g The Film Panel Notetaker: September 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

46th New York Film Festival - "Happy-Go-Lucky" - Sept. 26, 2008

46th New York Film Festival
Happy-Go-Lucky – Press & Industry Screening & Conference
Monday, September 26, 2008
Walter Reader Theater – New York, NY

(L to R: Sally Hawkins, Mike Leigh & Lisa Schwarzbaum)
Photo by Brian Geldin

Happy-Go-Lucky is UK filmmaker Mike Leigh’s latest film, a comedy about a free-spirited 30-year-old British lass named Poppy played with great charm by Sally Hawkins who seems to view everything with rose-colored glasses. Happy-Go-Lucky is chock-filled with brilliant improvisational acting by its ensemble cast, a benchmark of all of Leigh’s films where he spends months in advance rehearsing the roles before the camera rolls. Miramax Films will release Happy-Go-Lucky on October 10.

Leigh and Hawkins sat down to chat with the press and industry after a screening last Friday moderated by Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum. Below are some highlights of that discussion.

Leigh began by sincerely expressing that a Q&A at the New York Film Festival is one of his favorite things in his life. “They’re always a million times more intelligent than any of the other Q&As anywhere else in the world,” he said referring to the time he brought his film Naked to the festival in 1993 when someone asked, “Do you think that Johnny will be dead within an hour of the end of the film?”

“That certainly is a challenge to whatever the first question is,” Schwarzbaum replied. Her first question to Leigh and Hawkins was if they know anyone this happy, referring to Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky. Hawkins said she knows a few people, but Poppy is on another level. Leigh said that we all do, but he doesn’t think the audience “should so easily be sidetracked by the title,” which he says is just an atmosphere. “It’s not really to understand her at all,” he said, “She’s got great depth of profundity.” Hawkins added that all of Leigh’s characters are complex human beings. “It’s her choice to be happy,” Hawkins said. “That’s the way she deals with life.”

Schwarzbaum said she thought Happy-Go-Lucky was a shift of the characters Leigh typically writes, in which Leigh responded that “she is different from lots of other characters…she is warm, generous, she has a sense of humor…that is absolutely the description of the character Vera Drake.” Leigh said he wanted to make “an anti-miserabilist film.” “Wait till you see how depressing the next film will be,” he said.

Schwarzbaum asked Hawkins where she went to find her sources for Poppy, to which Hawkins said when doing a Mike Leigh film, “the possibilities are endless. You’re creating so many different layers…it’s the most creative you’re ever asked to be in a film.” Leigh said the characters are drawn from lots of different people.

At the audience portion of the Q&A, Leigh was asked if there was anytime in his thought process if he wanted to kill happiness. In true moderator fashion, Schwarzbaum repeated the question so all could hear, but she added this very funny spin alluding to Leigh’s previous reference to the 1993 Q&A, “The question is whether Poppy will live an hour after the film is over.” The audience reacted with a loud chuckle. But to Leigh, he said it never occurred to him until it was just suggested to him. “I like Poppy,” he said. “There will be people she gets on there nerves.” Hawkins agreed and says there has been. Leigh doesn’t get why some people have said they wanted to strangle her. He alludes to that day’s New York Times which said Poppy was either endearing, irritating or possibly both. “I don’t get why anyone who would pay attention and go into the film and do anything other than fall in love with her,” he said.

And when asked what goes into the Mike Leigh six-month rehearsal process, Hawkins said that it was one-to-one with Leigh at the beginning. “They do get paid,” Leigh added with a hardy laugh from the audience. Hawkins said it involves talking, researching, thinking and interacting with the other characters. Leigh said “the deal is to be in a film, I can’t tell you what it’s going to be about. I can’t tell you who the characters is. You’re going to make the character up…and you will never ever know anything or any other aspect of it, except for your character will do.”

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fritz Donnelly's tothehills2 fundraising on IndieGoGo.com

In an effort to help promote Fritz Donnelly's tothehills 2, see below information on how you can help contribute to three new tothehills short films. Please spread the word:

The From Here to Awesome sensation tothehills 2, 25 short films in one directed by Fritz Donnelly, is now open for its first round of fundraising on IndieGoGo.com.

To contribute to three more tothehills short films, go to:http://www.indiegogo.com/project/view/726

Goal: $500

How will these funds be used?

To make 3 more tothehills short films.

FINANCIAL ADVICE: for the banking industry who want to steal your home and have you pay them for it.

AWKWARD SOCIAL SITUATIONS: how to be a graceful nude.

And CLONE WAR II: whatever went wrong with the recent star wars went right for this movie.


$10 "Financial Advice" Copy of tothehills 2 dvd

$25 "Awkward Social Situations" Copy of tothehills and tothehills2 dvds

$50 "Real Estate Pro"Copy of tothehills and tothehills2 dvds. Thank you on website.

$100 "Milk Industry" Copy of tothehills and tothehills2 dvds. Thank you on website. 5 free admissions to hichristina.com.

$250 "Everything I Know" Copy of tothehills and tothehills2 dvds. Thank you on website. Season pass to hichristina.com

Labels: , , ,

Independent Film Week - Case Study: Documentary Marketing - "Beautiful Losers" & "I.O.U.S.A." - Sept. 18, 2008

Independent Film Week
Case Study: Documentary Marketing – Beautiful Losers & I.O.U.S.A.
September 18, 2008

This panel was about how to consider the marketing dimensions of a film. To think through how to secure fan, organizational and subject support. Every film is unique and marketing is expression of film’s core values.

Case Study:
Beautiful Losers
The film’s subjects were urban misfits, skateboarders and underground artists. It initially started as traditional documentary on small groups of artists influencing pop culture. The built in, core audience graffiti heads and skateboarders, and as a result, the film turned out to be a cinematic essay.

Twenty years ago this scene was just starting out. Now the artists are older and present in the mainstream. But the marketing campaign for film had to be DIY and grassroots in order to speak to audience. A lot of the filmmakers’ peers were creative directors at Nike, Boost Mobile, and the like… and they wanted to approach this marketing plan differently. The idea was that the core audience was so big, the reach out was going to be non-traditional outside of 30 second spots. The producers got a deal with Nike by also going to Vans, so Nike preemptively got involved because they already have foothold with this niche.

The filmmakers decided to premiere at SXSW because it was outside of major market festivals. They ultimately needed to excite the base to offer revenue streams when showing film out there. And in the mean time, the filmmakers wanted to inspire people to go out and paint, draw—do something.

In the end, some of the marketing initiatives are built around activities that were art projects in their own right. They offered something positive to the communities and relied on PR and word of mouth. The director wanted to do workshops with the artists in NY and San Francisco. Zine making. Sign making. And then do them around release dates of film. It overlapped with underground music and SXSW was a great platform for that aspect of the film. They hired a “scenester” publicist as opposed to traditional publicist for the film circuit. They wanted to save the real one for the national campaign. They started with AIGA, Art Centers and Universities to get the film out to their lists while also hitting up stores for promotions. The film’s website had an art-share aspect for artists and fans to upload their own work. The marketers wanted to speak to audience that wouldn’t necessarily respond to box office ads. A lot of times, they were reeling in kids (around 12 years old) who wouldn’t spend cash on film at the movie theater that they couldn’t get to. Then those kids would mention to their friends, etc and it became cool to go see the movie.

The goal was to get people out to make something. Most people are compelled to make stuff and the filmmakers wanted to encourage that. The emotional core of film is that you can do what the subjects in film can do.

Case Study: I.O.U.S.A.
The filmmaker started with noting that you should market for festivals first—this is critically important. You can sell your film if it plays well. Then there’s separate kind of marketing for theatrical release. They are two different things and you can do the latter without doing well at festivals.

When he was at Sundance with his first film, Wordplay, they came up with idea to make a handout with a crossword puzzle, all the clues and a pencil. It was the best $5,000 ever spent to print these. They handed them out every where. There were tons of lines for other screenings, so that was a good time to hit people with a time-passing piece of marketing. IFC said that was smartest piece of marketing they’ve ever seen at festivals. People in line were board and wanted the puzzles. They got 7 offers and sold it for a million bucks. A film is big investment of time and money. You need to go to festivals with a plan. Connect to audience. IOUSA was eventually bought after Sundance.

The subject matter was the national debt. It is a timely, Feel Good Movie of the Summer.

When they started production, people thought that this was silly idea for a subject. Things were fine a year ago. But 8-9 months into shooting, the sub-prime crisis happened. And so they scratched the film and started over because its prophecies ended up rearing their ugly heads. During this time, the producers found a lack of understanding of their subject and found purpose in that.

