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As filmmakers, our to-do lists to get films made can feel never-ending, so when we see opportunities to apply to somewhat mysterious events like fellowships and labs, they can feel like just another hassle to deal with. Even if we get in, how do we know that participating won’t just be another distraction from finishing our films?

My guests today would argue that these programs are well worth your while. They are some of the lucky few that have been invited to and attended some of the most elite labs and fellowships in the business, and found them profoundly rewarding. In fact, we met at the Camden International Film Festival run by the Points North Institute, where each of them was ultimately screening a completed film after having been through one or more of the Points North programs in the past.

"To start a film is one thing, but to finish it you need an army."

Those guests are Sierra Pettengill, whose film The Reagan Show won the Points North Pitch in 2014; Sabaah Folayan, whose film Whose Streets? participated in the Points North Pitch in 2015; and Jeff Unay, director of The Cage Fighter, which won the Points North Pitch in 2015. Our winding conversation covers a lot of ground about their own filmmaking journies and pitching processes, and also elaborates why these experiences are of value to anyone trying to get a film made—everything from relationships to mentorship to feedback to simply having space to cry.

As a little primer, we categorize these opportunities into three buckets: Pitch, where you get guidance on pitching your specific film and then get the opportunity to do so in front of high-caliber industry pros; labs or retreats, which are generally short getaways where you hole up with a small group of other filmmakers and mentors to work on a specific part of your project or skill set; and fellowships, which are much longer engagements that help you and your project over time. 

Jeff Unay

Jeff Unay has spent his career working in visual effects. He is known for the blockbuster hits Hellboy (2004), King Kong (2005), and Avatar (2009). The Cage Fighter is his directorial debut.

Sabaah Folayan

Sabaah Folayan is a writer, director, and strategist who uses written and visual media to bring a fresh perspective to the urgent questions of our time.

Sierra Pettengill

Sierra Pettengill is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and archivist. She is known for co-directing Town Hall,  which broadcast nationally on PBS in 2014, and producing Academy Award-nominated Cutie and the Boxer.

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This episode was edited by Jon Fusco.