The San Francisco Film Society's Great Sundance Hope: Ryan Coogler & FRUITVALE

Last year, the film that the San Francisco Film Society had supported with grants went on to great things.  Sure prizes and deals are not the only way to measure success, and really just getting a movie made is the real achievement -- and hell, getting it into Sundance is pretty damn sweet. I have loved what I have seen of Ryan's work so far.  I also love all he has to say about the film. I also love the the film is about something real to us all; in this case the killing of Oscar Grant at by a police officer. If you haven't checked it out this video already, I recommend you do so now:


If you'd like to read more about this and the original case it is based on, this HuffPost article includes many photos of the Oakland riots that followed after the officer was sentenced only for involuntary manslaughter for two years, minus time served.

The State Of Cinema (as per Jonathan Lethem)

One of the many cool things of the San Francisco International Film Festival is the prestigious State Of Cinema address.  Last year Jonathan Lethem gave it.  Let me know who you think should give it for 2013.

Jonathan Lethem: State of Cinema Address from San Francisco Film Society on Vimeo.

Others that have given the State Of Cinema address include Tilda Swinton:

Christine Vachon, Walter Murch, theatre director Peter Sellars, photographer Mary Ellen Mark, Wired editor Kevin Kelly, animator Brad Bird and critics B. Ruby Rich and Michel Cimen.  Pretty awesome, right?  

So who else should join the list in 2013?

My War, Part 1: The Ugly Side

By Mike Keegan
Cinema is dead, no one goes to the movies, film is dead, who actually goes to the movies, they don’t make ‘em like they used to, there’s nothing new under the sun—my gosh, don’t you just WRETCH at the thought of these phrases, either in a hundred and forty characters or time-wasting think pieces or overheard on BART or anywhere else under the sun.  Here’s the secret—and I’m preaching to the choir here—American independent cinema is going through an amazing renaissance at the moment.  Really!  It’s just ACCESS to these movies that’s the problem, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s easier than ever to make a movie.  You, dear reader, could conceivably write, direct, shoot, edit and upload a feature film with whatever device you’re currently reading this on.  Look here—iMovie for your iPhone is just $4.99 in the App Store.  So let’s try a little experiment—go make a movie.  I’ll wait here.  Go do it–it’ll be fun!  Good luck!

How far did you get?  It’s not that easy, huh?  I mean, it’s technically easy to assemble those elements, but it’s not practically easy to see through to the very end.  So let’s quit it with the condescending “back in my day” quips about hardship quotas that need to be met by each bumper crop of new filmmakers.

If you somehow beat the odds and finish a feature, the next step is getting your movie seen.  Oh boy.  That’s a hurdle.  Let’s skip ahead eighteen months and you took a modest deal that lands your micro budget masterpiece in the menu of a Video On Demand service.   Now your aunt can tell all of her friends about it!  That is, if she can find the folder for it.  Oh, and your competition is THE AVENGERS.  And also every movie ever, all available at once.  Your Indie Wire coverage was pretty great, but your aunt’s friends don’t read Indie Wire (or, at least, not regularly).  Is this movie serious?  They don’t really feel like watching a serious movie tonight.  Maybe tomorrow.  Also, now three or four years of your life are gone.  I BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN BY MEETING A SURLY DARE YOU FOUND BY SIMPLY CLICKING ON A LINK FROM EITHER THE SAN FRANCISCO FILM SOCIETY OR HopeForFIlm BLOGs!

I’m not saying Video On Demand has to be the death knell of movies.  Realistically, it’s the only option a lot of great movies have to be seen by even the smattering of people who will spend the three to seven dollars to watch it.  But they need to know the movie exists in the first place.

Listen, the history of theatrical exhibition is a boondoggle of greed, codification, short-sighted expansion and hubris on macro and micro-scales.  It truly is. And with forced digital upgrades on the horizon, even more cinemas are crumbling under the financial weight of an industry who could give less of a shit.  Sounds GRIM, huh?

No, not entirely.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2:  The Glorious Beautiful Blue Sky Future.

Mike Keegan is a film programmer at the famed Roxie theater in San Francisco.
This post originally ran on the San Francisco Film Society blog.

You Want To Start A Film Production Co.? Why Not Make It A Non-Profit?

By Chris Mason Johnson

I don’t have any statistics on this, but from what I can gather anecdotally, forming a non-profit to make a fictional feature film is a pretty rare thing, but it’s what I’ve done for my new (second) feature, Test, and it’s been a great experience. Mostly great. At first I did have to endure snarky questions from my non-filmmaking friends, along the lines of: “Aren’t you just admitting your film won’t make any money?” Well, no... (more on that later). From my filmmaking friends the response was more of a blank stare, followed by: “I don’t know anyone else who’s done that.”

There are a lot of filmmakers out there who make one feature and then stop. They didn’t break through to that magical “next level,” and there’s no way they’re doing the same thing all over again. But for those of us who are determined to keep making films on a small scale, truly independently -- and who actually enjoy it -- it makes sense to explore new models in a distribution landscape that’s in the midst of its own creative destruction and reconfiguring.