A non-profit bought the movie for one million and set aside another million to promote it. Roadside Attractions partnered with the film and said there are a couple thousand of theaters in country that are wired to digitally distribute film. The nonprofit organized a town hall meeting with Warren Buffet and president of AARP. They settled in Omaha and Becky Quick of CNBC moderated it. They had huge event premiering film where they fed the film to 430 theatres and showed it live. Taxi to Darkside sold 30,000 tickets total over its run and I.O.U.S.A. sold 45,000 tickets in one night. They got people there because the subject of film is on every cover of every magazine. Also, Buffet is a superstar, and everyone wants to know what he thinks.

They shopped around to all the business channels to get the moderator and event. The channel they went with promoted the event the entire week before the screening. National CineMedia has consortium of theatres, so for a month ahead they ran commercials for opening night. And the filmmakers didn’t pay for any of it. It all boils down to you really need to understand your film and understand why someone is going to go pay 10 bucks in theater.

All told, television, Netflix and the Internet are great and all, but theatrical distribution is at the top of the pyramid. People write reviews when it’s in the theatre and it activates people more than anything. If it opens in New York (for at least a week), the Times will review it. Every filmmaker needs and wants that.


Labels: , ,

Latest Update from Andrew Berends

Received the below email from Andrew Berends via The D-Word regarding the latest situation in Nigeria:

As you may know, I'm back in the U.S. after ten days being detained by the State Security Services in Nigeria. I'd been in Nigeria for six months filming DELTA BOYS (http://deltaboys.com/) about the oil conflict in the Niger Delta. I was picked up while filming at the Nembe Waterside in Port Harcourt. Nembe Waterside is a bustling port through which all kinds of traffic flows. It's a point of entry to the Niger Delta creeks where villagers fish and militants are encamped. I was arrested while filming women bringing their products to market, and was falsely accused of espionage.

In the end, I was never charged with a crime. I was turned over to immigration and deported. While I regret that I didn't manage to spend just a few more weeks there filming, I am happy to be back in New York with six months worth of footage.

Unfortunately, my Nigerian translator Samuel George and my friend and host Joe Bussio are still in Port Harcourt. They were also arrested and harassed simply because of their association with me. While I'm safe in my Brooklyn apartment, I'm doing everything I can to assure their well-being.

Joe has been cleared of all charges. Samuel is expected to report to the SSS again in a few days. During the course of this ordeal, Joe and Samuel incurred $10,000 in legal expenses. We have raised $2,000 from the support of Reporters Without Borders (http://www.rsf.org/), and $3,000 from the Committee to Protect Journalists (http://cpj.org/) and the Correspondents Fund (http://correspondentsfund.org/) combined. We've also raised over $1500 since Friday evening through donations from individuals, including a number of very generous D-Worders. But, we still need help to raise all the money.

To make a donation, please visit: http://helpandy.chipin.com/

As independent documentary filmmakers and journalists, we rely on people like Samuel and Joe, especially when working in unfriendly environments. When things go wrong, it's our responsibility to help them. It is important that translators and local journalists around the world know that they can do their jobs without fear for their lives, their families, or the expenses they will incur on our behalf.

Thank you so much for your support.

Andrew Berends

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

No Borders Case Study with John Hadity - Sept. 17, 2008

No Borders Case Study with John Hadity
Independent Film Week
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
FIT – Katie Murphy Amphitheater – New York, NY

Last Wednesday at Independent Film Week, No Borders International Co-Production Market presented a Case Study on Single Picture Financing with John Hadity, President and CEO of Hadity & Associates, Inc., a consultancy firm that specializes in risk management and production finance for film and television. I have included the main outline of that presentation below with highlights of the transcription of Hadity's discussion. I found the discussion and presentation to be very informative. While a lot of information to ingest, this seems to be a very handy “how to” resource for producers looking for multiple ways to finance their films.

Before Hadity began his presentation, he said, “I thought it would be important to have a conversation with you about what’s happening right now out there in the finance world. With all the news last week, everything is in the toilet. I’m going to give you a bit of an overview so you understand when you are talking to finance people, you understand what’s in their head and what they don’t want to hear and what they do want to hear. I would say 99% of the time, you’re going to hear ‘no.’ It’s important that you understand why they’re saying things like that and how maybe you can mitigate your own risk before you go into these meetings. The second part is a break down of a case study of an alternative way of financing the film.”

Part 1 – Industry Overview

Health of the Industry
* These numbers are for 2006. Hadity noted that he has not yet seen all the numbers for 2007

“Box office is fairly in the same place. Theater admission down, although the number of releases have certainly gone up. This year, there were over 5,000 entries to Sundance. 10 years ago there were 500. There were a lot of movies being made and fighting to get on screen and fighting to stay on screen for over two weeks. There’s a lot of competition out there. But still, this is a very healthy industry. This is an industry an industry that’s not correlated to any asset class. When the economy is in the toilet and people don’t have money, they still go to the movies. It’s because they can’t afford a new car. They can’t afford a new house, but they can take their families to the movies."

Studio Concerns

“To give you a snapshot of what was happening in 2004/2005…what happened back then had a severe effect on independent producers and production companies that tried to finance their films. Studio movies cost about $100M. Studios were very concerned about these escalating costs. All of these studios have other businesses that they’re involved with and to tie up $100M at the time in cash, it was really crippled. They still needed to feed the distribution pipeline that was in fact the lifeblood. But they did see that all of these revenue streams would change them. In Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, you’d see how long or short a period of time films are actually on the screen, unless they are absolute break out successes. There’s an incredible amount of energy put into finding other revenue streams or enhancing other revenue streams in pictures. By far the priority is to downsize any kind of risk."

- Escalating film costs
- Cash Management
- Need to continue to feed distribution pipeline
- Revenue Streams are changing
*Pay TV deals are diminishing
*Windows are getting shorter
- Increase in piracy
- Manage downside risk

In the Financing World

“At the same time in the financing world, there was a huge growth in private capital. Hedge funds, most of the time, really didn’t hedge anything. Since 1990-2005, there’s been about a 20% growth in private wealth. There was...a year ago, almost one and half trillion dollars under management. Basically what was happening in the hedge fund world…the private capital world…is people needed a lot of cash. We have to take a very small part of our patch and invest it into something that is high risk/high reward. Let’s say 5%. There is no magic number. But most mandates were probably around 5%. Take that and put it into a high-risk category business…film got chosen. Why…first of all it’s sexy. The first thing whenever I’ve gone and stayed in a room with people with private capital that were interested in investing in a slate of movies or with studio slate deal were like, how many tickets can I get to the premiere? There are hedge funds, private capital, and banks that are comfortable with what’s called the Monte Carlo method…literally a software program that enables a financial analyst to role the dice how ever many times you want. How many times can you role the dice and lose? The Monte Carlo method is actually used to evaluate a number of slate deals that are trying to get financed by studios, specialty labels and production companies.”

- Influx of Capital
*Private Equity Growth since 2003 = $580 billion
* 20% hedge fund growth since 1990
* $1.4 trillion under management today
- Portfolio Diversification
*New asset classes
*High risk/high reward
*Comfort with statistical analyses (Monte Carlo method)
*Gap and Super Gap opportunities
*Sexy business

Recent Transactions (Recently Completed Film Deals) – 1st Page

“The first deal was August of 2004 with Paramount…a $300M deal to finance 26 films over a 5-7 year period. The arrangement on these deals, every single major investment bank is involved. If they’re not the arrangers, even the Weinstein Company deal with Goldman Sachs was a billion dollars. You have to understand that Goldman Sachs did not underwrite a billion dollars. There’s an equity component to these deals and there’s a debt component to these deals. Typically the debt in these deals is syndicated out to a number of banks. I promise you, every single bank that you’ve ever heard of has participated in…at this point it was $10.6 billion.”

Recent Transactions (Recently Completed Film Deals) – 2nd Page

“It’s over $15 billion now that has been invested into our world. And I heard someone say at dinner recently that they thought it’s more like $24-$26 billion. These deals started back in 2004, and the post-mortem is actually just starting on these deals. A lot of people that participated in these deals, especially on the debt side, are less than pleased with the results they’re seeing. The numbers that they were talking about and throwing around to each other around board rooms and conference room tables were more like 14%/16%/18%/22% returns. I think the first numbers that were actually publicly released was 4%. So people are not very happy with the performance of these deals so they are actually re-negotiating some of these deals or scrambling for a way to refinance them. Couple that with the credit crisis that’s happening right now and one thing you really need to be aware of is a banker or a hedge fund manager or investment arranger is that you’re talking to sales people. These people are in charge of bringing deals in…they’re called originators…their job is to bring in investment opportunities to financial institutions. They are not the people who are going to approve the deal. They’re going to sit and listen to your deal and tell you that it has a lot of potential, but at the end of the day, the person who’s going to make a decision is going to be a credit desk. The person behind that credit desk is going to be looking at this investment from a risk management perspective asking...What if these movies don’t perform?”

