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A2E Diary: San Francisco International

An artist-entrepreneur reflects on the A2E experience, as well as the crisis-meets-opportunity moment in the filmmaking/distribution business.

Ted Hope (center), San Francisco International's Executive Director, launches the A2E gathering in Japantown, SF.

Ted Hope (center), San Francisco International’s Executive Director, launches the A2E gathering in Japantown, SF. (Photo by Jan Lundberg, courtesy SFFS)

It’s 8:30am at the Kabuki hotel in Japantown, San Francisco, and we’re taping a banner to the wall as we have done many times in the last six months. We feel incredibly fortunate to have been selected to participate in the A2E (“Artist to Entrepreneur”) Launch Pad event at the San Francisco International Film Festival. We did not know what to expect. The festival materials used the term “speed dating,” but I wasn’t sure quite what that would mean for us.

In December, we launched Seed&Spark, a brand new crowdfunding and social distribution platform to build audiences and support the entire lifecycle of a film—from pitch to premiere and beyond. We were intrigued by the event’s title: “Artist to Entrepreneur” because, well, that’s what we are, filmmakers turned tech entrepreneurs. And we love the idea of A2E because it represents a framework shift: not a new idea but a new vocabulary. It wasn’t until I was six or seven months deep in the development of a tech platform that I realized I was an “entrepreneur” long before that moniker was ever bestowed upon me. I had made films before, and every film is a startup. But as an industry, we’re really only just learning to think that way.

So it’s wonderful to sit in a room for A2E full of A2E’s, companies like Dogfish Accelerator, Assemble, and Elevision. My colleague and I sat on one side of a table with our banner and our laptops and filmmakers cycled through every 15 minutes. We had a chance to really educate them on what our platform offers, to hear about their biggest pain points, to learn about the incredible pipeline of upcoming projects from San Francisco coming soon to a theater/VOD player/small screen near you.

Seed & Spark speaks to filmmakers about opportunity at the San Francisco International.

Emily Best (far back, center), founder of Seed&Spark, speaks to filmmakers about opportunity at the San Francisco International. (Photo by Jan Lundberg, courtesy SFFS)

I believe that we will look back on this particular moment in the film business as though it was a kink in a hose. There are tremendous numbers of films being made every year (I think Ted Hope’s number was 50,000), and the pressure is building up on one side of the kink. Out in the garden are many, many companies waiting to help build audiences, market and distribute those films.  The kink at the moment is a gap in education. It’s incredibly time-consuming to conceive, write, fundraise and produce a film. To add to that time to educate oneself on the myriad platforms coming to market every day is an astonishing ask.

So I think that’s what A2E seemed to strive to do in a small way (as it was limited in the number of filmmakers who could attend): to connect working filmmakers with the founders of these new platforms for long enough to deeply understand and then responsibly assess what was best for them. And I think in many ways, the A2E event relies on the collaborative nature of the indie film industry.  We meet each other a lot and share best practices. Now, there are roughly 48 filmmakers out there who really know what all these platforms have to offer and will act as a network of educators.

What was so exciting for us was to see what was exciting for each individual filmmaker. We learned a lot about our own tool, about what’s intuitive, what takes more explaining, immediate ways we can improve and also new pain points we can begin to address. And it made me reflect on something: as a filmmaker, I have spent a lot of time at panels listening to the experts talk at me about funding, marketing and distribution. Since launching Seed&Spark, I have had the somewhat awkward task of being on those panels, called upon as an “expert.” (Ha! I think.) But sitting across a table from writers, directors, producers, documentarians, trans-mediates and hyphenates we realized how important it is for the exchange of information and expertise to go both ways. Our tech platform to support filmmakers will be greatly improved because of this opportunity to sit with so many filmmakers and learn from them.

Being an entrepreneur is about assuming the risk for a business venture. Filmmakers are no strangers to that. Our method for mitigating that risk has always been collaboration. So the chance perhaps not to “speed date” but to collaborate with so many tech platforms looking to serve the needs of filmmakers (and audiences!) was galvanizing for many of them. At the drinks hour afterwards, I saw filmmakers empowered with choices, talking about finally producing that script that’s been sitting on the shelf.

Editor’s note: Fandor is a proud sponsor of A2E.

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