Five Quick Lessons from Whitewater Films' 2011 Roundtable
This is a guest post by multimedia journalist/publicist Kristen Lepore.
How has the past year changed the outlook for independent film? As roundtable moderator and The Hollywood Reporter journalist Jay Fernandez stated, "It's an interesting time for filmmaking in general, but the indie world is a bit of a crap shoot from picture to picture, year to year." The point of Whitewater Films' roundtables is to share information and intelligence, according to Whitewater Films founder Rick Rosenthal (Halloween II, Halloween: Resurrection). And it did just that. Here's a taste of what I learned from February's all-women panel.
1. The economy really is picking up.
Sundance 2011 showcased some great movies that wouldn't have previously been financed traditionally speaking. From small casts to first-time directors (think Another Earth and Take Shelter), filmmakers found a way to make their movies. And even better, the films sold. "I can't remember another time when I came out of Sundance having seen so many films that I was really moved by and touched by. I was sobbing at the end of a couple of them," said Blue Valentine producer Lynette Howell. In contrast to last year's depressed panel, there was money for independent movies in 2011— and people are still willing to lend.
2. No one reads Steven Seagal scripts.
They just get made. Even so, storytelling still matters. While a demand for straight-forward, dumbed-down, commercial movies remains in the marketplace, storytelling is more important than ever. Buyers want to fall in love with the script. It's not as much about A-list actors as it is about a strong screenplay with a timely hook, which is great news creatively. "I have buyers in Thailand reading scripts. It's shocking. I never thought I'd see the day," said Nadine de Barros, who works as the VP of sales and acquisitions at Voltage Pictures.
3. Film festivals can be preview screenings.
Seems obvious, right? Not quite. Nancy Collet of Cinema Collet says this is something she's been preaching for years. "When u have a really good film and you know people will see it and talk about it, I think it's a really good strategy," she said. So, follow the trend. Use festivals as a launching pad to get free and effective PR. Then, take audience feedback into account. Your festival cut doesn't have to be the last. Think of it as a preview screening, and listen to what viewers have to say.
4. Gender doesn't affect film.
At least not currently in the independent market. Twenty ten was a great year for women in film (i.e. Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman to snag an Oscar for best director in The Hurt Locker). And with an all female panel, Fernandez couldn't help but ask, "Do females experience limitations in film?" If you run the numbers, they do—there are more men than women. But according to all four (successful) female panelists, no. Howell says she's worked with almost as many female as male directors in her day. Maybe women just care more about making quality films, joked Collet.
5. Nielsen needs more.
What's one of the biggest obstacles facing filmmakers these days? The lack of data regarding iTunes, video on demand (VOD) and other online platforms. Having worked at Netflix for three years, Liesl Copland of William Morris Endeavor says she knows what types of movies will work in those ecosystems, but filmmakers, on the other hand, don't necessarily understand their revenue potential and specific audience. This is a main obstacle especially in obtaining finance. It's not just about box office numbers anymore. The more reporting mechanisms available on these new platforms, the better the film industry can accurately project how movies will do in these new mediums. And this translates to more money on behalf of everyone involved—including the filmmaker. Want proof? "I've seen a movie released in three markets on three screens make net to the filmmakers three quarters of a million dollars just from VOD," said Copland.
Let’s just say I have a niche for storytelling whether it be through PR placements or first-hand reporting. Since graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in magazine journalism in 2008, I’ve worked for a variety of publications. After covering entertainment news for the free daily newspaper, RedEye, I went on to write and report for GateHouse Media, Inc. in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. - Kristen Lepore (follow her on Twitter at @kristenlepore)