g The Film Panel Notetaker: August 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Quiet City Q&A – IFC Center – August 29, 2007

Quiet City Q&A – IFC Center – August 29, 2007

Aaron Katz, Director
Brendan McFadden, Producer
Erin Fischer, “Jamie”
Chris Lankenau, “Charlie”
Andy Reed, Cinematographer
Keegan DeWitt, Music
…and others

Quiet City is currently playing at the IFC Center for a week-long run and is part of the series, “The New Talkies: Generation DIY.” FYI, last Thursday, I also attended indieWIRE's "An Evening with Generation DIY" panel discussion at the Apple Store SoHo.

Aaron noted that a lot of people who worked on Quiet City from the cast & crew were in the audience (including Joe Swanberg, whose Hannah Takes the Stairs played the IFC Center last week, Michael Tully, and more). Aaron went into the background of Quiet City. He wrote a script for it in August of 2006 while he was on layover at the Cincinnati airport. He’d been frustrated with writing a different script, but liked the characters in it, so he purchased a blank notebook at the airport and started writing new script. He made up some rules to finish the script like writing at least 10 pages a day and to not go back and look at anything he wrote till it was done. He shot Quiet City for one week in Brooklyn in October of 2006.

Audience Questions

Q: How did you get the dialogue to be so natural?

Aaron: I had a full script, but the actors put most of it into their own words.

Chris: We broke the script down into scenes to memorize.

Erin: It was kind of natural because Chris and I never met before and we talked about some things that really happened in our lives.

Q: How much did it cost to make the film?

Aaron: Not much at all.

Q: What were some of the challenges to produce the film?

Brendan: In pre-production, we wondered how could we do this for nothing? For post-production, Aaron edited it at IFC Center where he works.

Q: Was mostly natural lighting used on the film?

Keegan: We didn’t have a lot of resources. We borrowed an HD camera. None of us ever shot HD before. Friends contributed resources. A lot of the lighting was available and natural. We carried household lamps on the subway. The walking scene outdoors in the night was kind of difficult.

Q: Why did you name the film Quiet City?

Brendan: I had a dream where I was watching a black & white version of the film and it was called Quiet City. Also liked a band called Pan-American that had a song called “Quiet City.”

Aaron: We needed a place holder for the title in the screenplay and used Quiet City, and stuck with it, and it worked.

Q: Did you have permits?

Aaron: No. A police officer came up to us when we were shooting the scene on the subway platform at the 7th Avenue F station in Park Slope and said it was okay.

Q: Where did you find Chris (“Charlie”)

Chris: At a party at my house. Aaron convinced me to come to an audition.

Q: How did you pick the music in the film?

Keegan: I usually try to go by an idea of sad little happiness. What small things are like before they’re attained. Tried to make it as simple and sparse as possible.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Industry Connect – Film Fest Strategies

August 21, 2007: Industry Connect – Film Fest Strategies
Sponsored by Warner Independent Pictures

David Nugent, Moderator: Festival Programmer (Gotham Awards, IFP Market)
Kerry Weldon: Filmmaker, Festival Director (NewFest)
Mary Jane Skalski: Filmmaker (Station Agent)
Steven Raphael: Sales Agent (Pan’s Labyrinth, Favela Rising)

This panel was hosted by IFP and held at the SOHO House in the meat packing district of NYC (for those of you who know NYC, indeed, the SOHO house is not located SO of HO at all). The room was small, but the seats ware cushy. I liked the intimate setting, though I wish I had been able to sit with my friends (because that way, I can whisper witty, entertaining comments when really they probably rather just watch the panel so maybe this was a good thing).

David Nugent was a great moderator although the panel itself was only somewhat informative. The best stuff was how the Sales Agent plays into the mix. I KNOW I should get my film into Sundance, thank you—I’ll definitely do my best. But most of all I learned that yes, festival programmers really do seem to watch every film they are sent. And of course NO, you should not pester them about it.

The discussion was kicked off by Steven Raphael explaining his job as a Sales Agent. My introduction to this world of “Sales Agents” was when I had dealt with John Sloss’ Cinetic who has quite an impressive roster of choice films, but it was super awesome to hear from someone who’s just passionate about films and has his own boutique film-marketing company to show for it (who, by the way, also has some incredible titles under his belt). He’s like a marketing consultant. He gets films without distribution out there. He likes to focus on how to market a movie and is even hired by production companies—not just indie filmmakers. It seems to me there’s truly a niche in Sales Agentry that stands outside the very studio system we all love to hate to love.

