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IFW 2009 – Panel, “From Doc to Series & Beyond, Opportunities in Non-Fiction”

October 22, 2009 1 comment

ifw logoOverview: http://ifw.bside.com/2009/films/fromdoctoseriesbeyond_ifw2009

After a subdued conference this was the one panel with good news. Although the success of reality TV/documentary programming has cannibalized other segments of the market, non-fiction broadcast is alive, thriving, and looking for content.

But for a documentarian looking to make the jump to network programming, the panel advised that some pre-conceptions about the craft of documentary filmmaking and what it means to be a documentarian need to be set aside. To wit: you’ve got to deliver. On time, on schedule, within budget. Hoop Dreams this ain’t.

My favorite part of this panel was watching the interaction between A&E bigwig Robert Sharenow and independent producer Ken Druckerman, late of the same network and now out producing on his own. (DC production shout out: Walter Gottlieb explores a similar dynamic with one of his protagonists in the web-series “The Videomakers”.)

At the risk of sounding flip, they truly embodied their occupations, Sharenow being a ballsy straight-shooter whose body language and mannerisms screamed “tell-me-what-ya-got-I’ll-let-you-know-if-it’s-anything-good-comeOnHurry-up-now-Don’t-waste-my-time-let’s-get-this-thing-going” and Druckerman playing the more reserved, deliberate, producer type, slower to judge, digesting different angles, and mulling things over a bit before speaking.

Sharenow pleaded with the audience to have a fresh idea or concept when you come to pitch. It was clear this is a man who’s spent one-too-many meetings listening to hackneyed ideas quickly warmed over and re-wrapped as an inventive new dish. This may have been a veiled barb at Druckerman, who then responded, and Sharenow called him out. You can tell they’re friends–or at least friendly in a working context–but Sharenow said (I’m paraphrasing) “Ken, nothing personal, but if I have to sit through one more bad pitch from you or your team…”

(Big caveat: I wasn’t taking notes and my memory is dodgey from all the huffing I do, but I really believe that’s how it went. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

And that was to Ken Druckerman, a proven, highly-regarded producer.

Not that this was a panel just about them, but knowing that they’ve worked together and rely on one another in a symbiotic, yet still somewhat self-serving (that doesn’t really make sense, and yet, it kind of does …)  relationship made their interaction the most interesting to watch.

But enough Psych 101.

Things that help close the deal for a producer or house looking to sell a series to a network:

  • Character-based. And enough so that the character(s) justify hours of network programming
  • The concept is the most important thing. Yes, production values are important, but it’s the idea that ultimately sells.
  • If you’re a first time producer or a little guy, walk in the door with a proven production company on board already. Yes, you’re going to give up your great idea, but if you don’t, it’s not going to get made. OR it will get made but the network will partner you with a production house of their choosing, which may not always work out. If you solicit your own at least you’re driving that much of the process.
  • Sad but true, advertisers have to like the show. Or at least not be put off by it. Sharenow said that if someone came to him with Intervention today, it wouldn’t get made.
  • Cast of characters or ensemble? Probably an hour-long. Strong lead, two, or three? Half-hour.

The BEST quote of the entire conference came from Sharenow on this panel, “Network execs are stupid overpaid monkeys–” (awkward silence/crickets) ” … well, except of course for us.”

Even though Sharenow’s sentiment may be true, remember, it’s those stoopid overpaid monkeys that have the authority to get your project made or not. So humor them. If they give you a suggestion and you say you’ll consider it, guess what? Consider it. Because if you don’t, they ask you about it again, and you’re caught spinning your wheels, that’s not going to look good. Caveat: if you’re an established producer, these rules don’t apply (e.g. Charles/Burrows/Charles, if you have a chance, watch Biography’s “Cheers” episode).

Sharenow also said, “Anytime an exec tells you what they’re looking for, they’re wrong.” This is when the panel jumped in a bit, clarifying that it’s up to individual producers and “the little people” to come up with the freshest, most-captivating new content.

Doc to Series and Beyond Ops in Non Fiction

Moderator:
Lynne Kirby, SVP, Original Programming – Sundance Channel

Panelists:
Nick McKinney VP – Honest Engine
Robert Sharenow, SVP, Non-Fiction & Alternative Programming – A&E Network

Josh Braun Sales Agent – Submarine Entertainment
Nick McKinney, EP – Wife Swap, 30 Days, Al Franken Show

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Modern Love Haikus

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Ahead of the Mortified two-year Anniversary show in DC tonight, I thought I’d bust out some dating haikus a girl-friend has been steadily texting me over the past few days.

