Bill Ostroff

FirstGlance Film Festival founder Bill Ostroff is
quite adept at juggling many responsibilities. When not working
as a full-time moviemaker, writer or production coordinator, he
finds the time to run the world’s first and only bi-coastal
film festival, FirstGlance. Taking place in Philadelphia and Los
Angeles, Ostroff hopes to eventually franchise FirstGlance to
cities throughout the nation-perhaps the world. Here, Ostroff
talks with MovieMaker about creating his own festival,
the differences between Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and his
desire to give a voice to struggling moviemakers the world over.

Jennifer M. Wood (MM): Though it is now
a bi-coastal festival, FirstGlance originated in Philadelphia.
How did you decide to start a festival there?

Bill Ostroff (BO): I went to Temple. The
festival was originally started by me and three friends who didn’t
see an avenue in Philadelphia to show underground, independent
film projects-student or professional. You had your little student
film festivals, but that was between you and the students in your
classes; you never got to show or exhibit your projects anywhere.

MM: What was the very first festival like?

BO:With $300 out of my own pocket, we started
our own festival. We put a couple of our own projects in along
with some other people’s films and suddenly made a profit.
We held the festival in a theater space, in two little rooms with
40 seats each for three nights. In total, we showed about 20 projects.

MM: Had you planned on making it an annual
event from the very beginning?

BO: After the first one I thought ‘that
was fun,’ but I suddenly started getting e-mails and phone
calls from people asking ‘When’s the next one?’
so I suddenly felt obligated to keep it going. People really appreciated
that we gave them the venue to interact with people who were just
like themselves.

MM: In Philadelphia, do you find the festival
attracts more professional filmmakers or more students?

BO: There are a lot of pros. They student
thing is growing, and we want it to grow. One of our goals is
to have student coordinators all over the country. We would like
to have the winners of FirstGlance LA and Philadelphia actually
travel from school to school showing their projects.

MM: What changes did you see in the second

BO: The second year was five nights, in two
separate locations next door to one another with 50 to 60 seats
each. By our second year, we had people flying out from all over
the country to come to the festival.

MM: With all going so well in Philadelphia,
what made you decide to start FirstGlance LA?

BO: We had our third year in Philadelphia,
everything went well, and I decided to move to Los Angeles because
I felt that I needed to open up my horizons as far as filmmaking
and what I wanted to do creatively. So I moved to LA and thought,
‘Hey, if we can do this festival in Philadelphia, we can
do it in LA, as well.’ So it took me about a year or so to
refigure everything and turn it into something bi-coastal. So
it took a little time, and it took a company called New Imaging
Productions to help me out with my Web presence. They’re
a multimedia production company and a sponsoring partner.

MM: Philadelphia and Los Angeles are extremely
different cities. What are some of the differences you found?

BO: In Philadelphia, it’s so much more
a community. People come, hang out and watch the whole festival.
They vote on their projects, they vote on other people’s
projects. LA is more of a “me” town. People come to see their
project and they leave. We learned that our first year. Everything
is trial and error.

MM: Knowing this, do you approach the
planning of the Philadelphia and LA festivals differently?

BO: No. I want to try and keep the same mission
of it being a competitive festival where the people at the festival
vote on their favorites. Some people might consider that a little
biased, like whoever has the most friends wins, but two of the
projects that won in LA this past year were projects that were
from the East Coast.

MM: Speaking of your voting process, how
did you decide to make it a competitive festival based on audience

BO: I felt, first off, it was the most fair
way, as opposed to having a committee saying that they are filmmakers
and they’re the ones deciding what gets in and what doesn’t.
I just felt that there’s entertainment in all different types
of projects. I’m not a huge documentary lover, but at the same
time, someone in the committee might not be crazy about experimental
films. I want to try to create the type of community where all these
filmmakers who had no place to go with their stuff now do.

MM: What types of films are you showcasing?

BO: Shorts, documentaries, features, experimental
films, animation, student projects-pretty much the whole gamut
of whatever is out there. It keeps it wide, it keeps it fun and
it keeps people interested.

MM: Are you trying anything new at this
year’s Philadelphia fest?

BO: We are going to give out an actual award
to a Philadelphia born, raised or educated filmmaker. Someone whose
home is Philadelphia. We did online voting, got about 2,000 votes,
and we’re going to be presenting M. Night Shamylan with an
award on the opening night.

MM: Do you have any larger plans for the
festival in the future? Adding more cities, perhaps?

BO: We’re interested in finding other,
maybe smaller festivals, that are interested in franchising and
becoming a FirstGlance Festival. Places like Boston, central Florida,
Chicago or Seattle. We hope to become not only a festival, but
a distributor of short programs, features and more. We could take
the winners from each festival and run them on the FirstGlance
channel, which would run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’re
working on putting together an annual screenplay competition.

MM: That’s a great way to give voice
to struggling filmmakers who might not otherwise get a chance.

BO: There’s a great amount
of talent everywhere, but there’s so many people that don’t
have an avenue. If I can create an avenue for, say, 50 directors
each year who can say ‘I won FirstGlance LA,’ or they
get to talk to a distributor, or Miramax looks at their feature,
it’s a little step, but it’s a step they didn’t take
previously. They get to make that first step through us.

For more information on the FirstGlance film festivals, visit