g The Film Panel Notetaker: December 2007

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Favorite Films of 2007

This may be my last post in 2007, so in honor of that, here's my list of my favorite films I saw in 2007. No. 1 & No. 10 haven't had theatrical releases yet, but did play at festivals. I'm not really following any "Best Of" rules here, just letting you know what some of my best cinematic experiences were of the year, for one reason or another. I'm actually quite surprised at the number of films I've yet to see, but I really want to see them as soon as I'm able, so I've included a mention of those films as well. When I go to film festivals, I primarily spend a lot of my time at panel discussions, which as you already know, I'm a pretty big fan of, and occasionally I get to see some of the films. My goal in 2008 is to cover just as many or more panels as I did in 2007, and also to see a whole lot more films.

1. The Gates

2. I'm Not There

3. Ratatouille

4. No Country for Old Men

5. Juno

6. Great World of Sound

7. Grindhouse

8. Away From Her

9. Billy the Kid

10. Waitress

Plan to see soon:

There Will be Blood, The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, The Savages, Lars & The Real Girl, Into the Wild, Eastern Promises, The Orphanage, Kurt Kobain About a Son, Sweeney Todd, Margot at the Wedding, Gone Baby Gone, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Persepolis, Starting Out in the Evening, Superbad

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Plethora of Panels Planned for Sundance

Today, I received my Sundance '08 Film Guide in the mail. In addition to listing all of the films in and out of competition, several pages are devoted to highlighting film panels that will take place in and around Park City. Among these panels are Webolution! - Hollywood Adapts to the Web, Doug Liman: "Sharing a Vision" and the Importance of Finding the Right Editor and On Plurality: The Middle East in Perspective.


Monday, December 17, 2007

John Sayles Pickets in Support of Daytime Writers

Outside of the Time Warner Center in New York today, daytime serial actors & crew members (from All My Children, As the World Turns, Guiding Light and One Life to Live) and fans, as well as independent filmmaker John Sayles picketed in support of the Writers Guild Strike.

John Sayles, whose feature Honeydripper opens theatrically Dec. 28, shows his solidarity of Daytime Television Writers and other Writers Guild members who are striking for a fair share of what media conglomerates are making from the content the writers create. Back in the fall, I covered a conversation with Sayles and Maggie Renzi at IFP's Filmmaker Conference.

Here's a short video I took below from today's picket:

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Friday, December 14, 2007

"A Walk Into the Sea" Opens Today

Received the below email from Doug Block (51 Birch Street) via the D-Word this morning. I saw A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival. Check it out:

To all NY area D-Word members:

Esther Robinson's A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory, which I produced (with Esther and Tamra Raven) is having its theatrical premiere today at the Cinema Village in NYC.

I'll be at the 7:20pm screening tonight, along with Esther and others from the film, so hope to see you there. But, if not, please try and come this weekend. The distributor (Arthouse Films) is waiting on the NY grosses before deciding how widely to take it out.

The film is about Esther's search to uncover the truth about her uncle Danny, a budding filmmaker, who was Warhol's lover when he disappeared in 1966. It's a truly exceptional personal documentary with a ravishing cinematic sensibility that demands to be seen on a big screen. I'd ask you to come as a favor if I wasn't so sure you'd really be doing yourself the favor.

All the best...

Doug Block, Producer

"The toothiest exposé yet into the soul-sucking modus operandi of Warhol's Factory" - VILLAGE VOICE

"A dreamy sort of mystery... Extraordinary" - FILMCRITIC.COM

"Captivating, astute and artful" - PREMIERE MAGAZINE

"Fascinating" - A.O. Scott, NEW YORK TIMES

Winner of top documentary prizes at the 2007 Berlin, Tribeca and Chicago Film Festivals

For more info: www.awalkintothesea.com


Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose - Dec. 12, 2007

The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose co-director Paul Lovelace with Holy Modal Rounders co-founder Peter Stampfel, last night at Parkside Lounge.

Last night, I went to see the documentary, The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose, which has been playing throughout the week at Anthology Film Archives in New York.

Before the feature began, co-director Paul Lovelace talked a little about how the week’s been going. He said that every night has been totally different. He then introduced the comedy short, President Nixon's Inaugural Address 1969 directed by Kevin Rafferty, mentioning that it wasn’t directly related to his feature, but Anthology Film Archives archivist Andrew Lampert showed it to him a few months earlier, and they thought it would be fun to show. The short contained film footage of protesters, mini wrestlers and naked people skiing and running over audio of Richard Nixon’s 1969 address.