[caption id="attachment_8402" align="alignleft" width="300"] Scott Marlowe and Matthew Risch in Chris Mason Johnson's Test[/caption]

Maybe there are filmmakers out there like me who had some very modest success with a first feature -- you sold it to a small distributor and/or cable, you got it on Netflix, you made a few foreign sales -- and you want to do it again. But you also want to retain creative power and control. Doing that means thinking small, as in small budgets and a realistic business (or non-profit) model.

What I’m talking about here is an ultra-low-budget feature without stars, made for, say, 200 to 300K. The kind of movie that may do a two-week theatrical in select cities but then lives mostly on the internet and cable. It’s seems to me that the ontology of a film like that is a lot closer to other projects that use non-profits -- e.g., documentary films, dance companies, off-Broadway productions -- than it is to a large-scale independent film with stars and a budget in the millions, let alone to a Hollywood production.

A non-profit isn’t right for all projects, obviously. Comedies without any socially relevant/meaningful content, for example, wouldn’t make sense. And yes, you do need to prove “educational value” to the IRS. The non-profit I’ve created, Serious Productions, Inc., will have a life beyond Test and has a broader mission statement that Test fits into: to capture aspects of LGBT lives and experience that might otherwise be lost in the bigger historical narratives that dominate. Test is set in 1985 San Francisco, and takes a very personal look at young dancers caught up in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It’s a story that hasn’t been told and might be lost if it isn’t.

[caption id="attachment_8404" align="alignright" width="300"] Chris Mason Johnson's Test"[/caption]

After Test has finished its festival, theatrical and initial VOD runs (fingers crossed!), my non-profit will still exist and can become an incubator for future material and a means to cultivate future collaborators. I can imagine projects under the non-profit rubric (oral histories, video portraits) that keep me working and generating material in between the long span that inevitably separates feature films these days, and these projects can, in turn, generate material for those future features.

So I’ve probably raised more questions than I’ve answered, but here’s a list, in no particular order, of what I’ve liked about forming a non-profit. Maybe there are some answers embedded in here:

-  You can still pay yourself a fee as a writer/director/producer/editor, etc., and you can of course still pay everyone who works for you.

-  You can still form an LLC for those investors who really want to invest rather than donate (bless them!). I have an LLC for TEST, and about 25% of my budget comes from private equity investment.

-  Actual investors will recoup much faster, because the grants and donations don’t need to recoup.

-  Fewer K-1s to send out at tax time!

-  Your non-profit can buy units in your LLC, so that some money recoups to the non-profit for overhead. This gets tricky; talk to a lawyer.

-  You don’t need to set up Fiscal Sponsorship in order to apply for grants or accept donations -- you are your own 501-c-3 -- and you don’t lose the 5-7% cut that a fiscal sponsor takes.

-  The world of grants for fictional features is small, but it’s a great world and great to explore, full of people who care about movies and content. The San Francisco Film Society is one organization that’s granted me on Test (via the Kenneth Rainin Foundation) and they’ve been an amazing partner on the project.

-  Beyond actual grants, there is also a whole world of foundations out there that are basically set up by wealthy individuals who need to write off money for tax purposes. Some of these people love independent film!

-  Anyone can give you a tax-deductible donation; you are not limited to grants and foundations.

-  If you do a Kickstarter campaign, you can offer your donors a tax deduction via your 501-c-3, something that Kickstarter itself cannot do.

-  Fundraising is more emotionally rewarding! When people are donating rather than investing, because they care about the material in a different way, the whole vibe is different. To me, the relationship feels less cynical and more genuine.

A final word: you can’t do any of this without a good lawyer who already understands the non-profit landscape, preferably from working with documentary filmmakers. Also, you can’t fake it. Your content really does have to be serious.

TEST the film

Editor's Note: As with any legal matter, if you are interested in considering this model, you should consult with your lawyer.  The views here opinion only, and should not be a substitute for legal opinion. 

This post originally ran on the San Francisco Film Society's blog here.

Chris Mason Johnson’s first feature as writer/director is The New Twenty (2009); his second, Test, is currently in post-production. Prior to filmmaking, Chris worked in independent film development and prior to that was a dancer in major ballet and modern companies in the U.S. and Europe.  He is currently a resident at the San Francisco Film Society's Film House.

How I Learned to Stop Whining and Love the Game

by Katherine Bruens

I work professionally as a Producer and Production Manager in the advertising industry and independent film world here in San Francisco. I am also one half of a partnership that has produced three micro budget features here. Rather than become frustrated that the market in San Francisco has demanded that I spread my attention between these three worlds, I’ve embraced this hybrid.  This market gives me a way not only to maintain my freedom to usher forward new personally driven works, but it also allows me to produce media through a broad spectrum of strategies, sometimes with vastly different amounts of money. What’s more, in the end these projects are all trying to achieve a similar result.

CXL, my partner Sean Gillane and my current feature, is just starting its public life with a local premiere at the San Francisco Film Society’s Cinema by the Bay, while our first film Corner Store is delivering to its final distribution outlet with Hulu. Thus I feel I am in an interesting place to look both back and forward at our experiences producing and developing audiences for these local films in relation to the spectrum of possible strategies and budget categories I have been a part of professionally here in San Francisco.

