Friday, October 28, 2011

American Film Market 2011 - I'll Be There!

The American Film Market (AFM) is almost here. It's such an awesome event that takes place in Santa Monica each year in November. This year it takes place from November 2 to 9. 

As a filmmaker, I love going to the AFM speaker panels and feeling the energy of deals being made every second during the first few days of the market. And if I have a film being sold, I usually swing by our agent's office and say hello and see our poster hanging in their suite. It's a great feeling to see your work out in the world and not only on your computer screen or in your office. 

I'm really look forward to the Finance Conference. The panelists look great: 

Ashok Amritraj, CEO, Hyde Park Entertainment; Doug Hansen, President, Endgame Entertainment; Robert Hayward, Chief Operating Officer, Summit Entertainment, L.P.; Patrick Russo, Principal, The Salter Group; Jared Underwood, Senior Vice President, Group Manager Entertainment, Comerica Bank Entertainment Group; Leon Clarance, Chief Executive Officer, Motion Picture Capital – a Reliance Entertainment Company; Bill Fay, Former President of Production, Legendary Pictures; Mary Ann Hughes, Vice President, Film & Television Production Planning, The Walt Disney Company; Bill Johnson, Co-Founder & Partner, Inferno Entertainment; Andrew Matthews, President, RKO Films and Bahman Naraghi, Chief Operating Officer, GK Films.

They also have Pitch, Marketing, Production and Distribution Conferences. I will try to attend as many as I can and report back. 

If you are new to the business and haven't heard of AFM, here is a brief description. Everyone and I mean everyone who wants to produce films should attend AFM whenever you can. It provides a great perspective on the business and gives you incredible insight into what sales agents are selling. Go if you can.   

About the AFM®
The business of independent motion picture production and distribution – a truly collaborative process – reaches its peak every year at the AFM, when more than 8,000 industry leaders converge in Santa Monica for eight days of deal-making, screenings, conferences, premieres, networking and parties.  Participants come from more than 70 countries and include acquisition and development executives, agents, attorneys, directors, distributors, festival directors, financiers, film commissioners, producers, writers, the world's press and all those who provide services to the motion picture industry.

Founded in 1981, the AFM quickly became the premiere global marketplace where Hollywood's decision-makers and trendsetters all gather under one roof.  Unlike a film festival, the AFM is a marketplace where production and distribution deals are closed.  In just eight days, more than $800 million in deals will be sealed - on both completed films and those in every stage of development and production - making the AFM the must-attend industry event.

The AFM is produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance® (IFTA®), the trade association representing the world's producers and distributors of independent motion pictures and television programs.  More information is online at

Monday, October 24, 2011

Film Independent Forum Recap

I made it through a screening, a Q&A and two 8-hour days of sitting on my butt, listening to riveting discussions about independent film during the Film Independent Forum. It was insightful, inspiring, and oh so painful to my rear end. But I survived and I'm so much better for it - mentally that is!

I love attending seminars because I get so pumped up and hopeful about the future. And this forum definitely got me pumped.

The event kicked off with Werner Herzog saying, "You can't be a director without knowing the heart of men." Love that. And then he went on to kick butt at SAG (thank you Werner for that) and to tell everyone that you need to be serious about the money and you will survive. Werner you are a producer's dream. And then he said he's a "fluffy husband," and I realized he's a wife's dream too.

I attended a panel on documentary financing, which equates to television licensing, grants, charitable organizations and wealthy individuals. It sounded almost doable versus the struggles in narrative film financing. I also learned that there are some great organizations committed to financing the release  of social documentaries so they can inspire community action. That was really great to hear.

I listened to filmmakers discuss their successes in crowdfunding and social media. I know firsthand how challenging it is to run a crowdfunding campaign (I'm sorry friends and family for always bugging you for money) and I have to hand it to those on the panel. They raised tens of thousands of dollars. The entire audience was in awe.

Next was marketing and distribution. It's so clear that the onus is on the filmmakers to build an audience, keep them informed and entertained. One filmmaker had an ingenious idea of finding the busybodies within a 10 mile radius where his film was playing and making them the ambassadors of the film so they can rally people to go to the theater.

So instead of relying on TV commercials like the studios do, we need to rely on reaching out to individuals via email and phone calls and engaging them personally to come to the theater. It's proven to be the best and really only way to have a successful indie film run. Even a publicist said, she can get the reviews but she can't get butts in seats. We need to do that.

Then at lunch, they have these awesome networking tables with each hosted by a seasoned indie professional. The first lunch, I sat with a development exec at Lionsgate and got to pitch a horror film I am developing, and the next day, I sat with Michael Polish (director of For Lovers Only) and got to pick his brain on their incredibly successful internet release of their film(s).

All in all the entire weekend was super invaluable and I recommend it to every indie filmmaker. Thanks for putting it on Film Independent! See you next year!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Film Independent Forum This Weekend in LA

I'm attending the Film Independent Forum this weekend in Los Angeles. It kicks off tonight with a screening of Like Crazy. I haven't seen it yet so that's great. Always happy to watch a new indie.

Trailer for Like Crazy

I'm really looking forward to this event. There are some great panels on financing for both narrative and docs and marketing and distribution. I'm very curious about the marketing panels and building an audience. With marketing becoming part of our jobs, we could all use a little advice. I'll share what I find out.

I think these forums are an excellent way to keep from re-inventing the wheel. As producers, we often work in a vacuum and these events allow us to hear others' experiences. That's invaluable.

