ALL Entertainment Should Increase The Current Value Proposition

Chris Dorr's recent post on MoviePass helped me recognize the world as it truly is today.  It wasn't MoviePass that I needed to recognize.  It was that the same thing that allowed Independent Film to flourish is the same thing that is now spurring on innovation everywhere.  Once filmmakers stopped asking for permission to tell their stories, the floodgates opened to a far more diverse approach to culture generation.  To the powers that be the end of permission looks like anarchy, but to the leaders to come, this is the stepping stone to necessary change.  And we are seeing that now. MoviePass, for those yet to explore it, is essentially the Netflix of Theater-going: One price for access to an all you can eat buffet.  MoviePass also has made a history of getting the stakeholders seriously bent out of shape.  From the onset, MoviePass did not see a requirement to ask for permission to innovate.  And they got shut out by the theaters subsequently as a result.  But they found a work around and sustained. Now they have found a better way, and people are getting riled up again.

The first thing that bothered people about MoviePass was that the theater owners were not consulted.  Unfortunately civil behavior falls by the wayside in the charge to innovate.  Remember when you had to call everyone for a group meeting?  And now you just send a group email.  No one wants to move slow any more.  They prefer to just get it done.  Since MoviePass is paying the theaters for the tickets anyway, why is it such a big deal -- particularly if more people are now going to the movies, buying more popcorn, and shelling out for parking.  Doesn't everyone win?

Oftentimes we know not what we do when we step ahead in line.  Where does this path of efficiency lead.  Virtually all social media and online activity serves one god: the mighty one of data mining.  The aggregation of all our likes, wants, connections, and routes is generating new wealth and multiple hands into our wallets.  Is it really theirs to take?

James Shamus, my former partner and head honcho at Focus Features, pointed out in his recent conversation with Christine Vachon at IFP's Independent Film Week (if you didn't tune in, you can watch it here, or read FilmmakerMag's 12 Tips here):

"Every time you click — on a “like” button, or a download link — you are producing. You’re producing “exhaust data,” information about yourself that is then used to market to you and others like you. Filmmakers need to be aware of this new model. Other people are monetizing it now, but they don’t have the same relationship to film culture” as the previous generation of distributors."

Does the information about our wants, interests, and desires belong to us?  Are others free to take it?  Do they need to ask permission?  What if they just use it, and don't display it?  What if by using that information, they make our life better, or at least appear to be better?  Do people care?  Should they?

As evidenced by people's use of Facebook, Twitter, and many many other social media sites, I honestly don't think most people care about this sort of data mining privacy issue (which is not to say they shouldn't).

I also think many people LOVE the efficiency that comes from data mining . Honestly, if no one is now pairing film goers with discount dinner deals in the neighborhood, do we want to stop them from ever doing so?  If data mining improves the value proposition of movie going, thus increasing attendance and generating wealth for the creators, their supporters, and many folks in between should we be shutting it down.  Shouldn't increasing the value proposition of entertainment be something that all movie people want ?

You can count that many new services are being developed that aim to this, and I think theaters should encourage it as it will make moviegoing more enticing.

As a filmgoer, I tried MoviePass while I was still living in NYC.  I shared my thoughts on the future of film business with them, and the company gave me a free trial membership. I am obviously already an avid moviegoer, but the MoviePass model increased even my attendance and reduced the value of things like Netflix. Why have a hamburger at home when you can have a filet minon in a palace.  Because I felt that I had saved money, despite being tight with my cash, I coughed up for popcorn and other delights.  I had about 7 theaters accessible to me that took MoviePass (prior to this new credit card thing they announced) and it got me to the theaters at least twice a week. The theaters all got paid the full price possible from my ticket — I saw that they regularly input $15 because they could.

I totally get the frustration about not being consulted, but I think Chris Dorr's article is right on: permission is not the business policy of today.

We in the film industry need to come up with ways that are not capital intensive that improve the value proposition of cinema. I think the easiest way to do that is to build more social events into movie going — audience needs to transform into community. Audiences need to be curated as much as films do. Ultimately increasing the social value and utility of movies is one of the services that film festivals play — as do community theaters.

There is huge value in community, well beyond ticket sales. As data mining demonstrates, it can generate wealth.  MoviePass seems to realize that. I bet MoviePass can be moved to become a real ally of community theaters, as well as movie goers. Ultimately everyone wants to increase theater attendance — and that is the only way that I can think of that the MoviePass business model can work (and if it does, doesn't everyone win?).  Filmgoers will get a better experience, theaters will sell more tickets & concessions, and MoviePass has direct access to the customers.  Winwinwin.  Yes?

Tech & Media Finally Allowed To Marry In NYC (IFP To Officiate)

It was with great pleasure that on Friday, I saw that it was announced that the IFP (of which I am on the board of) was awarded the RFP for a new digital media center in New York City.  I, and many others, had been struggling with the lack of interaction between the two fields.  The Mayor's Office stepped into do something about it.  This is a truly great initiative and should be a model for cities throughout the country (Hey San Francisco:  hint, hint).

This is the official press release:

Media Center Will Promote Collaboration between Entertainment, Advertising and New Media Industries and Offer Educational Programs to Support the Next Generation of Innovators

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Media & Entertainment Commissioner Katherine Oliver and New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth W. Pinsky today announced that IFP, the Independent Filmmaker Project, will develop and operate the “Made in NY” Media Center, a centralized hub for the local media industry to collaborate and grow. The “Made in NY” Media Center will provide workspace, educational programs in partnership with General Assembly and networking events for content creators and entrepreneurs. The center will be housed in DUMBO, Brooklyn at an 18,000 square foot facility that will bring together professionals from the film, television, advertising, new media, gaming, marketing and branding industries for collaboration and new opportunities. It is expected to open in May 2013. Mayor Bloomberg was joined at the future site of the “Made in NY” Media Center by IFP executive director Joana Vicente, General Assembly founder Matt Brimer, Representative Nydia M. Velazquez, Assembly Member Joan Millman and Carlo A. Scissura, president & CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

“New York City is at the forefront of both the entertainment and tech industries, and our new ‘Made in NY’ Media Center will help creators, artists and entrepreneurs build on the success we’ve already seen,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “By providing workspace for projects in development, professional workshops and innovative programs to welcome new ideas and start-ups, we will continue to attract talent and new ideas.”

“One of the goals of the ‘Made in NY’ Media Center is to connect filmmakers, producers and storytellers to a rapidly changing world that is full of mobile apps, multi-platform distribution and social media,” said Media & Entertainment Commissioner Oliver. “IFP’s decades-long work in promoting and supporting independent filmmakers makes it the ideal choice to develop the ‘Made in NY’ Media Center into a thriving source of new content and collaboration in the City.”

“The ‘Made in NY’ Media Center is an important investment in the future of an industry that has grown phenomenally under Mayor Bloomberg,” said New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth W. Pinsky. “With this investment, we will help ensure that the next generation of creative and business talent critical to the continued expansion of this industry is seeded and nurtured right here in New York, helping to cement our city’s status as one of the world's great centers of innovation for generations to come.”