The following is a collection of some of my thoughts and experiences dealing with how to produce a film by recognizing that yes, all projects need resources, but that while of course they can be purchased for money, they can also be developed through relationships and time. What's more, when money is lacking, and it always is, look to the potential value of the resources around you and the potential value you have to offer in the project itself.

From top to bottom and beginning to end, making a film takes a lot of resources, this we know. This is what makes the production process both so challenging and so potentially beautiful.  It’s important to remember that each project has a unique set of needs and resources, perhaps its best to begin thusly:

1      Assess your resources and strategize the best way to satisfy those needs

2      Choose a production style and timeline that accommodates the valuable resources around you (your own time and energy included)

3      Offer what you have in exchange, which in many cases is a real stake in the project you are working on;

4      Deal with the remaining hard costs applying all the same

Perhaps these are obvious when read, but I want to push the particular point of doing this as early as possible, especially when money is the resource most lacking.

A lot of the initial feedback for CXL has been anchored in praise over the uniqueness of the ideas and the success achieving these ideas in the final product. This praise is gratifying in part because the project was designed to do just that.

When we started CXL, the director Sean Gillane and I spent time examining the resources (money, time, relationships) that we had available to us and created a script and production strategy that utilized those resources, rather than chasing resources that we had no access to. By beginning this way we were able to ensure that this film would 1) be completed and 2) be completed to our standards and expectations.

Perhaps a micro-budget example will help to illustrate the point:

I want to make a narrative feature and know I don’t have the money to pay for a casting director and subsequently to pay my talent. Do I a) give up and cast myself knowing I have no training, or b) go to a local theater performance and scout for talent that would be interested in working with me for the experience? By choosing the latter, I have used my time and relationships to get my film the talent it deserves and have substituted time and relationships for money. Moreover, in order to cast this highly capable actor as the lead in my film, I need to ensure that he can fit our production schedule into his life without being financially affected. My calendar will need to shift to make sure that the value of this relationship afforded me can make it to the screen.

The process repeats itself with locations, crew and post-production personnel.

At this point another distinction must be made that applies to micro-budget, but perhaps just as much to Low-Budget as well. There is a world of difference between calling up, say, a director of photography and asking if they can come work for 30 plus days for you on your feature for free, versus grabbing a coffee with someone who is a shooter whose work you love and saying “I have this project and I’d love to show you the script and see what you think.”

You have a project that is empty of personnel and hungry for the checks and balances a creative team should give it. Why not approach someone with a blank canvass of possibility? How would they like to be involved? What do they think your project could value from?

If you have an LB or ULB project keep in mind any added value you can give your team by inviting them to be part of a collaboration. This will supplement the drop in pay they will ultimately need to agree to and will help you assemble your human resources while improving your film in the end. I can tell you from experience that nothing will piss off your crew more than treating them like hired help when they came on despite the rate for the love of the game.

Even in advertising I can approach crew for a job and ask if they can help make my budget work in this or that way if, say for example its a new client for them and they feel as though helping out will help them get more work in the future.

When indie filmmakers get wind of what commercial budgets are like, it can be a shocking and sometimes infuriating experience. But when I have the opportunity to look back on this spectrum of production, it is no surprise that commercial budgets could have me spending 500K on a couple of days of shooting. This content has to be delivered in breakneck speeds. With weeks or even days to assemble what without money could/should take months, the cash keeps things moving. Oh yeah, and the client gets the final word.

So what of the hard costs in indie? When I began Corner Store, all I had was my time and access to a subject I was sure would make a wonderfully interesting documentary. After my own ducks were in a row I reached out to two parties, a camera owner to help me shoot some test footage, and a friend interested in film who had a history of event coordination. Both became interested in their own right and organically became part of the team. With that I could begin to create the infrastructure to help us raise the money for the hard costs of equipment and our travel costs to Palestine.

The same principles apply to your supporters as when assembling your production team. I have the great pleasure of being able to say that in our two largest live fundraising events for Corner Store we were able to raise first $6,000 in one day and subsequently $12,000 in one day to supplement the thousands we continued to raise along the way on and offline. I could write a lot on how this was accomplished, but one thing I can say here is it was not done by expecting that people would care about my project and sitting back to let the funding come to me. The burden was on me to create relationships with leaders in communities I felt would see the most value in what I was doing and, just as with my crew, showing them how their help would be crucial to what would become our shared goal.

By allowing them access to the creation of the film I was inviting them to share in the subsequent feelings of success. Whatsmore, by treating each and every person like a member of our team by the time the film was released we had supporters there to fill every theater and feel as though they were part of the collective effort to push the film out into the world.

All of this, as previously stated, is the beauty and the burden of film. Even as I’m sure my future experiences will more clearly mold these ideas and I can only hope will usher in many more, at this particular vantage point I wish to highlight two main take aways;

1) When you want to build something, anything, a strategy should take precedence above all else. This seems inordinately obvious when applied to most industries, but should be considered just as important in the creation of the most collaborative art form available. 

