30 January 2012

Johnathan McFarlane on the Festivus Film Festival

festivus j

by Johnathan McFarlane

ED NOTE: After Kris and Lindy Boustedt's wrap-up of the Festivus Film Festival, festival director (and long-time friend) Johnathan McFarlane emailed me with a clarification. I invited him to write up the festival from his perspective. Enjoy.

It's hard to believe it's year 5 already. I was able to sleep in until about 8am, which is an incredible contrast to the first few years where panic would set in around 4am and I'd have to get up and get moving. That's usually how the first day of the festival goes for a fest director. Panic and utter terror. Nervousness. Anticipation. But as you rack up the years under your belt, it gets better and easier. You learn to harness the chaos that is directing a film festival. You build a staff that you trust, so that you can delegate responsibilities. That alone allows you to do a better job at the things that you can't delegate to anybody else. It still shocks me when I think back to that first year. Tim DeMasters (the other founder) and I had absolutely no idea what we were doing. All we knew was that we were overwhelmingly disappointed by our own experiences on the festival circuit, and decided we wanted to fix that. Or at least fix it in our own town, Denver, which at the time had only one major festival, the not-so-indie juggernaut that is the Starz Denver International Film Festival. Running a film festival is a learning process, a process of trial and error, failure and success, adaptation to your audience, creating a brand. With so many festivals out there today, and new ones popping up every single year, we knew we needed to create something unique. How many film festivals can you think of that have a film reel in their logo? Way too many. Or how about festivals that advertise a "red carpet gala?" Yawn. Even many minor festivals that have no presence and no reputation will do their best to raise the hype on some F-list celebrity that they've convinced to show up. Boring. It's been done. So that's how the Skull and film strip Crossbones came about. With that logo we wanted to say, "we're different, we're awesome, and we're edgy." Maybe none of that was true the first year, but fake it 'till you make it! Since year 1 we added a 4th day to the festival, have been slowly able to attract bigger and better sponsors, have re-built our website numerous times, added a filmmaker lounge open for the duration of the fest, turned our LLC into a 501(c)(3) non profit, expanded and refined our selection process, grew our all-volunteer staff from about 10-25, and created a board of directors, just to name a few of the changes. Yet when something is your passion, your baby, you're still never happy. That's how Festivus Film Fest is. We are always trying to come up with the next step in the evolution of the festival. Which brings us back to year 5; Our most recent measurement of success.

Day 1, (Thursday) started off well. Trever Alters (our hospitality director), and Chris McFarlane (my brother and Trever's right hand man) got to work bright and early shuttling filmmakers from the airport to the Curtis Hotel in our two 15-passenger vans. Assisting them were our squadron of filmmaker liaisons. Every filmmaker is assigned to one, and that person is their "go-to" person for the entirety of their stay here in Denver. Miss the shuttle and need a ride to the venue? Trying to find a good spot to eat near the hotel? Where is the best after-hours club to go when we aren't ready to call it a night? Your liaison is there to help you with all that and more. About noon we had another 10 of us meet at the Bug Theatre and across the street at the Next Art Gallery to start setup for our opening night. We rotate venues for both screenings and the lounge, but on Day 1 and Day 4 they are at the Bug Theatre and the Next Art Gallery, respectively. The Red Bull crew showed up about the same time to help set up the lounge (Red Bull is our biggest sponsor). They provide cool high-top tables, a bar, refrigerator, and a ton of Red Bull product. Then we set up the 10' x 8' photo backdrop, Festivus logo gobo light and sandwich boards. That and all the other minor things to be done take a few hours, but by around 3pm the lounge is pretty much set. After hanging our signage and checking discs at the Bug, we're pretty much ready to go there too. Que local artist Eric Matelski to come in and start his chalk art in front of the venue. He does a great job painting a really stylized version of the Festivus logo, and people get a kick checking it out as they start to show up. The first screening is at 6:45pm, and by 5:00 we already have our first big problem. The theatre doesn't have a working HDMI cable to connect their blu ray player to the projector. It was supposed to show up earlier in the day, but apparently UPS was running late. 3 of us get on the phone and start scrambling, trying to track down a cable. Not easy when you're trying to find one that's 75' long. Luck is on our side though! A Bug  employee shows up with the cable at about 5:45. Great, we should be all set. Except we're not. The blu ray player won't recognize the cable. We plug in the backup blu ray player that I brought from home for emergencies. Still no good, which tells us it's not the blu ray player or cable, but actually the projector. It's about 6:20 now, and we have to move to the very unfavorable backup plan: using the RCA outs. Essentially we won't be able to project in hi def. We break the news to filmmaker J.T. Gurzi who is behind our opening film, HEAVEN STREWN. He's obviously unhappy. So are we. Filmmakers expect us to provide a certain level of quality, and in this case we've let him down. The film didn't look horrible, but the picture just wasn't as sharp as it should have been. Nevertheless, the audience was very engaged and the Q&A was healthy, and nobody other than us film geeks complained about the projection. Despite J.T.'s protests we comped one of his room night's at the Curtis. It was the least we could do. The rest of the night went smoothly. The short block which followed J.T.'s film was extremely strong, and got a very positive response. Maybe because shorts are perfect for our short attention span, nobody noticed that the projection was not as crisp as it should have been. For the most part it looked good. The lounge was busy throughout the night, and passholders were slamming back plenty of Red Bull/vodkas, Buffalo Trace Whiskey, and beer (all free in the lounge, of course.) After the second (and final) screening of the night was over and folks were heading to the afterparty, I had a chat with Alex, the owner/operator of the Bug Theatre. He told me the projector was 7 years old, and I was stunned. It might as well be 100 years old. He promised to have a brand new one for Saturday, when we had 3 more screenings at the Bug. The afterparty at Forest Room 5 was a lot of fun. The filmmakers all mixed well together, and our DJ did a great job keeping the party going. Dan Meinerz and Christine Swerdozki (our Red Bull reps) were both there, and they were having a blast. Let's be honest- this is a business, and keeping your funding sources happy is an important part of it.

