"As a grass-roots street filmmaker, I thought a long time about whether I should join the DGA or not," Christopher Coppola told a room full of AFI Fest 2003 filmmakers. "In addition to protecting my creative rights and providing health insurance and residuals, I decided it's mainly because the Guild is a fraternity and sorority of people sharing ideas that are really helpful to independent directors. Ideas like alternative distribution that our Independent Directors Committee (IDC) is exploring, ideas that are well outside the Hollywood box."
Connecting industry pros, like Coppola, with upcoming directors provided the contextual backdrop for a DGA-sponsored luncheon for AFI Fest filmmakers. Directors moved from personalized sessions with industry representatives at Kodak's Connect Sessions straight into lunch and a Q&A with DGA directors at Cinespace, a new dining and screening venue on Hollywood Boulevard.
Fellow IDC member Mary Lambert introduced other Guild filmmakers, Charles Burnett, Tamar Simon Hoffs, Michael Pressman, Jacques Thelemaque, Mark Sobel, Gary Walkow and Alice West, and opened the informal Q&A session.
First to rise was AFI Fest 2003 filmmaker Tamar Simon Hoffs, who recalled how she was embraced by the Guild when making her micro-budget film, Red Roses and Petrol.
Questions from the audience ranged from the nuts and bolts of how to join the Guild to the limitations of working with companies that are not signatories after having joined the Guild.
"I was hesitant at first," Christopher Coppola replied, "because I do films as low as $100,000 up to several million. I was asked to do a film called G-Men From Hell and the producers did not want it to be a Guild film. I told them what I'd discovered and call the DGA because I knew they could definitely work it out under the Low Budget Agreement and, of course, they did. You won't have to give up low-budget jobs when you join the DGA."
AFI Fest 2003 director Michael Pressman (Frankie and Johnny Are Married) talked about the Guild's ability to respond immediately to directors who are having trouble during production. Pressman described that type of swift action as being "rare for other industry unions." Charles Burnett wrapped up the afternoon by sharing his ideas on how to best maximize a film festival's marketing potential.
"Many times you will not be able to take advantage of favorable press from your festival screenings because your film is not opening right away," Burnett said. "If you can time your distribution to just after the festival's run, that is the best approach. Directors do have to work very hard to bring distributors into their festival screenings. Hopefully, you can have a great room and the distributors can see how well the film plays with an audience, which can affect the way they release the film or if they choose to buy it."