Local Bar Manager

Stick thin legs, tube sox
You spent ten months in the clink
Leave me for cobwebs

Tube Sox

FedEx Field

Fancy arm duck tattoo
I pay for all drinks and food
When game tix were free

Why?

36 years old
You still call yourself Spanky
Impotent herp dick

draft_lens2210054module11893174photo_1223230855spanky-our-gang

La Gran Banda at the Richmond Folk Festival

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment

For the fourth year in a row, I went to the Richmond Folk Festival with my father and while it’s always a good time, I have to say, Sunday, October 9 may have been the best day I’ve spent at it–or any–festival. (Including Lollapalooza, MacRock, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, etc. etc.)

The weather was beautiful and the programmers did a great job with a full dance-card of eclectic acts. On Sunday I caught the Don Roy Trio, Debashish Bhattacharya, Sophia Bilides Trio, Jeffery Broussard & the Creole Cowboys, and Wylie and the Wild West. But more than anything else, it was seeing Miami-based La Gran Banda that put it over the top for me.

A Colombian papayera band, La Gran Banda’s hour-long set was pure energy & joy–with some playful sexuality thrown in for spice. The only thing I’ve seen comparable to it are the Gipsy Kings, but amp that up with healthy dose of ParliamentFunkadelic-cum-New Orleans Brass band; as choreographed by a South American John Belushi type.

Looks and moves like a Colombian John Belushi, but corrals the busy stage with the aplomb and showmanship of George Clinton.

Looks and moves like a Colombian John Belushi, but corrals the busy stage with the aplomb and showmanship of George Clinton.

The lead singer really was a ringer for the late Belushi, and he kept the party rolling while urging (appropriately and naturally, never too pushily or annoyingly) the crowd to join in the fun. Within two songs the crowd was on its feet, dancing freely, and relishing the show–not an easy task for a somewhat reserved festival audience at the tail end of a three-day long event. (Though I’m sure the afternoon sunshine and Columbus Day holiday helped the cause.)

I’m not a music critic by any stretch of the imagination, but if you get the chance to see this band live, DO. (Unfortunately, what I’ve found of the band on the web doesn’t even come close to doing their live show justice.) I can guarantee you a GREAT time.

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IFW 2009 – Panel, “Fresh Funding, Modern Ideas for Doc Financing”

October 20, 2009 Leave a comment

ifw logoOverview: http://ifw.bside.com/2009/films/freshfundingmodernideasfordocfinancing_ifw2009;jsessionid=50B709A02CE6EC14E2ECD31C089890CB

The title of this panel is a bit misleading, because, unless you’re one of a handful of documentarians around the globe, there really *isn’t* a lot of money. But the panelists offered some great advice, and there’s no reason why a smart, driven, and savvy documentarian shouldn’t be able to support herself comfortably.

  • Only raised a small amount of money? No sweat, you’re not doing anything wrong. That’s how it goes …
  • … plan on working incrementally. Start, get a bit done, raise more money, do a bit more; wash, rinse, repeat.
  • “Crowd Funding” is becoming an option, and a brilliant one at that. Check out The Age of Stupid.
  • A good resource for fundraising, promo, and discovery: indiegogo. Useful free templates and other jonks: workingfilms.
  • While you’re trying to cobble together money, TAKE that time to meet with potential advisors, NGOs, outreach partners, etc.
  • If you’ve been “kissed” by a grant or have landed a reputable non-profit partner, you’re in great shape.
  • With production costs (relatively) low, it’s harder and harder to get money from a piece of paper, people want to see footage.

The day of going to the NEA or some other large granting institution and getting a lump sum of money is over. From the beginning, doc filmmakers need to have a solid financial plan and distribution strategy in place. Peter Broderick suggested meeting with a distribution strategist (and he’s one) asap to get an idea about where–if anywhere–your project might find a home (and money). Although Broderick’s suggestion was a bit self-serving, it makes sense, if you can show other potential funders where money might come from, you’ll be able to raise more. Louise Rosen, the moderator, can also help here. Broderick advised that it’s better to go a contribution/non-profit route for documentaries instead of an LLC route.

There’s a sweet spot for docs around 400k right now. With falling production costs, you can make a compelling doc with good production values without skimping too much.

