Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Felix Endara Looks Back on Doc Lab Lessons

The Lab wrapped last Friday, after an immersive week of documentary filmmaking advice. By the end of the program, not only was I invested in finishing my own project, DAMELO TODO, I was also deeply committed to the success of my fellow Lab filmmakers.

Thursday saw us learning about sales and distribution with Steve Savage of New Video and producer Julie Goldman, and music rights and film composing from BMI’s Doreen Ringer-Ross and composer T. Griffin. The latter’s lecture was a revealing look at scoring your film. Of course, because our documentary has extensive use of music to tell its story, this subject was of much interest to me. Griffin stated that, in a successful collaboration, the filmmaker and the composer are able to create a private language to speak to each other. Not a language of technical lingo (of “instrumentation”), but one based on how to express emotion through music. Among his recommendations were:

- Do not to fall for “temp love” (the music you use to lay down your visuals, with the intention to either clear rights or replace with original score) as you may become attached to it, and if not able to use it, will potentially become creatively blocked.

- Trust your composer and give her a chance to come up with an interpretation to the material that is truthful -- instead of asking her to “replicate” the temp music you’re in love with. What the composer creates for you might be the magical element that brings the entire piece together!

- The composer should have an instinctive connection to the material -- it shouldn’t be just a paycheck.

- Budget for music!

Another great workshop had Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly taking us through their distribution strategy for THE WAY WE GET BY , their moving documentary about senior citizens in Maine who volunteer as troop greeters to soldiers leaving for and returning from Iraq. Their truly DIY approach still continues to amaze and inspire me.

On Friday, we got down and dirty with the Law. Arts Engine’s Katy Chevigny and archival researcher Becca Binder spoke about Fair Use and clearing/licensing rights. Katy, a self-described Fair Use “outlaw,” gave us a detailed overview of fair use as it pertains to documentary filmmakers.

Entertainment lawyer Roz Lichter answered our questions as they pertained to our specific situations, most of which related to release forms and agreements between collaborators. In both instances, she suggested to get all these papers in order, even if your subject is your best buddy who has agreed to be the main character in your documentary. No matter what the circumstance, get that release form signed!

At the end of the day, after a quick wrap-up session with IFP’s amazing staff (Milton Tabbot and Rose Vincelli) and Lab Leaders (Lori Cheatle and Lesli Klainberg), we headed for much-needed cocktails at a nearby bar. I had a great conversation with Lori about producing. As a new producer, I was eager to hear her advice. To me, our interaction was indicative of what the entire week had been like -- supportive and nurturing, but also with a lot of practical learning. I managed to have a few last-day chats with my fellow Lab filmmakers, and I trust we’ll stay in touch and root for each other’s success. I can’t wait to attend the debuts of 25 TO LIFE, DEAR MANDELA, OUR SCHOOLS, PUPPET, SALMON DREAMS, PATRONS SAINTS, FAMBUK TOL, GIVE UP TOMORROW, and A RUBBERBAND IS AN UNLIKELY INSTRUMENT. And I trust that my peers are also invested in DAMELO TODO’s own trajectory.

Tune in to Jon Reiss's TIP OF THE DAY

We were thrilled when independent film forward thinker Jon Reiss signed on to lead the IFP Independent Filmmaker Distribution Labs . The IFP Lab Mentor and Author of THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE had such an inspiring time sharing his knowledge during the Documentary Labs last week that he decided to blog daily tips for our Members, to share what he knows with our larger audience of filmmakers.

Below are his first two Tips of the Day. In the future, they will be one of the top feeds on our WHAT'S NEW IN INDEPENDENT FILM sidebar to the right.

Day 1 – The Next Chapter

Many of you might know me from the book that I have written recently, Think Outside the Box Office (TOTBO for short). The primary reason that I wrote it was to share what I had learned while distributing my film Bomb It with other filmmakers so they could learn from my successes and mistakes. In the continuation of that mission I am launching two more initiatives – both in support of how people want to interact with this information. The first is a series of workshops around the world. It seems that the live experience is as important as the written word in imparting this information for many people. We are starting with London on May 8/9, Amsterdam on the 12/13, New York on June 5, Vancouver on June 12/13, San Francisco July 31/Aug1 with more being lined up.

The second initiative is the launching of a TOTBO Tip of the Day. This will soon be joined by Resource of the Day. In these tips, I will give not only a sense of what’s in the book and workshop, but they will be a forum to convey new tips to you as I learn them.

