Day Two of our Nashville Film Festival experience begins with a free bacon buffet in the hotel. Reportedly, there were other breakfast foods present, even on my plate, but I couldn’t get past the words “free bacon.” Even though I suspect many of the filmmakers had been up late the night before, many are up bright and early for breakfast. We’re independent filmmakers, which means for the most part, we’re all also flat broke. Free food wins out over a hangover any day.
At breakfast, we run into Tony the Detroit filmmaker we had met the night before. We talked about each other’s films, swapped war stories and generally encouraged one another. Tony is a breath of fresh air in the indie film world: a middle-aged guy who has earned his living doing broadcast work and commercials who decided to make his first movie before it was too late.
There’s something comforting about the camaraderie of other filmmakers. Most of us indies don’t live in Hollywood, so we’re surrounded every day by people who don’t really understand why we do what we do. So when you hang out with another filmmaker, especially one who is stripped of all the affectations some of the young guys wear like cheap Halloween masks, you become fast friends.
As we’re heading back to the room to prepare for the day, I bid Tony farewell. “We’ll see you later, Joe.” Okay, so much for fast friends.
We top off our cheap hotel coffee with a stop at Starbucks near the theater. Knowing that not even the other filmmakers are paying attention to our film, we have some work to do to get “butts in seats.” We start with out baristas. The great thing about having worked on a film for six-plus years, is that you get your pitch down pretty well. Kris and I have gotten to the point that we can tailor the pitch to the audience, gauge what they’re reacting to the best and address any points of confusion or uncertainty without the other person saying a word.
We give the two baristas our best elevator pitch, and by the time we’re done, they’re planning to head over after their Sunday night meeting at the store. Awesome. That’s two. Add that to me, Kris and the members of our family we know are coming, and we just might have a dozen people there … in a theater that seats 320. Sigh…
We leave a few cards about the film on the counter, and before we even finish our lattes, they’re gone. If nothing else, we’ll have the over-paying, hyper-caffeinated crowd. They’re jittery, but they tip well.
From there, we head over to the VIP tent to “work the room.” And by work the room, I of course mean “take advantage of more free food.”
We talk to a few folks, but the crowd is pretty light. Apparently more hangovers won out than we thought. This gives us time to observe more of our fellow filmmakers and their parade of affectations. We see the requisite chunky glasses and tiny fedoras, but we start to notice a few others. The guys’ jeans tend to come in two varieties: ridiculously skinny or cuffed above the ankle. The real vanguard do both, possibly at the risk of losing a foot due to poor circulation. Me, I’m sporting a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and cargo shorts. I half- consider asking a few folks, “Is this the line for It’s a Small World?”
We hang around the tent waiting for our first-ever meeting with a distributor. The time to meet comes and goes. No guy. We wait an extra fifteen minutes. Still no guy. Apparently our reputation preceded us.
We retreat outside the tent to lick our wounds. Sitting there, in the shadow of an all-new Nissan Altima (official vehicle of the Nashville Film Festival), shuffling our feet on the red carpet, we look like a couple of forlorn beggars, hoping desperately not for money, but for attention. Taking pity on us, a fellow filmmaker strikes up a conversation.
An affable fellow named Sheldon, he’s the director of an indie musical with some seriously big names behind it. It turns out this is his 60th festival or so. He hasn’t attended all of them, but he’s attended enough to be weary of the process.
“These things are great, if you’re an alcoholic,” he muses, “because all anybody does here is drink.” Then he adds with a smirk, “but I’m not an alcoholic. It can get old after a while.” Whereas so many younger filmmakers look at the festivals as an excuse to party, Sheldon is old enough to know this is still show business, and being here is work.
It turns out he also teaches at USC film school, and he gives us the same advice he gives his students: just work it. Work the room, meet people and keep pushing forward to get people into your film. If the film is good, the rest will take care of itself.
Before he leaves, I promise Sheldon we’ll come see his film. Then Kris reminds me we already have tickets for another film at the same time. I’m just making friends left and right. At least I got his name right.
We head over to catch a screening of a film entitled Battle for Brooklyn, about an activist who tries to stop political forces from using the power of eminent domain to usurp his neighborhood on behalf of fat-cat real estate developers. The film itself was okay, but I was really struck by the physical toll seven years of stress took on the hero and his wife. It reminds me a little of how I feel when I look in the mirror after a string of 18-hour days working on Duke & The King. In the end, the activist from Brooklyn lost. Here’s hoping the physical sacrifices Kris and I (and our families) have made will bring about a more Hollywood ending.
After the film, we finally get the meeting with the distributor. The company’s rep, Brad, is probably younger than Kris’ step-son, but a very nice guy. We shuck and jive for him, giving him our well-honed elevator pitch. If nothing else, we believe in the project. Hopefully that enthusiasm shows through all the typical show biz shenanigans. Maybe the fact that we’re a couple of middle-aged guys with no pretentious affectations works in our favor.
Or maybe he’s smiling at us out of pity. If he were Southern (rather than Canadian) he’d probably be thinking, “Bless their hearts. They’re so old and tragically unhip.” I’d like to think our tragic unhipness can be played off as an ironic reaction to hipness. Probably not… The truth is, we just don’t give a damn. We’d rather use our energy to create films instead of personas.
Nevertheless, for the rest of the day, we channel our inner used car salesmen, doing everything we can to draw people to the film. The bad sales pitches and pseudo pick-up lines fly fast and furious.
“Whatcha doing Sunday night?”
“Looking for a good film to see?”
“You like music?”
“What’s it gonna take to get you into this film?”
“Our movie will make you smarter, healthier and better-smelling than your peers.”
Okay, we didn’t actually use that last one. I’m saving it for today.
By the end of the day, we’ve personally invited a few dozen people to the film, handed out tons of postcards and scored a radio interview on a Sunday morning jazz show. Every little bit…
The one encouraging thing is that two of the films that are in our competition only scored 50-60 people in the screenings. Suddenly our pre-sales aren’t looking so bad.
So today, we go at it again. Time to put on the plaid polyester pants and the too-wide tie and go move some metal. Hey, that’s a good idea! Maybe if we actually dress like bad 70s used-car salesmen, we’ll come off as ironically hip, rather than unironically unhip. But as I type that, I remember: I don’t give a damn.