Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Independent Film Week 2010

So, I think I've officially forgotten when I first started coming to the various incarnations of IFP New York's annual event. All I know is it started for me when it was called IFFM (Independent Feature Film Market) and it was sometime around the time when Independent Film was just getting sexy to anyone other than independent filmmakers. It is now called Independent Film Week, of course, which includes the Independent Filmmaker Conference. I won't go into it's evolution again (I've done it in past blogs) nor regale everyone, yet again, with wild and woolly anecdotes from the past. I'll save that for when I reach my seventies.

Suffice it to say that I have not only been here each year through the various incarnations, but also in various capacities - as a filmmaker, as an organization rep, as a production company rep, as emerging filmmaker lab board member and as a simple attendee. This was my first trip as a a No Borders participant. For those of you who don't know, here's how No Borders is described on IFP's own site:

No Borders is the oldest and most prominent co-production market in the U.S. for narrative projects. The program is open to established American and International Producers. All projects must have a minimum of 20% financing in place. As these are co-financing meetings, only projects with experienced producers are accepted. A total of 25 scripts in development are accepted to No Borders.

And it is exactly as described. I was there as a producer with a project called "The Apology" to be directed by Babak Shokrian (who is also a producer and co-wrote it with two others) , who had earlier done "America So Beautiful" with my then-wife Diane Gaidry. He's now a long-time member of Filmmakers Alliance and solicited my involvement in helping get the new film off the ground. I read the script quite awhile ago and fell in love with it immediately. It went on to win Slamdance's screenwriting award and generally gets a great response from all who read it. Despite that, several changes for the better have been made since I first read it and more are on the way. It's a great project, but not an easy one to set up. Here's the brief synopsis:

Exiled to Germany after the Islamic revolution for his sexuality and political beliefs, a legendary Iranian showman is offered a chance to return home to see his dying mother if he agrees to deliver a public apology renouncing the beliefs that have come to define him as a cultural activist and anti-fundamentalist hero. Based on a true story set in 1993, the film details his complicated life as he wrestles with the decision, struggling to resolve the ideological and the personal.

Great story well-written. And with a terrific character that has generated interest from a lot of great actors (a great well-known one in particular). But it does not have big box office written all over it, so we must find financing partners for whom that is not the sole consideration. Never an easy thing to do and even more difficult in these economic times. Our goal, then, is to try to tap into "soft money" (EU and/or German state and regional funding, tax credits, negotiated service discounts and barter...and more) and supplement it with "hard money" (private equity investment, pre-sales, etc.). To get any of the European financing, we need to have a German co-production partner as those funds are only made available to indigenous companies.

This is why No Borders is so great. The simple goal of No Borders is to connect selected filmmakers with the people that can help move their project forward. And it is called No Borders for many reasons, not the least of which is its international flavor. So, they set up participants with anyone - from any part of the world - that can potentially support the project. You are set up on brief meetings - 15 minutes or so and not unlike speed-dating - that can lead to deeper connections outside of the event. The meetings are created by the IFP organizers, but I believe that support companies/orgs/individuals look at the dossiers of the selected projects and request meetings accordingly.

We got set up on about 5 or 6 meetings with lawyers, producers, production company reps, regional film commission reps, etc. Everybody we met with was impressive - smart, experienced and engaged. All were very nice, too. None were a perfect match for our needs but I think that is difficult to make happen and therefore rarely happens. All had something valuable to offer, however, and were just plain great to meet for any number of reasons. Other filmmakers we met had twice as many meetings as us or more, but then, they had very different projects that could attract that many more peeps.

On top of the organized meetings, you are also free to set up your own outside meetings as an industry list with contact info is readily made available to participating filmmakers. And the lovely, helpful IFP staff will even step in to help facilitate additional meetings. Therefore, it is important to do your homework so that you not only know who is there, but what their needs and initiatives are. You don't want waste anyone's time, including your own. No Borders projects are all at the script stage and some attending companies are there for the Project Forum - which are nearly or partially completely films - and they have no interest in projects still at script stage. Or a company may just focus on docs, or specific genres or any other number of specific objectives. It's wise to be diligent and, therefore, informed. Don't run around annoying peeps with your over-eager, misinformed energy.

But one of the best hook-up opportunities No Borders presents is with the other filmmakers. Experienced filmmakers carry around a ton of great info and connections that they are often willing to share openly. Even though we are all scrambling around looking for money and other stuff, our projects are different enough so that we are not always in competition with each other. Therefore, filmmakers are often comfortable with sharing information and connections. Also, the environment of the event is not dog-eat-dog competitive. It fosters communal support. Sometimes the other filmmakers are the very people you need to meet. We met two potential German producers - there with their own projects - who's companies could be right as partners for "The Apology".

Independent Film Week also included the Project Forum as I mentioned earlier, however, we didn't get to see any of the films screening there. There were also some cool seminars included in the Independent Filmmaker's Conference, but my favorites were the Cage Matches they set up where two industry peeps representing somewhat opposing perspectives regarding a particular Independent Film Issue were engaged in a moderated debate.

Michelle Satter (Sundance Institute) and Jon Reiss ("Thinking Outside The Box Office") square off in one of the Independent Filmmaker Conference's Cage Matches.

Naturally, no one was seriously injured in these head-to-head confrontations, but they provided a lot of stimulating ideas.

Of course, there were also lots of social events during the week and I attended most of them. Rooftop Films had a couple of awesome (as usual) screenings and there were lots of fun receptions that allowed all the participants to connect socially. Of course, I mourned the end of the Florida Film Commission's crazy annual Wasabi Party (unlimited sushi and saki/beer) that died when the host restaurant (which gave them such an amazing deal) finally went under. However, they had a very nice alternative event at the very hip Ace Hotel.

Lastly, as I've said many times before, you get to be in NYC in September. That, in itself, is reason enough to attend.

Over-all, No Borders and the entire Independent Film Week was a great experience. Although much different than past incarnations of IFP's annual event, it feels like it is all "grown up", now. It is lean and purposeful - for serious filmmakers only. And I deeply appreciate that because I feel like I've grown up with it. There's still plenty of fun to be had, but my time is more limited, now, and I like feeling there's at least one event, at least once a year, where independent filmmakers can buckle down and get things done.


  1. That's a really cool idea, and sounds like you got a lot out of it. A lot of people bitch about film festivals, saying they are snobby and pretentious, but I find them invaluable in terms of information and resources. (Plus they're good fun ;) )


  2. Impressive site - I love seeing people who have good original content.