By BOB MESSINGER
(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 http://www.theindiegathering.com