Keynote at TIFF Filmmaker Bootcamp – 2013

The folks at the Toronto Film Festival have just posted my keynote from their annual Filmmaker Boot Camp, a sort of retreat where they prepare filmmakers for their experience at TIFF. This is the second time they’ve asked me to do this, and given that Toronto is one of my favorite festivals, I’m glad to be of service.

The information I presented is a summary of some presentations I’ve made in my classes at Columbia, and at various other events. It’s a quick overview of the current marketplace, followed by some specific strategies one might use to navigate a festival like Toronto, and to make the best of the experience. I hope those of you who couldn’t be there will find something useful in it.

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts. Continue reading “Keynote at TIFF Filmmaker Bootcamp – 2013”

“Making Waves” at the Berlinale

For those of you who have commented that film schools need more training in marketing and distribution, take a look at this video about a program that I helped to create with Ben Gibson of the London Film School. “Making Waves” took place at the Berlin Film Festival this past February. Several Columbia students participated along with students from  The London Film SchoolLa Fémis (Paris), the dffb (Berlin), ESCAC (Barcelona) and the UNATC (Romania). The students worked in international teams and were assigned a film from the Berlin Market and a territory. It was enormously successful and we hope the program continues in future years. Check it out below… Comments after the break… Continue reading ““Making Waves” at the Berlinale”

More About Don Rugoff and Cinema 5

Film Comment, May/June 1975In my speech at the Art House Convergence, I talked a great deal about Don Rugoff, who was a crazy, arrogant, difficult genius, and was my first boss in the movie business. Given the impact the man had on the business, it astounds me that he is almost a forgotten figure at this point. Reid Rosefelt wrote about him back in 2011, and ignited my urge to share more of what I knew about the man. So for those of you who would like to know more about the history of independent film marketing, here is a bunch of material to chew on.

This first piece is an audio recording of a seminar that Don did in 1976. It was moderated by Julian Schlossberg, who at the time was a VP at Paramount and had a radio program called “Movie Talk.” You’ll notice that during the Q&A, some of the questions from the audience were not intelligible, so whoever put this tape together dubbed them in. This is a fascinating glimpse into Don’s way of looking at the distribution business, the exhibition business, and mostly about his unique take on marketing specialized films. This was the school I went to, where I learned just about everything I’ve used throughout my career. Continue reading “More About Don Rugoff and Cinema 5”

Guest Blog: Russ Collins Responds to Steven Spielberg

Last week, a lot of eyebrows were raised when Steven Spielberg, of all people, predicted the ‘implosion’ of the film industry. Russ Collins, who is the head of the Art House Convergence among the many hats he wears, wrote the following as an email to the art houses across the country. With his permission, I am reprinting it in it entirety as a guest blog. It’s a must read for anyone contemplating the state of the film industry.

By Russ Collins,
CEO, Michigan Theater – Ann Arbor
Director, Art House Convergence
Artistic Director, Cinetopia Festival

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE IMPLOSION KIND

I am not a doom and gloom guy. However, it is tempting for older cinema artists (like Steven Spielberg and soon to retire artists like Steven Soderbergh or maybe it’s just filmmakers named Steven!) to see gloom in clouds of change. Change is hard. It frequently makes us feel discouraged or unfairly challenged. The shifting sands of change can cause us to see threats everywhere and feel the world as we know it will end.  However, maybe we feel this way because it’s true. The world as we know it will indeed come to an end because change is the only constant, and creativity in art, business and all things is frequently born from what might appear to be destructive forces brewed from dynamic change. It is a defining story of living; a baseline truth, an ever repeating cycle of human existence that the Hindu religion represents so effectively in the story Shiva, whose joyous dance of destruction celebrates the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. Continue reading “Guest Blog: Russ Collins Responds to Steven Spielberg”

Barbra – An Appreciation

Chaplin AwardLast night’s presentation of the annual Chaplin Award to Barbra Streisand for her film work was a fascinating reminder of what a polarizing and beloved figure she was and remains. As the years fly by, her fans have lost none of their adoration, while many people I spoke to at the event were either too young to remember that Barbra had anything to with film, or too arty to have any appreciation for her body of work. For those in latter two categories, it is worth pointing out some of the reasons that Barbra remains such a huge cultural icon in spite of not having produced much work at all in the last few decades.

First of all, there is the VOICE. At the tribute, Streisand went out of her way to say that her primary goal as a kid was to be an actress. Her singing was just a means to an end. It was her way in. This piece of information should not be surprising to anyone who followed her early career, and became even clearer when watching the clips from her early films. More than that amazing voice, her talent was in the emotion she brought to a song, making her arguably one of the greatest interpretive singers of all time.

