Interning and Secrets

Red Meeting
To continue my tail of un-hiring woes, we must first go back a few months to the first time I drove Geoffrey Gilmore around.

As I said in summation, driving Geoffrey around brought me a lot closer to Paul Cohen, an independent distributor ((That means he buys films and releases them in theaters, on DVD, etc, with the idea being he makes more money back than the purchase price.)) who is the business side of show business in one man.

I guess I did a good job with Geoffrey because Paul really seemed to like me. Over the next few months (the Geoffrey chauffeuring was back in February), we met and had coffee a few times and finally had a ‘thank you’ dinner.

Paul moved to Tallahassee not to leave the business but to move to a less expensive town, so he’s starting up a new distribution company in conjunction with the school to serve as a learning environment for the business side of filmmaking.

He asked if I wanted to intern and work on distributing and marketing real movies. How about ‘yes.’

So to skip a bit, and because we’re under non-disclosure agreements so I can’t talk about it much, there’s about eight of us interning, working in a separate building virally marketing the Germs biopic What We Do Is Secret.

You can see some of my handy work if you search for the What We Do Is Secret group on Facebook (over 400 members) as well as some write-ups on music blogs.

Oh yes, this internship also involves a trip to the Toronto Film Festival.

The State of the Documentary [Panel]

Below are my notes from the one panel I attended at Full Frame – The State of the Doc. It’s a little more cheerful than Mark Gill’s outlook on independent cinema, though re-reading this now, some panelists seemed to be predicting what was going to happen.

It was moderated by Liz Ogilvie of Docurama Films. On the panel was Nancy Abraham (HBO Documentary), Christopher Black (Starz Entertainment), Greg Kendall (Balcony Releasing), David Laub (THINKFilm), Tom Quinn (Magnolia Pictures), Molly Thompson (A&E IndieFilms), and Thomas Zadra (Netflix’s Red Envelope Entertainment).

Q: How do you define success in broadcast TV?

HBO – Good ratings, reviews, press, buzz, recognition.

A&E – Docs are ratings challenged. We try to launch them theatrically to get the branding out there, make people aware of the film for television. Considered successful if financially we break even.

Magnolia – Bad Box Office for docs in 2007. Magnolia had three high profile releases – Crazy Love, My Kid Could Paint That, and In the Shadow of the Moon. Other outlets have proved successful. Cocaine Cowboy is one of the top selling films on X-Box. The new strategy is to marry content with distribution.

Starz – Starz makes docs for their film library. Create events to help branding. Lots of press is low cost.

Balcony – King Corn’s (doc about the farming industry) filmmakers sold the DVD through their site for $29.95 (cheaper now) and had community screenings for $300 and did very well. People want to see films with their community, not at a theater (I think this was meant more towards small towns). There’s a separate group of people that buy online than in the store.

Red Envelope – Their software can determine how many people want to watch since the films are on Netflix and determine the price. Since Red Envelope was formed, they have 125 titles. 40%-50% are docs.

Q: Do you think audiences are consuming films differently?

Balcony – Some like films in the theater, on TV, the web, community screenings. You get more coverage in the NY Times when you open on Wednesday.

A&E – If a film doesn’t get enough Box Office the theater can kick it out.

Magnolia – The state of specialized films is depressing. We’re all generally screwed. The theatrical experience is unmatched. To survive, we need to learn how to do it differently.

Red Envelope – In four months, Helvetica was seen 120,000 times. Half were streaming through

Starz – Primary goal of documentaries is to pay off credit card debt and fund the next film. Theatrical release is an unhealthy obsession.

Balcony – Many films shouldn’t be in theaters. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Not being in theaters feels like a failure, but that might be the right thing to do. Filmmakers always want it, that’s why they made the film.

Q: What do you see changing in the future?

A&E – Social networking growing. Bring people that have a common interest in films together (Facebook).

Magnolia – Theatrical experience is broken. We put a lot of Jesus Camp clips on YouTube, but that backfired, because then people didn’t need to see the movie.

Balcony – Make theatrical an event. One night only. You can make more money in one night than a week. We need to convert the theatrical system.

Audience Questions

Q – How can you get a deal in pre-production?
A – Generally depends on the subject, filmmaker, and if there’s that money shot (Antarctica for March of the Penguins). Typically docs are bought after they’re done.

Q – Thoughts on aesthetic quality. Concerned about viewing docs on iPod?
A – The ability iPods provide to watch during commute are great. One panelist saw 8 people watching content in the subway. Certain forms are better for iPod, while some are better on the big screen. More choices bring a larger audience, which is the end goal.

If a film works on a 3″ screen, you know it will work anywhere.

Q – Biggest mistake films make?
A – (Sort of a round robin of replies):

  • Not writing name and phone on DVD
  • Go for best quality you can afford. Sometimes stuff is turned down because quality doesn’t meet standards.
  • Picking subject that doesn’t sustain the length.
  • Not pushing hard enough. Push the subject.
  • Being too long
  • Subject covered a lot of times before
  • Unrealistic expectations with music licensing.
  • Not enough stills for Press Kit
  • High Quality (True HD) if possible
  • Follow the delivery schedule companies have. Missing a few elements can make a film unreleasable.

Q – Thoughts on short docs outside festivals.
A – Other options include iTunes, attachment to Op-Eds on NY Times site. Many documentarians with similar subjects/themes can ban together and offer one package with a bunch of shorts, perhaps on DVD.

Moment of Zen

If you want to avoid piracy, make a bad movie.

The Visitor and Geoffrey Gilmore [4 of 5]

This is part four of a five part adventure that involves driving Geoffrey Gilmore (the Director of the Sundance Film Festival) around Tallahassee, Diet Cokes, private jets, The Visitor, tea, a 4 am flight, and of course, coffee. Part one and Part two, and Part three.

Friday felt a lot like Thursday. Geoffrey was going to screen the mystery film again, but this time for all the film students.

The movie was The Visitor, from Tom McCarthy, who also did The Station Agent. After The Station Agent, he got the usual studio offers to do films, but turned them down. When he decided to do The Visitor, he was adamant that the lead had to be Richard Jenkins. I thought he was a fairly known actor, mainly from watching him on Six Feet Under, but apparently not.

The original financiers  were going to fund the film as long as the lead was someone more famous than Jenkins. McCarthy was adamant that it had to be him, and he lost the investors. Eventually it was funded by one of the founders of eBay.

Like the casting in The Station Agent, Jenkins was great and perfect for the roll, and it touched on a lot of good issues (immigration, cultures, mid-life change). Afterward, questions were brought up about how to market this film. From the issues I mentioned, it covers a lot of topics and isn’t a straight ‘life changing story’ or ‘love story’ or ‘culture clash story.’

I feel like the trailer does a pretty good job of summing the film up, incorporating all the topics instead of just covering one and marketing it to different groups.

This is a crap year for independent films, and The Visitor will be one of the few indy films to get critical acclaim, be well received by audiences, and a decent box office.

Later that night, I drove Geoffrey and his entourage to the University President’s House for dinner. I went and got a Joey Bag of Donuts at Moe’s (I think I got the better deal, because the following day the Dean was sick with food poisoning).

It would have been neat to go inside the house, but apparently I didn’t miss much after it was noted that the interior design was kind of lacking ((After checking out that video I see what was meant. They have a library with no books.)).

This night there was no after party, and I was successfully able to drop Geoffrey off at his hotel for the evening.

Can I Get You Some Coffee, Mr. Gilmore?

Geoffrey Gilmore is actually more of a tea drinker. While his name probably doesn’t sound very familiar (unless you’re thinking of Happy), Mr. Gilmore has had a hand in launching the careers and films of practically every famous independent film and filmmaker that has emerged in the past 20 years. Reservoir Dogs, El Mariachi, Sex Lies & Videotape, Clerks, Hoop Dreams, American Splendor, Hustle & Flow, Memento, 28 Days Later and Napoleon Dynamite, just to name a few.

He’s the Director of the Sundance Film Festival, and I drove him around town and assisted him as he visited Tallahassee.

This was back in February, a few weeks after Sundance and a week after the Berlin Film Festival, which he attended, so he was pretty exhausted. The main reason for his visit was to be a speaker at Tallahassee’s Seven Days of Opening nights. The $25 tickets were sold out weeks before to hear him speak and see a film that just screened at Sundance, though specifics such as a title or director were kept secret.

I almost let this opportunity pass me by. I got an email from the Dean’s assistant, asking if I was interested in being Mr. Gilmore’s assistant when he was in town. I thought this was a mailing list email until a few days later I noticed it started with ‘Joey.’ I had the ‘Oh shit, am I too late?’ moment and quickly responded.

