Judging the AU Visions Festival

Each year, The American University School of Communications’ Visions Festival celebrates outstanding student work in the categories of film, photography, broadcast and new media.

I was a judge for the short screenplay category. My fellow judges and I selected Pinheads (PDF) as the winner. Congrats to Jacob Motz and everyone who participated!

And check out the rest of the winners from my alma mater – I particularly liked America’s Wilderness, a gorgeous short film from Rocky Mountain National Park.

Let's Make a Movie: DC Shorts Mentors

screenwriters at DC Shorts MentorsDC Shorts Mentors is a great new opportunity for aspiring filmmakers to learn how to make movies. Over four weekends in March and April, you learn how to write, cast, shoot and market your cinematic vision.

I had the chance to speak at the March 3rd session, which covered screenwriting. Joined by some great panelists, including Hollywood vet Monica Lee Bellais and local screenwriter Khris Baxter, we shared tips and techniques on how to translate a story into a fully-realized screenplay.

It was very informal. After brief introductions, we took questions from a class of around 4o people in the super-hip Gibson Guitar Room. We covered topics such as screenplay formatting, breaking into Hollywood, pitching to producers, television writing, treatments, agents versus managers, local resources (such as WIFV) and working on documentaries.

Monica had a wealth of information on getting your script read by producers. To get past jaded Hollywood gatekeepers, your script must be more than a just great story – it has to be in the right format and pitched to the right people. Khris stressed that you can be a screenwriter outside of LA, and offered the example of Sunshine Cleaning writer Megan Holley, who lives in Richmond.

I’ve written six screenplays and won the Film DC Screenwriting Competition. The experience of going to LA taught me that it’s better to do it yourself than wait to be discovered. I suggested writing a short script and entering it into DC Shorts. Or getting a team together and making a film for the 48 Hour Film Project. You can make a film with an iPhone these days – why not do it?

After the panel, things got interesting. The writers had an hour to write a short scene which would then be read aloud by local actors. It was really fascinating to watch the reading – the actors were pros, who did a great job with material they had just been handed. The writers learned a lot too. It can feel embarrassing the first time to hear your words read aloud. But it’s an inevitable part of the process. If you’re a screenwriter, your work will (hopefully) make it to the big screen where people will see it.

I’ve been part of DC Shorts for years as a judge, photographer, volunteer wrangler, etc… I’ve stayed with it because Jon Gann does things in a professional yet casual way – it’s all about the artist. But what I really liked about DC Shorts Mentors was the focus on the practical. This wasn’t some screenwriting seminar selling an impossible dream for an outrageous price. This wasn’t theory. Instead, these inexpensive seminars offered hands-on instruction from people with real experience.

Bonus: see photos from the March 3rd class.

Learn How to Make and Market a Film with DC Shorts

The DC Shorts Film Festival has a great new tagline:

DC Shorts champions short filmmaking.

Marketing taglines are a lot of times so much fluff, filled with words like “leveraging” and “cross-platform” and other tired buzzwords.

But “DC Shorts champions short filmmaking” really communicates what the festival is all about – it’s a celebration of short film and filmmakers.

And now the festival is trying something new: DC Mentors. Taught by film professionals and peers, these interactive sessions are designed to build upon one another, creating skills needed to better compete in the festival circuit. Over four weekends in DC you can learn how to write a script, find actors, shoot your film and then market it to film festivals – you can sign up for the whole program or just take individual classes. And at $160 for seven classes, it’s literally .01% the cost of film school.

And I’ll be one of the writer-mentors for the March 3 class on storytelling. I’m a writer who won the Film DC Screenplay Competition and has been a judge for DC Shorts and other local festivals. I like helping writers. There’s so much “fear to start” among new writers that can be overcome with a little bit of encouragement and practical advice. I can provide that.

Sign-up for DC Mentors and learn filmmaking over four weekends in spring.

DC Shorts – Early Deadline Jan 31

filmmakers at the DC Shorts City View party
Filmmakers at the DC Shorts City View party

Enter your short film or screenplay in DC Shorts! Early deadline is Jan 31, 2013.

The DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition is the largest short film event on the East Coast. Now in its tenth year, DC Shorts will showcase 150 films from around the globe — including the largest collection of Russian short films to ever be screened in the U.S (new this year). Hundreds of filmmakers and thousands of audience members to mix, mingle and explore the art of short cinema. DC Shorts takes place over ten days in September.

I’ve been a film judge, screenplay contest judge, screenplay competition manager, post-film Q&A moderator and photo coordinator. You name the job, I’ve probably done it. And the term I would use to describe this festival is “Quality.” Attendees and filmmakers have all remarked on what a professionally produced event this. Festival director Jon Gann prides himself on treating filmmakers well – it’s really a festival for them.

If you’re a screenwriter, getting into the festival means seeing your work performed before a live audience. Plus, you could win $2000 to turn your short script into a film. (Here are my tips on how to win the screenplay competition.)

Filmmakers can count on premieres before sophisticated cinephiles, as well as making connections with fellow directors. And some great parties.

It’s no wonder that MovieMaker magazine called DC Shorts “one of 25 festivals worth the entry fee”.

I strongly encourage local screenwriters and filmmakers to enter the competition. We love to highlight talented people from the greater Washington area. American University students have done particularly well in the competition.

So save yourself some cash and take advantage of the DC Shorts early deadline of January 31. Enter your short film or screenplay and good luck!

Photographing the DC Shorts Film Festival

I was a Photo Coordinator for the DC Shorts Film Festival, responsible capturing images of the event and managing the work of twenty volunteer photographers. DC Shorts is a ten-day long festival of short film that takes places annually in Washington, DC.

You probably think that photographing a film festival is a lot like this:

Filmmakers at 2012 Grand Bash
Filmmakers at 2012 Grand Bash | photo by Joe Flood

Lots of pictures of pretty people enjoying themselves in a glamorous setting. Which it was. But behind the scenes it was:

bag of a photo coordinator
Bag of a Photo Coordinator | photo by Joe Flood

Continue reading “Photographing the DC Shorts Film Festival”

The $100 Startup – Chapter Three: Follow Your Passion… Maybe


Some books deserve a closer read. One of these is The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.

I’m a writer. I’ve written screenplays, short stories and even several novels. Writing and (more recently) photography are my passions. I’ve followed my muse, as much as I could afford to.

But make a living at my passions? I had the dream of being a Hollywood screenwriter until I actually visited LA. And I’d love a book deal but the publishing world is in disarray these days. And the dream of being a professional photographer is undermined by countless photographers (including, at times, me) willing to work for free.

Besides, I really do like working on web sites. I love the immediacy and creativity of web publishing.

The idea that there must be some way to combine my writing, photography and web skills into some sort of coherent business is why I bought The $100 Startup.

In chapter three, Guillebeau addresses the artist within all of us, the countless people who have wanted to turn their hobbies into money-making operations.

The key is to find the overlap between your passion and the what people will pay for. He puts it in this somewhat clunky formula:

(Passion + skill) -> (problem + marketplace) = opportunity.

The best example comes from Guillebeau’s own life. I first started reading his blog during his quest to visit every country in the world. Did he get paid for this? No. He gets paid through related services, like his books and guides. As Guillebeau expains:

…you don’t get paid for your hobby itself; you get paid for helping other people pursue the hobby or something indirectly related to it.

Another example is Benny Lewis. He loved learning new languages and discovered that total immersion was key to picking up a new tongue. He learned seven languages in just two years. Pushed by his friends, he developed Speak from Day One (check out the insane video).

But how do you determine what the market will pay for? A tough question, but Guillebeau offers a checklist. You need a hobby that you’re passionate about. And have other people asked you for help with this hobby? Are they willing to pay for your expertise? These questions will be explored in greater detail in chapter six.

Remember, too, the admonition from chapter two that business success comes from helping people. So, how do you use your skills in a way that helps people?

art jamzThis chapter has a lot of relevance for artists and other creative types. Not everyone wants to turn their art into a business, however. It’s one thing to take photos that you enjoy; quite another to try to sell them at a farmer’s market. Guillebeau underestimates the difficulties people may have in exposing their art to the cruelties of the marketplace.

