Forum Schedule

Schedule of events for the 2019 Film Independent Forum

Please note: Forum schedule – including panels, times, speakers, etc. – is subject to change at any time.
Friday and Saturday night screenings will take place in Hollywood at Harmony Gold ; all other events (April 27-28) will take place at the new LMU Playa Vista Campus.

From doc funding to music video magic, the 2019 Film Independent Forum has lots in store – and it’s all detailed below. If you’d like to learn more about this year’s speakers and panelists, allow us to recommend our nifty Speakers & Panelists page.

Jump to: FridaySaturday | Sunday



7:30 pm — Opening Night Film: Booksmart

Prior to the 7:30 pm screening of Booksmart, Forum attendees are invited to pick up their passes and enjoy a special kickoff reception, starting at 6:30 pm.

Reception – 6:30 pm
Screening – 7:30 pm
Q&A with Olivia Wilde – 9:20 pm (approx.)


10:00 am — Filmmaker Keynote

Since her acclaimed début feature Chutney Popcorn won Audience and Best Feature Awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, Nisha Ganatra has been working steadily as a film and television director, leaving her mark on seminal TV shows such as Girls, Dear White People and Mr. Robot.

Just months after her latest film Late Night took the Sundance Film Festival by storm, she has cemented her status as a leading director as she prepares for her next studio film, Covers. We are excited to kick off the Film Independent Forum with Nisha in a candid, free-wheeling conversation where she will share her trajectory and discuss what it takes to lead a career as a successful filmmaker today.

Nisha Ganatra (Director; Late Night, Transparent)

Moderated by Lilly Singh (Producer; A Little Late with Lilly Singh, A Trip to Unicorn Island)


Bing Liu in Conversation

Filmmaker Bing Liu discusses his trajectory from Illinois teen shooting skate videos, to the Spirit Award-nominated director of Minding the Gap.

Bing Liu (Director/Producer, Minding the Gap)

Moderated by Sal Masakela (Host, ESPN X Games, VICE World of Sport)

11:15 am — Crunching the Numbers: Independent Film Financing

Can the current marketplace still support artist-driven content, or are these projects at odds with commercial success? Is there a budget sweet spot that can make a project more attractive to financiers and investors? This detailed assessment of the independent landscape will also examine the different film financing models typically employed by today’s indie producers.

Tom Nunan (Executive Producer, Crash; Co-Founder, The Writing Intensive)


Meet the Documentary Funders

Who is funding documentary films today and what are they looking for when they invest or donate to a project? A diverse panel of representatives from foundations, niche production companies and nonprofits will explain how to apply for funding for your project and what you’re expected to deliver in order to give yourself the best chance of success.

Claire Aguilar (Director of Programming and Policy, IDA)
Luis Ortiz (Managing Director, Latino Public Broadcasting)
Stephen Nemeth (CEO, Rhino Films)
Rahdi Taylor (Head of Artists in Residence, Concordia)

Moderated by Lisa Leeman (Director; Awake: The Life of Yogananda, One Lucky Elephant)


Your Logo Here: Branded Content

Selling out? Or getting paid to do what you like to do? The possibilities for both short- and long-form projects are evolving with increased sponsor support. Filmmakers and ad creators discuss how these projects and deals come about, how content is influenced by both brand and customer and the artistic potential within these constraints.

Danielle Hinde (Owner/EP, Doomsday Entertainment)
Folayo Lasaki (VP, Head of Marketing, SoulPancake)
Max Knies (Producer, City Beats with Santigold: Citizens Bank)

Moderated by Kristin Sauchak (VP, The Outcast Agency)

12:30 pm — Off-the-Record Networking Lunch

Film industry professionals host tables for lunch and candid conversation with Forum attendees.

2:00 pm — Shopping Your Project: A Financing Clinic

A group of Film Independent Producing Fellows present their projects to a panel of experts and receive advice on the potential pitfalls of their scripts, where to find the right support for their projects and how to leverage project elements into an attractive package for financiers and potential investors. The panelists’ specific feedback will provide useful packaging and financing tips for all.

