Adventures in Filmmaking: A report from Fusion


What do you want to say and to whom are you saying it?

Our first big film panel included several types of executives from Universal (financing, development, marketing), but I also learned that one of my favorite distributors was also part of the NBCU group, Focus Features. Focus Features you might know as the distributor of many high-profile LGBT films like, The Kids are Alright and Milk. This year at Sundance,they picked up Pariah.

These executives, who tend to be nicknamed “suits” were all wearing jeans. They were especially open, down-to-earth and encouraging. Even though they acknowledge the complexities of working within a studio system, they underlined several times that they are searching for true voices and strive to make the best films possible. As a filmmaker, we all have to know what types of audiences we’re making our films for. Some of us want to make movies for wide audiences and they highlighted 3D, family films and international appeal films with big name actors as a route to that. While others of us want to tell more specific tales for specific audiences, their advice is to know who your audience is and how you are going to reach them.

I also spoke to Fusion’s Director of Programming Kim Yutani about the festival, Access LA and why they matter. Why is it important to have Fusion when Outfest is already so big?
Kim Yutani:
Fusion is designed to strengthen and celebrate LGBT communities of color in Los Angeles by creating a multi-ethnic, gender-inclusive forum, and to celebrate the work of filmmakers of color, by expanding audiences for their work and inspiring the creation of new work. Fusion as a platform for work by/for/people of color in a smaller festival outside of Outfest in July, creates the opportunity for audiences to focus on these films, support these filmmakers, and give this important work the attention these films in this unique and supportive setting.

AE: What’s your objective for Access LA?
Access LA is an Outfest program that directly connects our filmmakers with industry professionals and provides filmmakers with opportunities to help them get to the next step in their careers. Being located in the heart of the film industry, we are in the unique position to create meeting opportunities for Outfest and Fusion filmmakers through special events in collaboration with NBC Univesal, and through the annual Outfest Screenwriting Lab (which will be held this June) and panel discussions.

AE: Is there a rise in people of colors films since you first started Fusion?
: Since Fusion’s inception, I think that the quality of work by/for/about people of color has become stronger. More filmmakers are committed to telling stories we haven’t seen before, and these stories are told with greater sophistication each year. It’s exciting to see how LGBT work keeps evolving and to be able to exhibit that work in a festival like Fusion is a privilege.

A studio tour, a power lunch, and TV writers

After the film panel, we were off to a professional tour of the studio in order to see how things are shot and done on the lot. We visited the set of Parenthood, the on-set prop making factory (where I saw ET!), and Peter Jackson’s incredible 3-D King Kong ride made with the largest IMAX screens in the world. I’m not much of an amusement park person, but this experience was out of this world and I screamed my head off. It’s really well done.

Then it was time for our “power lunch,” where I had the chance to break bread with Joey Chavez, Head of Drama Development at NBC. If you’re an aspiring TV writer here are a few tips from Joey about breaking in:

  1. Try and get a manager or agent as they rarely if ever except non-solicited materials. This is to protect both you and them from any intellectual property disputes.
  2. Don’t submit spec scripts (a script written for an existing television show). Though that was popular a few years ago, today, execs are looking for original voices and work so Joey recommends: an original series script, short stories, a play, a feature script or basically any work that emphasizes your imagination with characters, dialogue, and story.
  3. Check out the writers programs mentioned above from the companies you’d like to work with. Not only do you get trained and sometimes paid to learn, you also get placed on TV shows they produce.

Back from lunch, we met with a panel of TV writers who shared their stories on breaking in to the business. By that point it was no surprise that many had gotten their foot in the door through some of the Diversity Initiatives mentioned above. Being someone’s assistant was the other common way in and the prevalent advice was, “Be nice. You don’t have to be a mean person to get ahead.” Thank god for that affirmation!

At the end of the day, we exchanged contact information with one another and wrote a list of what we learned. Then we wrote a to-do list of what we felt we needed to do to achieve our goals as filmmakers. This is the main reason Access LA is so effective. Their intent is to give us practical tools to succeed. Thanks to Fusion, Access LA, and OUT@NBCU for this profound experience. I met dozens of important players in TV and film, heard their stories and their advice. I remembered simple lessons I had heard thousands of times: be clear about what I want to do, meet all types of people, follow-up, stay in touch, network, ask for help, and keep on striving for what I believe in. And finally, this experience solidified what I believe truly causes change: people helping people, giving back, mentoring, sharing, and being kind!

The next day at the Egyptian Theater for my screening of, HOOTERS! The making of Older, Wiser, Lesbian Cinema, I was pumped for the event. 1 pm on a sunny Saturday in Los Angeles is not the easiest time slot but our theater was full! The screening went beautifully and the audience was both, enthusiastic and appreciative. Guinevere Turner and Skyler Cooper, who both appear in my film where at hand for an exciting Q & A after the projection.

Taking with me the lessons I had learned from my day at Universal, I announced to the audience that I was working on a new collaborative film this summer and needed help. The response was overwhelming! Wow, all these years struggling to DIY when all I needed to do was reach out to my community. I suppose that is what’s at the heart of this article and my appreciation for festivals like Fusion and Outfest: being part of a community and having a desire to share and connect with others in order to make the world a better place.

I encourage everyone to check out all the entities mentioned in this article but also take a look around your own community. If something doesn’t exist, reach out, and be a part of making it happen!

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