But there was something more. Continue reading “Barbra – An Appreciation”

Oy Ge Vault

DuArtI just came back to my office from spending a couple of hours scouring the film vaults at DuArt Film & Video in New York. If you hadn’t heard, DuArt stopped processing film around 18 months ago and is trying to responsibly dispose of all the film materials they have been storing over the decades. With the help of Sandra Schulberg — who is spearheading the “IndieCollect” campaign — they are attempting to locate the owners as well as find archival homes for the films. Representatives from Academy Film Archive, UCLA, MoMA, George Eastman House, Library of Congress and Anthology Film Archives are going through the vaults and have agreed to provide proper climate-controlled longterm storage for many of the titles at risk. In my brief visit, I enountered original 35mm and 16mm negatives for films that I worked on at Cinema 5 and Cinecom, films that I recognized that were made by friends and by Columbia alums. So, if you have any materials that were stored at DuArt and are looking for a permanent home for your materials, let me know and I’ll hook you up. If you want to make a direct inquiry, please don’t call DuArt. Instead please email Steve Blakely and Sandra Schulberg. Comments after the break…

Continue reading “Oy Ge Vault”

The New Professionalism – A Flight Toward Quality

Filmmaker MagazineThis article was originally published in the Winter 2013 issue of Filmmaker Magazine.

Over the last decade, as the tools of filmmaking became less expensive and more generally accessible, there was much excitement about what came to be known as the “democratization” of filmmaking.  Suddenly, one didn’t have to be rich or the relative of a studio executive to get a movie made.  In addition, web sites such as YouTube and others opened up distribution to the masses, creating a new paradigm that was dubbed “user-generated content.”

All of this sounded great on the surface, but like other seemingly positive advances—remember the “thousand channel universe” or the “long tail theory?”—there are always unintended consequences. While it was true that more people were making “movies” than ever, I would characterize the change not as democratization, but rather as “amateurization.” These market forces—an oversupply of product and seemingly endless channels of accessible distribution—caused the bottom to drop out of the professional marketplace. Content in all its forms was being commoditized. Why should distribution channels pay for content when it could be provided for free? If audiences could be attracted by offering them quantity, why worry about quality? In other words, the so-called democratization of filmmaking was ensuring that no one could make a living at it. Continue reading “The New Professionalism – A Flight Toward Quality”

Getting Ready for your premiere at TIFF

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Filmmakers Bootcamp, an annual event at the TIFF Lightbox to prepare the Canadian filmmakers for their experience at the Toronto Film Festival. Given the nature of the event, I decided to emphasize practical advice about making the most of the experience. Since the audience was limited to Canadian filmmakers, the good folks at TIFF recorded the session and have made it available on line. Here it is in its entirety, with the hope that it might be of help to others of you who might be navigating Toronto for the first time.


Comments after the break… Continue reading “Getting Ready for your premiere at TIFF”

25 Years of the Columbia University Film Festival

As many of you know, this year marked the 25th Anniversary of the Columbia University Film Festival. We decided to mark the occasion with a huge celebration at Alice Tully Hall. As Chair of the Film Program, I had the honor of being the host. It was an opportunity to reflect on our history and to talk about who we are and what we do. While I would have like to have had my opening speech videotaped for posterity, the folks at Alice Tully make such an endeavor way too expensive, so instead I decided to share the text of my opening remarks. I welcome your comments.

Opening Remarks at Alice Tully Hall, May 4th, 2012

Good evening…

If you’re wondering why I’m dressed like this, it’s because we run a very democratic institution and the student committee (I’m told) voted to have me dress this way. So, who am I to argue?

The fact that I am standing here as Chair of the Film Program as we celebrate this momentous occasion, is an accident of fate. I am simply a representative of the amazing faculty of the Film Program, a group of groundbreaking writers, director and producers who have truly dedicated themselves to mentoring the next generation of filmmakers. I don’t have time to mention you all by name, but let’s have a round of applause for the Columbia Film Faculty. Continue reading “25 Years of the Columbia University Film Festival”

Movie Theaters I’ve Known and Loved

I grew up in movie theaters. At a very young age, my mother started bringing me to matinees and later we would pile the family into the car and head to the local drive-in for double features. In my adolescent and teenage years, the fact that my family moved around so much meant that I had few friends. I spent all my spare time in movie theaters. By the time I went to college, movies were my life. I used to pride myself on the fact that I could name the theater where I saw every film I’d ever seen.

On a recent trip to Chicago, I walked around the Loop–the site of many of my most formative movie moments–and was astonished to see how little was left of what was one of the most beautiful movie theater districts anywhere. It made me very sad, but motivated me to write this piece about the movie theaters for which I have the fondest memories. They are in chronological order according to where they fit in my life.

The Park Plaza Theater in the Bronx was most likely my first movie theater experience. It was only a few blocks from where we lived, and this is where my mother first exposed me to movies. I remember the matrons in their white suits and flashlights trying to keep the kids–who were required to sit in a separate section unless they were accompanied by parents–quiet. The first movie I actually remember was a film that terrified me at the time. It had images that stuck with me throughout my life, even though I couldn’t remember what film it was. It was only as an adult that I realized that the movie I had seen was “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Continue reading “Movie Theaters I’ve Known and Loved”