Adriana Banta (Executive, 30WEST)
Mila Cottray (Agent, ICM)
Rich Mento (Casting Director; Ashes in the Snow, Warm Bodies)
Jordana Mollick (President of Development and Production, Semi-Formal Productions)
Brian O’Shea (CEO, The Exchange)
Shelby Stone (President of Production, Freedom Road)

Film Independent Fellows
Delbert Whetter (Producer, Flash Before the Bang)
Jonathan Wysocki (Ambrosia Pictures)

Moderated by Paula Manzanedo Schmit (SVP, Film Finances, Inc.)


Documentary: One Size Does Not Fit All

With screens becoming filled with endless storytelling formats, lengths and structures, the documentary landscape has never been more exciting. In this session, we explore alternatives to the feature documentary with some of the filmmakers who are developing bite-sized and serialized content. How do stories function and teams work when scales shift? What makes a good subject for short form anthology vs. limited series? How are the development and exhibition paths for this work different than features?

Jake Avnet (COO, Indigenous Media)
Moira Demos (Director, Making a Murderer)
Liza Mandelup (Director, Jawline)
AJ Schnack (Director; Speaking Is Difficult, Nomination)

Moderated by David Wilson (Festival Director, True/False Film Fest)

3:45 pm — Producers Coffee Talk

Film Independent’s popular Coffee Talks return with a special producer edition, featuring some of today’s best-known indie producers discussing the rewards and tribulations of bringing exciting and challenging stories to the screen.

Jason Michael Berman (Producer; Burning SandsThe Birth of a Nation)
Effie T. Brown (Producer; Dear White People, Real Women Have Curves)
Jordan Horowitz (Producer; Fast Color, La La Land)
Heather Rae (Producer; Tallulah, Frozen River)

Moderated by Peggy Rajski (Dean, School of Film & Television, LMU)


Documentaries: Safety, Sanity and Security

Nothing is clear-cut when you’re tasked with capturing reality as it unfolds. On set and in the editing room, documentarians working with unpredictable subjects and situations are affected by various ethical, logistical and intellectual issues that impact their projects. Filmmakers and legal experts provide insight on maintaining a level head while working in physically and psychologically challenging conditions, handling clearances and rights and making quick decisions under difficult circumstances.

Ben Berman (Director, Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary)
Skye Borgman (Director, Abducted in Plain Sight)
Melissa Haizlip (Director/Producer, Mr. Soul!)
Robert McFalls (Producer, The Advocates)

Moderated by Lisa Callif (Partner, Donaldson & Callif)

7:30 — Saturday Night Film: Ms. Purple

Followed by Q&A with writer/director Justin Chon, producer Alan Pao and cinematographer Ante Cheng


10:00 am — Executive Keynote

For ten years, Len Amato has been at the helm of HBO Films, creating some of the most exciting original films that speak to our time and run the gamut from the political to the very personal. He will reveal how, through his work developing films and series, he strives to find the essential truth in every story, while providing some insight on the current state of the industry.

Len Amato (President, HBO Films, Miniseries and Cinemax)

Moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)

11:15 am — Narrative Case Study: Searching

In this candid, straightforward session, the filmmakers behind last year’s indie hit Searching, starring John Cho, give us an honest account of the film’s journey. They discuss the inception of their unique idea, through production, to its debut at Sundance and subsequent release as a bona fide $75 million worldwide hit.

Aneesh Chaganty (Director; Searching, Run (2020))
Natalie Qasabian (Producer; Searching, All About Nina)

Moderated by David Benavente (VP, Independent Sales & Incentive Services, Cast & Crew)


In Short: Getting Past the Calling Card

Making a short film as a “calling card” can be a great opportunity for you to show an audience your creativity and what stories you care about, but what happens after the premiere? Our panel discusses how to push past the calling card stage, identify the key players that will help you take your film to the next level and position yourself for success once you’ve gained momentum.

Charlene deGuzman (Writer/Actor, Unlovable)
Antonio D’Intino (Literary Manager, Circle of Confusion)
Richard Ruiz (Director of Production, Fox Searchlight)
Amber Sealey (Writer/Director, How Does It Start)
Ana Souza (Associate Programmer, Sundance Film Festival)

Moderated by Missy Laney (Director of Development, Adult Swim)


Adventures Inside the Writers Room

Even the most typical TV writers room can be a mysterious place. Just how do these odd groups of stubborn individuals come together, multi-colored notecards and all, to turn their disparate and sometimes conflicting creative ideas into the episodic content we all love to binge and discuss? A group of working TV writers discusses how the creator or showrunner’s initial vision of the project evolves during the collaborative process, and how to stay true to the essence of a show’s voice while enhancing it with multiple viewpoints and experiences. The session will also cover career-building; breaking in, moving up and sustaining a career writing for the small screen.

