OKLAHOMA CITY - The success of a film festival to the general public usually depends on how many friends they met at an obscure little movie, but Lance McDaniel has broader standards.
And based on business deals taking shape following the recent deadCENTER event in downtown, Oklahoma City is being taken seriously, said McDaniel, the festival's new executive director.
The producers of Paradise Recovered, for example, have signed a contract to distribute their feature narrative. And writer Dean Watts'Momfia attracted an investor who wanted to buy his concept after a single table reading of the short script, although he turned it down in order to garner more attention at other festivals.
McDaniel is keeping his lips sealed on another distribution deal in the works for an Oklahoma-produced, full-length feature that he wouldn't identify. The provocative film can now be purchased in DVD form on the producer's own website; mainstream distribution would be a huge success for Oklahoma, McDaniel said.
"Each year becomes a little more successful, as the festival evolves into something that's not just exciting for the viewer but also yields better results for the filmmakers," McDaniel said. "When we get the attention of distributors, like we're seeing now, that helps the filmmakers and ensures that we'll get higher-quality films, which is better for everyone all around."
McDaniel, who is working on developing his own movie, Just Crazy Enough, said the excitement generated by deadCENTER this month also is helping him because actors get excited about growing opportunities.
"I've had investors since the film festival express interest in my movie as well," McDaniel said. "DeadCENTER draws attention to what's great about independent film, and our goal is to get people interested in investing in small amounts so we can keep building that creativity as well as importing it."
Last year's estimated attendance at the festival was nearly 10,000 people, with an economic impact of $1.14 million. This year the event drew about 13,000, a 30-percent increase. Major sponsors, including Devon Energy, Stella Artois, Chesapeake, and the Kirkpatrick Foundation, provided funding and venues for the showing of 100 works this year.
Paradise Recovered writer and producer Andie Redwine called deadCENTER a "total treasure of a film festival."
His film, which won the festival's Grand Jury Prize, is a modern-day retelling of the parable of the good Samaritan intended to address questions of faith, tolerance and spiritual abuse. The purpose of making the film, Redwine said on his website, was to help atheists and Christians find common ground in caring for souls.
It's a message that others want to be part of as well: "We signed a distribution contract. We'll reveal more in the coming weeks, but we have an amazing distributor and a brighter future than ever," Redwine posted online.
The as-yet-unfilmed Momfia, on the other hand, is a lighthearted portrayal of what happens when a Machiavellian group of soccer moms underestimate a new parent in the neighborhood. Watts, an attorney in Nacogdoches, Texas, likened the short script to an "elaborate PowerPoint presentation." Although it is entertaining in its own right, Momfia is mainly a representation of an idea that could be built into a full-length feature. The hit film Napoleon Dynamite began as such a short treatment, he said.
Watts didn't want to let it go into development yet because as an amateur effort, the short piece can be entered in more festivals and gain more attention and, hopefully, more investors. He offered local investor Shane Smith the opportunity to buy into another one of his ideas instead - a five-page script titled The Appointment.
"DeadCENTER has done a great job. I'm not a film festival expert, but all the professional feedback I've seen suggests it's a well-run, recognized film festival, and that's why I entered here," he said. "I had a really positive experience."
At the end of 2010, MovieMaker Magazine named deadCENTER one of its Top 20 Coolest Film Festivals in the world. McDaniel said the recognition affirmed the event's strength already and helped attract more attention this year.