“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” - Mark Twain
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
“What can the Seattle film community realistically improve upon in the next year?” This was the question asked of a collection of movie industry professionals at the Seattle Film Summit on September 29. Along with a crowd of approximately 50 people, the panelists ostensibly spent the day trying to answer this question as it pertains to every stage in the lifecycle of a motion picture. Whether they came to any meaningful conclusion is a matter of debate.
The Seattle Film Summit took place at the Northwest Film Forum as a special program in the Local Sightings festival. The day was split into two parts, each with three simultaneous panel discussions. The first half of the event covered the topics of development, pre-production, and production, while the second half focused on post-production, distribution, and the technology-focused subject of trans-media.
Many of the panelists at the event have extensive experience in the Byzantine movie business of Hollywood. Matt Hooper and Duncan Macfarlane are both attorneys who have made a living navigating the surprisingly complex process of getting a film funded, Stephen Salamunovich is a casting director with thousands of credits in film and television, and producer Jennifer Roth has spent the past several years working with the likes of Darren Aronofsky. These panelists were all clearly well informed about the industry they represent, but there is a marked gap between where Seattle’s film scene is today and where Hollywood-forged expertise becomes valuable.
“Working in film in L.A. is like working at Boeing here,” said Stephen Salamunovich at the panel on development. This was in the middle of a discussion about securing financial backing from investors. Many of the people who attended this panel were local filmmakers, but most were working with hang glider dollars, not the 787 Dreamliner budgets of the studio system. The panelists never seemed to address this disconnect. When entertainment lawyers like panelists Hooper and Macfarlane begin talking about projecting minimum guarantees and being careful of Securities & Exchange Commission laws, they’re talking about a world where six-figure budgets are below shoestring, not pie-in-the-sky for a DIY community.
Lebanese filmmaker John Sinno began the Summit by rejecting the event’s core concept outright. While the event materials state, “Our ultimate goal is a robust native media production industry that provides well-paying, stable jobs for Washington State residents,” Sinno implored everyone in attendance to avoid chasing the profit-driven model of the big-budget film industry.
“Don’t follow Hollywood,” Sinno said, “It’s not a genuine system. Let’s make local, organic films, not generic, mass-produced movies.”
Later in the day, a younger generation experienced in different media approached the Summit’s central question from the other end of the spectrum. Forest Gibson of the web content company Cheezburger, mobile developer David Ayala, and “The Gamers” director Matt Vancil comprised the transmedia panel. Though the panelists agreed that there is no official definition of what transmedia is, the general consensus was that it revolves around using multiple forms of media, especially new media, within a single project. The panel discussed the way Internet technology has changed the way people interact with those who create entertainment, as well as the challenges faced by transmedia filmmakers as a result.
“Get in bed with the tech industry,” Forest Gibson insisted. He wasn’t the only speaker at the Seattle Film Summit to promote that sentiment. The panelists cited the incredible amount of money and expertise within Seattle’s massive tech community, but frequently referred to film and tech as existing within two different “silos” that rarely interact. But if the success stories of Gibson, Ayala, and Vancil are any indication, a tech/film synthesis already exists in Seattle, just maybe not in the places where indie features screen.
Sometime within the next month, the organizers of the Seattle Film Summit will compile the key points of the event’s discussions into a living charter they will publish on the Summit website. They would also like to hold another event next year to report on how the city’s film industry has changed.