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Arts and Entertainment

It's a Wrap: Final Thoughts on This Year's Filmmaker Forum

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AJ Schnack moderating a panel featuring Matt Tyrnauer, Scott Kennedy, Laura Gabbert, and Richard Abomowitz (Wire Image via Film Independent/Used with permission)

AJ Schnack moderating a panel featuring Matt Tyrnauer, Scott Kennedy, Laura Gabbert, and Richard Abomowitz (Wire Image via Film Independent/Used with permission)
By Douglas McBride/Special to LAist

If you haven’t heard of Film Independent's Filmmaker Forum, it's best described as a three-day cinematic tornado of an event, that’s definitely worth getting caught up in, provided you can handle the price of admission, and you’re serious about gaining some kind of a foothold in the world of independent film. The event is thrown each year by the good folks at Film Independent, the non-profit arts organization also in charge of the Independent Spirit Awards, and Los Angeles Film Festival.

Cost could be considered a stumbling block here for young filmmakers, but there are numerous special offers and big discounts for early bird registration and Film Independent members. If you waited until the last minute this year or couldn’t take advantage of any of the special offers, all three days rang up at $300 for members, and $350 for non-members. The good news though, is that the price of admission was the only arguable drawback about the entire event.

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The panel discussions, lunches, special guests and screenings combined for a fantastic package, offering guests an amazing amount of connectivity and access to the people who matter most in independent film. A simple breakfast and a solid lunch were included on Saturday and Sunday, as were cocktails on Friday’s opening night, and during Sunday’s closing award ceremony. The Forum caters to narrative and documentary filmmakers alike, and offered this year’s guests unique, ten minute, one-on-one appointments with a wide array of agents, distributors, producers, publicists, and casting directors. So, whether guests were writers, directors, producers, or even actors, there was a chance to make an impression.

A caution to anyone planning to waltz in next year, expecting the world: The people you’ve got a chance to chat with are professionals, with no yearning to waste anyone’s time. I talked with quite a few guests over lunch, and during breaks, and what became clear is the fact that you need to have your shit together in these meetings. In spite of being there to offer kind words of advice, and an insider point of view, these folks are clearly more well connected than that buddy of yours: you know the one with all the great ideas? So even though these people are willing to listen to you talk about your project, you’d be doing yourself a service if your project, or portfolio suggests that you have something of serious value to offer to the person sitting across from you. According to everyone, a prepared, composed filmmaker finishes first at the Forum. Judging from the quality of the panel discussions, and the caliber of the guests, that sounds like it makes perfect sense.

So for all you filmmakers out there, you’ve got a year to prepare and save for next year’s event, and if you’re ready to put your best foot forward, it’s an event that’s worth attending.

Here are some highlights from Filmmaker Forum:


John Hillcoat (Wire Image via Film Independent/Used with permission)
OPENING NIGHT FILM SCREENINGThis year’s event kicked off with one hell of a bang. That bang came in the form of the pre-release screening of John Hillcoat’s The Road. Just before I entered Friday’s opening night screening at the DGA, my pick for the best film of 2009 went to Cary Fukunaga’s scintillating directorial debut, Sin Nombre. After seeing The Road, I’m not so sure about that pick anymore. Without a doubt, this film will earn some plaudits come Oscar season, and Forum guests were treated to a generous discussion with the director and producers of the film, followed by a lengthy Q+A session. The quality of the film, the access to it’s players, and the cocktail soiree that ensued out in the DGA lobby, offered guests a taste of the amazing access that was to come all weekend long.


For a documentary geek, hearing moderator AJ Schnack talk with his panel of Matt Tyrnauer, Scott Kennedy, Laura Gabbert, and Richard Abomowitz was like listening to a gang of superheroes talk shop about taking on the bad guys. Under discussion: trying to get funding, losing funding, how to keep shooting when things get ridiculous, how to finish the damn thing with no money, and how to fight off all the haters, even when they happen to be the same people who agreed to star in your film. Tyrnauer offered some hilarious tidbits about shooting Valentino, the Italian fashion designer for his new doc The Last Emperor. Apparently Valentino would quit the film dramatically each day, at about 6pm, only to rehire himself to star in the film the next morning, when he was in a better mood. Valentino’s constant use of the phrase ‘freak up’ in place of our American phrase ‘freak out,’ made for a hilarious story when the director offered up his best Valentino impression: (Condescending- ‘Don’t freak up, Daaahhhliing’


Without a doubt, these ten-minute appointments can be seen as the crown jewel on offer at the Forum in terms of connectivity between guests and players in the industry. Foremost in the minds of most guests, was the business side of lunch for this reason. Most important here is the need to book an appointment with the person you’d like to speak with early (as in before they get completely booked with appointments). As mentioned earlier though, multiple people on hand expressed how imperative it was to be prepared in these meetings. Ten minutes is ten minutes, and a meeting with a publicist, casting agent, distributor, or producer is a great chance to connect, but you’ve got to be ready for it. Ready means being prepared, but also never coming across as desperate. So booking early, preparation, and composure are my words to the wise for folks who are thinking about booking for next year. Worth mentioning is the fact that each lunch table provides a cinematic luminary of sorts, even if you don’t have an appointment at Indielink. I actually made a cool connection without even trying, while I was eating a sandwich at a group lunch table. Other similar opportunities abound for filmmakers throughout the day at the Forum, but all my previous advice applies for these accidental meetings as well.

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Broderick in conversation with Crumley (Wire Image via Film Independent/Used with permission)

Broderick was the moderator here, Lizzie Gillet talked via Skyype from London, and Arin Crumley showed us some clips from his film Four Eyed Monsters, and some stunning new work from the Burning Man festival. What began with Gillet and Broderick discussing her attempts to produce and distribute The Age of Stupid turned out to be the most encouraging discussion about filmmaking in the digital age that I’ve ever taken part in. Gillet’s creative funding and distribution of the film amounted to a series of donations from people who would later become the film’s most active audience members and supporters. Crumley took the stage next, and his innovative use of Social Networking sites, and efforts to circumvent traditional channels of film distribution made for an amazing, and equally compelling storyline. It was fascinating to hear these two talk about the possibilities of the digital age.


This really brought the fantastic non-profit side of Film Independent out for all to see as Jenny Deller and Kristin Fairweather were awarded a $25,000 production grant and the chance to participate in Film Independent's 2009 Producers Lab, as reward for their feature film project Future Weather. There's nothing like an awards ceremony, hope for the future, and a little generosity to crank up a closing night cocktail party, so props to Film Independent for starting big, and finishing strong on the last night.

For more info on discounts to next year’s event, you can call (310) 432-1222 or email the organizer.