This weekend I attended some of the events at the Film Independent (FIND) Forum, titled CONTENT REVOLUTION, held at the DGA. The message coming through the panels was pretty clear: it couldn’t be a better time to be a filmmaker, to stretch your resources to make independent films because new technology makes the process cheaper, and, even though traditional models of distribution are changing at lightening speed, there couldn’t be more avenues to get your film to reach an audience. It was an infusion of optimism and practical advice, and trends and near- future predictions coming from producers, directors, distributors, and industry executives.
Friday night’s kickoff film was Dallas Buyer’s Club, a film which producer Robbie Brenner claims to have taken 20 years to get made. The film stars Mathew McConaughey in the role of a lifetime, one in which he lost 35 lbs to play Ron Woodroof, a Texas working class electrician and rodeo man dying of AIDS. Inspired by true events, it’s Woodruff’s impassioned story of his will to live and bring non-FDA approved medications to dying AIDS patients during a time when AZT was only in just starting clinical trials. Through humor, a great script, and incredible performances from McConaughey, Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner, the film exposes the hypocrisies of both the FDA and big pharma. Dallas Buyer’s Club felt more like a European film with it’s brave and beautiful cinematography and point of view. Producer Brenner said, a decision was made early on by director, Jean-Marc Vallee to shoot the film with only natural light, and on a 25-day shooting schedule, this allowed the actors to have more time to be on camera, versus waiting around for scenes to be lit.
In a recent press release from Focus Features, Director Jean-Marc Valle commented, “I felt that the approach was right for this project. The look and feel became that we were capturing reality; even though DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is not a documentary in content or structure, it could have that subtle quality. We shot the movie 100% handheld with two lenses, a 35-millimeter and a 50-millimeter. These get close to the actors and don’t skew the images. DP Yves Bélanger adjusted for every shot at 400 or 1600 ASA, displaying different color balance.”
The Forum’s opening keynote address was given by Netflix Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos, who while, primarily touting the return of internet streaming viewing on Netflix, was sharing insight as to how the company looks to the independent film world for building content and new distribution models. Sarandos boasted incredible comeback numbers from a company that was not-to-long ago the butt of many jokes, “This quarter we’ve surpassed 40 million subscribers, in 41 countries and streamed 5 billions hours of movies and television shows around the world. Today, we are in fact watched for more hours than any cable or television network… right behind the TV networks, you’ll find Netflix.” Pointing to the success of House of Cards (the first show to win a primetime Emmy that never aired on TV) and Orange is the New Black, Sarnados commented, “I think TV is where the audience is, where the innovation is happening, and it may be, where the future of independent production is happening.” While, on the surface it seems like Netflix’ idea of “indie” is Fincher, it’s still interesting to understand how one of the major game changers of distribution considers the independent film world, and it’s always good business to be informed.
“What’s In It For Me?: The Million Dollar Question” was the first narrative-based panel and focused on trends in film financing. Moderated by Film Independent President, Josh Welsh, the panel consisted of familiar faces in independent film. Mostly a reality check to filmmakers, the basic message was — you have to be a dreamer, you have to believe in something that makes no sense, but you have to be realistic. Producer Jamie Patricof summed it up well by saying, “This is a business, which means someone is going to get an investment that needs to have a return.” Some key bits of advice: know your audience, and don’t waste your time sending a script to an executive, send it to their assistant, if they like the script it will get into the hands of the person you want, or possibly someone else who might be a good fit. The panel introduced people to JuntoBox Films, a crowdsourcing organization based on angel investors from Switzerland. Head of Production, Nina Yang Bongiovi says they green light films every quarter in the budget range of $600k-2.5M. Fox Searchlight’s Matthew Greenfield told the audience that Fox gets involved with films at all stages — development, scripts, or just ideas — and works with filmmakers at all levels of experience. But Cassian Elwes imparted the sage advice that was a good reminder to hear: “Go make movies, don’t stop. If you’re making films, you’re a filmmaker. Go make a movie. The experience of making films, leads to making more films, more relationships, more things. If you’re sitting at home waiting for some huge goal you’re not going to achieve… my true belief is to go make films.”
Of course, this is only a glimpse into what was a jam-packed, informative and thought provoking weekend of panels. Please check out Film Independent’s YouTube Channel to watch some of the Forum highlights, including Netflix’s Ted Sarando and Writer-Director-Producer Ava DuVernay’s Keynote Addresses.
Photo: Netflix’s Ted Sarnados © Film Independent