What is IFFCON?
IFFCON is an annual conference in San Francisco with a dual purpose: to educate filmmakers about financing independent films in today’s global marketplace, and to facilitate direct contact between independent filmmakers and international financiers, commissioning editors, co-producers, and distributors.
When and why did it come into being?
Michael Ehrenzweig and I [Wendy Braitman] inaugurated IFFCON in 1994. Prior to that time, I had been attending CineMart in Rotterdam for years and always found it a valuable forum. In 1993, Michael and I represented the film The Celluloid Closet at CineMart and were ultimately successful in securing a deal with Arté for co-financing.
It was on the long plane ride home from the Netherlands following CineMart that the idea for IFFCON was born. The plan was to launch a humane co-production market specifically targeted at North American independent producers with projects in development. And critical to the plan was for San Francisco to be the host city, not only because it’s one of North America’s most beautiful, but because this is where Michael and I live.
What types of alliances has IFFCON formed with other international markets?
IFFCON has alliances with the Pusan Promotion Plan in Korea, CineMart in Rotterdam, and IFP’s No Borders. In general, these alliances were formed to share and promote selected international projects in development through our respective events. Specifically, we are very pleased that the upcoming edition of CineMart has reserved a slot for a project from IFFCON 2000.
What distinguishes IFFCON from these other markets?
The signature of IFFCON is found in its intimacy: only 60 independent filmmakers are accepted into the full three-day event, with a fairly even ratio of “buyers” and “sellers.” It is the only event of its kind not connected to a larger screening component, which helps contribute to its cozy atmosphere. At IFFCON, our main commitment is to the producer—some of the other markets are more auteur-driven. And with San Francisco as IFFCON’s host city, away from the industry hubs of LA and NY, we find everyone seems more generous to share information and contacts.
The driving philosophy behind IFFCON is…?
First of all, to de-stress the extremely stressful business of looking for financing. And our loftier goal is to open doors between independent producers and the international industry, persuading both to participate in a forum in which they get to know each other, develop relationships, and forge financial partnerships that are not dependent upon nonprofit subsidy.
Briefly, how is IFFCON structured?
IFFCON begins with Open Day, by presenting overview panels that cover a range of introductory topics. With registration open to the public, Open Day draws some 400 attendees. Despite this large number, Open Day maintains a contact-friendly atmosphere. The conference moves to deeper levels of specificity and personal contact during the following two days, held at public television affiliate KQED. These two days are limited to the 60 producers accepted through the selection process.
Programming includes workshops, panel discussions, roundtables, and private meetings. Social events, including a closing night film and reception, are interspersed throughout to offer participants opportunities to develop professional relationships in a personal setting.
Does the applicant or the buyer choose who they meet with for their private meetings?
Before the conference, buyers preview the IFFCON dossier, which profiles the 60 selected producers and their projects. They may then request as many private meetings as they would like with the producers of their choice. The producers are also allowed to schedule one private meeting of their choice from a select group of buyers.
Who are some of the funding entities and broadcasters that attend IFFCON?
TV buyers: Channel 4, BBC, NHK, Arté, HBO, PBS, The Learning Channel, Arts & Entertainment, Bravo/IFC. Film Companies: Miramax, New Line, Fox, Strand Releasing, USA Films, Alliance Atlantis Communications, TiMe Film and TV Produktions, Zero Films, Haut et Court, plus sales agents and co-producers from Europe and Asia.
What types of producers attend? Are there restrictions on an IFFCON applicants’ qualifications (e.g., genre, geography, medium)?
Producers of both fiction and nonfiction features attend, all with varying levels of experience. There are no restrictions aside from the requirement that producers must be from North America and project proposals must be submitted in English. Producers working in all film/video formats are eligible. Producers from outside North America are included only by special invitation.
Are producers invited or is it open registration?
IFFCON extends an open call to U.S. and Canadian producers with projects in development for which they are seeking international financing or co-production. A Selection Committee reviews applications and recommends up to 60 of the most promising projects.
How do you select the filmmakers?
Hundreds of filmmakers submit synopses, personnel biographies, and budget information of their fiction and non-fiction projects to IFFCON each year. Sixty are chosen by a Selection Advisory Committee of North American development executives, based on the applicant’s readiness to take advantage of the opportunity and the project’s appropriateness for international markets.
What is the ratio of applicants to projects selected?
We had close to 300 applicants this year, and we accept 60—so I guess that’s 1 out of 5.
