Masterclass with "15:17 to Paris" Writer Dorothy Blyskal

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MPI Filmmakers Learn from Clint Eastwood's Latest Screenwriter

Recently, select MPI filmmakers joined us for the first of our exclusive masterclass dinner series. This special masterclass featured screenwriter Dorothy Blyskal, best known for writing The 15:17 to Paris, Clint Eastwood’s latest film. Dorothy was recently named one of Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch.

Over the course of the evening, the masterclass attendees learned what it takes to break into the industry as screenwriters, and Dorothy shared her best advice for pitching ideas and seeing a script from conception to fruition. Here's what one of our filmmakers had to say:

“It was helpful to hear someone else's experiences in trying to break into the industry so hopefully I can imitate what worked for her and avoid what didn't. Because of this class I'm much more comfortable with the idea of presenting my own work to people I might know and opening up to them about my goals and ambitions.” – Masterclass attendee

Interested in attending our next masterclass dinner? Click here to apply.

"Gringa" Screening at Cine Miami Fest

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The MPI Original Film's First Miami Screening

Miami fans can show their support for Gringa at Cine Miami Fest this weekend. Gringa, co-written by MPI-supported filmmaker Claudia Murray and MPI’s vice president of talent development, Lana Link, depicts the story of a Cuban-American woman on a frenzied mission to find a rare car part before she and her abuelo leave for a trip to Havana. 

The winner of this film festival is determined by audience votes, and tickets are available for purchase here.

"Gringa" Accepted into 13th Annual Broad Humor Film Festival

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Coming to Venice, CA, Labor Day Weekend

We’re happy to share that MPI Original dramedy short, Gringa, has been selected for screening at the 13th Annual Broad Humor Film Festival, which will take place from August 30th–September 2nd in Venice, California. 

Gringa, co-written by MPI-supported filmmaker Claudia Murray and MPI’s vice president of talent development, Lana Link, depicts the story of a Cuban-American woman on a frenzied mission to find a rare car part before she and her abuelo leave for a trip to Havana. Last weekend, it won Best Short Narrative at the Anthem Freedom Festival in Las Vegas.

Founded in 2006, the Broad Humor Film Festival is world's first and only film festival dedicated to showcasing comedic films written and/or directed by women filmmakers.

"Gringa" and "Moving Violation" to Screen at Anthem Film Festival

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CATCH THEM AT FREEDOMFEST THIS WEEKEND

If you’re in the Las Vegas area or attending FreedomFest this weekend, don’t miss your chance to see our newest MPI Originals, Gringa and Moving Violation, which will screen at the Anthem Film Festival. 

Additionally, the Moving Picture Institute’s vice president of talent development, Lana Link, will join the Anthem Film Festival’s panel on “Out of the Darkness: Fighting Communism in Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea" and “Why Freedom Films Aren’t Free: A Conversation About Freedom-Messaging, Filmmaking, and Financing.”

You can find tickets and the official Festival schedule here

"How Jack Became Black" Now Available on VOD!

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FIND IT ON IN DEMAND, ITUNES, AND AMAZON VIDEO

We’re thrilled to share that the MPI-supported film How Jack Became Black is now available to rent or purchase via iN Demand (check your cable provider's listings), iTunes, and Amazon Video

This documentary, written and directed by MPI filmmaker Eli Steele, examines what it is like to be multiracial in an America dominated by identity politics. 

Born to a black father and a Jewish mother, Steele has long battled the forces of identity politics, from college campuses to places of employment. He believes that dignity individuals superseded the color of their skin -- and he was deeply shaken when his son was denied entrance to a public school for refusing to name his "primary race." 

Why does race still matter so much? Has identity politics, with its promise of redeeming America from the old ethos of white supremacy, delivered a new racial order where skin color, once again, trumps character? And if 20% of Americans will identify as multiracial by 2020, what will this mean to a nation that has been tormented by race throughout its history?
 
To answer these questions, Steele spoke with multiracial Americans, explored racial controversies in the George Zimmerman trial, and attended a conference on white privilege. How Jack Became Black delivers an unvarnished look at race in America from the perspective of a man with no allegiance to a single tribe.

