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April 15, 2024

The Duke City Shootout

By Jerry Seeger

The Duke City Shootout
or, "What I Did This Summer"

The Duke City shootout is a film festival like no other. Where others festivals will show a variety of interesting movies and judge them on their merits, at the Duke City Shootout the participants make the movies first.

Rather than submit movies to the festival, hopeful entrants submit scripts. This year, there were seven categories for the scripts, and the winning writer in each category received a cast, crew, equipment, and a very small budget. During the seven days of the festival, the writers direct the movie, with four days for shooting and the remainder of the time for editing.

Judges for the finalists in each category ranged from Morgan Freeman to Phyllis Dyller, and judges for the films included Hollywood producers and industry names like Tom Waits. Not only is your work made, it is seen.

This summer my brother and I learned we had won the Federico Fellini award for the script we had co-written, Pirates of the White Sand. Just writing the thing together had been a great experience, but now we were going to make a movie. A movie. I jumped a plane to be there for pre-production.

The Shootout has gone through many changes over the years, but has grown into an important part of the state of New Mexico's efforts to develop the movie industry. University classes are based on students working on crews, and veterans volunteer their time in the critical roles on the crew.

It is a wonderful experience, breathtaking in the pace that is sustained day after day, heartwarming in the way the crews all pull together for a single purpose, and the purpose is to make something that you imagined into something real. They're not there for the pay (unless you count college credit), they are there for a chance to share something they love doing.

Each film is also assigned a mentor, a seasoned industry veteran who is there to guide the writer through the process of creating a film.

The Shootout serves many masters, and the interests of those masters do not always converge. To the state of New Mexico, a sponsor, it is an opportunity to train crews and build a reputation. To others, it is a chance to establish digital filmmaking as the wave of the future. To the writer/directors, it is a chance to produce a work of art.

The organizers, the hard-working people who go through rushed pre-production on seven movies at the same time, want a safe, harmonious, and fair competition. Some of the rules of the contest, designed to keep the playing field level, hindered crews with resources and connections from making the best film possible. It is frustrating when in the heat of creativity one is limited by a rule that (at the time) seems arbitrary.

Later, when the crews and thousands of guests gather in the auditorium to watch and cheer for each other's work, you understand. The creativity, the vision, and the camaraderie of the Duke City Shootout is something you will never forget.

If you are an aspiring writer, I strongly encourage you to enter the Duke City Shootout next year. As I stood with my brother onstage at the show, accepting the Audience Choice Award, I said, "What other contest gives you the prize before they send you out to compete?"


More information about the Duke City Shootout can be found at www.dukecityshootout.com. A long-winded but still incomplete account of Jerry's adventures in the Shootout can be found at http://homepage.mac.com/vikingjs/iblog/C1588275700/index.html. It's a blog, so it's in reverse chronological order -- start at the bottom and work your way up. Pirates is currently being reedited into a version not constrained by festival rules for length and tape usage; when it is ready, I shall announce it here in the Press.

Article © Jerry Seeger. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-09-19
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