Filmmakers shot short films on cellphones and the Tribeca Film Festival screened them and streamed the content digitally via an iPhone app.
A dozen of the feature films shown last month at Tribeca were low-budget indie projects funded by Kickstarter, a "crowd funding" Internet site that helps creative people use social media to cobble together hundreds of micro-investments of $25 to $100 to finance their movies.
The filmmaking landscape is becoming increasingly flat. Yesteryear's movie studio moguls have been eclipsed by a couple of twentysomething dudes with a Mac and a wi-fi connection who post shorts to YouTube from a suburban garage.
The digital revolution is rewriting the rules of making and distributing movies at a dizzying velocity in what Tribeca's co-founder, Craig Hatkoff, calls a "disruptive innovation" upending the film industry.
Hatkoff, his wife, Jane Rosenthal, a movie producer, and actor Robert DeNiro teamed to launch the successful Tribeca brand in 2002 in Lower Manhattan to spur economic development in that area after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Hatkoff grew up in Albany and graduated in 1972 from Albany Academy.
"The only constant will be change," Hatkoff told an audience of about 150 people, including dozens of aspiring filmmakers. He joined a panel discussion Thursday at the University at Albany that examined how this area might build upon a nascent regional film industry highlighted by last summer's $15 million indie film "The Place Beyond the Pines." It was shot primarily in Schenectady and stars Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes. A September release is planned.
Hatkoff said the key to the Capital Region getting its piece of the pie is a multi-front offensive: develop a "film culture" among young people, establish a "sustainable" filmmaking platform and locate a "sweet spot" of several small-budget indie projects rather than chasing the long-shot of landing a $200 million studio blockbuster.
The calculus of getting films financed has changed drastically. "It's no longer Harvey Weinstein in the audience at Sundance ready to write a $7 million check," Hatkoff said. The new paradigm is Edward Burns, a UAlbany dropout, an actor and filmmaker who shot his latest film, "Newlyweds," on a $3,000 digital camera with a $9,000 budget and a guerrilla-type shooting schedule in Manhattan. It generated strong buzz at Tribeca.
"What really matters is the content," Hatkoff said. "It has to be a great story done well. Content is king."
The panel, moderated by Times Union Vice President and Editor Rex Smith, marked the kickoff of a new multi-disciplinary UAlbany film initiative, Upstate NY Screens, with support by the University at Albany Foundation. "We're going to think small," said Mary Valentis, a UAlbany administrator who is an organizer of Upstate NY Screens. She is planning a 2014 "regional cinematic exposition" with screenings, master classes and networking opportunities for filmmakers. Discussions are under way to try to land DeNiro or Jonathan Demme as a headliner.
Deborah Goedeke, who heads the Albany County Film Commission, and Pat Swinney Kaufman, executive director of the Governor's Office for Motion Picture and Television Development, said their agencies are now contacted more often by small independent filmmakers.
"It's about change and thinking about what the world will look like 10 years out," said Proctors CEO Philip Morris, who shows about 120 films a year in four theaters and hosts a variety of small film festivals on various films. He's targeting aspiring high school filmmakers and developing the next generation of moviegoers.
"It's all within our power. We can make it happen in upstate New York," said Heidi Philipsen of Schenectady, an indie filmmaker and member of Upstate Independents, a nonprofit organization of local filmmakers.
Alex Orlovsky, a producer of "The Place Beyond the Pines" who spoke via Skype from New York City, said filming in Schenectady was so positive last summer that he's in talks about doing another film in the Electric City this summer.
"It was a great shooting experience," he said. "You can shoot urban scenes downtown and be in a rural setting in 10 minutes. It's got good hotels and restaurants. It was the best of both worlds. I look forward to coming back."
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