g The Film Panel Notetaker: January 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction - "Film As a Subversive Art" - Jan. 29, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction
Film As a Subversive Art:
Amos Vogel & Cinema 16
Q&A with Cinema 16 Veteran Jack Goelman
IFC Center
January 29, 2008

(Thom Powers and Jack Goelman)

Week four of Thom Powers’ (TP) popular documentary series at New York’s IFC Center, *Stranger Than Fiction, presented last night director Paul Cronin’s Film As a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel & Cinema 16. (FYI, Cronin is also the co-author of Herzog on Herzog.) The screening was followed by a Q&A with Cinema 16 veteran Jack Goelman (JG). Last night’s screening was co-presented by Rooftop Films. A bit of background on Vogel—he was the founder of the New York City avant-garde cinema club, Cinema 16 in the late 1940s. He later became the co-founder of the New York Film Festival in 1963. Film As a Subversive Art is also the title of Vogel’s 1974 book.

* Next Tuesday night, Stranger Than Fiction will present Sweet Dreams by Eric Latek.

(TP) What was your first interest in experimental cinema?

(JG) I started young. I was a film nut. I saw my fist documentary, The River by Pare Lorentz at the New York World’s Fair (1939/40). When I came out of the Army, I went to film school to become a film editor, but became distracted when I heard of Cinema 16. I attended a screening. It was very small. Experimental films fascinated me.

(TP) What’s different about cinema now than from back then?

(JG) The birth of Cinema 16 took place because the conditions were right at the time. There was no place to show short subject or off beat films. Amos came up with this idea.

(TP) Did you ever have differences of opinions with Amos?

(JG) Of course! And we talked a lot about them, but they had to fit into a concept of what we were planning, sometimes up to a year in advance. We kept track of them. We took notes. We had to like a film almost immediately. It was a question of blending programs and films together.

(TP) In the documentary, we see the 1,600-seat auditorium where Cinema 16 ran. Can you talk about that?

(JG) It was scary. I was there every minute taking notes. People would get up from their wooden seats and make noise. We would discuss the tempo of the show the next day. It was very much alive.

Audience Q&A

Q: How involved were filmmakers in the Cinema 16 screenings?

(JG) We tried not to involve them. Relationships with filmmakers were a different story. There was enough going on without that.

Q: What is Amos doing now?

(JG) We’ve all gotten older and slower. He’s not teaching anymore, but very much alert. His wife Marsha has been ill, and he’s watching over her.

Q: Why was it called Cinema 16?

(JG) Simply, Amos found out he could get a lot of film in 16mm. Screenings evolved where audiences grew larger and we needed more powerful 16mm projects. We wanted to show the films looking good. We also showed 35mm films such as John CassavetesShadows. We had a choice between 16mm or 35mm for that, but chose 35mm. We were criticized for it.

Q: The documentary mentions that Bosley Crowder, the film critic of The New York Times back then, didn’t support Cinema 16. Were there any other critics who did support it?

(JG) Yes. The Herald Tribune. Archer Winston loved Cinema 16. We did get a lot of members through The New York Times through advertising.

Q: What interests you in today’s cinema?

(JG) I read reviews. I have a sense of the directors. I don’t have a list of favorites with me, but I do go to the Walter Reade Theater, Cinema Village, etc.

Q: Do you think film programming now is diverse enough?

(JG) There’s a powerful situation now with television and DVD. It’s a different world. They’re useful, but competitive.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ramin Bahrani's "Chop Shop" Preview at Museum of the Moving Image - Jan. 26, 2008

Chop Shop Preview and Q&A
Museum of the Moving Image – Astoria, NY
January 26, 2008

(Left to Right: Livia Bloom, Alejandro Polanco & Ramin Bahrani)

At the Museum of the Moving Image on Saturday, Ramin Bahrani (RB), director and writer of Chop Shop, and the film’s young star Alejandro Polanco (AP) answered questions during a Q&A, moderated by Assistant Curator Livia Bloom (LB), after a preview of the film. Chop Shop had its world premiere at the 2007 Cannes International Film Festival. Also starring in Chop Shop is Ahmad Razvi, who played the lead in Bahrani’s previous feature Man Push Cart, which I saw last year during a Film Independent’s Spirit Awards screening. Last night’s screening was not only the first New York preview, but more fittingly, the first preview in Queens, the film’s setting. And I just couldn’t help myself from walking over to the MMI, just a short distance from my own Queens neighborhood of Astoria. Others in the audience who I saw at the screening included New York City cinema swami S.T. VanAirsdale of The Reeler, and actor Adrian Martinez (Mail Order Wife). I found Chop Shop to be very affective, showing us a world we rarely get to see or understand, practically in our own back yard.

