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Programs Tue 5.16.2023

Guest Post: How Fast Track Helped ‘Dealing with Dad’ in More Ways Than One

Each year Film Independent’s Fast Track selects up to ten fiction and five nonfiction feature projects to participate in an intensive film finance market taking place over four days in November. Applications for Fast Track 2023 are now open. The regular deadline is June 16, while Film Independent Members have until July 10.

In this special guest post, 2019 Fast Track Fellow Tom Huang talks about his experience of the film financing market and the production of his new feature Dealing with Dad, which will have a special screening at the Film Independent Theater next week, May 22 and is now available to rent on all major platforms.

Hi there! I’m Tom Huang, a very tired indie writer/director filmmaker… Yay filmmaking! My latest project is Dealing with Dad, a dramedy about an Asian-American dysfunctional-functional family dealing with a depressed dad, who’s actually a lot nicer depressed than he is healthy. It’s based on my experiences trying to get my dad out of a depression. After that transformative–and at times absurd–experience I wanted to make a film about it, not only entertain but to also start a discussion about depression. I was fortunate enough to get the project in Film Independent’s amazing Screenwriting Lab, and that helped me develop the script into something I really loved, as well as introducing me to people who loved the script and wanted to help get it made.At that point, I was like: “Well, we have this film that so many people want to help, we’re going to get this baby made!” And then… nothing happened. So much so that I actually wrote and made another feature film, Find Me (available on Amazon Prime), that did well enough to make its money back and encouraged me to keep pushing with Dealing with Dad.

We had talked to our share of wealthy dentists interested in making the next Jason Bourne movie (we were not that) when I saw the deadline was approaching for Fi’s Fast Track.

Whaaaat? A chance to pitch to producers interested in partnering with independent films? Heck yeah, I’d love to do that! Since we had a script ready to be shot, my producers and I felt this would be the perfect place to start. With the small caveat of actually being selected, of course. But after waiting for a few months after turning the application in, we were ecstatic to find out we were one of 10 narrative projects accepted, and looked forward to what would happen next.

‘Dealing with Dad’ (2023, dir. Tom Huang)

We then got the lowdown: 60 different production companies and independent producers come out to hang out in a fancy hotel ballroom and over a period of three days participate in a massive speed-dating style pitch session (can someone come up with a Tinder for film?) Thirty filmmakers. Ten fiction projects. Five nonfiction projects. The people that came to our program were a really impressive and varied group, with big studios like A24 and 20th/Searchlight, to smaller big names like Bleeker Street and Kindred Spirit, as well as producers with financing and post houses. It was really breathtaking–just about all the people you’d hope to meet to discuss your film.

So! How do you pitch to 60 people in three days? Very quickly. As in 15-20 minute sessions, 20 a day… Intense, right? But you gotta do what you gotta do.I have to say, I hate pitching. I’m just not great at selling myself, I always feel self-conscious that I’m coming off like a car salesman. You have to do this thing where you’re trying both to explain your project and make it sound intriguing while still being socially engaged with the people you’re pitching to–it’s why I’m happy to have someone next to me who loves that stuff, like my outstanding producer Tanner Kling.

Even for a quick 10-minute pitch, for me to not be totally lame, I have to write the whole pitch out, semi-memorize it and do that thing where I do the pitch in front of a mirror, which makes me feel extra stupid. It’s so painful. I just want to make movies. But I know I have to prep properly just to reach the baseline of not being an incompressible, long-winded mess (kind of what I am right now, I think…)

Fortunately the Fi folks didn’t want us to fail, either. So we had a couple of great pre-pitch sessions where producers and film-type people listened to our appeals and gave notes, it was incredibly helpful. It showed me the benefits of “testing” pitches to people to help refine them and make you just a little more comfortable. With this kind of speed-date pitching, it was important to get to the story out relatively quickly but still sell yourself as a filmmaker and how this film is ready to be made now, while still leaving time to discuss things a bit afterwards.The next day, Fast Track began. What an intense, exhilarating, exhausting and hopeful three days it was! After stumbling through the first couple of pitches, Tanner and I started picking up our rhythm and everything went smoothly and became second nature after that. It was such an amazing feeling to talk about the film with so many people who were looking specifically for indie projects that tell diverse stories and have a voice.

Usually, a low-budget dramedy about an Asian-American family is a handicap. Here it was a shining strength. So many people just got it immediately. I also appreciated how everyone were just honest with us, talking out loud if this was a project that could work for them. I got a better understanding of how these different companies and producers work. It became a really great networking and educational event on top of just trying to find partners for the film.

We ended up with three great days of discussion, with maybe half of the people wanting to talk further after the program–more than we could ask for. At the end of each day of non-stop talking, I was just completely spent. But spent like after a good hike where you’re tired but your body still has this warm feeling because you’ve gotten a good workout. As an indie filmmaker, just to have so many people with the power to help in some way willing to listen to your pitch… Well, you really can’t ask more for that.

A 2016 Film Independent Fast Track session

Fast Track ended up being a success for us. Every film finds its funding in different ways, and for Dealing with Dad we didn’t find that one big company to take the film on, but instead were able to find blocks of funding in different places that came together for our total budget. This included two companies we met at Fast Track, who really wanted to partner with us to get the film made, offering us smaller blocks of funding post-pandemic that allowed us to piece together a budget to shoot the film.We shot Dealing with Dad in August 2021 with an amazing cast including Ally Maki, Hayden Szeto, Peter Kim, Dana Lee, Karan Soni, Echo Kellum and Page Leong, among others. The film was impeccably shot by Film Independent Fellow Irvin Liu, and our talented crew helped to get it all done properly. The film had its premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival and has played 35 film festivals since last April, winning 14 awards. It’s been incredible seeing the film get strong, emotional responses from audiences and critics all across the US.

We’re currently finishing up a 20-city theatrical release, and have distribution through Redbox Entertainment (formerly 1091 Pictures), where it’s now available online on amazon, iTunes, Google Play and all the usual digital and cable VOD platforms. It’s really been an incredible run so far, and it’s in no small part that Film Independent’s programs helped make it happen.One final note: there was one other little benefit to being a part of Fast Track. A week after the program, I took part in a film pitch competition at a film festival. After pitching the film 60+ times at Fast Track, I have to say: I destroyed the competition. No contest. It wasn’t even fair. I was so over-prepared for the pitch and easily won the cash prize (which went towards the film), as well as gaining two producers from the contest’s judges. So Fast Track really helped in so many ways beyond just those three days!

For more information on any of our Artist Development Labs, Programs or the projects that have been developed in them, please contact us. Additional information can be found at filmindependent.org. 2023 marks 30 years of Film Independent Artist Development. Celebrate #AD30 today.

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