Monday, October 29, 2012

Casting an Indie Film: Our Journey Casting Trevor Morgan, Rumer Willis and Robert Loggia in The Diary of Preston Plummer

My recent film The Diary of Preston Plummer stars Trevor Morgan, Rumer Willis and Robert Loggia. Director Sean Ackerman and I pinch ourselves to this day that these incredible actors were willing to star in our little film. We will be forever grateful. So I wanted to take some time here and talk about our experience casting them.

Trevor Morgan as Preston Plummer

Rumer Willis as Kate

Robert Loggia as John
First, I think independent films have a very different atmosphere than studio films. Independent films really are an all-hands-on-deck scenario. And actors who sign on to an independent film typically know the resources are going to be limited. And they're walking into an unknown situation. At least with a studio film, they have the comfort of knowing the crew is experienced and they will likely have a decent pay day. Not so much on indie films. Anything can happen on an indie film.

As an independent filmmaker, I need to create a comfortable work environment for everyone, both physically and mentally. That's not always easy when you can't throw money around. But what makes my job easier is a cast and crew that understands the kind of project they have signed up for and really come together as a team and by the end become a family. Indie films have a sort of camp quality to them. And when camp is well organized and fun, then a good time is typically had by all.

My job is to help convince managers and agents that I have a quality project that they will feel comfortable presenting to their clients. Agents and managers tend to have a love/hate relationship with indie films. They love them for their meaty roles and hate them for their low pay. So the best thing I can do is come to them with a great script and great roles that they want to help cast with their clients.

The Diary of Preston Plummer was the first script I ever signed on to produce. This was over a decade ago. I was working as an assistant coordinator in NYC on feature films and the writer/director was a PA. He and I would drive an hour to and from work (Brooklyn to Yonkers) each day as we worked on a new Todd Solondz movie. By the end, we were like brother and sister and still are to this day. Nothing like road trips every day to create a bond - ha!

Cut to a decade later and many ups and downs on the project and a new resolve and a little cash to finally make this movie.

Sean and I began casting The Diary of Preston Plummer by researching every young actor in their early 20s. There are a ton of them! So we had our work cut out for us. We decided to have a casting call as well. Casting calls are amazing for being introduced to up-and-coming actors whom you may not have thought of or known about. And that's when we met Trevor Morgan for the first time.

I had known of Trevor's work and honestly wasn't sure if he would be interested in our tiny movie. He has been acting since he was a kid (remember the kid in Jurassic Park III? Yep that's Trevor. He even had a role in The Sixth Sense and The Patriot). He laughs knowing most people remember him from Jurassic Park III, when he has gone on to make such great indie films like Mean Creek and Off the Black.

When Sean and I first met Trevor Morgan, we thought wow, this guy is such an amazing actor. Sean and I knew Trevor would bring such a gravitas to the role of Preston Plummer - a very internal character. We knew we wanted him as our lead immediately, but would he want us?

I called Trevor's agent and asked if Trevor would meet with us one more time - at a bar this time. We sat down with Trevor and over a few beers, we poured out our vision for the film and by the end, Trevor was committed. We hugged and heaved a sigh of relief that our decade-long search for our Preston Plummer had finally come to an end. Trevor was perfect. He has both a sensitive and yet earthy way about him. The exact attributes needed for Preston.

Next up, casting Kate... The character of Kate is an enigma. She's beautiful and ethereal, yet has a deeply damaged soul. We knew the actor playing Kate would need to be able to portray someone with a lot of layers to their personality. I spoke to a few managers to get an idea of an actor who may be right and Rumer Willis came to the forefront.

Neither Sean nor I were all that familiar with Rumer's work. But what we did know seemed to mesh with our vision of Kate. So Sean had a skype session with Rumer and they hit it off. Rumer definitely "got" Kate and we jumped at the chance to work with her.

The great thing about Rumer is that she's so open for new adventures. And she's incredibly smart and supportive - a real team player. She gives of herself immensely both on and off screen. Often, she and Trevor were the glue that held everyone together. They helped make my job easier. I love them both dearly for that. Neither complained about the sacrifices we all made to get this film in the can. Trevor worked as a grip, even on his days off. Rumer and Trevor both cooked for the entire cast and crew. By the end, we were more than just a team. We were definitely family.

