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deadCenter 2020: OKG talks with Lance McDaniel about this year's festival

Editor-in-chief Brittany Pickering and deadCenter Film Festival executive director Lance McDaniel talk about deadCenter Film Festival 2020.



Brittany Pickering, editor-in-chief of Oklahoma Gazette: I'm here with Lance McDaniel, executive director of deadCenter Film Festival, and he's going to talk to us about this year's festival.

Lance McDaniel, executive director of deadCenter Film Festival: Yes. Thank you, Brittany, for having me, and thank you to the Gazette because you guys have been a huge supporter of our festival for all 20 years of it and I just can't thank you enough. This year is our 20th anniversary. It's our biggest festival ever, and it was already shaping up to be that way because we received 1600 submissions, which is huge for us, and then we picked the top 140 films from that. So it was gonna be huge. We were looking at all these venues and then the pandemic hit, and so we realized pretty quickly that we did not want to postpone, that we feel like we played a really important role here in Oklahoma City, you know, in the middle of June and as far as kind of the excitement and kicking off summer, so we decided, “Yes, let's move forward,” and to do that, we needed to ship the entire festival online.

So, for the first time, we will be hosting an all-virtual festival at And how it'll work is when you go to that, there will be a little intro and you can either go into the virtual cinema, which you sign up and then you you register and then you go in and you watch all the movies, or you can go in and select a movie and watch it individually. And on the other side of the website is our community corner, and we're gonna kick that off with the film from the Thunder, which is one of our greatest partners, and then we're gonna go in and show films from the from the Cherokee Nation, we’re gonna show things from Inasmuch Foundation, we're gonna show commercials from MidFirst Bank. So our goal is to show all sorts of different kind of videos, commercials, everything that's really being done by our partners that have kind of sustained us for the last 20 years, and so we think that community corner is going to be great.

And then, after this first weekend, so we've now actually extended it. So we’re the 11th through the 21st, and we used to just be three or four days. That you know. And so the reason we did that is we’ll premiere all the movies that first weekend and then we'll give you another eight days to watch them, so, unlike normal, where you're basically having decide which movie you're gonna go see, this year, you'll be able to see every single movie because we're going to have 11 days for you to do that, and then during that week, we’ll also be partnering with Art Moves from Oklahoma City Arts Council to show that, we're gonna be partnering with RACE Dance to do a free dance class every morning. And the goal is because we’re virtual, we've already sold tickets to people in eight different countries at 32 states at this point, and so since there are so many great arts in Oklahoma City, some of which really didn't get to perform this summer, we've reached out to those groups, and so Oklahoma Contemporary’s gonna be doing something about their current exhibit Bright Golden Haze and we're just gonna try to show off how awesome Oklahoma City is to all the people around the world.

Pickering: That’s so great! That’s so good because, you know, it's great that we have a film festival in Oklahoma City, but what if you've moved out of state and all of that? So that's really awesome that you guys are offering it to the outside world and including more local groups that maybe you couldn't before.

McDaniel: Well, exactly because right when we decided to shift, we’re like, “Okay, what's gonna be different?” We're not gonna be having 1000-person parties with tons of Corona, and Corona was one of our major sponsors, and so it's very sad for them that the coronavirus, but we are not turning our back on you, Corona. We still love you, and so normally, we're known for having these massive, super fun costume parties, you know, but the reality is we're equally known for our amazing films. And so this year, we're like, “Okay. Great! This will give us a chance to really refocus on all the films, and what can we do that will be different?” So for one example, Shifter, which we're premiering here, which is Jacob and Zach Burns’ film. Jacob Burns is writer/director and Zach, his brother, is the producer, and then Vinnie Hogan produced too. They're premiering their movie here, and then we're also going to be showing behind the scenes. So it's almost like a DVD extra, and then were going to have panel discussions with them. We're going to have free film classes from the Oklahoma Film & Music Office, deadCenter University is going online from MetroTech. So we're gonna be able to offer, I believe, 180 either panels, discussions Q&As with filmmakers and movies. So it's going to be our most robust ever and we believe that if you're a film fan that you will love this year as much or more than any year we've ever had.

Pickering: Yeah! So basically, you could sit at home in your pajamas, and you know, attend deadCenter 12 hours a day if you wanted to.

