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Dailies - Filmstigator

Michael Curtis

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September 1, 2015

ReelWriters Announce Winners

September 1, 2015 | By | No Comments

Recently I’ve been preparing to cast and direct a table read of “Gravel Heart” for the upcoming DC Shorts competition (September 18th). I’m also working on a feature-length screenplay in every spare moment I can find. So it was nice this morning to get a surprise break by finding this in my in-box:

ReelWriters-laurels

Congratulations to the other winning screenwriters and thanks to the dedicated readers and organizers at ReelWriters for the opportunity to be a part of this year’s competition. The prize money we receive will go towards eventual production of “Gravel Heart.”

Fingers crossed for the fast-approaching DC Shorts Festival where “Gravel Heart” is one of six Finalists competing for fame and glory (and more importantly, prize money that could go toward production!)

Michael Curtis

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August 8, 2015

Competition Update

August 8, 2015 | By | No Comments

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Reel Writers

We are pleased to announce that “Gravel Heart,” Filmstigator’s upcoming project, is a Semi-Finalist in the 2015 Reel Writers Screenwriting Competition.  Finalists and winners will be announced later this month.

We congratulate the other Semi-Finalists and are proud to have our script listed in the top 30 short screenplays in competition!  The judges at Reel Writers provided some really gracious and helpful feedback on “Gravel Heart,” and we’re excited to receive their coveted “RECOMMEND” status.

2013 Labs

Writing Fellowship Opportunity

Additionally, writer/director Michael Curtis has been named to the list of 12 Finalists for a 2015 PAGE International Screenwriting / Stowe Story Labs Fellowship for “Inheritance,” his first feature film project. The Fellowship provides an awesome opportunity for two lucky writers to work with industry professionals in developing and packaging their projects for A-list talent, producers, and financiers.

The Stowe Story Labs is a Vermont-based non-profit helping emerging screenwriters, filmmakers and creative producers get work made and seen.  Their Fellowship is open to screenwriters who have made it to at least the Quarter-Finals stage at the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards that year.

Michael Curtis

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July 1, 2015

“Gravel Heart” Selected as Finalist at DC Shorts

July 1, 2015 | By | No Comments

GravelHeart-Poster-laurels

We are happy to announce that Gravel Heart, a short screenplay by writer/director Michael Curtis, has just been selected as a Finalist in the 2015 DC Shorts Screenplay Competition. A staged reading of the script will be held in front of a live audience during the festival on September 19th along with readings of the other Finalist scripts. The winning screenplay will be announced at the awards ceremony later that evening.

DC Shorts is the largest short film festival on the east coast, and we are excited to be taking part this year. Michael Curtis will be attending the festival to cast DC-area actors for the reading and to answer questions about the story and the writing process.

The winning screenplay will receive $2000 from the festival with a guaranteed screening slot at the next DC Shorts Festival if the resulting film can be completed in time. The screenplay for Gravel Heart has won at two other festivals to date and was also named a Semi-Finalist at the recent ScreenCraft Screenplay Competition out of more than 1600 submitted screenplays.

 

Michael Curtis

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June 1, 2015

“Gravel Heart” Wins 2015 Best Short Screenplay at SIFF

June 1, 2015 | By | No Comments

SIFF laurels

Fantastic news this week from Maine!

We’re proud to announce that Gravel Heart has been named Winner of the inaugural Script to Screen Competition at the Sanford International Film Festival. The victory comes close on the heels of recent accolades for Gravel Heart at the WILDsound Writer’s Festival and ScreenCraft Short Screenplay Competition.

It’s what you hope for from the earliest stages of the writing process – that somewhere down the line what you’re writing will move people in some way.

There’s a sense of momentum now with the script that may prove helpful in launching a successful crowdfunding campaign sometime next year. But we can only consider going into production on the film once the screenplay finishes its entire festival run.

Many competitions disqualify screenplays from competition the moment they are optioned, sold, or moved into production in any way. So we’re waiting for several key festival competitions to be adjudicated before deciding which path to pursue with Gravel Heart. 

