By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(December 2004) The year
has flown by. It has been a year of change, evolution
and growth. Film production has been steady in the region
and greater interest has developed using New England
as a base. The recent shoot in Rhode Island of “The
Brotherhood,” for Showtime illustrated not only
the charm of the Ocean State, but its flexibility as
This was an interesting year all around for the film
festival circuit as well. I made a point of attending
a number of the events in the region and it is obvious
that they are being taken seriously as economic engines
for tourism and production growth. For the first time
in memory, I’ve noticed that government and economic
development officials are beginning to understand that
there are benefits from having a film festival berthed
in the community.
Of course, the number of film festivals continues to
proliferate. Last count, unofficially, was more than
1,900 worldwide. How can these be supported? Actually,
believe it or not, the market is not yet saturated and
there is plenty of fresh product and interest within
the film-going public for diversity.
A look at regional festivals bear witness to the demand:
• The Independent Film Festival of Boston clearly
proved itself this year with a solid event and strong
audience support. The Williamstown Film Festival had
excellent crowds and an exceptional line-up; toped with
an appearance by Alec Baldwin. The Boston Irish Film
Festival snagged Gabriel Byrne and several top-notch
premieres. The Boston Jewish Film Festival has been
a testament to its core staff and careful planning which
resulted in a festival that screened in multiple Massachusetts
communities. Film Fest New Haven brought in director
Greg Pak and ran a class event. The Nantucket Film Festival,
drawing from its New York City roots, has been able
to create a solid reputation as a screenwriter’s
haven and celebrity draw.
• The Rhode Island International Film Festival
saw enormous growth and for the first time financial
support from its host city. Working with many community
groups and businesses, RIIFF was able to experiment
and take risks, such as screening films in 5 communities
across the state. Perhaps one of the nicest elements
was the addition of an award for best score, which would
be eligible for a Grammy nomination. This was brought
home to a much larger audience during the annual “Waterfire”
event in the city’s center when soundtracks from
RIIFF films were played as background to the popular
(And as a footnote: the score to “News for
the Church,” by Andrew McCarthy was recently nominated
for Grammy consideration. The film had its world premiere
at RIIFF in August).
SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM A YEAR OF NOTE
Frankly, I think 2004 has been an exceptional year and
I looked back at previous columns, I released just how
much has happened and how much potential exists for
• At press time, Robert Zemeckis’
“The Polar Express” had just opened to glowing
reviews. Starring Tom Hanks in no less than five roles
(and Peter Scolari in what will be an unbilled “Bosum
Buddies” reunion,) the film has all the signs
of becoming a holiday staple in years to come.
“The Polar Express” is based on the book
by Providence, Rhode Island-resident, Chris van Alsburg.
The film is another testament to the talent that resides
within our region. Getting his professional start as
a layout designer for Disney’s “The Little
Mermaid,” van Alsburg had already built a solid
reputation and following for his work. When the successful
“Jumanji,” leapt onto the screen, international
recognition of his children’s fiction took flight
and expectations have been high since.
A special fundraising screening at the Showcase Seekonk
(yes, nearby Massachusetts) and pre-premiere festivities
celebrated the more than $700,000 raised for CVS/pharmacy
Draw-A-Breath, an asthma-education program Van Allsburg,
and his wife, Lisa Morrison, created in 1996 at Hasbro
Children's Hospital. About 900 people attended the gala
New England premiere.
• In one of my early articles this year, I made
a modest proposal that there be greater linkage between
the New England states with more cross promotion and
exchange. It went something like this:
“After a lot of brainstorming, meetings and research,
a germ of an idea surfaced: create a regional Film and
Media Arts Alliance. Link it with existing film offices
on a state-by-state basis and the numerous film festivals
that are portals of entry for new work. Use this mechanism
to spur dialogue, mutual support and cross promotion
thus reducing redundancy, inefficiency and becoming
a real resource for the region’s many artists.
The name we developed?
The New England Alliance of Film & Media Arts. Given
the size of our region, it made more sense to not limit
our thinking to Rhode Island exclusively. After all,
if Rhode Island is the size of a city-state, then New
England is equivalent in size to a western state.
