The 2016 Sun Valley Film Festival wrapped up today. I had to leave earlier last night to be ready for work back in Boise, but was able to be present for the bulk of the 3/2-6 event. Here are some of my takeaways:
Story Beats Production Value
A few weeks or so ago I posted a Facebook critique of the SVFF line-up’s smaller presence of Idaho films – and I retracted that post last night (deleted it altogether, actually) after realizing that statement came from the last remnants of personal disappointment that a feature film I submitted two years ago wasn’t accepted.
Fact is, the production values of my 2014 film were decent, but the story was scattered, incomplete, incoherent. Meanwhile, every single film that I caught this year, every single speaker, hammered home repeatedly the value of the script. A paraphrased statement I heard more than once from folks who should know: “Production value does not trump story.” There were incredible stories here this year, heart and grit and hope and power. (Also – amazing production values!)
I can’t speak for all Boise area filmmakers, but I know I have room to grow as a storyteller. The tech and the toys are awesome – but for far too long I’ve been a Director of Photography pretending to be a Writer/Director. Time to choose, and I’ve chosen writing/directing, which means I need to think less of cameras and tech and more of reading and studying.
Make Stuff Now
On the flip side, Mark Duplass, in a talk before the screenwriting lab, suggested to the audience that a writer not willing to create films of their own work are shoehorning themselves into a very small likelihood of ever being seen. He said to start now – after writing that HUGE big dream script, put it aside and make a $5 short film on your phone, then try a $1,000 feature, etc. Don’t wait. Build up a group that you can trust and go do things.
I’ve written all that off (out of hurt and cynicism), saying I’m not doing another feature without a decent budget. Maybe… maybe I need to reevaluate that statement.
Don’t Get Divorced
Strange thing to take away from a film festival – and Rachel and I are in a good place – but David Seidler, Oscar-winning writer of The King’s Speech, during a talk started giving all kinds of advice to young filmmakers, and I loved this nugget: “If you get married, stay married. If you’re in love, work to stay in love. Because otherwise they’ll take half of all your work anyway!”
It’s humorous, but there’s a mountain of truth there, and I was so blessed to be able to attend this weekend with Rachel. She was my emotional support, the person who kicked me in the rear to go talk to people I was afraid to, and quite frankly I couldn’t have navigated these crazy few days without her.
I know in the coming years, I’m going to need every drop of wisdom and perceptive insight into the people around us, more than ever. And it isn’t about her being “at my side”, helping me do “my thing”. I believe in this new adventure, Rachel will be discovering new things of her own, and conversely, I will be necessary to her as a crucial support.
This Is a Hard Industry; But Don’t Quit
A repeated theme from every veteran that I heard was that you have to choose this for the long haul. The calvary isn’t coming to help you most likely – you aren’t guaranteed anything, nor entitled – AND, there are more audiences than ever before craving GOOD stories. It was encouraging to hear a call, a plea even, not to give up.
I enjoyed this festival. I shook some hands, gave out some contact cards, and maybe somebody somewhere will have something for me to do – but I don’t think that’s what this weekend was about.
I already have something to do. And I start this week…