1 day down, 3 to go. Up next is Friday, where we are at the Oriental Theater, our much bigger venue, seating 250. Our lounge manager Dan Ito has a few volunteers with him and he's hard at work getting the lounge set up at Sellar's Space, another art gallery next to the Oriental. The Oriental has a huge screen, even bigger than most standard sized movie theaters. But their projector is not very good, and we need an HDCam deck there as well. Ceavco is the company that takes care of our video console and projection at the Oriental. We get a beautiful, bright picture off a great Sharp projector they brought in, and the content coming off the HDcam tapes looks incredible. The blu ray masters look great too. The signage gets hung, and for our first row of seating we have giant bean bag chairs. Who else does that? The place looks great. All we need now are people. Historically, our second block on Friday (8:45) is one of our busiest, with the first usually having healthy attendance as well. This year was no different. We had about 125 for the first film, a feature called CELLMATES starring Tom Sizemore, and over 200 for our second block, Laugh Track Comedy Shorts. We took things a different direction for our comedy shorts block this year. They were all comedy, no doubt, but very dark comedy. It was an experiment, to see how our audience would react. The feedback was mixed. Some people absolutely loved it, and others didn't quite get it. But that's what programming a fest is about- anticipating your audiences' tastes and interests, and then playing with them, throwing them curveballs, switching it up, challenging them. One of our board members, Nathaniel Eyde, had convinced Donald Zuckerman to come to the Laugh Track block with him. Donald Zuckerman is the head of the state film commission. He doesn't really have the ability to give us money directly, but he can connect us to the people that can. Having him there was a big deal, and I was honestly a little worried how he would take our dark humor programming. After the block was finished Nathaniel pulled me aside. "He gets it," he told me. Zuckerman liked the block. He liked the setup (especially the bean bag chairs), and was impressed by the attendance. I don't really know what that means for the festival, if anything, but it gave me a boost. After the block was over our band Wire Faces hopped on stage to rock out the afterparty, which was actually there at the Oriental that night. In the past we'd had a lot of trouble booking bands. At first we would pay them a flat rate, but then they don't have any motivation to promote the show. Then we tried paying 50% of their standard rate, plus giving them 50% of the door. Still no help from the band's side. Turns out musicians can be really lazy when they know they have a guaranteed paycheck. So this time around Wire Faces agreed to play for 100% of the door. No guaranteed deposit or anything. They played a great show, fast and furious, and the crowd loved it. Things were winding down around 12:30, and so I was able to get home and get to bed that night about 1:30am. I think that's the earliest I've ever gone to bed during Festivus. Is that a sign? Should I be doing something else? Am I forgetting something? I hoped not, and was able to get some solid sleep leading into Saturday, which is by far our longest and most difficult day.