Producer Driven Financing Transactions

“There were a number of very high-brow independents that were successful in getting their slates financed. That still happens. We’re still reading about that, but from a credit desk perspective…somebody at a bank isn’t going to want to hear you have 10 really good stories. Somebody at a bank is going to want to have proof that you have a revenue stream somewhere behind you that can support the kind of money that you want to borrow from a bank. The larger independents are pretty much well taken care of. The real challenge here is to get the thousands of independent producers out there that are trying to get their movies financed on a one-off basis typically to get them their financing.”

Indy Film (“One-Off Financing)

Studio Financed
- Advantages – Money already there; Negotiating Muscle; Guaranteed Distribution; Worldwide Exposure
- Disadvantages – Lose Creative Control; Inflated Budget; Pushed Participation; Gun for Hire
Independently Financed
- Advantages – Maintain Creative Control; Controlled Costs; Better Odds for Participation; You are your own boss
- Disadvantages – Need to fundraise; Weak negotiating position; Guaranteed Distribution unlikely; Exposure Uncertain

“When I crossed over to the light side…I remember my first experience in financing a one-off picture…it was around $60M. The studio that had intended to distribute it actually budgeted the movie at $130M. The producer of mine loves to tell the story…the visual effects house that we would have used…was about 19x cheaper than using the studio’s VFX house…the studio said it’s okay, it’s soft money.”

Financing Vehicles

“Soft money is probably the number one way to finance a portion of your movie. It is absolutely irresponsible to make a movie today in a territory or in a state or in a city that does not offer an incentive, unless it’s your money. If it’s your money, you can do whatever you want. If you’re using someone else’s money to make a movie, you should not be filming in California. You should not be filming in states that do not offer incentives. This is free money. They’re incentivizing for you to come and spend money there. They’re rewarding you for dumping money into their infrastructure. You’re creating jobs. You are helping their economic development. This is free money you should take advantage of. I personally will not help people finance a movie that’s not being filmed in an area without incentives.”

Soft Money (“Incentives”) – 1st Page

“It’s really important to understand the nature of the incentive you’re chasing, because you don’t want to go there…spend a lot of money and then be left at the alter. There are a lot of people out there who know how to navigate through these incentives. It’s the film commissioner’s responsibility as well to be able to guide you through all of these resources…Any economic development person will take a meeting with you if you say the words, ‘I will create jobs.’”

- Refundable
- Transferable
- Rebates/Grants
- Up Front/Backend Production Funding

Soft Money (“Incentives”) – 2nd Page

- Best Practices

Soft Money (“Incentives”) – 3rd Page

- Web Access Tools

Production Incentives
- Domestic & International – http://www.productiontaxincentives.com/
- Canada – www.canadafilmcapital.com/taxcredit/index.html
Film Commissions
- Worldwide – http://www.afci.org/

Co-Financing Partners

“Understand that whatever percentage of the budget they’re going to put up, they’re going to want that percentage of everything that happens on the back end coming back to them. Partnerships are not about free money…now it really is about finding a partner who wants to share in your reward.”

- Studios
- Distributors
- Post Facilities
- Production Companies
- Passive Equity Investors
- Film or Media Funds
- Integrated Marketeers
- Brand/Rights Sharers
- Etc.

- Typical pro rate Scenario: % Financing = % Ownership

Production Loans

“This has a direct effect to all of those $15-$24 million worth of deals. There are still banks out there that will deduct the money, but their capacity for risk is substantially less than it used to be. You used to be able to walk into a bank telling your story and creating a very good picture about the potential profitability of your movie, and the bank would…once they felt comfortable…the bank would probably take risks that they just cannot make today. All of these loans are collateralized…now more than ever, self-bonding is not an option. You will have to get a completion bond on your film.”

Foreign Pre-Sales

“You can find co-financing partners in foreign sales agents, foreign sales companies and in distributors of the foreign territories. You don’t make a decision to make a movie without talking to foreign sales people. You shouldn’t go out there and make a movie without having a conversation with somebody somewhere that’s an expert in foreign sales…what kind of currency does this film have in the rest of the world outside of the United States? They can certainly tell you that American comedies are very challenged to travel abroad. Because of that, it’s going to help you to cast a movie with somebody that does have currency in a foreign market to minimize the risk that your comedy isn’t going to travel well abroad.”

Negative Pick-Up

“Negative pick-ups are pretty hard to come by unless you have somebody pretty extraordinary attached to the budget or it’s just a great story that a distributor wants his hand on. The deal is really simple…the money comes from a bank. You’ve got a producer and a distributor. The bank agrees to provide a loan to the production, the production agrees to make the movie and deliver it to the distributor. And the distributor is going to pay off the bank loan. A letter of intent nowadays means absolutely nothing. It is really a lovely thing to have…never take a letter of intent into a financial institution because it really carries no weight.”

Gap, Mezzanine, and Private Equity Financing

“When you look at investments in movies, equity is cash. It’s the riskiest money out there. People who make an equity investment in your film are entitled to a much better reward. They sit behind everybody else back with you, but they’re going to get a higher return. They’re paid last, but they hold a higher reward than the lender will get.”

- GAP – Last in, first out. Secured against foreign sales. (est. ROI 12-14%)
- MEZZ – Sits behind GAP. Secured against some part of the revenue stream. (est. ROI 18-22%)
- EQUITY – Sits behind Mezz. First in, last out; Entirely performance driven. (est. ROI mid-20s to mid-30s %)

Integrated Marketing

“Integrated marketing has become an incredible buzz word…it’s what we used to call product placement, but it’s much bigger. These deals are incredibly difficult to put together and to use as cash. More often than not, these integrated marketing deals are marketing support for the movie. They’re not going to give you cash up front to use to cover your production. They’re very rare and often involve conversations at a corporate level that you will not be able to have. I would always recommend that you first look at the kind of marketing support that you can get for the release of the film and that might actually help you go and raise the P&A money. With a lot of these integrated marketing deals, you don’t really get the majority of the cash until your partner can look at the movie.”

Part 2 – Financing a Single Picture


- Assumptions: $5M budget, UK Production, Bollywood actors, post in UK, American producer/director/writer/

$5M (100%) Budget
-1.25 (25%) UK Tax Incentives
-1.5M (30%) UK Tax Incentives
-200K (4%) UK Post & VFX (equity co-producer)
-800K (16%) UK rights (presale)
-200K (4%) India/Pakistan/Sri Lanka rights (presale)
-1.05M (21%) Equity/GAP
$0 (0%)

UK Tax Incentive

- UK Spend = $5M
- UK Tax Incentive = 25% of UK spend
- UK Benefit is $5M x 25% = $1.25M

Equity Co-Producer

- Post-Production budget = $1.5M
- Offer post facility co-producer credit & 30% revenue stream for $1.5M
- Benefits to co-producer: Increased visibility, workflow, revenue stream
- Will co-producer cashflow the UK tax incentive for a fee?

UK Film Council

- Grant Application eligibility due to UK content
- Usually capped, but each project is treated individually
- Benefits to Film Council: Increased visibility, supports inward investment and economic development, creates local jobs

Foreign Presales

- Presale of territories
- Need foreign sales agent
- Need foreign sales estimates


- Leverage foreign sales estimated for unsold territories as collateral
- Only use bank-approved foreign sales agents
- Angel investors are the hardest thing to find

Other Considerations

“Any piece can fall out at any given time.”

- Script
- Chain-of-title
- Reasonable budget expectation
- Corporate set-up and compliance
- Letters of intent
- Completion bond
- Production Insurance
- Payroll
- Banking
- Financing reporting
- Delivery
- Distribution/Sales

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 22, 2008

Catching Up with "The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose"

In preparation for the October 28 DVD release of The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose via Carnivalesque Films, here's a One-on-One Q&A below with Paul Lovelace, co-director of the film along with Sam Douglas. As a refresher, The Film Panel Notetaker took to Anthology Film Archives last December for a screening of the documentary about the folk/psychedelic rock band Holy Modal Rounders.

TFPN: Now that the film has come full circle, when you look back to reflect on the whole experience, what have you learned from it all? Would you do anything differently in terms of anything...the production process, the distribution, the marketing, etc.

Lovelace: EVERYTHING has been a learning process. However I'd say we minimized major fuckups by and large. But keep in mind this question spans over 8 years. Nothing glaring comes to mind. From the beginning we tried to keep costs low and utilize talented folks around us. This includes everyone from the band to our wonderful distributors at Carnivalesque. I realize this is a politician like non-answer to let me dig for an example. We were late in the game for MySpace and Facebook and our own website. I would highly recommend developing a web presence early on. Throw a few sample clips up. Write a blog. Build interest and begin the ever important outreach process. Especially if you want to have any sort of theatrical life.

TFPN: What have you done in preparation for the DVD? Are there any special features or new interviews and updates?