The hope is that any prize money the script might garner from competition could ultimately be used to finance the project down the line.

It’s been humbling and gratifying in equal measure that the story is resonating with people. It’s what you hope for from the earliest stages of the writing process – that somewhere down the line what you’re writing will move people in some way.

That seems to be the case with Gravel Heart.

This screenplay makes me happy that we rolled the dice on a screenplay competition.
– James Harmon, SIFF Director

Sanford International Film Festival director, James Harmon, summed it up generously: ‘Gravel Heart was clearly our best submission. We had judges crying at the table… This screenplay makes me happy that we rolled the dice on a screenplay competition. We’ll never forget Gravel Heart, and I hope we can play some part in its journey from award-winning screenplay to award-winning film.’

The festival in Sanford has offered to host a Maine premiere of Gravel Heart if the film comes to fruition late next year or in early 2017.  That would bring the project full circle with the festival and would be a really neat story for us.

We’ve been focused on film collaboration in the southeast, but to potentially work with a festival in Maine and bring filmmakers from the southeast and northeast together on this short film would be a lot of fun.

We’ll never forget Gravel Heart, and I hope we can play some part in its journey from award-winning screenplay to award-winning film.
– James Harmon, SIFF Director

At this point we’re not ruling anything out! Stay tuned over the next few months for more developments.

Michael Curtis

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May 16, 2015

‘Gravel Heart’ Makes Semi-Finalist Round

May 16, 2015 | By | 2 Comments

festival_cover_photo_cropped_9bf945Onward to the Finals!

We are proud to announce that our new project, Gravel Heart, has been selected as a semi-finalist in ScreenCraft’s inaugural Short Screenplay Competition. The script, written by writer/director Michael Curtis, has won Best Short Screenplay at two other screenwriting festivals this year.

Congratulations to all of the semi-finalists in ScreenCraft’s competition. A full list of the semi-finalists – the top 7% of more than 2400 screenplays entered – can be found on the ScreenCraft web site.

We are excited to bring this award-winning story to the screen. We hope to go into production early next year if we are able to crowdfund the film successfully. Stay tuned for further updates including casting and crew calls later this year.

Michael Curtis

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April 12, 2015

“Gravel Heart” Develops with Help of Table Reads

April 12, 2015 | By | 2 Comments

TableRead Photo

Atlanta-based actors Wayne Hughes, Barry Stewart, Sheri Mann-Stewart, Holly Morris, and Tendal Mann reading “Gravel Heart” with writer/director Michael Curtis. Photo by Melissa Bowers.

A Trio of Table Reads

Three recent table reads of the Gravel Heart script have been instrumental in helping to develop and hone the screenplay for eventual production. The screenplay won 2015 Best Short Screenplay at the WILDsound Writer’s Festival last month, and actors in Toronto read the script there on March 29th.  Another informal read was held with faculty and students at Georgia College and Statue University in Milledgeville, GA. And a final table read was held in Atlanta (pictured above) this past week.

We’d like to thank all of the actors who donated their time and talents to help us improve the script:

Toronto Cast:

Stage Directions – Angelica Alejandro
Tommy – Nathan Kohn
Brick – Jason Martorino
Cosgrove – Jason J. Thomas
Celia – Stephanie Seaton

Milledgeville Cast:

Stage Directions – Lyssa Hoganson
Tommy – Landon Bell
Brick – Jimmy Holder
Cosgrove – Scott Dillard
Celia – Julia Roessing

Atlanta Cast:

Stage Directions – Sheri-Mann Stewart
Tommy – Tendal Mann
Brick – Barry Stewart
Cosgrove – Wayne Hughes
Celia – Holly Morris

How These Help

We think table reads are an important way to get the writer and the rest of the team off the page and out of their heads for a change. When you hear the story read aloud, it can highlight areas of the screenplay that aren’t quite working – while also showing you areas that are.  Both insights are valuable. This is an especially helpful tool for gauging how well the dialogue is playing.

