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Programmer Roundtable:<br>Returning Producers

Tribeca Director of Programming David Kwok talks with four returning producers about their 2009 world premieres, their TFF history, and advice for those aspiring to fill their shoes.

There are almost as many producers returning to Tribeca this year with films as there are directors. We have had a long relationship with some and others that are just beginning to grow. Tribeca Director of Programming David Kwok chatted with four producers—all world premiering their new films at the Festival this year—about the Festival, their working styles, and a little advice for those looking to get into the game.

An Englishman in New York

David Kwok: Including this year, you have had a combined 27 feature films play at Tribeca. How were your earlier experiences at the Festival, and how do you feel going into this year’s?

Drew Dowdle (Transcendent Man): Our first Tribeca experience [with Poughkeepsie Tapes, TFF ’07] was phenomenal. My brother [John Dowdle] and I were especially impressed with the audiences. Our screenings at Tribeca gave us a very good indication of how our film would play on a wider scale, whereas many festivals don’t give you such a clear picture. I’m still good friends with many people I met at my first Tribeca.

Jamin O’Brien (Handsome Harry): I do feel that the Festival, which gets the most PR, is a great emblem for the other work that Tribeca is doing at the Tribeca Film Institute: such programs as Tribeca Film Fellows, for young filmmakers, and Tribeca All Access, for filmmakers of color, which I participated in two years ago with a project called Sweet 15, a Cuban-American coming of age story.

Linda Moran (The Good Guy, An Englishman in New York): The films I have in the Festival this year are the sixth and seventh films that I have had here in the eight years since it began. That is a pretty significant connection and one I am quite proud of. I am quite attached to the notion of being an NYC filmmaker. In all the magnitude, it is easy to forget that it is still a very young Festival. Most festivals have the opportunity to grow organically over the span of a lot of years, but in the case of Tribeca, it seems that it is having to grow into itself. It has been cool to watch over these years as it figures out its ideal form. I’ve enjoyed being a part of that process and growth.

Handsome Harry

David Kwok: How important are film festivals for the type of films you produce?

Drew Dowdle: For small budget narrative films and for documentaries, the festival circuit is the key outlet to show your work to audiences, critics, and buyers. Festival screenings also give distributors an opportunity to experience the films with real audiences and see how they play.

Julie Goldman (CBGB: Burning Down the House): In many cases, we are trying to sell the film at the festival, and we work on getting targeted industry to the screenings, which ideally results in offers. You have to consider many factors in deciding where to launch your film—of course you want a high-profile festival, but you also want to choose the right festival where your film will receive as much attention as possible and not get lost in the program… It’s a bit of a balancing act.

Jamin O’Brien: The films I have chosen to make are often films that need to find an audience before they find a distributor. More and more films are being made with more and more outlets for seeing them (i.e. VOD, PDA’s, etc.), so the competition for getting people in seats to watch a film in the theater has become much more difficult. Audiences are often key to getting a film out in the world and festivals help.

Linda Moran: For an independent film, the only place to create this intersection of audience and buyer is at a film festival. The right film festival launch means everything to the life of a film. When you look at any of the seemingly small films that have had enormous successes, there was usually a film festival at the beginning of that path that got the ball rolling.

CBGB: Burning Down the House

David Kwok: Linda and Julie, you seem to work with many first-time directors. Is that a conscious choice/preference? What are the challenges and satisfactions with working with a debut director?

Julie Goldman: Often a first-time documentary director has unique access to and insight into the subject that drives them to make the film, and that is what makes it particularly attractive to us. We [with producing partners at Cactus Three] don’t seek out first-timers, but we will happily work with a new filmmaker if the whole package is appealing. We often work on documentaries that take years to complete, so we have to be as passionate about the film as the director.

Linda Moran: We [with producing partner Rene Bastian] tend to be drawn to those personal projects where there is one creative force behind the whole process from script to finished film. And perhaps because we are not in a position to attract established writer/directors with offers of a lot of money, that person is usually someone who is just starting out. It is a symbiotic relationship. We take a chance on them and they take a chance on us. That gamble has very often paid off. Two such films, of which I am extremely proud, are L.I.E. and Transamerica, both directed by first-time feature directors.

Transcendent Man

David Kwok: Jamin and Linda, you two have continually worked as New York independent producers? What keeps you going and what has changed?

Jamin O’Brien: Producing is collaborating. After I directed a short in college, I realized I was better at creating the template in which to work, but not what is drawn on the template, so I always knew I was going to produce and not direct. I feel the most important job is finding the balance between the creative needs and the financial parameters of each project, while always keeping compromise at bay.

Linda Moran: The film industry is obviously in flux. So it seems important now more than ever for a producer to remain flexible and be open to new possibilities. I find I am continually challenged to find new ways to do things; there is not one right budget size, or financing source or distribution model. I have made a $5 million movie followed by a $50,000 movie. It used to seem like there was a more defined path to follow, but at this point, it feels much more all over the place. I continue to learn on a daily basis and am trying to stay open to new opportunities.

The Good Guy

David Kwok: What advice would you give to an aspiring producer?

Drew Dowdle: Frankly, I think you have to be a little bit insane. That helps. The advice I would give any aspiring producer is to only make the films that you believe in your bones absolutely have to be made. The entirety of the filmmaking process, from financing to distribution, is so incredibly taxing that you have to believe in the film more than any sane person could. If it feels like just a pretty good idea in the beginning, it’s going to feel like a terrible idea by the end.

Julie Goldman: For an aspiring documentary producer, I would suggest a few steps early on: Research to make certain that there aren’t other films being on the same topic, create affiliations with those who have experience and from whom you can learn as advisors, co-producers, executive producers, and be passionate about the subject and the film since a documentary can take years to complete. And if you’re very, very lucky, having a trust fund or a wealthy relative who really, really likes you doesn’t hurt either.

Linda Moran: I would say go out and make yourself useful.  Sometimes the smaller the project, the more responsibilities an inexperienced but dedicated person can get handed. At the same time, it can be good to balance that by occasionally playing a smaller role on something larger to learn how things “on a real movie” work. I started in physical production because that was the only thing that seemed close to a marketable skill and that I could get paid for, and it has served me well to understand the nuts and bolts of how a film is made. Also, one of the joys of filmmaking is that it is a communal experience, so perhaps find people to partner with. 

An Englishman in New York
premieres on Monday, April 27, at 9:30 pm.

Transcendent Man premieres on Saturday, April 25, at 8:00 pm.

Handsome Harry
premieres on Saturday, April 25, at 9:00 pm.

The Good Guy premieres on Sunday, April 26, at 6:00 pm.

CBGB: Burning Down the House premieres on Friday, April 24, at 8:30 pm.

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