Five Reasons I Have NEW Hope For Film

The last seven days have done a good job convincing me we can build this world a whole lot better and that we have the passion and know-how to keep an ambitious and diverse film culture from falling into ruin.  I have been doing some meetings, going to events, meeting folks -- the days are long, but the inspiration has been great.  It does so much good to observe things done well and I gathered quite of few as of late. The documentary world has knit together a series of alliances, models, forums, and structures that the fiction film world should really take note of.  When the sun was setting today, and I was recognizing that it was such a inspiration-filled last few days, a dark shadow past over when I realized much of that uplift was from another form.  That's not a bad thing really.  It's nice to have role models.  Indie filmmakers the world over should thank their documentary siblings for all they have given us.

What inspired me (and in no particular order)?

Good Pitch.  Make that Jess Search and Good Pitch.  If you haven't been, you must.  Whether you are a funder or a filmmaker, an activist or an artist, you have to attend.  The whole forum is a virtually a perfectly produced event with the best of goals and the craft to achieve them.  Well curated both in terms of films and filmmakers and the potential organizational and funding partners they pair them with, it's the bomb.  Sitting in the room, witnessing new alliances being formed, you feel the world is made a better place before your eyes.  Films are lifted up and given more hope at making a significant impact.  Anyone I was next to, I felt they were my friend.  Ecstacy might have been in the water, because it certainly was in the air.  And as great as all the films and people that were there, there's Jess in the center, looking sharp in a white suit, advancing the proceedings. Total rock star.  I don't know an event that has a better suited  master of ceremonies.  Too many marvels for one day.  They both raise the bar high and make us want to reach higher.  Hearing the pitches, seeing the action, I feel that we are just seeing the tip of the change that films can accomplish.

Sundance.  I attended my first Sundance fundraising outreach event ever this past week.  It was in Silicon Valley and geared towards innovators and technology, but 100% artist focused.  After Keri Putnam, Kim Peirce, and Lynn Shelton spoke, I knew why I wanted to run a not for profit and truly support artists at this most crucial of times.  It is truly remarkable what Sundance has accomplished. The love and appreciation that these women communicated to the organization and the process that they have developed was so so so moving.  Cary Fukanaga and Jon Shenk were good to, but they spoke after Keri, Kim, & Lynn, and for me  those women had already overdosed me in inspiration, understanding, and commitment.  The blood was rushing in my head at such a volume all I could hear was the sea of possibility. It is so vast -- even if there is such a gulf to where we are now.  Sundance shows us so clearly from where Indie Film culture has come.  Imagine a world that had been deprived of that support, of those stories, of Sundance?  I don't want that world.  No way! And will give my life and labor to make sure we have all of that  and much much more to keep artists and their supporters truly thriving,  free to pursue their full calling.

Impact Partners.  What a good idea they were and shall ever hopefully remain.  But if only good ideas could be executed so well as they.  And my appreciation doesn't stop there.  Geralyn Dreyfous and Dan Cogan called upon their friends to put on a "Welcome To San Francisco" party for me.  It was at Pier 24, a truly beautiful gallery of fantastic photos to make your jaw drop, but then they filled the room with incredible and impressive people. I was completely and utterly impressed.

The world is not just.  The world is not fair.  People are not generous and very few are kind.  So what?  When you are in a room with a 100 plus people who are just the opposite of that shitty reality I just laid out, people that are generous and kind and have used their resources to make the world more just and fair, how can you not appreciate the power of both strong individuals and committed community deliver.  Impact Partners filled the room with them and have done amazing work with them.  Good people with strong ideas and access to their passion... man!  How can we all stay centered so that we use our labor in service of our ideals, despite the negative influences that swarm around us?  Maybe it just takes good friends.  Seeing what they do, convinces me how important they really are.

BAVC Producers Seminar.  I came to San Francisco because I wanted to see what would happen when you took committed individuals, ambitious artists, introduced them to cutting edge technologists and engagement specialists, and supported them with top institution, personnel, and resources.  I thought it needed to be built, but then I got to witness what BAVC has been doing well and the community they have built, and I felt great that others were leagues ahead of those goals of mine.  I can now compliment them as I stray from the path they have forged.  We are not alone.  Our ideas are not so odd.  People get things done.  We are part of a continuum, always building upon, refining and advancing.  We will get there, but not  on our own.

Vanessa particularly, but also all the other filmmakers I met this week.  I meet so many people.  I generally have, but that process has been accelerated by new responsibilities as the San Francisco Film Society's Executive Director.  Hearing filmmakers speak of their projects, recognizing both their hope and their fear, I know why I became a producer initially and why I am here now at SFFS.  Artists truly inspire me.  Their process can lift me.  My favorite time is when the ideas are jelling and the film is finding it's way and the filmmakers are coming up with new ideas and reaching higher and higher and the impossible is being spotted and it's changing before our eyes into the  very goal we dared not dream of and yet there it is, getting closer and closer, so close you know you will touch it, maybe even surpass it.  My wife, my love, Vanessa came to San Francisco this past weekend.  She's been editing her film with an awesome team and as much as it is a struggle and the resources all too slim, they won't say die and keep pushing pushing pushing and they have taken it further than they ever dreamed.  It is so exciting to be near someone as they create, and every little bit one gets to help, it is a reason to be here.  How fortunate I am!