I want to know what you think! Comment here or on my blog, or @Jon_Reiss on twitter, or on the TOTBO Facebook page. I look forward to hearing from you.

Jon Reiss’ TOTBO Tip of the Day 2 – Every Film is Different

Each film is unique and requires its own individual distribution and marketing strategy. A comedy about stoners will not have the same audience as a documentary about Aids orphans in Tanzania. Similarly each filmmaker has a different set of goals, needs, and resources. While the studio one size fits all model worked well for some independent films over the last 20 years – it was a disaster for others. With the new hybrid model of distribution you can craft a distribution and marketing strategy that makes the most sense for your film. You have a unique vision. Use that vision to engage your audience in a unique manner. This will help separate you from the media noise that surrounds us every day.

What do you think?

Monday, April 19, 2010

After the Doc Labs - Deep Breaths and Pasty Skin

by Erin Casper, Editor, OUR SCHOOL

Now that I’ve had a moment to recover from waking up at 7 a.m. every day, I’ve gotten to digest what happened over the last week at the IFP Documentary Lab.

Like any other pasty editor toiling away in their dark office*, I am always eager to get out to filmmaking workshops. What pulled me away from my desk this week was the opportunity to be among ten dynamic first-time film making teams from around the country participating in a wonderfully comprehensive, and intense, post-production lab.

The first two days of the lab started off with all of the fellows introducing their projects and receiving in-depth feedback from our one-on-one and editing mentors. Our editing mentor, Mary Lampson, worked with us on figuring out how to make the leap from our late assembly stage to an early rough cut. For me – being a first-time feature doc editor – it was like having an intervention at a moment of vulnerability in the film’s structure, pacing, tone and style.

Since our film doesn’t have any music in it yet, we were a case study for the panel on how to work with a composer. We learned what works and doesn’t work when you describe the kind of music you are looking for (i.e. do not say things like, “this part needs some movement”) and when to start working with them (i.e. as early as possible). One good idea was to let your composer watch your film and create music based on their response to it, and then respond in turn by describing the specific parts you liked to spur on further brainstorming. Other ideas were to watch films with music you both thought worked and figure out why, and to listen to music together.

The rest of the week focused on the afterlife of the film with workshops and panels ranging from marketing and PR, to outreach, distribution, and legal issues. Somewhere around the grassroots marketing panel, it began to sink in how much work there is to do over the next year or so after picture lock. It seems almost like even more work than editing the film itself. A dizzying. Amount. Of work.

Now with this sobering realization in mind, I am itching to get back to the office and finish the film so it can take on its own unpredictable life in the world.

*Just kidding about the dark office, but I really am pasty as hell.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Our Heads Are Spinning": The OUR SCHOOL team on IFP's Doc Labs

A couple of days into the IFP Documentary Lab, we began admitting to each other with increasing frequency that our heads are spinning. This, it turns out, is not so much a complaint as a battle cry.

Part nurturing cocoon for the creative process and part scared straight film camp, this crash course in finishing compresses in one week a preview of what all of us are inevitably going to go through in the last year of finishing and releasing our work. The result is curiously energizing. Bracing, one might say.

We started off gently, sharing clips and stories about our projects and taking in feedback on our cuts from an amazing group of editing advisers. In the process, we learned as much from hearing the discussion on other projects as we learned from the feedback sessions devoted to our own projects. (And we got to see some spectacularly successful pairings of experienced advisers and first-time filmmakers who practically started talking to each other in code within seconds of meeting each other.)

Then, as we moved into the finishing boot camp, we started to feel a bit like first-year med students doing dissection: excited to get some real-life knowledge, but not so thrilled yet about the prospect of dealing with all the guts and entrails.

The result is much like learning to ski: the slopes ahead of us after this week feel no less steep, but at least now we’ll know how to make it to the bottom in one piece.

Here is some of the wisdom we’ll carry with us as we brace ourselves for the trip:
• The whole process of filmmaking is about intention, a shimmering concept that encompasses choice-making, planning, social change goals, and - hopefully - meaning. Everything else follows from intention. This fact so obvious that we very frequently lose sight of it.

• The temptation to prematurely make things perfect is ultimately counter-productive. Imperfection is close friends with creativity, and bad ideas are often adjacent to the best ideas.