Stay up to date on the latest news for How Jack Became Black by subscribing to the film’s newsletter.

MPI Partners with the Academy for “Academy Gold”

MPI JOINS AMC, HBO, AND OTHERS TO OFFER TRAINING TO FILMMAKERS

We’re proud to announce that we have partnered with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to participate in Academy Gold, an entertainment industry-wide internship enhancement and mentorship program for students and young professionals from underrepresented communities. Additional partners this year include the Walt Disney Company, Dolby Laboratories, HBO, IMAX, Lionsgate, Panavision, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film, Universal Pictures, Univision, and Warner Bros.

This year, 108 students from across the United States will participate in Academy Gold. The seven-week summer program will offer participants networking opportunities with Academy members and industry professionals, screenings, studio tours, and educational workshops.

For more information about MPI’s talent development programs, visit our filmmaker opportunities page!

New We the Internet TV Free Speech Mini-Documentary

WATCH THE THIRD INSTALLMENT IN WE THE INTERNET TV’S SILENCE U SERIES

The Moving Picture Institute's comedy news channel We the Internet TV recently released a new short documentary, Silence U Part 3: Can the University of Chicago Solve the Campus Free Speech Crisis? This is the follow-up to our 2016 and 2017 viral hits Silence U: Is the University Killing Free Speech and Open Debate? and Silence U Part 2: What Has Yale Become?

The film examines the University of Chicago’s commitment to protect free speech despite demands from some students and faculty to censor unpopular and provocative voices. Can UC resist the mounting pressure to abandon its commitment to free speech? We the Internet TV’s Rob Montz went to the Chicago campus to find out.

Successful Summer Kick-off at MPI’s 2018 Intern Summit

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“EVERY MPI EVENT THAT I HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE IN IS LIFE-CHANGING.”

As a production house and talent incubator, the Moving Picture Institute supports filmmakers’ careers at every stage, including in their first Hollywood jobs.

Last month, our spring and summer Hollywood Career Launch Program cohorts joined us in Los Angeles for our second annual Intern Summit. These young filmmakers networked with industry leaders, practiced pitching producers, and learned what it takes to turn their internship experiences into successful careers in entertainment. 

This year’s guest speakers included esteemed animator Colin Brady (Toy Story, Hulk, The Hunger Games, E.T.), MPI filmmaker Claudia Murray (Gringa), MPI filmmaker Nicholas Tucker (Corrections), and several Hollywood Career Launch Program alumni. 

This summer, we placed interns with several notable host production companies, including Madison Wells Media (formerly OddLot Entertainment, known for films like Ender’s Game, Drive, The Way) and Millennium Media (with Tanner Mobley, a former MPI intern-turned-host).

Attendees and the public also enjoyed an MPI Originals shorts showcase, featuring Moving Violation, Gringa, and Corrections.

Interested in our programs for filmmakers? Don't forget to check out our opportunities page for more information!

Spotlight: MPI Filmmaker Tanner Mobley

Part 4 in our Filmmaker "Spotlight" Series

The Moving Picture Institute has supported hundreds of filmmakers via fellowships, internships, masterclasses, and productions since our founding in 2005. This year, we are beginning an interview series that checks in with our filmmakers

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Our “Spotlight” series continues with long-time Moving Picture Institute-supported filmmaker Tanney Mobley, a development executive for Millennium Films and producer of high budget action features such as The Expendables franchise. Tanner graduated from the University of Iowa in 2010 with a degree in Cinema and, with the help of the MPI, relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film development. He has been with Millennium for the past six and a half years and also serves as a judge for the ScreenCraft annual action scriptwriting competition.

Lana Link (MPI): Tanner, thank you for answering our questions today! Can you talk about your role at Millennium and the films you make there?