Lovelace: TONS of extras. Everything from rare Sweden footage of the band in the early 70's to a tribute to key band figure Antonia and her clutch songwriting. And, there's plenty of deleted scenes and music performances. We also have liner notes by Nick Tosches and Peter Stampfel.

TFPN: How did your partnership with Carnivalesque Films come about? Did you approach them, or they you?

Lovelace: They are friends, peers and highly inspiring. We have been long impressed by their dedication to their own films and passion for others, docs and otherwise. Plus, speaking of outreach, they are second to none. David and Ashley really liked our movie and wanted to work together. If they are as passionate about Carnivalesque as they are to their own productions I'd say the future is bright.They are working filmmakers. They know filmmaking. They watch films. And they are solid citizens. What more can you ask for?

TFPN: What, if any, new projects have you started working on or are currently working on?

Lovelace: Still knee deep in a doc about legendary radio personality Bob Fass and his long running FM program Radio Unnameable. Lots happening there. Sam is about to start editing his doc on the architect Samuel Mockbee, whose design/build program the Rural Studio has been a shot heard 'round the world for green building and people who want to infuse their profession with service and social responsibility. Stay tuned!

Labels: ,

Independent Film Week - State of the Industry - Sept. 16, 2008

The State of the Industry
Independent Film Week
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
FIT – Haft Auditorium – New York, NY

Last Tuesday at the Independent Filmmaker Conference, Variety’s Anne Thompson moderated a discussion with indie film distribution stalwart Bob Berney, who lead Warner Bros.’ specialty division Picturehouse, which was recently relinquished into the larger fabric of the company. A few years back, Berney brought to mainstream attention such indie film hits as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Mel Gibson’s controversial The Passion of the Christ. Berney talked with Thompson about his work in distribution and the current and state of the industry and where it seems to be heading. Below are some selected moments from that discussion.

Thompson: Why are the studios losing faith in the independent specialty division sectors? Why were Picturehouse and Warner Independent both put out to pasture?

Berney: We’re really caught up in a lot of things. I think that for Warners and Time Warner having duplicate distribution systems. Obviously Warners and New Line became very similar doing the same tent-pole releases. When they closed New Line, I think they forgot about us. I thought there could have been a merger with Warner Independent and Picturehouse. They felt they only were going to make tent-pole movies like The Dark Knight. They didn’t want to have the over head. There wasn’t enough profit for their huge overhead and corporation to do independent films. If they had one, they would do it through the Warner system. At the same time in the marketplace, you saw Paramount Vantage change. It’s not quite as bad as with Warner Independent and Picturehouse, but it radically downsized. We’ll see what kind of films it will do now.

Thompson: What is it that you were able to do to build audiences for foreign language films?

Berney: Over the years for foreign language films, distribution became touch because ancillary markets behind the theatrical just didn’t perform. You go from being a niche studio where you announced you’re going to buy a foreign language films. Foreign language is just the code word for zero. I tried to pick films over the years that go beyond the language. Pan’s Labyrinth…Guillermo told the story so beautifully.

Thompson: With Mel Gibson, that was an unusual situation where you took his movie against all odds onto 5,000 screens.

Berney: It was amazing operationally as distributors to do that movie. It really changed the business because we had 23 people at the time at New Market. We opened on the level of 5,000 runs and we grossed $360 million. We couldn’t believe we could actually get the prints to theaters. They (the studios) had 500-600 people doing the same thing. It was rough dealing with all the fire with Mel, but mainly we were just focused on the exhibitors. You have to go as wide as you can because it’s not a review film. At that time, he was on his best behavior. I wasn’t caught in any of the controversy of him. At the time, as an independent, we really went big. As an independent distributor, theater chains…you’re not going to get as good a deal as you do if you’re with a studio. They really tried to screw us on that.

Thompson: What has happened with the exhibition community and the health of independent film? Why is it so bad?

Berney: I think it’s a lot of things. There’s been a lot of discussion…that panel that Mark Gill did…his theory was that all films are bad. The part that’s true is there were all of these hedge fund investors that would invest in…and part of this is my fault…in the P&A. They’d get it out there and it didn’t work. Part of it is the pressure especially in the studio divisions to do bigger films and wider releases. A lot of the studios go…it has to be Juno. It has to be that kind of level of hit. That’s a lot of pressure. DVD is falling, although there are a ton of exceptions. VOD has been coming along really strong.

Thompson: Are you going to play around with the whole digital arena?

Berney: I think one of the biggest changes recently is the announcement…I don’t know if it’s going to happen…there was an announcement about six months ago that MGM, Lionsgate and Paramount are going to start a new digital VOD service. It’s very hard as an independent to get a pay deal with HBO, Showtime or Starz, because they’re doing more original programming. This could be an interesting change that helps independent distributors maybe.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, September 19, 2008

How to contribute to Andrew Berends' translator's legal fees

On Tuesday of this week, I attended a welcome home party for filmmaker and journalist Andrew Berends, who had been arrested with his translator, Samuel George, and Joe Bussio on Sunday August 31st in Port Harcout Nigeria while filming at the local waterfront. Andrew has since returned home, but Samuel George's legal status remains undetermined. I received the following email about how people can make further contributions to supporting Samuel's and Joe's legal fees:

"Thanks to all who have expressed interest in donating to support Samuel's and Joe’s legal fees. And thanks very much to those who have contributed already. To make it easy, we have set up a ChipIn so that you can contribute on-line. To learn how you can contribute, please visit: http://helpandy.chipin.com/ We really need your participation. It is important that translators and local journalists around the world know they can do their jobs without fear for their lives, their families, or the expenses they will incur on our behalf."

Labels: ,

Independent Film Week - Kevin Smith - Sept. 14, 2008

A Conversation with Kevin Smith
Independent Film Week
Sunday, September 14, 2008
FIT – Haft Auditorium – New York, NY

Filmmaker Kevin Smith, whose new film Zack and Miri Make a Porno opens in theaters this Halloween, came to the Independent Filmmaker Conference to talk about his new film, his career, his upcoming politically-driven film Red State, and to shoot the shit with the audience during a fun and F-bomb-filled Q&A. It was 15 years ago that his debut independent feature Clerks was shown at the IFFM, or what’s currently called Independent Film Week. Below are selected highlights from the Q&A. (This Q&A is rated NC-17 by The Film Panel Notetaker Association of America.)

Audience Question: Can you talk about Zach and Miri?

Smith: I said raise your fucking hand! Some people seem to think it’s funny. I was trying to make an insightful exploration of the Holocaust. It turned into this other fucking thing. There’s this whole other thing about it turning from an NC-17 to an R rating. I’m kind of nervous about that. I remember last time with Clerks when it got an NC-17. Miramax hired Alan Dershowitz to defend the film. We did get the NC-17, but it’s not censorship. I’m kind of hoping this time it would be a little quiet. Sure enough, people on the Internet said, it’s a publicity grab. It’s so not. That’s the last thing we want. We just screened at Toronto. It went really well for us. We got some really great reviews.

Audience Question: After making Clerks, you made Mallrats? Did you have any problems going from independent work going to a studio?

Smith: I made one independent film in my life and that was Clerks. Mallrats was made by Universal through Gramercy. Chasing Amy was made for $250, 000 with Harvey’s (Weinstein) money. Every other flick was financed by a studio. Harvey’s pretty much paid for every movie accept for Mallrats. Mallrats was made for $6M and grossed $2M, and I felt shitty after that. I lost someone $4M. The next one I’m going to do, Red State…it’s the first time in 15 years I have to look for money. Every time someone says ‘no,’ maybe I’m on the right track here.

Audience Question: What got you thinking about making Red State?

Smith: I’m not a political person by nature. I don’t go out and campaign for the candidates. I’m the dick and fart joke movie guy. Basically, I’m thinking about the climate of the country right now. It’s fucked up, there’s no one to root for in the movie. It’s a series of horrible, bad, selfish immoral students paid by a bunch of unlikable characters. Wouldn’t you pay to see that? It’s weird. It’s not a movie that should be made, but I got to do it.

Audience Question: How important are film festivals, for example with Red State?

Smith: Red State is totally a festival film. Geoff Gilmore introduced us at Sundance in ’94. It’s the film festival story that people love to read...about a fucking guy from Jersey who works at a convenience store who made a movie. It kind of worked out for us. Film festivals hold a place in my heart, because without them, I would not be standing here talking to you. I’d still be working at that fucking convenience store.

Audience Question: There’s been a lot of changes going on in the independent film industry such as the closing down of specialty divisions. Do you care about those changes? Does it affect you?