2) Money is just one kind of resource, and I’ve never seen any production be successful through money alone.


BIO: Katherine Bruens is a local Producer and Production Manager in both Advertising and Independent Film in San Francisco. Her directorial debut Corner Store, a documentary feature, gained a strong local following and enjoyed glowing reviews from local news outlets as well as the New York Times. With Corner Store in distribution internationally and a digital deal with HULU in the works, she is focusing her energy on partner Sean Gillane and her current feature, CXL while beginning to develop their next project with their ever growing San Francisco team. 

FEAR & MOVIES: Morocco, Hollywood and Me

By John Slattery 

Having been overseas for three and a half years, I returned to the United States.

When I came back, I came straight to San Francisco.

In the first few weeks people would ask, “So, where’d you move here from?” When I told them I’d just come from a year of teaching in Paris, 99% of their responses had a similar theme, which all fit into one category: I LOVE PARIS!

Typical responses were:

“Paris! Wow, lucky you!”; or

“You know my wife and I had our honeymoon in Paris”; or just,

“Man, I love Paris!”


Often in the same conversations, their follow up question had to do with where I was before Paris. When I told them that I’d been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco for two and a half years – they had a very different kind of response. They usually all fit into two different categories:

One sounded like this:

- “Morocco?… Were you scared?”

- “Morocco, hmmmm…. and you lived to tell the tale?

- “You know, my wife and I, we were in Paris on our honeymoon and, we - got a ticket to go to Marrakesh for the weekend… but then, well, you know, we decided not to go.”


I call this category: FEAR.


The second category sounded like this:

- “Morocco?  Did you ever see that mummy movie with the guy…. In some desert and there is this windstorm coming…? That was all shot in Morocco”; or

- “My wife and I, we were in Paris on our honeymoon… and we went into this great little theatre in the 5th… and we saw Laurence of Arabia there….Wasn’t that made in Morocco?; or

- “ Morocco yea!...Black Hawk freakin’ Down!”


This category I call: MOVIES


My first feature length film (CASABLANCA MON AMOUR) is a non-traditional road movie, shot in Morocco, which explores the entwined relationship between FEAR & MOVIES.

The film will have a special preview screening at the on Saturday Nov 10 at 2:30pm at the New People Cinema in San Francisco (1746 Post St in Japantown) .

This screening is organized as part of the San Francisco Film Society's Cinema By The Bay Festival.

Tickets for the screening can be purchased now via the link below.

LINK to SFFS page about the film and about the screening 


Looking back at my return to the United States in 1998, I am surprised so many Americans associated Morocco with FEAR, inasmuch as the events of 9/11 had not yet transpired.

Before spending those two and a half years in Morocco, I’d spent a year of high-school living with relatives in Ireland. When I returned from that first sojourn, nobody said, “Oooooh, Ireland, scary …”

My experience in Morocco reminded me of time spent in Ireland. Both the Moroccan and Irish cultures take hospitality very seriously. Neither culture has any regard for time. The Irish saying, “If you are only a day late, you’re still too early,” has a near exact translation in Moroccan Arabic.

Strangers and relatives took great care of me in Ireland; strangers and friends took great care of me during my time in Morocco.

When going to another land to experience its culture or to make a movie, factor these two things into your equation: a serious regard for hospitality and serious regard for good food.  You will find both of these in Morocco!



We are now two wars and more than ten years past the events of 9/11. And the landscape of the entire Middle East—of the world—radically changes every day.


Casablanca Mon Amour addresses what is perhaps the most pressing social issue of our time: The history, strength and quality of a particular relationship between an Arab/Islamic and a Western society. The relationship (between the U.S. and Morocco) is examined through the cultural lens of cinema.

Get this: From 1896 to 2000 over a thousand U.S. films showed Arab / Muslim characters. Of these, only 12 films showed positive characters, 52 were neutral, and more than 900 were portrayed negatively.

Casablanca Mon Amour offers a critical perspective—one often missing from the dialogue about Islamic World/West relations—on the unchallenged lineage of degrading images of Arabs in Hollywood movies.  With a look toward how these images naturalize prejudicial attitudes toward Arab/Islamic culture in the U.S. as well as how audiences in Arab/Islamic countries interpret these images.  Adding to the ongoing debate within the United States about America's national character and global role, the film connects to similar debates unfolding within the Muslim world.

Casablanca Mon Amour is a modern road movie—using movies as a road map plotting the course between yesterday’s Hollywood and today’s Morocco—that encapsulates the more complex and fractured nature of living in a world where TV and wars compete for headlines and occupy imaginations.

John Slattery (Producer/Director) began work in television as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, where he wrote and hosted a pilot for a social-issue TV series at the Moroccan National Institute of Television.  John has collaborated with a broad range of talented producers, DP’s and organizations on a number of short and full-length films, and TV shows, including: two-time Academy Award ® winning Cinematographer Haskell Wexler ASC, PBS/WNET American Masters, and MTV.  In 2004 John founded Zween Works ( - a multidisciplinary film and video production house that produces short and long format social-issue films. Zween Works focus is creating narratives which inform and connect people to issues and organizations that work for justice.