Immediately following the short, the feature began. The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose follows folk/psychedelic rock band Holy Modal Rounders, founded by Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber. The duo along with a revolving door of other band mates including actor Sam Shepard, began strumming guitars and howling lyrics in the mid-1960s in New York’s East Village. They’re cult following turned into a momentary bout of national fame when one of their songs was included on the Dennis Hopper film Easy Rider. A few years of concert tours and drug use ensued until the band went on a nearly 20-year hiatus. Stampfel and Weber eventually reunited and on their 40th anniversary, Weber went into seclusion and was never heard from again.

At the conclusion of the film, I spoke with Lovelace and his fiancé Jessica Wolfson, who answered some questions about the genesis of the documentary. Lovelace said this was his first feature collaboration with Sam Wainwright Douglas. He initially saw Stampfel play with the band Yo La Tengo in 1999. Producer Francis Hatch came up with the idea to make a documentary on Holy Modal. The film was entirely self-funded. Lovelace said he would take editing jobs, and when they ended, would go on unemployment. Altogether, the documentary was shot over a period of five years, and editing was finished this year.

Next on Lovelace’s and Wolfson’s slate is a documentary on radio DJ Bob Fass, who also grew to fame in the ’60s by interviewing icons such as Bob Dylan and Abby Hoffman. I asked Wolfson why she and Lovelace were drawn to this era and the East Village scene so much. She replied that her parents were hippies and it was a really interesting time. Plus, they are so influenced by the history of New York. She said it’s sad that all these influential people are dying out, and they are fortunate to meet and know some of them.

After, the crowd moved to Parkside Lounge for live music from the Muscular Christians. Among the caravan were Wolfson’s NYU chums and filmmakers/film bloggers Michael Tully (Silver Jew) and AJ Schnack (Kurt Cobain About a Son).

BTW, tonight is your last chance to catch The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose at Anthology. Band co-founder Peter Stampfel will introduce the film along with Gary Lucas. Rare Holy Modal music videos will also be screened. After the screening, more live music will take place, this time at Bowery Poetry Club with a rare performance by the legendary Du-Tels (Peter Stampfel/Gary Lucas).

And finally, for those of you who couldn’t make it to Anthology, The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose will be available on DVD with lots of extras beginning next week.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Reflections on 2007 & My Top 10 Favorite Notes of the Year

Reflections on 2007
My Top 10 Favorite Notes of the Year

2007 saw the growth of The Film Panel Notetaker with the addition of esteemed contributing notetakers A.M. Peters, Liz Nord and Jennifer Warren, or as I fondly call them, Notetaker’s Angels. I’d like to thank them for all their hard work. I wish them success in their personal and professional endeavors. As a team, we’ve covered a broad range of panel discussions and Q&As at some of the top film festivals and conferences. And it doesn’t have to stop with just them. Submissions of notes are always welcome year round by anyone traveling on the film panel circuit.

While New York City has been a mainstay for most of my notetaking adventures, in 2007, I journeyed outside the Big Apple and attended some really great regional festivals such as
Silverdocs, Woodstock, and Hamptons. I’ve made some great friends along the way, too, most notably the folks at Indiepix including Danielle, Jordan, Gauri and Shreekant and at Ovie Entertainment including Nicholas, Thoma and Christopher and at Shooting People including Ingrid & Jesse and IFP including Mitch, Michelle, Durier and Jonathan, and have seen many of the usual film blogging suspects along the way including Pamela Cohn, Sujewa Ekanayake, S.T. Van Airsdale, Scott Macauley, Karina Longworth and a whole gaggle of Indiewire bloggers. And I'm sure there's tons more I'm forgetting, so feel free to let me know if you're one of them. I hope to continue this trend in the coming year by traveling further and meeting more great people.

I also instituted a feature called Life on the Film Panel Circuit where panelists and moderators were asked a series of questions ranging from what their favorite panel discussions were to what’s their least favorite questions asked at Q&As. It got off to a nice start in April with submissions from
Gen Art Film’s Jeff Abramson and Sharkwater director Rob Stewart, but then it kind of faded. I’d like to get that going again with a lot more participation.