“The ‘Made in NY’ Media Center bolsters the future of New York City’s thriving media industry by supporting quality storytelling and innovation,” said Rachel Haot, Chief Digital Officer. “Through powerful events, programs and resources, the ‘Made in NY’ Media Center will help prepare New Yorkers for jobs in the evolving media ecosystem and facilitate cross-sector collaboration.”

“The ‘Made in NY’ Media Center will be an incubator for great stories and a showcase for new works whether they’re told through film, digital, games or apps,” said Joana Vicente, executive director, IFP. “Regardless of what tools are used, we’ll be doing what we’ve done for 30 years: curating stories, supporting artists and connecting storytellers to investors, audiences and other artists. At IFP, we are thrilled.”

“Since opening our original New York City campus in January 2011, General Assembly has helped more than 21,000 students globally create opportunities through educational programming in the areas of technology, entrepreneurship and design,” said Adam Pritzker, co-founder and chairman, General Assembly. “We believe that New York is one of the most important centers for technology and media in the world, and we are excited to continue our support of this community through our collaboration with the IFP and the creation of the ‘Made in NY’ Media Center.”

“The Made in NY Media Center will be an important hub of creative and innovative thinking,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “This collaborative workspace will bring together professionals from across various industries, and help inspire countless New Yorkers to realize their true potential. I want to thank and congratulate IFP, the Bloomberg administration, and my Council colleagues for working together to keep pace with the ever changing world of technology, and seeking new ways to prepare New Yorkers for new jobs.”

“New York City has a rich history as the media capital of the world,” said Representative Velazquez. “This new facility will build on that legacy, providing more opportunities for collaboration, creativity and the production of compelling new films, television and digital media.”

“The TV shows and films made right here in New York prove that you don't need to go to Hollywood to make it big,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. “Now, countless New Yorkers who work in the industry will have a new place to call home thanks to IFP and ‘Made in New York.’ Just like the new Tech Triangle bus route we're building, this is yet another step toward the connectivity New York's media industry needs to continue to grow and create jobs and business for our communities.”

“I am delighted the City has selected DUMBO for its ‘Made in NY’ Media Center,” said Assembly Member Joan L. Millman. “This location will provide workspace as well as a community center in a neighborhood already home to digital and social media start-ups.”

“Today’s announcement reinforces the fact that the borough of Brooklyn, and the DUMBO neighborhood in particular, is quickly becoming the creative hub of the city,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin. “This will provide much-needed affordable space for media entrepreneurs and start-up companies and allow for collaboration among individuals across a variety of fields. I would like to thank Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Oliver and President Pinsky for their commitment to and investment in New York City’s creative industries and I congratulate Joana Vicente and her team at the Independent Filmmaker Project on their exciting proposal.”

“There is no better place than DUMBO to bring professionals from the film, advertising, new media, and gaming industries together in one central location,” said Carlo A. Scissura, president & CEO, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “Home to New York’s ever-growing tech community, DUMBO is a hot spot for digital media and other start-ups. This new center is also wonderful for Brooklyn businesses as a whole because it ensures that the borough continues to attract the best and the brightest from around the world. I would like to extend my thanks to Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Oliver for all their work in this area and for ensuring that the city remains ahead of the curve when it comes to new technology.”

“Downtown Brooklyn is fast becoming a center for creativity, anchored by 57,000 college students, a burgeoning tech sector and flourishing media and design presence, making the borough an ideal location for the ‘Made in New York’ digital media center,” said Tucker Reed, President of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “Brooklyn has long been home to most of the city’s manufacturing industry, and will continue to be so by creating products and ideas that support New York’s thriving innovation economy.”
“The ‘Made in NY’ Media Center is going to be an incredible resource for the hundreds of creative and tech firms in DUMBO and thousands of creators setting up shop in the growing in the Brooklyn Tech Triangle,” said Alexandria Sica, Executive Director of the DUMBO Improvement District. “We’re thrilled to have this community space, led by IFP and world-class partners like General Assembly. DUMBO is the perfect spot for the center and we have no doubt the entrepreneurs will be inspired by not only our cinematic scenery but also the presence of so many innovators in media taking root along the Brooklyn Waterfront.”
Looking to help solve the need for traditional media companies to adapt to new business
models or face becoming obsolete, the “Made in NY” Media Center aims to work with content creators, storytellers and technology companies to collaborate across platforms and industries and create new opportunities and business products. The “Made in NY” Media Center will launch with affordable short term rental work areas: community workspace intended for individual use and co-working workspace for small firms or start ups for extended rentals, in addition to post production suites and two to three anchor tenants who will be housed in offices at the center. The facility will also feature classrooms, a public café, media arts gallery, lounge, numerous conference rooms and a 98-seat state-of-the-art ‘white box’ screening/multimedia room. Flexible workstations can be reconfigured to allow for changing needs of the occupants.

The building at 20 Jay Street is a New York City Landmark designed by William Higginson for the Arbuckle Brothers in 1909 as America’s largest coffee roaster and packager. IFP will work with New York real estate development firm Two Trees Management Co. to develop the facility; Brooklyn-based MESH Architectures will design the space.

At the “Made in NY” Media Center, a host of programs and workshops will be offered to foster the development of the next generation of content creators. General Assembly, a leading global education company headquartered in New York, will provide classes, workshops, and long-form educational programming covering technology, entrepreneurship, and design. The IFP will offer classes on creativity & craft, cross-media strategy, and career sustainability. This regularly scheduled and affordable curriculum will be offered to the public and will address the needs of all levels of professionals. The curricula will be designed to address the needs of would-be entrepreneurs seeking to transition to emerging career fields in media, individuals looking for specific skills and practical knowledge to fill gaps in their toolkit and those looking to stay current in their chosen career.

The media center will offer memberships to multimedia professionals at various levels. At the Partnership level, for example, aimed at mid-career professionals seeking new partners and strategic development, members would receive desk space in the center; twice annual use of the screening room; thrice annual use of the presentational space; access to one of the center’s educational seminars each month; and invitations to screenings, networking events and IFP membership.

To encourage interaction and collaboration among the different participants in the “Made in NY” Media Center, several programs will be embedded into the agenda, including the Transmedia Incubator, the nation’s first dedicated transmedia incubator to jump-start and support innovative projects from idea to conception and beyond. Networking events, workshops, training sessions and panels will also take place at center.

New York City is home to a vibrant media and entertainment industry. Each year approximately 200 films shoot on location throughout the five boroughs, and there are 25 primetime television and online series based in the city, as well as 140 news, reality, children’s and other programs. An estimated 1,000 tech start ups that have been created in the city during the last five years. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of employees at city-based digital media companies grew by 74 percent. Across the country, mobile apps have become a $20 billion industry and created almost 500,000 American jobs.

IFP was selected as the developer and operator of the “Made in NY” Media Center after a request for proposals was issued by EDC in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment in March 2012. Since its inception in 1979 in New York City, IFP has pursued its mission of sustaining innovative content creation and community building through its support of the production of 8,000 films and 22,000 filmmakers. Each year IFP presents the Gotham Independent Film Awards and brings filmmakers and industry reps together at Independent Film Week. IFP also publishes FILMMAKER Magazine.

