Friday, October 13, 2006

NWFF Production Fund and other notes.

A year ago I attended the NWFF's announcement of the new Start-to-Finish project, David Russo's #2. On that occasion I was suffering from the onset of a cold. A year later I am happy to report than not only is my health good, but two days ago I received a glowing review from my dentist on the state of my oral hygiene. So, it was with a sense of vigor and a fresh mouth that I attended the NWFF's announcement of the beginning of a new production fund.

Before the meeting began, I chatted with Adam Sekuler and Peter Lucas about last Sunday's panel discussion 'Is There a Northwest Aesthetic'? In particular we discussed the issue of slanting light. Namely, what did Charles Mudede and Sean Kirby mean by that term? The consensus was that it had to do with our latitude. Being somewhat north of the equator the sun does not travel directly overhead from East to West, but at an angle. Not being a science-geek, I have no idea if this is correct, but it sounds reasonable.
At the meeting Michael Seiwerath announced the beginning of a new fund to help finance the NWFF Start-to-Finish projects. As he described it:
As many as you know our flagship program at NWFF is the Start-to-Finish grant program. It's a program we've had for about seven years, we've made five feature films through it and there's no application process...

With this grant we throw the entirety of the resources of the organization behind it, offering free office space, editing space for as long as the film takes, all of our gear, I act as an executive producer on the film, anything our organization can do to make it better we will. For past films there have been countless screenings of rough cuts, fundraising screenings, anything our theaters can do to help. Unique to the program is the funding model where we fundraise as a 501(c)3 nonprofit seeking donations on a film and then the production starts a limited liability corporation seeking investments. This is two prongs going to the same goal, which is making a great work of art that gets out into the world and gets seen. Non-profit money and for-profit money and we've had films of varying budgets over the years from as low as $60,000 up through over $300,000...

The big glaring hole with this program has always been, it's a grant program that comes with a lot of sweat equity, a ton of emotional support and professional expertise, our resources and willingness to raise funds, but with every single Start-to-Finish program, without exception, we've started with zero. We've been fundraising from scratch and that's meant it's longer to raise funds and some easy work that could be done at the beginning is always stalled till we get the funds raised and we can be at the mercy of really lengthy grant cycles and the fickleness of investors and donors. Tonight we're here to launch a new program that will change that. We're launching a production fund that will raise money holistically for the Start-to-Finish program and will pay out direct cash grants to the productions from multi-year gifts and individual gifts. So instead of just raising money piecemeal for every film and being dependant on connections on an individual filmmaker and an individual script we're providing donors a way a to support filmmaking in Washington state holistically and know there's an organization behind it...

The donors who would support this a lot of times have been asked to support films in the past and film is one of the messiest, most expensive art forms out there. It's hard to know how to support it. Many of you have been asked to support a film by anybody from your nephew in film school to a very accomplished filmmaker. And you're not sure what a big budget is, you don't know what's an appropriate amount to ask. Is enough money being spent on cast and crew and producers or is it all lopsided? Will the film ever get finished? So many great films in this town get started and then stall in post-production and go nowhere. With this project it allows a donor to put money into our fund, we have a very strong vetting process for Start-to-Finish films, and the donor puts in the money and then basically shows up at opening night to kick off the film. With this fund we're seeking single and multiple year donations, we're going to national foundations, national funders and looking locally for funds to help start it. We have the goal of raising $200,000 annually for the production fund and it would pay out to the individual productions.

After a few more comments, David Russo, the director of the current Start-to-Finish production, was introduced and gave a little background on himself and his project, which he described thusly:
#2 as a straight narrative is a janitor story and this motley crew of janitors gets surreptitiously, secretly experimented on by a product research firm that they're hired to clean. As it turns out they become addicted to this cookie that's been designed to simulate oven freshness by getting warm in the mouth when eaten. This addiction to the active ingredient in the cookie complicates their lives with mad visions and spectacular mood swings, which end up destroying their relationships. And the most unforeseen, unintended consequence is that each of them, by film's end, has to give birth to an immaculately conceived semi-animate life form that lives mere moments after birth. And did I mention that this only happens to the male janitors?

After the meeting, I encountered Grant Cogswell, writer of Cthulhu, and asked him how the film was going. He said it was done or, as he put it 'done, done' and that there would be a screening for family and friends and members of the production in several weeks. I asked him if he was still planning on moving to Mexico City and he said yes that, in fact, he was moving there next week. I mentioned the Northwest Aesthetic panel and said that Charles had outlined three points which could be used to identify any film made in the region. Wondering if they would apply to his film, Grant asked what they were.
--The proximity of the urban and the natural.


--A quality of diffuse/slanted light.

--Two out of three, not bad.

--A theme of reinvention.

--Holy shit!

Our conversation concluded I wandered out into the night air, a stack of Peter Whitehead screeners under my arm, fit as a fiddle and looking forward to a host of future Seattle productions.

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