Bloom started the evening by saying when she first Chop Shop it in Cannes last year, it made her see the world around her anew. She also mentioned that film critic Roger Ebert called it “Miraculous!” Bahrani then introduced the film, mentioning that it was primarily shot near Shea Stadium in the Willets Point section of Queens (aka The Iron Triangle with 20 blocks of junk yards and auto chop shops), which he said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has referred to as being bleak. Bahrani said he didn’t see it that way. He focused the story on one of the boys that lived and worked there. By the stadium, there’s a billboard that says, “Make Dreams Happen.” Bahrani concluded by saying he hopes Alejandro’s dreams come true.

Chop Shop opens at Film Forum in New York on February 27.

LB: How did you develop Chop Shop?

RB: I was editing my first film. The cameraman had to get his car fixed and I went with him to Willets Point. This was in the winter of 2004. The story grew out of going there. I started noticing young kids who worked and lived there.

LB: How did you hear about this film? What was the experience like?

AP: Ramin came to my school. At lunch, he asked the staff which kids spoke Spanish. Ramin spoke with me and pointed to a packet of ketchup that was on the floor before I stepped on it.

RB: He was sitting at a table chillin' with some ladies. I thought if he had stepped on the ketchup, it would have been humiliating. He took non-verbal direction really well.

AP: When shooting, Ramin wanted every scene to be perfect. We spent all day on one scene, or basically two scenes a day.

LB: In one scene, how did you get all the pigeons to come into the shot?

RB: The pigeons belonged to a guy down the street. They usually showed up at 8:30am. I showed up at 8am to start feeding them. The more time I had before the sun came up, the better. I scheduled that scene at the end of our shoot. It took about 50 takes, before getting the one shot used in the film.

LB: Chop Shop presents an original portrait of work in America. Had you done that sort of work before?

AP: I never worked before. It was a challenge for me. Before shooting the movie, I spent six months there. I used to get $5 dollars for pulling in each car.

RB: Some of those were shot like a documentary. After the camera stopped rolling, he wanted to keep calling in the cars to make more money.

LB: Why did most of the characters use their actual real names?

RB: It helps to eliminate the wall between fiction and documentary. I’m not sure there should be such a division.

LB: Who are some of your influences in film?

RB: Lots. Even ones that don’t resemble my films. Probably Robert Flaherty. The Italian neo-realists.

AP: I didn’t really know about independent films. I thought it would be a Hollywood film.

LB: What were some of the techniques used for the cinematography?

RB: Michael Simmonds shot the film. We met at the Tribeca Film Festival. All my films have been shot high definition. Michael is quite skilled with the camera. We have a lengthy color correction process. We avoid wide lenses. They’re disrespectful to the people in front of the camera.

Audience Q&A

Q: Did you get permission to shoot the scene in the subway where the kids were selling candy? Did you get the people to sign release forms? What was it like?

RB: We did somehow. The Film Office was really nice. Somebody was always trailing behind us after each shot getting people to sign releases.

AP: In the first car I was scared, because we had a camera, but people bought the candy, and I made money. In the second car, I was more comfortable.

Q: How did the dialogue seem so natural. Was the script improvised. Were real actors used?

RB: The only actor in the film was Ahmad, who was in Man Push Cart, and the guy who played the John toward the end of film, because that was a more complicated scene to shoot. All of the other people in the film had never been in front of a camera before. I never showed them the script. I told them what scene we were about to do and what to say in it. Some of what they said was their own words.

AP: I was ready to memorize what to say, but words just came out of nowhere sometimes. We were really talking. Ramin didn’t yell “action” or “cut.”

Q: Have you shown the movie in your school yet?

AP: My principal will take the film to school and show it grade by grade.

RB: We’re reaching out to schools to encourage kids to see it when it opens at Film Forum on February 27. Last year in Cannes, filmmakers Abbas Kiarostami and Atom Egoyan saw the film and said I should definitely show it to kids.