And the patriarch of it all? The one and only, the master Robert Loggia. Oh my God, I love Bob and his wife Audrey! These are two of the most generous, loving and kind people. I cannot say enough wonderful things about them. When we submitted the script for Robert's consideration (which was Trevor's idea by the way - thank you Trevor), we didn't think we had a snowball's chance in hell of getting him for this film. We were the tiniest film with no money. Who did we think we were asking an Oscar-nominated actor to play a part in this movie?

Well, according to Audrey, they both read the script and Bob said, I have to do it. The character of John is very rich. And it appealed to Robert's soul as an actor. He wanted to take on this part. Not for a payday but for the opportunity to be John.

And honestly, I think that's how The Diary of Preston Plummer was for all of us. It's this little story, set on this beautiful, enigmatic island, with a group of characters we want to know more about. Writer/director Sean Ackerman wrote this script from his heart. You can tell. We all could tell and who doesn't want to be part of a story created from such heartfelt passion? And to top it off, the script was great. It was truly Sean's writing and vision that got us this cast.

Rumer was asked why she took on the part of Kate and her response: Sean's passion. She could see how much this story meant to Sean and she wanted to help make his passion come alive. We all did. Thanks Trevor, Rumer and Robert! You made The Diary of Preston Plummer truly come alive!

Our take away: Passion, hard work and the neverending commitment to quality goes a long way to realizing dreams.

If you want to see The Diary of Preston Plummer, you can watch it on iTunes here or Amazon here. It's also available on most other digital download sites and Video-on-Demand. Just check your local On Demand listings.

Here's the trailer:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Screenplay Corner: BlueCat Competition Deadline Coming Up Nov 15th

Hello Readers!

Earning accolades for your script from a screenplay competition are great for your career as a screenwriter. It's a sure fire way to get your writing noticed by Hollywood.

So I'd like to remind you:

BlueCat Screenplay Competition is approaching it's final deadline on November 15th.

Every submission entered into their competition receives 2 written analyses by professional readers. Over $20,000 in cash prizes are awarded:

• Grand prize winner: $10,000
• $2000 per four finalists
• $1,000 per two international winners

Check out their flyer and submit your script if it's ready!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012



Contact: Greg Longstreet, Film Independent
Tel: 310.432.1287

Producer Casey Fenton with Unmanned

LOS ANGELES (October 22, 2012) — Film Independent is pleased to announce the filmmakers and projects selected for its 12th annual Producing Lab. Sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the intensive five-week program offers promising producers a nurturing, creative environment as well as the resources and support needed to hone their skills, allowing them to move their current projects into production.

Film Independent also announces therecipient of the 6th annual Sloan Producers Grant to Casey Fenton, who is participating in the Producing Lab with his feature film project Unmanned. Fenton will receive a $25,000 development grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which seeks to create and develop new scripts and films about science and technology, and to see them into commercial production with national and international distribution. The grant was awarded on October 21, 2012 at the Film Independent Forum, presented by Indiewire. Unmanned is the story of a young Air Force droneoperator who struggles to balance the stresses of going to war for the first time with the challenges of being a good father and husband, as he commuteseach day between suburban family life and the war he fights by remote control. Last year’s winners were Brent Hoff and Malcom Pullinger with their feature film project El Diablo Rojo.

“We’re thrilled to continue our relationship with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and to be able to once again award a Sloan Producers Grant,” said Jennifer Kushner, Film Independent’s Director of Artist Development. “Two of the films we’ve awarded this grant to in the past, Future Weather and Valley of Saints, premiered in 2012 at top-tier film festivals and received critical acclaim. I look forward to seeing Unmanned follow the same path.”

"We are delighted to continue our successful partnership with Film Independent’s Producing Lab and to support Unmanned, a deeply engaging and original drama that raises urgent questions about our relationship to the technology--and to the morality--of contemporary war," said Doron Weber, Vice President, Programs at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  “Like our previous completed features with Film Independent, Unmanned received earlier support from our other film partners as well as Film Independent and we are confident that FIND's superb team will help steer this exciting project into movie theaters before long."

Karin Chien (Circumstance, The Exploding Girl), Ted Kroeber (Splinter, American Gun), and Alix Madigan (Winter’s Bone) are this year’s Producing Lab mentors and will advise the selected filmmakers on the craft and business of producing.