On Saturdays we run screenings at both the Bug and the Oriental. The first screening at the bug is at 2:00, so I get there around noon to help get things organized. The signage from Thursday is still up so there isn't a whole lot of setup. I was overjoyed to see that Alex had kept to his word, and purchased a new projector. We fired it up and tested out the discs for the Experimental block, and it looked beautiful. Very crisp and bright. On Saturdays, Tim and I divide and conquer. He leads the crew over at the Bug, while I lead things over at the Oriental. He's the only other person in the world I'd trust to do the job, at least at this point in the festival. I helped some of the crew get the door set up for the day, and then it was over to the Oriental, to prep for our 3:45 world premiere of Lilith. For me, this was a big one. Not only was it a world premiere, but we had actress Julia Voth attending. She made waves as the basis for Jill Carpenter in the Resident Evil video games, and more recently starred in BITCH SLAP. It makes me a little nervous that she's there, as I am very well aware that 3:45pm is not a good slot for a horror film. When we were putting together the final program the decision was either to not play it at all, or play it in that spot, and we made the decision to go for it. Unfortunately there was a big X-factor on Saturday that we had no control over. Surprisingly enough, the Broncos had actually beaten the Steelers the weekend before and made it to the second round of the playoffs. This meant that essentially we were competing with the Broncos for our audience. Not easy to do, especially in football-obsessed Denver. But, like I said, nothing we could do. When we kicked off the film I was a bit dis-heartened by attendance. For such a big movie that we had pushed so hard (lots of press coverage, special promotions, etc), we only had 55 people in the audience. Basically, we got Tebowed. Luckily the people that attended were very interested and engaged, and the Q&A with Julia after the film went great. People had good questions. We didn't get the quantity I wanted for that block, but we got the quality. I checked that one off in the schedule and moved on. Next block was our Twisted Tales shorts, and it was a strong, weird block. Exactly what people were looking for. Attendance was very good, about 175, and the Q&A was fantastic. On stage we had a filmmaker all the way from Germany, one from Holland, and a talented young student filmmaker. All three would go on to win awards later that night. Checking in with Tim throughout the day it sounded like things were going well over at the Bug. Good attendance and happy filmmakers. There was a film in the experimental block called WIGGAH that was extremely controversial, but hey, we're pushing the envelope. Final block on Saturday night at the Oriental was a feature film called SEARCHING FOR SONNY. This spot, 8pm on Saturday night, is the premiere slot in the entire fest. It's where we put our best feature. SEARCHING FOR SONNY was no different. Starring Minka Kelly, Jason Dohring, Masi Oka, it was a fantastic cast, and it was incredible to see them in what truly was an indie film (which we discovered during the Q&A with producer Red Sanders. Great production stories!) Now we had our second "issue" of the fest start to bother me around 8pm. The Broncos game was still going, and the space we had booked for our awards party was still packed to the brim with Broncos fans. Okay no problem. The game will be over by 9pm, and they'll boot everybody out right away. But that was not so. When our crew got there at 9 to start setting up for our 10:30 party start time, the place was still packed and Broncos fans were line dancing on our dance floor. I got a call from the venue assuring me they would get everybody out and it would be fine, but it wasn't. I tried to stretch as long as possible on the Q&A to give the party-starters as much time as possible to get set up. When I got there around 11:00pm, the transition from Broncos to Festivus was just about complete. It was an awkward transition, but for the most part I don't think the Festivus fans noticed. I had it out with the sound guy who in my opinion was completely incompetent, and had to argue with the manager to have the lights turned down to an appropriate party-level, but eventually everything worked out. The party was a blast, the awards ceremony was a blast, and the flock of people in front of the step-and-repeat was testimony to the party. Our favorite local faux-German supergroup Total Ghost performed, and the crowd loved them. Now when they turned on the lights and it was time to shuffle everyone out, most festivals would call it a night. It was 1:45am, after all. Not us though. All the filmmakers hopped in the shuttle to be carted off to the after-afterparty. I was too exhausted, and headed home. I heard a lot of stories though, and the shuttle didn't leave the after-afterparty until 5:30am. When I got home at 2:30am, my wife told me it was "the most fun night of Festivus ever!" I trust my wife, so I'll believe her.