• Everyone is struggling. Hopefully. If you’re not struggling, you’re not digging deep enough to make the best movie you can - as our editing adviser, the wonderfully empowering Mary Lampson (Harlan County, Trouble the Water) said to us: “You have what's going on. But what matters is what is really going on.”

• You have to devote one hundred and twenty per cent of your time to making the best film you can. The other one hundred and twenty per cent of your time must go into raising the money to finish the film and getting it out into the world.

Felix Endara of DAMELO TODO blogs IFP Doc Labs

This week has been frantic. I’m a first-time producer working with a talented, but equally new-to-documentary director. Our experimental documentary, DAMELO TODO/GIVE ME EVERYTHING, focuses on the unique alliance born at historic Los Angeles bar Silver Platter when Latina immigrant transgender women meet queer avant-garde performance artists.

I had been familiar with IFP’s Documentary Rough Cut Lab because my colleagues at Arts Engine had been Lab Leaders, and as DocuClub’s Manager, I have programmed the work of Lab alumni Nicole Opper, Augusta Palmer, and Miao Wang at our works-in-progress screening series DocuClub. Participating in the Lab, however, has given me the opportunity to see things from a filmmaker’s perspective that I previously had not given much consideration.

For one, I’ve been blown away by my fellow Lab filmmakers’ projects. I appreciate the wide range of the work and I’m honored to be in their company.

Similarly, it has been incredibly valuable to spend concentrated time with industry experts who have used our films as case studies to give us tips on their areas of expertise. For example, yesterday we covered outreach and audience engagement. While this is an area that we have been developing since we were still in production, learning that we should focus on our “devout” (the core people who you can count on to see your film) and, to a lesser extent, “probable” (those who might be more peripheral) audiences was helpful. Even more illuminating was to hear that we should not waste our energy on those deemed “possible” (e.g., a broad category such as the 18-24 year-old nightclub patron) as this is a much sought-after, and thus hard to pin, category.

Part of our work in the next few weeks, then, is to continue to narrow down our core audience, while also seeking and securing outreach partners--those communities and groups who are invested (either via subject matter or our social-issue goals) in the success of DAMELO TODO.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

David Soll, Director of PUPPET, takes in IFP’s Doc Labs

We're already three days into the lab, so I have a bit of catching up to do. I didn't get to the blogging as quickly as I should have, and Danielle has good reason to be mad at me (you don't want Danielle DiGiacomo mad at you, by the way. She puts smiley faces on your Facebook page.). Regardless, here we go and let's decide together to make the best of where we are.

(Caitlin Boyle, Film Sprout counsels David Soll on outreach)

I can imagine having at one point earlier in life thought "wouldn't it be amazing if someone created a program that X," wherein X stands for the entire mission statement, schedule, description, leaders, mentors, editing advisers and first-time filmmakers involved in the IFP Documentary Lab. Which is to say, I'm impressed, and I'm impressed to the point that I find it hard to believe this fantastic idea was actually put in to effect.

Here is a program that takes ten first-time documentary feature filmmakers (also ten narrative filmmakers, in their own lab [we don't mix well]) who are entirely dissimilar from one another in sensibility and subject matter, yet share with each other varying degrees of bewilderment with the state of our films, our careers, and the industry. Which are three very large things about which to be bewildered, and together suggest a common state in which nearly every first time filmmaker is finding themselves these days.

(Jon Reiss talks about the long tail)

If you are a bewildered filmmaker - as I am (although I shouldn't speak for the entire group. some of the other filmmakers look really un-bewildered, in fact) - what the lab offers you appears at first to be a crash course in finishing, distribution models and editorial decision making. But then you arrive on the first day, they go ahead and fill you in on everything else the Lab actually is. Now, you've read all this in the literature ahead of time, but because you are not especially bright (you are, remember, trying to make an independent documentary feature in 2010), your lab leaders are nice enough to go over the scope of the program one more time. First, you realize they aren't just offering you a 'crash course', but relationships with mentors and editing advisers who are among the finest documentary talents in the business. And then you realize they selected three of these folks to actually be "lab leaders" - which means they are running the lab, in person, for every minute of this week, and together serving a function somewhere between that of batting coach, psychotherapist and rabbi. And then, you realize, they've picked filmmakers as your peers who each have compelling, hugely exciting projects of their own. And then, when you're starting to think Okay, this week looks pretty good to me, they tell you this whole thing isn't just one week at all. No, it's actually a YEAR, and will include continued mentoring with each adviser/leader/mentor offering one on one meetings outside the scheduled sessions, phone calls, letters, emails, text messages to help you continue resolving issues and facing down the intimidating landscape of independent film. And THEN, after offering you (are you kidding?) all this support, they - almost it seems just to mess with your head - they have the nerve to tell you the entire program is free.