Steven said that it’s a bad idea to not only show your film at 25 film fests, but then to brag about it. All it shows to interested parties is that the film has already saturated the festival market. Going to a festival is to sell or launch your film. Only distribute a limited amount of materials and photos because you really don’t want to spell out your film before anyone watches it.

Mary Jane Skalski was next to talk about her projects. She’s the kind of producer I want to be when I grow up. She was the first to mention that it’s key to get into Sundance because if it’s in the competition part of the festival—your film will get seen. She agreed that your best shot is to get as many people to see your film at an initial screening.

Kerry Weldon followed up with pointing out: Start big. Try to get into those A-list fests and premiere there, then work your way down. We’re talking about starting with Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, SxSW, etc. When you’re submitting your films, look at the calendar and plan accordingly. I know it seems to go against an artist’s natural talents to be so pre-meditated but hey, this advice is for people committed to getting their stuff seen.

The panelists had witnessed some filmmakers getting into Sundance, then not knowing what the heck to do once they got there. It sounded like Sundance was one of the most democratic in terms of selections while Cannes seems to be the least—more expensive and more into politics.

Another consideration that Steven brought up was to please get your film in for review EARLY. And if you think about it, yeah, you want your film on the pile before it gets nuts in the office as they're making last minute plans, doing damage control, etc. He told the story of how these filmmakers came to him at the last second and though it was and excellent film, he had to turn it down. It seems to be regrettable, but there’s only so much justice he could serve each film with so many on his plate, even if it was Once.

One point that was made that may not be considered—If your film doesn’t sell at Sundance or a festival, then what? That’s when the challenge begins.

This is when Kerry pointed out: do NOT harass the programmers. I know that when a filmmaker gets rejected (and boy do I know this feeling as does anyone who puts themselves out there)—do not project your anger onto the selection committee. You simply do not KNOW if you were rejected within the first 10 minutes of your film or after much deliberation.

Your film may have been squeezed out as the 21st film of 20 slots—you do not know. Or your film was great but not great in concert with the rest of the program. Perhaps they’re calling their buddies at other festivals and recommending your film as a better fit for their slate. Obviously if the latter is the case, you’re ruining your chances with all your hate mail. David Nugent agreed with all these sentiments and added that you could email a short, friendly invitation to get someone to check out your film but that’s about all they can handle.

Additionally, do your research. Don’t waste time submitting your films to festivals specializing in Pancakes when your movie is about Hamburgers (my example, albeit a silly one). It’s also smart to know the problems your film will encounter upon release—music clearances, copy right issues, etc. If you try to float by without mentioning, oh yeah, the music costs double what they’re paying for your film...well, you get the picture. It’s best to be up front. Besides, different distributors will deal with it in different ways. Harvey can buy rights whereas Roadside Attractions is going to want a clean, packaged film.

How rough can your rough cut be when sending it in to make a deadline? 95% done and include a note that mentions the work that needs to be done to show you recognize it. Then provide a finished copy before the screening. And whatever fixes have to be done; they can’t be too terribly distracting. Obviously people reviewing your film can use their imagination to an extent—but even bad music can make that hard.

When considering trailers and press kits: production notes are important; be sure to compose a nice synopsis. Make the press kit solid. Be picky with the stills you choose—you don’t want a lot of preconceptions before the first screening. Just enough to reel people in. Mary Jane joked that she was told the synopsis for the Station Agent was boring. Also, trailers aren’t as important as you may think—they’re a different art anyway. Worry about the film. Steven even sounded as though he totally doesn’t want you to fret with them. The film will speak for itself at this stage. Let the distributor worry about that stuff.

Steven said that his biggest pet peeve is the instinct that filmmakers have to make every distributor to love their movie. You don’t need everyone to love it. Just two to play them off each other. Make the film you want to make and then find the appropriate distributor.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

indieWIRE's "An Evening with Generation DIY" (Swanberg, Gerwig, Katz and Hillis) @ Apple Store SoHo – Thursday, August 23, 2007

