Held October 25-27 at the Directors Guild of America, Film Independent’s Film Forum armed attendees with the strategies and contacts to get their independent film projects made and distributed. Starting with an opening night screening and Q&A of Dallas Buyers Club, the remaining two days were filled with panels that not only covered theatrical films and documentaries, but also featured internet, video games and handheld content, highlighting the theme of the weekend: “Content Revolution.”
Perhaps the executive keynote address, by Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix, illustrated the divergence from traditional distribution platforms best. Beginning as a DVD-by-mail subscription service, advances in streaming technology and audience viewing patterns has allowed the distribution platform to expand into original productions, even garnering Emmy recognition for its initial series foray, House of Cards. Although documentary and independent films made up the company’s original content, the Netflix model has evolved into more of a television entity, successfully bringing popular series programming to viewers in a shorter time frame than traditional syndication while allowing that audience to watch their favorite shows whenever they want and as much as they want. This flexibility has resulted in the coining of a new term – binge viewing.
The filmmaker keynote was by writer/director Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere, Venus VS.) the first African-American woman to win the best director award at Sundance. DuVernay related to her audience how she felt three years ago when she was just starting out, sitting in the DGA auditorium like the current attendees. “I wore my desperation like a coat,” she revealed. Like her audience, she felt she needed help in numerous ways, but she advised them to “knock it off,” telling them to create work. That is the key to her success and could be the key to their success.
Panels at the Forum included tracks covering independent film and documentary funding, production, marketing and distribution. Panelist highlights included director Lucy Walker (Wasteland, The Crash Reel), writer/director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), writer/director Jim Rash (The Way, Way Back), former agent and producer Cassian Elwes (Dallas Buyers Club, Lee Daniels’ The Butler), and senior vice president of production for Fox Searchlight Matthew Greenfield.
Case Studies informed attendees of the process of producing film from development and funding through bringing it to the marketplace told from the personal experiences and points of view of the actual filmmakers. Made in L.A.: Production Case Studies proved that independent films can be made in Los Angeles. Sharing their experiences on the award-winning feature film The Sessions, were writer/director Ben Lewin and producer Judi Levine. A major benefit of working in Los Angeles was the availability of experienced crews willing to work on high-quality indie films between their higher paid studio gigs. However, if you are working non-union, you have to keep a relatively low profile. Too many trucks and you might get shut down. Lewin also commented, that the “bedrock was the script.” A well-written screenplay with exceptional roles for actors combined with the convenience of working close to home was a major attraction to The Session actors. Nicholas Ozeki’s feature debut, Mamitas also had success filming in Los Angeles. The trick was shooting in neighborhoods not normally used for production.
The Film Forum provided opportunities for filmmakers to directly connect with industry professionals. IndieLink @ The Forum allowed participants to meet one-on-one with agents, casting directors, distributors, film festivals, funding organizations, guilds, production companies, production services, publicists and others. Hosted lunch tables created a relaxed atmosphere to sit and talk with representatives from the above-mentioned organizations.
The Film Independent Forum closed with the Sloan Foundation reception where the Sloan Producers Grant was awarded to Producing Lab Fellow, Isabella Wing-Davey for the feature film project Flood from writer/director Katie Scoggin. The grant provides $25,000 in development funds to a narrative film with a scientific, mathematical or technological theme.