By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(June 2004) As the weather
warms and the last vestiges of what seemed an interminable
winter dissipates, New Englanders now find themselves
at the beginning the film festival season. One after
another, festivals will dot the landscape. From avant-garde,
mainstream, gay and lesbian to student fests, something
for everyone’s tastes can be found. The festivals,
large, small and in-between not only provide an outlet
for little seen work, but provide a respite from the
typical Hollywood fare that opened in May with the critically
trounced, though box office golden, “Van Helsing.”
None will be screening films with the $160 million budget
of Wolfgang Petersen’s “Troy.” None
will have films with the built in market of the latest
Harry Potter adventure.
Making independent films has never been an easy proposition.
Getting them screened with the plethora of festivals
is another story. The odds are still high.
Not Powerball high, but up there.
And being screened is not a guarantee of positive reviews,
getting an audience, or even being on the map. Getting
lost in a festival is a strong possibility, particularly
a start-up event that has not built its audience. Then
again, many of the regional fests play many of the same
titles so breaking through some pre-set barriers makes
for a difficult journey.
So what do filmmakers and media artists do to create
a living for themselves in our region? What do the graduates
of the many New England film schools aim for other than
being small fish in an even smaller pond? Do their degrees
have any value and more importantly how many can stay
here and survive undertaking the craft/art they learned?
These are questions I hear all the time with the Rhode
Island International Film Festival. Up until recently,
with the hiring of the dynamic Steven Feinberg at the
RI Film and Television Office, filmmakers coming into
Rhode Island were given minimal attention unless they
had budgets in the seven digits. That’s why they
called us. Our name has Rhode Island in it and the natural
assumption was that we had the inside track on the state
film business. A lovely thought, but only true as we’ve
grown, built alliances and a sizable alumni of filmmakers
who have screened their work with us. That’s taken
eight years and we still don’t have an inside
track. Like Blanche Dubois, oftentimes we have to depend
on the kindness of strangers to clue us in. It’s
not an exact science nor does it have any guarantees
Feinberg is beginning to change the direction of the
state film office and offers a ray of hope to what had
been a moribund environment. Rhode Island was never
Hollywood East and the Providence Renaissance was a
public relations ploy. Many came, discovered a hard
reality, then they moved on. The talent drain that occurred
is one of those victimless crimes that costs more in
the long run when you come to realize what has been
lost and just who are no longer around. Or to put it
bluntly, what skills now need to be imported since talent
based here has left.
Yesterday, I received an email that went like this:
“I’m an editor. I’m looking to rent
out my system and/or my services to any filmmakers.
I was curious if you knew of anyone I need and if there
was some sort of guild or society that I could join
for the Rhode Island area.”
“Guild or society that I could join…”
What an excellent question. The answer of course is
that no such animal exists. Sure, there’s the
National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, but
their work is more broadcast oriented. What exists for
the lone filmmaker, editor or craftsman? What do you
do beyond working at a cable access station, even one
as excellent as CCTV in Cambridge?
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).
From this realization, we played a bit more with the
idea and came up with a regional strategic plan, all
based on filmmaker input and suggestions we’ve
heard over the last 23 years of our parent organization,
Flickers (the creator/producer of RIIFF). Now I must
qualify that this is far from perfect, but it hopefully
will provoke feedback and additional thought. If it
could become a reality, that would be a beautiful thing
This Strategic Plan was designed to make the New England
Alliance of Film & Media Arts more competitive by
achieving five main goals and implementing short- and
long-term strategies. By attaining the goals, the New
England Alliance of Film & Media Arts would be vaulted
to a prominent position for the production of national
and international films and media arts projects. The
short-term strategy would call for an immediate plan
of action for the Alliance.
The long-term strategy would allow the New England film
and media arts community to work in unison with the
New England Alliance of Film & Media Arts by creating
the necessary infrastructure.
Got that? So, now what we had to come up with was a
way to ensure measurements and accountability. So we
established several goals:
• To work with State and local governments to
develop the appropriate human, financial, and technological
infrastructure required to be a viable location.
• To create an environment conducive to independent
film and media arts production.
• To develop clear guidelines for accountability,
including but not limited to administrative and financial
• To develop funding through both government and
private sources to ensure a continuous financially stable
environment for its own growth and prosperity.