Filmmakers were chosen based on thestrength of their submitted script, business plan, and creative vision. TheProducing Lab, which is also supported by the National Endowment for the Arts’ Art Works program, is provided free to accepted producers, and upon completion, they become Film Independent Fellows, receiving year-round support including access to Film Independent’s annual film educational offerings, on-staff Filmmaker Advisor and the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Recent projects developed through the Lab include Maryam Keshavarz’s Circumstance, which was released theatrically in 2011 after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival; Aurora Guerrero and Charlene Agabao’s Mosquita y Mari, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival; Musa Syeed and Nicholas Bruckman’s Valley of Saints, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival; Jenny Deller and Kristin Fairweather’s Future Weather, which premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival; Suzi Yoonessi’s Dear Lemon Lima, which premiered at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival; Morgan Stiff’s Mississippi Damned, which won the GrandJury Prize at the 2009 Outfest Film Festival; Scott Prendergast’s Kabluey, which premiered at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival; Ted Kroeber’s American Gun, which was nominated for three Spirit Awards in 2007; So Yong Kim’s In Between Days, which was released by New Yorker Films in 2007; and Jessica Sanders’ After Innocence, which was short-listed for the 2006 Academy Awards.

The 2012 Producing Lab, filmmakers and projects are:

1.  Alaska Is A Drag A young gay misfit teen works in a fish cannery in Alaska and he dreams big to escape his drab reality by training to be a professional boxer and become the most fabulous drag queen in town.

Kaz Kipp, Producer

Kaz Kipp belongs to the Nez Perce and Umatilla Tribes and was born and reared in LosAngeles. She has produced award winning short films that have screened around the world and has also produced multimedia content featured on Comedy Central's, IFC, and the Sundance Channel. She produced the winning trailer of the Asian Pacific Islanders TV Pilot Shootout contest sponsored by FOX Diversity and the ID Film Festival. She is re-entering the festival circuitwith the short film, “Fierce,” co-sponsored by NBC Universal and Film Independent. Currently, she is in development on feature films including Shaz Bennett's, Alaska Is a Drag, which has been selected as a 2012 Sundance Institute Native Producing Fellowship recipient and the Producers Guild of America “The Power of Diversity” Workshop. A short version of the feature has been selected for AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women and is set to premiere at the 2012 AFI Fest. Kipp has also earnedfellowships from Film Independent’s Project: Involve and ABC | DisneyTelevision Group’s Native American IMPACT program. Kipp is also a board member to Longhouse Media, which is an indigenous media arts organization that nurtures the expression and development of Native artists.

2. And Then I Go – In the wilderness of junior high, Edwin Hanratty and his only friend, Flake, are at the bottom of the food chain. Branded together as misfits, they are demoralized daily and misunderstood by their parents and peers. As their fury quietly simmers and Edwin's anxiety begins to overwhelm him, Flake's unthinkable idea of bringing guns into their school as a form of vengeance offers them a spectacular and terrifying release.

Rebecca Green, Producer

Rebecca Green is the Manager of Producing Initiatives for the Sundance Institute and is also a member of the extended Sundance family, having been a screener for the Festival for two years, as well as an attendee of the Producers Conference in 2007. As an independent producer, Green most recently completed the micro-budget feature film Something Real and Good, which will be released by GoDigital in2013. Green is developing several projects including And Then I Go,written and to be directed by Brett Haley (The New Year) with executive producer John Hillcoat, as well as It Follows, a horror script written and to be directed by David Robert Mitchell (Myth of the American Sleepover) and If You Close Your Eyes, written and to be directed by Claudia Sparrow, who won a Student Emmy Award for her short film “El Americano.” Green also produced Tug, which premiered at the 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival and will be released in 2013. Prior to her work as a producer, Green was the Head of Creative Development for TicTock Studios, a production company in Michigan, where she played an instrumental role in the grassroots campaign to implement the state's film incentives program. Green worked at Paramount Pictures as Vice President of Lynda Obst Productions and prior to Obst, spent four years at Lionsgate, where she was a Creative Executive, as well as working in acquisitions. In addition to her producing and executive experience, Green has also worked as a screener for the Los Angeles Film Festival and has spoken on panels for organizations such as USC, IFP, and Film Independent. She earned her BFA in Filmmaking from the University of the North Carolina School of the Arts and serves on the Steering Committee for the school's West coast Alumni Association.

