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Elisabeth Bartlett is blogging the festival scene from Cannes to Los Angeles.
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Dances With Films Begins Today in LA! Interview with Cofounder Leslee Scallon


Sixteen years ago when Michael Trent and Leslee Scallon’s feature length crime drama thriller didn’t get into any of the industry festivals, feeling slighted by being passed up for not having any big names attached, they decided to found a film festival. Trent’s idea would bring together the forces of filmmakers who weren’t getting play on the festival circuit just because there were no big names attached. Nine months later they had 300 submissions, and had serendipitously built a community that didn’t exist yet. “It was incredible to meet other filmmakers who were doing things,” (not just talking about doing things) says Scallon. “We surrounded ourselves by a bunch of people who were doing things and that was the way Dances with Films blossomed into something that was a truly a support community that really was missing – a place where you could exhibit your films and show them and know that you were getting an even break.”

Dances with Films prides itself on being a “no politics" thing. “Defiantly independent” says their website. By going out of its way to avoid movies with names attached, the festival creates a space for “no name movies” to be screened and supported.

“We look for a film that is interesting for as many minutes as it is on the screen,” says Scallon. Their screening panel come “from a walk of different lives” because “It’s about how it hits you. Every opinion counts.” Because of the “no politics” theme I was curious to know about budget for most submissions, wondering if it’s really possible to make a good movie with just a camera, a laptop and a bunch of hard work. Scallon shook her head; they don’t ask about budgets. “We try to look at these as blindly as possible.”

“Putting together a film that’s really going to sing on screen, it has to have a little pixie dust. It has to be supported by a lot of talent all the way through, from the actors, to the post sound, which is what most indie filmmakers continually forget about: post sound,” says Scallon.  “If I had one word for the indie world, it’s usually underdeveloped," she continued. "That’s where the studio system has a lot of leeway. It’s their job to say ‘this doesn’t work.’ Scallon sees a lot of films that have distracting subplots that don’t need to be there, or often she wishes, “Gee, I wish they had taken this a little further.”

Hearing Scallon talk I had the thought that Dances with Films actually feels kind of like a school – there’s so much learning involved. “We have really been trying to foster a community of support and creativity,” says Scallon. She spends a lot of time helping filmmakers try to find their voice and their audience. Every submission gets a personalized letter back with advice. At the festival there is a Q and A after every screening, and 95% of filmmakers show up for them. They want to learn from screening it.

I asked Scallon what she thinks you need to be a successful filmmaker today. “First of all, you need to have a voice that you can envision, and have something to say with your film. You have to have your people skills. Nobody can be a one-man band. You have to find the people around you who believe in your voice to help you bring everything to fruition. You have to be smart about what your goals are about what you want to achieve, and make sure you move towards them. You should be thinking as you are writing your film, or after you’ve written the story: “Who’s gonna buy the ticket?"... Be clear on what your goals are and have the people who have skills you don’t have in place. Because there’s nothing worse than making a film and only being able to watch it in your living room.”

“Everybody has their dreams. I’m sure Spielberg has films that he would like to get up and running but he can’t get that money either.”

Mostly volunteer-run Dances with Films already has sold out houses for this year’s run. It showcases shorts, features, documentaries, narratives, and runs tonight through June 9 at the Chinese Theatres in Hollywood.

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About Elisabeth

Bartlett Elisabeth
Blogging about the festival scene from Los Angeles

Los Angeles

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