No in-person gatherings, no problem! What I learned at this year's virtual SEEfest accelerator.
After moving to Los Angeles in January for grad school, I was excited to hit the ground running attending events and meeting new people. That's exactly what I did while I could, balancing schoolwork and my internship in film and TV development.
I was particularly pumped to be invited as a fellow in the 2020 SEEfest accelerator to develop my feature film THE IMMIGRANTS. If you're not familiar, SEEfest, the South East European Film Festival, is an annual Los Angeles-based event. The festival celebrates its fifteenth year running in 2020!
I was looking forward to watching the films in this year's official selection in person. Of course, health is the number one priority and we could not gather together this year. When Artistic Director and Founder of SEEfest Vera Mijojlic announced that the accelerator would take place virtually, I was thrilled!
SEEfest began virtually on Wednesday April 29th and wrapped on Sunday May 3rd. I got to meet a talented group of filmmakers and screenwriters participating in the program. Despite the pandemic, experts, panelists, and actors met with us online over Zoom coming together from Canada, the US, and Europe.
Here are my takeaways from the workshops for my fellow emerging screenwriters and filmmakers!
Workshop #1: Toni Bell, Filmmaker Services Manager at the International Documentary Association. Toni spoke about fiscal sponsorship, pinpointing your target audience, film distribution, and marketing, for documentary and narrative films. Defining a target audience felt intimidating to me, but Toni broke it down in a way that simplified the process. There's no need to overthink - ultimately, it comes down to demographics, finding underserved communities, and determining how to access those communities to market our films.
Workshop #2: Aleksandra Zimonjic, Attorney, Film & Ink, focused on the intersection of law and technology. Aleksandra spoke about the ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence. We've seen at least one studio acquire an AI data analytics company to help determine bidding prices for films at film festival markets. I want to learn more about how AI will impact independent cinema. If you have any thoughts, please reach out.
Workshop #3: Denise Wakeman, AdventuresInVisibility.com. Denise spoke about the importance of marketing and online visibility for filmmakers. We need to focus not just on writing and filmmaking, but also sharing what we're working on and who we are with the world. This lets us build our audience by creating a community that wants to hear our perspective and resonates with the stories we tell.
Workshop #4: Anatol Chavez, Director of Acquisitions at Synergetic Film. Anatol shared what distributors generally look for when making decisions about films to acquire. His team watches thousands of films each year! High production value, a captivating story, and social relevance are all critical for getting consideration. Anatol echoed many of Denise's statements on the marketing front. As filmmakers, we often focus on the work and not on marketing the work. Anatol suggested every filmmaker add a unit publicist to our budgets so that we get really great stills and material for our press kits, which will ultimately help us sell our projects.
Workshop #5: The Pitching Panel. The panelists were (in alphabetical order): Nika Agiashvili (filmmaker), Toni Bell (IDA Filmmaker Services Manager), Nick Capote (producer & director), Logan Crow (Executive Director of The Frida Cinema), Christopher Fink (screenwriter, director, and producer), Peter Gazdag (screenwriter & filmmaker), and Houston King (producer). As fellows of the SEEfest accelerator, we got to deliver a two-minute pitch for our projects. My major takeaway is that in a tight two minutes, we need to convey tone, theme, the high-level story, the protagonist's character arc, and what makes our protagonist unique, special, and worth watching. It's not an easy task, but it can be done with practice and a tight delivery! Enthusiasm and passion go a long way.
Workshop #6&7: Peter Gazdag, screenwriter & filmmaker, facilitated a workshop with actors Azra Isakovic, Bella Popa, Greg Tamura, and Tudor Munteanu. As part of the workshop, the actors read our scenes as they were written on the page, plus an improv take. They improvised the dialogue following the major beats of our scenes. As a screenwriter, one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking stages in the development process is having actors bring your characters to life. The actors nailed it and wowed us all with their incredible improvisation skills over Zoom! They were a talented group and it was such a pleasure to see them perform. My next step is to figure out a way to get a full read-through of the entire script with professionals!
Lastly, we each got one-on-one time with entertainment attorney Natasha Mandich, partner and founder of Film & Ink. Natasha gave us personalized advice and legal considerations relevant to our projects.
I owe a big thank you to Vera Mijojlic and the entire team at SEEfest responsible for putting together a such fantastic accelerator in the face of current events. Thank you to the panelists, experts, and actors who joined us and provided valuable feedback on our pitches and scenes. And finally, thank you for reading my recap.
Contact me if you have any questions or want to learn more about my experience at SEEfest or my project!
With love from Canada,