The First Annual Ruff Cutz Indie Film Conference
Written by Elizabeth Engel | Posted by: Anonymous
The first annual Ruff Cutz Indie Film Conference drew a diverse crowd of filmmakers and speakers from all over the country. It was a two-day festival and conference held the last weekend of February 2007 at the Holiday Inn in Brookline, MA. The conference opened with a series of speakers who discussed screenwriting, animation, film financing and distribution, casting, and other aspects relative to the independent filmmaker. Following the guest speakers, the conference showcased a selection of short independent films.
The conference opened with a panel discussion that included most of the Ruff Cutz guest speakers. The speakers were of various fields, experience, and opinions. Rick Schmidt, published author and award-winning filmmaker, led the panel into a heated debate over whether or not it was possible to shoot a feature length film without a screenplay over the course of only a few days. Schmidt, who wrote Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices, adamantly stood behind his unique approach to independent filmmaking and theories. However, speakers Monroe Mann, Jorge Rodriguez, and Alex Ferrari challenged his process. They advocated for a more planned out approach to movie-making.
In the first seminar, Jeff Gordon talked about the discipline of screenwriting and his company, Writer’s Bootcamp. Gordon, a Chicago native, created Writer’s Bootcamp in Los Angeles in 1989. “In my first few years in LA, I realized…there were no writing classes that were about writing,” said Gordon. The classes he found were mostly about marketing your screenplay or networking. However, Gordon emphasized that his program was more about the actual task of developing a screenplay from the initial idea to the final product. Writing a screenplay and revising it requires a significant amount of time and commitment. “If you’re not putting the hours in…no amount of networking or marketing will do any good,” Gordon stressed.
Gordon also described his creative calendar, various writing programs, and answered questions from the audience. In his six-month writing program, minimal time is spent on the first draft of the screenplay, and the majority of the time is spent on revisions. As advice to new writers, Gordon told the attendees to never submit a first draft for consideration.
Following the discussion on screenwriting, Patrick Smith, an animator and artist, showed a sample of his work in animation and talked about the world of the animation artist. Smith’s film, Puppet, debuted at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival. He is a senior thesis advisor at the Pratt Institute in New York, and he directed the Emmy nominated MTV series Downtown.
Smith is a traditional animator, meaning that he draws his animations by hand. More than 5,000 drawings go into a six-minute animated short. “The people that can draw at the end of the day make better films,” said Smith. Smith went on to discuss his dislike of “fluffy bunnies” and the theory that all animation is meant for children. He asked the question, why couldn’t films like the The Godfather be made in animation?
With experience in the festival circuit, Smith advised new filmmakers to be mindful of what festivals they apply to. When he started out, he blindly applied to as many festivals as he could. However, he doesn’t recommend this approach because of the expense of applications and the issue of making your film ineligible for some festivals by showing it at another. Some of the larger film festivals are only looking for world premieres of a film, he explained. If you premiere your film at a lesser festival, then you cannot premiere it if you are accepted in a more notable festival. Therefore, Smith advocated for creating a long-term strategy that included a body of short films.
Toward the end of the day, Carolyn Pickman of CP Casting and Monroe Mann of Unstoppable Artists led a question and answer session about casting and acting. Pickman is well known in the Boston area for casting films, commercials, and other projects. In recent years, Pickman cast Brotherhood, Fever Pitch, Good Will Hunting, and the local casting for Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River. Pickman also cast The Departed. When Pickman was casting for the group of thugs who followed around Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed, she didn’t immediately find the type of actors that she was looking for. So, she held an open casting in South Boston to find “grittier” actors. She emphasized that it was important to be able to see and hear the type of actors she was looking for.
In the casting discussion, Carolyn Pickman told the audience that being prepared is one of the most important aspects of auditioning. “When you are called, you really need to be ready,” said Pickman. She elaborated that this meant knowing the script and rehearsing the lines. Glancing over the script outside the audition room just won’t cut it.
Monroe Mann founded his company, Unstoppable Artists, in Manhattan after returning from serving in Iraq. With Unstoppable Artists, Mann teaches actors, directors, and artists how to apply successful business strategies to their work. In addition, Mann is an actor with credits including a guest appearance on Will & Grace and a role in the movie Swimfan. When casting for his own films, Monroe looks for actors who are going to be ready, get the job done, and not waste time. “I don’t want people on board that are going to slow me down,” said Mann.
Following the speakers on Saturday night and Sunday, Ruff Cutz hosted the film festival portion of the event. The festival showed “ruff cuts,” or unfinished films from professional and amateur filmmakers. The festival promoted the idea that the “ruff cut” was an important part of the filmmaking process. Ruff Cutz was planned and executed by Image Icon Entertainment, founder Jamie Benti, and conference director Eric Vollweiller.
One of the filmmakers who showed his short film at the festival, Adam Woodworth, enjoyed hearing the speakers earlier in the conference. In response to the independent filmmaking discussion with filmmakers Alex Ferrari and Jorge Rodriguez, Woodworth noted, “It’s always inspirational for me to hear how someone came from basically nowhere in the film industry to a point where they’re experiencing commercial success or getting close to that.” Woodworth enjoyed hearing about Ferrari and Rodriguez’s film Broken and found their advice to new filmmakers very useful. “If anything, Alex reinforced the idea that it’s important to have another script ready for your next project when you go to a film festival with your current project, just in case a producer comes along that likes your work,” continued Woodworth. Without another piece ready to show, you might get passed over for an upcoming opportunity.
Woodworth’s short film Bourbon, which was shown at the festival, was about a couple of gangsters whose plans get them into trouble. Woodworth synopsizes the film as, “Frank and Joe, a couple of low-rent gangsters, hatch a plan to make it big by trafficking drugs cross-country. But when Joe gets greedy and brings on his pal Vince to do his errands, things go bad and everything comes crashing down.” The film, which had a great reception at Ruff Cutz, will also be shown at the Hollywood DV Festival in Los Angeles at the end of March.
Overall, the filmmakers, speakers, attendees, and organizers at Ruff Cutz found the conference to be a success, enough so that plans for next year are already underway.
Elizabeth Engel is a freelance writer and journalist living in Boston. She can be reached at Lizlengel@yahoo.com.
More information about the Ruff Cutz Conference can be found at www.rcifc.com. More information about Patrick Smith can be found at www.blendfilms.com. More information about Carolyn Pickman and CP Casting can be found at http://cpcasting.com/. More information about Monroe Mann can be found at www.UnstoppableArtists.com. More information about Bourbon and the trailer can be found at www.BourbonMovie.com. Elizabeth Engel is a freelance writer and journalist living in Boston. She can be reached at Lizlengel@yahoo.com.