I was on two panels today and I have a complaint. When you’re on the panel, you can’t take notes on what the other people are saying. I take EXCELLENT panel notes.
The first panel was Writing Independent Film: Writing to Produce/Direct your First Feature. My partner Gabriel Diani and I moderated. We just finished the festival run of our feature Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse that we wrote/directed/produced/starred in so we knew just what kind of leading gotcha questions to ask the esteemed panelists.
I’ve seen a lot of panels. Some entertaining, some boring. Some useful, some… not so much. I think ideally a panel should be interesting for someone walking in off the street and useful for a person starting a job the panel is about the next day. So you have to craft your questions to make the fancy and knowledgeable people on the panel (who you have researched if you don’t know them already) open up about the good stuff.
Elizabeth Dell producer of Destination Wedding in theaters this summer, Jen Ray producer of For A Good Time Call… available now, director/writer/producer Weldon Wong Powers and writer/star/producer Lamar Woods of the Atlanta Film Festival’s own It’s A Party premiering on Monday at the Plaza Theatre at 10:45 PM had a lot to say. Like almost every indie filmmaker I’ve ever met, they are so happy to share their hard-won knowledge and experience so making a movie can maybe be just a tiny bit easier for the next person.
There were a lot of gems from everyone but one of the most practical pieces of advice for production came from Elizabeth Dell who is staunchly against big Starbucks runs on set. It ties up a PA, orders will be wrong, it takes so long hot drinks will be cold and frozen drinks will be melted, and by the time it gets there everyone will have forgotten they have been wanting it for two hours and you’ll have to interrupt shooting so everyone can complain about their wrong temperature wrong orders that cost you $350. Much better to send someone to the store for things like ice cream sandwiches on hot days to perk up morale and give everyone a nice treat. This is excellent advice. She just saved you time AND money. See what a great producer can do!
A theme that Jen Ray, who is also a manager, brought up is the value of knowing who your movie is for. Shaping your script, budget, and marketing plans around who will see your movie can stop you from making a lot of expensive mistakes. And if you bring that knowledge to the table when it’s time to finance and distribute, you’ll appear as reasonable as someone making an indie feature possibly can.
Weldon Wong Powers and Lamar Woods (who you will see Monday night when you go to their movie!) talked about crafting their film around what they had available. They knew who they wanted to use and wrote with those people in mind. Thinking of what and who you have access to and crafting your story around that is a great way to pull incredible production value out of a smaller budget.
My writing/directing/producing partner Gabe Diani also told some horror stories about how we got food poisoning the night before the first day of shooting on our first feature, and the time the off-duty Sheriff deputy who was supposed to shut down the street for our dance sequence out in the middle of the desert at 6:00 AM wouldn’t let us shoot unless we somehow acquired “Road Closed” signs even though no one at the permit office told us the Sheriffs closing the road weren’t bringing them, even though we asked a million questions. Cool. Cool. It’s cool. Moral of the story: something will always go wrong but the train is moving so you gotta figure it out.
The question and answer portion of these types of things can be tricky. Some people need to be reminded that questions have a what, where, when, why, or how in them. But not here! All the questions were about interesting problems people have been considering for specific projects or logistical roadblocks that have been bothering them. There was a great question about shooting in difficult to secure locations. I spied filmmaker Alexandra Boylan in the audience, who I know is very creative about that sort of thing and she suggested offering to provide some footage in trade. Brilliant! Try everything.
After that Gabe and I went downstairs to our second panel moderated by Matt Dy of the Austin Film Festival about The Agent/Writer Relationship with our agent Keya Khayatian and Diana Ossana who won an Oscar for her adaptation of Brokeback Mountain. She dropped some beautiful truth bombs about agents, managers, and the industry in general. It seems that no matter what level you’re at, you need someone looking out for your interests.
Something that always comes up on screenwriting podcasts and panels over and over is the question of location and I’ve always kind of felt that, yeah, at some point you’ll have to be in LA and people just keep asking the question because they don’t like the answer or hope the answer will change. But Keya has clients all over the world and doesn’t seem to mind that they aren’t within an hour of him AT ALL TIMES. Who knew! Maybe everyone doesn’t have to move to LA after all?
There were, if I counted correctly, 17 back to back parties after the panels today. I missed most of them but I did get to talk to a couple of the panel question askers and I’m even more excited about their projects than I was before. There are some cool ideas walking around out there and I would like to see them! And when there are panels about them, I’m going to take some real good notes.
Etta Devine is an actor, filmmaker, and writer with a script on the 2017 Blacklist and one of 2017’s Movie Maker Magazine’s 25 Screenwriters to watch. With partner Gabriel Diani she directed, wrote, produced and starred in the feature film “Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse” which premiered at the 2016 Austin film festival and won awards from the Mill Valley Film Festival, Spokane International Film Festival, Omaha Film Festival, San Luis Obispo Film Festival, and many others. She co-produced and starred in the horror comedy “The Selling,” ruined classic literature by creating “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Robotic Edition” and is a member of the Antaeus Classical Theatre company in Los Angeles and the Film Fatales. She recently recorded voices for the popular Frederator cartoon “Bee and Puppycat” and wrote multiple episodes of it’s upcoming second season.