While no one can say that Hollywood isn’t a great place to be as a moviemaker, with its star power and extensive history, it’s not necessarily the only place to be. In fact, in the past few decades, the thriving film community of Wilmington, North Carolina has been giving Hollywood a run for its money. There may not be a Grauman’s Chinese Theater or Walk of Fame, yet what Wilmington lacks in legendry it makes up in its hunger for independent moviemaking.
From Friday, June 27th through Sunday, June 29th, the moviemakers of Wilmington will be satiated when the inaugural Wilmington Inside the Film Industry Film Conference brings a chunk of Hollywood to the east coast.
Whether you have a polished movie in need of distribution or a great idea that seems impossible to convey on paper, the WiFi Film Conference has something for everyone.
The conference kicks off on Friday with the Screen Actors Guild’s 75th anniversary celebration at the WiFi “Gilded Nights” Gala. On Saturday, participants will have a full schedule from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon as they attend an array of sessions from “Distribution, Financing, Attaching Actors, Oh My!” to “Adventures in Storyboarding: Getting Paid for Doodling in Meetings,” lead by industry professionals. The conference will begin to wind down that evening with the “WiFi After Glow” soiree, and come to a close with Ken Rotcop’s “Practice Your Pitch Breakfast” on Sunday morning. The conference will also feature more than 30 vendors (MM among them), giving participants the opportunity to mingle with various talent agents, WGA writers and production companies.
MM spoke with Sheila Brothers, co-founder of the conference as well as the independent production company We Have No Life Productions, to find out more about the first-ever WiFi Film Conference.
Lauren Barbato (MM): What inspired you to create the WiFi Film Conference?
Sheila Brothers (SB): Being fully involved in the independent filmmaking community, I have seen so many extremely talented filmmakers bring their projects to fruition (which is a task in itself) and then throw it up on YouTube and a couple of film festivals—and they think that is as far as they can go. Getting to the next level seems to be an impossible dream. Many filmmakers limit themselves to the creative side of film, leaving out the most important side of show business—business! They have no knowledge of distribution, financing, how to attach big-name actors, budgeting, development, etc. But it’s not their fault. There was no information hub on the east coast. My main focus is to get these filmmakers to the next level, get them the information they need from the best of the best, help them to realize their dreams and bring their projects to the big screen.
I have the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles year after year and build relationships, line up meetings and learn from the best. I want our filmmakers to have the same opportunities right here in our hometown.
As for Wynter Davis, my partner for the conference, her main goal was to bring awareness to the crew base here, to let production companies know they don’t need to fly in an entire production crew. Wilmington, NC has a large and extremely qualified crew base in every facet of filmmaking.
MM: Even though this is the very first WiFi Film Conference, you have an impressive list of guest speakers, with nearly every facet of the film industry covered, from producing to storyboarding to talent management. How were you able to attract these guest speakers and vendors to such a new venue?
SB: I am blessed to consider many of these guest speakers personal friends. Since 2008 is the inaugural year for the WiFi Film Conference, I knew the personal relationships I have built over the years with some of the most talented experts in their field would help to get the WiFi Film Conference off to a credible and amazing start. People such as Tim Hodge, Suzanne DeLaurentiis and Ken Rotcop—when I set out to do something, they trust it will be done successfully. And having a partner such as Wynter Davis really adds prestige to the conference. She has signed on guest speakers for WiFi that really support the independent filmmakers as well. All 12 feature guests have one main thing in common: They want to pay it forward. They remember persevering, working countless hours as they climbed their way up to the top, trying to learn everything they could.
MM: What’s the film community like in Wilmington?
SB: People call Wilmington “Hollywood East” for a very good reason. Wilmington is a remarkable filmmaking hub when it comes to production. If you’ve read past articles in MovieMaker Magazine, you would know that I am Wilmington’s biggest “cheerleader.” The locations are so diverse, offering beautiful beaches to luscious forest areas and charming neighborhoods. The crew base here is top-of-the-line and the soundstages are in abundance. We also have excellent tax incentives and I would personally welcome and encourage filmmakers to consider Wilmington as the location for their next film or television series. The filmmakers and the actors who live in this area have at one time all worked together on one project or another. They are very supportive, all doing what they can to help make filmmakers’ visions come alive.