Smith: No, I don’t think so. Obviously I was affected when Harvey and Bob left Miramax and created the Weinstein Company. Do I stay or do I go? I felt like they gave me my break. The closing down of specialty divisions, it’s kind of sad more than anything else. I’ve seen that happen so often. Now I’m kind of used to it. I think everything goes cyclical. In 10-15 years, a bunch of specialty divisions will open up again because somebody else is going to make a movie that makes $100 million and it looks like shit, and it will be viable again and open up a bunch of places.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Rooftop Films - "October Country" Sneak Preview Screening

Sneak Preview Screening at Open Road Rooftop
October Country
New York, NY
Sept. 18, 2008

(October Country directors Michael Palmieri & Donal Mosher and Rooftop Films' Mark Elijah Rosenberg at after party held at Fontana's) Photo by Brian Geldin

Thursday night in New York, I attended the previously announced sneak preview screening of Michael Palmieri's and Donal Mosher's documentary October Country at Rooftop Films. October Country is a haunting and intimate portrait of a working-class family dealing with everything from the ghosts of war to teen pregnancy to foster care and child abuse. The film is set in Herkimer, NY, and was filmed over the period of a year from one Halloween to the next, based on Mosher's essays and photographs. Both Palmieri and Mosher were on hand after the screening for a Q&A with the audience.

When asked how the theme of ghosts came about, Mosher explained that the character of Denise in the film, his aunt with whom he grew up, told him that the Mohawk Valley (where the documentary is set) is haunted. Mosher went back there every year for six years and photographed Denise and his family, which then lead to a year of filming the documentary.

As to how the family is doing since the making of the film, Mosher said he told Denise that it would open a lot of wounds, to which she replied, "Don't worry, they're still open."

How much did the process of filmmaking help the family, one audience member asked. Mosher said as they were winding down filming, everyone said it really helped them. There was a different articulation. Ultimately, when the filming was done, not a whole lot changed for them, but it brought out a certain awareness for them. It might change even further once the film is shown to them, Palmieri added. "We're terrified," he said.

Be on the look out soon for October Country on the festival circuit.

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Independent Film Week - Working with Doc Subjects - Sept. 18, 2008

Independent Film Week
Working with Doc Subjects
September 18, 2008

Again, this panel was composed of all Femmes who each provided clips exhibiting their wonderful films. In each, it was clear that they had to make their subjects a part of the film to accomplish it. Ethics is in the bloodstream of a filmmaker.

Most of Nina Davenport’s previous films have been personal. She wanted to make her latest, Operation: Filmmaker, universal, so she approached it with an eagerness to be on the outside. She did shoot some scenes with her providing her subject with filmmaking advice, and was especially compelled to let him know when he was alienating people. Then she shot the scenes with her not in them. But over time, when he needed visa, money, credit for directing the film, etc. she grew tired of his manipulation and keep their interactions in the film. It then ended up being about their relationship.

Tia Lessin, co-director of Trouble the Water, says it’s not entirely possible to be objective. Filmmakers inevitably inject passion, outrage, anger, hope, and ultimately a point of view. She aimed to not make her film about victims or criminals, but the survivors of Katrina. The subjects were residents of New Orleans, who shot a lot of the original footage that inspired the film. These residents couldn’t gain access back unless they were attached to media, so it comes across that there was aggression on the ground against the people. The footage from the subjects painted the film.

Lucia Small is also of personal documentary background. For The Axe in the Attic, she conducted hundreds of interviews. She narrowed the bunch down to 32 and struggled a bit with structure due to the many characters. She strived to get a variety of people: white, black etc. The filmmakers flagged people along the way who were more than eager to tell their stories, but they also were avoided as they appeared to be carpetbaggers. Characters in her film were generous, but trust was a serious issue, especially in the context of New Orleans at the time. A filmmaker can never be totally objective despite efforts to abide by a journalist code. The camera is a link for the filmmaker to witness a story. In the case of Lucia’s film, the challenge was to gain their trust, sometimes in mere.

Cynthia Wade wanted to carve out narrative arc in theme which came naturally in Freeheld, which had a subject who had limited lifespan and had particular goal. Her physical condition was visibly different from one shoot to the next. In this case, the story dictated that it had to be chronological. Also, because it was a short film, it was liberating to not push for coverage that a feature requires. There was pressure in interviewing the main character. Cynthia had to rack her brain for every little idea and question because there was no way to go back. She gave her subject cameras because it alleviated her guilt to be in their house and in their face doing it herself. It was a sentimental and emotional thing to shoot.

The entire panel felt that subjects should not necessarily be compensated. It is exploitative although in the case of Tia’s film, they expanded their relationship by licensing the footage from her subject. Geraldo seemed to have ruined that mantra for journalists. It all seemed to change with his coup of subjects getting compensated, but in the field you worry about that truth in depicting story. It does get complicated in this economy and with the exchange rate in third world, but the consensus was, do not put money between the filmmaker and the subject.


Labels: , ,

Independent Film Week - A Conversation with Robert Greenwald - Sept. 18, 2008

A Conversation with Robert Greenwald
Independent Film Week
Thursday, September 18, 2008
11:30am - 12:30pm
FIT – Haft Auditorium – New York, NY

Robert Greenwald, Brave New Films
Iraq for Sale
WALMART: The High Cost of Low Price
OutFoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism

Robert Greenwald is a prolific genius. I’ve seen several of his documentaries and they’ve all been smart, humane, and compelling—though very liberal in nature. The panel discussion was vaguely unique, however. Not to dis it; I just think it was the nature of a get-to-know-the-filmmaker set up.

He seems like an accessible guy in his behind-the-scenes stuff on the DVDs. He even has a facebook page. I’d suggest you get to know him by indulging on his YouTube videos that garner thousands of subscribers and millions of views.

Now, the Qs in the Q&As often try my patience. Perhaps I’m a snob. In this case, I simply disliked the parts where people were giving him suggestions and ideas for videos. I felt like the audience could have been more constructive with a guy who has done a lot of good work. Then again, I’m in the back typing notes so who am I to talk. Do you think he gets threats on his life? That’s all I wanted to know.


Independent Film Week - Funding Blueprints for Docs - Sept. 18, 2008

Funding Blueprints for Docs
Independent Film Week
Thursday, September 18, 2008
10:00am - 11:00am
FIT – Haft Auditorium – New York, NY

I'm currently unable to post the names and companies of the panelists because they ran out of little books and the website version of panel descriptions is difficult.

My first impression of this panel was that it was 100% women. According to research on the Celluloid Ceiling, only small percentage (6% in 2007) of women are helming narrative films and three (1 American, Sofia Coppola) have ever been nominated for Oscars in directing. Women make up a little more than half the human population.

However, in my experience there are tons of women producing behind the scenes or making documentaries. In fact, part of my plan is to eventually parley my docs into a place where I’m also directing my scripts. That direction seems to be most productive path for me to follow my passion for commenting on culture and build my directorial portfolio. I’m not saying that’s for everyone, but I was burning to make NO Cross, NO Crown and from that, my obsession with American counter-cultures was defined.

In the panel discussion, I gleaned these lessons:

  • Funding is always a patchwork of sources; never expect a windfall or perfect timing.
  • It’s easier said than done, but try to line up international distribution. With the dollar being so low, you may actually have a shot at good money.
  • The US doesn’t have many options for re-sale. Consider co-producing internationally with funds who only grant funds to non-US filmmakers.
  • Read a lot and watch trends. Play on the cultural zeitgeist your film belongs in.
  • Do development. Spend the time, spend the money. Do research. Know your stuff.
  • Passion for the subject is infectious. Have it and don’t hesitate to show it.
  • There are different funds for development, production and finishing. Some offer different services: equipment, facilities, mentors programs, etc.
  • For As for fund raising: Ask, Ask for a specific amount and Ask Again.
  • Follow up on leads constantly. Be persistent. Demonstrate endless perseverance. There’s no other way.
  • Watch credits of films on your subject and scour them for resources.
  • Sales agents have increasingly come to aid filmmakers without producing the films.



2008 Woodstock Film Festival Panels Announced

Tuesday night, I attended the launch party for the 2008 Woodstock Film Festival at Libation on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. I saw a lot of familiar faces of people I met last year at Woodstock, and I met a bunch of new people going this year. It was a really great party. I can't wait to go to Woodstock in a few weeks. Below is the festival's announcement about their line up of panel discussions, which of course, I'll be attending.

Woodstock, NY – September 16, 2008 – The Woodstock Film Festival – now in its ninth year – today announced the panel line-up for the 2008 festival. Panels include a cadre of award-winning journalists, Oscar nominees and winners, industry executives and indie stalwarts from different walks of the film industry. The panels will take place at Utopia Studios in Woodstock throughout the duration of the festival scheduled for October 1-5.

Highlights from this year’s panel series include a lively discussion between legendary folk-rock-pop troubadour Donovan and BMI’s Doreen Ringer-Ross; a conversation with WFF Trailblazer Award recipient and CEO of Focus Features James Schamus, moderated by Karen Durbin, and the popular Actor’s Dialogue with Mary Stuart Masterson moderated by Martha Frankel.