In the case of the Milledgeville and Atlanta reads, the screenplay got tighter and better after each read. Elements that seemed superfluous or redundant were eliminated. And that makes the rest of  the process more efficient every step of the way.

Can’t this all be done on set or during editing? Of course. We believe it’s never too late to change and improve a story.  But we also think it’s best to get your script as perfect as possible prior to shooting and editing. On ‘GIFT,’ our first production, we didn’t hold table reads to workshop the script prior to shooting, and we feel that was a mistake. It meant that in one case we all worked very hard shooting a scene – in the middle of the night – that was ultimately cut from the film completely. Workshopping the script could have helped highlight the problem before we spent all that time and effort just to throw the scene away during post-production.

So from now on we plan to build in “script testing” phases like table reads for all Filmstigator projects moving forward. We think our audiences will get better films, and our crews, actors, and editors won’t need to work quite so hard on scenes that will never see the light of day.

Gravel Heart is a better screenplay now than it was prior to its festival win. At Filmstigator we think it’s important to keep evaluating the work with fresh eyes… to understand it’s always best to get the screenplay right before picking up a camera. And we’ll be open to improving the story further in production and editing if we find new ways to strengthen the story. It’s an ongoing process.

We recommend you find some actors and put your screenplay through the paces. A lot of screenwriting groups can help organize these opportunities if you’re a member. If you live somewhere where this isn’t feasible, at least read your dialogue aloud to yourself to help you hear areas that need additional work.

Recording yourself or your actors reading the script aloud can be even more beneficial, because you can stop looking at the screenplay for a few minutes and just listen to the story like your audience will. We guarantee you’ll notice things about the writing this way that you wouldn’t notice just reading over it a thousand times.

 

Michael Curtis

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March 15, 2015

‘GIFT’ Screens at NewFilmmakers LA

March 15, 2015 | By | No Comments

 

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We are pleased to announce that ‘GIFT’ has been invited to screen as part of the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles Festival on April 27th & AT&T Center in downtown Los Angeles.  Our film will screen in the first short program beginning at 6:15 pm.  However, a reception and red carpet open to the public begins around 5:30.

NewFilmmakers LA Logo_white

Location:

AT&T Center
1139 S. Hill Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Parking Available At:
1133 S. Olive Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015

TICKETS:
Admittance to the NFMLA event is only $5 pre-sale or $7 at the door per program. We also provide all-night access passes which include admission to all programs and open bar throughout the evening for only $15.

The screenings are open to the public and there is no need to RSVP. They recommend that tickets are pre-purchased at www.nfmla.org/tickets/ as the event normally sells out.

FULL EVENING LINEUP:

5:30pm – Press / Red Carpet check-in

5:45pm – Pre-reception

6:15pm – Short Film Program #1
• Esperáme – dir. Jeffrey DeChausse
• The Girlfriend Game – dir. Armen Antranikian
• The Passenger – dir. Eduardo Cantarino
• Gift – dir. Michael Curtis

7:30pm – Audience Q&A with the Short Film Program #1 Filmmakers. Following the Q&A will be a bar reception during the Short Film Program #2.

8:00pm – Short Film Program #2 – Celebrating Brit Week
• I’m in the Corner with the Bluebells – dir. Ako Mitchell
• Across Time I Cry – dir. Robertino Fonseca; prod. Julia Clancy
• Madeleine Makes a Man – dir. Michelle Boley
• Anemone – dir. Maureen Zalloum

9:10pm – Audience Q&A with the Short Film Program #2 Filmmakers. Following the Q&A will be a bar reception during the Feature Film Program.