Q: In a lot of Iranian films, there are kids who face adult situations. Where does this come from?

AP: Not to simplify, but children’s stories are easier to avoid censorship issues there. Kiarostami is one of the forerunners of introducing kids in cinema.

Q: Explain the relationship between kids and adults.

RB: It shifts so many different ways. Alejandro negotiated with the adults really well in one scene, then acted like a kid in another.

AP: At some points, I was acting like a kid, then all of a sudden, I have a job and have to fix cars. As an adult, I had to talk more sophisticated, but when I was playing, I acted kind of childish.

Q: Did you shoot the film sequentially?

RB: My dream is to do that, but it’s financially challenging to stay on schedule.

Q: How did you work with your editor?

RB: I edited myself. I had an editor for Man Push Cart for one day who said it wasn’t going to be a good film. Filmmaker Lodge Kerrigan was one mentor who helped explain the philosophy of editing. Whatever’s not good, throw it away.

Q: Do you want to continue acting?

AP: Before doing the movie, I wanted to be a baseball player. But the movie inspired me to continue acting.

Q: What’s your next film?

RB: Solo, shot in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, about a taxi driver.

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2008 Sundance Award Winners

2008 Sundance Award Winners

Last night, the jury and audience award-winners of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival were announced at the Sundance Film Festival’s closing Awards Ceremony hosted by William H. Macy.

And the awards went to...

The Grand Jury Prize: Documentary - TROUBLE THE WATER

The Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic - FROZEN RIVER

The World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary - MAN ON WIRE/United Kingdom

The World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic - KING OF PING PONG (PING PONGKINGEN)/ Sweden

The Audience Award: Documentary - to FIELDS OF FUEL

The Audience Award: Dramatic - THE WACKNESS

The World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary - MAN ON WIRE/United Kingdom

The World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic - CAPTAIN ABU RAED/Jordan

The Directing Award: Documentary - Nanette Burstein/AMERICAN TEEN

The Directing Award: Dramatic - Lance Hammer/BALLAST

The World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary -Nino Kirtadze/DURAKOVO: VILLAGE OF FOOLS (DURAKOVO: LE VILLAGE DES FOUS)/ France.

The World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic - Anna Melikyan/MERMAID (RUSALKA)/ Russia.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award - Alex Rivera and David Riker/SLEEP DEALER.

The World Cinema Screenwriting Award - Samuel Benchetrit/I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A GANGSTER (J'AI TOUJOURS RÊVÉ D'ÊTRE UN GANGSTER)/ France

The Documentary Editing Award - Joe Bini/ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED

The World Cinema Documentary Editing Award - Irena Dol/THE ART STAR AND THE SUDANESE TWINS/New Zealand

The Excellence in Cinematography Award: Documentary - Phillip Hunt and Steven Sebring/PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE

The Excellence in Cinematography Award: Dramatic - Lol Crawley/BALLAST

The World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary - al Massad/RECYCLE /Jordan

The World Cinema Cinematography Award: Dramatic - Askild Vik Edvardsen for KING OF PING PONG (PING PONGKINGEN)/ Sweden

A World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Dramatic - Ernesto Contreras/BLUE EYELIDS (PÁRPADOS AZULES)/ Mexico

A Special Jury Prize: Documentary - Lisa F. Jackson/GREATEST SILENCE: RAPE IN THE CONGO

A Special Jury Prize: Dramatic, The Spirit of Independence - Chusy Haney-Jardine/ANYWHERE, USA

A Special Jury Prize: Dramatic, Work by an Ensemble Cast - The cast of CHOKE.

The 2008 Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking was awarded to two films: MY OLYMPIC SUMMER, directed by Daniel Robin, and SIKUMI (On the Ice), directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean.

The jury also presented the International Jury Prize in International Short Filmmaking to SOFT, directed by Simon Ellis. Honorable Mentions in Short Filmmaking were presented to: Aquarium, directed by Rob Meyer; August 15th, directed by Xuan Jiang; La Corona (The Crown), directed by Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega; Oiran Lyrics, directed by Ryosuke Ogawa; Spider, directed by Nash Edgerton; Suspension, directed by Nicolas Provost, and W. , directed by The Vikings.

