Actors Creating Content: A Conversation with David Rysdahl and Zazie Beetz
Darrien Michele Gipson is the Executive Director of SAGindie. An M.F.A. recipient from the Peter Stark Producers Program at the University of Southern California, Darrien was formerly the Vice President of Production for DEF Pictures. As Executive Director of SAGindie, Darrien leads a team that is responsible for independent filmmaker outreach and specializes in teaching low budget production focusing on the process for hiring professional actors via SAG-AFTRA’s low budget contracts. She is a frequent moderator and speaker on panels and production workshops, negotiates sponsorship agreements with film festivals around the country, spearheads SAGindie’s annual national advertising campaigns, oversees SAGindie.org, and throws several epic filmmaker parties.
Case Study: WILD INDIAN
Adam Piron is currently the Associate Director of Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program where he oversees the organization’s investment in Indigenous filmmakers globally and a member of the Sundance Film Festival’s Short Film Programming Team. He was previously the Film Curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). He has also been a Programmer for AFI Docs, AFI Fest, the imagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival, as well as the LA Film Festival. He is also a filmmaker and co-founder of Cousin – a film collective dedicated to supporting Indigenous artists experimenting with and pushing the boundaries of the moving image. His films have screened in The New Yorker’s Documentary showcase and at the Camden International Film Festival, Indie Grits, Camera Obscura, Seattle International Film Festival, Eastern Oregon Film Festival and various other festivals and programs.
Innovative Film Production Incentives
Joe Chianese is the SVP & Practice Leader, Production Incentives. Joe provides production & legislative consulting, financial, tax and administrative services for both domestic and international production incentives for film & television. Joe has over 36 years of accounting, government affairs, production and tax experience including positions at Sony Pictures Entertainment, The Walt Disney Company, the ABC Television Network, Paramount Pictures and Ernst & Young. Collectively, throughout Joe’s career he has been responsible for the tax and finance structuring for domestic and international film and television productions. Joe is a CPA, earned his BBA in Accounting from the University of Connecticut, an MBT and MBA from Fordham University, and UCLA Certificate Program in Film and Television.
Executive Director, Catalyst Story Institute
Philip’s creative career began at a young age by making short family films on VCR tapes while growing up in a small suburb of Boston, MA. In college, he started his transition into the theatre & film world while also earning his Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics from Boston College. Philip then moved to Los Angeles and learned the business side of the industry during his time as a Business Affairs Analyst at HBO where he worked with the financial and contract components of titles such as “The Sopranos”, “Sex and the City”, Six Feet Under”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Wire”. It was during his time in Los Angeles that Philip met the original founders of Catalyst (then called ITVFest) and developed a deeper understanding of the need to better connect independent story artists with the larger industry companies. In 2012, Philip was brought on board as Catalyst’s Executive Director. Philip has also served on the Board of Governors of the Boston/New England Chapter of the Emmy Academy.
Sandy Lighterman is the Film and Entertainment Commissioner for Miami-Dade County. Under her purview is the County’s Office of Film & Entertainment. Ms. Lighterman is responsible for the growth and development of the billion dollar film, television, music, digital media, commercial advertising and still photography industry in Miami-Dade County. She oversees office staff in providing location and logistic assistance, government liaison, municipalities’ liaison, production information and referral sources to the entertainment production industry. Ms. Lighterman serves as an advisor to the Miami Dade College School of Entertainment and Design Technology and is the Chairman of their Advisory Board. Ms. Lighterman serves on the Advisory Boards for Miami Media and Film Market and Filmgate. Additionally, Ms. Lighterman is the Vice President for the statewide non-profit organization Film Florida. She also serves as a judge for various Film Festivals including the Miami Short Film festival and Miami International Film Festival Cinemaslam series. She has received several Advocacy awards for her work promoting the entertainment production industry. Ms. Lighterman joined the Miami-Dade County Office of Film & Entertainment in 2008, enjoying a successful 25+ year career as a film and television producer. Ms. Lighterman brings a wealth of industry experience to her position from producing 200+ music videos and TV commercials, as well as, television series and independent films. In 2007, she retired from her production career in order to stay closer to home and her children. Ms. Lighterman holds a bachelor’s degree in Mass communications from the University of Miami.
Tava Maloy Sofsky, Oklahoma Cherokee Native, visionary and trailblazer, began her career as an entrepreneur in the motion picture industry in California immediately after graduating from OU. Twenty years later, Sofsky was recruited by the Oklahoma Film + Music Office to lead the state’s film and music industry to an elite production center. In her tenure, the film industry has experienced 2,400% growth in statewide economic impact and recruited over 140 productions including Kingdom Story/Lionsgate’s I Can Only Imagine, Amblin’s Stillwater and Apple’s upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon. Sofsky serves on several boards including Creativity Oklahoma and Lt. Governor task-force for developing workforce and infrastructure.