Laura D. Smith, Producer

Laura D. Smith began her film career working in development and production under Academy Award nominated filmmaker Andrew Niccol at his banner Niccol Films, followed by Ghoulardi Film Company, where she worked with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson and his producer JoAnne Sellar. Smith then went on to partner with producer Holly Wiersma, where she served as Associate Producer on the independent features Happy Endings, Come Early Morning, Lonely Hearts, The Tenants, and FactoryGirl and was Co-Producer on The Year of Getting to Know Us and The Six Wives of Henry Lefay.

After branching out on her own, Smith produced the critically-acclaimed feature That Evening Sun, written and directed by Scott Teems, which won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature and Special Jury Prize for Best Ensemble Cast at its SXSW premiere. The film went on to garner over a dozen awards on the film festival circuit, two Film Independent Spirit Award nominations, and was released theatrically in 2009. She then produced the independent feature Sironia with filmmaker Brandon Dickerson, which won an Audience Award at its Austin Film Festival premiere in 2011 and is being released this fall.

Smith is currently in post-production on the documentary feature Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey with filmmaker Scott Teems, aboutAcademy Award nominated actor Hal Holbrook and his famed one-man stage show Mark Twain Tonight! She has numerous other projects in development, including The Quarry, written and to be directed by Teems, based on the critically-acclaimed novel by Damon Galgut; And Then I Go, written and to be directed by Brett Haley (The New Year) with executive producer John Hillcoat; It Follows, a horror script written and to be directed by David Robert Mitchell (Myth of the American Sleepover), and If You Close Your Eyes, written and to be directed by Claudia Sparrow, who won a Student Emmy Award for her short film “El Americano.”

Smith received her undergraduate degree from U.C.L.A., with a major in Mass Communications and specialization in Business & Administration.

3. Imperial Dreams – Two exceptional young black men from the Imperial Courts project in Watts find out the hard way that being an American dreamer doesn’t make you heir to the American Dream.

Katherine Fairfax Wright, Producer

Katherine Fairfax Wright grew up in Los Angeles and graduated with a double major in Film Studies and Anthropology from Columbia University. She produced Gabi on the Roof in July, and has worked in a producing role onseveral other award-winning films, including Lumo and Les Vulnerables.  She is the co-director, editor, and cinematographer of Call Me Kuchu (2012, Berlin—Teddy Award/Cinema Fairbindet prize, Hot Docs—Best International Feature), which tells the story of the last year in the life of the first openly gay man in Uganda. The film has been supported by numerous international organizations and grantmakers, including Cinereach, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Catapult Film Fund, Film Independent, and the Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant. In 2012, she was named one of Filmmaker Magazine's “25 New Faces of Independent Film,” and was also named a Chaz & Roger Ebert Directing Fellow. She is an alumnus of the 2011 Film Independent Documentary Lab and the Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant at Full Frame.

Malik Vitthal, Producer/Co-Writer/Director

Malik Vitthal was born in Los Angeles and was immersed in Eastern philosophy at an early age while traveling the world with his mother. Vitthal was selected to represent the United States three times as a Delegate at the World Youth Conference for Peace in India. An alumnus of the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a FIND Project Involve fellow, he has made six short films that have been screened at festivals worldwide. Vitthal co-wrote the screenplay Imperial Dreams, which was developed at the 2011 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab where it received the Time Warner Storytelling Grant and the Lynn Auerbach Screenwriting Fellowship. Vitthal also participated in the inaugural 2011-12 Jerusalem International Film Lab, and Imperial Dreams will mark his feature directorial debut.

4. Jack of the Red Hearts – A rebellious teen on the runfrom her probation officer cons her way into a suburban family as a live-inhelper for their Autistic daughter - an experience that changes her cynicalperception of the world, but threatens to be snatched away at any moment as the law catches up with her.

