Those who commit to a 9-to-5 lifestyle know little of the pressures and risks associated with independent filmmaking. We’ve all heard horror stories: actresses who are deprived of their ten hours of sleep, cameramen who are forced to change their own lenses, and the toll the casting couch takes on a young defenseless producer.
The film festivals are no duck-walk either. Tortured filmmakers must submit to free drink tickets, repeated compliments, minutes of festival programming, and educational Q&A sessions only to reach a wild networking event. It’s a work hard, play harder industry. Therefore, it’s no surprise that film festivals are major undertaking.
Tracey Adlai is one such miracle worker who has put herself in the line-of-fire for twelve straight years. This NYU graduate bravely commits herself to the production of the Valley Film Festival, risking everything to deliver an event to a wonderful mix of grateful neophytes and jaded veterans.
I caught up with the Valley girl one evening, where else, in the Valley.
Citizen LA: It seems that a tribe known as the “Chumash Indians” thrived in the San Fernando Valley over 8,000 years ago—
Tracey Adlai: Hahaha. You’re going back a long time ago!
Citizen LA: How does the Valley Film Festival honor their sacrifices?
Tracey: Umm… I don’t think I’ve ever been stumped before! Well… Every January we do go to Campo de Cahuenga, which has nothing to do with the Chumash Indians but it is kinda like the birthplace of Southern California. We go there on the anniversary of the signing of the treaty between Mexico and the United States. It’s ignored by millions of people everyday who pass it, I’m sure. That’s my homage to the history of the Valley.
Citizen LA: Well then do you offer discounts for members of lost societies?
Tracey: Oh my God, George, you’re killing me here.
Citizen LA: Ok. Ok. I understand. It’s a business. And EVERYONE pays to get in.
Tracey: We do have some free programming. And all of our seminars are free.
Citizen LA: Excellent. So what inspired you to run a film festival? Was it a dare?
Tracey: Almost. I really only wanted to get involved with a film festival, not start one. There were all these facts and figures in the news everyday about how much money the film-making industry in the Valley brought to the city. And I was truly surprised that the Valley didn’t have a film festival. So I was like ‘sure, why not.’
Citizen LA: The Valley Film Festival is on its twelfth year. What’s the secret?
Tracey: Treating everyone with respect and knowing how to run something without a budget. We rely on the kindness of strangers.
Citizen LA: There aren’t many people who are brave enough to attempt to put together a film festival.
Tracey: When I started I didn’t realize everything that went into it. And then when I was “knee-deep”, well then, I was knee-deep.
Citizen LA: The San Fernando Valley is also known for its excellent Porn. Are you more comfortable “behind”, or “in front of” the camera?
Tracey: I’m a little awkward in front of the camera. I don’t know, I’m not really a… Umm…
Citizen LA: Porn Actress?
Tracey: Yeah! Haha. When I was in High School, I did want to be in Playboy, but that was a LONG time ago. I mean, I do like porn—
[We are interrupted by a Tracey’s very vocal cat.]
Citizen LA: Sounds like someone’s ready for some action.
Tracey: I guess so. Sorry. Anyway, I’m actually very comfortable showcasing it. We carved out an after-midnight slot for adult films—
Citizen LA: So I guess your answer is, “in front of” the camera.
Tracey: Sure. Hahaha.
Citizen LA: The Valley was made infamous by movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Valley Girl and Boogie Nights. How does the Valley Film Festival differ from more “LA centric” film fests? Or does it?
Tracey: Yes and no. We do showcase films that were made in the Valley. But we also showcase films from all over the—
Tracey: OMG!!! My cat!
Tracey: (to the cat) WHAT is wrong with YOU? Let’s take you outside.
[WE PAUSE TO DEAL WITH THE CAT.]
Tracey: Ok. Cat is out of the room. Sorry. Well, our mission is to… Umm… Uhh…
Citizen LA: Feel free to make it up right now.
Tracey: Hahaha. We want to make sure the films that are shot here in the San Fernando Valley have a platform and showcase to be screened. Also, many of the vendors are local vendors, which support the local economy.
Citizen LA: Tell me about your Signature Programming categories.
Tracey: We really don’t invite films from other festivals. We really try and concentrate on films that are submitted to us. Our signature programs are the “Made in the 818” shorts program and the “Girls on Shorts” program. “Made in the 818” showcases locally made films, simple as that. The “Girls on Shorts” entries are made by women, directed or produced. There aren’t enough women out there making films, so we are showcasing those who do and hopefully inspiring those who should.
Citizen LA: You also have a Happy Endings category. Will this “award” be presented by Ron Jeremy?
Tracey: I wish. It’s not that kind of a happy-ending. I posted a quick survey on FB to see what people would call a series of short films with feel-good endings. They chose Happy Endings, and it works for me.
Citizen LA: It works for me too! I love those.
Tracey: I bet you do.
Citizen LA: We understand that “good” and “bad” are subjective and relative… BUT what makes for an awful movie?
Tracey: Stereotypical, tired dialogue and bad chemistry between actors. But you’ve been to a few of my screening groups. You know we try and focus on finding THREE good things about each film. So we can tell filmmakers what was positive about their work— even if we aren’t going to program it.
Citizen LA: I do applaud you for that.