Director, Utah Film Commission
With 20 years of experience in the film industry, Virginia Pearce has been the Film Commissioner for the state of Utah since 2014. She came to the Film Commission with a goal of increasing production to ensure sustainable growth for Utah’s industry and has brought in over $300 million of new spend to the state. Virginia has a passion for nurturing new voices and has created a number of new programs encouraging diversity in the entertainment industry, including a lower budget incentive program, women’s network, workplace harassment policies, and an emerging talent grant program. Virginia was formerly with Spy Hop, a nationally recognized nonprofit that mentors teens in digital media creation, and with Sundance Institute, where she worked for 13 years, building relationships with a wide range of film, music, and theater artists.
Brian Gannon has been with the Austin Film Commission for eight years and been the Commissioner for the past five years. At the Austin Film Commission, Brian works to bring film, television and commercial production to Austin as well as advocating and assisting with productions filming in the Austin region with a goal of creating jobs for area professionals, local spending and making sure you can make your film in town without a hitch. Prior to the Austin Film Commission, Brian worked for the Texas Film Commission as a Production Consultant, was Director of Video and Content Production for Paul Bernhard Exhibit Design and worked as a freelancer on numerous film and television productions. Originally from Ireland, Brian has lived in Boston and Milwaukee where he attended University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He and his family have called Austin home for the past 15 years.
Stephanie Shannon has the role of a lifetime as Kansas City’s Film Commissioner after 20 years in the indie film and commercial production industry. Since re-establishing the KC Film Office after a 10-year absence (re-opened October 2014), she has led efforts to recruit and give assistance to scores of film, TV and commercial productions. She collaborated with the City of Kansas City to architect the city’s first ever local film incentive, unanimously passed by the City Council, which can be utilized by films, television, and commercial projects. To date she and her office have assisted over 1,300 projects for an estimated impact over $75 million in economic impact and job opportunities for the Kansas City region.
Tim Clark was named Director of the Buffalo Niagara Film Office in 2006. He serves as Film Commissioner for the Western Region of New York State including the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. In that role he is responsible for marketing the region to the worldwide film, television and commercial production industry. He has assisted in bringing some of the biggest movie studios to the area including film productions from Universal Pictures, Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney and many others. In addition, he has helped to draw numerous independent feature movies with stars such as Bradley Cooper, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Keanu Reeves, Kate Hudson, Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Clark has also aided in bringing hundreds of television shows to Western New York including NBC’s “The Office,” History Channel’s “Top Gear” and ABC Television’s “Mega stunt” program featuring Nik Wallenda walking live over Niagara Falls to a global TV audience. In January 2020, he was elected Chairman of the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) a worldwide organization representing over 300 film offices on 6 different continents. In that role he works closely with movie studio executives, screen sector professionals and colleagues around the world to develop global policy used in the making of motion pictures. Prior to Tim Clark’s appointment as Film Commissioner, he served the late New York State Governor Mario Cuomo as the Governor’s Regional Representative and he worked for two Erie County Executives in the role of Press Secretary. Before working in government, Clark had a career in the television news business as Managing Editor at WGRZ-TV (NBC) and Director of News Operations at WKBW-TV (ABC) in Buffalo. Clark holds a BA in Communications from Canisius College and he graduated from Canisius High School in Buffalo. He was awarded the degree of “Certified Film Commissioner” from AFCI University signifying achievement of the highest level of accomplishment in the profession. He is also a board member of Mercy Flight of Western New York, a non-profit emergency medical helicopter service and life member of the National Eagle Scout Association, Boy Scouts of America. As a lifelong Western New Yorker, Tim Clark relies on a deep network of contacts to assist in servicing the numerous productions that shoot in this large New York State region.
Amplifying the Message: Social Impact Campaigns for Documentary Films
A panel organized by FilmNorth and Speed Art Museum
This panel will explore ways that producers and distributors can help support the ideas of filmmakers in using social impact campaigns to stimulate activism to support social/racial justice. Films like John Lewis: Good Trouble that was produced by Participant Media and distributed by Magnolia Pictures will be discussed. Industry leaders will share the development of their social impact campaigns from inception through evaluation. Panelists will also share advice on what filmmakers and their teams can do while in production in order to facilitate a successful campaign to inspire and institute change to help build a stronger, more engaged community long after the film’s credits have rolled.
Program length: 60 minutes.
The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY and FilmNorth in Saint Paul, MN are each Satellite Cinemas for the presentation of films for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Both organizations
Support for this program is being provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and WarnerMedia for FilmNorth as a part of their FilmNorth Forum and through a sponsorship from Rabbit Hole Distillery and individual support from Gill & Augusta Holland, Jeff & Susan Callen, and Unbridled Films for the Speed.