What can producers expect to get out of IFFCON?
I’ll start by saying what producers cannot expect to get out of IFFCON, which is an immediate deal. But producers can expect ample opportunities—both formal and informal—to meet key development executives from around the world who are looking to finance and/or acquire North American films. They will meet their producing peers and have the chance to learn about international financing, distribution, and sales. Participants will find a relaxed atmosphere in which to pitch their projects, and be fed the best of Californian food and drink.
Do you track projects once they leave IFFCON? If so, what percentage of projects get funding as a result of connections made at IFFCON?
The Alumni Project, now being developed through a planning grant from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, will provide: a communications network to track the progress of alumni and their projects, promote innovative partnerships, report success stories of independent producers, and increase exposure of these filmmakers in ways that will enhance their potential to form successful new alliances. Information about alumni and networking resources will eventually be made available through IFFCON’s website.
Can you mention a few projects funded through IFFCON?
Here are some alumni that we’re thrilled to have helped: Thom Fitzgerald, Dreux Ellis (Beefcake); Sharon McGowan (Better Than Chocolate); Lynn Hershman, Henry Rosenthal (Conceiving Ada); Dan Cogan (The Lifestyle); Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman (Pink Triangle).
What advice do you give applicants to make their project stand out from the others?
First and foremost: have a really great, original idea. And with that, a lot will be forgiven. After that, some of the basics: good simple writing; no typos; no reduced type; no small margins. I know it sounds banal, but it makes a huge difference. Having some money already in place helps, as does talent and/or crew already attached. And the critical element is a producer who can inspire confidence in the financier that the film will actually get made, and made well.
Does your staff offer consultations prior to IFFCON on how to pitch a project? What basic pitching advice do you extend to producers?
Though there are no staff consultations, transcripts of previous pitching sessions are available from the “IFFCON Shop” at www.iffcon.com. Producers are advised by the staff before the conference to keep their pitches short, to allow time for questions and feedback. The most valuable advice comes from buyers and other industry guests, who help producers sharpen their pitching skills during pitch roundtables. These roundtables consist of 5 or 6 producers each allotted 10 minutes to pitch their projects, answer questions, and receive feedback from a small audience of buyers.
What is a common mistake producers make when trying to interest potential funder?
A common pitching mistake is to tell too many details of the story, rather than a brief and compelling overall concept. In the words of Joe Pichirallo from Fox Search-light, a great educator of pitching a story, “It’s not important that we hear the specifics, but there has to be a progression, and a quick one. Starts out here—boom—crisis, and resolution.”
What advice can you give producers on using IFFCON to find the right funding or co-production partner for their projects?
We print an Industry Directory with bios of all industry participants so that producers will know who they are pitching to. We also have panels and roundtable discussions with buyers to enable producers to better familiarize themselves with potential partners. And finally, we have an incredibly hospitable staff willing to help as much as possible.
Do all the buyers participate in Buyers Best Picks? Did those projects that were mentioned for their obvious potential in the marketplace usually get picked up by IFFCON buyers?
IFFCON 99 was the inauguration of Buyers Best Picks, and we were quite pleased with the results. This forum features selected buyers being asked to list their favorite projects at the conference. IFFCON seems to lend itself to candor, so the selected buyers were able to talk thoughtfully and honestly about projects, and the same projects got mentioned again and again. And I’m pleased that a number of those projects have since moved forward because of IFFCON.
How has IFFCON evolved with the increase of independent projects in an overcrowded marketplace?
IFFCON remains intimate despite the increase of projects in the marketplace. For IFFCON 2000, we will have our first-ever keynote address by Jack Lechner, formerly of Miramax, Channel 4, and HBO, who will be speaking to that very issue—a kind of “where do we go from here?”
What would people most be surprised to learn about IFFCON and/or its staff?
Putting on IFFCON is like financing and producing a low-budget movie every year, and that our core staff (as many as five at the height of pre-production) works together in an office the size of a shoebox. Another surprise: each and every staff member is a supermodel in his/her spare time.
Which financing companies or broadcasters do you most admire for their ability to work with independent producers and take a strong project to the next level?
I’ll keep my answer limited to some previous IFFCON participants: Alliance, Channel 4, ZDF, HBO, Time and Zero Films from Germany, Haut et Court from France, ITVS, Strand, Open City Films, among others. . . .
Famous last words:
I just heard this today from Michael Lewis, who wrote an acclaimed new book about Netscape founder Jim Clark: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”