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”