Lucy Mukerjee, Producer

Lucy Mukerjee is the Vice President of Production and Development at After Dark Films. She is responsible for identifying potential feature projects that fit the company's mandate and developing that material until it is ready to go into production. Mukerjee works alongside the writers and directors, overseeing the entire filmmaking process, from the initial pitch, through the casting, set visits, and notes on rough cuts, to the film's delivery.  During her time at After Dark, she has produced 13 horror features for Lionsgate and 4 action movies for Warner Bros. In 2008, Mukerjee was the Co-Executive Producer of Flirting with Forty, starring Heather Locklear - a film she set up independently after optioning the novel by Jane Porter and selling it to Sony Pictures Television. Over 4.6 million viewerswatched Flirting with Forty when it premiered on Lifetime, making it one of the most watched television movies of 2008. This year she also became a voting member of the Producer's Guild of America, and a Programmer for Q Films, the LGBTQ Film Festival of Long Beach. She is a regular fixture on juries and committees for GLAAD and the OutfestFilm Festival, and was nominated by Power Up as one of the year's Amazing Gay Women In Showbiz. Mukerjee considers herself an advocate for female filmmakers, and strives to enable more women to get their stories onto the big screen.

Janet Grillo, Producer/Director

Janet Grillo produced such award-winning films as a creative executive at New Line Cinema as Pump up the Volume, House Party and Who’s the Man, and then later as an independent producer with the Sundance favorites Joe the King and Searching for Paradise. In 2008, she won an Emmy for the HBO documentary Autism: The Musical. Her short fiction film, Flying Lessons, debuted at Palm Springs International Short Film Festival, won the Best Dramatic Short at First Glance Hollywood, and the Silver Lei at the Honolulu Film Festival. It inspired the critically acclaimed full-length narrative feature Fly Away which premiered in competition at the South By Southwest Film Festival in 2011, winning Best Narrative Film at the Arizona Film Festival, before opening theatrically in select cities, to excellent reviews from The New York Times, Huffington Post, New York Observer and Los AngelesTimes, which called it “most overlooked for an Oscar.” Fly Away continues in international release via iTunes, Amazon,Netflix. Grillo is currently an Associate Professor of the Arts at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, in Film Producing and Screenwriting.

5. Manos Sucias – A desperate fisherman and a naive kid on a mission to travel up the Pacific coast of Colombia in a small boat, towing a torpedo filled with millions of dollars of cocaine, must navigate their difficult relationship while fighting to survive their journey through the war-torn region.

Márcia Nunes, Producer

Márcia Nunes was most recently the Manager, International Sales and Acquisitions for Goldcrest Films, where was responsible for licensing all-rights deals in a variety of territories including Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and select European countries, and the airlines. With a history of exceeding set targets, Nunes’ successes include pre-selling the 2011 Sundance hit The Art of Getting By, and selling Todd Solondz’ newest film, Dark Horse (Official selection of the 2011 Venice and Toronto Film Festivals). Nunes was also the Production Coordinator for Goldcrest Films on the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Restrepo.  Before joining Goldcrest in 2008, Nunes was the Sales Manager for an off-Broadway production company. She later worked for the prestigious entertainment PR firm, Terry Hines and Associates, focusing on Hispanic Marketing campaigns for such films as Spiderman 3, The Departed, Babel, and Happy Feet. Nunes holds a Master's degree inFilm Business from New York University and a Bachelor's degree with honors from Barnard College, Columbia University. She has lived across South and North America, and is also fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and French. Nunes is currently based in New York City where she works as a producer and an independent consultant in development, financing and distribution strategy.

Elena Greenlee, Producer

Elena Greenlee was born and raised in Brooklyn, but her passion for filmmaking has been honed all over the world. Fluent in four languages and with a background in documentary filmmaking, she is a narrative producer in the service of telling socially relevant stories from diverse and unexplored angles. Her first film was shot in Havana, Cuba, and screened at festivals internationally as well as on broadcast TV in the Dominican Republic. While living in Rio de Janeiro, Greenlee worked with actors from the Academy Award nominated film City of God, developing a free film school to serve underprivileged youth from Rio's favelas. Since returning to New York in 2007 to attend NYU's Graduate Film School, Greenlee has produced numerous short films that screened at top festivals across the USA, including SXSW, Rhode Island International, and Aspen Shortsfest. At Tisch, Elena wasawarded the Spike Lee Fellowship, and the Clive Davis Award for Excellence in Music in Film. Manos Sucias is her first feature film.