Duncan Birmingham (Writer/Director; Maron, Blunt Talk)
Erin Cardillo (Partner, In Good Company; Significant Mother, Life Sentence)
Richard Keith (Partner, In Good Company; Significant Mother, Life Sentence)
Ali LeRoi (Writer/Director/Executive Producer; Everybody Hates Chris, Are We There Yet?, Survivor’s Remorse)

Moderated by Marlana Hope (Writer, Grey’s Anatomy)

12:30 pm — Off-the-Record Networking Lunch

Film industry professionals host tables for lunch and candid conversation with Forum attendees.

2:00 pm — Distribution & Marketing Clinic: Dispelling the Festival Darling Myth

We’ve all heard the real-life fairy tale of the filmmaker who became an overnight sensation after a festival premiere, but these stories are extremely rare. For the rest of us, reality is far less Cinderella and more Frodo Baggins. Our panel of experts will explore what aspects of distribution and marketing still hold up and the new tools professional filmmakers should be seeking to be competitive in today’s market. This session will also feature on-the-spot advice given to select Film Independent Fellows about how best to position and launch their films in the marketplace.

Liz Manashil (Manager, Creative Distribution Initiative, Sundance Institute)
Mark Pogachefsky (CEO, MPRM Communications)
Anam Syed (Head of Marketing – Los Angeles, Alamo Drafthouse)

Film Independent Fellows
Liz Cardenas (Producer, Before You See the Light)
Jon Coplon (Producer, Jeanette)
Tom Huang (Producer, Find Me)

Moderated by Seth Caplan (Producer, First Girl I Loved)


Episodic Case Studies: Quarter Life Poetry and It’s Not About Jimmy Keene

Online digital short series used to be the entry point for many new content creators, but now they’ve evolved into a platform for established talent to tell refreshing new stories. This session takes an in-depth look at two new independently made episodics: Samantha Jayne’s Quarter Life Poetry, directed by Arturo Perez, Jr., which started life as an Instagram account; and It’s Not About Jimmy Keene, starring creator/director, Caleb Jaffe.

Jim Frohna (Executive Producer, It’s Not About Jimmy Keene)
Caleb Jaffe (Creator/Actor, It’s Not About Jimmy Keene)
Samantha Jayne (Creator/Actor, Quarter Life Poetry)
Diana Kunce (Executive Producer, It’s Not About Jimmy Keene)
Arturo Perez Jr. (Writer/Director, Quarter Life Poetry)

Moderated by Wendy Calhoun (Co-Executive Producer, Empire)

3:45 pm — Sound and Vision: The Art of Music Videos

A spirited conversation on the past, present and future of the form and how it sparks innovative takes on narrative storytelling, with some of today’s most renowned music video directors.

Emily Kai Bock (Director; A Funeral for Lightning, Lorde: “Yellow Flicker Beat”)
Daniel Kwan (Co-Writer/Co-Director; Swiss Army Man, DJ Snake & Lil Jon: “Turn Down for What”)
Hiro Murai (Director; Atlanta, Childish Gambino: “This Is America”)

Moderated by Drea Clark (Producer/Programmer)


Podcasts: Picturing Stories Through Sound

From Orson Welles’ iconic War of the Worlds broadcast to the present day, audio storytelling has provided a creative alternative to film & TV for artists to tell unique and vibrant stories. With far fewer barriers to entry than other traditional mediums and access to essentially every smart device in the Western world, podcasts – and their recent surge in popularity – have given audio fiction new life. Podcast fiction can provide an accessible and exciting way to tell your stories, while allowing creators space to hone their skills and seek new avenues for their storytelling futures. Join industry leaders in the LA fiction podcast scene as they share their experiences in the hottest artistic medium this side of radio.

Eli Barraza (Creator, The Far Meridian)
Bikram Chatterji (Managing Director, Maximum Fun)
Ivuoma Okoro (Creator, Vega)
Colleen Scriven (Creator/Actor, Lesser Gods)
Lauren Shippen (Creator, The Bright Sessions)

Moderated by Mischa Stanton (The Whisperforge)

5:00 pm — Forum Closing Night Happy Hour


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