At the beginning of June, I had the privilege of attending the Dances With Films festival at the famous Chinese Theatres in Hollywood. I attended with the musical feature Breakout: A Rock Opera, which I had the joy of choreographing. And as much fun as it was to walk the red (well, theirs is green, but you know what I’m saying) carpet, see our work up on the big screen, and celebrate with my cast and crew – there is much more value that can be found at a film festival.
(This was my “Rock Star” pose for our Rock Opera screening!)
Dances With Films is notorious for finding diamond-in-the-rough indie films. It is an 11 day celebration with a packed 10am-midnight programming schedule, including shorts, features, webseries, music videos, and kids’ films. According to their website:
“This year’s Dances With Films (DWF) showcased an exceptional and diverse group of filmmakers premiering 161 films, with the competitive lineup including 16narrative features and 31 short films. The 47 competitive films line-up with a record 47 premieres – 22 World, 3North American, 1 US premieres, 15 West Coast, 2California, 1 Los Angeles, and 3 Southern California.”
That means that there is a LOT to see. Watching good films is one of the best ways I know to get the creative juices flowing – seeing what other people have done, the stories they’re telling and HOW they’re telling them, makes me excited for my next collaborations. Each screening ended with a filmmaker Q&A where you can ask general questions to the group of filmmakers, or specific questions directed at a certain creator. So, SO valuable.
For that 11 days, there were hundreds and even thousands of those filmmakers all in the same place. It is a prime opportunity to meet with and talk to various people you’d like to work with in the future, from directors to writers to cinematographers to actors. You really get a sense of the different styles of filmmaking, and how each artist puts their own fingerprint on their film. There is a magical kind of energy when everyone there is excited to share their art, and it is something I wouldn’t miss for the world.
Milling about the lobby, attending the opening and closing parties, and hanging out in the lounge are all prime places to strike up a conversation with random filmmakers, or seek out specific individuals in order to talk to them about their project that you just watched. There is nothing filmmakers like more than hearing someone enjoyed their film and asking them about it. At film festivals, everyone is on the same level, so you can have access to people you wouldn’t necessarily otherwise.
Additionally, they had almost daily industry panels with leaders and experts in the fields of casting, financing, producing, and more. These are people who have decades of experience in the industry, and their stories and insights were invaluable. I took pages of notes, and here are some of the gems I came away with:
David Rubin, the casting director on projects like Gravity, Trumbo, Men in Black and more, gave this advice to actors:
“Don’t worry what we’re looking for, be YOU, your unique person, be your authentic self. “
Dama Claire, an expert in governmental production incentives, advised filmmakers to look at maps of incentives, find locations with low entry rates, and emphasized that you want to be thought of as an important project in that state and get local incentives for your 1st feature film.
Priscilla Ross, a sales agent, chimed in and reminded filmmakers that if their goal is to make money from their film, keep in mind how it will do globally. Disaster movies translate across markets. Comedy does not.
TV producer Hilton Smith (Deadwood, Stalker) shared that in this industry, there is a fast path and a slow path to getting the kind of career you want. The slow path is how you can attain lasting success – by taking the jobs you can, and doing good work along the way.
I’m thrilled to have had films at Dances With Films for the last two years, but more than that, I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to meet other filmmakers and learn from industry leaders. Film festivals are a special opportunity to meet artist from around the world, see their work, and chat with them about their careers. Take advantage of everything these fests have to offer! If you only attend your film’s screening, you’ll miss out on some great opportunities.