Film Festivals

Special thanks to those who attended our summer fest at Flying Saucer's in Santa Monica.  Ryan, the owner of the art gallery and cafe shared some amazing stories about his website and fan club. Special thanks to Bruce Haring, Janna, and James who also made the evening more fun that a box of sock puppets.  Whatever that means! And our thanks to Vidiots, one of the oldest and most unique video outlets in Los Angeles but who have a state of the art projection system.

Some important deadlines are looming for film festivals worldwide.  Check 'em out at - where you can find listings for just about every film festival on the planet.  Happy summer everyone!  Keep flying your DIY flag high!

Here's an article in the UK's guardian that is championing the concept of DIY filmmaking!

The DIY films that vanish without trace

For every Morris: A Life with Bells On that enjoy success, there are countless DIY labours of love that will never find an audience. So why are the studios ignoring Britain's burgeoning indie film industry?
Too niche? … Morris: A Life With Bells On
Here on my desk, hemmed in by coffee mugs and dwarfed by the computer screen, sits a stack of DVDs: the equivalent of a publisher's slush of unsolicited manuscripts. So far as I can gather, each disc contains an independent, DIY British motion picture. DIY in that it is bereft of a studio and distributor; independent in the sense of being an orphan. And as they mount up, these discs start to pose a conundrum. There are simply too many of the things to sit through, and only so much mileage in writing about films that nobody can actually go and see. So they sit there silently, taunting me.
  1. Morris: A Life With Bells On
  2. Production year: 2009
  3. Country: UK
  4. Cert (UK): 12A
  5. Runtime: 101 mins
  6. Directors: Lucy Akhurst
  7. Cast: Charles Thomas Oldham, Greg Wise, Naomie Harris, Olivia Colman, Sir Derek Jacobi
  8. More on this film
Sometimes, against the odds, one of these orphans will break out of the slush pile. Last Sunday saw the release of Morris: A Life With Bells On, an amiable mockumentary about an avant-garde morris dancer who finds fame on the California folk circuit. The film was made on a budget of £500,000 by the husband-and-wife team of Lucy Akhurst and Charles Thomas Oldham, who describe it as "a nice film about good people". On its opening day, it racked up a higher take per screen than The Soloist, a studio-backed Oscar contender starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.

Morris is a breakout success story, an underdog made good. Except that it almost didn't pan out that way. After completing the picture, Akhurst and Oldham laid on screenings for the major UK distributors. None of them would touch it. They said it was too small, too niche. Many of them walked out just 10 minutes into the movie. "That was horrible," Akhurst remembers. "That just kills you."

What saved Morris was a trip to the countryside: they organised a tour around the village halls of south-west England, where their film became a word-of-mouth hit. That allowed its makers to bypass the distributors and go straight to the exhibitors. Morris was finally picked up by the Picturehouse cinema chain, which agreed to roll it out on wider release, beginning last week.

So Akhurst and Oldham are entitled to feel vindicated. They argue that the distributors missed a trick by passing on Morris. The industry is too blinkered, they say, too London-centric; too intent on chasing an illusory 16-24 demographic at the expense of an untapped older audience in the regions.
The paradox here is that a gentle, old-fashioned indie may well be the riskiest indie of them all for the industry – if not the audience. "Nobody is thinking of the audience," says Akhurst. "The general public goes to the cinema to be entertained, whereas the people in the industry are looking for something different. It's the equivalent of someone who works in the wine trade. They want some difficult, faecal rioja as opposed to a decent, buttery chardonnay." And by this, she means the critics as well as the distributors.

Oldham agrees. "I never saw Morris as a high-risk project," he marvels. "We pitched this as Spinal Tap meets The Full Monty by way of Calendar Girls, and you can't get more mainstream than that. But the problem is that the film celebrates a part of England that rarely gets celebrated. Maybe the industry needs to take its Soho hat off."

Akhurst and Oldham decided against entering Morris on the festival circuit, partly because it costs too much to do so, partly because it is not an obvious festival movie ("It would be like entering Mamma Mia! at Cannes"). Then again, the festival scene no longer provides the reliable launchpad it once did. Last month's Toronto film festival was described by one commentator as "an indie bloodbath", as the recession forced many independent producers to sell their wares for next to nothing.

Here in the UK, the Raindance film festival (which kicked off on Wednesday) at least remains something akin to a safe haven. Elliot Grove, who founded the event in 1993, explains that there are 11 homegrown DIY features in this year's line-up, up from six or seven in previous years. The most notable of these is Colin, a British zombie movie reported to have had a budget of just £45. Its director, Marc Price, says he made it in part to inspire other wannabe film-makers; to make them think: "If this arsehole can do it, I can do it."

Grove insists this is actually a good time for DIY cinema. Quality is up, and the cost of making movies is down. Even so, he sees few signs of a commercial breakthrough for any of the movies. "You have to remember that 96% of cinemas are controlled by the studios, and the studios don't want to show films they haven't made. But it works the other way, too. Ask the public to choose between two films – a glossy Hollywood one and an unsung British one – and nine out of 10 will go for the Hollywood one. That culture is not about to change. Independent film is always going to be niche."
At this point I decide I have been taunted for far too long. The DVD stack is still sitting among the coffee mugs, gently gathering dust. There is only one thing for it. I pluck a disc from the middle and slot it into the computer's DVD player.

