Tag Archives: Burbank International Film Festival

Former Burbank Resident Directs Film Up For Burbank International Film Festival Award

Documentary Director and Producer Roya Aryanpad’s foray into fictional short films, Jacob Stone, screens Friday, September 11, as an Official Selection of the Burbank International Film Festival. The film has been nominated in the “Best Short Films By Women” category.

Written by David Blacker, Jacob Stone tells the story of an inner-city high school basketball player, portrayed by Nicholas Alexander, as a mistake from his past threatens his future.

Jacob Stone examines many social issues, such as racial profiling; stereotyping; dysfunctional families; corporate greed; incarceration for non-violent crimes; and the straight men HIV stigma,” commented Aryanpad, noting the film’s message resonates with people from many backgrounds. “These are the challenges that our youth and young adults are facing in 2015, in all parts of U.S.”

Roya Aryanpad directs actor Nicholas Alexander in "Jacob Stone." (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

Roya Aryanpad directs actor Nicholas Alexander in “Jacob Stone.” (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

“I believe the message of the film is also universal, and not only people at home, but everywhere can relate to and make connection with.”

A former refugee born in Shiraz-Iran, Aryanpad’s directs and produces films that contribute in a positive way to environmental, social, cultural and political issues.

“My own experiences in Iran during the time of the Revolution which led to my family’s exile have made me very sensitive to issues of social injustice, poverty and human oppression everywhere.” Aryanpad also said. “The struggles of African-Americans may not be my own, but I feel a kinship with them, as we are all survivors of oppression. The story of Jacob Stone is one of survival and hope in the face of great obstacles – themes which are very relevant in my own life.”

Nicholas Alexander and Jazlyn Yoder in a scene from "Jacob Stone." (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

Nicholas Alexander and Jazlyn Yoder in a scene from “Jacob Stone.” (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

“As a former resident of Burbank for six years, I think the beautiful city of Burbank has a lot to offer, and Burbank International Film Festival (BIFF) is certainly one of them,” Aryanpad commented. “I particularly favored BIFF for having a Short Films By Women category.”

“In a society with an ongoing battle for equal pay for women and in an industry with the percentage of the network and cable shows directed by women being ridiculously low, it is wonderful to have festivals like Burbank International Film Festival to bridge the gap, and celebrate the films made by women,” she added.

Director/Producer Roya Aryanpad. (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

Director/Producer Roya Aryanpad. (Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

“I’d like to thank Jeff Rector, the president and festival director of Burbank International Film Festival, for making a great difference and providing options for women filmmakers to showcase their work. We are truly grateful for the opportunity and honored to be a part of BIFF this Friday.”

Jacob Stone was shot in Glendale and Los Angeles, because Aryanpad’s Dream Benders Productions crew was able to find the necessary locations in those cities. The film is a true indie production as local independent filmmakers with home studios offered their services for post production work.

Jacob Stone is a real story, about real people, having real experiences in life. Although we examine many social issues in this film, our writer David Blacker has woven these issues so skillfully into the story that it does not feel preachy at all, and you get so deeply drawn into the story from the get go,” Aryanpad continued. “That was one of the reasons I was also attracted to the script.”

“The performances of our actors are great. The cast was nominated for Best Ensemble at LAIFFA (Los Angeles Independent FIlm Festival),” she said.”Nicholas Alexander and Jazlyn Yoder (our lead actors), Virtic Brown, Deon Lucas, Stephanie Charles, Nathalie Autumn Bennett, James Haley, Crystal Lott, Joe Gabler, Stephen Quadros, Lucas Dean Peterson, Richey Nash and Ashford Thomas are just brilliant.”

(Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

(Photo Courtesy of Dream Benders Productions)

“Our Cinematographer Idan Menin and his wonderful crew have created a great look for the film. The excellent quality of the film is attributed to the love and passion the cast and crew have invested in this film. I believe all of these have contributed to the success of the film.”

Jacob Stone premiered at the San Diego Black Film Festival in January 2015. The film has screened at The Alhambra Theater Film Festival, Indie Night Film Festival and Black Cat Picture Show. The short film will screen in coming weeks at the Catalina Film Festival, the International Black Film Festival and Gary International Black Film Festival.

The Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards honored Jacob Stone with the Best Drama Award. The film was nominated for five other categories at LAIFFA, including Best Director (Roya Aryanpad) and Best Actor (Nicholas Alexander.)

Advance tickets for the screening of Jacob Stone at the Burbank AMC Town Center 6 for Burbank International Film Festival, on September 11, at 9:30p.m. can be found here:  http://www.itsmyseat.com/events/322892.html

Next up for Dream Benders Productions, Aryanpad will focus on a full-length screenplay she wrote, based on her experiences as a teenager growing up in Iran, and her family’s escape after Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Thanks to B.I.F.F., Industry Pros Conduct Second Boot Camp at Woodbury

The artistic and business battlefield that is Hollywood is not for the unprepared. But those who heeded the industry pros at Burbank International Film Festival’s second annual offering of free, straight-talking seminars got a leg up. They walked away with ammo and armor for the struggle to gain and hold a precious piece of cinematic territory. High tech can also be an empowering weapon, but only if you know where to aim.

