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July 10 at 5:43pm

Needed: List of Indie Film Blogs Open To Reviewing Undistrib’d Films

In response to the LOVELY BY SURPRISE post the other day, filmmaker Ashley Meyers wrote in with this suggestion: What Indie Film Blogs will cover undistributed films? Please help us build this list. Let us know which ones you know about. Or better yet, make a whole list and send it in and get the gold star of the day!

I know one, but it will only run the positive reviews. Check out Hammer To Nail (and yes, I did help co-found it).

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June 18 at 11:24am

Most Useful Websites For Filmmakers?

Like most folks out there, I get excited with every new list.  MovieMaker has put together their 50 Best Websites For MovieMakers.  It’s a good list and will provide something fresh for virtually everyone out there.

But alas….  I was surprised not to see FilmmakerMagazineBlog on it which I read religiously — oh wait, they are their competitor.  Now I get it.

And let me admit it, I was truly bummed not to see Truly Free Film there.  Or HammerToNail.  I guess I just have to try harder.  Or you could do me a favor (give me the strength to go on…) and stage a write in campaign to their blog and encourage them to add TFF & HTN to the list!  Thanks!
And if you ever have a thought about what will make this blog more useful, or even what you would like some discussion on, don’t hesitate to write in and let me know.
Update 2010: Moviemaker made a new list, and sure enough Truly Free Film and Hammer To Nail made it.  Whew!  Thanks for the support.

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May 20 at 11:10am

Email Blast: Good Movies And What You Can Do To Save Them

Periodically I send out email blasts to various film folk and some actual film enthusiasts.  I resort to the blast because there still is a certain breed of people that don’t seem to do much web surfing.  They want their news delivered and they haven’t mastered RSS feeds or Feed Burner subscriptions (I know, I know, no one likes to enter their email address, but…).  It usually is a recap of much of what I have previously written here, perhaps with a few Twitter posts thrown in.   Since many are industry types, I need to stir them up a bit.  I sent the following out yesterday afternoon.  Here it is for your reading pleasure.

I have been asked why I stopped doing these email blasts; was it that everything is now okay in Indieland or was it that good movies stopped coming out? Did the lack of blasts = no news to report? I am happy (okay, sort of happy, sort of really really frustrated) to report that none of that is the case.

The good news is a week doesn’t go by now when I don’t see at least one film that really impresses me (Goodbye Solo, Treeless Mountain, Star Trek, The Exploding Girl, We Live In Public, Made In China, Humpday, The Yes Men Fix The World, Sugar, In A Dream, Tulpan, Hunger), but the unfortunate flip side is that it is rarely in a commercial theater that I see these films anymore. It’s bad that it has become increasingly hard to read about such films (please check out HammerToNail) as papers and magazines fire critics and give less space to ambitious work. The really horrible reality is the trickle down is going to reduce & effect the films you see for years to come completely altering the movies that get made and find their way to your eyeballs.

The next few years’ culture dose is corroding rapidly away as I type and your diet is about to get really limited and hyper-specific. Trust me, as someone who has tried this with other such essentials like food — even if it is delivered right to your door, you don’t want the same meal on a regular basis, particularly when they can’t source or afford the best and most unique ingrediants. Filmmaking is going on a horribly bland diet that is not good for anyone.

Now if I was really good, I would tell you how we can all solve this by working together. But I am not. I need your help for that — and that is a hard thing to both get and then to use.

I stopped doing email blasts as I thought the blogging would give more people access and thus I would get more input, but I am now not believing that is the case. On TrulyFreeFilm, I have spent the year speaking of solutions for Indieville, but what I always find people prefer to hear about the problems. On TheseAreThoseThings, I have attempted to curate a little corner of pop culture, but it’s hard to get people to participate. On TheNextGoodIdea, I’ve hoped to publicize the things that are making this world a better place step by step. I lost steam at InfoWantsToBeFree hoping to highlight the issues that shaped our media-mindscape, as I was encouraged to build it and others would join, but that just wasn’t so. And yes, there is the one I do with my son, for the young ‘uns too: BowlOfNoses. I would love it if you chose to subscribe to these blogs so I could believe they were valuable to you — or maybe I need to recognize the opposite.

So today, I blast out with a statement of the obvious: Art FIlm culture will dwindle down further to a bloody flatline unless you start to act to preserve it. Everyone sees it, but what are we going to do about it? This is urgent. Really urgent. More good films are going undistributed than ever before.