I have Hope For Film.  What's inspired you lately?


Declaration Of Interdependence

I have not yet seen Tiffany Shlain's CONNECTED but this trailer alone should be the motto for all Truly Free Filmmakers. And it certainly gets me excited to see the film. How timely!

PS. Based on what Tiffany did with her short film, she has long been one of the Truly Free Film heroes.

Hope For The Future pt. 6: The List #'s 22- 25

22. Financiers are collaborating with each other. Groups like Impact Partners that provide regular deal flow, vetting, and producerial oversight for investors with common interests lowers the threshold number for investors interested in entering the film business. IndieVest is another model based on subscription, deal flow, and perqs. The high amount of capital needed to enter the film business has limited its participants. The film business has its own vernacular, and mysterious business practices. It is an industry of relationships. Collaborative ventures like this help to solve many of these threshold issues.

23. The US Government, at the city, state, and federal levels, recognize the positive economic impact of film production and have created a highly competitive market for tax subsidies and credits. The vast amount of experimentation in this field has allowed for it to grow forever more efficient. Although these benefits are designed to attract the highest amount of spend, and are thus most beneficial to Hollywood style models, the steady employment these credits have helped to deliver, develop a crew and talent base more able to also take risks on projects of more limited means. The “soft” money they provide a project is often key to getting the green light.

24. A greater acceptance of a variety of windows in terms of release platforms is emerging. Filmmakers were once the greatest roadblock to a pre-theatrical release DVD. Filmmakers are experimenting with everything from free streaming to the filmic equivalent to a roadshow tour. It is only through such endeavors that we will find a new model that works.

25. Industry leaders have said publicly that they will share the meta-data that a VOD release generates with the filmmakers. Although license fees have dropped considerably, filmmakers have new options on what to ask for in return. I spoke on a panel with two notable industry leaders who said they would put it in their contracts that filmmakers can receive and share the data the VOD screenings of their films generate. This information will become important the more filmmakers seek to maintain direct communication with their audiences.

What Financiers Want Now

Producer-turned-financier Dan Cogan and I worked together years ago on the classic geriatric swinger doc THE LIFESTYLE.  Since the, Dan has built a truly unique financing entity IMPACT PARTNERS, who provide a diverse group of investors committed to social change filmmaking with both regular deal flow and creative and logistic oversight.  Impact Partners has consistently placed films in the Sundance Festival, but more importantly is committed to having they both reach an audience and to facilitate change.  Their success speaks of Dan's knowledge, and now he's sharing it with you right here.  Listen up!

Dan writes:
It strikes me that this is a particularly important moment in the indie film calendar for the Truly Free Film movement. Films are being quietly notified about acceptances to Sundance. It's a moment of excitement for filmmakers and financiers alike.

And so right now it's especially important to remember that the great fairy tale sale is only going to happen to a few films. The rest will have to take the great boost of Sundance and turn it into something for themselves.

There has never been a better moment for filmmakers to do this, especially doc filmmakers who do social-issue films, which is mostly what we finance. But they have to know what they're doing, and they have to be passionate and devoted to outreach as much as to filmmaking. When we finance a film, here are some of the things we look for:

1) Once we like a project, we want to know, Does the filmmaker have a plan for outreach to get to the film's natural audience? In the age of DVD, streaming, download-to-own, etc., outreach around social issues related to your film has become deeply intertwined with distribution. Most docs, even great docs, may not be theatrical, but they can have huge potential for direct sales over the web to audiences who are part of a political or social community that the film addresses.

2) Don't worry about preaching to the choir. Yes, it's always nice to reach new audiences. But if Barack Obama's campaign proved anything, it's how powerful you can be if you really inspire your base. If you can turn people who care about an issue into people who will take the time to knock on doors, make calls, donate money, and ACT on their values, you can have a huge impact. The irony is, of course, that this preaching-to-the-choir passion you create can spill over from your core audience to infect completely new communities.

3) Indie filmmakers have to hustle as much after the film is done as they do to get it made. Directors have to get out on the road and do speaking tours, organize screenings in alternative theatrical venues, develop audiences and drive them to the theater or to their web sites, etc. The work is just beginning when the film is done. And you're the one who has to do -- not a distributor.

4) Actually, the work begins while you're still making the film. The more you can work on outreach while you're in production, the better. The goal should be to build partnerships with those in the community you're making a film about during the filmmaking process, so that as soon as the film is done, you have devoted partisans who are invested in your film and want to help make it a success. You are building your audience as you make your film. I've learned a lot about outreach from Diana Barrett at The Fledgling Fund. Check out their site:

5) Make it easy for interested groups to run and publicize their own screenings of the film, and even let them make money off them, or at least break even. The best plan I've seen for this is Robert Bahar's screening kit for MADE IN L.A. Check it our here:

6) In the old world, P&A made all the difference. Today, it's about knowledge. Who are the bloggers who can get word out about your film? Where does your audience gather online? Etc. Today, knowledge is more valuable than money.

In this new world, the opportunities for success are in the filmmakers' own hands. But filmmakers have to be willing to take on these challenges and not expect someone else to do the work for them.