In its eleventh year of existence, the deadCenter Film Festival has a new Executive Director in Lance McDaniel. As the 2011 festival wound to a close, McDaniel took the time to talk and explain what it is like to run a film festival of this size as well as some of the movies in this year’s festival he is most proud of.
Talk about running the deadCenter Film Festival in this, your first year as Executive Director.
Lance McDaniel: It’s been very exciting. I’ve been in programming for two years and have thrown parties for them so I’ve been a volunteer for five years. It’s not a total surprise because I’ve been a part of the mechanism and I can appreciate how hard everyone worked to get it to where we are. A lot of the logistics are the same every year and the fact it is a well-oiled machine makes it great. Kim Haywood, the festival director is awesome. She is the heart and soul of the festival. She is the force behind it that keeps everything going.
She’s been with the deadCenter Film Festival for a while.
Lance McDaniel: Eight years.
I was at the Kings of Leon screening on Wednesday night and there were around 5,000 people for the outdoor screening in the streets of OKC.
Lance McDaniel: That made me very relaxed about the rest of the week. It didn’t start out to be the big thing it is on Wednesday but because last year was so big, we thought “‘¹…”how are we going to top 2500 people?’ I think it was great to get ”Talihina Sky,“ and it is great and intense and about Oklahomans who happen to be wildly successful. It’s perfect for us. Last year we had the Flaming Lips, which was more of a concert deal, but we had the Mat Hoffman movie (“The Birth of Big Air”) and the Wayman Tisdale movie (“The Wayman Tisdale Story”). When we show movies about Oklahoma, we get a great crowd. We were still shocked that 5,000 came out.
You had 2,500 people last year and Spike Jonze was here.
Lance McDaniel: Exactly. This year the director is not really a celebrity but he is awesome, a great director. That made us a little bit nervous but the Kings of Leon are great. The inside party had 350 people, which is huge for us. Wednesday night was so successful that it helped me relax for the rest of the weekend. There are still some things. People wonder why there is so much construction and it’s hard to park. That is what happens in a thriving city. We are so excited to be a part of it. It means we are renovating the city and will be better next time.
The next night, I went to see “ Page One” and it was sold out, no seats left. That movie already has a distributor, so deadCenter should not have been able to get it but, thanks to Brian Hearn, the film curator of the Oklahoma City Art Museum, we were able to get it in here. How important is it to have people like that working behind the scenes.
Lance McDaniel: I think it is absolutely critical. I went to Sundance and South by Southwest. They had a panel at South by Southwest with the programmer from Sundance, Toronto and two European festivals. She said, at Toronto, two percent of their films come through submission. So, 98-percent of their films are invited whereas, for us, I’d say we have five invited films out of 100, giving us 95-percent of organically submitted films. Even some of the bigger ones like “Elevate” was submitted. “Bag of Hammers” was submitted. We are getting submissions from films that are playing at other much more well known festivals and that is awesome.
There are also smaller films, like the very impressive “Virgin Alexander,” and this gives them a chance to get their picture out there for people to notice.
Lance McDaniel: Distributors aren’t that psyched about film festivals because for them it is just another free screening of a movie not making any money for them. It comes down to doing a favor to the festivals, for us thanks to Brian Hearn, or because they are doing it to be nice to the filmmakers or subjects of the film. I think Kings of Leon, even if it had distribution, would have played here because they had 100 family members in the audience. I’ve had three films in the festival and there is nothing better than to get feedback on your movies from an audience. Another thing is the exposure it provides. For “Virgin Alexander” or “S&M Lawn Care,” or a majority of these films that don’t have distribution, it is very important to get out there. At a screening today for “Little Town of Bethlehem,” two of the people asking questions were distributors. We are starting to get more distributors coming to our festival because they are buying into the buzz.
How important is it to get Oklahoma filmmakers into the festival? “S&M Lawn Care” is sold out right now and the filmmaker is from Norman.
Lance McDaniel: Yes, he is from Enid and went to OU in Norman. This is his sixth movie in our festival and there are two components to that. One, we love it when Oklahoma films get in but we do not pick movies specifically because they are from Oklahoma. The process is a blind submission. We don’t tell the judges where the movie is from. They rate them based on the film itself. What is great for us is that, every year, we have about 25-percent films from Oklahoma because we get the most films submitted from there. There are a couple of high school kids who submitted films that got in but that was because their films are better. Our festival is harder to get into this year but filmmakers who have been here in the past are making better movies. We love having the “S&M Lawn Care” guys here because they are so funny. Even “Little Town of Bethlehem,” which was filmed in the Middle East was from an Oklahoma producer and director. “Paper Flyer,” which was filmed in Tokyo, is an Oklahoma filmmaker. Oklahoma filmmakers are all branching out into the world, doing films, and then bringing them back home.