SLEEP DEALER, directed by Alex Rivera, is the recipient of this year’s Alfred P. Sloan Prize.

Sundance Institute and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) on Thursday announced the winners of the 2008 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Awards. The winning filmmakers and projects for 2008 are Alejandro Fernandez Almendras from Chile with HUACHO; Braden King from the United States, with HERE; Aiko Nagatsu from Japan, with APOPTOSIS; and Radu Jude from Romania, with THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Felixes (The Anti-Oscars™)

With the announcement of the Oscar nominations earlier this week, my friend Stephanie pointed out a cool site called The Felixes, which touts itself as the Anti-Oscars™. There you will find jokes on the Oscars and a ballot for the winning movies. Check it out.


Arin Posts Video From Evil City Film Festival Panel

Received another Twitter text from Arin Crumley yesterday, this time notifying me that he posted a video from last fall's Evil City Film Festival panel discussion, "Filmmakers Tell All." You can view Arin's video on his blog here. Ingrid Kopp of Shooting People was the moderator, and the panelists were Leah Meyerhoff, John Putch, Arin Crumley and Susan Buice.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

From Here to Awesome Interview on NewTeeVee

Since posting about From Here to Awesome on Monday, I received a twitter text message from Arin Crumley today that there's an interview with him on NewTeeVee talking about From Here to Awesome. Have a look here.

And you can also watch a clip here below:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sundance Panel News On the Half Shell

The 2008 Sundance Film Festival is approximately at its half-way mark today. Here's a couple of tidbits from the festival panels so far that I found while surfing the net.

Strike Panel:

Webolution Panel:

Film Church Panel:
Deseret Morning News

Women in Film Panel:


Oscar Nominations Announced

I'm giving this "live" blogging thing a try, or at least just a few minutes past live blogging. The Oscar nominations were just announced on Good Morning America. The awards are scheduled for February 24. Will the writer's strike affect the ceremony? We'll have to wait and see.

In the mean time, here's a very abbreviated list of the nominees. For the rest, go to Oscar.com.

Best Picture
Michael Clayton
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Best Actor
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Marion Cotlliard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

Best Director
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman, Juno
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

And one final note. Tim Sternberg's Salim Baba was nominated for the Best Documentary Short Subject category. Congratulations, Tim!


Monday, January 21, 2008

From Here to Awesome

I'm slightly late on posting about this, but thanks to me checking in with my new IndieGoGo profile, I was reminded just now about what seems to be quite a revolutionary new film festival called FROM HERE TO AWESOME, founded by DIY filmmakers Lance Weiler (The Last Broadcast, Head Trauma), Arin Crumley (Four Eyed Monsters) and M dot Strange (We Are The Strange).

Now according to FROM HERE TO AWESOME'S IndieGoGo profile, there is to be "10 feature films, 10 shorts and 10 virtual panels to change the face of film." Upon logging onto the official FROM HERE TO AWESOME site, I was unable to find any specific details about the 10 virtual panels, however, Lance Weiler posts on the blog, "This is an experiment and we welcome your thoughts, comments and suggestions. If you’d like to suggest a film, panelist or speaker please send an email to info [@] fromheretoawesome.com."

In the mean time, here's a brief summation of what the festival is all about according to the website:

"FROM HERE TO AWESOME is a discovery and distribution festival that might be the perfect system to get your film blasted to audiences in theaters, living rooms, online and via mobile phones. All filmmakers are welcome to be a part of the festival. There are NO submission fees, filmmakers retain their rights while receiving revenue directly from the distribution outlets. A wide range of major promotional partners and distribution platforms are on board. All we need now is your film. Please submit ASAP to give the festival’s audience time to vote your film into the top 10, so it can be a part of the April Showcase."

FROM HERE TO AWESOME started accepting submissions on Jan. 10. Here's a list of other key dates to keep in mind:


Good luck to all!

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'Cinema Eye' Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking Nominations Announced

'Cinema Eye' Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking Nominations Announced

More news on the 2008 Awards for Excellence in Nonfiction Filmmaking Announced, now called the 'Cinema Eye' Awards (named after the revolutionary group of young filmmakers led by pioneering documentarian Dziga Vertov). Nominations were announced yesterday during the Sundance Film Festival. Congratulations to all the nominees. Into Great Silence and Manda Bala (Send A Bullet) lead with six nominations each and five nominations for Lake Of Fire. IndiePix also announced the Audience Choice Award nominees. The awards ceremony will take place on March 18 at New York's IFC Center.