Sometimes You Have To Change The Ending -- Metaphors & All

By Alejandro Adams "If we do not reunite Sykes and Thornton, which shows that people do side together, that they do stick with each other...then perhaps we have destroyed everything we have been talking about in this picture." -- Producer Phil Feldman in a letter to Sam Peckinpah regarding the the final scene of THE WILD BUNCH *

It's not every day that a notorious bruiser of a director gets along with his producer. But it's equally rare that a producer respects a filmmaker and his vision to the degree illustrated by the note above--Feldman had even protested Peckinpah excising some of the film's more violent bits. Directors are usually the ones who get so far up the ass of their own work they can't see clearly. In a somewhat alarming inversion, Feldman was a producer exhibiting more concern for the integrity of the film than for the paying audience. **

I've started with an anecdote about a producer not only because this quasi-promotional outing is brought to you by Ted Hope's kind invitation but also because filmmaking is about relationships, sometimes just one relationship, and it can feel like the scene that reunites Sykes and Thornton. Or not.

My new film AMITY, which screens as part of Cinema by the Bay on Saturday, contains a 26-minute scene. I think the San Francisco Film Society programmers deserve a special round of applause for overlooking that obstinate quirk. The scene takes place in the back of a limousine at night, which only makes it worse. I don't know how my producer feels about the scene, whether she's egging me on or rolling her eyes. We don't talk much. We're divorcing, slowly, just passing the three-year mark. We're in the middle of a custody battle that looks like the climactic shootout of THE WILD BUNCH but in much slower motion. Three years, gattling guns still tearing through flesh. I could make it sound less dramatic, but sprinkling potpourri on a pile of dogshit can only do so much.

My producer and I made some good films together. I think AMITY is one of them. The problem for me, and the main reason it took me three years to finish the film, is that its themes rub up against reality too much. I'm frightened by the thought that AMITY could be my future. Maybe the film is a prophecy. But then it's normal to be scared of your own film. Every time you create something, you risk creating a monster. If you can't stand the heat, etc, etc.

Incidentally, I can't stand the heat.

I owe apologies to those who gave themselves to this project three years ago. I didn't know my life was about to derail. People in my projects don't just show up and say some lines I wrote. They use their real names and real history and fabricate only enough to conform to the story I'm trying to tell. Greg and Michael, who play Greg and Michael in the film, are just Greg and Michael. Greg tells some colorful stories about Bangkok, Michael tells us he was a therapist in the Army. So far it's a documentary. I don't want to go on giving away details--I'm just trying to illustrate that the commitment I ask for is not superficial. You will sacrifice yourself if you make a film with me. That part I'm not sorry about. I'm just sorry all that commitment sat on a shelf for three years.

Integrally related to the breakup of my marriage is the loss of a distribution deal for my first three films. I don't want to be too confessional here--let's just say I lost everything in one go. If you want more detail, buy me a drink sometime. You'll find out why I have abandoned everything and everyone that qualifies as "the independent film scene" from Brooklyn to San Francisco.

I will say in passing, though, that my distributor regularly disparaged Ted Hope because Hope's definition of "independent film" never seemed to include zero-budget films. But here he is offering me space to go on about my zero-budget film. And I'm giving him a firm handshake.

The publicists at the festival cringed when I confessed that there's no Facebook page or trailer for my film. I'm not trying to be an asshole. I appreciate these opportunities. I hope everyone who reads this buys a ticket to see my film. My previous three films sold out multiple screenings in 500-seat venues. AMITY is screening in a venue with 150 seats and I'm told the advance sales are "light."

I went into the premiere of my first film with critical head of steam behind it. That head of steam only increased on my second film. When my third film was ready to screen I didn't have any of the vitality that had fueled the success of the others. It screened once. No, twice. It's not as if those critics or festivals disappeared. I disappeared. There were screener requests and screening invitations but I was too much of a zombie to answer a simple email. I don't know if I owe anyone an apology for that--I only hurt myself.

At the peak of my success I had...a few glowing pullquotes. Man, this makes me tired.

I have led people to believe that AMITY has some kinship with Cassavetes's HUSBANDS. Maybe it does. But there is some hokey self-psychologizing in the dialogue that is intended to neuter its commentary about "men today"--they don't understand themselves any better when talking about "phallic symbols." It's just embarrassing.

I don't care about men today. My film is about men, now and forever. Its scrutiny is unyielding which led the SFFS programmers to pronounce on it mercilessly in the festival guide blurb. Maybe everybody in my films is a piece of shit and maybe I'm a piece of shit too.

I got some things from my father. You have to get them from somewhere.

