Indie Film: the New Wild, Wild West

#FINDForum 2012: Through the Eyes of FIND Fellow Lisa Robertson

By Lisa Robertson / Screenwriting Lab Fellow

Film Independent Fellow Lisa Robertson navigates the new “wild, wild west”

Having just completed the Film Independent Screenwriting Lab with my first narrative feature, Commerce, I jumped at attending the Film Independent Forum; I was still thinking in terms of it inspiring creative choice: going into the next draft of my screenplay, meeting some good people… and okay, maybe even using it as a bit of distraction from actually starting that draft.

What I actually received from the weekend was a pretty thrilling, ultimately empowering education as a filmmaker in financing, equity, distribution models — the producer and distributor’s point of view of filmmaking. This was a conversation of which I’d not been part, to date. And it was highly creative, just in a different way.

That I would ever have entered a meeting with a producer without this vocabulary now seems unthinkable. Equity, foreign sales, “backing into your budget,” distribution models, “day and date” (release), VOD… those concepts sound dry to you? You’d think! Quite the opposite when you have Julie Lynn (Albert Nobbs), Ram Bergman (Looper), Lynette Howell (Blue Valentine) and Jay Van Hoy (Beginners) in a panel moderated by Stephanie Allain (Hustle & Flow, director of Los Angeles Film Festival) — it was like being at a great lunch table where the ideas are flying, you’re “on the inside.”

“Independent film is now the wild, wild, west… it’s more than technology, more than camera and post choices; it’s a different psychology.”

That was my first panel of the weekend. After that, I was on fire — I was at everything. I was reminded of two ten-hour days I spent at Musée d’Orsay my first trip to Paris. Your artistic eye has changed forever — you’re on overload — and you leave with “museum head.”

The Unbearable Lightness of Financing, VOD & Digital Archiving?

At the Armed to Sell: Financing Clinic, my fellow Screenwriting Lab alum, Casey Cooper Johnson, and his producer pitched their feature, Unmanned, to a panel that included the San Francisco Film Society’s Michele Turnure-Salleo along with Mark Ankner, a global financing and packaging agent from the top-tier agency, William Morris Endeavor. How different could those two worlds be? Yet both were seriously interested in the project.

Jordan Roberts, the writer/director of 3,2,1…Frankie Goes Boom, spoke on a VOD panel about his decision to separate his theatrical and VOD rights, and how he got a much a higher rate of financial return by doing so. And, if you had told me I would sit near breathless through the digital archiving panel, Preserving and Accessing Your Assets in the Digital Age

My short film’s master copy is HDSR, so it was with some distress that I learned tape is starting to disintegrate at the three-year mark; my master is now at year two. Meanwhile, current digital storage methods are changing as fast as every few years. Am I an expert on this now? No, but I do understand the importance of including a line item for “archiving” in a film budget.

Navigating a New Frontier

“It is the wild, wild west.” This was the recurring theme, the most repeated statement of every panel I attended—whether it was the archivist from Sony pictures; Margin Call producer Neal Dodson; VOD distributor Gravitas, or during a great chat I had at lunch with Beasts of the Southern Wild cinematographer Ben Richardson—independent film is now the wild, wild, west.

I knew that on some level, but I get it viscerally now, as a filmmaker. And it’s more than technology, more than camera and post choices; it’s a different psychology. As a filmmaker who plans to shoot her first feature in Summer 2013, the Forum gave me the perspective that I needed in approaching this “frontier.”


November 1st, 2012 • No Comments

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