A four-letter acronym fills me with both dread and joy — DTTW.
DTTW is short for Down To The Wire, a 24-hour film race held by the Tallgrass Film Association each year in Wichita. Teams pay a fee to enter and are given one day to make a movie. The film can be no longer than six minutes. Teams have the chance to win money and have their films shown to audiences on a big screen.
It sounds easy at first, but there are other stipulations given out at the beginning of the race. Several required elements — which change from year to year — are randomly drawn. The film may have to include a certain prop, line or character type. Teams can also be assigned a particular film style. Suddenly, the project becomes impossible to pre-plan.
While that may level the playing field somewhat, there is also a disparity of resources to take into account as well. Access to filming equipment, locations and decent actors makes a huge difference. Then, you are in for a long, hot day of writing a story and dialogue, finding the right costumes, filming fight scenes, composing music for the score and editing footage right up to the deadline.
I have participated in two DTTW races and my team placed in the coveted top 10 in our first year. Listening to the audience's reaction to our film and seeing our names in the credits made it all worth it.
As I drive around this great state of ours, a thought strikes me — why aren't more movies made in Kansas? After all, we have no shortage of fantastic locations, both historic and modern. While the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita may get a well-deserved amount of publicity, the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum in Goessel has nearly as many buildings, just ready for a film crew to descend and work their magic.
It is a rare occasion for a movie to be filmed here; even rarer that it isn't immediately panned by critics. Hey, it takes some trial and error to make a good film — my team's second effort wasn't nearly as good as our first.
Filmmakers may decry a lack of tax incentives in Kansas, but given the low cost of food and housing for a movie's cast and crew, the willingness of locals to assist in a myriad of ways and the number of arts supporters in our communities, I find that a flimsy excuse.
Kansas has a tremendous talent pool and, with the help of the Internet, an easy way to distribute their creations. While it is still a major challenge to get a film shown in major movie theaters across the country, independent theaters and other venues are welcoming submissions. And, as I've heard it said, if you're in the arts to get rich, you're doing it wrong.
I'm encouraged by the number of high schools that are offering classes in videography, giving students a chance to learn both how and why films are shot and edited. Student film festivals are springing up, allowing audiences to gently critique their work. Filming is a skill that will continue to be in high demand if our society keeps up its insatiable thirst for visual entertainment and advertising.
I'm still waiting to see if I can be involved in DTTW this year, but in either case, the next time you see a local filmmaker's movie being shown, thank them for investing in our state and our people. Who knows, they may be the next Steven Spielberg.
Or, better yet, give filmmaking a try yourself. A lot of thought goes into the composition of a quality film, and even if you never make it to Hollywood, you'll come away with a new appreciation for the work done there.