The New York City Independent Filmmaker Conference 2014 – The DVDfever Review, by Helen M Jerome

The New York City Independent Filmmaker Conference 2014The New York City Independent Filmmaker Conference 2014 was where Helen M Jerome spent a slice of mid-September, and here, she gives her thoughts on the films and the event.

And click each on the posters for the full-size image.

In a sweltering September up at the Lincoln Center, the IFP aka Independent Filmmaker Project, staged a top-notch conference that attracted the movers and the shakers, the would-be screenwriters, the pitchers, the commissioners, the funders and plenty in between. Ideas were flowing freely, optimism and opinions buzzed around the severely air-conditioned room. This was positive, and positively fun.

Events were grouped by theme and genre, with Sunday looking at NEW NARRATIVES, and after kicking off with a panel advising how to get your film picked for a festival, the really focused schedule started.

PRODUCING ACROSS BORDERS was lightly moderated by David Hinojosa of Killer Films, and concentrated on two features, 10,000 KM and LAND HO!, LA Panda exec producer Paul Brunet is adamant that there’s a growing audience for Hispanic films in the US, and has seen many Spanish filmmakers flock to Los Angeles, though he admitted that they’d also filmed in Barcelona for the LA sections of their across-the-continents romantic drama. President of Gamechanger Films, Mynette Louie and Max Cap exec Sara Murphy mixed anecdotes (the director casting her non-acting uncle in the main role) with practical nuggets (their opening 12-minute scene was shown to raise funding) about their shoot in Iceland. They even got a 20 per cent tax rebate from Iceland. But their main tip was to always get a good publicist – no matter how low your budget – and this is a crew that used airbnb for their accommodation when filming in remote locations.

ART OF THE NARRATIVE PITCH was moderated by Virginia Film Office director, Andy Edmunds, and framed like a talent show, judged by Josh Blum, president of Washington Square Films, Janet Grillo, assistant arts professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and Franklin Leonard, founder of the Black List. Three eager newbies pitched respectively, a sports comedy about a mascot, a period drama about the original female vampire, and a movie about the build-up to a school shooting. The varying pitches were advised to look at tone and genre, get advocacy groups to support them, lead with their talent – and even cast a star with a twitter following.

In similar fashion, on the following day, ART OF THE DOCUMENTARY PITCH featured judges Julie Anderson, exec producer in Documentary & Development at WNET/PBS, Judith Helfand, co-founder of Chicken & Egg Pictures, plus Simon Kilmurry, exec director and producer, POV at PBS, rigorously moderated by Jacqueline Glover, senior VP, HBO doc films. They were pitched a film about Gilda Radner’s cancer club and its members, a documentary about the cultural and financial impact of MTV, and the journey of a drag performer originally from Cameroon. Advice was direct and to the point: what was the access and rights, who were the characters, did they have a trailer or sample footage, who would be the audience – and how would they get funding?

kill-your-darlingsVISUAL STORYTELLERS had Kodak’s Anne Hubbell moderating, and concentrated on KILL YOUR DARLINGS, with its director John Krokidas, and cinematographer Reed Morano, explaining how their style was heavily influenced by the era the film was set in, a time of noir films like Double Indemnity. And together with CIRCUMSTANCE cinematographer/director Brian Rigney Hubbard, they agreed on the importance of compiling a ‘look book’ with visuals and an idea of behind-camera talent, to set the tone and become a point of discussion. Then it can be sent as a PDF scrapbook along with the script or treatment. But Morano’s main advice was simpler still: Don’t work on a film unless you love it!

BLITZ WISDOM slots in each day allowed the likes of Kevin B Lee to explain the genesis of his film TRANSFORMERS: THE PREMAKE, which uses footage from fans and onlookers as Michael Bay’s blockbuster was filmed across the world. Mashed up into a movie, Lee made sure it attracted social media critics and commentators… and it’s now being courted by film festivals. Robert Greene used his BLITZ WISDOM slot to talk about the genesis and subject of his documentary ACTRESS, featuring Brandy Burre from The Wire, who was his neighbour, became his subject and his collaborator. Greene was excited by the natural tension in the form, with structure meeting chaos, and friction ensuing between him and Burre. And he’s equally enthused by others who embrace chaos, like the makers of Act of Killing.

Narrative CASE STUDY was OBVIOUS CHILD, a female-driven indie success that evolved from an original short, by producer and story writer Elisabeth Holm, and her BFF, writer/director Gillian Robespierre. Interviewed by Kickstarter’s Dan Schoenbrun, they talked about how they had their star, Jenny Slate, before her breakthrough on Saturday Night Live and Parks & Recreation. The happy ever after? They can now work on film full time, and have started making a new movie together.

house-of-cardsBut the room got really packed for the KEYNOTE from HOUSE OF CARDS writer, creator and showrunner, Beau Willimon, who was talking to Variety’s Gordon Cox. Willimon emphasized the need for a great story and great characters, whether you’re working on a film, play or on television. He reiterated the leap in the dark that he and director David Fincher made when they could have gone down a safe route with cable networks, but instead went with Netflix. None of them had done TV before. But Netflix guaranteed them not one, but two full seasons – and promised to give them complete creative control. Fincher wanted to be the first to do this with Netflix, even if it was a failure. Meanwhile Willimon already had the endings for both the first and second seasons already and he works by creating a ‘grid’ of entire season’s themes, characters and mood. Most of all, however, both Willimon and Fincher agreed that if they didn’t break the fourth wall – as in the original British series of House of Cards – it just wasn’t worth making.

CROSSING THE LENS gave us insight into how you can cross the line and get too close to your subject. Director Darius Clark Monroe, whose film EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL is an autobiography of his own journey towards robbing a bank with some schoolmates back in the 1990s, says he let his interviewees speak without correcting them. He started without any concept of what the film would be and just wanted to get to the truth by letting everyone tell their own story, though some became so emotional that he had to stop filming. Monroe’s main tip would be to give your documentary enough time, and “don’t let someone tell you when to finish”. Tracy Doz Tragos, director of RICH HILL advised would-be film-makers to keep the cameras rolling so you don’t miss a key moment. Laura Checkoway, director of LUCKY, said their key moment came when the girls she was filming signed their release forms, then they knew it was official and got excited! Doug Block, director of 112 WEDDINGS and Marshall Curry, director of POINT AND SHOOT both agreed to let their subjects see themselves on film before their release – albeit nervously…

MEASURING YOUR DOC’S IMPACT had Ryan Harrington of Tribeca as moderator and meant business from the start. Dan Cogan, exec director of Impact Partners stated that it’s key to know what impact your film will make – as you can’t have impact without an audience. Brenda Coughlin, BritDoc director of special projects, says it’s never been easier to raise money, and advised checking out Impact Field Guide, which is free online, plus Fledgling Fund and Project Forum. Orna Yarmut, founding director of Documentary Marketing Foundation, says 90 per cent of the films in Israel are political, and Debika Shone, deputy director of Harmony Institute agreed with Coughlin that you should always conduct research to assess impact – and they take it further, using a mixed method approach, and have a longitudinal approach now across similar issues and genres – and she’s looking for Beta Testers to get involved in their next project, Story Pilot, which launches in 2015, looking at 430 films across 24 social issues to see patterns of impact, and get qualitative and quantitative analysis.

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