McDaniel: Well, exactly, and so the cost for it, it's usually a $200 festival. This year, we've cut the cost in half. So it's $100 for a pass. And you may be wondering, “Why buy a $100 pass to this festival when I go on Netflix?” Well, there's two reasons: One is you can support arts in Oklahoma and local organizations like ours that are trying to sustain in the middle of this pandemic. But probably more importantly is we’re exposing you to 140 films that you won't see on Netflix. Now, a few of them will get sold and will play on Netflix, but for the most part, we've got 120 short films that are amazing from all over the world. You know, there's tons from Oklahoma, there's Japan. We get short films and features from around the world, and we curate them in a way that’s super fun, and so the people that have come to our festival the last 20 years realize that Sara Thompson, our director of programming, and her team have a really specific taste that is super fun, it’s high-energy, and I'm just really excited for the films. And what's really fun this year is a lot of the Oklahoma films were more genre-focused, so we've got an action film, a horror film, kind of a mystery, a murder mystery. There's a lot of really interesting movies this year, made by Oklahomans and made by people from around the world, and we're just very excited for people to see them.

Pickering: That's so great. And one other thing this year is that it's your last year with deadCenter.

McDaniel: It is my final year with deadCenter, and this is my 10th and final year. This job is the most favorite job I've ever had. I love it, but I think it's time for new blood, you know. And I think that in an industry like ours, especially if you're running a nonprofit film festival, we're constantly changing, and no better sign of that than this year, when we took our entire festival and moved it online. And so in a world of change, I think it's important that leadership take a step back and, “Look. Okay, how long should I be in this role? And when is it time to allow someone else?”

And so my coworker Alyx Picard Davis, who has now applied for and got the job after a national search, she and I worked together for seven years, and she is super smart, she's hilarious, she's very technical and probably as importantly, she is the vice president of the board for the Film Festival Alliance, so she's been very active in getting deadCenter involved on a national perspective for the other film festivals. So I think she's just going to do great things.

And I've had 10 years to kind of put my print on it. We've grown from 10,000 to 35,000. We've expanded into virtual reality. And so I'm really proud of the things we've accomplished, but I absolutely know that she is going to be equally successful and she's gonna take it in a different direction, and she's 15 years younger than me. So I think it's time to let a young woman step up and run this organization, take us into the future, so I think she will be fabulous, and I feel super comfortable stepping down because I know how great she's gonna be and I'm kind of my near future is I'm doing a few films this summer and I will still probably stay in production and then go back to doing some technical consulting, because I was a tech consultant before I started working here, and I miss that; I miss kind of engaging with technologists and engineers and all that, so I’ll probably add that to my life once I get these films under my belt.

Pickering: Yeah, it's an interesting year for your last year, but it'll be good to move on and maybe do some other things.

McDaniel: Well, exactly.

Pickering: A lot of people don't realize that deadCenter takes all year to plan.

McDaniel: Exactly. It is a year-round job. We have three full-time staff members and then probably five contractors that help us with different things. You know, I go to 30 high schools every fall for the last eight years, and so people are like, “What do you do the rest of the year when you’re not throwing a festival?” We lead free education programs to 25,000 rural Oklahoma students, and we've been doing that for eight years. We do have a very robust education program. We do year-round programs with our partners. One of our biggest partners is Tower Theater, so we do a lot of things in partnership with them, showing independent films, doing panels after some of their independent films, a number with Rodeo Cinema and The Jones Assembly. So there's a lot of partners of ours that we are able to partner with your-round and provide content, provide screenings, provide panels and educational opportunities, that make this really a year-round job, which actually made it harder for me to make movies. So the longer the bigger deadCenter got, the less I was able to go and make my own projects, and I really kind of miss that. So I do miss being an active filmmaker, so that's what I'm gonna to focus on as soon as I leave is doing two or three movies and then just kind of seeing where that takes me.

Pickering: That sounds amazing. Is there anything else that people need to know about this year’s deadCenter?

McDaniel: Yes! I would say go to, buy a pass — they’re only 100 bucks — and then sit down with your family and enjoy the movies. We've got 140 movies. We’ve got hilarious comedies, scary horror films, so we've got everything you could possibly want. And it gives you a chance to give back to your community right here in Oklahoma, so I hope you will join us. It starts June 11th and goes through June 21st, with most of the movies debuting that first week in June 11th through the 14th.

Pickering: That sounds amazing! Thank you so much for talking with me today, Lance.

McDaniel: Of course! Thank you, Brittany, and have a great day and congratulations on your success with the Gazette.

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