DIY filmmaker Sujewa Ekanayake (Date Number One), who was in town from DC, and I headed over to the Apple Store in Soho Thursday night where we met up with A.M. Peters (NO Cross, NO Crown) for indieWIRE’s “An Evening with Generation DIY.” After the panel discussion, we met up with iW and other film bloggers at Botanica. The indieWIRE posse was there along with filmmakers Craig Zobel (whose film Great World of Sound is being released by Magnolia Pictures on Sept. 14 in NYC – See my notes from GWOS Q&A at BAM from back in June), Doug Block (51 Birch Street), Arin Crumley (Four Eyed Monsters), Michael Tully (Silver Jew), The Reeler’s S.T. VanAirsdale, Basil Tsiokis (NewFest artistic director), Agnes Varnum (Doc it Out), Pamela Cohn (Still in Motion), Matt Dentler, and this list goes on.

indieWIRE's "An Evening with Generation DIY" (Swanberg, Gerwig, Katz and Hillis) @ Apple Store SoHo – Thursday, August 23, 2007

Joe Swanberg (JS) – Director / Writer / Producer /Cinematographer /Editor, Hannah Takes the Stairs
Aaron Hillis (AH) – Director/Cinematographer/Co-producer, Fish Kill Flea
Aaron Katz (AK) – Director/Writer/Editor – Quiet City
Greta Gerwig (GG) – Hannah/Writer, Hannah Takes the Stairs
Matt Dentler (MD) - South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival Producer

Eugene Hernandez (EH)– Editor-in-Chief, indieWIRE

EH- “The New Talkies: Generation DIY” series at IFC Center brought us together tonight. Matt Dentler programmed a lot of these films at SXSW, which played a role in facilitating a place for these filmmakers to come together. How does this relate to DIY and Mumblecore?

MD- The term Mumblecore came from an indieWIRE interview with Andrew Bujalski (Mutual Appreciation). It’s a frustrating label. Seems limiting by creating a brand where a brand doesn’t need to be, but it has opened up doors to the filmmakers. The New York Times published an article about Mumblecore. People are starting to wonder what this movement is. Mumblecore represents excitement and enthusiasm about new films, but is not used too often, because it’s limiting. The films are bound by like-minded sensibilities. So far, they’re all good films.

EH- A lot of these films hadn’t played theatrically until recently. What’s the state for emerging filmmakers?

MD- Festival programmers are disenfranchised by what the media considers indie films. Mumblecore films open up a dialogue. SXSW took a stance to not program Sundance leftovers. I didn’t know any of these people before we selected their films.

[Clip screened from Hannah Takes the Stairs]

EH- What was the process of making this film?

JS- I had clear idea about the scenes, and we had time to try different things.

GG- There was no script. It was all improvised. You shouldn’t do anything in front of Joe or he’ll find a way to work it in the movie.

EH- What challenges are there to this process?

JS- Hannah is different from my other films, because they started from a script. Hannah was just a two-page outline so the actors could figure out who their characters were. The finished film was different than the movie we expected it to be. It’s a process of discovering the movie as you go along. I like to be excited and not know what’s going to happen. I edited the film each day after shooting. At the end of the day, we had finished scenes.

EH- How exciting was it for you Greta?

GG- I never acted in a film before (except for voicemail scene in LOL). I didn’t have any pre-conceived notions. It was a process of figuring out where the movie was going and finding out who Hannah was. All of Hannah’s boyfriends end up relating to the scar on her foot. It became a theme. We discovered it, liked it, and repeated it.

EH- You’ve had three years of features playing at SXSW. How do you feel your view of your process of filmmaking has changed?

JS- I started out more experimental. The shooting style hasn’t changed that much. I acted all of my previous films, but not in Hannah. The projects I’m acting in I tend to shoot more. Moving forward, I’m interested in telling more stories. My first film (Kissing on the Mouth) was more of a process of showing it to audiences at festivals. Audiences responded to the more narrative aspects.

[Clip screened from LOL]

EH- What is your connection to LOL?

AH- Partners with Andrew Grant on the DVD distribution label (Benten Films) with Ryko Distribution. We saw so many films flying under the radar. Our first title, LOL, comes out next Tuesday. I also co-directed the documentary Fish Kill Flea about a rag tag flea market in Upstate New York. It’s not a Mumblecore movie, but is DIY.

EH- What do you think as a blogger your take on DIY films represents?

AH- Have no lofty generalizations. Mumblecore tries to pigeonhole these films. I think it’s neat that we’ve come to a place without budgetary gatekeepers. It’s exciting these films are getting attention.

MD- There was a DV revolution in the late 1990s where you could shoot everything on DV, but didn’t have access to the editing equipment we have today. One of my favorite films is Tarnation.

[Clip screened from Fish Kill Flea]

EH- How did the idea for IFC’s “The New Talkies: Generation DIY” come about?