The Awards' Blue-ribbon committee of 12 programmers from North America's top Film Festivals, co-chaired by A.J. Schnack, Director of Kurt Cobain: About A Son, and Toronto Film Festival Documentary Programmer, Thom Powers, selected the nominees by voting for five films each, in preferential order, from a list of 76 eligible films.

And the nominees are:

Outstanding Achievement in an International Feature
Ghosts Of Cite Soleil, Director - Asger LethProducers - Seth Kanegis, Tomas Radoor and Mikael Rieks
Into Great Silence, Director - Philip GröningProducers - Philip Gröning, Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfaffli & Michael Weber
Manufactured Landscapes, Director - Jennifer BaichwalProducers - Jennifer Baichwal, Daniel Iron & Nick de Pencier
The Monastery - Mr. Vig & the Nun, Director - Pernille Rose GrønkjærProducer - Sigrid Dyekjær
Please Vote For Me, Director - Weijun ChenProducer - Don Edkins

Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature
Billy The Kid - Jennifer Venditti
Manda Bala (Send A Bullet) - Jason Kohn
The Monastery - Mr. Vig and the Nun - Pernille Rose Gronkjær
No End In Sight - Charles Ferguson
A Walk Into The Sea: Danny Williams And The Warhol Factory - Esther B. Robinson

Outstanding Achievement in Direction
Into Great Silence - Philip Gröning
Lake Of Fire - Tony Kaye
Manda Bala (Send A Bullet) - Jason Kohn
Taxi To The Dark Side - Alex GibneyZoo - Robinson Devor

Outstanding Achievement in Producing
Blindsight - Sybil Robson Orr
Chicago 10 - Brett Morgan & Graydon Carter
Ghosts Of Cite Soleil - Seth Kanegis, Tomas Radoor & Mikael Rieks
Into Great Silence - Philip Gröning, Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfaffli & Michael Weber
Lake Of Fire - Tony Kaye
Manda Bala - Joey Frank, Jared Goldman & Jason Kohn

Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Crazy Love - David Zieff
Flying: Confessions Of A Free Woman - Niels Pagh Andersen
Ghosts Of Cite Soleil - Adam Nielsen
Lake Of Fire - Peter GoddardManda Bala - Doug Abel, Jenny Golden & Andy Grieve
No End In Sight - Chad Beck and Cindy Lee

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Into Great Silence - Philip Gröning
Lake Of Fire - Tony KayeManda Bala - Heloisa Passos
Manufactured Landscapes - Peter MettlerZoo - Sean Kirby

Outstanding Achievement in Graphics and Animation
Chicago 10 - Animation by Curious Pictures
Helvetica - Motions Graphics by Trollbäck & Co.
The Prisoner Or: How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair - Graphic Design by Petra Epperlein
The Unforeseen - Motion Graphics by Jef SewellSuper Amigos - Animation by David Quesnelle

The Audience Choice Prize
Deep Water - Directors - Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell
In The Shadow Of The Moon - Director - David Sington
Into Great Silence - Director - Philip Gröning
Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten - Director - Julien Temple
The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters - Director - Seth Gordon
Manufactured Landscapes - Director - Jennifer Baichwal
No End In Sight - Director - Charles Ferguson
Sicko - Director - Michael Moore

Visit the Nonfiction Awards web site - http://www.indiepixfilms.com/awards?ref=iba for more information about the Awards for Excellence in Nonfiction Filmmaking and the voting process.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

"The Seminar with Robert McKee" Trailer to Be Shown at PGA Sundance Producers Lab Screening Series

Bradley Glenn, director/producer of the feature documentary The Seminar with Robert McKee, informed me that there will be a launch party for the Producer’s Guild of America Sundance Producers Lab Screening series on Wednesday, January 23 at the Stella Artois House in Park City, Utah. I have viewed the trailer myself and it looks like this will be quite an incredible documentary.