TM: I work as a Development Executive, which is a fancy way of saying I find and develop different scripts/projects for the company. We have a full service production studio in Bulgaria, and we operate under a foreign pre-sales model. Basically that means we pre-sell our films to the different territories around the world before we actually make the movie. This provides us very little risk, since the film is already paid for before we start shooting. But creatively, it limits the type of projects we can do. Our buyers are mostly interested in high-concept action/thrillers with A-List cast. So that’s what we try to give them. We are the only independent studio in the world with six major franchises: The Expendables, Rambo, Olympus Has Fallen, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, The Mechanic, and most recently the new Hellboy reboot.

MPI: For those who are just starting out in the industry, can you speak to what “development” executives do? What skills do you need?

TM: We find scripts from anywhere we can—agents, managers, producers, friends, waiters, valets, etc. And we read a LOT. Once we find something we like, we try to option the project and put it together. Usually this involves a few rounds of notes with the writer, then sending the script out to directors. After director pitches, we hire a director, incorporate their script notes, and start making offers to cast. When we get a financeable actor on board, the sales guys take the film to the markets and start selling. This is usually where my work stops. But once the film is in post-production, we will review the cuts and give notes on how to improve it.

Skills you need: you must love reading, obviously. And you need to have a good sense of story/structure. But like anything else, it’s all about practice. If you have the patience to sit and read all day, then eventually you start to notice patterns in scripts and learn what works and what doesn’t.

MPI: What should writers keep in mind when they’re trying to get producers’ attention? Are there common errors you see screenwriters repeat, either in their work during the coverage process or in their pitches?

TM: Don’t be afraid to follow up. I get so many submissions that a lot of times scripts can get buried in my inbox. If you send me something and then disappear off the face of the earth, I’ll probably never read it. But if you’re polite and check in occasionally with a reminder, eventually I will get to it.

Common errors: don’t save your best pages for the end of the script. Make sure your first 10 to 25 pages are your strongest, and that they hook the reader somehow. Give me a reason to keep turning the page. If you tell me “Just wait until the twist at the end!” I’ll probably never make it that far.

As far as pitches go, try to relax. Don’t go too fast. Don’t read directly from a paper (notes are ok). Be funny. Even if you’re pitching a Holocaust drama where everybody dies at the end, a bit of humor can go a long way toward easing tension in the room and ingratiating yourself as someone we want to work with. Be open to ideas and collaborative, but don’t be afraid to defend yourself if you see things a different way. 

Make sure your first 10 to 25 pages are your strongest, and that they hook the reader somehow. Give me a reason to keep turning the page.

MPI: Pure ballpark estimate, how many scripts do you think you’ve read in your lifetime? What are your biggest lessons learned from that experience?

TM: I’m probably close to 1,000. You learn a little bit from everything you read. Usually what not to do. For example: taking too long to get into the story, not having a clear direction/arc for your protagonist, focusing too much on the action/plot instead of character, etc. As someone who reads a lot of action scripts, I can tell you we usually just skim the action scenes, because the director and stunt coordinator will do whatever they want with those anyway. Character is always most important. And the decisions your character makes will influence plot.

MPI: We are about to kick off our 2018 summer internship program, with students coming from around the country to work in the entertainment business and get a foot in the door. You are a Moving Picture Institute success story, and you participated in the program yourself when you first came out to LA. Can you talk about that experience?

TM: I did two development internships, and both were very different experiences. One was very fun and collaborative—the company let us attend production meetings, assist in weekend read, etc. The other was very cold: it was basically “Find a cubicle, grab a script from this huge stack, and do coverage all day without making a sound.” Both these experiences were super important, because I got to see how a department should be run and how it shouldn’t be run. 

The stipend provided by MPI allowed me to focus all my energy on succeeding at the internship and not having to worry about how I was going to pay rent, etc. . . . even more important is just learning how to work with people, be a team player, be collaborative, and be confident in your own taste and ideas. 

MPI: How did those placements help you land your next Hollywood job(s)?

TM: Both internships were essential. It’s incredibly difficult for someone not from LA to uproot and move across the country to take an unpaid internship in a totally unfamiliar industry with no connections. The stipend provided by MPI allowed me to focus all my energy on succeeding at the internship and not having to worry about how I was going to pay rent, etc. I was able to pad my resume and show I had previous experience, which is important. But even more important is just learning how to work with people, be a team player, be collaborative, and be confident in your own taste and ideas. 

