Monthly Archives: August 2014

Independent Film Festival Stresses Writer Empowerment (Re-post)



(I am re-posting this article from last September. The Indie Gathering International Film Festival is happening again this coming weekend, and I highly recommend it).

I am a veteran attendee of mammoth Hollywood screenwriting conferences and seminars. I’ve sat opposite hundreds of agency and studio readers in nerve-wracking, five-minute pitch festival sessions. I’ve entered scores of screenwriting competitions and have even won my fair share. And I’ve spent thousands of dollars participating in these events, not to mention the cost of air travel, meals and hotels.

I don’t regret a single penny’s worth of expense for having taken part in these activities. They have made me a much better writer, and each one of my scripts has greatly benefited from these combined experiences.

However, like most other “novice” writers who faithfully attend conferences and sometimes win contests, I’ve yet to have had an agent or a studio ask to see a winning script or to have heard back from an “interested” pitch-fest representative.

Still, I always return from these sessions energized and ready to write.

I had that same energized feeling upon returning home from the recent Indie Gathering International Film Festival in Hudson, OH. But I also experienced an additional, much stronger reaction as a result of attending this amazing gathering right outside of Cleveland. I also returned home with a sense of empowerment.

Indie Gathering participants are filmmakers, writers and actors who have taken their fates into their own hands. They understand the odds against being blessed with the rare, big-studio, fairy-tale success story. They know that their work has value. They know that they are the only ones who, in the long run, will make their stories come alive.

The Indie Gathering attendees are some of the most-passionate, most-unpretentious and most-talented filmmakers I have ever met. And the proof is in their films. This year’s festival featured about 100 independent shorts and features of tremendous caliber, many of which are headed for some form of distribution.

About the Indie Gathering

The Indie Gathering is probably one of the most-informal, yet-highly-organized, film festivals I’ve ever attended. It is expertly run by independent producer Ray Szuch (who has an amazing Muhammed Ali story) and the lovely and energetic Kristina Michelle (who, besides being an actor, is an accomplished dancer, teacher, writer, producer, first degree-black belt, stunt woman and TV host).

They are perhaps the most-approachable organizers I’ve personally experienced. They are always happy to talk, point you in the right direction, introduce you to the festival’s honored guests, and join you in the restaurant after hours for a drink.

In addition to the screenings, the festival includes seminars, lectures and panel discussions on topics including writing, pre- and post-production, acting, editing, scoring, technology, photography, FX, cameras…and unlike similar programs at other festivals, all sessions were from a decidedly independent point of view.

Writers Reinventing Themselves

The screenwriting panel discussion is the one which I found most energizing and empowering. Almost the entire panel was made up of filmmakers who had decided that the only way to get their films made was to produce them themselves. Interestingly, not all panel members were originally writers but found that they had to reinvent themselves to make things happen.

For example, one panel member named Saba, an accomplished New York actor and dancer (who, by the way, was also a winner in the festival’s screenplay competition two years running) had decided that the only way he was going to get meaningful screen jobs was to create roles for himself. As a result, he formed Cloudy Sky Films to produce and direct various shorts and web series. He has just completed filming “Snow,” his first independent feature, which he wrote, directed, produced and in which he stars.

A panel discussion attendee, Mara Lesemann from Jersey City, NJ, seemed to agree that producing your own work is the way to go. Her first-ever writing award was earned at a prior Indie Gathering festival, and her first feature film “Surviving Family” earned last year’s Viewers’ Choice Award at the Indie Gathering. “Surviving Family” is also scheduled for a Redbox release this fall.

No Longer an Impossible Task

The overall impression I was left with after attending multiple sessions and after viewing as many screenings as I could fit in was that being in charge of one’s own creative destiny is no longer an impossible task. Technology has made filming, production and editing less complicated than ever. Technology has made it easy to build a network of skilled people who can help us learn and find the resources we need. Technology has created the ability for us to go online to fund our projects. And technology has created an environment in which we don’t need the big screen to have our work seen by large audiences.

I was also left with the impression that the community of independent filmmakers is indeed a friendly one that genuinely cares about its members and is willing to share.

I have had two screenwriting competition wins at the Indie Gathering…one last year in the feature comedy/drama category, and one this year in the feature drama category. I have snail mailed and emailed more than 200 press releases about each win. Still, my in-box remains void of interest from agents and studios.

