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Author Archives: Ira
At the Columbia School of the Arts Graduation Ceremony every year, the Chairs of the four programs (Film, Theatre, Writing and Visual Arts) get the opportunity to make some short remarks prior to handing out the diplomas to their students. This tradition has developed into a good-natured competition.
After doing a rather traditional speech my first year as Chair of the Film Program, I found myself being jealous of the other Chairs, as they were able to organically incorporate their disciplines into their speeches. The Chair of Writing delivered something quite poetic, the Chair of Theater was very theatrical, and the Chair of Visual Arts worked with props to make a do something, well, visual. I felt left out.
Over that summer, I got the idea to make a film that would be my speech, and I recruited a group of students to work with me on it over the next academic year. They did a fantastic job and only made one creative mistake…which was casting me in the lead.
The video we made was a hit at graduation that year, and I decided to keep using it since the audience would be different each year. That was also the reason I never posted it anywhere…until now. Since this was my last year as Chair, I now feel like I can share it with the world.
There are many inside jokes in it, so don’t be surprised if some of it doesn’t quite make sense. Also, you should know that the video ends with me entering Miller Theater, which is where the ceremony takes place. When it goes to black, you have to picture at that moment, a spotlight hits the podium on stage and there I am.
So here here is my graduation “speech” for all to see.
I would like to thank the many students and alums who collaborated on the film, especially the Producer, Rachel Brenna; the Director, Jennifer Gerber; and the writers, Nicole DiMasi, Michael Piech and Keola Racela. And thanks to the members of the faculty and staff who were brave enough to participate. This was very much a collaborative effort, and an example of why collaboration is at the center of what we do in the school.
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Every year I get an email from Indiewire inviting me to submit my 10 best list for inclusion in its survey of industry-types. And every year I miss the deadline because I feel like I haven’t seen enough of the films yet. But as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I’ve been assiduously plowing through as many of the films released this past year as possible, which, when added to those I’ve seen at the various festivals I attend, now add up to enough to feel I can share my list with a clear conscience. It’s also my chance to offer up my thoughts in slightly more than 140 characters.
I must add that this list is alphabetical even though I could easily have ranked them, because as a voting member of the Academy, BAFTA and the PGA, I am sworn to secrecy about my actual votes. So without giving anything away, here are my top 10 films of 2014.
This film is a case of profundity created through simplicity. Linklater’s 12-year stunt pays off by adding a level of subtext that deepens the experience. As we watch the actors age on screen, the film has a documentary-like impact that make us feel our own passage through time, and as such makes the film far more moving than its simple plot would have earned in a more traditional narrative. I would put it in the category of being more “special” than truly great, but it’s an amazing achievement.
When I saw this film at Cannes last year, I was completely smitten. I was recommending it to everyone I saw, describing it as “Scenes From A Marriage” meets “The Shining.” From the opening images of the film, the mood is portentous and unsettled, and from there it veers from surprising turn to even more surprising turn, from near tragedy to a sort of droll Scandinavian comedy. Beneath it all, it’s a touching portrait of how sometimes the people we are closest with are the ones we know the least. (more…)
A few years ago, as part of the Columbia University Film Festival, we had an event honoring the longtime collaboration of Producer Michael Hausman and Director Milos Forman. Forman was the first Chair of the Columbia MFA Program, and Hausman has been teaching at the school since the very beginning. In a way, their collaboration is emblematic of the way films are made at Columbia, where producers and directors are creative partners. In keeping with that spirit, a group of students led by Director/Producer Mike De Caro and Co-Producer Jennifer Gerber, decided to capture the event and edit it into a short film.
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Here is the full text of the kickoff remarks I made this morning at the Minority Independent Producers Summit, a three day conference that has going on since Tuesday night in New York City. This morning’s topic was marketing and distribution and consisted of panel discussions and case studies. The full schedule of events can be found at mipsummit.com. The intention of my remarks was to set the stage for the discussion that followed, and to throw out a few provocations to wake people up.
Before I start, I want to thank the Founding Members of MIPS for organizing this conference. I want to particularly thank Damian Bender for co-curating this morning’s Distribution and Marketing Pod as we’ve taken to calling it. I’m listed as the co-curator, but Damian is the one who did the heavy lifting, so I want to give him a big shout out.
When I was first approached about being on advisory board for a conference about underrepresented/minority producers of movies and television, I had a series of immediate responses swirling around in my head. (more…)
The following are the remarks I made earlier today at the Memorial for Richard Brick, which was held at Columbia University.