 

Listen to MICK GARRIS, who directed all the Stephen King miniseries from pilot to network, as he sets forth the dilemma of DIY-meets-Hollywood: “The great thing about this technology is that everyone can make a movie. The awful thing about this technology is that everyone can make a movie.”

 

But only a few make movies that many others want to see.

 

Some of those cinematic gems are waiting for the other side of summer, September 9 to 13, when the Burbank International Film Festival will return to the AMC Theatres in downtown Burbank.

 

BIFF’s upcoming film fest will be a nice counterpoint to BIFF’s industry “boot camp” at Woodbury University last April. And whether you were listening to a panel on producing that film or winning that role or writing that smash screenplay, the industry veterans made it clear that “suffering for one’s art” is not just fancy talk. It’s the hard tinsel town truth.

 

Mick again: “There’s nothing greater for a creative project than fear and trepidation and feeling like you’re still 25 with a lot to prove.” But even then, you’re not off the hook. “You can’t do the best suspense when you’re interrupted by a conversation about incontinence. ‘Scare the crap out of you’ is supposed to be a metaphor.”

 

Or heed Director/Producer CHRIS OLEN RAY, who has 53 movies under his belt including Megashark and Sharknado: “Making film is hard. Working 20-hour days for week after week is commonplace. You have to love it or you’re crazy.”

There’s more good news/bad news. On the one hand, Mick observes that “we’re in a more calcified world of comic book sequels” when it comes to big budget films. On the other hand, indie filmmakers have more control than ever.

 

According to LINDA NELSON, who started her production company in 2000 and is on her fourth feature film, “Now is the best opportunity filmmakers have ever had to make and distribute movies. Even films of $20,000 can be successful. That was the budget of Fray, a great film about a troubled soldier. And you don’t have to make 15 to 20 shorts before making a feature.”

 

Linda started her own studio because the distribution contracts were “awful,” so she started her own studio. (Even with honest contracts, expect around 20% to go to the producer.) Mick became a producer “just to protect myself.” Tweet to indie filmmakers: you can release your own movie. But if you do rely on a distributor, then do your homework and go to Iamdbpro. Check out the distributor’s past clients. And above all, don’t let yourself be kept in the dark. Insist on getting a quarterly report.

 

But however much you prepare, you eventually just have to dive into the water. As Chris put it, “You’re going to learn the answer to all your questions on your first film.”

Actors have their own daunting odds to deal with. BIFF President and panelist JEFF RECTOR offered the following example. Say you’re auditioning for a five-line role, perhaps as a police officer. The casting director will get a thousand submissions, out of which 30 will be selected for an audition, out of which six-eight will be called back. Six-eight out of a thousand.

The elimination of the other 992 begins with the head shot. Casting Executive GERALD WEBB (who also acts and owns two production companies) looks at the head shots first, then the resume. He showed the audience what he typically confronts when picking out headshots, about 16 of them on his screen at a time. “You have a millisecond for me to click ‘yes’ or ‘no’ period. Scroll your own head shots like this to see what pops out.”

 

At Gerald’s invitation, several dozen in the audience submitted their own headshots for his quick evaluation. :“You’d be shocked how many headshots are slightly out of focus,” said Gerald. And indeed, some were. Other headshots did not make the actor’s face the most important thing. About 25% of the head shots that Gerald evaluated were of professional quality.

 

So, with the help of your headshot and resume (and maybe a website, which needs to be better than your Facebook or other social media site) you’ve been called for an audition. You’re now among the 30 out of that initial 1000. How do you make it to the charmed eight out of a 1000 that are called back?

 

Jeff advises, “Train. Go in. Do the best you can. Forget about it.” The panelists had cold reads done by several audience members to make “the best they can” better. (To learn what helpful hints they received, along with other pithy advice, please see the feature article on Gerald Webb.)

 

The panelists discussing actors and managers affirmed the great importance of having a great demo reel. KATHYRN BOOLE, Literary Agent at STG Literary, offered this rule of thumb: a minute and a half of an actor’s best work without any other actor in it. The best of the best work should appear at the beginning and the end of the reel. Jeff used his own demo trailer as an example of how to, in a short period of time, convey the range and depth of your acting work.

 

Jeff champions the specific over the general. “You’re a brand. You’re unique. You’re not just a 30-year-old guy who’s a character actor.”

 

PHIL BROCK, Theatrical Agent and Manager at Studio Talent Group, pointed out that that “we managers are your non-paid, on-spec employees.” And how should actors keep their managers up-to-date? Kathryn says, “Be persistent but not annoyingly persistent. KARIM MUHAMMAD at The Polygon Group adds, “I’d rather have actors say ‘I’m in this play’ rather than sending me picture after picture.”

 

Storyboarder JAKE TODD ANDERSON observes “everyone seems to have to shoot in 30 days with less than five million.” And while it’s not his job to direct the film, Jake says he can definitely help. From someone who has storyboarded most, if not all, of the Coen brothers’ films, that’s an understatement.

 

Jake goes into the minds of the directors “with a flashlight, sort of trips on the furniture and asks them, ‘is it like this or that?’” He envies the “comic book guys who can do the fine art.” Jake, like hopefully the directors he works with, has “always got to be thinking toward the image.”

 

Jake notes that “the fire-breathing dragon” is the schedule. The challenge is to not let the schedule shove aside “the creative prize.” Filmmakers can easily fall “under the spell”. You’ll do anything to get your movie made.