So my point is, after a few days, my point is that yeah, I think the Lab is a good idea.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Least Hobbies are Fun - Guest Blogger Laure Parsons on DIY DAYS

At Ted Hope’s Hope For Film site, producer Smriti Mundhra recently posted a great article
about the debate over viability that emerged at The Conversation , one of two distribution and media-creation conferences that took place within a week’s span in NYC last week (Full disclosure,: I was a moderator and ‘advisor’ at The Conversation and have some loose business relationships with folks at DIY Days ).

Ms. Mundhra describes the ongoing discussion around challenges for filmmakers in relation to finding revenue from their work (or in the sortof hateful parlance of the day, “monetizing”). The current conventional wisdom seems to be that the new culture of “free” presents a challenge to filmmakers that they can choose to confront with various strategies in the name of rescuing the profits that are suddenly in jeopardy.

Right now independent filmmakers have amazing, previously unknown opportunities. The availability of increasingly cheaper technology has allowed filmmaking to become both more accessible and much more reasonable for those who were already using higher-end, more expensive equipment. In almost every area of the production process, filmmaking is becoming available without millions or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a high-quality result. And filmmakers have ways to reach audiences that depend more on effort than giant P&A spends. For all these reasons, filmmakers have much more control than they ever did about how to share their films with audiences.

But there is a reality, it seems to me, that is missing from the discussion. Selling independent films is not and never was a “business model” (or- if you wish- not a 'good' business model), in the context that making these films should be the basis for a lucrative career using the principles of an MBA program. A good business model takes into account what the consumer wants and tries to give them that. It does not find something that one personally likes and then tries to make other people care about it, which is something more like patronage.

Because of the economics around film, and the way independent film distribution evolved out of foreign film distribution, there was some perception that independent films had some kind of commercial viability in aggregate and that if you just came up with the right formula, you could find a pleasing margin.

There was a veneer of prosperity when films were picked up at Sundance or Toronto and garnered big advances. But that was still only a small fraction of films, and those films were highly leveraged, expensive projects. How many of those films actually made back their budget in the revenue they received from distributors? How many distributors made significant money on selling independent film with our the capital from some other source to subsidize the effort? Essentially, if you compare what people spent making indie films at that time with what the returns were, would the numbers be a lot different from today?

Some films that happened to be independent were great successes.
However, I wonder how much of the revenue generated by those films ended up in the hands of creative people who made the film. In my experience, a system that splits the revenue several times before it reaches a royalty payment tends to yield small returns for creators.

Is independent filmmaking, as was suggested at The Conversation, a hobby? Most filmmakers will be lucky to make more money than is invested in the film, and possibly even lucky to make more money than they personally invested. For that reason, it’s essential that people wanting to make films are doing it because it’s exciting, fun, collaborative, creative and they are driven to do it despite the financial investment.

A large industry of film schools and workshops has emerged to service people who think they want to “be” a filmmaker but this is kind of like people wanting to “be” a shoe repair person. There’s not a mysterious, gatekept process anymore- just find a story and cast, then shoot and edit (it's not easy but it's fairly intuitive). You don’t have to lose money, and you likely won’t make much. You might make something that is exciting, beautiful, or new. Before you do anything else, try to understand and find your audience, so someone will see your work when it’s done.

Laure Parsons is a filmmaker and distribution consultant and can be found at xplusxfilms.com and infinicine.com.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

B-Side Finds its New Home at IFP

In huge news for filmmakers and festivals around the world, IFP, in conjunction with New York-based company Slated, announced today that B-Side’s Festival Genius™ technology and database has found a new home. Slated has acquired all of recently shuttered B-Side’s intellectual property, and effective immediately has licensed the B-Side Festival Genius to IFP. Senior Executives from B-Side including founder Chris Hyams have joined Slated, while key members of B-Side’s festival team are joining IFP. The move will transform IFP, exponentially expanding its potential membership base and the organization’s ability to build audiences for independent films, and help individual filmmakers identify, build and connect with those audiences. Slated will take over B-Side’s business of providing market research services to independent film producers and distributors and will roll out new products and services later this year.