A few days later I met with the Dean and Paul Cohen, an independent producer and distributor who just joined the faculty and longtime friend of Geoffrey, and went over my responsibilities. I was to drive Mr. Gilmore around, be on call if he needed anything, and basically make sure he had a great Film School experience.

This is part one of a five part adventure that involves driving around Tallahassee, Diet Cokes, private jets, The Visitor, tea, a 4 am flight, and of course, coffee.

So, What Do You Want to Do?

“So, what are you going to do after you graduate?” is a question I’ve been hearing a lot more frequently. Sometimes it’s followed by, “New York or LA”?

While the upcoming thesis cycle and finishing school seem to be the only things I have to worry about, I do realize that in 8 months I’ll be out in the real-world.

What do I want to do? Everything. I should restate that, and say I enjoy everything (just about). But only in Film School can you change positions weekly and with such ease.

I started out wanting to direct – as did most of my classmates. I still do, but I also wouldn’t mind producing. And I’m undecided if I want to stick with fiction or go documentary. Hopefully I can dabble in both.

So for now my answer has been, “Direct and Produce. Either fiction or documentaries.” I can feel them rolling their eyes in their head. Everyone wants to direct.

I’m non-discriminatory with TV or theatrical. I just want my work to be seen.

New York or LA? I’d be fine in either, but I’ll probably venture out west. I also wouldn’t rule something out with the BBC in London. It all depends on where I can get a job.

Right, job. The majority of the class above me got internships in various production or post-production companies. A few are paying; most are not. I wouldn’t turn my nose at an internship, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.

I think I would rather be a director or producer’s assistant during production. You’d be at the heart of the action, meeting important people, and learning a lot. In exchange, I wouldn’t mind the coffee runs or possible odd requests.

But as for my ‘what do you want to do’ response, I need to come up with something a little more polished for Friday.

“Conquer the world.” (?)

(And yes, I would like my own Academy Award)

Dinner and Confessions of a Shopaholic

Here’s a story that combines a little six degrees of separation with a hint of networking. I was having dinner last night with my mom at Oriente on Ocean Drive. Across the street, near the beach, we noticed some giant tents set up – looked like some sort of party. But I noticed a sign that read ‘Crew Only.’ And then I saw one of the trucks had ‘MOO-V-FOOD‘ on its side. I knew what this was.

After an awesome meal of Sea Bass and Tuna Steak, we walked over to see if my mom knew the off-duty officer (She works at the police department. If you were wondering.).�

She did, and the Captain informed us this was craft services for Confessions of a Shopaholic. They were shooting �a few blocks away, and he told us we should check it out.

We went over to Espanola Way, where they were filming. I didn’t see any big grip trucks on the street, but as soon as I saw the power cables leading in I knew this was the spot. Just follow the cables.

Before I knew it, we were right in the middle of the set. No barricades, no PAs stopping us, no “Hot Set” signs. I didn’t even see that many crew members. I felt like I could have been on a Film School set (except for the Panavision camera, Fischer dolly, and giant Airstar lighting balloon, pictured above).

Our friendly Miami Beach Police Captain later joined the set, along with the President of Film Florida, who happened to be at a Florida Film event I went to at the Capitol a few weeks ago.

The Captain informed us that this was the most disorganised shoot he’s ever seen. This was their last leg. It was supposed to be a 14 week shoot. This was week 16. The original budget was around $40 million. Now they’re up to $70. The entire crew and equipment was brought in from New York.

In my mind this makes me cheer for the Film School and all the well run sets I’ve been on, as well as hope that we’ll survive, and hopefully thrive, once we’re in the real world.

But here’s where six degrees comes in. Burn Notice films in Miami, and the Captain works off-duty for that show as well. After my mother did what all proud mothers do, and inform everyone within ear-shot that I’m in film school, the Captain got me in touch with Melanie, the Location Manager for Burn Notice, to see if I could be a PA.

I gave her a call. She was super nice, but thought I was in Miami for the entire summer. Since I’m only here for a few days, getting on the payroll would be tough ($125 a day), but she invited me out to the set this Friday to go around and meet everyone. They’ve converted the Coconut Grove Convention Center into a sound stage.

To add one more degree to this story, they’re shooting next to Marley & Me, which is wrapping Friday, and the Key Grip on that show is a Film School grad. So Friday should be a pretty awesome day.

Now I need to work on my “What do you want to do?” response and educate myself on Burn Notice.

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