Pitch, pitch, and then pitch some more. Own this skill. Hotdocs, realscreen, the good pitch at silverdocs, your dog, your cat, the hotdog your cat is eating … whatever.

Regarding production, always be thinking of different versions; a 1-min trailer, 3-min advocacy piece for your non-profit partner, 30-min cut for house parties, 42-min for broadcast, 60-min for international broadcast, etc. Keep in mind educational extras and how to reach that lucrative market.

In your budgeting, remember E&O insurance, fees for archival footage, professional fees (legal, sales, distribution, marketing & outreach during and *after* production is over), online fundraising & community building. Meet with an accountant as soon as you can.

Fresh Funds Modern Ideas Doc Finance

Moderator:
Louise Rosen, Managing Director – Louise Rosen LTD

Panelists:
Peter Broderick, President – Paradigm Consulting
Katy Chevigny, Executive Director – Arts Engine Inc.
Wendy Ettinger, Co-Founder – Chicken & Egg Pictures
Julie Goldman, Founding Partner – Cactus Three Films
Ryan Harrington, Director – Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund

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IFW 2009 – Panel, “Unlocking Global Financing Opportunities”

October 20, 2009 Leave a comment

ifw logoOverview: http://ifw.bside.com/2009/films/unlockingglobalfinancingopportunities_ifw2009;jsessionid=50B709A02CE6EC14E2ECD31C089890CB

The panel pointed out something that we often forget, the indie film industry is still relatively young. Depending on how you define the “start” of it as an industry (and that term should be used loosely), perhaps the late 60s to mid 70s, it’s somewhere around 40 years old. And financing deals didn’t come to play in it considerably until the mid- to late-80s or so–about 20 years ago.

Initially, LLCs were the first way of funding these undertakings, then Wall Street financiers–flush from the heady S&L days of that time era. Not long after, hedge funds and in the 90s, some new media money.

That’s all to say that the space moves rapidly and there, still, is no iconoclastic model for financing.

But today, producers can’t afford to ignore international funds. As a model, the panel pointed out a production co-financed by Russian money and mentioned the deep pockets of overseas investors.

Mike Ryan pointed out that in virtually every other country than the US there is money available for production. Charlotte Mickie said that given the economic climate, many productions with a strong concept, good packaging, and international financing will do better with pre-sales (particularly if there is a strong broadcast component) than actual sales.

Dylan Leiner said that distributors are moving away from slate deals with a single producer, they’re trying to diversify and spread risk around. Distributors are also looking for a clear-cut marketing and outreach plan, often with a grassroots component, from the beginning.

Unlocking Global Financing Opportunites
Moderator:
Anthony Kaufman, Journalist

Panelists:
Dylan Leiner, Executive Vice President of Acquisitions & Production – Sony Pictures Classics
Charlotte Mickie, Executive Vice President – E1 Entertainment International
Michael Ryan, Producer/Journalist – Greyshack Films – Life During Wartime
Himesh Kar, Senior Executive – New Cinema Fund – UK Film Council

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UFC meets IFP – Panelists Gone Wild! Independent Filmmaker Week 2009 – Panel, “The Next Wave of Distribution”

October 8, 2009 2 comments

ifw logo Overview: http://ifw.bside.com/2009/films/casestudyyourfilmonline_ifw2009

Full disclosure, if you’re looking for bikini-clad babes cat-fighting to the death or someone taking it in the crotch, keep moving. But this was the most bickersome of the panels, and everyone loves conflict; especially amongst film geeks. (The only thing more exciting is a backyard book club brawl.)

Moderated, just barely, by Eugene Hernandez of IndieWire, “traditional” film models and distribution–as represented by Jake Abraham and Hernandez–clashed head-on with a very opinionated (and vocal) new distribution champion, Mark Lipsky, currently with Gigantic Digital Cinema and formerly of Lionsgate.

The panel started out reasonably enough with Todd Sklar sharing a couple of tips from his excellent online article, “10 Tips (plus one) For How to Survive the Current Indie Producer Hell.”

Then everything went KABOOM!

Again, the state of Indie was mentioned with a specific allusion to Anne Thompson’s article, “Toronto Wrap, Indie Bloodbath.” And from there Lipsky went off.