“We are thrilled that a group of such influencers have come out to support the 2008 Woodstock Film Festival,” said WFF director and co-founder Meira Blaustein, “Our panels continue to be an important part of the festival as they offer the opportunity for attendees to engage in discussions about key issues affecting the indie community. Additionally, the panels allow audiences an in-depth, unique look at the industry from all perspectives.”

2008 PANELS:AMAZING WOMEN IN FILM Saturday Oct. 4th at 10AMWomen in the film industry continue to carve a strong and meaningful path in a world that used to be traditionally dominated by men. With more women sitting in the Director's Chair and holding top positions as executives, producers and administrators, has the balance finally shifted to a point of equality? A diverse group of powerful women discuss their work and the state of the film industry, from the woman's perspective. Moderator: Thelma Adams, Film & DVD critic-US Weekly , The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, The Christian Science Monitor)Panelists: Maggie Renzi (producer, City of Hope, Passion Fish), Rita Taggart (actress, Northern Exposure, Weeds); Barbara Kopple (Academy Award winner, Harlan County, USA and American Dream).

MOVIES THAT MATTER: DO THEY COUNT? Sunday Oct. 5th at 10AMMovies have an enormous social impact, whether they are pure entertainment or take on a socially relevant issue. In helping to define the fabric of our culture, do filmmakers have a responsibility to address social issues? Moderator: David D'Arcy, well-known film writer/critic- Screen International, BBC and other international film publications.Panelists: John Sayles (Award-winning writer/director Secret of Roan Inish, Matewan, Eight Men Out); Haskell Wexler (Legendary cinematographer, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Secret of Roan Inish,; Morgan Spurlock (Academy Award¬nominated film Super Size Me); Pamela Yates (co-founder, Skylight Pictures, Inc.)

CONVERSATION WITH HONORARY TRAILBLAZER RECIPIENT JAMES SCHAMUS Saturday Oct. 4th at NoonJames Schamus, the 2008 WFF Trailblazer Award recipient, CEO of Focus Features, Professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts, screenwriter, producer and film executive. He has been an integral contributor to the American independent film business for over two decades,

Moderator: Karen Durbin, film critic - Elle magazine, New York Times Sunday Arts & Leisure; former editor-in- chief, Village Voice.

CONTEMPORARY TRENDS IN INDEPENDENT FILMMAKING Sat. Oct. 4th at 4PMEvery decade or so the winds of change blow the independent filmmaking world in a new direction. The last few years are no exception. Today's independent filmmakers have carved new trends, taking the low budget platform and using it to their advantage and to the advancement of their stories. Moderator: Robert Seigel, Prominent entertainment attorney, partner, Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP.Panelists: Larry Fessenden (director, Wendigo, The Last Winter); Chiemi Karasawa (founder Isotope Films); Matt Dentler (Cinetic Rights Management); Ross Partrtidge (actor/producer, Baghead); Josh Braun (Submarine).

ACTORS DIALOGUE With MARY STUART MASTERSON Sunday Oct. 5th at NoonMary Stuart Masterson made her film debut at the age of seven in The Stepford Wives and has starred in more than 25 films including At Close Range, Some Kind of Wonderful, Friend Green Tomatoes and Benny and Joon, plus the Tony Award¬ nominated Broadway musical Nine. Masterson made her narrative feature directorial debut with The Cake Eaters.

Moderator: Martha Frankel has been writing about film for over two decades. She has contributed to Details, The New Yorker, Redbook, Cosmopolitan and The New York Times. She is the author of Hats & Eyeglasses: A Family Love Affair with Gambling.

IS IT SAFE? Saturday Oct. 4th at 2PMWith the closure of many of the studio specialty divisions and the reported financial troubles of many of the independents, has "indie film distribution" come to an end, or is this just the end of the world as we know it? Moderator: Dade Hayes , assistant managing editor of Variety, NY;has covered a wide range of film stories Los Angeles and New York; Co-wrote the book, OPEN WIDE: How Hollywood Box Office Became a National Obsession, with Jonathan Bing,- featured in The New Yorker and on NPR's Fresh Air.Panelists: John Sloss (Cinetic Media); Liesl Copland (Red Envelope Entertainment); Ted Hope (This is That); Tom Quinn (Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing); Mark Duplass (Writer/Director).

CAREER DAY YOUTH INITIATIVE Friday, Oct. 2nd at 5PMThe "Career Roundtable" offers students a unique opportunity to meet with A-list film industry professionals in small groups, ask questions, and learn about careers in film and new media.

Participants include some of the foremost film professionals from a myriad of areas including directing, producing, entertainment law, casting and screenwriting,

MUSIC IN FILM- CONVERSATION WITH DONOVAN Friday Oct. 3rd at 2PMAn extraordinary one-on-one conversation with ‘60’s folk-rock-pop poet Donovan, subject of the doc Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan; transformed the’60’s pop landscape with a series of enigmatic pop masterpieces. In the past five years he has released a new box set, Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan; and a book, The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man. In 2008, Donovan celebrates the 40th anniversary of his trip to India with the Beatles, where they studied transcendental mediation and bought it back to the West. Donovan returns to the stage for a world tour in 2009. Moderator: Doreen Ringer-Ross is Vice-President of Film/TV Relations at BMI.

SHOW ME THE MONEY FROM DREAM TO REALITY: HOW TO FINANCE YOUR INDEPENDENT FILM Friday Oct. 3rd at 4PMPanel features some of the best financial resources and those in the know from the independent film world, who will explore some of the more creative and traditional roads towards financing your film. Moderator: Brian Newman, President & CEO of the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI), dedicated to innovation in film and media, the enrichment of audiences and the promotion of education, understanding and creativity through the media arts.Panelists: Steven Beer (R&B, LLC); Ryan Harrington (IndiePix Studios); Jonathan Gray (Attorney, Gray Krauss); Stephen Hays (120db Films); Celine Ray (Plum Pictures).

THE DOCUMENTARY STORY TODAY: HOW IS IT DOING? Sunday Oct. 5th at 2PMMore and more filmmakers are attracted to the documentary realm, telling challenging political and social stories that the general media has left behind. Are these films commercially viable? And do these films make the kind of impact the filmmakers are hoping for? Moderator: Heidi Ewing (Loki Films), has taken on a wide range of subjects including the inner workings of Scientology and the criminal justice system in the Bronx.

Panelists: Morgan Spurlock (Academy Award¬-nominated film Super Size Me, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden); Ellen Kuras (cinematographer/director, Swoon, Personal Velocity Blow, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind); Michael Tucker (director, Bulletproof Salesman,); Kief Davidson (director, Kassim: The Dream); Ron Mann (director, Go Further, Grass); Brett Morgan (Academy-Award nominated director/producer Chicago 10, The Kid Stays in the Picture).


Independent Film Week - State of Film Festivals - Sept. 15, 2008

State of Film Festivals
Independent Film Week
Monday, September 15, 2008
FIT – Haft Auditorium – New York, NY

Monday at Independent Film Week, IFP Executive Director Michelle Byrd moderated the State of Film Festivals discussion with Christian Gaines and Geoff Gilmore. Below is an edited transcript of the main points brought out in the discussion.

Michelle Byrd, IFP

Christian Gaines, Sundance Film Festival
Geoff Gilmore, withoutabox

Byrd: Can you talk about the different sections in Sundance and the process for acceptance into the festival?

Gilmore: The Sundance Film Festival has three different arenas. The competitions are four of them: two international and two domestic and documentary and dramatic. The American dramatic competition has to be a world premiere. We picked 16 films in each of those two sections out of somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 dramatic submissions and somewhere around 1,000 documentary submissions. The international competition needs to be a U.S. premiere. It started four years ago. In addition, we have a premiere section which tends to be that section of the festival which has higher visibility in terms of the fact that there’s more prominent directors, sometimes some that already have distribution. We have a section that’s kind of a catch all section called Spectrum where films that have not already had world premieres play internationally or domestic. There’s an enormous mythology about how festivals choose programs. A number of people have told me that a sales agent has told a filmmaker that they met Geoff Gilmore and it could get into Sundance…all I can do is role my eyes and say sure and come back and say that’s fine…what the real truth is basically it’s submitted and we look at it. We have an honestly intelligent staff who works their asses off looking at every single film that gets submitted to the film festival. We debate what gets into the festival. We debate what should be in different sections. Ultimately the choice if it gets into the Sundance Film Festival is made by one person, which is me for features. The shorts are chosen by Trevor Groth?? and a group of people. The questions that people have so often in what we’re looking for…that’s why it’s so difficult to talk about the process, because we’re not looking for simple things. There’s maybe 20 different reasons why a film plays at Sundance. It may be a question of its content. It may be a question of its originality. It may be a question of its distinction as a genre film. It may be an experimental work. There’s a lot of different kinds of films. All I can really say to you is don’t make a decision as to what you think we’re looking for. Don’t make your decision as to what you think a Sundance film is because it’s quite a spectrum. The idea that we actually have a certain kind of an agenda is the opposite. If I’m an agenda, I’m not going to pick up on the films that are coming from you guys, because that’s my agenda to pick movies as opposed to literally what comes right to me. In order for us to respond to the range of work that’s been given to us, I want my staff to be as open as possible. I’m not trying to pick films that are commercial. I’m not trying to pick films that get sold.