6. Resonance – Two damaged young men trying to reclaim their lives, push each other to the breaking point.

Katie Knab, Producer

Katie Knab is a member of the Association of Independent Creative Producers and regularly produces both long and short form broadcast commercial work for a diverse range of international brands including BMW, John Frieda, Capital One, Jergens and Vanguard. Aftergraduating with a degree in architecture, Knab brought her appreciation fordesign to her career in the film and TV world and has worked in production in various capacities for the past seven years in New York City.  She is always drawn to projects that explore relationships and our innate needs and desires.  She is also drawn to humanity's impact on the environment and how to expose and educate for future generations, which is what led her to Flutter, her recently completed short observational documentary that screened at Cannes in May, featuring a 78 year-old butterfly collector and his journey to Vietnam.  Knab is currently producing herfirst feature, Black Sun, chronicling a rebellious playboy's success and demise amongst the Lost Generation in 1920's Paris.

7. Snow in April – After the untimely loss of her soul mate, a Minneapolis artist seeks the courage to love again.

Van Hayden, Producer

Van Hayden launched his production career in 1989 when he sublet his Minneapolis apartment and drove to New York City, to work as an unpaid intern on the set of Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues. After production on the film wrapped, Lee hired Hayden to work as a staffer at Lee’s prestigious, Brooklyn-based, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks headquarters. Lee nurtured Hayden’s career by hiring him as his 1st Assistant Director on a series of iconic Nike commercials, Levi’s Jeans spots, music videos and the Emmy Award-winning documentary: Brooklyn’s Own, Iron Mike Tyson, for Home Box Office. Lee also arranged for Hayden to work as an apprentice sound editor on Lee's Jungle Fever.

As an independent Producer and First Assistant Director, Hayden has compiled an impressive array of more than 50feature film, television and web series credits including: Hustle & Flow; Nights in Rodanthe; Oprah Winfrey Presents Their Eyes Were Watching God; Kids; But, I’m a Cheerleader; Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her;Lovely & Amazing; Greek; WIGS, The Unknown, Rocket Science; The Assassination of Richard Nixon; Frankie Go Boom; and three films by Director Bob Odenkirk: The Brothers Solomon; Let’s Go toPrison; and Melvin Goes to Dinner.

Prior to his 23-plus years in production, Hayden worked as an award-winning journalist and editor at various professional news outlets, including: The Associated Press, New York Newsday, The Philadelphia Daily News, The Minnesota Daily, WMMR Radio and The Duluth News Tribune.

Hayden was elected in 2007 to serve his first two-year term as Co-Chair of The Directors Guild of America’s African American Steering Committee. In 2009, Hayden was re-elected to the post. Also in 2009, Hayden was selected by the senior leadership of The Guild to serve on its national contract negotiating committee, lead by Gil Cates, Jay Roth and DGA President Taylor Hackford. For the past six years, Hayden has served as a juror at The Pan-African Film Festival. He resides in Los Angeles.

8. UnmannedA young Air Force drone operator struggles to balance the stresses of going to war for the first time with the challenges of being a good father and husband, as he commutes each day between suburban family life and the war he fights by remote control.

Casey Fenton, Producer
Casey Fenton is an independent producer in Los Angeles and an alumnus of the American Film Institute. Prior to his work innarrative fiction he founded the West End Media Center, a digital media training and production center in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as NextGen TV, a youth run television channel on regional Comcast cable. While at AFI he was awarded a scholarship from the Hollywood Foreign Press for his accomplishments as a Producing Fellow. He is currently producing content for both the web and television. While at AFI, Fenton produced the Unmanned short, which played at several festivals, including Tribeca and AFI Fest. He was recently recognized at Tribeca as a member of the Panavision-sponsored New Filmmakers Panel, part of the Tribeca Talks series. Fenton also participated in Film Independent’s 2012 Fast Track program.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Do-It-Yourself Theatrical for Your Film

For our latest film The Diary of Preston Plummer, we knew we had no money to hire people who actually know how to helm a theatrical run of a movie. And I'm sure that's the case for a large number of indie films made each year. I think we can all agree on that, right?

Knowing we had no money, we knew that if our film was going to have any sort of theatrical, it would have to be homegrown. And even if we had money, I'm not sure a traditional theatrical would have made sense. Diary is a small drama, which is notoriously difficult to market theatrically.

But, we knew some sort of theatrical would help the exposure of the film and we also knew that there were certain regions in which we could drive an audience to the theater. Additionally, our digital distributor Warner Bros. wanted us to play 10 cities. So we had to make it happen.