 

Notes Jake, “All you can do is make new mistakes.” Here’s some old ones to avoid: “Stick to fundamental coverage. Not every shot can be an overhead shot.” And be sure to tame the schedule dragon before it torches the quality of your work.

 

“Storyboarding makes the lighting and camera people feel safe,” adds writer/director Shane Black. And he should know: Jack is storyboarding his latest film, Nice Guys. (To learn more about Shane and his thoughts on writing and directing, please see the feature article.)

 

A big kudos to BIFF for once again having given Hollywood hopefuls a chance to get real information from real industry pros. Here’s the roster

 

1st panel 

Phil Brock, Theatrical Agent and Manager at Studio Talent Group

Kathryn Boole, Literary Agent at STG Literary

Monique Strong at Power Talent Group

Karim Muhammad at The Polygon Group

 

2nd panel 

Gerald Webb, Writer/Producer/Casting Executive

Jeff Rector, Actor and BIFF President

 

3rd panel 

Mick Garris, Writer/Director/Producer 

Chris Olen Ray, Director/Producer

Gerald Webb, Writer/Producer/Casting Director

Linda Nelson , Distributor at Indie Rights Distribution

 

4th panel

ShaneBlack,Writer/Director
J.Todd Anderson, Actor/Director/Storyboard Artist

Moderated by Steve Wilder, Actor/Writer

 

For questions or more information email BIFF at info@burbankfilmfest.com or visit the website www.burbankfilmfest.org

Shane Black Rides Off To The Sunrise

Shane Black is the kind of filmmaker that writers envy because he directs as well as writes (so the smart blondes date him.) Iron Man 3, the Lethal Weapon series and The Long Kiss Goodnight are among his credits. Shane was recently in back-to-the-future mode, doing the follow-up film to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, his first film as director. He’s currently in post-production on his newest film The Nice Guys starring, among others, Ryan Gosling, Russel Crowe, Kim Basinger and Matt Bomer. Shane is also working on a reboot of the Predator franchise and is developing the DC Comic Book Doc Savage for the big screen.

 

At the BIFF Screenwriting Panel, Shane was a nice guy to his audience, sharing great stories along with the straight talk about succeeding in Hollywood.

But sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. SHANE BLACK didn’t mince words:

“You’re lunatics all of you, trying to make it in the film business. There’s 93% unemployment. The good news: talent scoots you past the odds. The bad news: most of you don’t have the talent.”

The laughter from the audience was of a knowing kind. Shane’s words are all too true. But there’s hope that talent can sometimes be awakened. Maybe the bad news can be softened to, “Most of you don’t have the talent yet.” So how do you find out if that “yet” really applies to you? Shane’s advice: “Assume you have the talent and just forge ahead.”

In Shane’s early days, he’d pal along with “a unified group of misfits—who were friends first—with a common sense of isolation and a love of movies.” They helped each other as opportunities came along.

SHANE BLACK started out in acting (Predator). And he found out that he could act a little better after drinking. His self-judgment was unsparing. ”At best my acting was passable. At worst it was unwatchable.” But it has given him perspective on the acting craft. “When you’re young, you say to yourself, ‘I wish I could cry.’ Now, crying is no problem.”

Shane observed “with some actors you have to make the door bigger to accommodate their head.” But Shane’s ability to look at his own efforts without the rose-colored glasses has served him well as he went on to hone his writing and directorial skills.

The penchant for writing came early in boyhood. “I’d make up monster stories like ‘Frankenstein Meets Sand Monster’ and I made sure it fit on both sides of the lined paper.” Nowadays, Shane advises using a bit more white space. “If you have a 120-page script, make it 119 pages and spread it out a bit.” (However, the “grab ‘em by page ten” rule still applies.)

Only recently has Shane been able to write “with comfort, with neither fear nor obsession.” It used to be that he’d finish a script and it felt like it had the last funny lines that he’d ever write. On a new script, he’d start out staring at the blank page. “But then I’d say to myself, well if this guy says this, then that character says that, and the next thing you know, I’ve dived in.”

Someone from the audience asked Shane how to make characters come alive. “Characters are defined by their decision points,” he responded. He went on to say, “Illuminate your characters through action. What are the characters afraid of? What is the wound?” Once you make that decision, you’re characters will be more interesting. If you don’t care about the characters, you won’t care about the film.”

Shane advises his audience not to take script notes literally. If you do, you’re likely to get a response like, “That’s not what we wanted. We want you to fix this.” Remember, that you’re the writer and many people won’t recognize what they really want in a script until they actually see the specific words on the page.

Shane notes that even directors aren’t always sure what will work. “Film is like shopping. You get some celery and, what the heck, strawberries. Then you make the film in the editing room and thank goodness you got those strawberries.”

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, Shane’s directorial debut, “started out as a romantic comedy but became a thriller.” Back then, his longtime friend Robert Downey Jr. was uninsurable and Val Kilmer was rumored to be a nightmare to work with—which turned out to be decidedly not the case for Shane. “People ask me, ‘what made you have faith in Kilmer?’ “ And Shane tells them, “I didn’t! I just wanted to make the @#** movie!”