Mainstream news media has started reporting on Indie’s presumed death. This is the first time that in twenty years I think that MainstreamMedia looked at Indie without naming it Weinstien, Sloss, or Sundance or that wasn’t during the Oscar season I believe (okay, so I exaggerate for the sake of emphasis, but you know what I am saying). In prepping for what was my first live broadcast appearance (what? you didn’t yet look at that earlier link? just click on it now), I tried to consider what were the problems facing Indie film, and in less time than it took to write with this email, I came up with 38 Problems. Thirty Eight. And that was easy. Read them. Ponder. Link. Distribute. Add to the list. To kill the beast, we must name the beast.

But the situation is worse than what I just wrote. If you missed it Hollywood Reporter did an article how even the A-list auteurs’ star-filled agency-backed packages are failing to find US buyers at Cannes on Sunday:

And that’s not the only one. Foreign sales acquisitions have fallen. Festival funding is drying up. Places to push the message out, like newspapers and magazines, are folding. And is anything taking their place? I have been twittering similar stuff for a long time. What? You are not on Twitter yet? Forget about what others have said; Twitter is a great filter, a curating tool. I have found a film project through it, music to listen too, art to see, books to read, and issues to respond to. Forget the folks who Twit about what they… eat. Follow the ones I follow. Heck, follow me. It’s simple and free and I dig it.

It’s funny. I wrote this blast for a clear reason. The title still sticks, even if the answer never made it to print. I have now gone on too long to burden you with such further details. That will have to be another blast. Or blog post (where you will miss it if you don’t subscribe). I am sure you have some ideas for solutions, or evidence to the contrary. Let me know them. I will blast about them. Or I would be happy to have you post on any of the blogs. Let me know.

But don’t despair. Trauma generally breeds action. As a species, we’ve generally demonstrated we don’t act until the pain of the present becomes greater than the fear of the future and the unknown. I think we are there — maybe not at the bottom, but with a little imagination we can now see the bottom or at least guess the depth. And there are reasons to look up (many of which have been chronicled on TFF): as has been said by others “The theatrical market is healthy; the economic model is not healthy.”. A better delivery system has been found, albeit by the bootleggers, but hopefully someone — and someone with a commitment for equal access and equal opportunity — will learn how to monetize it.

In the meantime, please go see some films. Tell your friends, family, fans, and followers why you liked them. Tell them to see them. Curate. Facebook about them. Take culture into your hands. Bring people together. Tell the media you care about culture and want it covered.

Maybe come here me talk about all this stuff. I am doing an event 5/28 for NY Foundation For The Arts. Please come.

Thanks for reading. And watching. But don’t fiddle. Our culture is burning.


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February 4 at 2:11pm

Sundance Creative Producing Initiative

This past summer I was a mentor at Sundance’s first Creative Producing Lab.  I was completely impressed.  In regards to Jane’s earlier post today, this is that program.  Granted it can only be accessed by a very limited number of participants (there were 4 fellows last year), but it was a comprehensive and intensive program that I would advise for everyone.

And you know what?  The deadline to apply is quickly approaching.
You can also find the application and additional information on the program at the link below:

The Sundance Creative Producing Initiative much more than just the summer lab though  (from Sundance’s own literature): 

it is a year-long creative and strategic fellowship program for emerging American producers with their next project.

The program was conceived to develop and support the next generation of American independent producers. For over 27 years, the Sundance Institute has offered in-depth year-round programs for feature screenwriters and directors. In an increasingly competitive and complex marketplace, the health and excellence of the independent film movement hinge on sophisticated creative and strategic producers with whom these directors and writers can collaborate.

The initiative focuses on the holistic producer, who identifies, options, develops and pitches material, champions and challenges the writer/director creatively, raises financing, leads the casting/packaging process, hires and inspires crew, and navigates the sales, distribution, and marketing arenas. The program is designed to hone emerging producers’ creative instincts in the scripting and editing stages and to evolve their communicating and problem-solving skills at all stages of realizing a project.