AK- IFC Center was going to screen my film Quiet City, then IFC First Take acquired Hannah Takes the Stairs. We talked about other films like Andrew Bujalksi’s Mutual Appreciation and the Duplass Bros.’ The Puffy Chair.

EH- What do you think ties these films together to be grouped as a series?

AK- Aesthetic qualities, shot on DV, except for Mutual Appreciation, which is shot on film. All films are different from one another, but attempt to explore the world around us in a truthful way with day-to-day life.

EH- How did your film Dance Party USA come about?

AK- I went to school in North Carolina and talked about what to do after school. Figured out a $3,000 budget I saved from working. Shot the film in Portland, Oregon.

MD- After viewing the screener DVD, I contacted Aaron right away. It’s really important to have your contact info on the DVD.

[Clip screened from Quiet City]

Audience Q&A

Q: In your (Joe’s) films, there seems to be a certain level of intimacy during certain scenes. How many people are on the set while shooting these scenes?

JS- There were four people including cast and crew on Kissing on the Mouth. I don’t like anyone to be there who doesn’t need to be there, so there are no distractions.

AK- On Quiet City, there was a five-person crew. Relatively small. Everyone is comfortable with each other.

AH- Three people on the crew of Fish Kill Flea.

Q: In Anthony Kaufman’s indieWIRE blog, he posted an entry regarding commercial distribution of films will be these types of films downfall. How do you feel about that?

JS- This is true for all movies in general. The best experience is having no expectations walking into a film. Commercial expectations change all the time. The film community is starting to look a lot like the music industry.

AK- I’d like people to be able to see my movies.

EH- As a performer, what kind of pressure does that create?

GG- It gives more people the opportunity to see me naked. I don’t really see a downside to it. I’m writing more things and acting in more films. It’s more pressure to be reviewed. Kind of scary.

AK- My next film is set in the 1970s, so it will require more money to make. It’s a positive thing to continue making the films I want to make.

Q: What are your next film projects?

JS- Nights & Weekends starring Greta about a long distance relationship. The web series Butterknife.

AH- Short film sometime in October to turn into a feature documentary about the decline of train culture in America.

AK- A 70s piece.

GG- The Duplas movie, Baghead. It screws with genres. They don’t want me to say too much about it.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Hannah Take the Stairs Q&A with Joe Swanberg and cast at IFC Center – Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wednesday night, I met up with DIY filmmaker Sujewa Ekanayake (Date Number One), who came in from DC, and documentary filmmaker Liz Nord (Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land) where we saw the premier of Joe Swanberg’s new film Hannah Takes the Stairs at the IFC Center in New York. The film has a week-long run there, and is part of the series, The New Talkies: Generation DIY, or as some people have been terming it, Mumblecore. This weekend, I’ll post my notes from indieWIRE's "An Evening with Generation DIY" (Swanberg, Gerwig, Katz and Hillis) @ Apple Store SoHo.

Hannah Take the Stairs Q&A with Joe Swanberg and cast at IFC Center – Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Joe Swanberg (JS) - Director
Greta Gerwig (GG) - Hannah
Kent Osborne - Matt
Todd Rohal – Brian Duges

Prior to the screening, Joe mentioned that he and Kevin Bewersdorf were the only crew and that they shot Hannah on HD with a Panasonic HVX-200 camera over a period of one month. It was entirely improvised.

After the screening, the audience asked questions to Joe and cast.

Q: Were the relationships between the characters planned out in advance?
JS: We used a guideline. We edited the scenes each day after shooting them, and the cast watched it and talked about it and where it would go next.

Q: How did you get your cast?
JS: I met Mark Duplass and Andrew Bujalski in 2005 at SXSW where my first film Kissing on the Mouth premiered. Andrew was skeptical he’d be able to work on Hannah, but he freed up 10 days to do it. His film, Mutual Appreciation, came out about the same time we started shooting.

Q: Why didn’t you act in Hannah?
JS: I was nervous because this was the first time I had a real budget with someone else’s money. I wanted to focus on being behind the camera.

Q: Did you plan the dialogue in advance?
JS: For example, the scene where Hannah and Matt are playing with the magnets, we woke up that day, had breakfast, and talked about what conversations they’d have such as politics. Shot the scene in one take. Nothing was really planned out. At that point in the movie, we had very little idea what the movie would be. Shot the movie out of order, going back and forth and filling in the gaps. There was about 24 hours total footage shot for the 83-minute film.