I believe there are seats still available to attend. If interested, go here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Questions for the Founders of the Napa Valley Film Festival

The Napa Valley Film Festival is coming up to its inaugural year, starting November 9th and running through November 13th, 2011. Our film Take Me Home is in the line-up (see our schedule here) and we can't wait to attend! Movies and wine? Who could ask for anything better?

Marc and Brenda Lhormer

Marc and Brenda Lhormer are the founders of the festival and Marc was kind enough to answer a few of my questions as to why they would start a film festival in Napa:

  • Tell us why you and Brenda decided to start a film festival?

We ran the festival in Sonoma for seven years, a wonderful under-the-radar experience that led to the opportunity to produce our first feature film BOTTLE SHOCK.  BOTTLE SHOCK tells of how Napa wines beat the French at a historic 1976 wine-tasting competition in Paris.  That adventure led us to Napa, as people asked us why there wasn't a world-class film festival in such a remarkable destination.

  • Why do you feel Napa is a good location for a film festival?

So beautiful, great food and wine, easy to get to, and a very film-friendly audience in a setting that isn't otherwise well-served with theaters (no art-house theater in Napa County).

  • What is the most challenging part of starting a new film festival? And how are you overcoming this challenge?

Financing.  We began development in the summer of 2009 in the depths of the recent depression.  Focused on private Founding Patrons rather than trying to find corporate sponsors.  It's been a long slog, but with the support of a bunch of wonderful people, and now also over 250 business partners involved, we are almost here at the inaugural NVFF ...!

  • How are you setting your festival apart from the rest? Is there a festival yours will aspire to be?

Top-notch programming representing the best new independent films of the year, regardless of having premiered earlier elsewhere ... mixed with late-season previews of Oscar-buzzing films, such as THE DESCENDANTS and J. EDGAR.  Of course the outstanding food and wine ... hard to beat.  And we are professional event planners by background, and now also film producers, so we know how to throw a great party on a large scale.  

As for aspirations, we look to Telluride as a role model for a well-run and respected destination festival ... and yet Napa can handle the size and scope of what Sundance, Cannes or Toronto offer.  Bottom line, assuming we survive this extremely ambitious launch, we hope to see NVFF considered amongst the world's great film festivals some day.

  • Are there certain kinds of films upon which this festival will focus?

Generally we look for uplifting stories that capture the richness of the human spirit.  Tends to go better with the wine!  But seriously, plenty of festivals showcase the seamy underbelly of humanity.  We're interested in showcasing mankind's potential ... thus stories about relationships, interesting characters, overcoming obstacles and supporting each other through dark times, etc.  And we're interested in seeing stories from a variety of cultures, both to appreciate the diversity and the commonality and universality of the human experience.

  • What are some of the highlights of this inaugural 2011 Napa Valley Film Festival?

5 nights, 4 walk-able festival villages, 12 screening venues, 101 films, 125 wineries pouring ... pretty terrific.
Also gotta shout out to:
- the opening night GALA at Robert Mondavi Winery ... should be one killer party
- the Artists-in-Residence Program featuring the 10 directors of our narrative feature competition films ... pretty unique to have this in a first year festival, and how cool that TAKE ME HOME is one of the films which means writer-director-star Sam Jaeger is one of the Artists-in-Residence at Meadowood throughout the festival.
- Tribute Night Program, honoring outstanding achievement in film, with Billy Bush of Access Hollywood hosting ... and a partnership with Roots of Peace who presents its Global Citizen Awards
- Veterans Day films on Friday, November 11

So much to cover ... but we encourage everyone to hit the website at ... peruse the program and come join us in Napa Valley!

Thanks for the opportunity ...

Marc Lhormer, Founder
Executive and Program Director
Napa Valley Film Festival

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Our Short "Pipe Dreams" Is Shortlisted for an Oscar!

The other day I was writing emails and one hit my inbox that said "Your film has advanced to the next round." I thought, what is this spam that's hit my inbox?

Well, I opened it and screamed because before me was a letter on The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences letterhead that read: "Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that your Documentary Short Subject film Pipe Dreams, is one of eight films that have advanced to the second round of voting. This round will determine the nominees."

I think I was dialing Leslie (the director) before I even finished reading the letter. She and I then went through every happy emotion that exists. What an incredible moment - one I will never forget. Thank you Academy - what an honor!

Leslie and I took on a controversial project that no one would finance. As Americans, we wanted to know the truth behind this proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. There were too many questions and not enough answers.

Though no one would back this project and we only had about 2 months to make the film from beginning to end (which is a ridiculously short timeframe), we decided it had to be made. We already knew pumping more dirty oil through the heart of America and precious territories like the Ogallala Aquifer and the Sand Hills of Nebraska sounded like a bad idea but then we met amazing fellow U.S. citizens who live along the proposed pipeline route whose land and livelihoods were being threatened.

These ranchers could be me or you. They work hard to feed America every day and are being harassed by a foreign oil company and threatened with eminent domain even before any U.S. permit is in place for them to build the pipeline.

We decided these landowners needed a voice. They work too hard to take care of others. Someone needed to take of them for once.

So Leslie and I set out on this journey and what a journey it has been. Thanks to everyone who helped us get this film to the big screen. Cheers!

Here's the trailer to Pipe Dreams. We will have an LA premiere in late November. Hopefully those of you in LA can come!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011