Proposed renderings of the design of the “Made in NY” Media Center are available on the NYC Mayor’s Office’s Flickr page.

Twenty Tips For Packaging Your Project Successfully

On Monday September 17th, Jay Van Hoy and I had a public discussion for IFP's Independent Film Week on how to package your film.  I drafted this post up to help prepare me for the discussion.

Producing requires that you look beyond your own projects and looks at how you build it better for everybody. I frankly don't have respect for producers who only work on their projects. I want to know they give back to the community in general.  That does not have much to do with packaging frankly, but it is why I write this blog.

To that end, I want to share with you my thoughts on how to package your film in such a way that your film will gather momentum, get made, and succeed in the marketplace.  I have come up with twenty  points.  I wanted to know what I forgot, so I hope you add to the list.

  1. Recognize what you are doing when you package a project.  You package a project because you want to finance or sell your film.  You put actors in it not just for the creative enhancement, but also for the financial benefit.  If you fail to make the movie or to use the actors well, you devalue them in the market place.  That's a HUGE risk for them.  It's not true that if an actor attaches herself to the project and it doesn't get made, no harm is done.  Attaching an actor exposes them to the marketplace -- and kind of checks their value.  If a project an actor attaches himself to does not get made, it appears that buyers are not interested in them (because they presume that audiences does not value them).  By attaching actors to your project, you are risking their career.  Do not even approach them, until you are can demonstrate to everyone around them that is not the case.
  2. Develop a positive reputation for consistently delivering films of quality and acclaim.  It may sound like a Catch 22, but if you want to make movies, you have to make movies (or work with people who do).  If you want to work with the best, you have to demonstrate you are one of them.  The best way to get a script read is to have been associated with other great scripts.  The work you do today is really work you are doing for tomorrow; it's all part of the chain.  If you develop a positive reputation things will go better for you than if you develop something to the contrary.  That common sense somehow has not stopped the business from being filled with jerks and hot air, but if employed (common sense that is), it will pave the way towards easier packaging.
  3. Respect agents and their time.  Don't harass them.  It is an art learning how to get things done and move things ahead, without annoying people.  Actors and agents have 1000s of submissions.  And that's just every day.  You want to learn how to make everyone want to take your calls.  Balance calls with emails.  Recognize that they have staff meetings on Mondays.  Recognize that weekend reads are generally fully decided by Thursday.  Don't expect top agents to read your script until covering agents and junior agents have already raved about them.  Do you homework.  Prepare.  Be ready before you act.
  4. Build relationships.  What you do today, helps you tomorrow -- even if you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  Strong relationships with agents and managers  -- and actors -- are the best thing you can do for packaging your project -- even when you don't yet have the project you are going to be packaging.  You want to make the agents want to work with you.
  5. Finish your script.  Get it under 115 pages.  Hell, get it under 110.  Or even shorter.  70 is the new 80.  Don't fudge the standard conventions.  Fix the punctuation.  Make sure the emotional beats resonate.  Make sure the moments of the characters' transformation are clear.  Make it a fun and easy read.  You get one chance.  Don't fuck it up.  Once you know you are done, you still should cut another 10%.
  6. Enhance your project beyond your script.  A good script is not enough.  When you submit a script for consideration, you need to have more than a script ready. Your director should write a personal letter to the actor in advance.  Ditto on her director's statement. You should create an image book, mood reel, or anything that will further enhance the clarity of the creative vision.  Make sure your team makes sense for this project.  Know whom your other cast ideas are. Scout.  Budget. Storyboard.  Build the transmedia extensions.  Whatever it takes and then do some more.
  7. Build respect & knowledge about your team.  This is most crucial about your director but it can equally hold true about your other collaborators.  If your director is not known, it is your job to get her known.  There is no excuse for not having prior work to show.  These days a short can be made for next to nothing. Why will talent's gatekeeper let them work with your director?  Demonstrate their talent.  Get endorsements from festivals and other tastemakers. Help your directors build a presence in social media. If you want an actor to commit to your project, you need to give them as many reasons as possible.
  8. Have money, or at least make it plausible that you will.  No one is going to attach themselves if they don't think the movie will get made.  Financing is key to this, but it is not the only thing.  Your track record, or your team's track record goes a long way.  If you don't have one, attach someone that does before you approach talent.  Don't claim you are going to make something for more than seems reasonable for the subject matter and your level of experience -- they won't believe you will ever get it done.  Having sales agency or talent agency representation can help in this regard, as it shows that proven entities believe their is business to be had, but this too is sort of a Catch-22 -- for them to get behind it, they want to have cast attached, generally speaking.  One of the reason the industry is filled with charlatans, is that they serve the purpose of standing in the for the money.  By claiming they will back your project, the fakers give you time to find the real money (if you are so lucky).
  9. Build consensus around the project in advance.  Don't start at the top.  Build support.  Package a team.  If you are a new filmmaker, bring someone with experience on early.  Submit your project to script labs and other support mechanisms that lend your project credibility.  Find passionate advocates for your work and use them.
  10. Offer roles actors want.  Actors like characters who transform over the course of the film. They like their characters to influence the action.  Actors like to work with other actors that they admire -- it can't just be their role that is good.
  11. Make it personal.  If you can get to an actor on a personal (i.e. non-business) all the better.  That is, all the better, but know that the agent is going to hate you and want to destroy you.  Why would an agent ever want their client to do something that they can earn a percentage on AND has the likelihood of diminishing their value if not ruining their career.  That said, because following the rules takes a considerable amount of time, I would probably always move to cast another actor's friends than hold out for the unlikely dream.
  12. Do your research.  Is the actor even available?  Do they like, or want to work with,  the other people attached to the project?  Will they be willing to travel where you are shooting?  Why would they like to do the role?
  13. Be prepared to answer all questions, particularly what the deal is.  Take the time to construct a couple of deals in advance, depending on how the negotiations go.  Know when you want to shoot, for how long, and where.  Know what you can provide the talent in the way of amenities.
  14. Patience.  Stars are busy people.  Their agents, managers, lawyers might be even busier.  If you are an indie producer, you are probably the busiest.  You know how you hate to be pushed? Well, think of that when you want to push.  Anyone you have heard of and want will probably take six weeks to get back to you.  On one movie of mine it took the actor a year; we actually had cast the role once, but the day her agent got back to me was the day the other actress fell out.  Be honest about the time you have with the agent, and then be prepared to increase it.  It is a good sign if they ask for more time -- it means someone's read it and likes it, so bite your lip and wait some more.
  15. Urgency.  The best thing you can do is have a start date.  Well make that: the best thing you can do is have a start date eight weeks out from now -- if you want to attract high caliber talent at a reasonable rate.  Of course that means you have already financed your project, so really now you are casting for quality or enhanced sales.  Still, without a start date, how do you create urgency?  Why do you need to create urgency?  What is the call to action?  If it is not urgent, how do you get them to focus.  
  16. Inevitability.  Inevitability is urgency's cousin.  Or sister. Brother?  Whatever it is, create that feeling around your project.  Inevitability, or a feeling something like it, makes things happen, and happen better.  How do you package that feeling around your film?  Most of the points on this list are about making your project feel inevitable.  The fuller something is, the realer it is.  You need to reveal the weapons in your arsenal.  Use everything you have to make it look likely to happen.  Have confidence, and instill it in others.
  17. Have something for everyone.  You have a series of audiences to engage with: collaborators, buyers, festivals, journalists, audiences, participants.  The people you bring into create the work with, will bring their own relationships and sizzle.  Many producers stop packaging when they get their actor who can bring the money.  You also need the one that brings security -- often an ancillary deal in a foreign territory; an actor on a prominent television show can help here.  You need actors who will get stories on different news platforms; rediscoveries (actors who were once stars) and hot up&comers (younger actors) help a lot in this regard.  It helps to fortify foreign value by casting a foreign star from a difficult or large territory.  Actors from different media can also expand your reach, i.e. bloggers, comedians, porn stars, youtube stars.  Get the picture?
  18. Package in a way that helps others connect the dots.  Actors get typecast because audiences grow accustomed to seeing them in a particular type of film and feel betrayed when they broaden their range.  Marketing gets difficult when you cast a comedian in a thriller.  The same is true for directors that have developed reputations.  If you are thinking outside the box, you need to figure out a pathway to lead others outside the box.  You can get to far ahead of the parade that the audience forgets you are leading them.
  19. Make it an event.  Movies a dime a dozen with no call to action to get the f up and off the couch.  Movies are not rare.  We have a grand abundance of them that we will never catch up to.  You need your  film to leap to the top of everyone's queue.  You must make your film an event.  Mickey Rourke playing Mickey Rourke The Wrestler in The Wrestler was an event.  Someone's return to the screen or their last role motivates an audience.  In direct contradiction to my prior point, sometimes an actor doing what they haven't is an event: Adam Sandler in Punchdrunk Love is an event, but not in Reign Over Me.  Transmedia and other extensions of a story world has the potential to do this.  I rushed to see The Master on 70mm (and was not disappointed).  Secret Cinema in the UK does this well.  We think of a lot of this as marketing, but I see early collaborations with key creatives as packaging too.
  20. Process & strategy.  This list is an attempt to help identify all that can be done to package a movie.  Once you have identified everything, you have to both figure out how and when to do each stage.  When I have built my materials that demonstrate the creative vision of the project, and I feel I have a firm understanding of the business potential for the project, and I feel my script is as good as I am going to be able to get it, I alert the agencies that we will be in town soon.  I send it all to them and set meetings.  They need to have a face to face with your director if they are going to endorse the project.  I know the whole packaging process is going to be a long haul.  I try to figure out things I can do along the way to keep it fresh, reinvent it.  Once something gets stale, you must transform it.

