Author Archives: Daniel Erichsen-Teal

DCIFF Alum and Producer David A. Melendez Shares Lessons from First Production

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.

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David A. Melendez, Co-Producer of 2017 Best Feature One Penny and co-owner of StonePark Productions

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.

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Still from One Penny which premiered at DCIFF 2017 and won “Best Feature”

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.

A Film Fest’s Value in the Age of Streaming

DCIFF_PressPhotos-20As web access to on-screen stories has grown exponentially, it’s a fair question to ask: what’s the value of a film festival when most everything will end up online anyways? There’s so much content available on the top few mainstream platforms alone that someone could almost endlessly view new film, series, documentaries, and shorts. What’s more, film fanatics can bypass mainstream content and go straight to websites like Filmstruck, VelvetCulture, or IndieFlix to see independent film. Yet, going to the movies is a collective experience that isn’t replicated at home on a laptop or flat-screen TV. The value of coming together to see new, independent productions at a festival extends to more than just the filmmaker seeking promotion and a niche group of film aficionados and critics. That’s why there are still hundreds of film festivals alive and well worldwide.

Filmmakers whose work is showcased gain earned recognition for excellence and an occasion for celebrating their significant investment of time, resources, and creativity, in addition to a special opportunity for engagement with an audience. DCIFF, especially, works to honor filmmakers for their achievement of producing a story that connects with viewers, asks important questions, and offers something new. Part of that celebration is coming together and taking the time to experience the film, publicly affirming the work. Out of that comes the chance to directly engage with viewers, to hear first impressions and reactions, and to enter conversations (formally, through Q&A sessions, or causally at receptions).  A large part of the mission, necessarily, is forwarding the careers of filmmakers whose work has potential to connect to a larger audience. Selectees are in the running for helpful introductions to distributors, who can purchase rights and market in their own region or country. Additionally, festivals (some, not all) offer an opportunity for filmmakers to engage with professional peers in sharpening their craft and industry-knowledge through workshops, seminars, and masterclasses—all of which DCIFF hosts.

The experience differs significantly for the attendee who comes to receive, rather than present, story. Here’s the draw to attend: for anyone hungry to experience new stories on screen, the festival offers a chance to see what’s been made right now outside of mass-marketed content. The festival provides a helpful filter: out of the colossal supply of new, creative projects, a select menu is thoughtfully chosen for viewers to experience. In years past, DCIFF has received over 2,500 submissions, and the largest festivals often receive several thousands of feature films and twice as many shorts. In other words, attendees get to see the best of new work without either wading through the many thousands of films that will eventually be online, or only seeing work that has been noticed by distributors and deemed marketable to mass audiences. There is, too, the unique opportunity for attendees to meet and engage with filmmakers and learn more about the process and technique that goes into making the on-screen stories that have become such a large part of our cultural experience.

Finally, cultural community is enforced when there is a space made for people to come together, share an experience of a new perspective, and discuss what’s just been encountered. Communities choose to engage new art in clusters and film festivals play an important role in providing that venue for connection to stories that inspire, educate, and ask the right questions. DCIFF’s strong history of creating that space—for filmmakers and attendees alike—promises a worthwhile opportunity in this year’s festival in February!  If you want to receive updates about festival programming, sign up here