I have never helmed a theatrical distribution. All of my titles to date have gone straight to video or the internet. This was a whole new world to me. Learning new arenas in filmmaking doesn't surprise or rattle me anymore. I feel like I am constantly overseeing new projects for which I have no experience.

Trial by fire is my mantra in filmmaking. Fake til you make it, as my business partner used to say! That mantra has worked in the past for me so why not when planning a theatrical?

I approached this guerrilla theatrical with common sense. No major chain is going to want my film. If its small nature didn't drive them away then the fact that we were launching on the internet on the same day of the theatrical would. And I was right about that.

I focused on small, arthouse venues and called or emailed them direct. I made my pitch and of the over 150 theaters I approached in less than a month, I got less than 10 percent to commit to play the film. It's not the odds I was hoping for but it was something.

So we planned the screenings and shipped the screeners and approached local press for reviews. I asked each theater for contacts to local press and they all typically provided them.

What I found is that the screenings in towns where the film was made or the director lived did the best, naturally. And the screenings in towns where the film had no personal ties to the community did the worst. Some were downright dismal despite getting mentions on the radio and on the internet etc.

But, and this is a big but, our theatrical was a success! Why is that? We made money. Yes, we did! It was not a loss leader. Instead it proved to be a nice chunk of money that paid off some of our bills. And we got some nice exposure to boot! Even sold out a showing and had to turn people away.

Long story short, if you're planning a theatrical for an indie film:

1) it helps to have money so you can hire a publicist or even a team to run your theatrical, pay for advertising, fly your cast and director to screenings for Q&As, and 4 wall theaters if you have to;

2) don't let lack of funds stop you - I was surprised that we had a successful theatrical with Diary and we had no money;

3) use common sense - if you feel it will be hard to get an audience to attend your film somewhere because you have no money for advertising and you have no connections in that area, it probably will be hard and may not be worth the effort or the aggravation for yourself and the theater owner;

4) focus on cities in which you have personal connections - I really cannot stress the importance of this factor enough. Make the screenings in those regions a huge success rather than spreading yourself too thin over regions where your film will die on the vine.

5) don't be upset if theater owners rebuff you - they're in the business to make money from you and if they don't think they will see a profit, it's likely they're right;

6) do as much press, publicity and marketing in each city as you can every day leading up to your film - there's never too much pushing you can do;

7) ask for theaters to do a box office split (rather than you paying to rent the theater) - all they can do is say no!

8) try to plan Q&As or after parties at some screenings - people like attending events

9) screen on blu-ray - they are the most economical screeners to make and are easy to ship and most theaters can accommodate them

10) have fun with it! You're getting your film shown on the big screen by a paying audience. How cool is that?

Here's our trailer for Diary - the film that had a successful theatrical! (It's available to watch on iTunes and Amazon and your local On Demand - check it out if you can - thanks!)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Going MIA for Citizen Hearst

I hate to say it but sometimes I have to go Missing In Action when making a film. It's so all-encompassing and a million things are happening at such a quick pace that I have to drop everything, including this blog, and focus on making the film.

And that's exactly what happened these past couple of months as I helped finish a new documentary on the Hearst Corporation titled Citizen Hearst.

I know my colleagues can empathize with this fact. If you work in film, you've been there and done it. I have emails from colleagues proving it. If I reach out to a colleague during MIA, I may get a quick response from him or her saying he or she is on set or amidst a final push in post etc or I may not get a response at all.

And that's okay. I know he or she will surface some day and will have a great film to show for it.

One thing you can't do in this field is take anything personally. Even if you find yourself the focus of someone's rant, you need to let it roll off your back. If you don't get a response to an email, then wait a couple of weeks and send a friendly reminder. If you never receive a response then let that connection go. That person you are trying to reach is not interested in working with you at that time. And that's okay too.

There are more than enough people in Hollywood with whom you can create. Find those people. Move on from those who aren't interested in working with you. Perhaps those relationships will change in the future but for now let those relationships remain in neutral.

I bring this all up to say that I am finally surfacing from my recent MIA moment and we have a new documentary on the Hearst Corporation to show for it: Citizen Hearst.

I oversaw the 5,000 clearances of images and video clips toward the end and what a responsibility that was! Thanks to Google Docs, we created the most amazing chart that was tracked and updated by about half a dozen people throughout the process. I don't know what we would have done without Google Docs!

Check out more information on our new documentary at:

And here's the trailer (enjoy!):