 

 

James Schamus & Christine Vachon Live On YouTube!

My former business partner and a regular collaborator of mine -- both good friends -- will be speaking live at Independent Film Week in 30 minutes at 4P EST. They know as much as anyone on the past & present of indie film;  maybe they can see the future too.  You can watch it live for free on YouTube here.

Gotham Independent Film Awards - Final Submission Deadline Today!

The 22nd Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards will take place this year again at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City, on Monday, November 26th. The first award show of the season, the Gotham Independent Film Awards honor independently distributed American feature films made with an economy of means and celebrate the authentic voices behind and in front of the camera in the year's best independent films. Submissions are now being accepted in five of the competitive categories, including: Best Feature,Best Documentary, Breakthrough Actor, Breakthrough Director and Best Ensemble Performance. The deadline for submissions is 5pm EST on September 14, 2012. Applications, along with full criteria, are available here.

Proof How Indie Film Requires So Much Support

If we didn't have the Indie Film support organizations, you wouldn't have indie films in the theater.  Cinereach, IFP, Film Independent, SxSW, Tribeca, Sundance, and yes, my new home, the San Francisco Film Society -- it takes more than a village; it takes a freakin' army.

The proof is in the pudding.  Look at all the films in theaters this week.  All these films were discovered at Sundance and supported by these various organizations.  Where would they be without them?  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  And just the start.  If you don't go see them -- and soon -- our very culture will be threatened!

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD written by Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar and directed by Benh Zeitlin

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/beastsofthesouthernwild/

 

HELLO I MUST BE GOING written by Sarah Koskoff and directed by Todd Louiso

http://hello.oscilloscope.net/

 

KEEP THE LIGHTS ON written by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias and directed by Ira Sachs

http://keepthelightsonfilm.com/

 

LITTLE BIRDS written and directed by Elgin James

http://littlebirdsmovie.com/

 

SLEEPWALK WITH ME written by Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish, and Joe Birbiglia  and directed by Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish

http://www.sleepwalkmovie.com/

 

COMPLIANCE written and directed by Craig Zobel

http://www.magpictures.com/compliance/

 

THE WORDS written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal

http://www.thewordsmovie.com/

 

Recommended Reading: Mynette Louie's "Innovate Or Die"

It took me a week but I finally caught up with Mynette Louie's IFP Blog Post "Innovate Or Die".  She does an excellent job at capturing the Indie Producer's life at this point in our cultural era.  More importantly, she makes a fantastic and necessary plea to us all:

"let’s put our  heads together and figure out how to sustain not only ourselves, but ultimately, the art that we love so dearly, and the diversity of artistic voices that make it. There is a better way, and we’ve got to find it soon."

Read the whole post here.

I Don't Do Panels. I Do Do Panels. I Am Doing A Lot Of Panels! What Am I Doing?

I don't like panels. They can never be conversations. They are usually five people pushing separate agendas that have no relation to what the audience is looking to learn. I like discussions. Two, maybe three participants is best. It was just me & Anthony Kaufman in Toronto. I happily moderate panels though, when it is an issue, film, or organization I care about. And sometimes I break my own rules. This weekend I am doing one panel and one conversation. I hope you will come. I may start enforcing my rules after this.

Tomorrow I am participating in " Co-Production Strategies: Identifying and Negotiating US and International Partnerships" at the Film Finance Forum / East. Get tickets here. "This session will address how to identify the right partners and locations for enhanced incentives, work out financial structuring, distribution territories, agreements, and accounting practices, among many other issues when working on co-productions in the current environment."

Moderator: Jeff Begun, Production Executive, The Incentives Office Panelists: Ted Hope, Producer, Double Hope Films Randall Emmett, Co-Chair, Emmett/Furla Films Harris Tulchin, Owner, Harris Tulchin & Associates Pat Swinney Kaufman, Executive Director, New York State Governor's Office for Motion Picture and Television Development Lloyd Kaufman, President, Troma Entertainment

On Sunday, I am participating in IFP's Independent Film Week in "The Hot Button: Is Indie Filmmaking A Career Or A Hobby?" My fellow participants are Scott Macauley and Mynette Louie. The blurb explains: "As production budgets contract and sales struggle to rebound, is it possible to make a career of independent filmmaking? Join the debate on the sustainability of the industry." Get tickets here.

Wake Up Early & Join Me Tomorrow...and maybe I will give you a free gift (seriously)...