Would I turn down a submission request from an agent or studio? Of course not! But I don’t intend to sit by the phone any longer. And I thank the Indie Gathering International Film Festival for fueling my empowerment.

Check out the Indie Gathering at

Robin Williams’ death is a wake-up call for a war on depression

Every time I am informed of the death of someone close to me, my immediate reaction is one of denial.

“No, you’re wrong. It can’t be. Who did you hear that from?”

Then come the tears.

This is the reaction I had last evening when ABC News interrupted “Jeopardy” to let the world know that Robin Williams had died.  The difference here is that, like just about everyone else, I didn’t know Robin Williams. I’d never even met him. I was simply a fan. Still, a connection had formed over decades of enjoying his work and listening to his candid interviews. And judging from news reports that have since followed, my reaction is in keeping with that of millions of other fans.

There are Hollywood celebrities. And there are Hollywood icons. Without a doubt, Robin Williams falls into the latter category, as is evidenced by the fact that his death has relegated the Israel-Gaza, ISIS, Ebola,  and police brutality stories to crawlers along the bottom of our TV screens.

For me, the real shocker was his cause of death. He’d always been open about his battles with substance dependence and depression. But his public persona and activity seemed to indicate he was on top of things and handling his emotional challenges well.

How could someone as funny and as loved as Robin Williams take his own life!

Depression is indeed a killer disease, and it is at epidemic proportions. According the Centers for Disease Control, about nine percent of American adults are depressed, and about three percent of adults have major depressive disorder, a long-lasting and severe form of depression. The CDC further states major depression is the leading cause of disability for Americans between the ages of 15 and 44.

And according to the World Health Organization, five percent of the global population suffers from depression.

Those who have never suffered from this disease or have never loved someone afflicted with depression have little understanding of the ailment. It goes well beyond being sad or feeling blue. Depression is debilitating. It is unbearable. Its cause may never be known to the sufferer. And unlike with most other diseases, victims of severe depression often have trouble envisioning an end to their suffering.

Yes, I speak from experience.

And, as apparently is the case with Robin Williams, those who have recovered from a depression too often suffer relapses.

The rise in depression is evidenced by the abundance of ads for anti-depressant drugs, and now even supplemental drugs to boost the effectiveness of anti-depressants.

Drugs do help. But they are not a cure. Just as insulin keeps a diabetic alive but is not a cure, anti-depressant drugs are not cures. They are life support.

In a world where it is becoming increasingly more difficult to cope, more resources have to be allocated to depressive disorder research.  And more resources must be designated to programs that educate and encourage sufferers to seek help.

The suicide of a high-profile icon such as Robin Williams certainly calls attention to the need for these additional resources. But such attention is usually fleeting. It’s up to the public to keep Congress, the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health focused on sustained funding for research, treatment and education related to depression (see for ways to get involved).

It is an understatement to say that Robin Williams will be missed. At age 63, he still had decades’ of unfinished stories within him…stories we will never experience.

If you did not get a chance to see his recent return to series television on “The Crazy Ones,” I highly recommend that you check out the show at CBS’s web site (I hope they’re still streaming full episodes). It was appointment TV for me and my wife.  The situations were unique, the writing spectacular, the cast well-chosen and the performances magnificent. It was obvious that Robin Williams brought out something extra in this already-talented cast (make sure you watch the outtakes at the end of each episode).

What is even more evident now is that this short-lived series very much emulated part of his life.

I do hope you are at peace, Robin Williams. Your shoes will not readily be filled.


As I prepare to re-launch my crowdfunding campaign…

As I work to prepare a relaunch of my Kickstarter campaign (although this time possibly not on Kickstarter), I yesterday performed one of the tasks most-suggested to me…dye my beard in order to look younger. While it irks me no end that a person my age has to be young to break into filmmaking (the same thing that ended my advertising career after so many years), I decided to go with public opinion. However, I decided to use “Touch of Gray” so as not to go overboard. The result…an interesting shade of light blue! I look like Papa Smurf! Anyway, I’m about to apply another very liberal coat and leave it on double the specified time. I figure the worst I can hope for is a darker share of blue!