AMITY is about the way a man stands holding a pool cue, the way he talks through a big bite of hamburger, the way he admires old American cars, the way he is aggressively lonely, the way he internalizes agony until it becomes something else. It's about a man who's willing to be there for another man no one wants to be there for. Like RIO BRAVO. Why does Chance stick around and help Dude when Dude clearly has no self-respect and has dishonored the badge? Maybe friendship isn't the point--just integrity, just character. Fuck doing something because it's noble, do something because it's right. They say RIO BRAVO is a response to the politics of HIGH NOON. I'm not an academic or a critic or a politician. I'm just a man. I'd like to be the kind of man Hawks threw into the town of Rio Bravo when Dude needed someone. Anyone. AMITY is about that kind of anyone. There is an enormous closeup of his profile and contrary to the logic of the profile shot, he is accessible, he is giving. It's a horrible shot, defying good taste, uncomfortable to the viewer, bad cinema. I am very attached to this shot.

It amuses me that some filmmakers still think they're being transgressive when they put a bunch of sex and violence on screen. When I was in fourth grade I drew a picture of a hand giving the finger to some kid sitting next to me. I got it out of my system early I guess. What's really transgressive in a film these days is forgiveness. Redemption stories are common--that's not what I mean. I mean forgiveness in the face of non-redemptive behavior.

Satyajit Ray made films that move me. He might be the only one. It's foolhardy and even dangerous to try to make films that move people. Especially if you're shooting standard-def 4:3 video. You really must be out of your mind.

Regarding IM LAUF DER ZEIT Wim Wenders said he was interested in examining why straight men sometimes choose each other's company rather than that of women. My film is about two men who do not seem to get along but who choose to be together anyway--and incorporating a few women complicates their tenative bond, to put it mildly.

Marriages may end, friendships may end, but maybe something happens between two people one night and it doesn't have a label and it scratches an itch you didn't know you had.

And that's how I would describe my film.


BIO: Alejandro Adams wrote and directed the zero-budget features AROUND THE BAY, CANARY and BABNIK which are collecting the most exquisite dust. He has been called the "first meaningful filmmaker to make himself known through Twitter"*** but he no longer has a Twitter account so there you go. Alejandro has two children with beautiful blue eyes and longs for seventeen more with beautiful brown eyes.

* "Peckinpah: The Western Films -- A Reconsideration," by Paul Seydor

** It's a long, complicated story with an unfortunate outcome. Sykes and Thornton didn't, as it were, stick together in real life.

*** Interview with Vadim Rizov

Ted's note: I am not sure who Alejandro's distributor was but s/he clearly was comfortably talking knowingly about something they knew little about (aka me!).  My commitment to indie, as demonstrated by my actions, encompasses no-budget, micro, and beyond.  The actions of  a distributor dropping an artist's films demonstrate something else altogether...

CHECK OUT ALL OF The San Francisco Film Society's program:  "Cinema By The Bay".  I hope to see you there.

Me, My Movies, & Some Of My Thoughts

Friends of mine are throwing a little party this evening to welcome me to San Francisco and introduce me around to some folks who can help initiate the vast amount of changes that need to occur to help ambitious & diverse cinema remain a sustainable and impactful art form and enterprise.  

How great is that?  Finding collaborators and supporters to help accomplish all I want at the San Francisco Film Society is the first step towards building solutions.  They wanted to show a montage of my work.  One hasn't been done since 2009, and I could use an update for sure, but still, this one, does by Filmmakers Alliance in LA, still sings pretty well.

Thanks Jacques!

We've subsequently done a non-interview edit, added in Dark Horse, MMMM, and Super, while removing some older titles.  I look forward to one day having a totally fresh reel with different clips though....

First The Feature (Script), Then The Short

We hosted Anna Boden as an Artist In Residence at The San Francisco Film Society recently.  I found it interesting to hear her say she and Ryan Fleck had been inspired by Peter Sollet's RAISING VICTOR VARGAS and the prize-winning short that preceded it 5 FEET HIGH & RISING.  They had written the HALF NELSON script and in trying to figure out how to do a short that could help get the feature made they decided to shift the focus away from the focus on the teacher (later played by Ryan Gosling in the feature) and put in on Shareeka Epps the student (and who stars in each the short and feature).  This is the short  GOWANUS BROOKLYN that helped get the feature HALF NELSON shot.

Let Others Pay For Your Office Rent

The most important issue for independent filmmakers these days is survival.  How do you make ends meet? Taking rent off the table, filmmakers have room to move.  When we shut down our offices at This is that, and I started working out of my kitchen, I got less productive and could share less (and limited my intern use).  That won't happen to you though.  Why?  Because if you live in San Francisco, the San Francisco Film Society can help you with your office expense by providing you a free office.

The San Francisco Film Society is pleased to announce that, as of September 2012, FilmHouse is open once again in 4,800 spacious square feet of newly-renovated office space located in the bustling Fillmore District. With generous funding from theKenneth Rainin Foundation and additional support from the San Francisco Film Commission, the FilmHouse residency program is designed to offer free office space to filmmakers in various stages of production where they can share talents and resources with their peers.

Open to both narrative and documentary filmmakers, FilmHouse offers a residency of either 6 or 12 months to filmmakers with projects that, through plot, character, theme or setting explore social issues of our time.



Jessica Anthony
FilmHouse Coordinator

Why I Chose To Lead The San Francisco Film Society

To effectively serve, preserve, embrace and enhance film and film culture, we must examine, participate, and evolve the broadest definition thereof. Film, as an art, culture, community, business, and science is consistently evolving – it may be a cliché, but it’s a fact that film cultures only constant is change. Film’s evolution needs to be embraced and experimented with --not feared.

