Slamdunk attendees

Film festivals have traditionally been compact events
held in single municipalities that span anywhere from two or three
days to two or three weeks. But the founders of Slamdunk are on
the cutting edge of a trend that has seen an increasing number of
festivals take their shows on the road, with very successful results.

In a recent conversation with MM, Slamdunk’s
John Peterson, who founded the organization with Keith Spiegel and
Justin Henry, discusses the group’s decision to host a series of
screenings and gatherings throughout the year in various moviemaking
hotspots around the globe.

Jennifer Wood (MM): Slamdunk was originally
founded in Park City as an alternative to Sundance. You are, of
course, not the only folks who are providing an alternative to Sundance.
What makes you different?

John Peterson (JP): Slamdunk started as a way
to gain exposure for a film that was written and directed by Keith
Spiegel and starred Justin Henry called Groupies. The decision
to create a festival around the need to exhibit a film in Park City
was a simple one: that’s where the buyers, agents, actors, writers,
etc. in the independent film industry come. We wanted to be in the
center of the action.

It’s a simple fact that the number of exceptional films
far exceeds the number of screening slots available at Sundance.
We choose not to compete with Sundance or any other festival. Rather,
we showcase films that are well put together, intriguing, and deserve
to be seen even if they are not North American premieres or from
first-time directors. We’ve cultivated relationships with distributors,
buyers and producer’s reps to aid the filmmakers as they work to
secure some sort of release for their films.

MM: Okay, I understand you don’t believe you’re
in direct competition, but there are at least four other festivals
in Park City every January!  What do you offer moviemakers
that those other festivals don’t?

MM: Slamdunk helps filmmakers position their
work in this current system, and we’re able to stay current because
of our openness to the evolution of that system. The independent
climate is constantly evolving and Slamdunk is able to adjust to
these changes because we’re very close to the action all year round.

MM: Slamdunk gained a great reputation as
a place where the moviemaking and Internet worlds can come together.
The past year has been difficult for almost all dot-com industries;
how has that affected Slamdunk?

JP: I’m not sure, as we were not singularly
focused on dot-coms as much as we were interested in the new media
approach that they represented. As a result, even with the bust,
we benefited from the development brought on by the boom. We got
a lot of free drinks at parties from new companies and now they’re
gone, but the technology is still strong. Because filmmakers, especially
independent filmmakers, are so interested in new tools and technologies,
we’ve always had one foot in the technology door. So Slamdunk is
committed to using the latest tools to aid the filmmaker.

This year in Park City, we had Main Street’s first truly
digital screening room. Microsoft allowed us to playback our entire
line-up of 12 feature films and 24 short films using their Windows
Media Player. Sample Digital, based in Santa Monica, did all of
the encoding from a variety of formats. This is a tool developed
during the dot-com boom that has settled out from the bust. It will
allow  filmmakers to show their feature films on full theater-size
screens from their laptops, and distribute them themselves with
Video On Demand technology and interfaces.

Meridian Audio also provided a complete digital surround
sound system. Meridian Audio wrote the codex for all DVD Audio as
well. It was quite remarkable. I can’t say enough about those companies
and what they did to aid us and the filmmakers by providing the
next generation of tools to help showcase our film line-up.

MM: What was Park City like for you this
year? There seemed to be a quietness about the event, at least in
terms of coverage.

JP: It was different this year. It was nice,
actually. The dot-com craze drove quite a number of people to independent
film and, therefore, Park City. As the film community adjusts back
to life without that fever pitch there is a natural calming that
is going on. I don’t think I was shoulder-bumped on the street once
the whole time I was there. But our screenings were packed, regardless
of the hour, and for the first time I managed to slip away and see
a couple of screenings at the other festivals. Once the industry
finishes settling I am sure the craziness will return.

MM: The strategy of piggybacking off another
festival has proved quite successful. But Slamdunk has taken the
idea much further: You guys are now at Toronto and Cannes, too.
What are you doing at these other festivals?

JP: Cannes and Toronto both present wonderful
opportunities. These large, international gatherings for our industry
provide us with the ability to showcase films and technologies on
a world stage. This helps to increase the Slamdunk brand, and the
exposure and profile of those involved with us.