3 down, only 1 left. We get the lounge gear back over to Next Art Gallery to get set for our final day. The Bug is pretty much ready since we used it the day before. All the staffers are tired, but we're excited as well. Everybody has been happy so far, and despite a few minor setbacks, the fest has been smooth. Sunday is always a bit of a rally though. Good thing Red Bull is a sponsor because at that point that's how most of us are still running. We only have three blocks today, 3:00, 5:00, and 7:00. The first is a mixed short block we titled Rehab Shorts. It's actually a really strong block, with everything from comedy to zombie. Attendance was mid-range. Maybe 50 people or so. That's not bad for early afternoon on a Sunday. 5:00 was the world premiere of an Australian black comedy called BLOCKHOUSE BLUES. Attendance was light, about 30 people. It's a shame, because it was a fantastic movie, and very well received by the people that were there. I would have expected better. My Dad showed up for that one, and he loved it. Finally, it's the last block of the festival. The Locals Only block. We put it last because we want to finish with a sold-out block, and this one is sold out every time. 10 films, all local, and the filmmakers basically promote the block for us. Of course, we also want the filmmakers to see that we do support local films, as much as possible. The Q&A was a little crowded. With 10 films thats 10 filmmakers on stage, and even a few that decide it's necessary for them to have an actor or producer with them as well. But what can we do- it's their moment to get the recognition they deserve, so we let them have it. After the Q&A I hop up on stage for the last time of the season. Say thank yous, goodbyes, please come back next year. I keep it short. There is a very low-key afterparty at the Corner Office (inside the Curtis Hotel) and I know everybody wants to get there. I finish up my speech and people mingle and chat for a while as they slowly shuffle out of the theater. It's over, the last screening of our 5th season. As I sit by myself on the front of the stage I try to just soak it in. The inevitable post-fest depression will hit soon. I know it's coming. It's a very, very real thing, that everybody in the core group of staffers experiences. You almost don't know what to do with yourself. Imagine that something is the focus, the epicenter of your life for about 8 months. When it's finally over, you feel lost. I've heard of staffer's even crying the day after the fest.

We pack up all our gear and signage and head over to the Corner Office. I'm by myself in my car, which is stuffed full of Festivus "equipment." This last hoorah is very relaxed. Nothing to set up, nothing to break down. We just show up, relax, chat, exchange info with all the new friends we've made, and call it a wrap. When I walk in I look around the room, and out of nowhere everybody turns to face me. They applaud. They "get it." And despite the stress, the mistakes, the obstacles we had to overcome, I know that we have been a part of something truly great.

Some stats:
From year 1 to year 5 our budget has tripled
This year we had filmmakers from Australia, England, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands, and of course all over the U.S.
Our crop of attending filmmakers was more than ever, 45+, with nearly 60% of the films represented by a filmmaker
Attendance has gone up every year, with year 5 being no different
We had 13 world premieres this year, including 2 that were features
Advertising included 4 billboards, 2 half page print ads, 5000 flyers, 200+ posters, Facebook ads, and "e-blasts"

Johnathan McFarlane is the director of the Festivus Film Festival. He also directed the feature documentary PROJECT CANADA. He and his wife Erika are newlyweds.

27 January 2012

Festivus Film Festival Wrap-Up


by Kris & Lindy Boustedt

ED NOTE: I somehow managed to double-book myself, and rather than try to be in Denver and Purchase, NY at the same time, I asked Kris & Lindy to cover Festivus for me, which they were kind enough to do.

Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and experience a number of festivals – both as filmmakers and audience members.  We recently had the privilege of premiering our short film THE SUMMER HOME at the Festivus Film Festival in Denver, CO.  

When formulating a festival plan, we do a lot of research in selecting which ones to submit to.  Some we choose for marketing, networking and career building; others we choose in order to connect with our truly independent filmmaking compatriots around the world, to find storytellers like us who are doing everything they can to make quality, engaging, art.  Festivus is one of these festivals.


No barriers to festival execs


The first e-mail we received from Festivus was from Tim DeMasters – one of the festival founders.  And it wasn’t just a form letter; it was an honest-to-goodness communiqué that originated from his fingertips, which ultimately turned into a lengthy thread with the same man!  This might sound minor, but it made an impression right away.  If you’ve ever worked with a festival in the past, you know this is a special thing; usually emails are foisted upon a volunteer charged with wrangling us eclectic, scattered filmmakers.

This trend didn’t stop once the festival started, either.  All three founders attended most every event; they were incredibly approachable and easy to talk to.  In fact, on several occasions they initiated contact and checked in with us!  This wonderful attitude towards their filmmakers leads us to our next point.

VIP service

Festivus pulls out all the stops when it comes to taking care of their filmmakers.  They claim to be a festival for filmmakers and they’re not kidding around.  From day one you get above and beyond service – including a personal liaison. That’s right.  A person dedicated specifically to you.  A super awesome, cool festival volunteer whose whole job is to make sure you have the best festival experience possible.  This includes a personal pick-up from the airport, recommendations for food/activities around town and someone to hang out with and introduce you to other people at festival events.  

Our liaison, Seneca, was amazing; a warm, inviting, knowledgeable and all around kick-ass person.  She truly made our festival experience unforgettable.

