NY Times “Declaration of Indies” from today’s edition

January 19, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s hard to tell if Manhola Dargis is just toeing the line of the new indie film movement or whether she’s really “behind it.” For some reason, to me, it seems the later, even if she’s not particularly effusive in this article (which is a re-tread of topics well covered in other areas). Still, the Times *is* the Times and Manhola Dargis *is* Manhola Dargis. (Very John Madden moment there.)

“Looking at a new way of film distribution where filmmakers maintain full control over their work from beginning to end…”



Ben Davis & the Jetts – Local 506 CD release party

January 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Ben Davis & the Jetts – Local 506 CD release party

First time out for the lil’ Canon Vixia, not too bad.

Categories: Daily Mind Drippings

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

Lynne Kirby, SVP, Original Programming – Sundance Channel

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


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


36 years old
You still call yourself Spanky
Impotent herp dick


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.


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

Louise Rosen, Managing Director – Louise Rosen LTD

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


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
Anthony Kaufman, Journalist

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