Dori Begley currently serves as the Executive Vice President of Magnolia Pictures. Joining the company as Director of Acquisitions in 2007, she has overseen more than a decade of buys for Magnolia Pictures, Magnet Releasing, Magnolia Home Entertainment and Magnolia International Sales. Begley’s current role was expanded to include the management of strategic partnerships and oversight of theatrical marketing and distribution strategies. Notable releases include Oscar-nominated documentary RBG; Oscar-nominated and Palme d’Or winning SHOPLIFTERS; Oscar-nominated documentary I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, Dawn Porter’s JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE and Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli Despres’ ACLU documentary THE FIGHT. Current and upcoming releases include Alexander Nanau’s COLLECTIVE, Lance Oppenheim’s SOME KIND OF HEAVEN, and Rodney Ascher’s GLITCH IN THE MATRIX. Begley began her career in 2000 with Sony Pictures Classics working on an eclectic slate of award-winning titles from renowned filmmakers around the world. She is an Executive Branch member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Vassar College graduate and resident of Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
Melinda Arons is SVP of Social Impact for Participant Media, where she is instrumental in helping build campaigns in support of the company’s social impact strategy that address the most important issues of our time. Arons started her career at Fox News and spent twelve years at ABC News as a producer for Good Morning America and Nightline, where she ultimately became the Chief Political Producer and Senior Producer. While at ABC she won a Peabody and was nominated for multiple Emmys®. In 2013, she joined Facebook to help build their Media Partnerships team, and left in 2016 to join the Hillary For America presidential campaign as the Director of Broadcast Media. Since the election, Arons has consulted for the International Rescue Committee and for Lincoln Square Productions, the long form unit of ABC News. She attended Georgetown University.
Eugene Hernandez is Director of the New York Film Festival and Publisher of Film Comment at Film at Lincoln Center where he serves as Deputy Executive Director. His duties include strategic leadership, programming special events, and managing emerging artist, industry, and education initiatives. He joined Film at Lincoln Center in 2010 as Director of Digital Strategy to develop digital platforms and content. In 1996, Hernandez co-founded IndieWire, which he built over 15 years as it became the leading editorial publication for independent and international films, filmmakers, industry, and audiences. He was named on Out magazine’s OUT100 list in 2015 and has served as a juror at Sundance, SXSW, and the Film Independent Spirit Awards. He has also worked extensively as a consultant for several nonprofits, including the Creative Capital Foundation; written for major print and online publications; serves on the board of advisors for SXSW, SeriesFest, and Art House Convergence; and is a programming consultant for the Key West Film Festival.
Peter Nicks is an award winning cinematographer/director known for his immersive camera work and cinema vérité style. He helmed the critically acclaimed feature documentary THE WAITING ROOM and the Sundance winning THE FORCE. HOMEROOM completes a trilogy of timely, immersive docus exploring the interconnected narratives of health care, criminal justice and education in Oakland, CA. Nicks received his B.A. in English from Howard University and his masters in journalism from UC Berkeley.
FILMNORTH’S INCLUSIVE & SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS FILMMAKING LAB: A CASE STUDY
In fall of 2020, FilmNorth launched the inaugural edition of its Inclusive and Socially Conscious Filmmaking Lab. This free six-week pilot program was designed to help filmmakers in any stage of their career practice greater inclusive and socially responsible filmmaking and become leaders of change in our field. After the completion of this first year, lab participants and guest speakers join together to look back and discuss the potential impact this lab, and others like it, can have on filmmaking in the Twin Cities, across America, and around the globe.
Program length: 90 minutes.
Leya Hale is from the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota and Diné Nations. She makes her home in Saint Paul, Minnesota with her companion and three children. She works as a Producer for Twin Cities PBS. She is best known for her directorial debut, Reclaiming Sacred Tobacco, winner of the 2017 Upper Midwest Emmy Award for Best Topical Documentary. Her most recent documentary is The People’s Protectors, a Vision Maker Media grant production and winner of the 2019 Upper Midwest Emmy Award for Best Cultural Documentary. Recently, Leya was selected as the 2020 Sundance Institute Merata Mita Fellowship for Indigenous Artists and attended the 2020 Berlinale European Film Market as a NATIVe Fellow. Leya continues to work on a variety of local content media in an effort to create social change within Minnesota communities.
Hendrax is a queer, mixed Indian and black, first-generation Guyanese-American, NYC public school and Wharton grad. He is passionate about comedy and horror screenwriting, as a way of exploring social dynamics, identity and ethics.
Farida is a South-Asian, Muslim, first-generation American producer, director, and social impact storyteller with Texan roots. She makes art that activates and develops stories that have the power to catapult and amplify diverse experiences.
Yared Zeleke was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, until he immigrated to the U.S. at age nine. Zeleke earned his MFA in Writing and Directing at New York University, where his thesis short film, Lottery Boy, earned him an award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Agency in 2012.
Zeleke’s first feature, Lamb, was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. It was the first Ethiopian film to be included in the “Official Selection”. The North American premier was at the Toronto International Film Festival. Lamb garnered much press with positive reviews from major media outlets including the BBC, CNN, PBS, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, the Guardian, the Financial Times, and the New York Times. In the November issue of Variety magazine that year, Zeleke was featured among the “10 Screenwriters to Watch”.
FilmNorth Forum Presenting Sponsor
The 2021 FilmNorth Forum is made possible through funding from: