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Guest Commentary by Jennifer Fischer
| Friday, Dec 30, 2011

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Bruce Economou, Executive Producer of “My Name is Jerry” (http://mynameisjerry.com), Best Feature at the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival two years ago. The Film Festival circuit was instrumental to the success of “My Name is Jerry,” which went on to receive distribution and is now available streaming on NetFlix and Hulu.

Economou reiterated the significance and value of film festivals for independent filmmakers, particularly as they seek out distribution.

The first critical thing that festivals provide, stressed Economou, is validation. “You receive important validation that you made a good film. Filmmakers also get some honest audience feedback.” Economou explained the value of this feedback, noting that it can allow filmmakers to make final tweaks to their films before distribution.

Even after a film has distribution, the film festival experience can be important. Economou cites the example of inviting their distributor to a screening and the impact that seeing the film on a big screen with an audience had on the distributor.

“It increased his interest and energized him,” Economou said, which can be really important as a distributor goes to the market with films.

“It is an increasingly competitive independent film market,” stated Economou. “This makes film festivals even more important as film festival recognition and related reviews and press can set a film apart.”

Over the years, the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival has highlighted quality indie films with a highly competitive feature-length category. Often, only one or two feature-length films are accepted in any given year. This competitiveness means the festival’s tops films tend to get a lot of popular attention at other festivals and many have gone on to receive distribution.

For example, “Self-Medicated” (http://www.selfmedicated.com) (2006 festival) was released theatrically by Lionsgate; “Last Stop for Paul” (http://www.laststopforpaul.com) (also 2006) was shown extensively on Showtime and Starz, with the film’s director and producer, Neil Mandt, going on to write produce, and direct Next Stop for Charlie, a TV Series directly connected to the film’s success. Mandt has also Executive Produced several other television shows.

Another past film of note was “Stalking Santa” (http://daryntufts.blogspot.com/p/stalking-santa-movie.html) (2008 festival). “Stalking Santa” writer Daryn Tufts recently wrote and directed “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” (http://www.mygirlfriendsboyfriend.com) starring Alyssa Milano, which is now available on Netflix, iTunes, and Hulu.

Clearly “My Name is Jerry” is just one example of how film festival success leads to further opportunities. Aside from the distribution success of the film itself, supporting actor Steven Yeun from “My Name is Jerry” catapulted his career through his role on the indie film, subsequently moving to Los Angeles and landing the role of Glenn on The Walking Dead.

Strong acting was a key component of “My Name is Jerry”’s success, and the prolific and talented Doug Jones (Abe Sapien in Hellboy, The Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, among many other roles) excelled in the title role. I highly recommend the film to anyone who missed it at the festival in 2009. “My Name is Jerry” is available through both Netflix and Hulu.

Economou warns that independent filmmakers today often get caught up in a sleek look and cool effects and overlook story. He cautions independent filmmakers not to forget to pay attention to this critical element.  As a festival founder, programmer and director, I must agree – the story is the basis of everything. It is what will move audiences and distributors.

Economou should know, in addition to being the Executive Producer of “My Name is Jerry,” he is the founder of Pine River Entertainment, a Literary and Talent Management and Script Consulting Company. He has been a speaker and industry guest for: The American Film Institute, The Hilberry Graduate Theatre Program at Wayne State University, The Pacific Northwest Writers Association, The Southern California Writer’s Conference, Northwest Screenwriter’s Guild, The Malibu Film Festival, The Screenwriting Expo, Fade-In Magazine and The Great American Pitchfest. He was a judge and guest panelist for the Tahoe-Reno International Film Festival and an Addy Awards judge in Oklahoma City.

If you’d like to experience the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival first-hand, it’s just around the corner, Jan. 5-8. Daily passes are just $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.

It’s a great film festival for filmmakers and film lovers alike. Plus, you will be a part of building future success for the filmmakers, actors and artists involved with the films and may get a first look at new top talent.

The SCV Film Festival is sponsored in part by Kino Flo, Gorilla Software, LA 411, the City of Santa Clarita, SCVTV, the Canyon Theatre Guild and the Repertory East Playhouse.

 

Jennifer Fischer is co-founder of the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival.

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