Shane also echoed one of the main themes of the seminar: loving the work more than its presumed rewards. The guys who always get the gals hanging on their arm “are not the Scorceses or the Spielbergs. It’s always the guy who did ‘Leprechaun 6.’“ That guy directed ‘Leprechaun 6’ to be a player, while the others directed their movies because they loved the work.

So for those of us who want to focus on the work, particularly the work of screenwriting, Shane offers several guidelines:

  1. “You gotta start.” Look ahead at the rock, keep moving your feet. Even knowing that all that hard work may be cut out.

 

  1. Make every day the same. Try to write the same time each day, and for the same length of time. Distraction is a constant danger.

 

  1. “I never know how the story’s going to end. Instead I have a feel for what the end should be like.”

For writers and directors alike the challenge is how to make the film live up to the trailer. Shane points out that when we you see a trailer “we form this ideal, Platonic image of the film.” Making the actual film reasonably close to that ideal is “making the specific as good as the general.”

Shane is one of the few who has consistently met that challenge. But Hollywood’s memory is sometimes short. After a hiatus from moviemaking, Shane was making the rounds at the studios and one 25-year-old told Shane “he had a great future in the business.”

But the suit was right. The sun is still rising for Shane Black.

Webb Casting Pearls, Scene II

Award-winning Actor, Producer and Casting Executive GERALD WEBB isn’t one to beat around the bush. “I don’t subscribe to the idea that you have an unlimited time to have a career in Hollywood. You don’t have an unlimited amount of resources. You guys don’t have unlimited time and I don’t want to BS you because too many industry people already do.”

GERALD WEBB

GERALD WEBB

Gerald’s made good use of his time and resources. He’s been one of the country’s most innovative DJ’s, having created the first method for DJ’s to scratch a CD like a record. By the late 90’s he “fully embraced his love of performance and began seriously acting.” In other words, he did a zillion auditions. Fast forward ten years, and Webb had garnered 100+ TV and film credits. In ’09, he cast his first movie, so impressing the studio that they hired him as their in-house casting director and later casting executive. In 2011, he became a successful producer, now the owner of two award-winning production companies.

 

Since the 2014 conference, Gerald has just finished producing Minutes to Midnight starring William Baldwin.

 

Gerald’s walked the talk about taking charge and working hard. And he once again brought a lot of hot food to the table at the Burbank International Film Festival’s day of free industry seminars. Here are some highlights of Gerald Webb casting pearls of hard-won wisdom along with some oldies-but-goodies from last year.

 

Webb’s Word on Acting Before the Audition

 

  • Know your stereotype. “The secret to success in Hollywood is this: What stereotype will they let me play?” And once you master that stereotype, then they realize you can act. Only then do you get to play other roles. So ask yourself what people see you as. Have friends and actors tell you. Then make the head shot conform to it.

 

  • The two essential shots. Actors need to have at least two shots: a great commercial shot and a great theatrical shot. Get these two right and you’ll be fine.

 

  • Attitude Adjustment. The #1 reason to win the audition: “It’s all about the work.” Oh, and “It doesn’t matter if me or my assistant likes you. It matters that you’re professional and that you do the work at the level I expect. When you’re done, say ‘thank you’ and leave.”

 

  • On juggling schedules. Gerald realizes that juggling work, personal obligations and unexpected audition opportunities can be challenge. But, “You need to figure it out. It’s not our burden. I have no problem if you try in advance to reschedule. But don’t make your problem casting’s or production’s problem. ”

 

  • (OBG) Be professional. Show up on time. Have your head shot. Bring the sides. Fix your hair. Don’t look at the floor. Listen. A lot of would-be actors neglect these basics, and they don’t have the excuse of being rank beginners. Don’t be in that crowd.

 

  • (OBG) Learn the lost art of script analysis. Strong choices aren’t just making up stuff. They are justified by the So read the script. (And don’t answer yes to the director if you haven’t. You’ll be found out.) Then analyze the whole script, not just your character’s lines.

 

  • (OBG) Know thyself. You have to be really honest with yourself and where you are as an actor and as a person. Acting is not faking. It’s embodying the truth of your character and their situation. You can’t embody the truth if you don’t acknowledge where you are in your journey.

 

  • (OBG) Don’t play it safe. If you’re an actor and you haven’t blown an audition, you’re doing something wrong. Maybe you aren’t taking the kind of chances that would bring out the full range of your talent. Take them! Be willing to lose the audition battle to win the career war.

 

Webb’s Word on Acting During the Audition

 

  • Heads up. At least for your first line of dialogue, don’t look down at the page. Look at the person you’re addressing.

 

  • Ask smart questions or don’t ask at all. If you have a question, don’t ask, “What are you looking for?” Make sure the question is specific and informs your performance.

 

  • This actually happens. Don’t pronounce names wrong.

 

  • A common mistake. For auditions on tape, don’t play to the corners of a room. If you do, you’ll be in profile to camera. Shrink your performance to accommodate the camera not the room.

 

  • Another common mistake. Make sure any gesture is a choice, not just nervous energy or indicating due to lack of good preparation. This is part of knowing yourself and your instrument.