Large well-financed interests are heavily committed to maintaining the status quo and as much as those corporate and business entities are the filmmakers' & film cultures' allies, those who love film first for the art and culture must act for the artists’ interests over those of pure profit. It’s a difficult balancing act that must be maintained, as alliances must be built so that business can enhance art. For the promotion of film culture, artists and their work -- and their ability to sustain themselves -- must remain the focus of all support and cultural organizations.

Film, and any program to support it, can never be only local, national, or international in scope. A film organization must embrace all three of these aspects as they influence and shape one another. Organizations need to serve locally, recruit, reach, and build nationally, and collaborate internationally. The health of film culture comes with the recognition of this interdependence.

The disruption of the film industry and culture, prompted by the digital revolution, requires a radical rethink of how our support organizations may best serve their constituencies. The cost of creation, execution, and marketing & distribution, within film culture & business has shrunk to such an extent that most barriers have been virtually removed, opening up opportunities for new explorations of form, content, engagement, and appreciation.  Opportunity will never be the same as outcome though, and a pro-active force is required to move access towards execution.

Media literacy is thankfully on the rise and the dependence on a one-off feature film business model is on the decline – a double-headed transition that could usher in the end of the era of feature film form dominance and the birth of over-all content utility. Artists need encouragement & support to adapt their practices and work to extend into multi-form and cross-platform approaches, while simultaneously striving for real-world career sustainability.

As much as the technology, art, artists, and audiences have embraced some of these changes, the industry and market however have resisted them. This gulf offers a wealth of opportunity. However, a reception for change doesn’t necessarily carry with it the ability to do so; artists and their supporters lag behind the development of technology and require new training and knowledge to utilize it. The world’s economic crises and recessions – with their resultant industry & government based capital limitations -- further limit new business models and art forms from developing, let alone taking hold -- without some positive outside intervention.  We must find ways to be more inclusive (and profitable!) for the private sector.

The divide between the haves and have-nots in the arts is reflected by the difference between Hollywood’s focus on tent-poles and Indieland’s reliance on micro-budgets, with the under-funded and artistically adventurous threatened with extinction unless brave new initiatives are undertaken.  I exaggerate not -- when I speak to my producing brethren, they are usually on the cliff's edge, ready to throw in the towel.  The art of filmmaking should not be relegated to hobby status.

Film is no longer a viable career choice for new artists, or those who want to facilitate them; instead everyone must now seek out secondary support occupations to pursue their passions (or be blessed by birth or patrons). The strategicly-wise among them have already embraced a shift from individualized creative expressions to more collaborative ventures. Long-range planning and infrastructure-building need as much, perhaps more, attention than the commitment to the individual visionary work.  The shift from a product business model to that of a relationship with the people formerly known as the audience (to lift from Lance Weiler's phrasing) is a huge transition that won't be easy.  I won't ask others to do what I myself am not willing to both do & exemplify.

Our entertainment economy, and the art it supports, was built upon the concepts of scarcity and control, but today’s reality is one of super-abundance and access – the exact opposite. To survive and flourish, today’s artist/entrepreneurs -- and those who support them -- must all embrace practices that extend beyond the core skills of development, production, and postproduction of their art and work – and even reach beyond the attention and practice of marketing and distribution. To flourish in these complex times, our film community must commit to a comprehensive strategy that emphasizes the full definition of cinema. We must embrace a comprehensive program of discovery, engagement, participation, collaboration, appreciation, presentation, value-exchange, and community-transitioning. These aspects are equal necessities for all participants to master if we are to enjoy a sustainable, diverse, and ambitious film culture.  We need to develop best practices for this, providing support and direction.  We can do this, but someone has to lead, and will never be an individual or a single organization -- but it's time is now.

Our art, culture, and support organizations must pivot to emphasize these needs, while also encouraging the experimentation that can lead to the best practices. Our emphasis on promoting success, while ignoring the "failures" that we could really learn from is simply wrong-headed. Despite my passion and commitment towards bringing new and ambitious work to the screen, I can not in good faith continue a project by project focus, as I feel that as personally satisfying as that has been, all of our ability to do so in the future will be severely limited without a widespread commitment to institute new changes and support.  If all of us just continue to look out for our individual projects, we are fucked.  We can't just keep making movies without giving equal attention to the overall infrastructure.

I trust that I am not alone in this new commitment and that I can count on the full and long term support of others in this mission. It is the reason that I wanted to come to San Francisco and lead the Film Society. I have always produced films in a manner that conserved costs but expanded ambition, and that is a view I will bring as I pivot my attention towards infrastructure, programming, services, and education.  We will build it better together.  There has never been a better time to be a story teller or an artist/entrepreneur -- we can not squander this opportunity.

Good bye NYC.  Hello Bay Area!