The film is called Behind the Scenes of Total Hell. It was made for £2,000 and, like Morris, is a mockumentary (this, clearly, is the DIY film-makers' genre of choice). Behind the Scenes follows the fortunes of an inept director, Jamie Gunn, a man "misunderstood, by himself". And guess what: it is actually pretty funny. It may also be an apt summary of the pitfalls of shooting an independent motion picture.

But what is to become of it? Its creator, Newcastle-based Andy Wilton, says he has arranged a premiere at his local cinema. After that, the film can be downloaded from his website for a charge of £2.50. It will almost certainly not be going on general release. "In hindsight, I think I was a bit naive," Wilton says. "I thought I could do it all myself, but I had no game plan. Sales agents and distributors all say the same thing: 'We won't take a film that costs less than $1m,' or 'We won't take it if it doesn't star Brad Pitt.' I thought the film would be good enough that someone would take it off my hands. But no one's bitten them off as yet."

Talk to the makers of Morris and of Behind the Scenes of Total Hell and they will sing from the same hymn sheet. The process of making movies is actually getting easier, and there are now so many more platforms to screen them on. Yet there is no overriding strategy, no distribution system to knit it all together. A crucial piece of the jigsaw appears to be missing.

Back in London, Liz Rosenthal runs Power to the Pixel, an organisation that aims to help independent film-makers navigate a changing, digital terrain. The business, she says, is in a mess. "It's the classic best of times/worst of times. There is now an infinite space to show your work, and the film industry is an old business model, desperately trying to catch up. If you are a traditional distributor, it costs a lot to release a movie, so obviously they want to go with what they know and think is low risk. Every film-maker still wants a theatrical release, but there are thousands of films being made. They can't all expect to find a space."

Rosenthal feels the problem lies as much with the independent British film-maker as it does with the distributors. "Getting films out in the world has always been harder than actually making them," she says. "But people still have the tendency to think, 'Oh, I make films and that's that.' You can't just finish a film and think, 'Here it is. Take it off my hands.' The best independent film-makers don't just make a film in isolation; they are an integral part of the entire process. They build a fanbase and target an audience. They form groups and communities. And that's not being tawdry: that's being creative." One might also argue that it is part and parcel of being independent: a focus group, film-maker and push-button publisher rolled into one.

In the meantime, the world premiere of Behind the Scenes of Total Hell is set for next Sunday at the Tyneside cinema in Newcastle. This, coincidentally, is the same venue at which Jamie Gunn's disastrous film-within-a-film received its own unveiling. A handful of people showed up, the movie was derided and the director carted off to a psychiatric institution. One hopes for a better outcome for Wilton's mockumentary. But who can say? It wouldn't be the first low-budget, British independent film to die a quiet, lonesome death. Sure as hell, it won't be the last.



Hi Guys, intrepid filmmakers and do it yourself people of Earth.

We have some fun over at the Flying Saucer's cafe in Santa Monica tomorrow night... 8 pm.  Aliens are invited, but there is a two drink maximum for anyone from another planet. And THIS MEANS YOU.

Okay, here's the skinny:


Along with our pals over at Flying Saucers, the DIY Film Fest is proud to announce it's second annual summer screening.  Last year's was at Umami Burgers, where savory burgers were mixed with dramatic shorts.  This year's event will be All Sci Fi All The Time.  We're focusing on entries that have either a science fiction backdrop, or have some kind of weird "what the heck is that?" factor.

The event is going to be JULY 12th, THURSDAY, 2012 beginning at the Flying Saucers Cafe and Eatery at 8 pm.  (On Pico Blvd in Santa Monica, just West of 4th306 Pico Blvd Santa MonicaCA 90405.)  

Then we'll mozy next door to VIDIOTS VIDEO where there's a state of the art digital project and celebrate some of the great entrants to the festival.  Then for those who are still up to the task,we'll retire to Flying Saucers to talk, snack and drink to the filmmakers, or just talk about aliens among us, in general.

If you're from another planet, and are currently occupying a human form and shape - this screening is definitely for you!  Some snacks and beverages will be provided at the event later - so if you're capable of eating human food, there will be some provided. (And for those of you humans among us, yes, you too will enjoy the films!)

Our line up so far:

An amazing piece of animation shot in the basement of this amazing filmmaker from Michigan Jamie Surgerner.  A chess playing robot behaves in what can only be described as a sentient manner.

Cody Blue Snider is a force to be reckoned with.  This amazing film features the specter of death, who has arrived to take one of the main characters in the film.  We hope the specter avoids our screening, but this is one powerful film that should not be missed.

DIY 2011 FILM FESTIVAL WINNER COCKPIT: RULE OF ENGAGEMENT. Ronny Cox stars in this piece by Jesse Griffith, who will BE ON HAND to discuss his many film festival winning opus.

DIY 2011 FILM FESTIVAL WINNER: JAMES VS REALITY.  Chris Wilson and Tim Feeney's comic adventure that includes aliens, began its run of festival wins at the DIY Festival. 

DIY 2012 FILM FESTIVAL RUNNER UP: 999.999.999 BY GERALD GRUNOW.  This amazing animated short comes to us from Germany, and features a story line that takes place in the not too distant future.  At least it appears to take place there,and we wanted to include it in the evening!

More to come, time permitting, still sifting through our many entries to see what other films might apply.  We'll let you know, but so far, this is the lineup!

C'mon down for some Alien Adventure!