If you decide to turn your passion into a business, choose wisely and have a thick skin.

Local Examples

I have a couple of inspiring examples of my own, people I know in Washington who have turned their passion into businesses.

  • Jon Gann created the DC Shorts Film Festival, with a desire to put on a show. Now in its ninth year, it was named as “one of 25 festivals worth an entry fee” by Moviemaker Magazine. Jon created DC Shorts because he believed that filmmakers deserved to be treated better.
  • Everyone loves stories about ex-lawyers doing something other than law, like Philippa Hughes of the Pink Line Project, a local web site covering the arts.
  • Julianne Brienza has the occasionally impossible task of running the Capital Fringe Festival every year. This Montanan has successfully brought oddball theater to serious Washington.

Full disclosure: I’ve worked with all of these people and they’re all awesome.


Artists are at war with themselves. Creating art is making something imperfect, that’s not going to match the perfect vision in your head. On Writer’s Block is an excellent little book on overcoming this hurdle as is Do The Work.

Reading this chapter, I was reminded of Do What You Love and The Money Will Follow. Sounds like flippant advice in these dour economic times but the book’s message is that what you’re passionate about, you will do better than anyone else.

A nice companion to this chapter would be The Art of Possibility. It’s a beautiful little book about envisioning your future.

Alpha Wins AU Visions Short Screenplay Contest

I was fortunate to be a judge for the short screenplay category of the American University Visions 2012 competition. As an AU grad and screenwriter, I was glad to help.

In past years, my fellow judges and I agonized over the decision-making process. This year, it was easy. We all agreed on one script.

That screenplay was Alpha by Christina Pamies. She wrote a thought-provoking science fiction script about alternate dimensions. In her story, people have found a way to travel from the “alpha” and “beta” worlds, encountering different and less perfect versions of themselves. Alternate Services is responsible for returning these “rogues” to their own dimension.

Alpha by Christine Pamies

It’s hard to write a sci-fi story that you haven’t seen a hundred times before. Alpha kept my interest, especially as I realized that our world was the “beta” reality. Pamies did a great job at making this concept seem plausible and tragic.

One of the other judges described the script as “emotionally mature” which was an apt description. While the scenario was sci-fi, characters grappled with outlandish problems of identity and reality like actual people would. In other words, it’s believable, the most important test for science fiction.

See the rest of the winners of Visions 2012.

Also of note is Pretty All the Time by Annie Coburn, which won for Outstanding Narrative Production. This is a great script too – it won the 2009 DC Shorts Screenplay Competition – and now has begun its life as a short film on the festival circuit.

Judging Screenplays for American University Visions 2012

“Media That Matters” is the theme of American University Visions 2012, which is a competition for AU students that covers everything from photography to film. I’m one of the judges for the short screenplay competition. I’m an AU grad myself, as well as a screenwriter and judge for DC Shorts, so I was glad to help. It’s interesting reading a bunch of scripts from new writers.

And past winners of the competition have gone on to do great things, like Mary Ratliff. Mary is working on a feature-length documentary on competitive video gaming, a huge subculture in this country that most people don’t know about.

Art, Food and Protest: My Year in Photos

A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.
– John A. Shedd

2011 was the year I decided that a camera in a bag was a dead camera. Our photographic tools (DSLRs, point-and-shoots, iPhones) are designed to be used. That’s where they’re built for.

I’m also fortunate/cursed to live in interesting times, as protests descend upon Washington. I know the city well and can get just about anywhere quickly by walking or biking.

So, I decided that I would use my Canon T2i and iPhone 4 to document political protests, art events, food and just interesting things I saw in the city.


One of my favorite photos of the year was from an OccupyDC protest:

hippie star Continue reading “Art, Food and Protest: My Year in Photos”

DC Shorts Screenplay Competition Open for Entries

Can you write a simple ten-page film script? Enter the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition and you could win $2000 and see your vision on the big screen.

And I’ll help – here are my tips on how to win the competition. I’ve been a judge for the competition for several years now.

You’ve got all winter to put your story on the page. The early deadline for the competition is March 31.