MM: How do you think being located in Wilmington will affect the conference?
SB: The east coast filmmakers know Wilmington is the place to film. There are many filmmakers in this region who are always looking for an excuse just to come here, and WiFi is allowing them to do so. We are offering so many exciting events during WiFi, such as open houses for soundstages and editing suites, the WiFi “Gilded Nights” Gala presented by South region of the Screen Actors Guild, a pitch breakfast with one of the greatest screenwriting teachers. WiFi also gives everyone a chance to get up close and personal with many industry professionals and a few celebrities as well. We are offering so much to the filmmakers and making the weekend so affordable, every filmmaker will get the chance to attend.
MM: With your background and writing credits, it seems that you are happily immersed in the indie film circuit. What do you think are the benefits to making films outside of Los Angeles and ultimately, outside of the studio system?
SB: The positive side of indie filmmaking, outside of the studio system, is there is more opportunity for creative control. I absolutely love being an independent filmmaker, and as much as I adore Los Angeles, I don’t need to reside there to make a quality film. The east coast provides so much in the most cost-effective manner, offering a variety of incentives. The local community will bend over backwards to help aspiring filmmakers make their artistic vision come to life.
MM: Are there any downsides?
SB: Distribution is, of course, a big concern when you don’t have studio backing. You definitely have to work harder as an indie filmmaker to get that project out to the world. Like so many filmmakers, we aspire to make that 100 million film with complete studio backing, but I think when you start at the bottom and work your way up to the top, you learn and appreciate where you came from and how you got there. The journey a filmmaker takes is everything. Until that time comes however, we are always raising the bar, doing it better than before and when your filmmaking team does it alone, they revel in their accomplishments.
MM: In addition to being educational, the conference also sounds like a great networking opportunity. What do you hope aspiring moviemakers will take with them after leaving the conference?
SB: We’ve had so much support from our sponsors like Subaru, The Screen Actors Guild, New Jersey-based production company Mighty Fist Motion Pictures (who will be filming in Wilmington this summer), ProductionHub.com, InkTip and MovieMaker Magazine and many more to ensure we bring the east coast filmmakers the best of the best. We hope that filmmakers will leave WiFi armed with knowledge and new friendships with not only the industry professionals, but with the filmmakers from across the region. Building a solid indie film community is one of our main goals.
MM: Aspiring writers everywhere will want to attend the conference just for Ken Rotcop’s “Practice Your Pitch” breakfast. What events are you especially excited about?
SB: Yes. You are exactly right. Ken has been my screenwriting mentor for three years now and I know so many screenwriters who literally will travel across the world just to attend Ken’s Pitchmart, which happens in Los Angeles twice a year. This is definitely one event that I am excited about. But all in all, I think we have such a great lineup with our guest speakers and the support from the WGA and SAG, everything we are doing is exciting.
Wynter and I want the filmmakers to have a complete experience. That’s why we’ve added all the fun networking opportunities to the conference. I cannot express how important it is to build relationships with industry professionals. Don’t just try to sell your script or your film, but sell yourself. That is essential. People have to like you in order to do business with you. We’ve laid out so many prospects for filmmakers to join these industry professionals in a casual manner. Networking can only thrive when a good chemistry is established with one another. Have an enjoyable experience with the experts and the door will open for these filmmakers for a lifetime.
MM: Where do you see the WiFi Film Conference in 10 years?
SB: In 10 years, we see WiFi as one of the top film conferences in the country. We’ve already established a five-year plan, so we could only imagine where it will be 10 years down the line. We look forward to seeing the filmmakers at the 2008 WiFi Film Conference.
For more information, visit http://www.WiFiWilmington.com.