Los Angeles Film Festival - Low Budget Summit

Held at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles, the Low Budget Summit started at nine in the morning and wrapped up after six in the evening and provided a full day schedule of events, which also included the lunch hour. The well-attended Summit presented panels discussing the low-budget deal, ITVS proposal writing, the creative forum, the long story short, a guild presentation, guerilla marketing, and the case study for the independent film, Robbing Peter. The day was so packed with information that the event had to present some of the panels at the same time which was very unfortunate; however, each presentation was recorded so that people could access the information at the main office of the film festival.

The Nickel 'n' Diming: The Low Budget Deal panel was moderated by Producer Sam Kitt, who has worked for many years in both the independent and studio filmmaking worlds. Mr. Kitt began his career in New York in the 1970s where he organized 'American Mavericks,' one of the first film festivals to celebrate the American independent film. In May of 1997, Mr. Kitt joined Spike Lee's 40 Acres and Mule Film works (He Got Game, Summer of Sam, The Best Man, Love and Basketball). Mr. Kitt has founded Future Films where he will continue to produce studio and independent projects for film and television. Mr. Kitt was a superb moderator and kept things moving as the audience heard the stories behind how the panelists were able to realize their dreams of making their films. There was Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon, who co-wrote, co-directed, and produced Cavite; American Gun producer Ted Kroeber; producer Julie Lynn of Nine Lives; and Junebug's director, Phil Morrison.

Richard Saiz, programming manager for the Independent Television Service, which is the single biggest funder of independent programs on television, led the Proposal Writing Seminar with ITVS. Mr. Saiz oversees Open Call, the organization's principle funding initiative. In that capacity, he reads and evaluates about 400 project proposals a year. He offered insights into the program and explained the entire process. The program has three rigorous steps and to be successful the projects must pass all three. ITVS only supplies finishing funds so the project must be a work in progress. The length of this progress will vary from project to project. Hank Rogerson and Jilann Spitzmiller of Philomath Films were guest speakers for this seminar and they know the ITVS system well as they are three-time recipients of ITVS funding. They have learned that the more material you have, your chances for acceptance increase. Also, they have been persistent, having submitted a project three times before it was accepted. Mr. Saiz explained that the first step involves different judges each time and perhaps a project will take being submitted more than once before it finds that elusive acceptance.

Independent filmmakers need to surround themselves with an important team and this was the entire focus of the Creatives Forum, moderated by producer Dan Hassid, who most recently spearheaded the Emmy-award winning series Carnivale for HBO. Mr. Hassid presented a panel of Director of Photographer Clark Mathis (Birds of Prey, Medical Investigation, Happy Endings, Bereft), Production Sound Mixer Oliver Moss (Hopscotch, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, White of Winter, The Failures), Sound Designer and Re-Recording Mixer Leslie Shatz (Last Days, Elephant, Gerry, Far From Heaven, Around the World in 80 Days, Sahara), and Production Designer Carol Strober (The Daily Grind, Thirteen, Manic, Spark, Under Heat). It is important to note that films are a collaboration with a strong team knowing their talents and abilities and how everything folds together in a strong force. If any area is skipped over, the film starts to suffer and will never recover. Each step takes planning and does not come together at the very last minute and if any division is skipped, then the film shows that lacking ingredient and it can never be undone. Each filmmaker should take their time and make sure everything is in place before filming begins.

The Long Story Short seminar was presented by producer Samuel Dowe-Sandes (The Act). The distinguished panel was led by Clint Culpepper (President, Screen Gems), director Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S., Herbie: Fully Loaded, which was opening that week), director Eduardo Rodriguez (Daughter), and director Jessica Sanders (After Innocence). According to the charismatic Culpepper, the short film is a great calling card, but it doesn't have any life beyond that special moment. Robinson's short for D.E.B.S. launched her into its feature and that in turn led her to the directing assignment for Disney's Herbie. Rodriguez attended FSU's film program, which completely funded his short that has opened up doors and allowed him to direct his first feature, Curandero. Sanders has used the documentary format to launch her career. After Innocence tells the dramatic story of innocent men wrongfully convicted of crimes, cleared by DNA evidence and their struggle to reenter society after having spent decades in prison. Culpepper is responsible for identifying and financing productions and acquisitions for Screen Gems, as well as acquiring filmed product for the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. He does so through the use of his sincere, keen eye, and a wonderful sense of humor.

Paul Bales (SAG Indie), Jon Larsen (Directors Guild of America), and Kay Schaber (Writers Guild of America) were featured in Meet the Guilds during the lunch hour. The three panelists covered the nuts and bolts of how to deal with the art of filmmaking while at the same time knowing the rules and regulations for each guild. Everything can be accomplished to the satisfaction of each side.

Bang for your Buck: Guerilla Marketing started off the afternoon session with moderator and Indie PR owner Linda Brown. The panel consisted of producer's rep Jeff Dowd, producer/writer/director Tim Greene, founder and president of TC:DM & Associates David Magdael, president and founder of American Entertainment Marketing Ivette Rodriguez, and Daniel Zacek, creative director of Media Del'Arte. Completing a film is only one step in the overall plan. The marketing of the finished film is just as important and the panel repeatedly stated how important it is to start your marketing plan before the film even starts shooting. They explained that so many films forget this important element and then the marketing strategy is left behind and the act of catching up begins. Along with this, each filmmaker must known the exact market they are trying to reach. Charming Mr. Greene deals strictly in hip-hop film and knows the exact age of his target. The candid and appealing Mr. Dowd deals with diverse films but he knows the target audience for each one and approaches each one on a separate path.

The Low Budget Summit came to a close with the Case Study: Robbing Peter. Josh Welsh, Filmmaker Labs Manager at FIND, moderated the Robbing Peter team, which included writer/director Mario F. De la Vega, producer T. Todd Flinchum, producer Lisa Y. Garibay, and editor Gloria Vela. The panel discussed how the film was created, the filming of the project, and its acceptance at various film festivals. Since the film premiered at the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival, it has won the Sol of Excellence award at the CineSol Film Festival, the Jury prize for Best Feature at the Nosotros Film Festival, and Best First Feature at the 2005 Durango Film Festival. The screening of the film was included as part of the seminar.

This Los Angeles Film Festival event was sponsored by Canon U.S.A., with special attention on its premiere Mini DV camcorder, the XL1S; MelroseMac, an Apple Authorized Reseller and Service Center; and Moviola, the independent filmmaker's premiere resource for cameras, editing equipment.

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