Our logic was that this type of regional organization
would be useful to attract future businesses to the
area as well as nurture and support film and media arts
organizations in New England. Instead of being exclusive,
we felt inclusiveness was in order. Instead of competing
and losing to Canada, New York or California, better
to work together, share talent and land work.
As we began creating the concept for the New England
Alliance of Film & Media Arts, we learned that an
estimated 300 films are shot in North America every
year. This includes motion picture, television, commercial
production, music, animations, and internet/new media.
Approximately 60 percent, or 180 films, choose Canada
due to reduced production costs caused by incentives,
a favorable exchange rate, or both. Of the remaining
120 films, few choose the New England region. The breakdown
has approximately 50% of the films being developed in
New York, California or other States. Rhode Island has
been automatically excluded due to the lack of infrastructure
(studios, stages, back lots, and film crews).”
Recently I was emailed a proposal from a California
based production concern that provided a sense of déjà
vu, but also illustrated that the region was being taken
seriously. I’m repeating it in whole in this article
since it might spur a response and get the proverbial
NEW ENGLAND FILM INCENTIVE PROJECT
Together with noted members of the Hollywood creative
community, Creative Convergence is assembling a group
of experts in the creative, financial and governmental
fields to explore and encourage a cooperative of New
England states for the attraction of film and television
production into the area.
The goal of the New England Film Incentive Project is
to unite the efforts of the New England film production
community and adapt one or more of the financial models
that have proven successful in other markets to reinvigorate
film production in the area. The states proposed for
the cooperative are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts,
New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Over the past several years the New England production
community has continued to lose business because of
the financial incentives being offered to filmmakers
elsewhere. Various different models have been successfully
implemented in a number of countries (UK, Canada, South
Africa, Luxembourg) as well as other US states (Louisiana,
New Mexico). The individual New England states are no
longer competitive or valuable enough in terms of location
alone to support a consistent production industry.
Yet filmmakers and artists would prefer opportunities
that would let them work locally – especially
in a cultural hub such as New England. We feel that
the best plan of action is for two or more of the New
England states to work together to become more attractive
to financiers and filmmakers, rather than continue to
compete for the same opportunities, and lose out to
incentive-loaded territories. New England is in a prime
position (financially, geographically and logistically)
to create incentives for film production, develop a
stable industry, and bolster local economic development.
Possible incentives include:
• Direct rebate based on production expenditure
• Regional tax breaks offered to individual and/or
• Reduced production costs for government-controlled
facilities or services
• Direct equity investment
• Soft loans or cash flow
• Monetization of the newly-announced United States
federal tax breaks.
Who is behind this? A group calling themselves, “Creative
Convergence.” They are an entertainment management
and consultancy firm with experience in film development,
production and financing. At press time, they are attempting
to identify interested private & governmental parties
capable of contributing to and supporting this project.
If you want more information on Creative Convergence,
I’d suggest a visit to their website at www.creative-convergence.com
• This year saw a number of interviews with folks
in the business who are shakers and movers in the region
and throughout the globe; many unsung and unrecognized.
Yet, their work drives the creative engines in this
discipline, opening doors for many and kindling the
creative spark. Here are some highlights of what I discovered
about these folks:
WHO: James Nadeau, a curator and a video/performance
artist based in Boston. He received his BFA from the
Tufts University/ School of the Museum of Fine Arts,
Boston. He is known for his single channel work that
have screened internationally. Most recently at MIX
BRASIL: Festival of Sexual Diversity at the Museum of
Modern Art in Sao Paolo, Brazil, the Anthology Film
Archives, NY, NY; Manhattan Cable Television, NY; Image
& Nation: The Montreal Lesbian and Gay Film Festival;
the Philadelphia International Lesbian and Gay Film
Festival, and the Harvard Film Archive.
JUMP CUT: You've traveled all over the film
festival circuit. What have you learned from these experiences?
JAMES NADEAU: Traveling the festival “circuit”,
as you put it, is always an interesting experience.
