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By Don R. Lewis | September 26, 2006

It’s long been said that anyone who writes film criticism is really just a frustrated filmmaker who can’t get his s**t together long enough to make a film. While I do sort of agree with that statement, I just love movies and like watching them and writing about them as much as I like making them. I actually have a degree in screenwriting as well as a smaller degree in film production. However if I’ve learned anything from Film Threat, (aside from the facts that Mark Bell is nocturnal, Mike Ferraro loves “”War of the Worlds,” Eric Campos can drink a lot for a skinny dude and Chris Gore has cool hair) it’s that sometimes you might make a movie that you think is really great, but the world shouldn’t be invited to see it. If you don’t think that statement is true I have a box chock full of movies fitting that statement sitting right beside me. Trust me, it’s true.

That being said, about two and a half years ago, a friend and I made a 30 minute documentary called “”Stringers.” It’s about these crazy guys who own refurbished police cars, scanners, video cameras and high-tech gadgetry. These guys sit in their cars waiting for “”big” police calls then they race off to shoot footage of fires, murders, gun fights, and so forth on their cameras. After that, they rush to the local San Francisco news stations and attempt to sell the footage.

It’s a cut-throat business and these guys live on the fringes of society. If they capture something big, they can get a fat paycheck. However the job is similar to fishing. If you don’t catch anything, you don’t eat. So my friend John Beck and I set off to ride with these “”Stringers” in an attempt to film something that each of us sees each night on the news, but few people know about. Plus, what could be better than a high speed chase through San Francisco in an old police car being driven by a guy with a mullet? That’s a movie everyone wants to see! Or so we thought.

When all was said and done, “”Stringers” was a hair over 30 minutes. I thought it would make an excellent TV show (and I still do) so I began pitching it as such. Each week we would travel to a new city and tail a stringer as they await the big story. Being the incredibly insecure person I am, I kept every rejection letter we received just to remind myself how much I suck. And if that really is a true measure, I suck….alot. Then I had the wherewithal to ask our very own Chris Gore what he thought about the project. Without even watching it, he said “”dude, it’s too long. Make it like, ten minutes.” This way execs would have either seen enough and want more or know they weren’t interested. Gore then said that after I showed it around, if there were no takers, it would be easier to get into festivals the shorter it is. People, there’s a reason Gore wrote “”The Ultimate Film Festival Guide.” He knows his s**t. If you want to get into a film fest in your lifetime, get that book.

So we sat on the film for a while and started tinkering with it. Then we sat on it. Then, about a year/a year and a half ago, we got down to an 11 minute cut that really hits and then (hopefully) leaves you wanting more. Then, we sat on it a while longer. I was busy with different things and John was as well. I soon started realizing the place I’m happiest is at film festivals. While I’m incredibly fortunate to cover a couple a year for FT, I realized that by pulling my head out of my a*s and submitting “”Stringers,” I could maybe attend some festivals”¦as a filmmaker! Duh! Wow. Sometimes you spend so much time daydreaming, you don’t realize the key to your dreams is sitting on your desk!

So I consulted Gore’s book and took his advice of picking a few festivals that I really thought we had a chance at getting into. Submitting your film ain’t cheap so I just chose two for the time being; Mill Valley and the Austin Film Festival. My reasons were that Mill Valley is pretty big and we’re local. Seems like we would be hedging our bets by going for something local. I picked Austin because I absolutely love Austin. They have a really great festival for both films and panelists and I already planned on going to SXSW in March with Film Threat so what could be better than two trips to the coolest city in the land? So, I joined Without a Box paid my money and submitted. And waited. And waited. And waited. Then, I got a new addition to my rejection file.

Mill Valley wasn’t into “”Stringers.” S**t! If a local fest wasn’t into it, Austin wasn’t going to dig it either. I knew it. I also knew something else”¦you should never try anything because you’ll probably just fail. Then”¦I got a call from Austin. It was their docs programmer John and he had left a message. The first thought that came to mind was “”seems weird they’d waste a phone call just to tell me we didn’t get in.” Then I figured maybe we did get in! Holy s**t! I finally reached John in Austin and just like that, “”Stringers” would find an audience. We were accepted into the fest and will be in the competition for documentary shorts!

This blog entry is the first in what will be a chronicling of my journey to the Austin Film Festival. We have a ton of work to do to get ready for the fest so stay tuned.

The Austin Film Festival runs October 19-26 so come see me!
More information at The Austin Film Festival Official Site

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  1. Don Lewis says:

    I think blogging about myself and using FT’s healthy viewership to do so is all the punishment you guys get. Plus, some dude named Pete reviewed it already…

  2. Michael Ferraro says:

    Hey Don, are you going to review your own film for Threat?

    I think that’d be hilarious. It would probably be the start of some new board fisco, ala Big Fat Independent Movie.

    It’d rule actually.

  3. gigi says:

    We are promised exclusive inside info, right? Us lowleys who supported you as your burst into stardom…;)

  4. Don Lewis says:

    Thanks you guys, it means alot!!

  5. gigi says:

    Don, that is fantastic! I am very excited and happy for you! Look forward to hearing how the fest goes, and I’ll be sending good vibes for your film!

  6. Michael Ferraro says:

    If you have a party at Hooters, Ill fly out for that dude.

  7. Stina says:

    ooo. heavenly.

    when you were summarizing the premise of “Stringers,” i felt major deja-vu. i feel like ive seen on TV, probably on Dateline NBC or 60 mins, some segment about one guy …or two guys… who do exactly what the guys in your piece do.

    only less refurbished…more “new.”

  8. Felix Vasquez Jr. says:


  9. Don Lewis says:

    I seriously think we’re going to do the party at HOOTERS! Or, Ginger Man…

  10. Pete says:

    Congratulations, you bastard. Looks like I’ll be able to make your premiere party after all, so I expect lots of beer and large-breasted groupies.

  11. Mr B Natural says:

    Nice Don! Good stuff. Hope the film plays well. Let me know if it ever comes to Boston.

  12. Michael Ferraro says:

    Congrats dude. I wish I was there too.

    And dude, it’s Spider-Man I really love.

  13. DonLewis says:

    You’ll be there in my heart…and in an array of drunk dials…

  14. Mark Bell says:

    Congrats, Don! And Austin of all places. Whether it be SXSW or Austin Film Fest, I can think of no better place for you to start your festival circuit. Wish I could be there.

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