9:45pm – Short Film Program #3 – Celebrating Brit Week
• Roadside – dir. Tim Wildgoose
• Stalemate – dir. Ben Kay-Coles
• Perfect State – dir. Tim Mackenzie-Smith
• The Trouble Downstairs – dir. Casey Nimmer
• Anita’s Birthday Wish – dir. Talisa Oberoi

10:55pm – Audience Q&A with the Short Film Program #3 Filmmaker. Following the Q&A will be a bar reception.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Curtis

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March 11, 2015

Best Short Screenplay Award

March 11, 2015 | By | One Comment

091A4377-w-laurels

Auspicious Beginnings

I have good news to share today!  Matthew from Toronto’s WILDsound Writer’s Festival informed me that the Gravel Heart script has been awarded 2015 Best Short Screenplay and will receive a staged reading with professional actors in front of a live audience later this month.  Thanks, Matt!

It’s always nice to “win” something, of course, but I don’t value awards in and of themselves. Sometimes they can be a barometer of sorts that at least something about a project is resonating with people. So it’s great to hear that the next slated project is connecting in some small way with audiences – at least so far. And hopefully our team can continue to build on that throughout production and editing.

Still Tweaking

The screenplay for Gravel Heart continues to evolve as our project team forms and the script gets honed and prepped for production.  We will augment the reading in Toronto with a staged workshop reading of our own here in Georgia – also scheduled for this month. I feel our last film, Gift, could have been stronger if I’d workshopped the screenplay with actors before filming. So that’s what we plan to do with all new screenplays going forward whenever possible.  I was tweaking the script and removing superfluous dialogue as recently as this morning.

But I’m happy the screenplay is getting out there and that festivals are responding to it.

I am still keenly interested in finding some producers in the Atlanta area or the southeast to help bring this film to fruition.  I’d like to launch a crowdfunding campaign this summer, and there’ll be lots of work to do around that.  If you’d like to be a member of the funding team, please get in touch and be a part of grassroots indie filmmaking in the southeast.

 

 

 

Michael Curtis

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March 7, 2015

Filmstigator Selects New Film Project

March 7, 2015 | By | No Comments

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 11.04.13 AM

GIFT, the inaugural Filmstigator project, has been successful – screening at almost a dozen film festivals in the US & Europe as of this writing.  The film has been invited to screen next month in Los Angeles as part of NewFilmmakers LA.

While we’re pleased with how our first film has done thus far, we want to keep moving forward with new films that challenge our collective.  That’s why we’re excited to announce the next Filmstigator project:  a short called Gravel Heart.

We encourage anyone interested in working in independent film to contact us and get involved. Some of the GIFT  team will undoubtedly return to work on Gravel Heart, but we also expect many new faces on this production.

We are looking for producers, production assistants, members of the sound and camera teams, lighting crew, fight choreographers, animal trainers (canines), crowdfunding gurus, location scouts, props masters, caterers, and a number of other positions.  So if you want to get involved in independent filmmaking in Georgia, this is your chance.

We will be workshopping the Gravel Heart script with actors in Milledgeville this month to make final screenplay tweaks before moving directly into pre-production.

Principal photography is loosely slated to begin in October 2015.  A crowdfunding campaign is planned for this summer.  There are many ways to engage and take ownership of various parts of this film, so we encourage you to step up and take on this new project with us.

A few things about the Gravel Heart story…

Logline:   A 14-year-old puts his life in jeopardy when he confronts a neighbor for killing his dog.

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Based on actual events, Gravel Heart is a gritty coming of age story exploring loss and the limits of retribution.  We plan to film in rural and semi-rural locations as close to Atlanta as possible.

Tentative plan is to shoot the film in 4K on a Canon C500.

The film requires a 4-person cast and extras.  Actors interested in auditioning should contact us immediately.  We will also put out a general casting call online.

Are you interested in being a part of this project?  Contact us today for more information.  And please sign up here on the site so you’ll get email blasts when we crew up in late summer for filming.  So much needs to be done prior to that, however. So don’t hesitate to contact us if you have a passion for indie filmmaking.