 

 

Webb’s Word on After the Audition

 

  • Avoid this fate. If you blow it with less-than-professional conduct or deliver, it can really cost you. “Once that happens we’re not calling you in for a long while; in some cases, maybe years. So when you send in your postcard saying ‘remember me,’ you’re reminding us that when we gave you an opportunity YOU WEREN’T READY”

 

  • Whether or not you get the role, get respect. “There are a million reasons why you don’t get a call-back and the majority have nothing to do with you.” Parts get rewritten, directors and producers often change their minds or hire friends, etc. But whether or not you get the role, being a prepared professional will get you respect and future auditions.

 

  • (OBG) Not all feedback is verbal. Not getting callbacks is part of your feedback. Notice that “feedback” is not spelled “f-l-a-t-t-e-r-y.”

 

Webb’s Word on Producing

 

  • Don’t forget who brought you to the dance. “My first duty as a producer is the fiduciary responsibility I have to get my investors their money back.”

 

  • (OBG) Embrace the Low-Budget University. You can learn a lot on low-budget films if you’re willing to do the work, wearing multiple hats.

 

  • (OBG) Get the money up front from distributors. Get as much of it as you can, and then be prepared to be content with it. Because chances are, you’ll never see any of the other money.

Burbank International Film Festival Ends This Weekend

The Burbank International Film Festival’s screenings spanned themes from dark and poignant to lighthearted during the 8 p.m. show at the AMC-6 venue on Friday night.

“The Monsters”, directed by William Tyler, takes the audience inside the minds of two high school students who seek revenge on classmates for their brutal bullying. At the end, viewers realize who the real monsters are. The acting and photography are superb.

A family’s dark secrets are revealed during “In The Blind”, directed by Davis Hall. It’s a poignant comment on the value of bonding with family members.

The third installment in the hour of shorts was “The Moving Picture Co. 1914” written and directed by Burbank resident Mark Kirkland and produced by his wife, Letty. Mark Kirkland worked with friends and neighbors to build a set in his Burbank hillside backyard and shoot in film and digital media a movie about a silent film company.

Kirkland used century-old cameras to shoot some of he scenes. Burbank post-production company FotoKem helped with transferring the film to digital media.

For "Simpsons" director Mark Kirkland, producing short films based on his own ideas is a change of pace and it's a hobby he shares with his wife, Letty. (Photo by Joyce Rudolph)

For “Simpsons” director Mark Kirkland, producing short films based on his own ideas is a change of pace and it’s a hobby he shares with his wife, Letty. (Photo by Joyce Rudolph)

The film has received the Burbank festival’s President’s Innovation Award, which was created for a film or filmmaker whose vision is outside the box or nontraditional, said Jeff Rector, president of the festival.

“He actually used cameras from the era to photograph the movie, and I think that’s pretty innovative, that’s exciting and that’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s the technical process that he used to make his movie that we are honoring and that he’s a terrific filmmaker in his own right.”

Kirkland took two years to write, shoot and edit the 22-minute short, working around his full-time gig as a director on the animated TV series “The Simpsons.” He’s been on the show for 25 years, has directed more episodes than anyone else — 77 — and has won three Emmys. He is also curator for the American Society of Cinematographers’ antique-camera collection and helps other industry leaders build camera collections.

“I started reading about the history of hand-cranked cameras — who made them and how they were used,” he said.

Special appearances are made in the film by “Weird Al” Yankovic and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers.

Kirkland’s dad, Douglas, a professional photographer, made his acting debut in the film. The senior Kirkland worked for Look magazine and photographed silent film stars Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford in the 1960s.

The five-day festival, in its sixth year, continues today and Sunday at the AMC Burbank Town Center 6.

New this year is the History of Cinema Program, which was created by Festival President/Director Jeff Rector and from here on, the festival will screen one or two classic studio films to educate the young filmmakers and students to get them excited about the theater process, Rector said.

This year’s choices are “The Little Mermaid” to be shown at noon today in honor of the Disney animated feature’s 25th anniversary and “Forbidden Planet”, the sci-fi classic, will screen at 5 p.m. today.

The Animation Program begins at 1:30 p.m. today followed by faith-based films at 3 p.m. and Films By Women at 4 p.m. Sci-Fi and Horror films begin their screenings at 7 p.m. Sunday’s programs include Foreign Films and Documentaries from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Closing Night Dinner and Awards Gala ceremonies begin at 5 p.m. at The Castaway.

“This year we are honoring (actor) Lou Ferrigno with the Diversity Award for his work with the deaf and his charitable work,” Rector said. “We are honoring Carl Gottlieb with the Screenwriting Award for writing ‘Jaws'”. Next year is the 40th anniversary of “Jaws” and this year is the 35th anniversary of ‘The Jerk’, for which Gottlieb co-created the script and story.”

For tickets, go to www.burbankfilmfest.org.

Webb Casting Pearls

Award-winning Actor, Producer and Casting Director GERALD WEBB brought a lot of hot food to the table at the Burbank International Film Festival’s day of free industry seminars. He’s been one of the country’s most innovative DJ’s, having created the first method for DJ’s to scratch a CD like a record. By the late 90’s he “fully embraced his love of performance and began seriously acting.” In other words, he did a zillion auditions. Fast forward eight years, and Webb had garnered 80+ TV and film credits. In ’09, he cast his first movie, so impressing the studio that they hired him as their in-house casting director. In 2011, he became a successful producer. Webb’s walked the talk about taking charge and working hard. And his stones of difficulty now have pearly coats of hard-won insights.

