The Austin Entertainment Business group has taken a step into a much larger circle, and last night’s meetup of entertainment professionals was proof of its ascent. Over 300 entertainment professionals from a wide variety of disciplines converged on the W Hotel in Austin. To say it was a jam packed event would be an understatement, and it’s proof that there are people in a Austin hungry for more connection in the creative realm.
Our hostess Jennifer Hutchins gave a wonderful presentation full of great tips and expert advice, and AEB board members Kiki Teague and Ross Krachey pumped up the crowd. Our special guest speaker was David Hartstein, director and producer. David’s films have been screened at the most prestigious film festivals including Tribeca, SXSW, Sundance, and many more. His advice on making the most out of the experience of going to a film festival was invaluable, especially to the directors in the audience.
I’ve written about other Austin Entertainment Business meetups before, but this one was different… different enough that I am awake at 6:30 am the next day writing about it (and I’m not fond of early mornings). What makes this meetup different is how focused it is on making Austin a center for film, television, and digital media while connecting businesses to entertainment pros in the United States. I love how it restlessly wishes to connect creatives with hiring managers, how it attracts the top talent in Austin, and how it connects everyone in the entertainment scene together and in such a way that we all benefit.
Truly, Jennifer Hutchins is onto something here, and it’s something we should all get behind. It will make Austin a better city for film, and for film creatives!
One thing that constantly surprises me about the Austin Entertainment Business Meetups at the Speakeasy, each final Thursday of the month, is the depth and the quality of both the presenters and the attendees.
The presenters are curated by our fearless and awesome organizer Jen Hutchins, and everyone who attends is privvy to inside information about the landscape of the entertainment business. The attendees range from the absolute creative types you would want dedicating their time to making your project better to the absolute business types who can make a film thrive in all parts of the complicated mechanism known as the entertainment industry.
To gather all of these bright minds in one place is incredibly encouraging to the forward movement of the entertainment culture in Austin.
This month's presenters were both fantastic. The first was Terence Michael, a producer credited with over 20 movies, 30 tv shows, and he even manages to find time to do podcasts! He had some fantastic ideas for writers looking to get into the business. As with most people who are established in the industry, he wasted no time speaking about the importance of having a better game plan than other writers and producers. He mentioned that writing a spec episode for TV and getting that in the right hands is a far better way to get your name out there than simply writing a script and hoping that it gets in a bidding war.
The other thing he talked about that I enjoyed hearing was that he said that he looks for projects as a producer that already have some of his job done for him. Not only that, he wants to see that in the subject line of the email. This is really important. It's long been known that the subject line of the email is the most important section. To take that to the next level, openly communicating what things you have already taken care of as a director, aka the things that a producer would typically have taken care of for a more established director, is a sure-fire way to get the producer's attention and may get you a meeting. In other words, if you beg and plead for your idea without trying to make the producer's job easier before they get involved, you're dead in the water! Terrence mentioned that you could make your email more memorable by mentioning perhaps a famous actor you got to act in the movie, or how much money you have put together and will dedicate to the project. There are tons of ways to get a producer's attention, but creating a compelling subject line will get you there faster, and if you're looking to work with Terence, make sure to make your subject line sing and soar above all the others.
The second presenter was equally fantastic in a different area: Distribution.
I can imagine how difficult it must be for a new filmmaker to have a finished movie and try to get any distribution deal possible. It is this situation where you are most vulnerable, according to Jerome Courshon, a producer who is incredibly knowledgeable about distribution and making good distribution deals. His feeling is that picking the right producer is important because not only are you relying upon this person to make a project happen, you are also relying on this person to find the best possible distribution deal. This, sincerely, requires cunning!
First, you want to be sure that a producer has experience with negotiating distribution deals and knows that part of the business incredibly well. Second, you do not want to sign any contract without having a lawyer who absolutely specializes in distribution deals on your side. I think just these two steps will mitigate 80% of the problems any filmmaker would have in distribution.
