to film festivals to see if I could drum up some enthusiasm around it so I could market it more as an indie project rather than we had tried to skew it from the point of view of a little Hollywood studio movie that you never heard of but fit that kind of perception. I quickly realized that let’s just call it an indie comedy that has a few movie stars in it and that’s gone onto 130 best pictures, and it’s been very healing because you start to question whether you made a good movie or not, and having to get in front of audiences and people responding, you were like, “OK, so it’s not a matter of the quality of the movie, we just never got any eyeballs on it.”
Larry Jordan: The definition of quality is very squishy and we’re going to dance right around that, because I was just thinking, after you’ve watched an audience watch your film, do you ever make changes to it? And if so, what kind of changes do you make?
Hoyt Richards: I did that with ‘Dumbbells’ because I put ‘Dumbbells’ through a very aggressive test screening process because with a comedy, it’s very cutthroat. Clapping is an involuntary response. People are either going to laugh, or not. So you put it in front of a live audience, you can find out whether it’s funny or not. So I basically continued to edit and re-edit the film until I was getting the kind of laughs that I thought where they should be, rather than the original versions where it was playing almost like a drama, so it was a real evolution. We did about a dozen test screenings to finally get to the final edit.
Larry Jordan: Do you act in your films by intent, because it’s a vehicle for you? Or are there other motivations?
Hoyt Richards: It’s interesting because I always love performing, and I think it’s the athlete part of me, it’s like ‘getting in the game’ so to speak, and being in the arena. But I’ve discovered through the challenge of actually getting casting, that the writing process is as fulfilling if not more, because writing you can do every day. You can constantly be creating content, you can constantly be working on that type of thing, whereas acting is something that if you did it every day in a room, they’d probably put you in a partitioned wall place, and so it’s one of those things where I realized that being able to create the framework to go… casting is normally so painful because you’re trying to, you know, “Pick me, pick me man,” and to be on the side of the producer, where I am now, my role is secure and then I’m just trying to find the people to come on the adventure with me. Finally, casting was fun.
Hoyt Richards: That’s why I always encourage actors to not expect people to find you, create your opportunity. And that’s why I encourage actors to write in the same way I encourage writers to produce and you know, it’s never either or. I believe it’s both, and there’s no reason, if you enjoy filmmaking, that you shouldn’t know more aspects about filmmaking than maybe you were hired for. With Intersection, I was hired as the lead actor, I wasn’t hired as the producer, but I got involved and during the pre-production stage we were doing read throughs, and I realized that they were really shorthanded on the production side, but I had a background in production so I said, “You guys need some help here?” and that’s how I came on as a producer.
Larry Jordan: If you don’t have huge budgets to hire stars, how does that change your marketing? When you don’t have named actors, or don’t have named directors.
Hoyt Richards: That’s a great question and the problem is, from the distribution angle because I’ve learned this over the last year and a half, if you don’t have stars and you don’t have a named director, there’s very few distributors will see any value in your movie, no matter how many awards it’s won, or how well it’s done in the festivals, or not. So it’s really a matter of finding some sort of hook, that you’re thinking outside of the box, that you can just get people to recognize that there’s an audience for your movie. At least nowadays there are these self distribution platforms so you’re given alternatives where if you’re only going to get a distribution deal that’s going to basically rape you, you’re better off just taking the movie out yourself and using your social media or whatever contacts you can, to get some eyeballs on it, because at least you’ll see some return off of what your movie actually makes. Whereas if you sign one of these really ravenous distribution deals, the only one who gets paid is the distributor, and I can tell you from going through it, that’s a really painful process. It doesn’t sit with anybody very well.
Larry Jordan: If you’re looking at the range of marketing opportunities out there, where would you put a film festival? Should you always go to film festivals, only go to a film festival when forced? In other words, what’s the range, and where do you put your effort and priority because you have limited time and you have limited budget?
Hoyt Richards: That’s true. There’s the perception that your film is getting stale. It’s like milk, it can go sour if it’s out there for too long. So you really have about a year. The hard part is trying to determine which festivals you should really go after and which ones could potentially not only have a good experience for you as a filmmaker, but possibly get some attention on your movie. That’s very hard to do without going through it. I’ve heard a lot of people saying they’ll consult you and they know about the film festivals but I actually only discovered what I learned about the film festivals by doing it myself. I was lucky to have the funds to be able to do that, because it’s not cheap. I mean for Intersection we applied to over 300 festivals, and that works out to be over $10,000. A lot of people don’t have access to that. We got into 120 of them, but that’s much more than that eight percent number you named earlier. We were being very successful, we were close to about a third of the movies that we submitted to we were getting into, so that was a very fortunate situation. But I can say that a lot of the ones that I got into, I wouldn’t submit to again. And then other ones, I had such a great experience, and you develop a relationship with the programmer, I would go back to them in a second. So they’re very varied, they’re very different sizes.
Hoyt Richards: One of the festivals I really enjoyed was the Beaufort film festival where they only had one venue, but you put 500 people in this theater, and although it’s not a very big city, the community gets so behind the whole festival that literally people get there at nine am and they stay till ten o’clock at night and they watch every short, every feature, every film that comes out and they’re totally engaged. And I thought this was incredible because sometimes you’re lucky to have 30 or 40 people, if that, in the theater, and most of them are the other filmmakers that are at the festival with you.
Larry Jordan: Hoyt, for people that want more information about the projects you’re working on, where can they go on the web?
Hoyt Richards: I’ve got a website called HYPERLINK “http://www.hoytrichardsconsulting.com” www.hoytrichardsconsulting.com. I talk about the different things I do with helping out actors or writers and just any kind of information about the filmmaking process where I can assist.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, hoytrichardsconsulting.com and Hoyt Richards himself is our guest. Hoyt, thanks for taking the time to join us, this has been fun.
Hoyt Richards: Thanks Larry, I appreciate it.
Larry Jordan: Take care bye bye. It’s been an interesting time talking about film festivals, both in terms of how they got started and what they are as well as how we can take advantage of them as filmmakers, because film festivals give us an opportunity to get our film in front of an audience, and that’s exactly why we created it in the first place.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests this week, Cirina Catania, filmmaker; Laura Blum, blogger for filmfestivals.com; Tara-Nicole Azarian, actor and filmmaker; Philip Hodgetts, technologist; Hoyt Richards, actor and filmmaker, and James DeRuvo of DoddleNEWS.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews all online, and all available to you today. And remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Friday. Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuZZ and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
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Larry Jordan: Our producer is Debbie Price. My name is Larry Jordan and thanks for joining us for the Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2016 by Thalo LLC.