Byrd: You recently left AFI. Can you talk about the various festivals under the AFI banner and their festival selection processes?

Gaines: The submission process for larger festivals in the U.S. and around the world are fairly similar with some modifications. Their job is to methodically go through these films and to have the cream rise to the surface. Obviously incredibly to do with thousands of submissions, but methodically speaking, many programmers that work on the process, they look at films, they grade them, they review them, they comment on them. They urge other festival programmers to look at them. Sometimes to specific festival programmers that respond to this kind of work. It’s a constant narrowing process. It’s also worth mentioning there’s a certain general misconception that there’s huge pile of films and putting all the good ones on one side and the bad ones on another side. It’s not as simple as that. There are sections are different sections and criteria. It’s worth knowing what festival submission criteria are. It’s worth knowing that Toronto doesn’t show shorts outside of Canadian shorts, for example. Pay attention to those kinds of criteria. Pay attention to the process.

Gilmore: I can’t tell you how many times someone’s walked up and say, do you watch all the movies? It’s confusing to me. How do you think we select them? Do you watch them the whole way through. In most of the cases, yes. It’s our job to look at your work and be open job. It’s not our job to sit on high and anointed. It doesn’t work that way.

Byrd: How do you make decision about which one is best? What’s the role of the film festival?

Gilmore: I make the distinction of festivals that are markets and festivals that aren’t. There are festivals with formal markets like Cannes. There’s festivals like Sundance that are an informal market. A lot that goes on at Cannes is not about the buying new feature films. It’s pre-buying films at the script stage. The pre-buying market at Cannes is far more important than the issue of buying the film out of the competition. The other festivals, each of them have their own roles. One has to unfortunately has to make these decisions not by yourself hopefully but with some real advice on the best places to go. I just came from Toronto. One of the great film festivals in the world, but it pisses me off because they show 300+ pictures. Essentially what that means is 150 films that go to Toronto are disappearing year. It’s bad for anybody who’s trying to pay attention to all the films in the program. Toronto is a very difficult festival to sell, because it’s more of a launch festival than a sale festival. It’s one of the best public festivals in the world. The people who go to Toronto are real people. I think what you want to do is get your film in front of real people and get buyers at that screening.

Gaines: There’s a big difference a guy or a gal who has a film and puts their next film out there and suddenly thinks of themselves as filmmaker in the long run. I would just really dissuade that notion. There’s so much to be learned from establishing relationships with people…just people who are of your community. Film festivals are places where you can develop and deepen your pool of comrades, colleagues. You can’t underestimate that. The treasured treat of having your film seen in front of people that aren’t your family and friends and having your film be reacted to who aren’t you or like you is a real pleasure and growing experience. Being able to get press and publicity in all kinds of places other than huge media environments. All these things are part of the things that are going to deepen your understand of the industry and put you in a much better position if an agent comes along.

Byrd: Do you have any idea how many festivals there are in the U.S.?

Gaines: 700 million.

Gilmore: Not far along. There’s a difference between the top tier festivals that are maybe 7 or 8 in the world, and another set of really important regional festivals which are one step down. The strategy of how you to decide which to go to is one of the most important that you make.

Gaines: You can’t throw a rock without hitting a film festival in the U.S. It’s up to a filmmaker to do their due diligence and have a buyer beware approach. There’s nothing wrong with a lot of film festivals. In fact, it’s a very good thing in part because film festivals become an ad hoc distribution outlet for films that will otherwise never be seen. The revenue model that exists behind it is still uncertain. It’s true that festivals still have this U.S./World Premiere competitiveness. My general feeling about that is that so many films are unattainable to most festivals because great films that aren’t being considered by U.S. distributors coming out of Cannes, a lot of those films will never see the light of day in an American film festival, which is a real shame. Right after Cannes, it’s not unusual for a sales agent to get three or four hundred invitations from festivals from around the world saying we want to share that film. Something’s got to change in terms of how they can be seen.

Byrd: What do you think Sundance will be like 10 years from and thinking about the climate for independent film? Everybody’s been reading all the press about ‘The Sky is Falling.’ What can you imagine the festival becoming?

Gilmore: Two years ago Sundance had about $15 million worth of films. Last year, that number was a quarter. The theatrical marketplace for independent features is not at it’s best moment. Why? I don’t know. I have lots of answers. Maybe it’s ultimately the movies. Maybe it’s what drives specialized films is changing. Coen Bros. film lead the weekend. Some people don’t even consider that to be independent anymore. More films got distributed theatrically last year than any time since the 1950s. It’s my standard joke, and it’s not so funny that the issue of finding visibility and distribution for work has become the function of film festivals, which I think is bad. I think the cultural and aesthetic function of festivals, the showcasing and experimentation, the work that festivals do cannot be reduced by this kind of business. We have to figure out what the distribution mechanisms will become. I do believe that technology at festivals is going to evolve. I do believe that the generation of filmmakers growing up now have a much better way of dealing with alternative distribution. Whether or not festivals have cyber space sections. Whether or not that cyber space section helps market a film or gives it visibility. Those are really good questions right now. On-the-ground events and cyber space events have to work together.

Byrd: The film “Sugar” that played at Sundance, if you were to see it on a third screen in cyber space, what would it take for Sundance to take that leap?

Gilmore: If don’t just put it on the net and say let’s watch it. You make it a special event. We’re going to work these things out, because it’s not been done. The bad news with what’s going on with festivals right now, festivals are too long, too crowded, their overwhelmed by people who want their faces to be photographed. They’re overwhelmed by agents who want to showcase their work. There’s too much mediocrity at festivals. What used to be exciting about festivals was, ‘that was a fucking great film,’ not ‘how much do you think it’s going to make?’ The question of how much is a film going to make cannot be what drives film festivals over the next decade.

Gaines: I’d like to add on to what Geoff was saying about why film festivals suck. There are so many different constituents now who converge onto film festivals who desire a different experience. All of those different people are essential for the survival of the festivals. Corporate sponsors and the media. So many festivals start now for reasons that are outreach projects for larger cultural institutions. They’re the film commission’s baby. All these different institutions desire different outcomes. It ultimately takes away the treasured dignity of having your film seen in the best possible picture and sound, best possible environment in an enhanced way. As far as the future of film festivals, I always have this image of a rock t-shirt, but instead of the rock band in front, it’s the name of the film and on the back, it’s a list of all the films it played at and that’s it’s theatrical distribution and each one of the places there was an economic model that worked.

Byrd: Can you talk about withoutabox?

Gaines: Withoutabox was founded in 2000. Designed to provide self-distribution tools for filmmakers. It’s the ability for filmmakers to submit to many film festivals in a simple and intuitive way to track the submissions and make sense of the submission process. In January, the company was bought by IMDB. Through IMDB and its parent company Amazon’s various online and DVD distribution devices, will be over the course of the next few years, developing the ability to offer WAB filmmakers to be able to distribute their film either online as a pay-per-view format or a streaming format on IMDB. WAB is a huge aggregated mass of right holders. We’re trying to offer non-exclusive opportunities, so watch this space for future developments.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

46th NYFF Press Screening: "Wendy and Lucy" - Sept. 15, 2008

46th New York Film Festival
Wendy and Lucy – Press Screening & Conference
Monday, September 15, 2008
Walter Reader Theater – New York, NY

(Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt.)

Monday I attended I my first press screening and conference at the New York Film Festival. I had always gone to the public screenings in the past where I would take notes at the Q&As, but this year I was finally able to make it to a press screening, so it was a new and fun and experience for me.

The film was Wendy and Lucy starring Michelle Williams, a great actress who could be taking parts in big blockbuster movies, but instead picks more quiet and understated roles such as this giving a bare bones performance of a young woman who’s down on her luck when her car breaks down in Oregon en route to Alaska. Thankfully, she has her trusty canine companion Lucy with her, until Lucy goes missing, and Wendy’s hardships deepen further as she meets every day people who are either completely humble and generous towards her or downright creepy and menacing. The film gives the feeling of what it’s like to be all alone in this world. Wendy and Lucy opens for a limited theatrical release at Film Forum in New York on December 10.

Film critic J. Hoberman moderated a discussion with Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt, and then took questions from the press in the audience. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion and Q&A.

Hoberman: Is it true Lucy is your dog?

Reichardt: Yes, she’s my dog. She’s a great dog. She can never be left alone.

Hoberman: Was she easy to direct?