I would like to share a few words about my colleague, my mentor and my friend, Richard Brick.
Some people are born with the exact personality traits for a specific vocation. Richard Brick was born a Producer. His long-time course at Columbia was titled “Pre-Production.” The central pedagogy was that the only way to avoid disasters was to anticipate them, and to have a Plan B, a plan C and so on. In other words, plan for the worst. It was not just a class to him, it was a philosophy of life. He lived his entire life in a constant state of Pre-Production.
My first encounter with Richard was in 1987, when I received a cold call from him, asking me if I would like to teach a course at Columbia. He was the newly installed Chair of the Film Program at the time, and he was sitting in on every class that was offered in the program to evaluate its effectiveness. He determined that the class in Marketing & Distribution wasn’t working and he wanted a quick fix. It was a perfect Richard Brick moment. See a problem, fix it. Never having taught before, I said yes, and thus, in one stroke, Richard had set me on the road to a teaching career that I never anticipated. (more…)
For those of you who are interested in the intersection between technology and storytelling, the Digimart 2006 videos, which were MIA for awhile, are back. Here is one of the panels on the “Future of Theatrical Exhibition,” in which I make an appearance. To see the rest of the videos from the 2006 conference, check out the Digimart Site. And you can check out my previous post about Digimart 2005.
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Here’s a cool video put together by the good folks at NOVAC in New Orleans. This is from a conference to years ago that they called “Watch My Movie,” and featured such notables as Gianna Chachere of the Hamptons International Film Festival, Andrew Mer of SnagFilms, Janine Saunders of the Workbook Project, Todd Sklar of Range Life Entertainment, Jolene Pinder of the New Orleans Film Society and Film Festival. Oh and yours truly.
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Just finished my kickoff speech at the 2014 Edition of the Art House Convergence. I’ve been asked to share the text, so here it is:
Is everybody ready to converge? Alright!
Last night I was asked by a number of you if today’s presentation would be a continuation of what I did last year, and the answer is no. One trip down memory lane is enough, and I feel like I got that out of my system.
But I am going to start out with a look backwards.
When I first started out in the Film Business, I learned a couple of very quick lessons that were in no way related to film, but were in every way related to business.
First, I learned that Business is dominated by people who are driven, sometimes myopic, and willing to do almost anything to succeed.
The second thing I learned is that the Film Business, specifically, is driven more by ego than by profit. After all, it has never been a predictable, scalable business in the traditional sense that allows for believable projections and charts with any sort of certainty. So who is drawn to such a business when far more money, far more predictably can be made elsewhere? The answer would be those people who somehow convince themselves that they know better than everyone else, or that they’ve come up with some kind of system to beat the odds. (more…)
I just stumbled across an old document on my computer, in which I was responding to a request from Filmmaker Magazine for a list of the “Top 10 American Indies.” The timestamp indicates that I wrote this in July of 1996, and I have no recollection of whether it actually ran in the magazine. However, I thought I would throw it up here and see if I can get a rise out of anyone.
I think the list holds up well, and the only film I would be tempted to add is “Pulp Fiction,” which I would characterize as the film that started the decline and eventual end to what we used to call American Independent Cinema.
For what it’s worth, here is the list. Feel free to comment with your own ideas.
These, in order, would be my choices for the top 10 most important (as in influential or breakthrough) American Independent Films:
1. “A Woman Under the Influence” While there are earlier, and arguably better Cassavetes films, this one is particularly significant in that Cassavetes mounted an ambitious and successful self-distribution effort, setting the stage for much of the independent distribution movement. (more…)
In 2005, I was invited to a conference in Montreal called Digimart, organized by Daniel Langlois and his team at Ex-Centris. It was a very early attempt to deal with the coming convergence of entertainment technologies, and they invited a star-studded array of speakers that represented the cutting edge of that time. I met many incredible people at the event, and even more the following year, when they invited many of us back for a second time. Some of the folks I met are now good friends and collaborators.
Recently it was pointed out to me that the videos of the conference sessions were no longer on line, so I contacted the good folks at La fondation Daniel Langlois, who are now trying to restore access to those videos. They’ve put back the sessions from the 2005 event, and are trying to locate the ones from 2006. Watching these videos, it’s incredible how far ahead of the curve many of the speakers were, and equally incredible how much has changed. You can find all the 2005 videos at the Digimart site. For a quick taste, below is the panel I was on, which was called, “More Digital Cinema Networks – Alternative & Independent Spaces.” I’ll post again if and when the 2006 videos reappear.
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