The trailer for The Seminar with Robert McKee will screen at the party. The doc follows the brazen career of screenwriting guru Robert McKee. A polarizing figure, people either worship his every word or despise his teachings. How did a guy who has never had a screenplay produced actually get to this point? Follow his path to becoming the top screenwriting teacher through shooting his first ever produced screenplay Madness with controversial director Tony Kaye. He is a success on paper, but can he be a success on the big screen? Executive Produced by Richard Lorber, directed by Bradley Glenn, produced by Rachel Klein.

View the trailer at http://www.pgalab.producersguild.org/pgalab/ and film website http://seminarthemovie.com/theseminar.html.

And to vote for the trailer, create a profile (name, email addy) on LiveVideo.com, which is hosting the trailer series online here.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Volunteer Notetakers sought to cover Sundance/Slamdance panels

Volunteer Notetakers sought to cover Sundance/Slamdance panels

If you will be in Park City at all for either the Sundance or the Slamdance film festivals, and plan to attend any of the panel discussions there and would like to volunteer as a notetaker, please let me know, and I will add you as a Contributing Notetaker on right here on The Film Panel Notetaker.

If interested, please email me at brian at thefilmpanelnotetaker dot com to confirm your interest, and I'll set you up with blog access. You must already have your own festival pass in order to attend the panels.

When adding your notes to the blog, please be sure to include the title of the panel discussion and the names of the moderator and panelists, as well as your notes, of course :)

Also, please try to include hyperlinks to some or most of the people, films, companies, etc., you mention in your blog post.

And here's links to the panels from which to choose....
- Sundance
- Slamdance (Within the film schedule)

And in case you would prefer sending me in your videos from the panels, in lieu of notes, you may also do that.

Thanks for your consideration!

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Friday, January 11, 2008

"Gonzo Music Diaries, NYC" - Jan. 10, 2008

Gonzo Music Diaries, NYC
Anthology Film Archives
January 10, 2008

(Gonzo Music Diaries, NYC director Roy Szuper)

Last night at Anthology Film Archives, Indiepix presented a free screening of Roy Szuper's documentary Gonzo Music Diaries, NYC, about the organizing of the First Annual Williamsburg Music Festival that took place a few days before the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. Jason Tyrell of Indiepix introduced Szuper, who then introduced the film, thanking everyone who help make the film. He said it was a labor of love for a lot of people who worked for free. The documentary follows three friends, Szuper himself, plus music fanatic Concert Joe and punk rocker Tony Petrozza as they embark on creating a music festival as a protest against the forthcoming Republican National Convention. The film also mixes interviews with street musicians, who eventually become a part of the music festival, as well as legendary New York icons including the late Hilly Kristal, founder of CBGB's. Gonzo Music Diaries, NYC is currently available on DVD. Buy it here.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

IFP Industry Connect - How and When To Get An Entertainment Lawyer - Jan. 8, 2008

IFP Industry Connect
How and When To Get An Entertainment Lawyer
January 8, 2008
Soho House New York

I found this discussion on transactional entertainment law to be quite interesting, yet a little overwhelming with information, as did other audience members who stated this during the Q&A. Both Fernando Ramirez and *Innes Smolansky illustrated the legal concepts quite well, but I would recommend you do further research when seeking legal advice, other than what you read just here. These are only my notes and interpretations of what I heard during the discussion, and not a complete transcript. I welcome further insights and elaborations from both Fernando and Innes, and of course if you also attended this discussion, please post any notes you may have taken in the comments section.

* Since I posted my notes this afternoon, Innes emailed me with some revisions and corrections that make my notes abundantly clearer. What you read below includes her revisions. Thanks so much, Innes!

Notes from The Discussion:

Fernando starts the discussion by asking everyone in the audience if they have ever dealt with attorneys or entertainment attorneys. Most everyone raises their hands. Fernando, who’s been practicing transactional entertainment law for the past ten years, says he gets a kick out of people who come to him and say they have a signed document/agreement, but couldn’t afford an attorney. It’s difficult for people to comprehend that a lawyer bills by the hour. It’s important for everyone to do their research on lawyers before they select one. Often, an experienced producer may know more about transactional matters than most attorneys who don’t practice transactional entertainment law. Even within entertainment law, there are specialties such as book, theater, music, film, and so on.