Reichardt: It’s just about hiding the stick in the right place.

Hoberman: And your other star Michelle Williams?

Reichardt: Much harder.

Hoberman: She’s in virtually every scene. I couldn’t imagine her agent bringing her this project. How did you get her the script?

Reichardt: The producer on the film had just worked with Michelle on I’m Not There. He read the script and thought Michelle would be great for the part. She had seen Old Joy. She was looking to do something outside of L.A. or New York. She was really game. It’s a very scaled down way of making films where there’s not a lot of separation between the cast and the crew. She couldn’t wear any make up or wasn’t allowed to wash her hair for 20 days. She was down with all of it. You’d do a scene with her and ask her to grab a light, and she’d do it.

Hoberman: How long was the shoot?

Reichardt: It was a 20-day shoot, which was really not enough time. I lived in New York and we shot out in Portland, Oregon. I did drive home sort of knowing that I didn’t feel that I quite had the movie. It was sort of more intimate shots that I needed. I felt like I had the meat, but I didn’t have the potatoes sort of. Poor Michelle, she tried to go twice on vacation to Portland and we just put her back to work and she was game again. She and I and the DP, a local cinematographer went out and did the shots in the car and went around to some of the locations we’d been to got shots. I cut for six months in my apartment. As I went along, the local DP out there kept shooting for me like the trains and things that I needed. I made a few trips back. It kept building while I was editing.

Hoberman: Did you always intend to shoot the film in Oregon?

Reichardt: The writing that I’m working with John Raymond…the film comes from his stories. He writes of the great Northwest. He has a novel called The Half Life that takes place there. We always wanted he to be close to Alaska. It takes on a whole new meaning now. Back in August of last year, Alaska didn’t seem so hideous. I wanted to think about shooting somewhere else, because I made this other film in Portland. I left New York in January. I spent almost seven months driving around the country looking at parking lots and gas station bathrooms and at some point had an epiphany in Butte, Montana in a Safeway parking lot in the middle of this snow storm, I’m going to get killed looking around for these locations. Todd Haynes said the whole point is that all these places look the same. Just come back and make the film where you can afford to make it. We ended up shooting in the locations about a block away from John Raymond’s house.

Audience Question: Was it a problem to edit the film all by yourself?

Reichardt: No, I cut my last film Old Joy. Before that there was 13 years before my first feature and my second one and I was making shorts during that time. They were getting their form in the editing. I was sort of able during that time just working on other things got really into editing. I can’t picture giving it to someone else at this point. And now with Final Cut Pro, it’s not expensive. It runs up your electricity bill, that’s about it. There’s no good reason for me to hurry. For all my films, I found this process of driving around before shooting where you’re alone and had my dog with me and think about how the film is going to look like and how to shoot it. You have that alone time in writing. And then all of a sudden, there’s all these people involved in the production. In these last films, that drive back to New York after shooting, it was really a feeling like I’m looking forward to getting the film back to myself and being alone with it.

Audience Question: In the scene where there’s a powerful tracking shot of all the dogs in the pound, did that come from any personal experience?

Reichardt: No. We already had the script. At Christmas one year, I was up in Vermont visiting family. I was packing up the car and Lucy disappeared for two days. There was that thought where I thought, ‘I fucked myself over for writing this script. I jinxed myself. I’m never getting my dog back.’ I did have the experience of the dread of time passing and searching. Actually, what I got from that experience was a lot of people out in Vermont were saying, ‘leave your clothes out where you last saw your dog…leave a trail.’ That’s where the trail of clothing came. That was like a four-star pound. If you had to be in a pound, that’s a great pound.

Labels: , , , ,

Independent Film Week - "Medicine for Melancholy" - Sept. 15, 2008

Medicine For Melancholy – Opening Night Film
Independent Film Week
Monday, September 15, 2008
Clearview Chelsea Cinemas – New York, NY

(Medicine for Melancholy actor Wyatt Cenac and director Barry Jenkins)
Photo by A.M. Peters

Before the screening of Independent Film Week’s opening night film Medicine for Melancholy, New York State Governor’s Office For Motion Picture and Television Development Commissioner Pat Kaufman announced the winner of I Love New York’s New York City Regional competition, “Love in New York.”

Filmmaker Magazine editor-in-chief Scott Macauley introduced Medicine for Melancholy and its director Barry Jenkins, one of the magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film (which by the way is celebrating its 10th anniversary. A party was held later in the evening at Strata for the commemoration).

Macauley said he first saw Medicine for Melancholy at SXSW at its premiere screening and thought it was fantastic with “a real visual imagination” and is also “really smart about politics.” Macauley said of the middle sequence in the film that “a lot of other people would have maybe not been bold enough to include this sequence. It’s a little digressive from the main story, but for me it’s one of the things that really made the film.”

The following are some highlights of the post-screening Q&A with Jenkins and one half of the film’s stars, Wyatt Cenac who plays Micah (Tracey Heggins who plays Jo was not there). By the way, the Q&A was done almost entirely in the dark, as the house lights had yet to come on, which made for a rather fun discussion.

Q: What camera did you shoot on?

Jenkins: Panasonic HVX.

Q: What was the budget of the film?

Jenkins: We can’t really talk about the budget. If you drove a car here tonight, the car you drive probably cost more than the total budget of this film.

Q: What was your inspiration?

Jenkins: I moved to San Francisco after living in L.A. I met a woman in San Francisco. She broke up with me. I need to prove myself as a filmmaker, so I’m going to make a movie. I channeled all the energy from the break up and living in San Francisco. I wrote the script really quick in about three weeks. I wrote it to be shootable for myself and five friends. Once the script was together, I raised enough money to do this.

Cenac: There’s no greater motivator than hate. That’s a lesson you should all take out. Hate something enough.

Q: What was your casting process? Did you have Wyatt in mind?

Jenkins: I had no idea who he was. We wrote the movie and tried to cast in San Francisco, but San Francisco was 7% African-American. 1% of San Francisco is actors. If you take 1% of 7%, we couldn’t find anybody in San Francisco, so we went to L.A. Tracey was the first one we saw. We saw other women, because I’m a director, and I can’t make up my mind. And then we saw 50 guys. None of them were working. A friend of ours happened to know Wyatt. Justin, our producer, sent me a clip on YouTube called “My Best Black Friend.” It was a weird pilot that Wyatt was in about a white guy who has a reality show with a best black friend.

Cenac: Not just his best black friend, his only black friend.

Jenkins: Months later we were casting and Justin said, what about that one guy? So we called Wyatt.

Cenac: You didn’t call me. I got a Myspace message.

Q: Can you explain your choices of music?

Jenkins: Everything in this movie is kind of designed to be doable. We need to get the rights to these songs. I had a playlist from iTunes. 80% of the music in the movie is from that playlist. The rest of the music was pulled together by Greg O’Bryant. It was important to have music I thought reflected the fact that this black guy living in this quote-on-quote un-black world. Also being able to make the movie really fast, we wanted to music know ahead of time what the scenes were going to be cut to.

Cenac: This is on a complete side not, but there’s a woman in the third row who’s either completely passed out or dead. (Huge LOL from the audience)

Q: How much rehearsal time did you have?

Jenkins: None. Wyatt and Tracey were both SAG ultra, ultra low budget actors, but we still had to pay them for every day they worked on the movie. We couldn’t afford to pay them any money, so we couldn’t bring them out to San Francisco for rehearsal. So they got there literally 12 hours before we shot the first shot. But we shot it in sequence, so it worked. We got two people who don’t really know each other. As we were making the film, they kind of got to know one another.

Q: How much of it was improvised?

Jenkins: Really not much of it was improv’d. There’s certain jokes in the film where I would write a joke and Wyatt would take the liberty of extending it. The only completely improv’d scene was the Bill Cosby scene.

Q: How long did it take you to shoot film?

Jenkins: We shot 15 days in November (of 2007). And we had the rough cut by New Year’s Day, and we mixed in February (2008). It was a really quick process.

Q: Can you talk about your style. A lot of your sequences seemed like a hybrid of experimental and documentary.

Jenkins: James (Laxton, director of photography) and I lived together in film school. We shot designed about half of the film. As an exercise, we wanted to kind of figure out ways to shoot it. As far as the color, we decided really early on that we wanted reflect the title, Medicine for Melancholy. We wanted that melancholy reflected in the actual image. We knew we were going to de-saturate the colors palates. We super saturated in production, and de-saturated in post to kind of protect their skin tones. There’s certain places in the movie where the characters just react with one another and all these issues with race, and at those moments, it’s the most color. Karina Longworth of Spout.com wrote one of the first reviews of the film. She said the film is 93% saturated and it’s reflective of San Francisco’s 7% African-American. If you look at our color files, the film is 93% saturated. We didn’t do that intentionally. We really tried to reflect what was the emotional connection with the characters.

Labels: , , ,