As Wild West-ish as the independent film community can be about our methods of production, most New York-based media makers, particularly first-timers, will really only register a small amount of distribution and exhibition advice from the guru-of-the-moment, take it as gospel, and try a recipe that might be mildly successful for some, but is far from a panacea for how to find appropriate outlets for original content. It's not necessary to fork over hundreds of dollars so "an expert" can tell you how to DIY yourself through a mountain of work with, oftentimes, very little in return. We need only look a bit further and broaden our horizons just a tad to find viable distribution and marketing partnerships that reside, literally, in our backyard.
In a quiet, but intellectually vibrant, corner of our public television world, exists a potential repository for fresh independently produced fare, especially for short-form fiction and nonfiction. Last week, I was asked by the New York Film / Video Council (founded in 1946, so they've been around a while) to moderate a panel discussion for its program entitled "Low Cost / No Cost and The City," where we saw some creative work being made by local artists, and discussed ideas about the ever-shifting landscape of exhibition and distribution for said creative work.
The main focus of the evening, hosted at DCTV (and what a generous crew they have there), was how our public broadcasting channels, a long-standing launching place for independents, can present themselves more effectively to artists looking for a place to showcase bold and original media. Challenged, as are we all, by miniscule budgets, small staffs and limited resources, Rich Siegmeister, WNET Channel 13's Director of Business Development and Institutional Strategy for WNET.org, and one of the creators of Thirteen's independent film series, Reel 13, and WNET Channel 13 Senior Producer, Bob Morris, spoke about new initiatives being implemented to develop several new projects for both local and national distribution of public media.
Keith Boynton and Mike Lavoie, of 12films12weeks, a multi-talented duo that managed a troupe of young actors and crew, to produce twelve narrative films in twelve weeks this past summer, joined the conversation. Their content resides solely on the Internet, which turned out to be a good place to find a small, but loyal, audience for their short pieces, but admittedly not knowing anything about the current independent distribution landscape or how to market themselves to a wider audience, it remained a fairly circumscribed phenomenon. How can they advance their agenda in the future (if they so desire) by expounding upon the grassroots audience building they've accomplished thus far? Or put another way, where can they go from here?
The third party to join the conversation was UnionDocs, a very small collaborative of documentary artists living and working together in a residency program in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, partially funded by the state of New York. Its founder and director, Christopher Allen, and head of programming, Steve Holmgren, along with current resident artists, Robbie Wilkins and Josh Solondz, presented a taste of what they do and their general ethos in how interdisciplinary nonfiction media can express new ideas and methods of making work.
In bringing together these disparate parties, NYFVC board member and event producer, Ginger Brown, enabled us to have a really productive and exciting conversation where media makers, often without viable major distribution alternatives representing one side of a coin, and smart and experienced broadcasters wanting great content to fill generous slots of airtime and able to provide an audience in the tens of thousands representing the other, could engage in a useful and pertinent discourse about how these two sides could collectively mint some valuable currency so that artists, programmers, broadcasters and audiences can all benefit and keep the flame of independent film alive and well and, somewhat, profitable.
This idea of creative mentorship resides quite strongly in the structure these artists have created, but the consensus seemed to be that there was a desire to broaden their community base and, again, there's Reel 13, there's WNET.org, and the creative producers and programmers there scouring the planet for interesting work. There is a very small contingent able to find funds to get to festivals far and wide. Siegmeister says he, distinctly, does not fall into that category of being one of those able to shuttle himself around to festivals. But by getting out directly into the community the channel serves and engaging in more discussions like this within that community, all parties can only be better served in reaching a common ultimate goal: bringing hard-to-find strong film and video work to a large audience hungry for discovery and innovative media.
Rich Siegmeister welcomes inquiries from independent artists about submitting content to the channel. They are looking for short films, 30-minute programs and independent feature films. You can reach him at siegmeisterR@wnet.org.