Fernando then asks everyone, “who owns a production company?” Again, most everyone raises their hands. He says that when someone wants to contact him, he tries to get a sense of what your issues are and also who referred you. He can tell when people don’t do their research. It’s important for first time filmmakers to get references. If you are looking to form a production company, he will ask you what type? An LLC? An S-Corp? This is where you initially will need to consult with an attorney. You can always form a corporation on your own, but preferably, you’ll want to pay an attorney. There are a series of services for forming your own such as We the People, Blumberg and Legalzoom.com. He cringes a little at these services. If you look at their literature, they have disclaimers that tell you this is not a substitution for competent legal advice.

Fernando then offers a roadmap of the fees and advantages of an LLC. Setting up a corporation costs about $170 paid to Albany, if in New York State, plus between $60-$80 for a corporate kit. Then you would apply for your EIN number on the IRS website. You will then get your certificate to open up a bank account. An LLC has the advantages of a sub-chapter S-Corp without the disadvantages of paying corporate taxes and income taxes. The disadvantage is that there is a minimum franchise tax of $700 expected to be paid every year, no matter how much you make. In addition, every project or film you create, should be its own company. It becomes insulated this way.

Joining the discussion a few minutes late, Innes arrives after being stuck in traffic. She picks up the conversation by saying that if you finance a film with active investors, as opposed to passive investors, then forming an LLC is a better choice for tax and legal reasons. LLCs are very flexible. They are key in the independent film world, but there are some advantages to S-Corps.

Innes says to think of the production process in two steps. First, you set up a company that develops projects (can be either an LLC or an S-Corp), and second, each film it will produce is its own separate company, which with very few exceptions is most always an LLC.

If you also use your development company to loan your services as producers, you may be better off with an S-corp. If you work for a large established company, then big companies prefer to pay S-Corps over single member LLCs.

Fernando interjects by saying he rarely comes across S-Corps. He brings up the relationship between a parent company versus a holding company, but Innes says “there is no holding company in the scenario of development company and film specific LLC” They come to somewhat of a disagreement here, which I don’t fully grasp the nature of, but Innes goes on to say the reason you set up LLCs or S-corps in the first place is because you never want to be personally liable. You also don’t want the development company to carry any liability. That is why you want to create a separate company for each film and have that company be liable for any problems.

Fernando says that setting up an LLC can be cost-prohibitive for some people. The expense is pretty unique in New York State because of publishing. You pay Albany approximately $235 [which is a different amount stated a few paragraphs above as $170. Not sure if this is because it’s a different document being filed or what]. Then after making that payment, you still are required to publish a notice in your local newspaper. An attorney doesn’t determine the publishing requirement, the county clerk where your business operates does. You must publish an ad in the paper for several weeks.Once you have set up your LLC, you go through the passive and active investor process, Fernando says.

Innes says: Laws protect investors from losing their money. With private investors, there’s usually only a limited group of people. If investors are active, they can be considered your co-producers. Fernando elaborates that active investors can have creative and financial control and don’t need as much protection, whereas passive investors do. Innes adds, the logic is almost common sense. Producers have to give investors a huge amount of information up front so they know what they are getting involved in. A prospectus document for any company doing an offering is a similar thing. Fernando says that even with active investors, there’s still a sizable amount of disclosure. Innes says when approaching an active investor, someone who would not be a film producer, showing a business plan is often a good idea.

Fernando mentions an offering memorandum. There is a discussion about legal fees and Innes says there is no way to do a correct private placement memorandum overnight. It is a very important and complicated document and it must be done right. If you are raising very little budget most likely, the SEC is not going to read your packet. They just file it, but this doesn’t mean you won’t have a really disgruntled investor who may sue you for fraud if you did not disclose all the relevant information. You have to be honest with your investors. Fernando says to give as much disclosure as you can.

For documentary production, Fernando says you have the possibility of setting up a not-for-profit (NFP) organization or getting fiscal sponsorship. This takes a very long time to set up and is very competitive. The good thing about fiscal sponsorship though is, it’s a grant. Innes adds that if your project is a documentary, that’s the most common way to finance your film. Whomever gives you the money can take a deduction. Fernando adds one thing to be mindful about is you can’t go to just any institution. You can’t take money from an institution that doesn’t have a purpose and use that money that doesn’t align with the company’s stated purpose. Innes doesn’t recommend forming an NFP for a single film, but you can still apply for fiscal sponsorship and use the fiscal sponsor as a conduit for the tax deductible contributions. The donor will get the tax deduction, but you could still have a profit on the film and keep it.