I know told you before, but why say something once when you can say it two or three or more times? I am here to help. I am here to share what I have learned. I am here to offer some hope. At least for the moment... So tomorrow I am participating in two public events. One is free. The other you have to pay, but the money goes to support a great organization (IFP). And to someone who knows the secret word and meets me at either of the events, I have a gift to give you. So if you come to either....

x

And by either I mean:

tomorrow's IFP ScriptToScreen conference where I will be moderating a case study of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE with Borderline films, including writer/director Sean Durkin, and producers Antonio Campos and Josh Mond.

DIY DAYS NYC where I will be conducting a conversation with indie film producing legend Christine Vachon.

Come find me and stand on one foot while you tell me the actual name of the Lou tune that Mike Connel in the movie I did with Greg Mottola butchers the title of, and I will give you a couple of DVDs and other swag, and of course thank you for coming. I might as well as start clearing out those closets, right?

Sometimes I feel like I am an infomercial, so why not give out the indie equivalent of a knife set?

The Audience Award Of Audience Awards

VOTE BEFORE SUNDAY AT 11:59PM FOR THE NOMINEES OF THE 1st EVER FESTIVAL GENIUS AUDIENCE AWARD AS A PART OF THE GOTHAM AWARDS

This weekend, voting is well underway for IFP and Slated’s Festival Genius Audience Award for the 20th Anniversary Gotham Independent Film Awards. This first-ever award gives audiences from all across the country the chance to pick five of their favorite films that took home an audience award at one of the Top 50 US and Canadian film festivals in the past year. After you, the people, have spoken, your voices will be heard on November 10th when the five finalists, the first-ever Festival Genius Audience Award nominees, will be announced on both IFP’s and Slated’s websites. This award is a fantastic, unique opportunity for you to give your favorites of this past year one last round of applause, whether you’re just a casual festival-goer or die-hard movie buff. And also, when you vote, you’re also automatically entered to win a one night’s stay at the Andaz Wall Street in New York City and two tickets to the 20th Anniversary Gotham Independent Film Awards on November 29th at Wall Street Cipriani. So go vote THIS WEEKEND at http://gothamawards.slated.com … and then run to tell your friends to vote, too. Awards season starts here…and it starts with you.

Younger Audience & Creators Tell Old Fogies To Wake The F Up!

Guest post by Audrey Ewell Ted Hope invited me to do a guest column about attracting a younger audience to indie film, after I commented on a column by Robert McLellan at Globalshift.org.  That column was a recap of the debate between Hope and Jeff Lipsky during a Cagematch at IFP Week.  You can read it here: http://www.globalshift.org/2010/09/19/indie-film-can-art-house-theaters-attract-a-young-audience/.)

The column’s final statement, attributed to Hope was this: “It all comes back to having a relevant and compelling story and telling it well.”  That is an oft-repeated statement, and I noted in the comments that what mattered more to this crowd was plot, subject and genre.   So who am I, and why should my opinion matter?

I’m the director and producer (along with my partner, Aaron Aites) of the documentary film, Until The Light Takes Us.  I am 34 years old, white, female, I love Antonioni, Fellini, Marker, and science fiction.  I have Gizmodo, The Huffington Post and The Economist on my Twitter stream.  I own three video games consoles and I’m currently on level 7 of Halo: Reach.  I listen to indie rock, stoner/doom, experimental, dubstep; and I am often on my boyfriend’s and friends’ guest lists when their bands play shows.  I am the audience you’re (they’re, we’re) trying to reach, + four years. But I’m immature enough to let those four years slide.

My current movie, Until The Light Takes Us, is a doc about black metal, a music scene from Norway that involved as much crime (murder, church arson… etc) as music.  We premiered at AFI 08, passed on a few so-so initial offers (including a too-vague offer from IFC, as it seemed possible that we might only be relegated to their crowded on-demand space).  We knew we had a very passionate young audience that went beyond fans of the genre.  One that could fuel (with both attendance and promotional help) a theatrical release, even when most distributors didn’t agree.  And we actually made a profit on our 22 week, 35 market, ’09 -’10 theatrical run, grossing nearly 140K on a 25K P & A with Variance Films.

Until The Light went on to win international awards, was a NY Times and LA Weekly Critic’s pick, got picked up for all-rights deals in German territory, Australia, Japan, we self-released in the UK, aired on the Sundance channel here, and is slated for an Oct 19th DVD/Blu-ray release via Factory 25.  Yet no one in the American indie film world seems to know who we are.   And here’s the kicker: according to our data, our average viewer is 27 years old.  Less than 10% of our audience is over the age of 38.  70% of our audience is male.  We not only got a young audience, but it would seem that our type of film is so under the radar to the established indie film world, that no one noticed.

Despite making the sort of risk-taking, surprising, edgy film that would appeal to a young core audience and enough of a broader audience to really work (we used social networking and events based promotion and targeted cross-promotions), and despite the industry claiming to want films that do these things and that appeal to younger viewers, they did not take notice.  Our type of film, our type of release, must be so far from the establishment’s radar that it didn’t even register.  Ted didn’t seem to know who I was before I commented on that Globalshift column.

And it’s not just us.  I don’t have figures on which other recent indie films got a younger audience, but a couple come to mind, including Paranormal Activity and Anvil, music and horror films.   I’m also going to guess at which films didn’t draw a particularly young crowd: mumblecore and films about people learning things through some process of self-discovery.   If you want to know about the kinds of films the industry supported and didn’t support: invert the above two film types.

So this makes me wonder if the established indie film world is serious about wanting to attract a younger audience.   If you ignore films and filmmakers who appeal to a younger audience, are you not in fact maintaining the status quo?  If you ignore films like ours, will they go away?   Will the people making them become discouraged, and will the fight to make the next movie be too hard, too brutal, too futile, knowing that there is no support on the other end?  Do we even have a chance of getting financing, when we’re not noticed, let alone supported?

This is the first of many issues, but it’s a big one, because it’s the easiest to fix.  John Stanwyk, who said he had never read Truly Free Film, commented in Ted’s column (here http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2010/09/how-can-indie-film-appeal-to-alternative-youth-culture.html/comment-page-1#comment-5444) that there IS indie film made for alternative youth but that it’s ignored by the established film world, so the makers move over to genre, where they’re supported.  He cited Matt Pizzollo and his films Threat (arthouse) and Godkiller (genre) as examples.  That’s a really great point.  My next film (if I can get it made)?  A sci-fi/horror.  I happen to love sci-fi and horror, so it’s not exactly a sacrifice.  But as someone who can (and has) made films for a younger audience, my options are limited – not by the audience, but by the established film world.  The taste of the gatekeepers is a problem in this regard.  And I need to look Matt up and give him my support.

*Note: after writing this but before sending it in, I was contacted by two well-known genre-specific publications that would like to do a piece on The Egg, our in-development sci-fi/horror.  I have not heard from Indiewire, Filmmaker, or anyone from the establishment.  It’s already been written up on Brutal As Hell.  Michael’s point about genre being more supported is proving to be valid in this case.