Abundant chances to mix and mingle

Festivus knows how to throw a party and practice clearly makes perfect - they have a party every night of the festival!  Not only do they have amazing sponsors (including Buffalo Trace Bourbon), they booked us in some really cool locations around the city.  And each event was catered to filmmakers mixing and mingling with each other as well as festival-goers.  The way everything was set up, it was virtually impossible not to make meaningful connections.  

Beyond the official parties, each screening venue also had an accompanying lounge just across the street – pre- and post-film discussions, free booze and snacks.  Can’t go wrong.

Filmmaker bowling social


Yes, Festivus organized a filmmaker bowling social.  Want to find the inspiration for your next awkward black comedy?  Put a bunch of sport-challenged, uncoordinated filmmakers together and ask them to figure out ways to throw a weighted ball down a greasy lane in order to knock down the most pins.  Good times for all!

To add some extra fun/complexity, they added “Feats of Strength”: spinning around 10 times before throwing the ball, throwing it between your legs, buddy bowling, etc.  Silly?  Sure.  But by breaking down the barriers of the detached, ironic “cool” we’ve all become so adept at and forcing everyone into the abyss of ridiculousness, they created a perfect recipe for fun and camaraderie.

Not to mention Lindy was the highest scoring girl. Oh, and there was free beer.

Quality programming

Last but not least, and the most important part of any festival, is the quality of programming.  And for a festival in only the fifth year of existence, Festivus has some undeniable chops.  All the films were truly independent and we were shocked by not only the production values, but the storytelling skills many of the filmmakers exhibited.  We also appreciated Festivus pushing the boundaries and programming some truly risky films.  



We saw many films while enjoying all this festival had to offer – 43, to be exact.  Here are our Top 11 (because 10 is so last year):

Ghosts of Old Highways (dir. Dan Bush // 16 min // vimeo.com/26914364): A thematic and structural cousin to the 1962 French short film An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, this is a magnificently beautiful film, ultimately winning the award for Best Cinematography.  It’s a music video, but one with a very strong (albeit abstract) narrative and great performances.  Only one complaint: the credits felt longer than the actual film.  This is an odd trend we’ve noticed, and it needs to stop.  Believe us, as filmmakers, we know it takes a lot people and a tremendous amount of effort (not to mention blood, sweat and tears) to make a film.  But on short films, the credits should be just that – short.  We’re certainly not advocating for no credits, but if people are genuinely interested in the film’s colophon, let’s be honest, they’ll go to IMDb.

Blunderkind (dir. Zak Mechanic // 20 min // on.fb.me/z2ueuO): A little bit Rushmore (1998), but with more time travel, beer and video games.  Cheeky, clever and highly entertaining.  A boy-genius and his trusty sidekick build a time machine, but the sidekick gets lost in the future.  It’s only when the prodigy grows up that they meet again; except time itself has not been kind to the one-time wunderkind.   It features a gleefully self-referential and sarcastic voice-over and uses the tropes of time-travel cinema to create an emotionally compelling, bittersweet conclusion.  

The Forgotten Fruit (dir. James Williams // 9 min // bit.ly/xvruI1): A short documentary about gooseberries and the men who love them – specifically, the men who compete to see who can grow the biggest.  While it might sound like a slight story, the beauty of this film lies in its refreshingly non-ironic earnestness.  There are a number of wonderful double entendres peppered throughout, but the bulk of the movie is a simple celebration of life’s small pleasures, of a sense of innocence, and a forgotten era.

Remake (dir. Chris Tomkins // 7 min // on.fb.me/wiQoZ6): A hilarious, inspired burglary-comedy for film nerds.  Two men break into a house, only to discover one of the world’s greatest DVD collections; this promptly starts an argument over, you guessed it, remakes.  Wonderful – and fun! – all the way around.  

A Finger, Two Dots, Then Me (dir. David & Daniel Holecheck // 8 min // on.fb.me/xkmsMT): On paper, this should be a sappy and downright ridiculous film: spoken word poetry about the cosmic glory of love.  But the way it’s manifested, the way the poem is visualized, the energy of the performer, everything coalesces into a transcendent and affecting experience.  Deserving winner of the Best Editing award.  

16-bit Sunrise (dir. Vinnie Pomp // 20 min // bit.ly/wGzMuN): when asked during the Q&A about his inspiration, the director responded: “Well, a funny thing happened.  I was a teenager and went to High School.”  That pretty much sums it up.  It’s an awkward, affectionate and occasionally dark story about an outcast, the girl after whom he pines, and the video games he uses as a safety blanket.

