Field Report

Independent producers in Los Angeles are finding more ways of getting their work produced, critiqued, and distributed. Still, there is a need for a local group that can address the concerns shared by all independents. The active members of the LA Salon represent as diverse a cross section of the media community as one could imagine. We have installation-based video artists, digital animators, retired cinematographers, and working actors. Whereas most of the Southern California AIVF members tend to focus on documentary and narrative feature work, the core Salon members are largely interested in producing and seeing work that is often under-represented by most media organizations and festivals. The objective of our group, therefore, has been to focus our attention on more than one area or genre of media, and to try to cultivate an interest the many forms of independent experience. In addition, core salon members try to recognize the contributions of media pioneers who have helped pave the way for the current generation of artists.

The Salon’s long-term goal is to build a local home for independent talent and to join forces with artists in a variety of media, including dance, theater, music, and the digital arts. The creation of an alternative distribution network has been one of the most difficult, but potentially the most important, projects the Salon has undertaken. This network would strengthen relationships with mediamakers and distributors locally and in other parts of the nation. For example, through its participation in New York’s Global Entertainment & Media Summit over the last two years, the Los Angeles Salon has created relationships with producers and exhibitors nationwide which will help facilitate the exchange and promotion of valuable work.

The most successful series of projects that our group has produced so far have been the screenings, panel discussions, and exhibitions at leading professional conferences, including DV Expo and ShowBiz Expo. These conferences have given our group a forum, and the playback and projection equipment we need to present our work, without any cost to our Salon. As a result, we are able to present compelling new independently produced media work, and also exchange technical knowledge, without the necessity of fundraising.

By piggy-backing some of our programs onto other large-scale events, we capitalize on their publicity machinery and the shared audiences. So in essence, we have been able to create zero-budget events with exposure to larger audiences than we could produce alone. This has drawn potential new members to more specialized Salon events, thus spreading the word about our work and encouraging participation in the Salon and AIVF.

Other events have included a screening and lecture by award-winning animated documentary producer Sheila M. Sofian, a lecture by author and distributor Chris Gore, and an outrageous presentation by B-movie king Lloyd Kaufman of Troma (complete with live appearances by the Toxic Avenger and other Troma stars). These kinds of gatherings are intended to reflect the extent of creative diversity that independent cinema embraces. We feel that that if we set aside our creative differences as independents and seek to celebrate the range of independent voices, then we are more likely to see our collective strength as a movement for artistic freedom, as well as an important economic force.

The biggest problem that the LA Salon faces is the fact that this creative diversity creates a number of separate audiences that are not always interested in works outside of their particular set of tastes and interests. This means that each special event we produce generates a unique audience, with very little overlap from event to event. We have realized, however, that this is actually a strength rather than a weakness, as each audience learns about AIVF through event sponsors, and thus our network of people is increased.

The Salon has decided not to attempt any fundraising as yet. We offer all the events free to the public by recruiting core volunteer groups who donate their own money for refreshments and help with any publicity needed to get the word out. EZTV, one of LA’s few surviving artist-friendly media centers, continues to serve as our home base, and in October 2002, it moved to a larger space within the 18th Street Arts Complex, an internationally recognized artist residency and performance/exhibition organization in Santa Monica. This kind of support has enabled us to operate without having to charge admission to events and meetings. Our executive committee members, who include David Katz, Kate Johnson, Nina Rota, and myself, oversee the operation of the Salon and also serve as community-builders and representatives of the Salon in our respective spheres of independent film, further extending the network base.

Our administrative functions are typical of any organization: We try to face our problems as they come up, solve those that we have solutions for, and manage those that we determine must be resolved at another time.

In the long term, though, we are primarily interested in finding creative ways for indies to navigate their careers using strategies that make them more viable and more self-sufficient. We look forward to our continued evolution and to working with innovative people in all areas of the production chain, from writers on through distributors, and we encourage input from all AIVF members, both here and elsewhere, who can share their insights into how we as a group and as individuals can collaborate, expand, and improve our work.

About :

Priscilla Grim lives in Brooklyn and is a filmmaker, activist, membership director for AIVF, and recently, mother of Sophia Araya.