With Cannes, we put on our largest event. We transform
the rooftop of the Noga Hilton for 10 days into a pavilion style
venue, where film, fashion and technology meet. We host a series
of targeted screenings tailored to specific invitees and buyers.
This year we will be hosting a festival of animation with Talantis
Films, France’s largest short film content aggregator. In addition
to the 25 animated shorts (drawn from an open submission process),
we’ll screen five feature films and about 15-20 shorts. We create
smaller, more intimate screenings, with specific buyers in mind.

Toronto is a bit more streamlined. We basically create
a lounge for the indie folks to relax in. It’s nice. It gives us
a chance to spend time communicating with filmmakers without the
pressure of the screening series.

MM:   Most moviemakers still dream of
having their films shown in Park City, Cannes or Toronto. What are
a few words of advice you’d give them?

JP: It’s a cliché, but you need to be
persistent. If you really believe in your film and work hard to
make others believe with you, your film will definitely find a home.
Maybe even in one of those cities you mention. It’s as simple as
creating a strong story, solid acting and good directing.

MM:   Slamdunk is now also a film production
company. What led you to make this decision? What sort of projects
are you looking for?

JP: All of us at Slamdunk are filmmakers. We
started the festival to showcase films. We have amassed an impressive
list of product, distribution and financial contacts through the
festival. Since we’re filmmakers, and we wanted to make sure that
our festival filmmakers get the best deals possible on their films,
it just felt like the logical extension of the festival to open
up a production arm. Slamdunk Films has just optioned an amazing
screenplay from a first-time writer, Geoffrey O’Brien, called Full
Fathom Five
. FFF  is a young adult action adventure
film set in a small New England fishing town perhaps it’ll be shot
in Maine <Wink>.

We’re also looking for finished titles. We have a vast
network of sales contacts, and we’ll gladly extend them for the
right film. We look for strong writing that will require little
development, and hopefully has some elements attached. Interested
parties should contact us with their package and a cover letter.

MM:   You guys always seem to be coming
up with new and inventive ways to help the independent moviemaking
community. What are some of the projects you’re looking to work
on in the future?

JP: Personally, I’m excited by the prospect
of new delivery technology. I think that at-home pay per view and
Internet channels capable of handling streaming video will blow
the doors off of the indie film world. It might make festivals like
Slamdunk obsolete. Imagine going to Sundance, but staying in the
warmth of your own home.

We are also focusing on DVD home video and a sales company.
This will enable us to help contribute substantially to the distribution
of films that we are associated with. This is currently where we
are focusing a great amount of attention.

MM: You recently opened up an office in Paris.
How will this change the work you’re doing on an international level?

JP: Having a presence in Europe is great. We’re
getting a huge upswing in worldwide submissions. It’s interesting
to watch the contemporary view of America as seen from outside of
our borders. I was recently invited to speak at the first annual
Singapore Shorts Film Festival. It was very refreshing to have an
audience who was eager to break into the film market at the grassroots

The French office also gives us access to overseas companies
for technology, financing and content. Christoph Servell runs Slamdunk
Europe and has been on the French film scene for 10 years. He brings
a great wealth of contacts and ideas.

MM: You’re now in your fifth year of operation.
Now that you have some perspective, what are some of the your thoughts
about the festival’s future?

JP: I’m just happy that we’ve been able to help
so many filmmakers. Recently, one of the other founding partners
of Slamdunk, Cabot Orton, left the festival to work for a non-profit
group. Without Cabot, this festival wouldn’t have ever happened.
Justin Henry, Keith Spiegel and I would like to wish Cabot the best
in his new venture. He’s our brother in the true sense of the word.

The real key to Slamdunk is its ability to evolve. We
all work very hard to keep the festival and associated events fresh.
The film community is constantly changing and evolving as all good
art communities do, and Slamdunk must keep pace and even be ahead
of the curve. Slamdunk is able to do this only by keeping a strong
open dialogue with filmmakers and the industry as a whole. We want
to thank all those who have shared in the last five years with us
and extend an invitation to those who have not.

For more information on Slamdunk, visit