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José Lauro Mata

Filmfest Scams and Other Fun
by José Lauro Mata

March 2002

This is a tale about a music video, which was co-written and co-directed by our own Brad Koester, a possibly British woman, and my checkbook.

"May I please speak with Hozay Mawtuh?"

"Speaking."

"Hello, Mr Mawtuh, did you make a film called 'So Rich'?

"Yes."

"Great. I'm calling from The New York Independent Film Festival and if you have a minute, I'd like to talk to you about your film."

Aw, the dulcet sounds of the appreciative masses! This delightful woman, Yolanda Perch (as in the fish; she gets that a lot), explains that a friend of one of their judges (warning sign 1) thought that my film would be a good candidate for entry.

Urban legends typically have only 2 degrees of separation, because it is both personal and difficult to disprove. I know this for a fact because my brother's philosophy professor proved it in 1974. 8--)

See: http://www.skeptic.com/jr5-02.html

But I digress.

"'So Rich' is a music video for polka Grammy-winning Brave Combo."

"Interesting," she says.

"Six people dressed in animal costumes and I hand-retouched three thousand frames to remove the seams and processed it to look like animation."

"That's amazing," she says in her sexy British accent. Now, for a filmmaker, a comment like that from an Film Admission Director is like phone sex, so I go for the kill.

"The animals then dress as the Village People and perform a synchronized dance routine, but that it's really the story of a philandering chicken who loses the love of his life at the end when the lamb rides off on the lion's motorcycle."

"Ooh!" she exclaims.

Outside, the sun is brighter. Damn, she's good.

Yvonne isn't even breathing hard. It's the largest independent film festival in the world. They have a traveling festival, which goes to Los Angeles, New York, and Las Vegas. Many important industry people will see the films, etc. Their main screening is at Madison Square Garden. As we're talking, I go to their web site

http://www.nyfilmvideo.com/

It looks legit. I didn't notice at the time that they seem to have a festival every 2 months (warning 2) or that they have links for "success stories" and "testimonials" (warning 3). Hmmm.

Yvonne would very much like to see my piece, and do I have a VHS copy handy? (warning 4: what filmmaker doesn't have copies ready?)

"There's also a $300 entry fee that's refunded is you don't get in."

"Oh... kay..."

"Here's my direct phone number and could you please let me know the tracking number so that we can know to look for it?"

But first, a little information about my films. Two years ago, I had a very successful music video that won some national awards, and I had email and phone calls asking if I would submit the video to their festivals or TV show. It was screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival and another in St Louis based on these contacts. So it was not a completely new experience to me. This video hasn't done very well. An early version made it into the Dallas Video Festival's "Big DVD," but that's been it. The $300 fee, however, was new to me.

As I pondered this, I decided to ask one of the brightest filmmakers I know, Chris Ohlson, who happened to be in my back yard, painting frames for my window screens. A screen test, you might say. Sorry.

"What do you think, Chris? If it's accepted, I'd basically be paying the admission fee for the festival. The exposure might be good. She said that I'd have to overnight it, because the deadline is close." (warning 5)

Chris frowns, as man-cubs his age are ought to do. He remembered a similar situation with a film festival in New York last year. I go back to the web. Google search: New York Independent Film Festival scam. Results: 1,010. Hot damn!

The filmthreat.com site had an extensive discussion thread.

A few positive responses, but mostly tales of woe and bitterness.

"...they get my $500, but they also NEVER screened my film in either new york, or their other "film festival" in los angeles."

"The fest director is a total perv. He had white stuff hanging out of his nose."

"...it started to seem very suspicious to us so we backed out. But that didn't stop them from calling. They even told us if we sent them the money they would definitely show our film. This was all a few weeks after their so called deadline."

"...and was booked for a mid-day video projection in a makeshift screening room at a bar. After trying to get cast & crew & friends of mine to pay a 2 drink minimum, they proceeded to set-up a video projector and Digi-beta player. When they couldn't get the Digi-beta master or an S-VHS to play properly, they ran a crappy VHS dub. 30 minutes into it the projector bulb ran out and they could not locate a replacement..."

There was also a link in indiewire.

Where one poor guy claims that they forged his signature on a bank draft.

Gee, doesn't look too good for Yvonne, et al.

I sent Yvonne an email:

hi yvonne-

it was nice talking with you on the phone today. i've decided not to submit. the deal sounded too much like the "who's who of american high school students" scam, so i did some quick research on the web. the feedback on filmthreat and indywire was impressively bad. i'll keep the money and spend it on a short film instead. or, i could buy 7 bottles of really good champagne and have my own film fest.

hasta later,

---josé

PS: As I was writing this, I read the rest of the filmthreat letters and found this:

"And I think your article made some definite waves. About a half-hour after I cancelled my check, my director received a call from Yvonne - she was now sporting an irish brogue, and not a bad one at that. She really is good at accents, maybe i should cast her in my next project. She said "congrats, you're in" - she couldn't have known about the check so soon, so my thought was due to your article they were calling everyone who send them a check to quickly tell them congrats, in the hopes that they didn't see your article, damage control."

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