 

Webb’s Word on Writing

  • 1.     Be true to the genre. If it’s a superhero film, audiences expect the superhero to get beat up but then triumph in the end. Don’t disappoint them.
    2.     Be true to your story’s setting.  Does your story take place in a city where the women outnumber the men, or where there are different races and ethnicities? Then your story should be authentic and reflect these diversities.
    3.     Read aloud the dialog you’ve written. If you’re like many writers, you have a strong story but much of your dialog may be suspect. Reading aloud the dialog will red flag the lines ringing false to the ear.
    4.     Be budget aware. Don’t write for budget on the first draft.  But budget awareness should inform your rewrites. Can several different locations be combined into one? Can several minor characters be combined? Trusted friends can help you find these and other ways to tell a story that’s economical with money as well as words.
    Webb’s Word on Auditioning
    1.     Be professional. Show up on time. Have your head shot. Bring the sides. Fix your hair. Don’t look at the floor. Listen. A lot of would-be actors neglect these basics, and they don’t have the excuse of being rank beginners. Don’t be in that crowd.
    2.     Learn the lost art of script analysis. Strong choices aren’t just making up stuff. They are justified by the text. So read the script. (And don’t answer yes to the director if you haven’t. You’ll be found out.)  Then analyze the whole script, not just your character’s lines.
    3.     Know thyself. You have to be really honest with yourself and where you are as an actor and as a person. Acting is not faking. It’s embodying the truth of your character and their situation. You can’t embody the truth if you don’t acknowledge where you are in your journey.
    4.     Know the tone of the show. Hopefully Webb won’t mind me sneaking in Casting Director Michael Testa’s admonition to figure out the overall tone of the show you may be auditioning for. If you’re supposed to be in a small town, for example, are you talking too fast, too contemporary?
    5.     Don’t play it safe. If you’re an actor and you haven’t blown an audition, you’re doing something wrong. Maybe you aren’t taking the kind of chances that would bring out the full range of your talent. Take them! Be willing to lose the audition battle to win the career war.
    6.     Not all feedback is verbal. Not getting callbacks is part of your feedback. Notice that “feedback” is not spelled “f-l-a-t-t-e-r-y.”

    Webb’s  Word on Producing
     
    1.     Embrace the Low-Budget University. You can learn a lot on low-budget films if you’re willing to do the work, wearing multiple hats.
    2.     Get the money up front from distributors. Get as much of it as you can, and then be prepared to be content with it. Because chances are, you’ll never see any of the other money.

Burbank International Film Festival Is The Movie Maker’s Friend

A writer/producer friend of mine compared LA to a gold rush mining camp. Hopefuls come here from every corner of the country in search of Hollywood gold: that million-dollar screenplay, or that starring role, or that Oscar for Best Director. In the original California gold rush back in 1849, a few—a very few—struck it rich. Many went home broke. Some stayed and went crazy. (San Francisco’s tolerance for wacky behavior originates from those days, when folks had a “there but for the grace of God go I” reaction when they encountered yet another poor soul shattered by disappointed hopes.)

But others made money selling the shovels and the picks (and the whiskey), along with all kinds of advice on how to find the mother lode. And so it is today in 2014 LA, except that the picks became pixels, shovels became head shots and the occasional whispered advice became workshops, classes and coaching sessions shouting from every iPad.

All of this adds up to a lot of money, particularly for someone doing role research by parking cars and waiting tables.

That’s why the Burbank International Film Festival deserves a big thank you for giving the local community a free one-day seminar on “the biz” at Woodbury University.  Every spring, panels of seasoned, award-winning pros cover several key facets of the entertainment business: dealing with talent agents and managers, auditioning or casting for film or television, making independent films, writing screenplays that sell, telling stories in new media. Most of them aren’t doing it for the publicity, or for the hundreds of headshots and bios they’ll be receiving from the attendees. They covered those bases long ago. I think they do it because BIFF gives them a platform to give their audience the unvarnished truth:

You really want to succeed in the entertainment business? Then you have to be really talented, really hardworking and really professional. And you’ll probably fail to be any of these things unless you love your craft enough to endure all of the pain that comes with mastering it.

One of the presenters of this year’s spring seminar, Director/Producer Chris Olen Ray, said that he “sat in a room watching a movie with 300 sailors and marines laughing and having a good time.” That’s when he witnessed the power of entertainment to provide a happy moment even in the horrific circumstance of war. And that’s when his love of moviemaking caught fire, the kind of fire that rainy days can’t put out.

The accolades of those early successes at the high school or college level may not return for a long while as you go to audition after audition, direct short film after short film, write script after script.  And if independent filmmaking is your passion, listen to Producer Sim Sarna: “Don’t expect to make a lot of money. Don’t expect anything, really.” The love of fame and fortune is understandable, but don’t confuse it with the love of doing the work.

Sim Sarna also said “if you have a great script, it will be produced.” The catch is, doing a “great” job means something a bit different in the major leagues than it does in a friendly game at the neighborhood park. That’s why writer Tim Dowling (This Means War) advised writers to “keep writing. If one script doesn’t catch fire, write another.” And writer Kristen Smith (Legally Blonde) adds, “Be friends with your agent’s assistant.” (And for more pithy advice, please check out the companion article featuring Producer and Casting Director Gerald Webb.)