GG: I had an idea of what I wanted to do for example in another scene with me (Hannah), Rocco (Ry Russo-Young) and Matt drinking beer, I had the idea of pushing Rocco toward Matt to get jealous. Ry got upset and wondered what I was doing.

Q: Did the original vision for the story change during production?

GG- The original idea was about three relationships happening simultaneously, but we decided to tell the story in a linear fashion. There was no way to know what was going to happen. My character changed based on how her relationships changed. Three different guys fulfilled different aspects on what she was looking for.

Q: When did you realize shooting was over?

JS- We expected to shoot more, but this was the first time I edited while shooting, so everything stayed on schedule.

GG- There was a list of what we needed in the house, ie. Bread, milk, script.

Q: Why is the film titled Hannah Takes the Stairs?

JS- On a practical level, I pitched the movie as a drawing on photoshop with three guys and a girl, and artistically, it’s about being driven and ambitious.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

IndiePix and Indian Cinematic Arts launch ‘Indie India’

Gauri Sathe and Shreekant Pol, my friends, mentors, and Indian cinema gurus whom I met during my days at Metropolitan College of New York’s Media Management program, are now collaborating with Indiepix to bring their Indie India Collection direct to viewers via DVD and Download-to-Own technology. As karma would have it, I had the great fortune to work with Gauri and Shreekant a few years back on their not-for-profit organization Indian Cinematic Arts, promoting its events including Bollywood Dreams, an exhibit of photographs on Indian cinema from photographer Jonathan Torgovnik, and a screening of Fullbright scholar Ambika Samarthya’s short film Room for One. I’m very happy to see Indian Cinematic Arts flourish through its new Indie India venture with Indiepix. Below is the press release of their announcement.

File photo. Circa 2004. Gauri and I at Tribeca Film Festival.

IndiePix.net and Indian Cinematic Arts launch ‘Indie India’

Indie India caters to worldwide cinema audiences desiring a taste of Indian cinema that goes beyond ‘Bollywood’

On August 15, India's 60th Independence Day, IndiePix.net and Indian Cinematic Arts will collaboratively launch ‘Indie India’, a collection of films bringing genuine Indian independent cinema to a global audience. “When people think of Indian cinema, Bollywood is the first thing that comes to mind, but there is so much more to Indian cinema than just that,” says Gauri Sathe, curator of the collection, “It just so happens that Bollywood films are the only films that make it to the American market. If made available, audiences would like to see alternative cinema from India as well.” Indie India will do just that by making available these films that don’t play at local theaters. Indie India provides a collection of such films via DVD or download-to-own technology.

At launch, Indie India will carry The Blue Umbrella, which was released in India on August 10 and received much critical acclaim. Other films in the collection will include hard hitting documentaries, independent features, and hard to find shorts. Topics range from children born in brothels to Buddhist nuns in Ladhak, from homosexuality to women empowerment. There will also be a rare collection of films from India’s neighboring countries including Pakistan and Nepal. Another collection of films made by Indians living outside of India will provide a different perspective. Not leaving Bollywood out of the mix, the curators have chosen representative films from Bollywood for those who enjoy a flick every now and then and for those who need to understand why they are so hugely popular.

Depending on who you ask, the term ‘Bollywood’ itself is a loosely used generic term to mean either just Hindi films or all cinema from India. Either way, it is a misnomer that has done great injustice to Indian cinema, because in reality Indian cinema has much more to offer. For instance Indian cinema has a rich tradition of independent and regional cinema and makes films in 20 odd languages. But distributors tend to focus only on blockbuster Hindi films. Yes, in recent times independent cinema from India is being appreciated in the U.S., but is still mostly limited to festival circuits. Indie India wants to take meaningful cinema from India to the next level of penetration – right to the homes of cinema lovers.

In that sense Indie India will appeal to expatriate Indian population as well as to Americans who would like to sample more than the limited Bollywood portion of Indian cinema, available on the U.S. market. The collection also offers independent Indian Cinema to those who are veteran supporters of indie films and have been looking for a more extensive global representation.
India Collection hopes to grow over the next few months, bringing in more regional and indie films in the lesser known languages of India. This is in keeping with the mission of IndiePix to promote global independent cinema. The next step in that direction is an online Indian Independent film festival in March of next year. This will provide a much needed platform for independent filmmakers from India to display their work and open forum of networking for the audience to discuss and debate social, political, environmental and other issues close to their hearts.
Visit www.indie-india.net for more info.