It is interesting to see the similarities in community
perceptions. With LGBT festivals in particular there
is a great sense of family amongst programmers. We all
share our knowledge of films and what has worked for
some and not for others in terms of audience or programming
success. Of course there is always a bit of “one-up
man ship” as well. Sometimes you find out about
a film that no one else has and you don’t want
to share because you want to be the first to screen
JUMP CUT: What would you tell an aspiring filmmaker
about getting into a festival, let alone the festival
JAMES NADEAU: I think that the goal for young (as in
emerging, not in age) filmmakers is to get your work
seen. Send it out and get programmers to watch it. Festivals
are getting larger and larger. And don’t get discouraged.
One of my first lessons, coming from the perspective
of a programmer and a maker, was that just because your
film wasn’t picked one year doesn’t mean
that it won’t be screened ever. Sometimes themes
will change and all of a sudden your film, telling a
particular kind of story, will fit perfectly when it
wouldn’t the year before. Also, listening to criticism
is always helpful and you have to have a thick skin.
Art school certainly showed me that. Take what you want
from it and think about it as you make your second,
third, fourth films.
WHO: Kimberly Shane O’Hara is originally from
Warren, RI. She and Eric M. Klein are the principals
behind O'Hara/Klein. They formed a successful partnership
over a decade ago based upon a shared passion for the
art and business of filmmaking, and through the duration
of their partnership, have been actively involved in
bringing to fruition over 100 productions. To date,
they have actively produced eight feature film projects,
building an extensive database of creative talent and
distributors, in the last six years. Of current note:
“Happy Hour” (which premiered at the Independent
Film Festival of Boston) is playing to strong houses
and excellent reviews in New York and soon across the
JUMP CUT: How do you find the projects that you get
involved with? Do you have a philosophical agenda or
are you looking for what will be commercial?
KIMBERLY SHANE O’HARA: This is an interesting
question, George. Projects come in such strange and
karmic ways. When the script of “Happy Hour”
was passed to me by the director/writer's lawyer, I
read it and knew that the witty banter of the main character
was unique. I just was very down on NYC at the time,
and couldn't stomach heading right back to make a film
about a NY alcoholic. I also was leery of how scrutinized
the film would be after the success of “Leaving
Las Vegas.” It is amazing how many people in the
movie industry group themes together. I had a fantastic
piano script once ... but couldn't drum up a penny for
it because people said "Shine" was already
made. If that was the case for "Shine", people
would have said "Five Easy Pieces" or "The
Piano" were already made ... thank God they didn't
because "Shine" was an exceptional film.
Anyway, I put “Happy Hour” down, as my partner
shared my sentiment, and read other scripts for a year.
ALL AWFUL. So I pulled “Happy Hour” back
out of the closet and said "Let's make this."
One year later we shot in NYC with Anthony La Paglia
and Eric Stoltz on a production budget of only $750,000.
JUMP CUT: What do you think is a critical issue facing
independent filmmakers today and their work?
KIMBERLY SHANE O’HARA: I wish that more people
would take chances on independent movies that get played
in mainstream theaters. Unfortunately, and we experienced
this in Minneapolis with “American Reunion,”
even though I convinced a few megaplexes in the ‘burbs
to play the film, virtually no one showed up. We were
competing against ad campaigns of the millions for movies
like “Troy” that had been deemed by many
critics as mediocre, but people still chose that film
over ours. I find that people who live away from the
typical indie theater complain they can't see indie
films cause of the lack, but the other side of the coin
is that when they are given a chance, they do not go!
Big movie chains will not keep an indie movie longer
than one week if it lands in the bottom two gross slots.
Then the film goes away to never be seen again. So,
SUPPORT INDIE FILMS
WHO: Independent filmmaker, Eva Saks. Currently producing
programming for Sesame Street, she is no stranger to
the Festival circuit, recently premiering a short at
the Williamstown Film Festival.
JUMP CUT: Give us some background on yourself.
Tell us about the journey you've taken to be a filmmaker.