I’d also love the opportunity to be on the opposite side of the notebook as a film panel programmer or maybe even as a panelist, which would mean one of you readers out there would have to take notes for me. And I also hope to implement some technological aids to make my notetaking abilities a little easier.

Below, I’ve put together a list of my top 10 favorite notes I took in 2007. Not only did I enjoy every second of taking these particular notes, they all deal with topical issues and current events that relate to the world as a whole (war, science, the environment, technology), a film movement that some have affectionately or not-so affectionately coined Mumblecore, the untimely loss of a talented writer/director whose memory has been honored in the form of a foundation for women filmmakers, and other movers and shakers that shaped the independent film landscape this past year. There’s really no scientific method to my number ordering here, but more of a subjective mish mosh of what affected me the most in terms of educational, informational or artistic value, or what was just some plain good old fashion fun.

The Film Panel Notetaker’s Favorite Notes of 2007:

#1 (This includes a trio of three related notes)

· 2007 Hamptons Int'l Film Festival - "Body of War" - October 20, 2007
· 2007 Hamptons Int'l Film Festival - Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film Discussion - October 20, 2007
· Hamptons Int'l Film Festival - Screenplay Reading of "Wonder Drug" - October 20, 2007

#2 (This includes a pair of two related notes)
· Maysles Films Program - Sundance Institute at BAM - June 10, 2007
· The Gates - Q and A with co-director Antonio Ferrera - SILVERDOCS - June 16, 2007

#3 (This includes a pair of two related notes)

· 45th New York Film Festival - I’m Not There - October 4, 2007
· NYFF- HBO Directors Dialogue: Todd Haynes - October 6, 2007

Patricia Clarkson & Steve Guttenberg Join Actor's Dialogue at 2007 Woodstock Film Festival – October 14, 2007

MEDIA ECOLOGY! The Role Media and the Arts Play in Saving the Planet - 2007 Gen Art Film Festival - April 14, 2007

IFP Industry Connect - Producing 101 & Benefit for the Adrienne Shelly Foundation - Saturday, April 28, 2007

Tribeca Talks – Cinema 2.0: Me, Myself and IPOD – April 30, 2007

Filmmaker Conference – Conversation with John Sayles (Director) & Maggie Renzi (Producer), "Honeydripper" – Sept. 16, 2007


indieWIRE's "An Evening with Generation DIY" - August 23, 2007
http://www.thefilmpanelnotetaker.com/2007/08/indiewires-evening-with-generation-diy.html – August 23, 2007

The Erin Scherer Show –– September 6, 2007

Billy the Kid Premiere Q&A - Dec. 5, 2007

Billy the Kid
Premiere Q&A
IFC Center – New York, NY
December 5, 2007

Jennifer Venditti’s award-winning documentary Billy the Kid opened to the public last night at the IFC Center. Shot verité, Billy the Kid is a poignant character study of a teenage outsider in Maine named Billy. Venditti masterfully captures the essence of this free-spirited youth with a troubled past as he endures adolescence and falls in love for the first time.

Actor John Turturro (Do the Right Thing, Barton Fink) introduced Billy the Kid. He said he was very taken by the film. It reminded him of the stage in life when everyone feels like an outsider. The film, which also really affected him son, is a beautiful portrait of a boy at a young age, he said.

After the screening, Venditti took questions from the audience.

When asked how she found Billy, Venditti replied that she had been in Maine to cast a short film called Bugcrush. She had gone to a high school there to look for extras. In the lunch room, she noticed all the kids segregated into little cliques at each table. At one table, she spoke to some bullies who told her that they’d once asked this kid to sit with them and it didn’t go well. That kid was Billy. She hadn’t initially set out to make a feature documentary about Billy. Originally, the concept was a road trip about a couple of different subjects, another of which was a woman down in West Virginia. She was more interested in the woman from West Virginia and her directory of photography was more interested in Billy. Neither of them had seen first time love captured on screen like this before. Venditti said that when you meet someone different, you’re conditioned to want to qualify them. In the case of Billy, the question was what made him the way he is today. As much as this is Billy’s story, it represents a much bigger story of humanity.

Another audience member asked her if the camera had an impact on how Billy acted in the documentary. Venditti said that some people who have seen the film think Billy performed for the camera, but she said that Billy was always directing his own film. He was the director of his own life. Billy’s stream of consciousness is all his outer monologue. He sometimes became conscious of the camera. Cumming added that Billy was a little subdued when he was on camera, and didn’t always want us following him, such as in the scene where he takes Heather behind a building to ask her to be his girlfriend.

Venditti was also asked about what Billy is doing now. She said he’s currently a senior in high school and taking driver’s education. He plays the drums now, instead of guitar. He wants to go to community college to study child development. He’s both excited and nervous about the next stage in his life.

American Cinematheque Panel - Unraveling Independent Film Distribution - Dec 4, 2007

Unraveling Independent Film Distribution

American Cinematheque - Aero Theatre

Los Angeles

December 4, 2007


(BA) Bob Aaronson (Red Envelope Entertainment (REE), a Netflix Company)

(GG) Gary Garfinkel (Senior Vice President - Content Strategy & Acquisition, Showtime Networks)

(BS) Barry Schuler (Managing Director, DFJ Growth, Former Chairman & CEO, AOL, Inc.)

(DS) David Shultz (President, Vitagraph Films LLC (Theatrical)

(TS) Ted Sarandos (Chief Content Officer, Netflix)

(MC) Mike McClellan (VP Film Buyer for Landmark Theaters Corp)


(MG) Margot Gerber (American Cinematheque PR Director)

(MG) How do you decide which festivals to attend, what you watch and what you distribute?

(GG) – I attend Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, and AFM primarily. Showtime is generally more likely to buy from AFM as this market provides more genre driven films. We attend film festivals to get out there and meet the filmmakers and network but these festivals are not really where we acquire films.

(BS) I am not so much in the biz of acquisitions. My background is tech based and so driven by a move for change. My interest is in looking at how to make films that embrace new technology. The arena of distribution has ‘devolved’ as it is not taking advantage of new distribution opportunities and connecting with online communities out there. We need to take advantage of the rich ways currently available to build audiences.

(TS) – We go to Sundance, Toronto Cannes etc. We view the catalogues and decide beforehand what to watch. We feel that film festivals have become similar to the TV pilot system – where a pilot is shown to 16 people and if they don’t like it, the pilot is tossed. When I started Red Envelope it was not to continue the old distribution model but to change it. When we go to festivals we are unlikely to be involved in the bidding for a film. Mostly we are there to network and to buy and sell some films but mainly it is about meeting the filmmaker.

(BA) – Half of the films acquired by Red Envelope will be docs or a third foreign language. We go to the right festival for us – Hot Docs, Silverdocs etc. The festival is used as a filter to know that film has been seen and liked by an audience. A filmmaker should not just hold out for Sundance there are a lot more specific smaller festivals that will help you better find an audience.

(MM) - The big three – Cannes, Sundance and Toronto as well as AFM. We go to preview films and see how they do. We are also are there somewhat as consultants to say if we think the film will have an audience and how it will view. We may also help a film get distribution if we feel that it can. We have different entities and so avenues to engage on this level including Magnolia Pictures.

(DS) – Cannes, Sundance, Berlin and Toronto. We buy film rights including foreign films. We have also picked up films prior to their big debut at festivals like Sundance.

(MG) – What order should a filmmaker sell the rights to their project and how long should they wait to do so?

(GG) – Film festivals can be circus like and we tend to come into the picture after. Today if there are 100 films playing at a film festival maybe 10% get distributed theatrically and maybe another 10 get an alternative/non-theatrical release. So some of the ones that didn’t make it, may down the road and we may be one of the companies that pick it up. One thing very important, try and find a sales agent. – It is or can be hard to deal with a filmmaker as a sales agent knows the lingo and legal terms needed to make a deal. We are doing 200 deals a year and we often have worked with the same agents.

(TS) – If you made a film – try to get it out there. Don’t wait till you are behind all the other thousands applying to Sundance or attending film festivals.

(BA) – Don’t hold out for the big film festivals at the risk of losing out on a bigger premier at another one. Film festivals have become alternative distributors and Yes – it is important to get a Producers Rep/Sales Agent – you should look for a rep even before you start your film. However they are not there to do the job for you – no one is gong to sell your film like you can. Right now is a great time to take advantage of all the different platforms being created for indie films.