Tracey: Someone poured their heart and soul into a project and just because it doesn’t appeal to me, and the people in the screening group, doesn’t make it bad. There is a showcase for that particular film, just not the Valley Film Festival.
Citizen LA: What’s your take on the current state of film festivals around the world?
Tracey: Festivals with markets tend to have a slightly more mature crowd who are there for business. Something has been lost at Park City, for example, where all the films screened already have distribution so it’s not really an independent scene anymore. I also have a problem with festivals that demand world premieres. The first year that the VFF was around, four of our film selections were in another local film festival. I called the Festival Director who said they ‘cannot be screened.’ I have a major problem with film festivals telling filmmakers where they CAN and CAN’T screen.
Citizen LA: Does North Korea have a film festival?
Tracey: I don’t know North Korea.
Citizen LA: They do have lots of people, so they probably have lots of films. Maybe you can be the first to smuggle-out some North Korean films and get them screened at your film festival. But I think it’s a prerequisite that you own a liquor store.
Tracey: Yes. And thanks to all our liquor sponsors, I do own a liquor store.
Citizen LA: What’s your take on the mainstream Hollywood Film Industry?
Tracey: I think it’s getting better. They churned out all of these remakes of films from the 70s and 80s, which were obviously not as good as the originals. I have a hard time identifying what is an independent film these days a lot of studios are behind films that are considered independent but HAVE studio backing, but I don’t consider them independent. I don’t’ really go see every new film that’s made.
Citizen LA: Well, you’re probably doing yourself a favor.
Tracey: I see plenty of good and no-so-good films all year long. I’m also a Netfilx fiend.
Citizen LA: Netfilx rocks! The draw for me is that Netflix is Documentary heavy. Sadly, certain countries don’t want certain information leaking out into the public. Netflix Mexico, for example, has nothing on oil, nothing on plastic, nothing on water, nothing on poverty. I’d like to believe it’s due to a lack of “subtitling”, but… whatever.
Tracey Adlai: Yeah. Sad.
Citizen LA: What advice to you have for budding filmmakers?
Tracey: I understand that you may get emotionally attached to you projects, but you have to think of your project as a business as well. Don’t pigeon hole yourself and risk losing an audience or a showcase. It’s really hard to program a film that’s 20 to 40 minutes in length. So my advice is: Please embrace your editor.
Citizen LA: From a business point of view it’s an excellent idea to have your audience in mind before you start writing. If you’re looking to sell something, you pick your target and you write something for that and you sell it.
Tracey Adlai: You’re not selling to your parents.
Citizen LA: What advice do you have to other film festival producers?
Tracey: It’s a film festival. It should be fun. Don’t stress over it. No one’s going to die if the film stops— as you witnessed on our 10th year anniversary.
Citizen LA: I don’t know what you are talking about.
Tracey: Sure you’re gonna have some unhappy people, and some really abusive filmmaker yelling at you, but it’s not the end of the world. The first three or four years of the VFF, I stressed every single day it was running. Everything had to be perfect, and of course nothing was 100% perfect. But in my head it was a failure if it wasn’t 100% perfect. Now I do everything I can, up until the day before. Then the day it opens, it’s just: whatever will be, will be.
Citizen LA: During an event, something will go wrong every time. What makes a good event producer is someone who has the ability to not only correct the problem in a calm cool manner, but someone who can do it so the audience doesn’t know there’s something wrong.
Tracey: That clearly was not me.
Citizen LA: Hahaha. Hold on. There’s a big difference when something happens to the picture on the screen. I think you handled it perfectly.
Tracey: Do what you can up until the day before, but don’t let stressed-out people ruin the fruits of your labor.
Citizen LA: What does Tracey do to relax? Watch a movie? Or fire a shotgun?
Tracey: I listen to music. I go to a lot of concerts. I drink a lot of wine. I do watch a lot of movies. My favorite genre is the French Thriller. I also like The Benny Hill Show. And my guilty pleasure is Spinal Tap.
Citizen LA: Wine and Spinal Tap? That’s golden. So, any parting words?
Tracey: For the filmmakers who enter film festivals, they really take it personally when their film isn’t chosen— this is why we send a rejection email that points out the positive things about the film. Just because they don’t get in to one festival doesn’t mean they shouldn’t submit to other festivals. Also, I know a lot of filmmakers don’t send out their films because of the submission fee. But there are a ton of festivals that don’t have a submission fee. Cannes doesn’t have a submission fee for their short films. Most think Sundance and SXSW and AFI and Tribeca and all these really big showcases in the U.S. But if they can’t afford that route, they should submit to international film festivals, which almost all of them don’t have a submission fee attached to them, or write to the film festival itself and see if they will waive the fee for you.
Citizen LA: Maybe they should also try and submit to festivals that don’t have any submissions at all. Then they’d have a really good chance at winning.
Tracey: Hahaha. Yes… look for brand new festivals, they pop-up all the time. They are the ones that don’t have a database of supporters to announce their “call for entries”. And they will probably be the ones that might give you a chance. We started the “pay-what-you-can” submission period because we were getting so many requests to waive the fee. So now I tell people who don’t make the deadline to wait until next year. If they do have the money to submit, I always tell them to go through our archive and to look at the films that we’ve programmed in the past, this way they’ll get a sense of what we tend to program and what we like. Every festival has its own personality.
Citizen LA: No excuses.
For more information visit http://valleyfilmfest.com