Self-Sabotage (dir. Scott Brignac // 27 min // bit.ly/zV2NF2): We don’t use the term lightly when we say: this film is epic.  It’s quite long for a short film, but it’s a sumptuous feast for the senses.  A collaborative project branching out from the music that acts as the score/soundtrack, it “follows” the verses of the Lord’s Prayer.  It’s experimental, oblique and wondrous.  

Kama Sutra King (dir. Ben Jones // 10 min // bit.ly/z1FHJX): Using the archetype of the Hot Librarian as a jumping off point, this gratifying, big-hearted film is ultimately about inaction and regret, but with a lovely and happy ending. As a film professor once said, brevity is the soul of the short film; this one is short and sweet.

Searching For Sonny (dir. Andrew Disney // 94 min // bit.ly/z3nyrM): The one feature on our list.  A suburban black-comedy/neo-noir, from within the first few minutes, you know that you want to spend time with these characters.  Set during a High School reunion, it’s the mystery of a missing friend.  Some great twists and turns, a lot of laughs and gunshot wounds for everyone!

Bunker'd (dir. Chris Canfield // 15 min // imdb.to/yTAD0Q): Thoroughly entertaining comedy about two men trapped in a bomb-shelter after nuclear war breaks out in the 1950s.  Well, one man and a dead guy.   And a lot of canned peaches.

Spoiler (dir. Daniel Thron // 18 min // on.fb.me/xWU8Bm): The world doesn’t need is another zombie film; but this one has a unique perspective.  After a zombie outbreak, what do people do?  Adapt and get on with the lives, most likely; assimilate the fear into daily routine, keep calm and carry on.  This movie uses that premise to examine a macro concept in a micro narrative of a father trying to protect his daughter from a zombie-fied mother, while the police zero in and are about to “neutralize” the entire house.  Taught, well-acted and intriguing.  



These are a couple of areas we feel could use a little improvement; but we only say this out of love, to make an already great festival even better.

More Diverse award categories

For such a small and diverse festival, Festivus had a very limited amount of awards.  While they had some specific awards – Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Short Short, Best Foreign Short, Best Documentary Short, Best Experimental – they didn’t separate the larger categories like drama from comedy.  Now, of course, having too many awards simply dilutes the value, but it’s nearly impossible to compare a film like, say, Remake with Ghost of Old Highways.  Since awards can help make or break an indie film, Festivus could really continue to help filmmakers and expand their award categories slightly.

In our opinion, they could probably remove the more specialized awards (like editing and cinematography; while filmmakers can appreciate these, a general audience likely can’t discern why one film would win over another, especially for editing) and instead just focus on the best films within sections.  Best Feature (they only program a few), Best Short Short, Best Foreign Short, Best Documentary Short, Best Experimental Short, Best Comedy Short, Best Dramatic Short.

Tailoring programming & advertising to an outside audience


After attending the entire festival and experiencing 43 of the films offered, it seemed that the majority of the attending audiences were other filmmakers.  Festivus can boast some incredible growth since their inception five years ago, and they definitely had an advertising presence in Denver (we noticed at least two billboards while driving around town), but perhaps more general-audience outreach can be done.  And yes, we’re fully aware that this is easier said than done.  

But, as an example: package marketing.  Our film, THE SUMMER HOME, was in a package called “Rehab Shorts”.  To an outside audience, it would make sense that all the films in this package would have a rehab theme.  That’s originally what we thought ourselves.  However, the festival labels it “Rehab” because it’s the first screening after one of their blow-out parties: going to it will help you “rehab”.  We admit, this is clever.  However, it’s targeted toward the inside crowd – to the filmmakers and hardcore festival-goers who went to the party – and not necessarily to a more general/casual audience.

Moderated Q&As

Post-film Q&As at Festivus typically begin with the host handing the microphone to the filmmaker and walking off the stage.  In principal, we totally understand the rationale: remove any sense of boundary between audience and filmmaker.  But, a good Q&A needs help from a moderator.  Not someone who takes over the conversation, but someone who helps guide the audience and their questions.  A good moderator is one who has seen the film and, because of their special knowledge of the filmmakers and the stories behind the films, can lead the audience into questions that hit on a deeper and more useful level.  Without moderation, the Q&As can become awkward and consist of the same few questions: What’s your budget?  What did you shoot on?  What was your inspiration?  While these are great questions, audience members usually want to get to the meatier discussion without the unnecessary warm up period.  A moderator can help with that.


All in all the Festivus Film Festival is an amazing festival.  It features fun, engaging, quality programming and focuses on the true artistic spirit and talent brewing in the US and around the world.