In referring back to the IFP Industry Connect’s theme of the discussion being “How and When To Get A Entertainment Lawyer,” Innes mentions that she and Fernando are there to help you see the road from A to Z. Budget your resources very carefully. Fernando suggests to read a lot of literature on front-money agreements, allowing yourself to make an informed decision.

Notes from the Audience Q&A

Q: What structure should documentary filmmakers follow who have more than one film?

(FR) Set up separate entities.

(IS) Having separate companies for each project protects against liability.

Q: Why do private offerings take so long? What’s expected from the client?

(IS) They take a fairly long time to draft because Disclosure of all relevant information and not withholding anything is expected. Under no circumstances, should you mislead or defraud the investor. A correctly placed private placement is very film specific. There’s a way for clients to help draft it faster and make it cheaper for them if the client writes much of it him or herself. Give very coherent bios, screenplay summary, festival strategy, etc. You could also have a front-money agreement drafted inexpensively, which is only a few pages. This goes to a limited number of investors. It tells them what you’re planning on producing and helps convince them it’s a good idea to invest.

(FR) Fernando says he once met a resourceful filmmaker who said she had her lawyer handle her first project, but she became so well-informed with the process that she does most of it herself. But he still recommends you consult with an attorney. A business plan is good to test the waters.

Q: Do you recommend and readings or resources?

(FR) For educational purposes, read The Biz and Clearance & Copyright by Michael Donaldson.(IS) Read Business Plans for Independents by Louise Levinson and Morrie Warshawski’s books for documentary filmmakers.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

2008 Awards for Excellence in Nonfiction Filmmaking Announced

The folks at IndiePix sent me the following news today:

A new nonfiction filmmaking award, recognizing the wide breadth of the genre and also specific crafts such as cinematography and editing is being created from within the documentary community. The inaugural event, honoring films from 2007, will be held on March 18, 2008 at the IFC Center in New York City. The awards are to be co-chaired by filmmaker AJ Schnack (director of “Kurt Cobain About a Son”) and Thom Powers, Documentary Programmer of the Toronto International Film Festival.

IndiePix, the internet based distributor of independent film, has joined Mr. Schnack and Mr. Powers in this effort and will be the presenting partner and sponsor for the inaugural awards, it was announced today by Bob Alexander, President of IndiePix.

Nominees in 8 categories will be announced on January 20, 2008 at an event for press and the documentary community in Park City, UT (coinciding with the Sundance Film Festival). On that date further details will be revealed about the award, including its official name.

Awards will be presented in the following categories:

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Filmmaking
Outstanding Achievement in an International Feature
Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature
Outstanding Achievement in Direction
Outstanding Achievement in Production
Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Outstanding Achievement in Graphics and Animation

Members of the Nominating Committee:

Thom Powers (Chair), Documentary Programmer, Toronto International Film Festival
Phoebe Brush, Director of Programming, Full Frame Film Festival
Matt Dentler, Producer, South by Southwest Film Festival
Sean Farnel, Director of Programming, Hot Docs
Tom Hall, Director of Programming, Sarasota Film Festival
David Kwok, Director of Programming, Tribeca Film Festival
Cara Mertes, Director of Sundance Documentary Film Program, Sundance Film Festival
David Nugent, Director of Programming, Hamptons International Film Festival
Rachel Rosen, Director of Programming, Los Angeles Film Festival
Sky Sitney, Director of Programming, SilverDocs
David Wilson, Director, True/False Film Festival
Brit Withey, Artistic Director of Festivals, Starz Denver Film Festival

Also today, it was announced that 15 films have been shortlisted in the category of Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Filmmaking by a blue-ribbon nominating committee of 12 programmers from North America’s top film festivals who are esteemed for their specialization in documentary (see list below). Those films are:

"Billy the Kid"
"Deep Water"
"The Devil Came on Horseback"
"Ghosts of Cite Soleil"
"In the Shadow of the Moon"
"Into Great Silence"
"Lake of Fire"
"Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)"
"Manufactured Landscapes"
"The Monastery - Mr. Vig and the Nun"
"No End in Sight"
"Taxi to the Dark Side"
"The Unforeseen"

You can also read about this news in an article on indieWIRE.