 

Michael Curtis

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September 17, 2014

‘GIFT’ Festival Journey – Part I

September 17, 2014 | By | No Comments

The festival run is in full swing for ‘GIFT,’ and things have been hopping. It’s been exciting and challenging in varying degrees. I thought I’d do a quick survey of what I’ve learned about the festival process on my first film. If you’re considering the festival route for your own project, maybe these notes will be helpful.  Prior to this film I had never had a film in a festival – at least as a director and producer.  I’d edited a number of films, but once post-production was completed for those projects, my work was done.  That won’t be the case at all if you’re the director or producer on an indie film.

With ‘GIFT,’ I underestimated how much time and energy it would take to manage all the submissions, emails, phone calls, and the wide array of deliverables, both print and film, required for various venues. You’ll need a considerable amount of time to juggle everything and meet deadlines.

One challenge is that no two festivals are alike.  They’ll all have at least a few things you’ll need to customize each time. Know that going in.

Building your film’s submission package on a site like Withoutabox or FilmFreeway goes a long way toward streamlining the festival entry process.  Of these two, I prefer using FilmFreeway, but there are other similar sites like FilmFestivalLife that you might want to evaluate as well. It can take a while to set up your project fully, so it’s easier to choose one or two and commit to those platforms. FilmFreeway and FilmFestivalLife do not currently provide access to the depth and breadth of festivals that Withoutabox does.  I hope that changes soon. I’ve used all 3 to send our trailer, electronic press kit, and online screener to different festivals we entered. You’ll find a modicum of basic information about specific festivals on each site, but you’ll still need to do your own research to find out if your film will be a good match for what they like to program.

Surprisingly, not all festivals accept online screeners for festival submissions. So be ready to send DVDs in order to be considered for those competitions.

I have mixed feelings on this issue.  Clearly it is much easier and cheaper for the filmmaker if a festival accepts links to password-protected online screeners on a site like Vimeo.  No shipping costs required, no time spent at the post office.

But then I start to wonder…  How often does a festival programmer (or intern) simply watch your screener on a laptop with nothing more than the built-in speakers for sound?  How often do they pause playback to check email or respond to some other distraction on the computer?  How often does a bandwidth issue crop up that halts your film in medias res?  Not exactly the immersive theatrical experience you’d choose for the people evaluating your work on the first viewing, right?

At least by sending a DVD there’s a chance your viewer will watch the film on a flat screen with a decent audio setup. If I had more time available, I’d probably choose to send DVDs to all of the festivals. But it’s hard to beat the convenience of an online screener. Of course, there are also festivals that only accept online screeners. So you will likely need both for your film.

Festival Materials for 'GIFT'

Festival Materials for ‘GIFT’

As the de facto publicist for ‘GIFT,’ I have had to opt for efficiency whenever possible. I’ve submitted an online screener to any festivals saying they will accept Vimeo links. But I have not used Withoutabox, generally, where online screeners are concerned. To set up an online screener for use on Withoutabox, you have to upload your film to their site. They then compress the file to stream from their servers.  The problem is that the compression they use is quite poor. The resulting image is considerably smaller than HD and just doesn’t look very good. In spite of the heavy compression and image loss, playback is not stellar, and rumors of unreliable playback abound.  So I’d advise you only send links to screeners if they reside on Vimeo or a comparable service.

Even on Withoutabox you can often include the link and password to your Vimeo-based screener in a cover letter that accompanies your film. Festival programmers don’t want to watch a low-quality screener either, so they will often include instructions for sending them Vimeo links even if you submit through Withoutabox.

Be sure to create a simple spreadsheet listing each festival you enter, the applicable notification deadline, the screening format sent, and the date the festival occurs.  You may also want to track what you’ve sent to each festival so you can easily see who’s received movie posters and post cards, and who hasn’t – but this can be added as your film is accepted into various venues.

All in all, the submission side of the festival process is a breeze (if you stay organized) compared to what comes next. If your film is accepted into a few festivals, that’s when you’ll have a slate of new tasks to complete.  ‘GIFT‘ has been fortunate in being selected to a number of festivals, and I’ve stayed fairly busy answering emails from festival organizers, developing and shipping our print materials, and doing a host of other tasks to keep the process running. A lot of this is deadline-driven, as festivals typically print programs or catalogues to share with attendees, and you’ll need to send in the information they need in order to have your film included.