Personally, we can’t wait to make another film and (hopefully) attend Festivus again!

Kris & Lindy Boustedt are the married couple behind AYWR films THE SUMMER HOME and THIS IS OURS. They live in Seattle and refuse to make a film without a certain dog named Falcor.

12 January 2012

Day 4 of Nicolas Citton's DECORATION

There's no call sheet, but call time for day 4 is 9:30am. True to form, that doesn't happen. We leave at 10:12am and head back to Nooner's house to shoot the final day there.

Nooner has no idea we're coming. He thought we were done. So, of course, he's started to put his house back together. Luckily, he's pretty easy-going, so it's no problem to take his house back over.

Just like yesterday, we have to clean the house out completely to shoot the scene, but unlike yesterday, we don't have to re-set it later, other than to put the house back together for Nooner and take our props out completely. Why didn't we shoot the two empty house scenes back-to-back on the last day? I have no idea.

And you know, it'd be easy to go on a rant about this, but I think you see between the lines here.

Instead, let's talk about the crew, because sometimes when the top of the hierarchy isn't ideally organized, that pulls focus from the fantastic work being done by the rest of the crew, and DECORATION has a very good crew.

Today's challenge is to rotate the camera a full 360 degrees on the x-axis as Cheryl Nichols stands on her head. There's gear that does this, of course, but they've got none of it. So, Josh Jones and Stew Yost come up with the idea to try and strap a 5D to a tripod head. This gives them the rotation they need, but takes away access to all the buttons and controls of the camera, so they've got to figure out everything, then set the controls, and then strap it in.

Only, if you don't strap it in correctly, you get a kind of oblong rotation that's less than ideal.

Oh, and they're trying to do it on a tight shot with an actress who's standing on her head, meaning you can't have her sit there for anything longer than a few seconds to line everything up.

Eventually, they come up with a solution that requires a collapsed tripod laying flat on a bed of sandbags (to give it a little bit of height off the ground, thus allowing the rotation). They have Cheryl stand on her head, then make a note of where on the wall that is and where her hands are to establish the base for that shot. Set the frame, then try and repeat the head stand as close as possible to the last one. Then, they have to get a smooth rotation out of it.

It takes a couple of tries, but they get it.

From there, we move down the hill to a semi truck that's been borrowed for a sequence where Rick Dacey climbs on it in a bit of childish wonder. It's a 2 camera shot, one on the ground and one on more of an eye line thanks to a long lens on a hill.

Then it's some car mount driving shots to finish out the day. Only, when we get the camera mounted on the hood, it's moving around way too much for anyone's taste. Enter grip/AC/PA Jimmy, who sticks a empty water bottle under the lens. And you know what? It works. It's the perfect height. A little gaff tape later, and it's set. DP Stew Yost jumps in the bed of the truck to shoot Rick on the other side of the scene, and once they double check to make sure the cameras aren't seeing each other, they're off.

And that's day 4, the second-to-last day of principal photography. All that's left is to shoot the Decoration ceremony. You know, the scene the title comes from.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

I Slept Here #70: Nashville, TN

Nashville, TN

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

10 January 2012

I Slept Here #69: Avondale Estates, GA

Avondale Estates, GA

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

Day 0 of Brea Grant's BEST FRIENDS FOREVER

I've never really heard of Marfa, Texas until a couple of weeks ago, but apparently the place is mythical. Everywhere I've been--Wisconsin, Kansas, Arkansas, Dallas, Austin--I keep hearing the same thing: "Oh, you'll love Marfa."

I'm not really sure why.

Marfa is this tiny, tiny town in West Texas. The census bureau has the population at 1,900 people, which seems high. Real cowboy country. They shot THERE WILL BE BLOOD here, as well as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and the one thing 1st AC Brian Nelligan (who I picked up in Austin) try and figure out as we drive into town is, where the hell did they put everyone? They shot two decently big movies in the same town at the same time and there aren't exactly a bunch of hotels all over the place. Our theory is that Daniel Day Lewis just camped out near set in a tent that he made himself.

The first thing we notice as we drive through town is that the roads don't match up with my GPS, so it takes a bit of driving around to find the house we're looking for. I call the producer, Stacey Storey, but she's not in town yet, after some sort of issue with the grip truck breaking down on the way from LA. Apparently they're still in Arizona. We start shooting tomorrow.

We find some other crew people, and we all head to a bar to find everyone else. Introductions all around. Brea's there, along with AD John-Michael Thomas and DP Michelle Lawler, trying to figure out how to shoot the first day with a grip truck that may or may not show up on time.

