SHOOTING MYSELF IN THE FOOT

IFP’s Independent Film Week

I come to you this morning with my critical spectacles removed: I’ve been asked to cover IFP’s Independent Film Week not from the perspective of a journalist but as a filmmaker. Certainly, it’s in this capacity that I’m attending the market – a few months ago, my debut feature film effort, St. Nick, landed one of eleven spots at this IFP’s Narrative Rough Cut Labs. Now those selected projects are being shepherded into the Emerging Narrative Program, and indeed – our narratives have emerged, from safe cocoons of carefully attenuated creativity and into this week of meetings, pitches, panels, schedules, charts, catalogs, numbers and all other things the comprise the business side of independent filmmaking.

So what exactly goes on at Independent Film Week? Let me avoid answering this question by noting that, in asking a filmmaker to cover the event, my editors here have perhaps unknowingly run the risk of entrusting their coverage to someone whose approach to the business of motion pictures might be described by some as self-sabotage; someone who might actively avoid taking meetings or even talking about his film; someone who might, on a whim and for reasons entirely unrelated, decide he needs to give up coffee one day into the week and thereby incapacitate himself with severe caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Someone who may, indeed, spend the entire first day of Independent Film Week off in Brooklyn making an independent film.

Which is exactly what I did on…

MONDAY

Technically, Independent Film Week kicked off yesterday, but my plane didn’t get in until the evening, and since I was coming off an annoying bout with the flu, I’d decided to skip the opening night party. Feeling rested and ready to take on the day, I meet up with another out-of-town friend of mine and we quickly set about shooting some pick-up scenes for a film we’ve been working on for the past few months. We continue on until 1:30, at which point I hightail it into Manhattan to pick up my badge and take part in some pre-arranged meetings which IFP had set up for Lab filmmakers. We gather in a room with lots of tables and chairs, and are given a schedule of whom we are to meet, and at what time: speed dating. The whistle blows and I sit down at my first appointment, which happens to be with independent consultant Peter Broderick, who just this morning had published on Indiewire an article entitled “Welcome To The New World Of Distribution, pt. 1.” It’s an excellent primer on the challenges and opportunities independent filmmakers face as they bring their offerings to this radically evolving marketplace. I introduce myself and he asks “So what do you have for me?”

At which point I pause and frown and reflect for a split second on the fact that I have, in fact, nothing at all. I’ve been told that I should come prepared with business cards, postcards, clips, trailers and anything other promotional items that might affix my little film in people’s periphery – but here I am, pockets empty as usual (when I was at Park City with a film this past January, I handed out handwritten business cards, which were better than nothing, and actually better than real business cards – but you get the idea). I’d honestly planned to get some of these materials ready, but I’d put it off, and put it off, and then I was sick, and then I was on the plane, and now I’m here, trying to turn this gross deficiency into a bashfully charming attribute.

I make my way thusly through the rest of these mini-meetings with sales agents (both foreign and domestic) and publicists and marketing strategists and other folks who I’m glad to have broken the ice with. The best introductions are those in which the topic of my film hardly comes up – where we just spend those ten minutes talking about other things and getting to know each other. I’ve got good feelings about some folks – good feelings which I will now studiously fact-check before I make any decisions.

I then meet up with James, my producer, and head back to another friend’s apartment to look at dailies from a short film we shot in Texas a few days ago. Lookin’ good! And after that, everyone gets ready to head to the evening’s big party – but for me, it’s back to Brooklyn to finish shooting what I started that morning. We wrap up on that around midnight, imbibe for a short while and then retire. One day down.

TUESDAY

This morning finds us at the Chelsea Cinema on 23rd Street, where a clip or trailer from each of the lab projects will be screening before an audience of various industry types. I sneak into the theater just as the lights are beginning to dim. My clip plays at about the halfway mark, and I make mental notes to myself about color correction and sound mix. It looks pretty good up on the big screen, though. Afterwards, we chat with people in the lobby. A few festival programmers, a composer. I learn later that ASCAP has sent a lot of composers to the market to network with independent filmmakers – I’ll meet several more over the next two days. The crowd disperses, and James and Adam (my other producer) and I head to Brooklyn to get some vegan pizza for lunch. Then it’s back to Manhattan, where we realize we don’t know exactly what we should do next.

Most of the folks at Independent Film Week have projects in development. They’re trying to attach producers, to find money, to build buzz, to find more money. We’re only one day removed from Black Monday, but what a nice counter to all that downtown woe to see that the hustle and bustle of this insane business we’re in is as strong as ever, and focused here to a hilt. Independent film seems to be an increasingly illogical business venture, and yet the drive to find those ever-diminishing means is stronger than ever. I’m a little bit glad that’s why I’m not here, that my movie is done and that I have no reason to push it on anyone just yet. I’m an embedded tourist here this year – but just as I’m certain that independent film will survive as both a commodity and an art form, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back here myself someday with a project whose worth I’ll by trying to impress upon all the right people. It’ll happen.

But for now…well, for now, I’m suddenly realizing I’m in the midst of that severe caffeine withdrawal. I’d gotten to a point recently where I was drinking more than one French Press of finely ground coffee a day, and I’d arbitrarily decided that I needed to give my body a break from the stuff. Perfect timing. I decide to head back to Brooklyn yet again, ostensibly to get some e-mails taken care of but really just to go to sleep, to ease my throbbing head and clenching veins. I’m out until six thirty; then it’s back on the L yet again, and over to the SXSW / Austin Film Society party. As a Texan, I need to represent. As is usually the case with Texas events, everyone and their grandmother is here. I meet some cool folks, make the rounds, chat it up, and then head out to a screening of PJ Raval’s documentary Trinidad, presented by IFP and Rooftop Films. The latter organization has quickly become one of my favorite cinematic institutions, and it’s always a joy to attend their screenings – even when I’ve misunderstood where this one is actually happening and wind up walking from the Hudson River to the East River in search of their glimmering, inflatable screen. I make it just in time for the film. Afterwards, my body drained from its sudden chemical shake-up, I pass up on the downtown karaoke party and head back home. My plan is to burn some DVDs of the film to hand out to certain people, but sleepiness prevails.

POSTSCRIPT (WEDNESDAY)

I make it until five o’clock and then get a cup of coffee. Two more days to go.

— David Lowery

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