Well, not really, but it’s clear Lipsky has been in the business for a while and thinks he knows what the future holds as far as distribution goes. He’s passionate about what indie has become, should be, and how to try and reclaim that label. He had a litany of experiential evidence at hand, citing:

Lipsky then evangelized about alternatives to the festival circuit:

  • Discussing social marketing/communications firms that emerging to help get people to festivals where there is no traditional press coverage, such as New American Vision
  • Throwing out atom.com, withoutabox.com, snagfilms, distribber, netflix.vod, bside films, indie gogo, and hulu as viable alternatives to festivals/theatrical release
  • Going directly to “super” indie cinemas, sending them a DVD with a marketing/outreach plan and seeing if you can book a house that way

As Lipsky pooh-poohed the festival circuit/existing theatrical release model–which many believe to be dying or already dead–Hernandez and Abraham did their best to instill a note of reason into the proceedings, rightfully interjecting that there is still a place for the festival circuit and that distribution model; it’s not dead entirely. Lipsky would often respond tersely, if at all, basically summarizing, “I’ve been there, let it go, it’s time to move on.”

After a couple of exchanges like this, it got catty. Outstanding.

Anyway, other things to take from this panel:

  • There are different ways to reach different audiences. Got a “Cocoon” type property that appeals to older folks? Great. Go for theatrical. Got something for tweeners? Consider iTunes, mobile platform distribution, various widgets, etc. Parents? VOD.
  • Got a film for “everyone?” No, you don’t. Tell anyone who knows what they’re doing that and their eyes will glaze over. Know your audience.
  • Rights will often be divvied up as a film goes through its life. Keep the DIGITAL rights as close to your vest as you can.
  • “90% of fiction films shouldn’t have been made” – Mark Lipsky. This isn’t really relevant to anything, except the fact that I love the way this guy rolls. Unabashedly and unapologetically opinionated. Man, it makes for good stuff.

Sklar Panel

Moderator:
Eugene Hernandez, Editor – IndieWire

Panelists:
Jake Abraham, Executive Producer – Dandelion – Lovely By Surprise
Orly Ravid, Co-President – New American Vision
Todd Sklar, President – Range Life Entertainment
Mark Lipsky, President – Gigantic Digital Cinema

Independent Filmmaker Week 2009 – Panel, “Your Film Online (Case Study: Sally Potter’s ‘Rage’)”

October 8, 2009 Leave a comment

ifw logo Overview http://ifw.bside.com/2009/films/casestudydigitalfilmmakingfeaturingentrenos_ifw2009

At first I was planning on grabbing a gyro for this panel, like many cineastes, the idea of exhibition on a cell phone doesn’t appeal to me. However, since this panel was part of “Filmmaking 2.0” (the unifying theme of the panels on Monday), I decided to embrace the spirit of the day, stable my persnickety tendencies, and give it a go.

I’m glad I did.

First off: this is an interesting experiment with A-list talent touted as the first “major feature” released cross-platform and debuting on mobile devices. Or something like that. In truth, it’s hard to wade through all the buzzwords and flap surrounding the endeavor, mainly because it really is so new. Suffice to say that there are some serious industry vets behind it that are pushing the envelope, and, along with it, the next generation of filmmaking.

Is it a cool concept? Hells yes. Will anyone buy it today? Probably not. Is it ten years ahead of its time? Probably so. But the folks involved are positioning themselves to be ahead of the game for tomorrow’s theatre-goers, who probably won’t be theatre-goers at all, but will be comfortable viewing this kind of content on their mobile devices. Is it for me or anyone over 30 who enjoys theatrical exhibition? No. Is there a way to make money on mobile delivery and use that to drive sales and other ancillary revenue streams? I think so. Maybe not today, but certainly in the future.

And for their spirit of derring do, I have to give the folks behind it a big up.

I’m not going to lie, I have yet to watch any of it. The concept, a murder-mystery at a high-end fashion show as caught by a kid on his cell phone, really isn’t my cup of tea. But I’ll certainly keep an eye out to see what develops with this groundbreaking concept. My gut feeling, and I’m guessing those behind it as well, is that it’s a proof-of-concept outing that will become the norm, for some audiences, in five-to-ten years.

Case Study Online "Rage"

Moderator:
Janet Brown, COO – Cinetic Rights Management

Panelists:
Karol Martesko-Fenster, General Manager FILM Division – Babel Network (Babelgum.com)
Andrew Fierberg, Producer – Vox3 Films – Fur: An Imaginary Portrait Of Diane ArbusRage

Christopher Shepard, Producer – Rage

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