Promo Card with selected laurels

Promo Card with selected laurels

It won’t matter to them that much, or even all, of the information they’re requesting has already been provided to the festival by way of your electronic press kit. Festival organizers don’t have time to parse through hundreds of EPKs for what they want. You’ll have to send in paperwork specific to their needs for each and every festival. Easily managed, again, if you stay organized.

Probably the biggest difference from festival to festival concerns the desired exhibition format. Many festivals will accept your movie as a Digital Cinema Package (DCP).  In my case, ‘GIFT’ fits onto a Linux-formatted thumb drive.  It’s pretty easy and cheap to send these out when needed. ‘GIFT’ was shot in 4K natively, so I had a DCP created for the film to allow audiences to see it in the native resolution.  That’s fine except for the fact that many festivals still do not accept DCP files for screening.  And that’s where more fun comes in.

Out of eight festivals ‘GIFT’ has been selected for so far, I’ve been required to deliver 4 different flavors of the movie for screening.  I use the DCP whenever allowed, but I’ve also had to deliver 1080p versions in ProRes, H.264, and even AppleTV3-compatible versions.  It will be interesting to see how many more versions will be needed by the time our planned festival run ends sometime next spring. None of this is difficult, but it does take time. And that’s where the gotcha will be for a lot of indie filmmakers, particularly those working on their films and publicity materials on weekends and evenings after regular work as I am. Next time around I’ll have a better idea of what to expect and I’ll be better prepared.

And speaking of next time… I am not certain I will go down the festival road at all on my next project.  I’ll make the final decision when my next film is completed, of course, and I may change my mind at some point. Why am I thinking of skipping it?

Festival runs are undoubtedly expensive – not just in terms of how much money you actually have to spend on entry fees, deliverables, print materials, and shipping. There will also be hundreds or even thousands of dollars in travel-related costs if you decide to support your film by attending festivals in person. Attending in person is the whole point, though, to network with other filmmakers, distributors, and to see how your film plays in front of a real audience.

Don’t neglect to consider the time and energy costs managing a festival run will take on top of the more obvious financial costs – especially if you will be a one-person-publicity-machine as I have been describing.  Filmmakers working in a team environment with a shorter list of targeted responsibilities may find this process easier to manage.

I’m happy that I chose the festival route for ‘GIFT,’ and I’ve learned a lot by doing so. Our first festival screening is coming up in a few weeks, and I can’t wait to see how the film plays in front of a general audience. That will be a pretty remarkable experience, I expect. We make films for other people, after all, not just our moms, friends, and cast and crew members. A nice thing about festivals is that random human beings can sit in a room with you and watch your story unfold. That can be a highly educational event. You’ll immediately see where your film is working, and perhaps more importantly, where it isn’t.

GIFT Movie Poster

GIFT Movie Poster

But even with all of that, I will still likely eschew festival submission for my next project for a few simple reasons.

Maybe all that time spent supporting your festival run could be better put to use writing your next script, for instance… Getting on with your next film instead of spending hundreds of additional hours on the one you’ve already finished.

Additionally, screening opportunities are increasingly limited at traditional festival venues. Every festival I’ve interacted with this year has been overwhelmed by a record number of entries in 2014. Record numbers. There are so many short films being made and submitted that many just can’t find an audience, and competition to get into festivals is intense.

In my case, I may likely defer future festival attempts until I have my first feature film to share.

So that’s what I’ve learned up to this point concerning festivals. I hope this overview will help some other folks plan for the festival circuit a little better than I did.  In the next few months I’ll have more perspective on what it’s like to have a film in front of audiences, to conduct Q&As, and sit on festival panels.  I think it will probably be a lot of fun.  I am certainly going to do my best to enjoy the ride.  Because who knows how long it will be until I make this kind of road trip again?

What about you all? What festival experiences have you had that you can share? Drop us a comment below.

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