Here’s what the establishment (and some of you reading this are now the establishment… weird, right?) doesn’t like to hear: the films you like aren’t going to do it.  Your taste may be hurting Amerindie cinema, which I have no doubt you love.   Here’s what you might not understand: so do we (we being the filmmakers making movies you don’t like, for a younger audience).  A quick peek into my top ten shows Contempt, 8 ½, Naked, and Blow-Up brushing shoulders with Carpenter’s The Thing, Blade Runner, and Battle Royale.   Now here are the two films that I saw in the last two weeks: Enter The Void and Resident Evil Afterlife (3D, Imax).   ETV fed my soul and broke cinematic ground.  RE was fun (and its audience is young).  I don’t believe these have to be mutually exclusive.

We will not kill film: we will merely bring it into the current postmodern, hyperreal era, a now that is shrinking from the future and afraid to look at its recent past.  We are squeezed into a breathless space of unreality and diminished possibility, and we are trying desperately to find films that reflect our experience.  We’re not finding them in the American indie film world, that’s for sure.   My current film for instance, is about a violent music scene, but its themes revolve around simulation and simulacra of identity in a overwhelmingly mediated, postcapitalist, globalized world.  I’m not seeing that sort of thing in the films championed by the “indie” establishment.  Maybe there are actually two independent film worlds.

It was put forth in the Cagematch at IFP Week  http://www.globalshift.org/2010/09/19/indie-film-can-art-house-theaters-attract-a-young-audience/ that the only films kids are going to see are big budget sci-fi and horror/thrillers.  And then the conversation went back to, so how do we get this audience to come see movies that are obviously only going to appeal to middle aged or older white women and us?  (I went ahead and paraphrased that.)  Clearly, films that might be considered genre need to be part of the solution.  And the word “genre” simply has to stop being a four-letter word.

I’m not saying that every gore splatter-fest out there should be appreciated or supported.  I hate B movies, I really do. I’m not even a little bit amused by movies that wink at the audience in order to cover up their own ineptitude.  My point is that there is and there can be “genre” films that are also smart and relevant … and fun/intense.  It’s what I love, it’s what I make.  It’s Blade Runner.  It’s Alien.  It’s Alphaville.   These types of indies are being made in other countries, by the way, then re-made here for huge sums.  Maybe we should consider doing this at home.

So ok, point number 1 - stop ignoring those of us who are already reaching the younger audience with relevant and edgy films, even if the films we’re making aren’t to your personal taste - as it’s such a personal point, it took up a whole lot of room.  If Ted is willing to let me stretch this over two columns, I’ll have other points next time.  I really want to address several other issues raised, including working with an audience ignorant of film history.  And I’d like to thank Ted for reaching out.

Audrey Ewell is a filmmaker living in Brooklyn, NY with her partner Aaron Aites and their three rescue animals.  More info on her current film can be found at http://www.blackmetalmovie.com.

How Can Indie Film Appeal To Alternative Youth Culture?

Sunday September 19th, as part of Independent Film Week, the IFP invited me to a "Cage Match" with Jeff Lipsky on Indie Film's relationship with youth culture.  The discussion was spurred on by a post of mine "Can Truly Free Film Appeal To Youth Culture ", and the robust discussion everyone had in our comments section to that post, and then still further by discussions on Filmmaker Mag Blog and Anthony Kaufman's column.  It was a good discussion before IFP even proposed the CageMatch, but I appreciated the opportunity to give it more thought. You might have missed it but it's been summed up pretty well by Robert McLellan on GlobalShift.org (thanks to Shari Candler for tipping me to that), Ingrid Koop on the FilmmakerMag Blog, and Eugene Hernandez at Indiewire (although I don't agree, or believe I said, that Indie Film is aimed at white women over the age of 45 -- although they are the dominant audience -- but that we have to prevent Indie Film from being the province of the privileged, old, and white (i.e. me!)). Jeff and I could have blabbed for hours. I have plenty more to say on the issue.

As both a community and an industry, it is critical we look at both the creative, infrastructure, and societal factors for answers of why we have so failed to develop the alternative and youth sectors.  Every other cultural form has a robust young adult sector that is defined both by it's innovation and opposition -- yet in film that is the exception and not the rule.

To me the issue comes down to the fact that unless Indie Film appeals to the under 30's, Indie Film will continue to marginalize itself into the realm of elitist culture like Chamber Orchestras and Ballet. Indie Film as a form is already problematic in the way it self-censors and regurgitates last year's success stories; it needs to be reinvented from within.  We need to encourage and reward rebellion -- plus it's fun, and makes great cinema.

There is often the tendency to essentially blame the audience, but I am believer that American audiences are like the March Hare and "like what they get" (in a future post, I will attempt to demonstrate why blaming the audience is lazy finger pointing).  The issue is not the consumption and appreciation patterns, but the lack of leadership to push for something unique from our creative communities.

What is it that Alternative Youth Culture wants from Indie Film Culture but can't find on the menu?  Granted, as someone pushing 50 I may not be qualified to answer (and I hope some people more of the age of which I speak raise their voices), but I think the answers are numerous (I have sixteen off the top of my head -- and I am sure you can add more).  They feel to me to be relatively timeless, as true to me back at age 20 as they are now to the folks that intern with me.  They deal with both content, context,

  1. immediacy; relevancy to the world we are living in right here right now
  2. controvercy; extremism; intensity; -- content that is not watered down or safe;
  3. honesty; truthful emotions -- not engineered ones;
  4. Respect for the audience that doesn't talk down to them;
  5. Transparency in the process, an attitude and an aesthetic that allows all to see how they too can get it done;
  6. Diversity of voices in accessible content, a commitment to be different from the rest, but a willingness to be part of a specific community -- and not a general audience;
  7. A social component; a live event before or after the screening -- something that offers that random interaction with that person you don't know quite yet but you know loves the same thing that you do (i.e. community building events);
  8. constant reminders of what they appreciate, what they want to belong to -- akin to hearing your favorite song on the radio, again and again, or being in the space that you know your parents would never want you to be or being surrounded by people that hate and love much what you feel similar about;
  9. access for discovery; it's not just a new algorithm we need; software alone can not solve the problem -- how do we find and then immediately experience or possess MORE of what we want when we finally find it; we want to know what our friends know; you hang out in a bar with good music, not just because you like the music and the people, but so you can discover more of what you like.
  10. access to the creators.  Musicians feel like they came from the community to which they perform to; their audience gets to know them in a way that can't be said for filmmakers.  Filmmakers need to embrace "film gigging" as a necessary component of some aesthetic choices.
  11. reactionary attitude and focus towards the world at large, not just the industry/culture they partake in.  If Mumblecore is the dominant strand of current alternative youth culture in film what is it reacting against beyond the Hollywood style of filmmaking? There is a whole world out there that is ready to take a whole lot of abuse.  Give the people something different; show us what we could become (for better and for worse).
  12. accessibility to the creative process; it is often said that anyone can make music AND record a song these days, yet there remain perceived economic barriers to creating film work.
  13. relatable voices and relevant voices; to want to participate, you need to feel you belong.  Who are the filmmakers who are part of the under 30 generation?  How can Indie Film be more than something for old, white, and privileged?  This comes from both the top and bottom, lifting and pushing.
  14. How can the community demonstrate they belong?  Our industry does not produce objects that demonstrate one's love for cinema and its culture?  Where are the fetish objects that can be more than a t-shirt?
  15. Communities need help to coalesce. Help those who want to help you. Young people give themselves to scenes and causes that matter to them; it is a badge of honor to help expand the things you care about it, but how does someone help Alternative Youth Culture Indie Film if they want to bring it to their neighborhood?  We currently aren't making it easy. #JustSaying.
  16. Certain aesthetic approaches encourage participation; others curtail it.  There is a preciousness that dominates in Indie Film, that presumably is predominately derived  from how difficult it is to be prolific.  Right now, most films unfold like they are a proof and not an exploration -- and to compound matters, they are a proof of something we already have realized long ago.  Each film feels like it may be the artists' last.  Each one relishes that it is " A Film By...".  If artists want participation from the community they believe they are part of, they need to get over the arrogant posturing, and admit -- through their work -- that we are all learning as we go along.