(TS) – If you are going to raise $35,000 to make your film, you should then raise $36,000 to help with distribution.

(MM) – There are more and more films being made and we have now entered into “micro distribution” particularly in cities like NYC. We at Landmark still prefer to work with distributors and I do recommend some form of outsource for distribution as this is who we are accustomed to dealing with.

(MG) – If you are a filmmaker what does it cost to get your film out there?

(DS) – First off - do you have a film print? If not all theaters have a digital projector – film prints cost approximately, and you will also need to make a trailer that is on film. Flat & scope trailers, posters mini one-sheets, postcards, art that can be transferred to any media – this all costs money and can be very expensive. The costs can be off-set by creating campaigns that work virally and online as well as creating html email blasts.

(MG) – What are the ad costs?

(MM) – We are a traditional outlet, so we still work with traditional methods – film reviews go a long way… It is important to know who your audience is – targeted audiences – niche audiences – based on the subject of your film. If you have a budget absolutely have a reserve for marketing. For films playing at the Landmark newspaper ads are target our main audience.

(DS) – We have spent 5 times more on advertising than we have paid for a film… To screen one weekend in NYC - $30,000 - $60,000 minimum, including a publicist. Sometimes you may need 2 or 3 publicists depending on the subjects and layers of the film.

(BS) – Let’s look at what is changing and happening. What fundamentally is happening is the new ways to get to audiences. So if you have a following on Myspace then you have an outlook – look at Netflix they have changed the landscape for proving there is an audience that are willing to search for what they want. Now theatrical is important in terms of getting your film reviewed but money can be made without ever going to a theater.

(MG) – What can a filmmaker expect to get for their film in the traditional marketplace?

(TS) – The real cost is marketing – you have to get people to go to the theater. What I would like to do is to have this amazing interactive audience – so any filmmaker can upload a film and if enough people watch it then it gets put into the mix. Why should there be any one gate keeper – when there are multiple channels to give filmmakers direct access to audiences.

(BS) – Well there are about 10 companies doing that now…

(TS) - Well now we aren't expecting to make money.

(BA) – Now a days filmmakers can sell their film directly off their site and keep their rights and as long as you can maintain and self-distribute, you could actually sell thousands of DVDs yourself.

(MG) – What are the ballpark figures on what it costs to get an indie film out there, and what can be expected for the returns?

(DS) – We talk about NYC a lot as there are multiple indie venues to introduce your film – so easier to get a venue to screen BUT you have to commit in NYC at least $30,000 to advertising and mainly on traditional print. There’s not an Internet equivalent yet.

(MG) – What if you are from Texas or other states and want to open there?

(TS) – Well for an example we launched The Puffy Chair first in other states like Texas before NYC or LA. We did it in partnership with Roadside and together through our networks drew audiences in on a local level first.

(GG) – I saw Puffy Chair and tried to get distributors to take a look but they were slow to bite and eventually Ted through Red Envelope came to the rescue.

(BA) – I am looking for those films that are being released through smaller no-name distribution companies because I know that there is a shot at getting DVD rights that would have otherwise been snapped up by the bigger theatrical distributors.

(TS) – Never Been Thawed is an example of how to work a local market, this film had an 8 week run in Phoenix were it was found it and picked it up to bring it to a larger audience. The film This is England beat The Queen as the most popular indie film in the UK at the time. The film did not due so well theatrically in the US but did phenomenally well on DOD and VOD. I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With has done over 1 million in revenue by releasing it through video-on-demand at the same time as limited theater distribution. This is a good example of day and date marketing and the way to go to capitalize and maximize marketing.

(MG) – What is a decent gross expected for an indie film that has a week theatrical run?

(DS) – $20,000 would be above average and is around the amount needed to get other theater bookings.

(TS) – It gets so competitive – it’s all about making enough to get the 2nd week…

Audience Q & A –

Q- What is the revenue for short films?

(TS) – I have not found a way to make shorts on DVD make money.

(BS) – It’s online – sites like http://www.podshow.com/. 5-10 years form now your internet carrier will plug into your television and all these fledglings around now will be the heavy hitters later. The question is how can bring all films to all mediums.

(GG) – We take shorts but the cost to put short films on does not support what it costs to air. The real way to go is InDemand and HD – 2 years ago we would have asked if a film is available on HD as an after thought now we require it a s it is a driving force in TV today.

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