News From FILM-COM
We were in Nashville for a relatively new business-to-business conference called FILM-COM. It was an interesting combination of seminars, pitch sessions, exhibitions, and networking events designed to bring independent film and tv makers together with more established industry folks. We learned quite a bit from the experience.
PREPARING FOR THE EXHIBITION
We decided early on to take out a booth for the event. For no extra cost, Film-Com provides a six-foot table, black drape, pipe and electricity, so film/tv producers can display their projects.
After looking through photos from previous Film-Coms, we opted to print a banner for The Spectral City rather than a poster. We figured that a vinyl banner would travel better than a rolled or mounted poster, and would require less hassle than trying to figure out how to mount a full-size poster. I found a place near our office, PostersNYC, and designed a very simple logo-based display. They turned it around in a day for about $70 including grommits.
We got full-color bound copies of our business plan made by CopiesNY. They also made 200 fliers for us. They’re letter-sized, double-sided, printed with the poster on the front and project info on the back.
We transcoded our sizzle reel and the trailer for Found In Time to a high-quality H.264 file that our laptop could play back without dropping frames. We set them up in a PotPlayer playlist to run in a continuous loop. We used PotPlayer this time instead of VLC, because VLC for whatever reason kept skipping audio frames and couldn’t handle playback as smoothly.
Finally, we also ordered some 12″ x 17.25″ posters from PSPrint.com. This is a great size for a poster. You can put them in windows or on doors without blocking the handle or crowding the display, and they’re small enough to give away. They’re also easier to transport than a standard movie poster (27″x40″).
Somehow, we managed to pack all of this stuff, various A/V cables, painter’s tape, extension cords and surge strips, headphones, chargers, copies of Found In Time, Preparing For Takeoff, and the Spectral City pilot script, plus our clothes, into two carry-on bags and one check-in suitcase.
The only thing left to do was to rent a reasonably-large size monitor.
We arrived in Nashville and managed to get lost a couple of times thanks to a wonky GPS, but eventually found our way to the hotel and then grabbed a bite at one of the many bar/restaurants on Broadway. Great live music, by the way!
Wednesday was dedicated to one-hour seminars on various financing, distribution, legal, and production topics. The panels were generally very well-managed and packed a lot of information into their one-hour running times. The overarching question (probed if not entirely answered) was how to sustain a career admidst the “new normal” of shrinking budgets, collapsing distribution windows, and the abundance of media available to the consumer. On the one hand, it’s never been easier to get a film or pilot made, and to get it in front of an audience. On the other hand, it’s never been harder to make money, for anyone working either above or below the line.
Two sessions deserve special mention. “Diverse Profit Centers and New Frontiers” focused on the different ways of monetizing your film/tv project (apps, transmedia, alternate distribution channels), and the attorneys, writers, producers, and executives on the panel each had some thoughtful things to say. The main takeaway was that you have to think in terms of building a long-term, organic relationship with your audience, and base your strategy around that. This could mean foregoing anything that resembles traditional distribution. “The Dos and Don’ts of Pitching” was quite possibly the best panel on the topic I’ve been to, since it was helmed by people who are constantly being pitched to.
For the evening – more barbecue and great live music. Then we went home and practiced, practiced, practiced our pitch until I was off-book. I have a newfound appreciation for the art of acting. Learn the lines, analyze the beats, find the emotional core of the pitch, remember to make eye contact, be mindful of your body language, look neat but not too business-like, be open to criticism, raise your voice without screaming… anyone who doesn’t understand why acting is considered work should try practicing a pitch.
Exhibition days! Everyone looking for financing and/or distribution could display their work in the booths, and/or pitch to an audience of executives (many of whom had been on the panels the day before). The exhibition space was one wing of the Nashville stadium. There were roughly 100 projects exhibiting on the floor, along with some local artists, VFX companies, and the Nashville Women in Film and Television office.
We set up our booth in about an hour, and “rented” a 40″ LCD TV from Best Buy.
It took us about an hour to set up the booth, and then we stood for most of the next two days talking to whoever came by – filmmakers, vendors, actors, producers, attorneys, distributors, writers, you name it.
Here are some lessons learned from our experience:
* Bring some snacks. The only food on the floor was from the stadium concession stand. It was fine in a pinch, but it wasn’t what you would call healthy food.
* Stay at your booth. If you’re with someone else, tag-team so one person can wander around and the other can stay there. I think people take the booth more seriously if there’s someone there.
* Stand up as often as you can. Look out (put the phone/laptop/tablet away) at the exhibition space. Say hi to people as they walk by. Be inviting in your demeanor. We saw some folks who were incredibly charming, and others who looked like they really didn’t want to be there. Guess which booths we stayed longest at?
* Twine and nylon cord sucks for tying posters up. Our next-door neighbor, Motke, used wire coat-hangers threaded through the grommits on his banner. They wrap more easily around the pipe.
* Thank goodness for velcro strips and blue painters tape. We used these to tape up our posters and to spot-tape our banner in places it was sagging.
* Think carefully about all the elements – the poster, banners, handouts, video, etc. – and how they fit together. We saw some really great booths, and others that looked like they were thrown together at the last minute. The main difference was in how much the elements clashed or blended together. Even a very busy display can work if it looks like everything in it relates back to the company/project. (I’m not sure where ours falls on the scale).
* Don’t only talk to the distributors/producers. Talk to everyone who comes by. It’s good practice, it makes it more fun, and you’ll learn a lot.
OH THE PEOPLE YOU’LL MEET
We want to give big shout-outs to all the other producers we met and spoke with. Here’s just a few of the people a brief roll call (more to follow in future posts):
Motke Dap: He’s putting together a television series called Milk Is Not Bread, based on a short he did last year. It’s about a scientist in the 60s who stumbles upon time travel, and loses everything – his family, career, future – in the process. His sizzle reel was beautiful, as was the short film and all of the work I’ve seen of his so far.
Gene Smith and Claudia Reynolds: They’re putting together a terrific doc, Natchez Trace, about the hidden history of the Natchez trail, a thin ribbon that runs north-south from Mississippi up to Ohio, and has played a huge (and largely forgotten) role in American history, for Native Americans and European colonists.
Whitney Hamilton is writing, directing and starring in Union, a historical fiction feature about a woman, Grace, who takes on her dead brother Henry’s identity as a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. She’s already shot a chunk of it (it looks great) and will be shooting the rest in the late summer and fall.
Adam Jones and Darby Duffin are in the middle of their feature-length doc Fish and Men, a look at the hidden side of the international fishing industry, how it’s disastrously affected American cod fishermen, and what it means for consumers as well. Their reel was really engaging and they’re quite a bit of the way through.
Everyone we met in the Nashville filmmaking community was supportive and generous. We’re hoping to come back to this city again soon!