I look forward to your suggestions as to how to expand this list.  In the days ahead I hope to find the time to: a) consider the problems with the current infrastructure in supporting an Indie Film Youth Culture; b) why it is a fault of leadership and NOT the audience that we don't have an Indie Film Youth Culture; and c) what has worked, why things that didn't work before could work today, and what has never been in terms of Indie Film Youth Culture.  But then again, I have a movie or two to make and get out there.

Support Your Family! Give To Indie/Art Film Infrastructure

I have always supported the idea that you need to vote for the world you want with your dollars. I am the odd bird that believes in both optional and mandatory contributions to a better world; what's all the beef about taxes? If our tax dollars really went to things I cared about, I would be all for more of them (as long as there was REALLY HEAVY penalties for corruption too that is). Hey, I'd even vote for mandatory conscription if it had more options than just military and if they provided some real training to the participants. But that's a different subject, better suited for rants elsewhere. Let's get back to the world of cinema...

Here on TrulyFreeFilm the goal is to find a way to build an infrastructure that can support diverse work (and promote it -- the work, the participants, & the infrastucture). To that end, I think everybody that partakes in and benefits from the infrastructure, should give back to it. Sometimes this giveback comes in the form of labor and participation, and sometimes it depends on $$money$$. It costs to build the world that we want and being responsible means accepting that fact, and recognizing that it is our place to contribute.
By that standard, how much show one give to build the infrastructure for the culture we want? Should it be 5% of your income like they encourage in some churches? Perhaps even more is mandated when it also is your livelihood that needs support, right? If we don't support our industry's infrastructure, how can we expect it to be around to support us?
Beyond money though, we must fight for what we want with our actions. The phrase "stand up for what you believe" always felt off to me. Shouldn't it be more "Step forward for what you believe". Even if you are broke (it is indie film afterall) then hopefully you still have some time you could you give weekly to move the culture a bit closer to the one you want. Why don't more people use their labor in this way?
So... what should we all be doing? Well, I have made that list before.
Maybe it's time to air our laundry. Show our true colors. Perhaps we should discuss what we each really do, and figure out what more we can do. I am pretty public with my thoughts already, and with most of my actions too. But is it enough?
So... this is that list of mine as to what I have done this year to support indie film in terms of donations. I am showing you mine, not so much in hoping you show yours too, but to motivate you & others to do likewise). I recognize this list is just a start. I want to get more on the ball. I hope this list doubles next year -- particularly in the artist support category (this is the dawn of crowdfunding). We all have to do a whole lot more. I know I have to give more money for a more diverse and vibrant cinema. I need to do more to support the existing apparatus. So this is that list in hopes that maybe you will be motivated to give a little more.
$ DONATIONS FOR A NEW MODEL:
$ DONATIONS FOR ARTISTS I SUPPORT:
$ TO SUPPORT EXHIBITION & CURATION:
Exhibition Membership: Film Forum
TIME DONATION: MENTORSHIP:
Sundance Creative Producer Lab Mentor
Made In NY Mentor
This is that Internship Program
WHAT I AM NOT YET DOING:
Active Membership In Organizations
The thing that I have been wrestling with is that I do not participate in any organization. I have previously been on the board of the IFP and have been on various advisory boards, but as of now I am not on any other than the Adrienne Shelly Foundation. I have thought hard about becoming more involved in the PGA, the IFP, & FIlm Independent but for various reasons of my own, haven't thought my time is best spent there, as much as I admire each organization. I think this is a failing on my part but am not sure how to best to resolve it. I like to work where I am most needed and those organizations have a lot going for them already -- although personally speaking I still think it is a lame excuse.

Supporting More Artists
Hopefully this will become easier to both identify and give in the new year with the rise of crowdfunding models.

Supporting More New Model Exploration
Hopefully this too will become more widespread and easier with crowdfunding in the new year.
Note to self: resolve to do better in 2010.

I Will Be Speaking Publicly...

Instead of typing publicly that is.  I will be one of many panelists at IFP's upcoming SCRIPT TO SCREEN Conference March 7 & 8.  My session "Working With Producers and Production Companies" will be Sunday at 230PM.  There's a whole bunch of folks who will be there, and many even more interesting and knowledgeable than me!  C'mon down!  I hope to see you there.

For more information, visit IFP's Script To Screen website.

Maybe It Shouldn't All Be Free

I find the current debate regarding micro-payments for print journalism fascinating.  Each morning, I work to talk myself out of a panic that we will soon be deprived of all the great newspapers, writers, and journalists.  A friend chimed in that after the papers fall then next up is the free internet.  The line of dominos is really easy to imagine. 

But maybe it shouldn't all be free.  I, like all my film friends, are looking for a model of survival, no longer success.  Reading Steve Brill's defense of micro-payments makes me wonder if there is anything that film fans and workers are really committed to paying for.  Variety & Hollywood Reporter start to feel like real luxuries these days.  Guilds and unions, like membership in IFP and Film Independent, are crucial in the same way that if you want a vaccine to work, virtually everyone has to partake -- but my son still screams with every shot (maybe if vaccines had a networking attribute like these organizations my son would respond better...). 
But what will we pay for?  My Netflix subscription seems like a better value with each new film that is available for streaming, even if I still prefer DVDs.  As they just hit 10 Million subscribers it seems that everyone will pay for access to every film.  As a devourer of new international film, I need a festival diet of projected new work from around the world every two or three months.  It's one of the reasons I can never leave NY.  Jaman may offer it online but I need to see it large in a room full of people.  And as much as I like to see it, I like to talk about it, read about it.  So what will I pay for?  I honestly don't know.
Anyway, read Brill's suggestion, and ponder the applicability to our world of film.  I am.

Sundance Creative Producing Initiative

This past summer I was a mentor at Sundance's first Creative Producing Lab.  I was completely impressed.  In regards to Jane's earlier post today, this is that program.  Granted it can only be accessed by a very limited number of participants (there were 4 fellows last year), but it was a comprehensive and intensive program that I would advise for everyone.

And you know what?  The deadline to apply is quickly approaching.
You can also find the application and additional information on the program at the link below:
http://www.sundance.org/applications/CPI/

The Sundance Creative Producing Initiative much more than just the summer lab though  (from Sundance's own literature): 

it is a year-long creative and strategic fellowship program for emerging American producers with their next project.