Five producers will be selected for a one-year fellowship and participate in the following:

Creative Producing Lab (described below)
Producers Conference attendance
Sundance Film Festival attendance (screenings, networking opportunities)
$5,000 living stipend; $5,000 pre-production grant
Year-round mentorship from 2 industry advisors
Community building among producing fellows
Year-round support from Sundance staff

Fellows will attend a 5-day lab focused on creatively strengthening their projects from script to screen. The idea is to give producers the chance to explore their own creative take on material and to give them skills and experience in evaluating and developing this material at script stage and beyond. Scripts will be discussed in one-on-one sessions with advisors, as well as in a collective notes process with the group. Case studies will be used to explore creative issues in the production and editing processes, while techniques in communicating with writer/directors and potential production partners will also be addressed.


Candidates must have produced at least one short or feature-length narrative or documentary film (no more than 2 narrative features total).
Producers must have a completed, legally-optioned, scripted narrative project in hand with a director attached to the project.
Candidates may not be writer or director of submitted project.
Candidates must be based in the U.S., although submitted project does not need to be English language nor filmed in the U.S.
Sundance Institute strongly believes in strength in diversity and actively encourages applications from women, people of color, differently abled people, and all persons who support the Institute’s mission.

I should also add on another front, it is also deadline time for IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs.  I just blogged about it on Let’sMakeBetterFilms over on HammerToNail.  Check it out too.  Get those applications in the mail!  These are great programs that we are fortunate to have.

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January 26 at 11:07am

The New Crew Positions

In a post entitled “Issues Of Sustainability” on the Filmmaker Mag Blog, Lance Weiler  talks about how we as filmmakers can produce for today’s evolving audiences. In talking to filmmakers, I still find they often don’t yet fully conceive what it means to adopt a “transmedia” approach to storytelling and marketing.  On the other side of the spectrum though is what made Wired’s recent post on “Why Hollywood Needs a New Model For Storytelling” such a gas  – they’ve got it and got it good.  Check it out.  We may not need to build the ARGs and seed the story so heavily on blogs and elsewhere as Scott Brown writes about, but we do need to give serious thought about how the hell to build audiences for our stories.  

Let’s face it: it just is not enough to have a good story well told anymore.  Sure I still believe in the basics first and building out you narrative on a cross-platform basis is simply not enough to cut it. And yes, the first step towards better filmmaking is to have good material that you have given serious thought to.   
I might harp a bit on the new approaches and filmmakers’ lack of thought there, but to be frank that’s because there still is a great deal of nothing going on in the old school department.  As good as I found this year’s Sundance batch, and as hopeful as I am for SxSW’s crop, how do we drill down to the basics and make sure we have our pants riding high?  I mean: what makes a good film good?  Some folks may know how to tell their story nine ways to Sunday, but it still won’t sing, if ain’t got that swing.  
I’ve have started a new series over on Hammer To Nail on “Qualities Of Better Film” and promise to go into over twenty such qualities that at the very least makes my motor run.  It may be basic stuff, but I still find these qualities in short supply.  Check it out over the next few weeks.  Let me know what I’ve missed.  I know that if everyone adopted the approach that I outline, I’d find more films I would want to give prizes to.  On the other hand, since I find it hard even to do that even with my films, maybe we all just need to wake up to how damn hard it is to make good films (let alone better ones), and slow the heck down.
But while I am on the self-promotion tip:  make a trip over to Filmcatcher where Christine Vachon and I hosted a couple of conversations with filmmakers and actors during Sundance (okay so only the teaser’s up now, but it tells you what you can anticipate).  But that ain’t all…. there’s more to come on that front, or at least one similar to it, too.  Stay tuned.

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December 27 at 7:09pm

Hope For The Future pt. 4: The List #’s 14 -17

My goal was to provide my friends, collaborators, and co-conspirators 52 Reasons Not To Feel Glum About The State Of Film Culture, and precisely that sector of independent art film culture I call Truly Free Film.  I figured with the economy in the toilet, traditional media stepping into the grave, and a business leader or politician being revealed as a crook daily, we didn’t need more gloom poured on.

I didn’t think I would have to do build the list alone though.  Isn’t that part of the glory of the whole blogosphere?  That people collaborate?  I started the list and kept on adding to it until we go 25% there, hoping that the list would then write itself.  It didn’t.  
I guess that is the bad news: either people don’t like to participate or that the film world is a bunch of pessimists.  If you know which one it is, let me know.
The good news is that I had no problem completing the list solo.  Granted it took about an hour, but I stopped when I got to Number 52.  Taking it further might make us giddy.  As this year winds down, we can rest knowing we have many reasons to be cheerful.
And so, I continue this list in no particular order.  When I approach its end, I will provide it somewhere, if someone wants it, in its entirety, with an ordered logic and some other tasty filler.  But for now…

14. We have seen a perfect distribution model and its success: the Obama social network was nothing short of a thing of beauty. Its methods should be an inspiration for all truly free filmmakers. People had a reason to visit the site, to supply information, to reach out and connect to others. They were supplied the tools and a mission. Now go out and find someone to vote for the culture you want.

15. The DIY/Do It With Others model is now recognized as a real alternative to traditional make-it-and-pray-that-others-will-pay-to-distribute-it-for-you. Filmmakers are planning for it as a possibility from the start of production. This preparation becomes the key to success.

16.Filmmakers are recognizing the need to define their platform at early stage AND make it on-going. Be they producers like Bill Horberg or Jane Kosek , directors like Raymond DeFelitta and Jon Reiss ,or writers like John August and Dennis Cooper, creative filmmakers are taking upon themselves to find and unite their audiences at an earlier stage in the process. Okay, maybe it isn’t so Machavellian; maybe they just want to talk to people. Either way, it is going to lead to more people seeing better films.

17. A curatorial culture is starting to emerge. Creative communities need filters. Every year I have as many “want to see” films on my list as I do “best of”. It’s not that there is too much as some like to claim, but it’s that there is still too little discussion on what is best and why. We started Hammer To Nail (soon to debut in a new & improved form!) for this reason, but we are not alone. Although they tread in much different waters, popular email blasts/broadcasts like Daily Candy and Very Short List, these sites work as much as filters as they do identifiers. Social Networks most popular features are members “favorites” in their profiles. We are all being trained as curators, but are only now starting to share it publicly.

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December 16 at 7:17pm

What’s Needed Now? Chesanek contemplates

Brent had some thoughts to the question of what’s needed now:

I completely agree about what’s needed. If you notice, Pitchfork is a conglomeration of so many sections, from lists to music videos to interviews, etc., that it becomes a one-stop shop for visitors, or at least a magnificent starting point to news, reviews, features, interviews, videos, etc.

This could be done for our community, but adding a local basis with subdomains. So NYC film events and reviews of films playing here is one subdomain, LA, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Orlando, Austin are others. They could all share content but arrange it based on the local scene and screenings and then could add local content.

Getting audiences to a specific time and place to see a film is just as crucial as getting them a review of that film. Imagine a public iCal or Google Calendar with film schedules, not showtimes necessarily, but dates and schedules, so we can see, for example, The GoodTimesKid is playing only FOUR DAYS this week at Anthology while Pleasure of Being Robbed is playing for the next 10 days at IFC. One calendar with all the theaters’ schedules. Is there anything like this?

Right now in Google Reader I have all these feeds in a folder. But the problem is that things disappear as I read them, and then articles and features don’t get the face time that they do on Pfork or in a more traditional magazine format. So I read a Hammer to Nail review and then the next day I don’t have that review or that screenshot from the film there to remind me that the film is playing, nor do I have a schedule of how long I have to see that film. RSS readers and scroll-down blogs are magnificent, but again, they don’t lend repeated viewing–they’re designed to do the opposite.

Pitchfork is setup so well I prefer going to it rather than subscribing to its feed. It encourages browsing and promotes repeated viewing of its features. I think for our purposes, Pfork is arranged better than content in an RSS reader or scroll-down blog. If I go to Pfork, I get new content as well as another reminder of that record they loved and reviewed 3 days ago–while I didn’t have time to seek it out and listen then, I do today. The more we see something, the more inclined we are to look into it or at least remember it.

Building something like this for my own use is possible if I scour the web daily and go crazy coding something myself or figure out how to customize iGoogle or My.Yahoo, but maybe it could be stronger if there was one central build of it, at least for each metropolitan area. I know the web is very much about letting users decide on their content, but I think it’d be more effective in promoting the lesser-talked about films if it was moderated by a party with that goal. Pfork is still not user-generated in the least, but it’s absolutely a community and beyond, because record stores notice their sales heavily correlate with Pitchfork’s content and because there is such a large anti-Pitchfork crowd.

I ask again, is there anything like this?
–Brent Chesanek

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