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Shooting With John

A Conversation About Film...With Guns by John Yost

Shooting With John: Adam Schartoff

I was very nervous about the experience. The idea was to go upstate, about 80 or 90 miles or so north up the Hudson Valley region, to some bucolic spot and shoot guns. Originally we were supposed to shoot skeet but that equipment wasn’t available so we ended up doing target practice.

A longtime gun control advocate, I was a bit at the end of my rope. It was November of 2012 and there had been close to 16 mass shootings in the U.S. up to that point including the Batman shooting and the Texas A&M shooting that summer. The Newtown shootings were only about a month to come. I doubt very much I could’ve brought myself to be involved by that time. But with my vehemence about anti gun ownership and use, I thought it was a unique opportunity to actually try and find out the appeal of shooting a weapon.

The rifle of choice was an AR-15 rifle. I remember pulling the trigger the first time and having a sort of out-of-body experience. The irony was that not only was I a good shot, but I had the best overall score that day. Even better than my host, filmmaker John Yost. (Sorry, John! Not showing off — just illustrating the humor.) To quote one of fellow shooters, Lauren Wolkstein, one of the bizarre parts of this exercise was that amidst the target practice, we were also supposed to chat with John about our experience in the film world. Choose a topic, shoot, and discuss.

I chose what I knew best: programming. I’m no big-time programmer, that’s for sure. I started a small, hyper-local film series in Brooklyn called the Filmwax Film Series. When I began, I showed films in the back room at a bar in Park Slope. It fit about 20 or 30 people. I started very small though most of the filmmakers that I asked to come, did. And it was gratifying but also for the filmmaker because I believe that they could finally do a screening without any great effort. I just asked them to show up.

I’ve since gotten a deeper perspective on the relationship between filmmakers and programmers. I’ve since taken a step back from the programming, though I still am involved a bit. I’ve started a podcast that has grown a bit in popularity called Filmwax Radio. It’s a very rewarding experience for me and it affords me the opportunity to discuss in great deal things like filmmakers’ experiences getting their films into film festivals and also getting their films distributed. For this piece, I picked up the phone and asked a handful of filmmakers what their main concerns were when submitting their films to festivals.

Shaka King, whose first feature, Newlyweeds, is about to enjoy a theatrical engagement at New York’s Film Forum beginning September 18th, was mostly concerned about submitting a film without the sound design. Though his film debuted at Sundance, he said that in order to make some deadlines he had to submit before the sound design was done and was concerned that because the mix was done so professionally, some festival programmers may think that the quiet version they were watching was how it was intended.

Director Zach Clark, who has a new comedy, White Reindeer, opening in December, originally wondered if festival programmers would want to play a Christmas movie all year long? Do holiday-themed movies work off-season? He also sometimes becomes somewhat consumed about whether what he’s making will look like other movies that are being submitted. But he in the end he admits that he is not the greatest at predicting what will or won’t end up working. When he submitted his last movie, Vacation, he was sure that a film about beautiful girls in bikinis going on a beach vacation would be an easy hit. Not necessarily the case.

Heather Courtney (Where Soldiers Come From), who is working on a new documentary, expressed concerns about the re-submission. A filmmaker might submit their documentary when it’s not yet finished in order to make a prestigious festival’s deadline, when they should probably have waited a year. The other potential pitfall in there is submitting a rougher version, getting rejected, re-submitting a much more polished version the following year of the same film. With that comes the concern that the film is tainted.

Filmmaker Patrick Wang made his feature film debut with In The Family, which clocked in at 2 hours and 49 minutes! When I asked Patrick about that, and why didn’t other filmmakers advise him against that, his defense was that it was all about the film. He didn’t budge on the running time. In The Family went on to be nominated for a 2012 Spirit Award for Best First Feature.

FIlmmaker and programmers need each other and are inextricably bound. They make good teams despite the tension that exists when dealing in a world where compromise and rejection are always looming. But it’s good to know they can go still go out to the woods and play nice with heavy artillery.

– Adam Schartoff is the founder of Filmwax, a company that helps promote and market independent film in New York. He is also the host of the popular weekly podcast, Filmwax Radio, which can be found on Rooftop Films’ website and on iTunes. The program centers on independent film as well. Among the many things he is proud of, he is most proud that he is the father of Jacob. Adam lives in Brooklyn.

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