I spent the last two weeks in the Bay Area for a wedding, two film festivals, and a serious round of fundraising for the big feature. First stop was the Tiburon Film Festival, a growing festival on the edge of the bay in Marin County, which is where I grew up. In fact, the opening night party was held at the Corinthian Yacht Club, where I used to work in high school as a dock boy, telling boats they could not dock there in between sweeping the decks and stocking the bar with alcohol for six bucks an hour. It was nice to know that twenty years later my income has not changed a bit. The festival is huge for such a small town- 270 films over one week from all over the world- and it's quite well run. I had shown a film there the year before, but this time I had not done a very good job in promoting the movie, so the turnout was disappointingly low (it was 11 AM on a Saturday morning, after all). Nevertheless, the audience really enjoyed the film, which is always encouraging. After the screening, I dashed into a hotel, changed into my tuxedo, and raced to San Francisco for the wedding, in which I was a groomsman. I can't say the groom, an old family friend, was too pleased with my attempts to juggle both my groomsman duties and my need to show my face at the festivals, but somehow the schedule worked and I pulled off both feats without a hitch. (I'm not sure why I'm telling you this, actually...)
The other festival, The San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival, is huge, with major venues and sponsors and the turnout to match. Our screening, in a showcase of South Asian films on Sunday night, was sold out. It was our largest screening to date and I can safely say we were all a bit nervous about its reception, though our fears soon disappeared as soon as the first laughs began and did not stop until the end. I had brought my parents and sister along because I wanted them to see the film with an audience, and even they had to admit the film was far funnier than it had been at home. My mom even told me she never wants to see my films at home first but instead only in a theater. (I had warned them that I only wanted them to see the film in a theater but they had insisted on watching it at home).
By the way, if you are wondering: what the hell film is he talking about? We finally have a website up. It's fairly temporary but it does the job: www.callcentermovie.com
I have to admit, I am a sucker for audience approval, and the roars of laughter did much to lift my spirits. My team and I had been frustrated of late because our film was getting rejected by the big festivals (and it still is, for that matter!) and we could not understand why. It's easy to forget just how competitive festivals are these days (some get over two thousand short film submissions and have to pick twenty!) but we now know for certain that we made a crowd-pleasing film. If these big festivals don't want it, we can now safely say it is their loss. Fortunately, the Asian-themed festivals have been extremely supportive, along with some of the smaller festivals, but it would be nice to get a chance to screen at one of the big ones. The good thing is that word-of-mouth can spread to other festivals and I can already feel the momentum shifting in our favor. Now that we're inspired, it's time to start thinking of other ways to show the film and maybe even make a little of our money back.
In between festival screenings, I spent my time pitching the new feature to investors that my dad and a few friends had arranged for me. These were doctors, lawyers, real estate people and Silicon Valley types, all of whom were extremely friendly, surprisingly interested, and supportive. A few of them even sounded like they were going to invest (and I hope they do), while others offered to talk to people they knew on my behalf. By the end of the week I realized that the movie actually is possible and not some impossible dream. Of course, the money is not in the bank yet, but it was a good start.
I also learned quite a bit about selling in the process. Writers, who spend large amounts of time alone at a desk, don't make very good salespeople, generally, and I am no exception. Not only is it hard to talk about yourself, it's really hard to simplify your screenplay into a few lines that might appeal to people without feeling like you are cheapening the project. Not to mention the fact that most investors care much more about "the bottom line" (money) than in your "dream." So over the week I had to face the hard reality that my biggest selling point might not be how great the movie is but how I think the movie will generate a profit. Suddenly, instead of a filmmaker I felt like an MBA, throwing out numbers and talking about revenues and marketing strategies, etc. Most people probably think that filmmakers spend their time figuring out shots and rehearsing with actors, but a lot more time is spent TALKING. You have to a visionary, an artist, a salesperson, an accountant, a writer, a communicator, a negotiator, a researcher and a businessperson, although hopefully not at the same time. Because so much of what you are doing requires convincing others that you know what you are doing and they should trust you and listen to you.
It's damn exhausting, I'll tell you that much.