Festival Genius provides critical infrastructure to support film festivals and independent filmmakers and promote voices that might not otherwise be heard. Over the past four years, B-Side’s Festival Genius hosted online program guides for over 200 international film festivals, capturing audience feedback on 40,000 feature films from over 3 million annual visitors and building a registered membership of 200,000 film fans. IFP will now take over the running of these online film festival program guides and plans to significantly expand the reach of Festival Genius while keeping costs to the festivals nominal. IFP will continue B-Side’s past practice of sharing Festival Genius audience data with festivals and will soon start sharing data with IFP member filmmakers, offering them a direct line to audience feedback.

Several B-Side festival partners, including Sundance Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, Austin Film Festival, Independent Film Festival of Boston, Newport Beach Film Festival, Phoenix Film Festival, and NewFest: The NYC LGBT Film Festival have already committed to use Festival Genius again this year in its new incarnation.

Notes Joseph Beyer, Associate Director Sundance Institute Online, “Thanks to B-Side, the 2010 Sundance Film Festival program’s film guide was widely and universally recognized as the best in the history of the event. We are absolutely thrilled to see the Festival Genius and B-Side team find a new home, and are looking forward to an even better film guide for 2011.”

Notes Joana Vicente, IFP’s Executive Director: “This is a game changer for IFP and our mission. Festival Genius is an essential service for the independent film-making community – for festivals, film-lovers and filmmakers. IFP has always been the place where filmmakers, the film industry and audiences intersect. This partnership is an exciting step forward in our mission, in that it literally places IFP where audiences interact with filmmakers on the web. We now have the potential to reach all of Festival Genius’s 200,000 film fans worldwide. These fans will be offered a one-year free IFP membership and we will host a network of sites that is in contact with 3 million independent filmgoers a year. We are confident this is a tremendous growth opportunity for IFP and that we are uniquely situated to expand the potential of the Festival Genius platform.”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Burning in the Sun at NY African Film Fest

In the week preceding the 5th annual Documentary Lab, I'm pleased to announce that 2008 Doc Lab (and fiscal sponsorship program) alumnus Burning in the Sun is showing in the New York African Film Festival tomorrow, April 7th at 5:45pm, and April 13th at 3pm. Get tickets here. The directors, charming Cambria Matlow and daring Morgan Robinson, will be there to answer your electrifying questions.

Burning in the Sun is the story of 26-year-old charmer Daniel Dembele; equal parts West African and European, and looking to make his mark on the world. Daniel decides to return to his homeland in Mali and starts a business building solar panels – the first of its kind in the sun drenched nation. Daniel’s goal is to electrify the households of rural communities, 99% of which live without power. Burning in the Sun tells the story of Daniel’s journey growing the budding idea into a viable company, and of the business’ impact on Daniel’s first customers in the tiny village of Banko. Taking controversial stances on climate change, poverty, and African self-sufficiency, the film explores what it means to grow up as a man, and what it takes to prosper as a nation.

Congratulations Lab Friends!

Monday, April 5, 2010


As the sole U.S. Partner Organization for the Cannes Producer’s Network, IFP is pleased to announce its 2010 IFP Cannes Producer’s Network Fellows:

Howard Gertler (Shortbus), Paul Miller (Snow Angels), Anita Ondine & Lance Weiler (Head Trauma), Mike Ryan (Choke), Susan Stover (Laurel Canyon), and Ron Simons (Night Catches Us).

IFP annually selects and sponsors attendance for up to six independent producers to participate in the Producer’s Network’s prestigious week-long immersion program. Running concurrently with Cannes International Film Festival, the Producer’s Network is held May 13-19, 2010 and is specifically designed to build up the international networks and share expertise on the international production, financing and packaging marketplace.

“Through this initiative, IFP is proud to partner with Cannes Producer’s Network to continue to provide vital opportunities for talented U.S. and international producers to collaborate,” says Amy Dotson, Deputy Director.

“Applications to this Fellowship were up 50% from previous years and we were thrilled to receive so many applications from talented IFP members across the country.”

For further opportunities for U.S. producers: Call for Entry is open for IFP’s No Borders Co-Production Market. Please see www.independentfilmweek.com for criteria, applications and more information.