• To link film office and film festivals in the
region creating dialogue, collaboration, cross promotions
and ending useless competition.
With the goals in place, we developed both short and
long-term strategies that we felt would make the Alliance
Increase the amount of film activity in New England
through aggressive marketing to film production companies.
Objective 1: Create the incentive for the Production
of Film and
Media Arts Activity in New England
• Review film incentives geared to film production
from the top ten states and Canada.
• Review on a state-by-state basis the current
incentives dedicated to film and media arts production
in order to determine the viability vs. incentives offered
by major competitors.
• Draft legislation for introduction in the second
session of the various state General Assemblies based
on best practices and most innovative ideas.
• Develop a marketing strategy for the region
as an entity, not simply on a per state basis.
Objective 2: Develop the Infrastructure
for Producing Film and Video
in New England on a Team-oriented basis
• Publish a true comprehensive guide of regional
film and media arts procedures that is inclusive of
each state for use by film and media producers.
• Develop a website that serves as a database
and includes its own search engine: an evolving site
that will publish a monthly “e-zine” updating
film and media arts activities state by state and regionally.
• Create/expand the list of key film production
staff and local union representatives and contact these
individuals/representatives a minimum of three times
a year about opportunities or new programs in each state.
• Determine new and unique services to offer film
and media arts producers; i.e., expansion of each state’s
talent profile sources, list all regional casting agencies
and talent sources and create new entry portals for
young talent leaving academia and entering the workforce.
Objective 3: Market New England as a Prime
and Media Arts Location.
• Develop, catalog and expand a location photo
library to include more of each state’s unique
resources and develop a regional directory that builds
on community outreach and accessibility.
• Support and attend a minimum of five film festivals
and appropriate trade/film shows outside the region
building partnerships and alliances to draw people to
• Expand promotion and involvement in New England’s
own film festivals; build linkages and cross promotion
with all such events.
• Develop and maintain relationships with a select
group of other states’ film associations with
similar demographics to each New England state in order
to share ideas and strategies.
Increase film capacity in New England by expanding
film production infrastructure.
Objective 1: Facilitate the educational Infrastructure
Film and Media Arts in New England.
• In conjunction with the each state’s Office
of Higher Education, compile an inventory of current
courses specializing in media arts and film production
at all public higher education institutions, including
technical colleges. Additionally, create a listing of
all high schools that offer introductory media/communications
• In conjunction with the each state’s Office
of Higher Education, review film programs offered at
other public education institutions, including technical
colleges, throughout the United States to determine
components that would help improve New England’s
Objective 2: Increase the Financing Tools
Available for Film and
Media Arts Production in New England
• Facilitate private sector infrastructure projects
with individual State/private financing sources.
• Create a financing program (example: revolving
loans) in conjunction with lending institutions and
a possible match from federal/state sources.
• Explore the creation of a public/private financing
Objective 3: Sponsor regional Film Festivals
Targeted at Studio and Independent Film Producers.
• Provide an opportunity for independent films
and media arts projects shot in each state to be premiered
and reviewed at indigenous festivals.
• Sponsor a regional script writing competition
featuring New England locations and/or characters.
• Create a marketing plan to work with other annual
regional film festivals and build a base for cross-promotion
• Develop with each of these festivals a series
of Film and Media Arts Forums and seminars on a tri-annual
or quarterly basis.
Objective 4: Develop a Structure to Showcase
the Advantages of
Film Production to State Leaders.
• Develop ongoing educational initiatives with
state leaders regarding economic advantages of the film
• Commission the creation of an economic impact
model that reflects the dynamics of the film production
and media arts industry.
Can this work?
Possibly. This is only the beginning stage of a dialogue
that needs greater input. I am convinced that the long
history of provincialism, protectionism and isolationism
must end. If we are to be competitive in this industry,
then we are much better served if we act as a united
team rather than disconnected areas of self-interest.
If we are to better serve and retain the young talent
that we train in our great institutions of higher education,
then a new approach must be taken. Leadership requires
the capacity to envision the impossible and create new
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 will be presenting his current
research paper “Teaching and the Blogosphere”
at the Annual Conference of the Association for Education
in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) in August.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org