MPI: Last year, you began hosting Moving Picture Institute interns of your own at Millennium, and you recently hired one for a full-time position! How can interns really stand out when they’re at the bottom of the totem pole?

TM: You basically need to remove the word “no” from your vocabulary. This will help you a lot when you first become an assistant as well. It doesn’t matter if your boss asks you to retrieve a lock of hair from Queen Elizabeth’s puppy. You never say no—at worst, you say “Let me see what I can do.” Then figure out a way to make it happen.

You basically need to remove the word “no” from your vocabulary. . . . You never say no—at worst, you say “Let me see what I can do.” Then figure out a way to make it happen.

No task should be too small. If it’s stocking sodas, cleaning up after a meeting, getting coffee, etc. Do the small things right and do them with enthusiasm. People will notice, and they will give you more responsibility as time goes on.

MPI: You’re also a writer yourself. Can you talk about your writing process and how you make time to write when you have a demanding full-time job in the industry?  

TM: It’s hard to find time to write even if you have a normal job. It’s just such a laborious process. But if you’re passionate about something, you’ll always find a way to make time. This is Hollywood—everyone has an idea for a script. A lot of people have really good ideas for scripts. But until they’re actually on paper, they don’t exist. It’s never hard for me to find time to write because it’s therapeutic. Even if I’ve spent all day trying to fix someone else’s bad script, it’s an easy switch to flip when you start working on your own stuff. If you can’t get excited about your own ideas, then you shouldn’t be writing. 

MPI: Is there anything you learned on your filmmaking and writing journey that you wish you’d known at the beginning? Or something particularly valuable that will inform your next projects?

TM: Know which ideas to focus your energy on. Work on things that you can actually sell. If you spend two years working on a script that only five people will want to see, then what’s the point?

Also, a tough pill to swallow:  concept is often more important than the actual script (at least for my company). We need to be able to pitch the movie in two or three sentences to a buyer from China, Mexico, Germany, Russia, etc.—all in the same day. And they all need to be able to understand it. Focus on universal themes and ideas that will have global appeal. It will go a long way toward making your project commercial and marketable.

MPI: For fun, share a film (or script) that you love that everyone else seems to hate. (Or a film you hate that everyone else loves). 

TM: Grease 2. I think it’s just as good as the first one. I’m yet to find anyone who agrees with me.

MPI: Any final advice for our filmmakers, new interns, and screenwriters?

TM: Find what you like to do, and do it. If you like writing, write every day. Even if it sucks, you will only get better. If you like directing, direct! Don’t wait around for someone to give you a job. Write or find material and start shooting short films. Anyone with an iPhone can shoot a short film today. With technology where it’s at, there’s really no excuse. 

Find what you like to do, and do it. . . . Anyone with an iPhone can shoot a short film today. With technology where it’s at, there’s really no excuse. 

"We The Internet TV" Honored by Webby Awards

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Our Comedy News Show Enjoys Third Consecutive Webby Nod

We’re proud to announce that our comedy news channel, We The Internet TV, was selected as an honoree in the Best Film & Video – Variety category at the 22nd Annual Webby Awards. This year’s nominees included Vogue, 60 Minutes Overtime, Condé Nast Entertainment, and The Tonight Show, among others.

This is the third consecutive year that We The Internet TV has received Webby attention—in 2016, it was selected as an honoree in two categories, and in 2017, it won Best Online Film & Video – Variety category. 

The Webby Awards, known as the “Oscars of the Internet,” is the Internet’s most respected symbol of success. As a Webby honoree, We The Internet TV proves yet again that we are setting the global standard for Internet excellence.

Catch the Official "Gringa" Trailer

Grab Some Popcorn — This is Going to be Good

We’re excited to share that the Gringa trailer is here! Featuring a diverse cast and filmmaking team, this film about a woman trapped between two worlds tells a universal story about family, priorities, and not playing into others' superficial expectations. 

 
 

The film was co-written by MPI’s vice president of talent development, Lana Link, and MPI-supported filmmaker Claudia Murray. Claudia directed the film, which was co-produced by Lana and MPI-supported filmmaker Ryan Patch (Mama Rwanda). This short film will hit festivals in 2018.

Check out the film’s new poster here, and make sure you like the film on Facebook for all the latest updates.

"Moving Violation" Takes Home Another Win

MPI Original Film Slaying at Film Festivals

We are thrilled to announce that MPI original Moving Violation won Best Comedy Short at the Austin Under the Stars Film Festival.

Next, Moving Violation is off to the prestigious Bentonville Film Festival. Co-founded by Geena Davis in partnership with Walmart and Coca-Cola, BFF focuses on promoting underrepresented voices in the entertainment industry. 

Starring Milana Vayntrub from NBC’s Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning show This Is Us, Moving Violation is the first narrative short film from MPI filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson (Dog Days, Mama Rwanda). Laura wrote the script in MPI's 2017 Calling Card Short screenwriting workshop, and MPI funded the short film's production. 

Moving Violation enjoyed its world premiere at the D.C. Independent Film Festival where it took home the prize for Best Narrative Short

Attend Our Second Annual Cinematography Workshop

Get Your Applications in Before It's Too Late

Don't miss your chance to apply for the Moving Picture Institute's second annual cinematography workshop, Moving Picturecraft. Led by award-winning cinematographer Benjamin Gaskell, this Los Angeles-based workshop educates filmmakers about how lighting, camera, and lens technologies can help them achieve their artistic intentions.

Our cinematography fellows learn from award-winning American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) members, while getting hands-on experience with industry-standard camera and lighting systems.

See what our workshop is all about:

 
 

Major Actors Round Off Star-Studded "Miss Virginia" Cast

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Matthew Modine, Aunjanue Ellis, Niles Fitch & Vanessa Williams Join Miss Virginia

We’re excited to share the official Deadline announcement that Matthew Modine (Stranger Things), Aunjanue Ellis (The Help), Niles Fitch (This Is Us), and Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) have joined Emmy-winning actress Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black) in our forthcoming feature film Miss Virginia.

Written by MPI executive vice president, Erin O’Connor, Miss Virginia tells the story of Virginia Walden Ford, the single black mother who took on Congress, special interests, and the status quo in order to get her son—and thousands of kids like him—out of failing schools and into good ones.

Production began in early April in Los Angeles and will continue through early May in Washington, D.C. Be sure to follow us on Facebook for all the latest updates!

Spotlight: MPI Filmmaker Toby Fell-Holden

Part 3 in our Filmmaker "Spotlight" Series

The Moving Picture Institute has supported hundreds of filmmakers via fellowships, internships, masterclasses, and productions since our founding in 2005. This year, we are beginning an interview series that checks in with our filmmakers

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Our “Spotlight” series continues with long-time Moving Picture Institute-supported filmmaker Toby Fell-Holden, a British writer-director based between New York and London. His short film Balcony won a Crystal Bear award at the 2016 Berlinale, played at over 100 film festivals, and won over 30 awards. Toby is currently developing his first feature film, Incident, with Western Edge Pictures.

Lana Link (MPI): Toby, thank you for answering our questions today! You’ve been writing and directing for years, with incredible success. Do you think of yourself as a writer or director first?

TF-H: A writer first. It’s free to write so it’s much easier to get in the hours! I love directing, but it tends to be a much smaller part of the process when you’re also writing the scripts. 

MPI: You attended Columbia’s MFA program—do you recommend that filmmakers who are starting out go to film school or get an MFA?

TF-H: I found the MFA incredibly useful to learn the craft of filmmaking, but some people are able to thrive without the structure and deadlines that school provides. For me it was important to have a community—a network of people who champion your work and give you feedback.

MPI: The Moving Picture Institute’s "Calling Card" screenwriting workshop will begin soon. You’ve written several critically acclaimed shorts. How can calling cards help further writers’ and directors’ careers? Is there an advantage to making those instead of diving right into features?

TF-H: The last short I made opened a lot of doors to the industry so it was definitely useful. But it required making many shorts and a lot of exercises during film school to get something to a level that gained attention. I wouldn’t know how to dive into making a feature without first getting to grips with the process through some shorts.

I wouldn’t know how to dive into making a feature without first getting to grips with the process through some shorts.

It’d be pretty tough to make a feature people would want to watch without having cut your teeth elsewhere. But if you can make a feature for next to nothing then great, why not!

MPI: Your short Balcony was an international success, screening at dozens of festivals and winning 25 awards, including a coveted Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. Can you talk about your festival submission strategy and process? How did you decide where you submit?

TF-H: We had this long spreadsheet that I had used for prior short film submissions. A good starting place is to go through the festival qualifying lists that the Academy Awards and BAFTA provide. These cover many of the more established festivals around the world. The other thing to watch out for is the premiere status of some festivals. Very few require a world premiere, but many established festivals require a national premiere, so it’s good to apply to those first.

MPI: Along those lines, what advice would you give to other filmmakers who want to know how to write a calling card short film that stands out from the crowd?

TF-H: I think they would first want to focus on what they’re trying to say with their stories. What are they passionate and eager to communicate in a way that’s unique to them? Films are hard to make so you need to really believe in what you’re doing to see it through and your enthusiasm is infectious in attracting the cast and crew.

Films are hard to make so you need to really believe in what you’re doing to see it through and your enthusiasm is infectious in attracting the cast and crew.

That said, with shorts many of the ones that do well will tend to throw you into a specific moment with high stakes or will have a powerful punchline/twist. You have almost no time to set up a story so it’s good to keep it moving and let the audience play catch-up.

MPI: Similarly, what advice would you give to other filmmakers who are beginning their film festival submission process?

TF-H: Be realistic with your expectations. If it’s the first attempt at a short, it’s better to aim for more local and niche-interest festivals rather than spend $2,000 on festival fees for the biggest ones and expect to go to Cannes. The goal is to get the film seen and to meet other filmmakers. As you make a few shorts you start to develop a sense of where it might play and you build relationships with programmers who will give you waivers and invite you to submit. At the start, I found that going for the big short film festivals like Palm Springs and Clermont was a good starting place. 

MPI: What should filmmakers know about getting distribution for their shorts?

TF-H: It’s hard to get distribution on TV, but online platforms are creating more new opportunities. If you have a good festival run, distributors will tend to find you. Winning awards will often attract interest. There’s also a lot to be said for approaching places like Vimeo and Short of the Week, which can often get you more exposure than you’ll ever find at festivals!

MPI: Could you talk about your writing process? Do you follow popular structural recommendations or books that you’ve found helpful? Particularly as you move into features?  

TF-H: The biggest part is just to write, every day. That’s the hardest challenge. Books-wise, Aristotle’s Poetics lays out the key elements of plot and character really succinctly. On Filmmaking by Alexander Mackendrick and On Directing Film by Mamet are also great for story. Listening to Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) talk about writing is always an education. He gave a masterclass at Columbia that changed the way I thought about structure and endings—I can’t get it out off my head when I write! There’s a great intro to first acts by Arndt and Pixar on YouTube. 

MPI: Is there anything you learned on your filmmaking and writing journey that you wish you’d known at the beginning? Or something particularly valuable that will inform your next project?

TF-H: I found it useful to keep a journal that I would make a note in whenever I saw a film, art, or read something that I had a strong reaction to—over time you start to see what things matter to you and it clarifies what you want to explore in your own stories.

MPI: How have your Moving Picture Institute fellowships and participation in MPI programs like screenwriting workshops helped develop your career? 

TF-H: My Moving Picture Institute fellowships were a great extension of support beyond film school to develop scripts with talented filmmakers who all have unique perspectives. The last short, Balcony, went through one of the script development labs and the discussion helped me gain a clear sense of when things were really working.

MPI: As you know, the Moving Picture Institute’s mission is to promote freedom through film. How do you navigate telling authentic stories that deal with current events and big ideas, as you did in Balcony or MPI-supported Little Shadow?