EVA SAKS: I became an "old movie" maven at
about ten years old - I used to torture my parents by
setting my alarm clock for 3 am, to watch Fred Astaire
in TOP HAT. In college, I majored in Theater Directing,
then went on to become a Casting Director for Theater,
Film and Television. I moved out of Casting into being
an Agent, and woke up one day thinking, "Well,
if I'm really going into the Entertainment Business,
I might as well go for it." So I ended up going
to Yale Law School, with the intention of directing
and producing movies. I practiced Entertainment Law
briefly, then got back into directing Theater and casting
films, and decided I would apply to ONE film school:
NYU. They took me and I've never looked back! I've had
a great run, with the Student Academy Award and then
selling my two most recent shorts (CONFECTION and COLORFORMS)
to the Independent Film Channel, and now writing and
directing two programs for SESAME STREET.
JUMP CUT: How important has the film festival
circuit been for the development of your craft?
EVA SAKS: I think it's been invaluable, because you
get to see how your work plays with different audiences,
in different cultures. It helps me make choices that
make my movies more legible and universal. (I'm going
to Italy next week, to a film festival that's hosting
me and screening CONFECTION...I'm very curious to see
how an Italian audience reacts!) My own goal isn't to
make "art" films; I like to make films that
you can watch while eating popcorn. I guess it's the
influence of all those great old movies I used to wake
up to watch in the middle of the night! I'm a populist
director - my idea of a great movie is CASABLANCA or
ET -- something that moves people of all ages.
JUMP CUT: What would you tell an aspiring film
student or communications major about preparation for
this field: illusions, delusions and reality?
EVA SAKS: Just get out there and start making films.
Really. Buy (or borrow) the cheapest camcorder and get
a home editing program - you can put it on your desktop.
(In fact, I've edited all my films on my desktop. Cost
almost nothing.) Incidentally, I shot most of FAMILY
VALUES -- which won the Student Academy Award and screened
at Sundance, Telluride, etc. -- by myself, because I
didn't know any DPs! And I knew absolutely NOTHING about
shooting movies. I just bought a cheapo consumer video
camera, and got on a train to Philly (where my subjects
were) the next day, and started shooting. I didn't even
know how to turn the camera on and off when I started
the project. It was pretty hilarious. In fact, I'd never
owned a camera. I was just so excited about the story
of FAMILY VALUES that nothing could stop me. By the
way, NYU discouraged me from doing the project, and
refused to let me use an NYU video camera - so I ignored
them and did it myself. As a friend of mine once told
me: "No one makes you a director. That's what MAKES
you a director."
SOME LAST THOUGHTS
Finally, a few statistics I was provided by a group
called filmBUZZ, which specializes in film and audience
statistics/demographics at film festivals across the
• Festival attendees are not simply casual filmgoers;
they are dedicated film lovers. They are the people
who will generate buzz for a film they support, and
they can make or break the local success of a platform
release. They also learned that
• The mean annual operating budget of a film festival
is nearly one-quarter of a million dollars. Furthermore,
another 91% of festivals receive in-kind sponsorship
services donated on top of cash expenditures. These
in-kind sponsorships average more than $150,000 in value.
• The average film festival will fill nearly 12,000
seats over the course of the festival. Of these viewers,
fewer than 9% know someone involved in the film they
came to see.
• Festivals make the bulk of their income from
corporate cash sponsorships. With a mean of nearly $100,000
annually per festival, the average total corporate sponsorship
cash commitment is more than $40,000 higher than ticket
sale proceeds, the second highest revenue source.
But the really big news was that new film product can
be discovered outside the traditional acquisition circuit,
such as Sundance, Toronto, or Cannes. Many of filmBUZZ’s
top films were discovered by distributors after playing
successfully to regional film festival audiences. In
Rhode Island that included “Unknown Soldier,”
“Bonhoeffer,” “Robot Stories,”
“Zero Day,” and the short animated film
“Destino” which went on to an Academy Award
This is exciting news and a great foundation on which
to build the production and exhibition base in our regional.
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached