About ten years ago, I graduated from film school. I was awarded a BFA in Acting, but for the last four years had been taught from a very global perspective. In our acting class, any time we wanted to shoot a scene; the teacher would build a crew from the class of actors. So, I did everything from hold the boom mic to pull focus for camera. Bit by bit, what this taught me was how my work as an actor affected every other person on set. If I stood up too fast, camera could have a hard time following me. If I moved unpredictably; I would either be out of focus or out of range from the mic. I paid close attention, and honed my craft as an actor. As a side effect though; I also learned how to run a set.

So you finish film school. Now what? Well, go to Hollywood and start working, right?

If only life were that easy.

When you go to LA, you find that you are now a very small fish in a very large pond. Yes, there are productions going on around every corner. Yet making that leap onto set seems almost impossible. You have to know someone who knows someone, and can do you a favor. And you need to be good enough to be worth doing a favor for!

If by some twist of luck you wind up working on a set; you quickly realize that you are the cannon fodder. The bottom of the barrel. The one that can run around as fast as you can doing as much as you can for sixteen hours or more a day; only to earn less than a bartender working a four hour night shift. You look at the people in charge of you and realize it took them years to get where they are, and you’re not even sure you’d want their jobs.

So what do you do? Stay in your small town in your Midwest state where the only productions are TV commercials advertising used cars or corn? Well, maybe. You see; you don’t need a budget or studio support to make a movie.

As James Cameron said; “Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director. Everything after that you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee.”

He has a point! If you can’t make movies on your own, for fun, with no budget or support; where is the passion? You need to NEED to make movies.

“But I also want to make money doing this!” I hear you cry.

Perfectly valid.

So if you aren’t in Hollywood, and you are focused on making the best film you can, and you don’t want to just show it to your friends then let it languish on YouTube, what do you do?

“I’ll get an agent!” you say.

Unfortunately; agents won’t look twice at you, basically until you already have a deal. They want to know that you are marketable.

“I’ll get a manager!” you say, “They will help me get an agent.”

Ok; valid point. That is a much better progression to pursue, but managers are getting swarmed with applicants. Just look at the script pile sitting and waiting. (And those are the scripts they thought were worth looking at!)

So; I sent query letters to 100 local managers.

I didn’t get a single response.

Not one.

That was the exact place I found myself in, just last year. I had written and directed two independent feature films. I had finished another thirteen scripts. I knew my work was good, but how do I even get it looked at? I needed proof it was good.

It was then that I started entering film festivals.

I took out a credit card and I went to work. I carefully evaluated my scripts. The vast majority of film festivals are not free, so I wanted to put my best foot forward. (In retrospect; I should have taken this step far earlier. If you have ten scripts, but only three that you are ready to send to festivals: DON’T WASTE ANYONE ELSE’S TIME WITH THEM EITHER!)

(ahem, sorry)

So yes; I entered almost three hundred festivals.

To my delight; my scripts began getting selected almost immediately. I even started to win the stray award.

However; I started to notice that some festivals effectively ‘selected’ every script that was entered, named hundreds of scripts as ‘quarter finalists’, dozens of scripts as ‘semi-finalists’, and as many as twenty scripts ‘finalists’. Some festivals even had the gall to name multiple scripts as winners.

I wanted something more. I wanted festivals that would clearly explain the stakes. I wanted it to mean something to even be nominated. Similar to the Academy Awards; I wanted it to be ‘an honor just to be nominated’.

Five nominees.

One winner.

It was that thought that was the birth of The Atlantis Awards. I found a group of similarly talented and passionate people that truly care about the art of film-making. We wanted everyone to shine; even if they were shooting a movie in a small town on their iPhone. We created categories for lower budget projects, categories that only students can enter. All of it united by that same thought. Maybe we can help shine a light on an up and coming talent and help them ascend to the next level.

Five nominees.

One winner.

Maybe it’s you.


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