Premiering films from local filmmakers remains a celebrated category of the DC Independent Film Festival. So, when feature films like last year’s One Penny win “Best Feature” and go on to receive similar accolades from over 2-dozen other festivals across the U.S., we celebrate with the people who made it happen. David A. Melendez speaks with DCIFF about lessons from a first production and the business-focus that got him there. Look for him in attendance at this year’s Festival.
You have this inspiring, entrepreneurial story of realizing your passion for film making in your teenage years and taking an unconventional path to your first production and the founding of StonePark Productions. What’s the most important lesson from your journey that you can pass on to up and coming filmmakers?
Always keep your filmmaking dream alive, but don’t overlook the importance of the business side. Michael DeVita (business partner and co-founder of StonePark Productions) and I started a real estate development company which helped us fund our project. However, the knowledge and experience we gained from real estate was instrumental in creating our film; developing plans, leading a team, organizational skills, budgets and deadlines, etc. We want to be involved in movie making for the long haul, but need to be savvy and business minded to do so. Developing great stories is one thing, but establishing a career to tell those stories is another challenge. My advice: be creative but don’t underestimate the business.
What did you learn from producing your first feature film “One Penny” that you will apply to future projects?
The value of pre-production. If I could go back, I would have given us more time. Thinking on the fly should be a filmmaker’s strong suit, but it can get taxing very quickly, especially if you’re wearing multiple hats. Many times, we didn’t have a well thought out “Plan B,” and it caught up with us during post. There are no short cuts – the more effective you are in pre-production, the smoother everything else will go.
You’ve been to a number of film festivals. For a filmmaker, what was unique to the DCIFF experience?
The DCIFF staff. I always want to connect with the Festival Director in some way. It’s interesting to speak with the person responsible for having your project in the lineup. Deirdre Evans-Pritchard is smart, hardworking and incredibly invested – she understands the importance of how a festival can launch one’s career and confidence as well as showcase independent filmmaking. DCIFF’s staff sets filmmakers up to not only showcase their projects, but to garner press, interact and engage with the audience and develop relationships with other filmmakers. Their venues across the city are unique, well planned and really showcase the culture of Washington, D.C. The filmmaker brunch was one of my favorite events – something that I recommend to all filmmakers who attend the fest.
Any words of advice for independent filmmakers seeking funding for early projects?
Funding doesn’t necessarily mean cash. Develop partnerships, barter for locations and/or services – use your producing skills to lower the budget. Only then, put together what cash you absolutely need. Friends, family and crowd funding are all good sources, but have everything planned. Don’t just ask for money to fund your dream – have an actual written plan and put some sweat equity into the project so your contributors know you’re truly invested and its really going to happen. Michael and I relied heavily on self-finance – something that is extremely risky, and I don’t necessarily recommend for everyone. However, if you want absolute control of your project you might have to go this route and bet on yourself.
Can you tell us anything about upcoming projects?
We just finished our theater run w/ One Penny and are now planning an iTunes/Amazon release next month. We’re currently developing our second feature film which will be a crime/thriller – much bigger production, but we’re excited for the challenge.
From a company standpoint, StonePark plans to hear pitches from other filmmakers to potentially finance and co-produce. We know the talent is out there – the connection just needs to be made.