Free Office Space Further Proves San Francisco Is The New Center Of Indie Film

Two years ago today, after having the first sale of the Toronto International Film Festival (at a far higher amount than I had hoped for) and my business partner having the #1 film at the US Box Office, I shut the doors on my production office for good.  As an Indie Film Producer, I could not afford the high rents of NYC.  Today I confess: my productivity went down as a result.  Further, I lost the ability to naturally collaborate with the other producers and filmmakers I shared office space with.  It sucks not to have an office (although I did love having lunch regularly with my wife).

I am thrilled that the San Francisco Film Society has confronted this problem head on (office space -- not lunches), offering filmmakers free office space in a wonderfully collaborative work space.  Seriously, how many reasons am I going to have to give you to move Indie Film to The Bay Area?  Is funding and work space not enough for you?  How about a great film culture?  Well, there is still more coming...

The San Francisco Film Society yesterday announced the reopening of FilmHouse, the residency program designed to offer free working space to filmmakers in various stages of production and provide a collaborative environment where they can share talents and resources with their peers. Located in the bustling Fillmore District of San Francisco, FilmHouse opens its doors this month on 4,800 spacious square feet of fully equipped, newly renovated office space. The latest expansion of Filmmaker360, the Film Society’s filmmaker services program, FilmHouse is made possible by generous funding from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation and additional support from the San Francisco Film Commission.

“FilmHouse is a perfect example of the kind of innovative support Filmmaker360 excels at providing to filmmakers,” said Ted Hope, executive director of the San Francisco Film Society. “It’s amazing what a difference it can make to an artist to have a dedicated working space to develop their project—in whatever stage of production—and the collaborative element included in the FilmHouse program will surely lead to many unforeseen opportunities and some truly inspired filmmaking.”

Read more about the program and how to apply for it here.

Can We Help Fund Your Great Project?

I wouldn't have been so excited to become the Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society if it didn't have the support from Kenneth Rainin Foundation.

The SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grants support feature narrative films that through plot, character, theme or setting explore human and civil rights, antidiscrimination, gender and sexual identity and other social issues of our time. This is NOT a documentary grant.

This bold, unprecedented initiative helps realize the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s visionary goals at the same time as it consolidates the Film Society’s position as a national leader in support of cinematic work that celebrates humanity in all its variety and vitality. “The Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s mission is to fund inspiring, world-changing work,” said Jennifer Rainin, KRF founder and president. “We are thrilled to partner with the San Francisco Film Society to harness the power and influence of film for positive social change and to support the vibrant Bay Area film community.”

The grants, which run 2009–13, is awarded in the spring and fall of each year.  It is more than just a cash grant (more than just money!).  Read about the grants here.  And read about the Kenneth Rainin Foundation 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


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


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


LITTLE BIRDS written and directed by Elgin James


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


COMPLIANCE written and directed by Craig Zobel


THE WORDS written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal



The San Francisco Film Society is now accepting submissions for the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, recognized throughout the world as an extraordinary showcase of cinematic discovery and innovation in one of the country’s most beautiful cities. Works in all genres, forms and lengths are considered. Deadlines: • Early deadline Tuesday, October 9 • Regular deadline Monday, November 5 • Final deadline for short films Monday, December 3 • Final deadline for features Monday, December 10

HOW TO ENTER Entry form and information: or

Read The Press About My New Job

Okay, read it if you want to.  I don't want to make any demands.  There are some more important things to do -- I understand.  I just needed to get all the press together in one place.  I wanted to send it to my Mom.  So here it is.  I am sure I am missing some, so let me know if you find any more.

Don't want to overwhelm anyone, but since there's been so much demand....

Media Decoder – NY Times Blog (Michael Cieply)


Variety (Dave McNary)

The Hollywood Reporter (Tatiana Siegel)


Indiewire (Peter Knegt)


Thompson on Hollywood (Anne Thompson)


Thompson on Hollywood (Anne Thompson)


Deadline (Mike Fleming)


The Wrap (Steve Pond)


The Wrap (Steve Pond)


Movieline (Brian Brooks)


Screen Daily (Jeremy Kay)


Real Screen (Kevin Ritchie)


Movie City News (Ray Pride)


We Are Movie Geeks (Michelle McCue)


Filmmaker Magazine (Scott Macaulay)


Film Sociey of Lincoln Center Blog (Eugene Hernandez)


Keyframe (David Hudson)


Film Festival Today (Sandy Mandelberger)


Awards Circuit (Terence Johnson)


Chicago Tribune (William Pfaff)


Arthouse Convergence Blog


San Francisco Chronicle (Pam Grady)


KQED News (Cy Musiker)


7x7 Magazine (Jackson Scarlett)


Pixel Vision – San Francisco Bay Guardian Blog (Cheryl Eddy)


SFist (Andrew Dalton)


Film Leaf (Chris Knipp)


San Francisco Chronicle (correction)


New Grants For San Fran Filmmakers

Nice time to be living by the Golden Gate bridge.  The San Francisco Film Society announced a new series of grants covering all phases of development and production.  

The SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grants support films that through plot, character, theme or setting significantly explore human and civil rights, antidiscrimination, gender and sexual identity and other urgent social justice issues of our time.

Read all about them here.  What are you doing reading this? Go and start filling out the application!  The first application process opened yesterday!