The program was conceived to develop and support the next generation of American independent producers. For over 27 years, the Sundance Institute has offered in-depth year-round programs for feature screenwriters and directors. In an increasingly competitive and complex marketplace, the health and excellence of the independent film movement hinge on sophisticated creative and strategic producers with whom these directors and writers can collaborate.

The initiative focuses on the holistic producer, who identifies, options, develops and pitches material, champions and challenges the writer/director creatively, raises financing, leads the casting/packaging process, hires and inspires crew, and navigates the sales, distribution, and marketing arenas. The program is designed to hone emerging producers' creative instincts in the scripting and editing stages and to evolve their communicating and problem-solving skills at all stages of realizing a project.

Five producers will be selected for a one-year fellowship and participate in the following:

Creative Producing Lab (described below)
Producers Conference attendance
Sundance Film Festival attendance (screenings, networking opportunities)
$5,000 living stipend; $5,000 pre-production grant
Year-round mentorship from 2 industry advisors
Community building among producing fellows
Year-round support from Sundance staff
SUNDANCE CREATIVE PRODUCING LAB

Fellows will attend a 5-day lab focused on creatively strengthening their projects from script to screen. The idea is to give producers the chance to explore their own creative take on material and to give them skills and experience in evaluating and developing this material at script stage and beyond. Scripts will be discussed in one-on-one sessions with advisors, as well as in a collective notes process with the group. Case studies will be used to explore creative issues in the production and editing processes, while techniques in communicating with writer/directors and potential production partners will also be addressed.

ELIGIBILITY

Candidates must have produced at least one short or feature-length narrative or documentary film (no more than 2 narrative features total).
Producers must have a completed, legally-optioned, scripted narrative project in hand with a director attached to the project.
Candidates may not be writer or director of submitted project.
Candidates must be based in the U.S., although submitted project does not need to be English language nor filmed in the U.S.
Sundance Institute strongly believes in strength in diversity and actively encourages applications from women, people of color, differently abled people, and all persons who support the Institute's mission.

I should also add on another front, it is also deadline time for IFP's Independent Filmmaker Labs.  I just blogged about it on Let'sMakeBetterFilms over on HammerToNail.  Check it out too.  Get those applications in the mail!  These are great programs that we are fortunate to have.

Hope For The Future pt. 10: The List #'s 39 -42

39. Producers are being recognized for doing more than just sourcing or providing the financing and administrative structure to a production. A good producer makes a better film and not just by making it run smoothly. Sundance – who has been recognizing producers’ contributions for years -- just held its first Creative Producing Initiative. There still remains a lack of clarity in the public’s mind as to what a producer does, but when leading organizations like Sundance take the effort not only to clarify that producing is a creative act, but also help producers to build their creative skills, change will come. This clarity and the restoration of the integrity of the producer credit won’t just restore producers own recognition of self-worth, but will lead to stronger films.

40. Senior film organizations, like the IFP, Film Independent, and IFTVA/AFM are working together, along with advocacy organizations like Public Knowledge to try to maintain key policies crucial to indie’s survival like Net Neutrality and Media Consolidation. If everyone with common interests learned to work together…. Wow.

41. There appears to be real growth beyond navel gazing in terms of subject matter among the new filmmakers. Filmmakers aren’t just interested in whether the boy gets the girl or the boy gets the boy. We seem to be moving beyond strict interpersonal relations in terms of content and looking at a much bigger picture. Chris Smith’s THE POOL, Sean Baker’s PRINCE OF BROADWAY and TAKEOUT, Lance Hammer’s BALAST, and Lee Isaac Chung’s MUNYURANGABO to name a few, point to a much more exciting universe of content to come.

42. New technology makes it all a whole lot better. Whether it is new digital cameras or formats, digital projection, or editing systems, it just keeps getting better, faster, lighter, cheaper. Reduced footprints, sharper images, and quicker turnaround: who amongs us does not believe all these things lead to better films?

Wanted: A National Collection Agency

Over the years I have heard filmmakers, executives, and lawyers profess the need for a public collection agency to work with international/territorial film licensors.  The concept is that there would be a neutral party that the licensors pay their contracted fees to, and in return for both collecting these fees and dispersing them out to the contracted parties, the agency takes a small percentage.  Although there is no US body doing this on American filmmakers behalf, these collection agencies do exist in other countries.  It remains a good idea, but the need has morphed and expanded with all the activity in the DIY distribution arena.

It's hard enough to think all the bookers at the the various theaters want to hear from all the filmmakers eager to screen their work.  It's harder still to imagine the theater owners want to squabble with these filmmakers over how much they are owed.  What's needed is a neutral party to collect and distribute the theatrical receipts and a set of rules on what needs to be provided to demonstrate earnings.
This would be a great undertaking for either the IFP or Film Independent to embrace.  Frankly though it could be done just as easily as a for-profit venture and is the sort of low-cost infrastructure build that is perfect for the risk adverse type that still wants to be in the media space; I have to imagine that for less than the cost of another Sundance-wannabe feature, an investor could create a self-sustaining entity that benefits the entire community and our culture as a whole.
Such an agency would also be a very unique entity in terms of its data mining potential.  How great would it be if the funder embraced an open source attitude too?  Well, a guy can dream can't he?

On The Soapbox For Net Neutrality

I spoke at The New York Film Academy on Oct 21 to a room of thousands.  Well, not quite, but I did speak, and I got to speak out about the issue that is most crucial to all "independent" filmmakers these days.  This is part two of three.  Part One is mostly focused on what Truly Free Filmmakers need to do in this day and age.  Three is how to keep your passion for filmmaking alive in this cruel, cruel, cruel world.  Check them all out.

Film Festival Plan A: Still Need To Hire A Publicist

When I first started going to Sundance, it was just a bunch of filmmakers and a bunch of filmlovers.  Filmmakers had no entourage.  No one told them what to do or what they thought was right; instead they shared information and secrets.  But that was then.

For the last ten years, it has seemed that filmmakers arrived at major festivals with a horde in tow: lawyers, agents, managers, producer's reps, foreign sales agents, and publicists.  The list actually goes on from there.  But that was then.
These days, recognizing that a sale is very unlikely, how much do you really need?  There's definitely another few posts worth of material in that question, but I can tell you that the one I think is critical is the publicist.  After all, it is all about getting the word out about your film.
The traditional media still holds the most weight (okay, that's debatable), and any a publicist worth their salt will know how to reach them.  More importantly, the publicist will know what these critics and journalists look like, and will be able to find out what they thought of the film immediately.  Their opinion matters as it influences everyone: buyers, festival programmers, independent bookers, and other journalists.
The publicists also know the distributors and as long as you want to keep Plan D (sell your film) alive, that is invaluable as the publicists can help facilitate meetings with the buyers.
A publicist will help you draft your press notes in advance of the festival and arrange key interviews.  Sometimes they can even help find a corporate sponsor for a party (more on that later).  The publicist will collect all of the press you receive, and survey the journalists on their response.  They will collect all this material so you can share it with everyone you reach out to later.
How do you find your publicist?  Well these days they often find you if you get into Sundance or a major festival.  The key filmmaking community organizations like IFP and Film Independent can also help direct you.  Maybe I can put together a list and post it here (I will get back to you on that).