There are fresh reasons for hope, however, in this age of international sales and social media. Distributor Linda Nelson pointed out “we are now seeing about double the revenue from foreign territories, although domestic sales will grow stronger in the coming years thanks to digital platforms.” In India, one can make more in U-tube rentals than selling the film rights. (She also advised her audience to ask two questions of any would-be distributor: Will I be getting paid regularly? Will I be getting regular quarterly statements? That you have to ask such questions in the first place is some indication that film distribution can be a minefield for the unwary.) On the social media side, there’s now equity crowd funding, including HEF (horror movie equity fund.)

BIFF deserves tremendous credit for putting on a free seminar that offers straight talk without the spin. For many in the audience, coaching and classes will still prove helpful, perhaps more so than ever because they have become more discerning clients.

And let me share a few words with the local studios about BIFF.  Look, I get it. The industry flocks to the film festivals at Sundance and Cannes because you want to get out of LA for a while. You need the break. You need as many reasons as possible to look in the mirror and say that putting up with all the insanity is worth it. Watching films of varying quality in Burbank probably doesn’t qualify as one of those reasons.

But, BIFF does wonderful work supporting film making by high school kids throughout LA County. Maybe that’s a good reason.

Here’s another good reason. Think of the kind of people who have done good enough work to at least make it into a serious film festival like BIFF. They are serious about the business, putting their sweat and treasure on the line. Why not help them preserve their sanity? Give them the pleasure of meeting movie movers and shakers on their home turf, and maybe even hearing an encouraging word or two. On such morsels do starving moviemakers dine while putting in their years to become overnight successes.

For questions or more information email BIFF at info@burbankfilmfest.com or visit the website www.burbankfilmfest.org

Burbank High Students Recognized For Award-Winning Short Film

At the awards ceremony of the Burbank International Film Festival (BIFF), several Burbank High School (BHS) students received the Los Angeles County Student Filmmakers Award for their short film “Being.” (6:43.) It had premiered at Burbank’s AMC 6 Theater at BIFF two weeks ago, and can now be viewed at vimeo.com/66219734.

The Production Team of 'Being' Burbank High Students with their 1st place award during the BIFF Awards Ceremonies. (Photo by Ross A. Benson).

The Production Team of ‘Being’ Burbank High Students with their 1st place award during the BIFF Awards Ceremonies. (Photo by Ross A. Benson).

“Being” is a charming story that I could picture as an engaging sequence in a larger film about teen angst, the kind of movie you might enjoy on a Sunday afternoon at Laemmle in Pasadena. Teenage Fiona (ALI PATERSON) is becoming aware of herself as a separate person, a realization forced upon her even in her dreams. Her dream friend Alex (ALEX de BLANC) has left the park, but leaving behind his guitar. She takes solitary walks through a real-world park, ponders by a pond.

“I think I like music and the color blue, and I hate the way the happy birthday song is never in tune,” Fiona muses to herself in very effective voice over.

Out of such seemingly small details about one’s preferences emerges a maturing personality ready to engage companions that can resonate with her in the real world.  “Being” is a surprisingly sophisticated film, very simply told.

'Being' Director Jessie Butera gives acceptance speech during awards presentation at BIFF Awards. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

‘Being’ Director Jessie Butera gives acceptance speech during awards presentation at BIFF Awards. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“The idea for the film kind of just happened,” said BHS senior (now) JESSIE BUTERA, who directed the film. She was at a coffee shop with a friend, one moment doing homework and the next, “writing down the monologue.” And then she wrote the lyrics to the film’s songs, “Being” and “Finding Me.” ALI PATERSON (Fiona) also wrote the music. SAHARA FISHER and Ali Paterson sang the songs. The song and score were pitch perfect for the film’s tone.

“Being” took six days to film over a two-week period with Directors of Photography were SKYLAR FISHER (no relation), LOUIS GOMEZ and ROSE ISOUNTS. MAX LAINE was the film editor. Louis was also the producer.

Local Developer Michael Cusumano and BIFF supporting sponsor enjoys the awards being presented. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Local Developer Michael Cusumano and BIFF supporting sponsor enjoys the awards being presented. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“It was really fun, the film was such a surprise for us,” remarked Jessie. “Being” was also the last film she did with her friends, Skylar and Rose, who had graduated last June.

“Being” came about through Burbank’s Regional Occupation program (ROP), which is sponsored by the California Department of Education through the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Since 1986, Burbank ROP has been part of a statewide program designed to bring education and business together. The filmmaking team for “Being” met after school Tuesdays and Thursdays under the direction of MARK MELOCARRO, a ROP Professional Film teacher.

A Snippet From Industry Powerhouse Shane Black

SHANE BLACK was one of the industry heavyweights honored by the Burbank International Film Festival (BIFF) at its gala Awards Show and Dinner last Sunday night at the Castaways. Among his recent successes is the blockbuster Iron Man 3, which he had written, directed and produced. Early in his career, Shane had made his mark as the groundbreaking screenwriter for Lethal Weapon, a film that exhibits his signature story elements of action, thriller, noir and (black) comedy.

Shane Black

Shane Black

In his remarks to the packed BIFF audience, Shane noted that the failure rate for would-be screenwriters is daunting: 93% if not more. “But,” he noted, “If you’ve got talent, you move past the herd. The bad news,” he tells his eager audiences of budding screenwriters, “is that most of you don’t have talent.” Blunt words, but sometimes you have “to be cruel to be kind” to those who would attempt success in one of the world’s most competitive venues.