Your first thought is that you'll have to cancel the day, or at least part of it, and no one wants to do that. You put yourself in the hole on day 1 and run the risk of spending the entire shoot trying to catch up. On the other hand, if the truck shows up late, you've got some real chaos on your hands, and that's not the best way to start a shoot either.

Eventually, the decision is made to turn day 1 into a prep day, which feels like the right call. The truck shows up with Stacey and gaffer Phil Matarese already exhausted from driving all night. And the prep time is helpful. Things need to be unloaded and sorted. Plus, it gives the various crew members time to get to know each other a little bit before the actual work starts. An opportunity to ease into things, if you will.

After an hour, we've completely taken over the yard and part of the street, which attracts the attention of a neighborhood cat. He starts looking around for food and before anyone realizes it, he's ripped into a bag of bagels and eaten part of one. I didn't even know a cat would eat a bagel.

No one knows where he came from exactly, but he's apparently been inside the house 3 times already.

Before long, he even has a name: Lonestar Bagels Sebastian III.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

06 January 2012

I Slept Here #68: Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

04 January 2012

I Slept Here #67: Travelers Rest, SC

Travelers Rest, SC

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

03 January 2012

Day 3 of Nicolas Citton's DECORATION

We're up for a 9am shoot on a bridge. It's a small scene, meant to exist near the end of the film, so I'm not going to talk about it too much, other than to say we all drove out there and shot a scene near the water. The rest isn't all that important. Nothing complicated. Nothing exciting.

From there, we head back to the cabin we're all staying in for quick turnaround. The word that goes out is "10 minutes". Someone sits down. The TV goes on, and before you know it, we've been watching Skip Bayless talk about Tim Tebow for over an hour.

Skip Bayless really likes Tim Tebow.

I have no idea what the cause of the delay is.

Eventually, we pile in the vehicles and head back to Story and our primary location of Nooner's house. The second unit splits off to shoot some B Unit stuff.

As for me? Well, I'm being asked by the director to sit in the van. But, the sun is out and it's kind of warm out, so instead myself and Chris the sound guy find some chairs on the porch and sit there while they block the scene inside. I eat an orange and work on write-ups for other films.

It's not exactly a closed set. The director and actors are in there, of course. As is the DP and the grip and Jimmy, who's a hybrid grip/PA/whatever. Basically, everyone but myself and the sound guy. But whatever. I have work to do.

Eventually, the director comes out and asks if I could take some pictures of the area around the couch for continuity. It's a simple enough thing to do. There's a couch there and a bookshelf with a bunch of books on it. So I take pictures of everything and, as requested, start moving everything out to the porch. I pull the books out in stacks, being careful to keep them in order, the assumption being that we're going to want to reset the scene back to the original configuration. And while a lot of the books and magazines are scattered around the floor and coffee table, they're at least in distinct piles, and those that are on the bookshelf are in a specific order.

It's a little thing, but if you can pull 10 books off a shelf and keep them all together as you move them around, it saves time when you have to put them back. There's no trying to use photos to recreate the order. All you have to know is that this stack goes on the top shelf, over to the left. The rest takes care of itself.

We pull everything, stripping the area completely. But by the time that's finished, the director has gone ahead and done the same with the entire house.

There are no photos for the rest of the house. None.

They film the scene and then we have to reset the house for a night scene. But there's no photos, so when the time comes to see the parts of the house that aren't the general couch area, there's nothing to go by, other than the consensus memory of the cast and crew. Ever tried to remember every little detail about a room? It's not easy. People's memories conflict. Say you've got two framed images of birds. Was the cardinal the one higher up or the bluejay? How sure are you?

And sure it's a small thing, but those things add up. Flip one bird image and whatever. These things happen. But do it over and over again and it starts to pull people from your story. It becomes a drinking game, and when that happens, no one's going to be sober for your emotional third act.

What the production does have is footage from scenes previously shot in the house. But think of how time-consuming that is. You've gotta get out the hard drive and computer, boot it up, and search through all that footage, just to figure out if it was the cardinal or the bluejay on top. And that's a best case scenario. That's if you can find the footage you need, if it's nearby or, say, back in the cabin where everyone's staying.

This is why you get a Script Supervisor, because they'll be damned sure if it was the cardinal or the bluejay. Hell, they'll even tell you if it was hung straight. And it won't take them all night to figure it out.

And if you don't have the budget for the Script Supervisor? Well, then you make sure you get photos of the entire house before you start moving things.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

I Slept Here #66: Minden, LA

Minden, LA

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

02 January 2012


Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

01 January 2012

I Slept Here #65: Austin, TX

Austin TX

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.