Film Fund-amentals: Conference Mania

There are two reasons for going to any film conference. The first is networking. The second is… well, there is a second reason, though I’m having trouble remembering what it is at the moment. Free food if you’re lucky, but that’s more of a perk than a reason.

OK, educational development and hands-on training from professionals are the main focus for any conference. But networking opportunities are an extremely important component to the process. That’s one of the major promises made for the upcoming Film Production & Finance Summit on October 24 in New York. Well, networking and a lot of presentations by a long list of notable names in the field of indie film financing and entertainment law.

A quick scan through the Summit’s speaker list is impressive, including such folks as Lucie L. Guernsey from Woodland Bay Capital, Ltd., and Stephen Hays of 120 dB Films. There will be such exciting topics as Basic Mechanics of Film Finance and Updates on US and Canadian Tax Incentives. OK, some of the topics are pretty dry even if important, and unfortunately the Summit’s $495 a ticket price tag makes it an event largely reserved for well-heeled accountants and lawyers. Stuff like tax incentive programs are high on the need-to-know list, but gee gosh golly, it does sound a bit like the party Rick Moranis was having in Ghostbusters.

Too bad, because many of the conference speakers and topics are important to indie filmmakers. Unfortunately, most indie people will not be able to afford the admission price, either. And by the way, the Jolly Madison Hotel has only a few Deluxe rooms left for this date, with a price tag running close to the ticket cost. Sleeping on a subway train all night is not advised but may be necessary.

Of possibly greater interest to the average indie filmmaker will be the IFP and IndieWIRE Presents: Killer/Hope Masterclass on November 5. This day-long presentation by Ted Hope and Christine Vachon should function as a complete graduate course in the fundamentals of indie film production. Between the two of them, Hope and Vachon are responsible for many of the best-known titles of current indie cinema and have enough awards and honors to stuff a modest-sized museum.

People who have seen Hope doing this type of presentation tell me he is an incredible teacher. I’ve seen Vachon in action and she is an extraordinary and extremely thorough presenter. The Masterclass will be worth the cost, which is a pretty modest $125 early bird, $150 regular ticket price. So the biggest issue will be finding someplace to stay in NYC. I’ve already located my crash pad and will be looking forward to a lovely autumn in New York.

But not everything is happening in New York. From October 20 to 23, the Austin Film Conference will be offered, concurrent with the Austin International Film Festival. This year the conference is heavily focused on scriptwriting, with a sizable (and pretty solid) lineup of veteran screenwriters from both film and TV and a special presentation by Lawrence Kasdan. The scheduled topics cover a broad and extremely useful range, and the networking opportunities should be stupendous. The local food, music and scenery are also pretty darn good. The cost of the conference varies based on how many days you want to attend (check their website for full details). If you handle your accommodations by camping, just watch out for the rattlesnakes.

Of course the other major event in Austin isn’t until March 2012, when the SXSW Festival presents SXSW Startup Village: Networking – Mentoring – Funding. The SXSW event is more like a combination of trade show, conference presentation, party haven and all around meet-and-greet fest, with a major emphasis on bringing together young filmmakers, possible investors and seasoned pros. It has become one of the major indie trade events with an average attendance of around 5,000.

To be honest, a lot of us often act as if music in films is kind of an afterthought. It isn’t. It is also hard to do, even for experienced composers. The Billboard/Hollywood Reporter 2011 Film & TV Music Conference offers two solid days of workshops and presentations devoted to the soundtrack score. Held at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles on October 24-25, the event carries a steep price tag ($550 for the full program), but it’s a rare opportunity for musicians and composers to completely focus on their craft.

Prior to this one, you can also drop in at the Digital Hollywood Fall Event, which will be held October 17 to 20 in Marina del Rey. With a special emphasis on issues relating to Urban Media and Cross Platform Content, and with guests ranging from Quincy Jones to Brett Ratner, it should be lively. I have only flown over Marina del Rey, but I got the strong impression that the beach scene alone is worth it.

Back in New York, you can dive into the Digital Hollywood New York conference on November 17 to 18. Despite its title, the conference actually covers a broad range of topics related to digital applications, not just in film and TV but also in magazines, newspapers and advertising. Since the digital universe is based on a total synthesis of forms, this stuff is all interrelated, and there should be some good material to be had at the various presentations.

Finally, for those who are really hungry for the power lunch bunch, there is always the long list of events staged throughout the year by Variety. Just go to and scroll through enough conferences on both coasts to keep your travel bags packed and your bank account near empty. Just hope that food comes with the price of a ticket.