After the show, myBurbank.com caught up with Shane and asked him a follow up question.

myBurbank.com: How can a person tell  as early as possible if they have what it takes to be a successful screenwriter?

SHANE: Two things. One: Sit down and do it. Write the screenplay. Not the treatment, and not the list of ideas for a screenplay.  Two: Don’t do it alone. Get support. Joint a writer’s group, trade pages. That’s what I did.

So there you have it. If you have trouble getting past FADE IN, read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressman.  Take his words to heart: “There’s a secret to real writing that real writers know and wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”

Joining a writers’ group that enforces accountability is one way to keep Resistance at bay as well as to give and receive support and encouragement. Isolation can be a dream killer. But so can the unwillingness to work and play well with others. As producer R.J. Johnson reminds us, “It’s not who you know, it who you know who likes you.”

A final quote from Pressman on behalf of those who have learned to overcome Resistance: “Contempt for failure is our cardinal virtue.”

The Brothers Warner: How The Other 1% Should Live

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Last week I saw a documentary film about four brothers that made the movies talk.  Four brothers that shortly afterward (1928) planted their studio in Burbank and made it a big part of Hollywood. Four brothers that came to this county without a dollar in their frayed pockets or so much as a day’s formal schooling. They received their education in a gritty world that offered few safety nets beyond what a cohesive family could offer.

But America was a much better world for them than the one their parents left behind in the Poland of the 19th century. Their father had brought them to a land where the anti-Semitism was less virulent, and where there was a real hope that his children would have better lives than he did. His hope was not in vain.

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(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

The Brothers Warner: Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack. Harry was the steady-handed leader who never strayed from his moral compass. Sam was the artist and dreamer who saw the potential of the “Vitaphone” technology to turn the silents into the talkies. Albert tried to be the peacemaker between Harry and flamboyant kid brother Jack, who would one day break his Harry’s heart.

And Cass Warner-Sperling is the granddaughter (Harry’s) who makes us see just how amazing her grandfather and great uncles were, flaws, personal tragedies and all. She wrote, directed and produced The Brothers Warner. She used never-before-seen photos and footage from the family archives. More importantly, she brings her own insights formed since the days when she wandered and played among the back lots of Warner.

Cass had already authored the book, “The Brothers Warner.” Whether you read the book or watch the documentary, it’s easy enough to conclude that there’s a rollicking good movie or miniseries that could also be made about these film pioneers. The Burbank International Film Festival (BIFF) could not have chosen a more appropriate work for their opening night at Warner Bros.

If our modern day elites—the so-called “1%” of Occupy fame—were more like the brothers Warner, they would be admired rather than reviled.  To be sure, the brothers Warner wanted to make money, but they also wanted to make movies. Their contributions gave far more to this country than they received from those who willingly paid for their tickets. And the brothers’ collective conscience gave the movies a voice that informed as well as entertained.

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(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

Warner Bros. exposed the brutality of the Depression Era prisons and sparked  reform. In spite of opposition from powerful interests more interested in profiting from 1930’s Nazi Germany than exposing it, their movies sounded the alarm about the atrocities occurring there. The brothers Warner never forgot that but for their dear father, they too may well have been marched off to a concentration camp.

Few people resent the man or woman who come by their wealth honestly: who give the world something good and wonderful, be it their version of better mousetrap (or mouse) or a winning game or a knockout performance. When people shake their fists at the “1%”, their rage is directed at the Wall Street Madoffs, and at the industry bigwigs that buy off politicians to injure their competitors, and at the execs who have no moral qualms about boosting quarterly profits by taking advantage of desperate, suicidal workers in Asia, and at the CEO’s that bail out with 50 million dollar parachutes as the companies they mismanaged crash and burn.  In short, the rage is against anyone who cheats their way to the top rather than earns their way to the top.

When Thomas Jefferson spoke about America fostering “a natural aristocracy of virtue and talent,” he wasn’t talking about people like those guys. He was talking about people like the brothers Warner. (OK, maybe he would’ve had reservations about Jack.) He was taking about “a band of brothers”—and sisters—that are as necessary in the world of business as in the arena of war.

It took guts to be a movie pioneer. Cass’s documentary makes us appreciate that it was far from clear that “talking movies” was a good idea. A lot of industry pundits were poised to do the autopsy on what they were sure would be a failed Warner Bros. studio. But the brothers trusted Sam, and each other, and won the battle for the public’s dollar. The brothers trusted Harry when he insisted on movies that awakened the public’s social conscience as well as entertained. Those were the “one-percenters” that you could love, or at least admire.

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(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

John Steinbeck once said that in America, “the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The poor aren’t naive. They know only too well that only a small fraction of them will soar far above their poverty. But until lately, there was reason to believe that their children, and their children’s children would have it better than they did, and many of them would become society’s future movers and shakers.

No one at the turn of the 20th century would have supposed that four unlettered kids would transform the world of entertainment. But the America of that time, for all its injustices, allowed those with talent and grit and virtue to rise. At least, often enough to make their society a far richer one. That’s the America we desperately need today.

The brothers Warner: an example of how the other 1% should live.