The people who offer distribution deals to less experienced producers might not be the most trustworthy (shocker, right?). He specifically mentioned recoupable expenses. To make it really simple, he said that you never want to agree to more than around $15k-$20k in recoupable expenses, and it's best if that number is a a big fat 0. If you agree to a high recoupable expense and you're a firt-time filmmaker, chances are very high that you'll never see a dime! That's a tough thing for a first-time filmmaker to hear, but it's the truth and you can't really argue with it. It's part of the industry. Reality.
Why This Meetup Matters... Why You Need To Come!
Both Terrence and Jerome were fantastic presenters. Even as a composer, I know that understanding all of the sides of the industry is important. In truth, I've not suffered too much for being a bit wiser about difficulties that I might face. At this meetup, I can't possible emphasize how incredible it feels to be around working professionals who make it look easy, who share their knowledge, and who seem like really decent people.
I want to do another quick shout-out for Jen Hutchins again who, on top of organizing a community of incredible thinkers and Texas-based industry folks, has managed to bring together some of the most potent and informative presentations of the media landscape in both Austin and abroad (ha ha ha. I'll do anything for a quick chuckle.) The Austin Entertain Business Meetup is one of the most important meetups in Austin for film industry people. It's both necessary and vital. It's my hope that this humble little blog post can help build this fantastic community of people.
Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a meetup group for film professionals at the Speakeasy in Downtown Austin. Jennifer Hutchins, a producer who has worked in both tv and film and whose credits include a film and tv series of the master magician Criss Angel, hosted the event. She put together a couple of fantastic presenters, and did an excellent presentation herself. One of the themes I noticed throughout the evening, between all presenters and practically everyone I chatted with, was the importance of connecting with others creators and film pros in Austin in the effort to make our community stronger.
Jennifer talked about the PGA, which stands for the Producers Guild of America. As a composer, I don’t know if they would accept me, but if they were to make an exception I certainly would. The way the PGA was presented by Jennifer made it seem like it would be a boon for just about anyone going down that path. The way Jennifer layed out all the benefits made great sense to me. I’d do it for hanging out with the members, and btw- it’s cheaper to join the PGA in Texas than in California!
Her first guest speaker was Josh Rubin, owner of Media ATX. What I liked a lot about Josh was that he was incredibly forthright about how the community in Austin that does film doesn’t know the resources they have in their own backyard. He mentioned a number of studios that very few of us were aware of. Another thing that I found incredibly interesting is that he shared a story of how there were two kids who he met with who covered a niche in the gaming community on their blog and managed to pull in more than 1,000,000 views on their site a month. Had he not been willing to meet people and find new and interesting stories, he wouldn’t have found those kids (and they were kids, btw).
The next speaker was Tate Allyn, who is associated with Colaborator.com. I found her presentation really interesting in that it seemed like colaborator.com was about connecting ing people who work in this town with the big studios, and helping the big studios by finding them excellent talent in Austin. When I spoke to Tate later, she told me she studied musical theater and opera at University of Southern California! That is a such a great school for music! We had a good chat about introversion and extroversion. We both agreed that it gets really interesting when these two basic personality traits switch sides, ie when a lifelong introvert (myself) goes external (has a ball at a networking event) and when a lifelong extrovert (Tate) goes internal (starts thinking about what she could create and how she could present it). Fantastic conversation.
I really enjoyed meeting a ton of other people there and what they were up to. Tico, the photographer, has a background in design and it was cool seeing how he’s applying that to photography. Shawn who has a background in coding for video and how he’s applying that to videography. And JD who has a background in post-hardcore music and now he’s dedicated that same work ethic to creating his first short film. One other guy that I really enjoyed talking with was Joel Laviolette, a sound designer and composer. I hope I didn’t scare him with my enthusiasm, but damn, we had a 15 minute conversation about synthesizers and instrument plugins for Cubase. It was ridiculously nerdy and completely fun.
All in all, this was a fantastic event. I couldn’t recommend this meetup group enough. If you’re already a member, than awesome! Hope to hang with you at the next meeting. If you want to find out more about Jennifer and her meetup group for film pros, join the meetup here: https://www.meetup.com/AustinEntertainmentBusiness/
Also, if you’re a musician, please be advised I will probably want to talk shop. Warning: I could do that for hours.