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Florida Indie Film Panel in Orlando
By Douglas Lorah
As part of the Afternoon with Kevin Smith event at the Orange County Convention Center on Saturday, September 23rd, a panel of distinguished filmmakers and film educators answered questions from an audience of about 200. The panel consisted of Paul Sirmons, Kim Dawson, Paul Lazarus, Gregg Hale, Ralph Clemente, and Wayne Morris.
Paul Sirmons opened the panel by welcoming everyone. He gave a little background on himself to show that he himself is a filmmaker. He, then, briefly introduced each panel member followed by their own story of who they are and how they got to where they currently are in the film industry.
Kim Dawson produced The All New Mickey Mouse Club, a slew of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films and most recently Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius.
Paul Lazarus was the first and until Sirmons, the only, state film commissioner that has ever made a film. He was the commissioner of New Mexico. He currently presides over the Film Program at the University of Miami.
Paul Sirmons introduced Gregg Hale by saying, "Kevin Smith has nothing on this guy." Sirmons was obviously referencing the financial and popular success of Haxan Films' The Blair Witch Project. Hale did mention that Haxan'x latest venture Altered is coming out in December on DVD.
Ralph Clemente began by saying, "I sound a little like the Governator," even though he says he is a third generation Floridian. Clemente is the head of the Film Technology Program at Valencia Community College and previously taught at UM.
Wayne Morris is a producer and is connected to Florida in that he produced the TV series Mortal Kombat in Orlando and just recently was associate producer on Miami Vice.
As with most meetings, the introductions took up about half of the two hour time limit. Sirmons figured that most indie filmmakers wanted to know how to get money for their films, so he started the questioning to the panel with exactly that. How do you get your money?
Morris made a statement that stuck, "It's not how much money you have. It's what you bring to the table."
Hale told of his experience from Blair Witch which shot for $22,000. To get the print and sound and posters and everything all told, the film sold at Sundance for around $150,000. Hale also said, "Be prepared to take someone's money."
Investers want to see certain things. Your business plan and legal stuff must be in place. When making a film, make sure you have your legal help. You need to be formed as an LLC or S Corp to protect yourself.
Sirmons rhetorically posed the questions, "What is the money person investing in? Script? No. Named actor? No. They are investing in you. They have to believe that you can do everything you say you are going to do. If you aren't good at pitching, partner up with someone who is."
Sirmons also thanked Gregg Hale for making the Blair Witch project, because all indie filmmakers now use it [in their business plans] as an example of what can happen. The entire panel agreed.
Simple advice from Kim Dawson. "If you have 10 dollars, don't spend 15."
Some other questions were asked by the audience in the short time remaining.
Q: How do I keep morale up on my no/low pay film?
1. Get the money.
2. People want to be respected, so be honest.
Q: How do I find an entertainment attorney in Florida?
1. Go to the production guide on filminflorida.com.
2. Contact the Florida Bar and look up entertainment attorneys.
Q: Are there any books on business plans specifically for filmmaking?
1. Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes - Gregg Hale
2. G o o g l e - Wayne Morris
3. Amazon - Paul Lazarus
Q: What is it going to take to make Florida production competitive?
1. I think we are actually on track. It appears that buzz is happening in other states as well as in state. We have an incentive program that has doubled since last year. - Paul Sirmons
2. It's about us. It's about the local community helping each other making it happen. - Ralph Clemente
3. We need to free up investment money and create a distribution avenue. Create a film market. - Paul Sirmons
There were still people in line waiting to ask questions when Paul Sirmons had to end the panel, but invited everyone with questions to walk up and ask the panel directly. At least 50 people mobbed them at the opportunity.
The panel was taped by Orange TV.
To view some pictures from the indie film panel and the fans waiting in line to see Kevin Smith, go to the Photo Seen.