TF-H: I try to focus on the characters and their problems, then link that into the wider story world. Whenever I attempt to impose an idea or perspective onto the characters first, it usually goes wrong! Really wrong! It becomes preachy, mechanical, and lacks authenticity. If you can come up with an interesting character and get them talking to you, then it’s much easier to drop them in a situation that might dovetail into current events or tensions.

If you can come up with an interesting character and get them talking to you, then it’s much easier to drop them in a situation that might dovetail into current events or tensions.

MPI: For fun, share a film (or script) that you love that everyone else seems to hate. (Or a film you hate that everyone else loves).

TF-H: Labyrinth! But nobody hates that one, right??

MPI: Any final advice for our filmmakers and screenwriters?

TF-H: WRITE EVERY DAY!

 
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More about Toby Fell-Holden:

Toby Fell-Holden is a British writer-director based between New York and London. He holds an MFA in Film from Columbia University and a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University. His short film Balcony won a Crystal Bear award at the 2016 Berlinale, won the Iris Prize, and Best International Short Film at the Flickerfest, Calgary, and Urbanworld film festivals, along with a nomination for Best British Short Film at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA). It has played at over 100 film festivals and won over 30 awards. His short film Little Shadow was long-listed for an award by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and nominated by the Casting Society of America for an Artios award. Toby is a Screen International Star of Tomorrow for 2016. He is a 2016 recipient of a John Brabourne Award and has been awarded fellowships from the Moving Picture Institute and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Toby is currently developing his first feature film, Incident, with Western Edge Pictures.

How Jack Became Black Hits the Ground Running

 Source—YouTube

Source—YouTube

MPI-SUPPORTED FILM REACHING STUDENTS ACROSS THE MIDWEST

Moving Picture Institute-supported filmmaker Eli Steele just wrapped up a whirlwind screening tour of How Jack Became Black.

First stop? Northwood University in Midland, MI. Declared “an unqualified success” by the university’s chair of political science and philosophy, this screening attracted over 150 students who later engaged Eli in an insightful, nuanced discussion about race and identity politics. When asked about what she appreciated most during the event, one student concluded thoughtfully, “He didn’t choose a side. He gave evidence and facts, and let you make the conclusion."

Eli’s next stop was Chicago where How Jack Became Black screened for hundreds at DePaul University, the famed New Trier High School (watch the discussion panel here), and the historic Pickwick Theater. These events featured a range of panelists, including political strategist and radio host Maze Johnson; CEO of the groundbreaking community outreach program Project H.O.O.D Pastor Corey Brooks; ABC veteran reporter Charles Thomas; and Northwestern University associate provost and chief diversity officer Dr. Jabbar Bennett. The frank and fearless discussions inspired audience members and challenged them to think about subjects like race and identity in new ways.

Join us in congratulating Eli on the success of this recent screening tour, and be sure to check our Events page to see if How Jack Became Black is screening near you!

Screenplay Developed in MPI Screenwriting Workshop Accepted into Cannes Film Festival

 2017 MPI screenwriting fellow, Imelda O'Reilly.

2017 MPI screenwriting fellow, Imelda O'Reilly.

MPI SCREENWRITING FELLOW’S SCRIPT SELECTED FOR 2018 CANNES CINÉFONDATION ATELIER

The Cannes Cinéfondation Atelier has announced the 15 directors who will be invited to bring their projects to the Cannes Film Festival this year, and we’re thrilled to announce that We’re the Kids in America—an original feature screenplay by MPI screenwriting fellow Imelda O’Reilly—was selected! Imelda developed her script in MPI’s 2017 Revision screenwriting workshop. 

Created in 2005 to encourage creative cinema and foster the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers in the world, L'Atelier has featured 202 projects, of which 145 have been screened and 28 are currently in pre-production. The event, which runs from May 10–16 this year, gives directors and producers the chance to showcase their projects to potential funding partners. Fifteen projects from 15 different countries have been selected for this year’s event.

Join us in congratulating Imelda on this incredible success. We look forward to following the project through its production.

Looking to take your screenplay to the next level? Our Writing the “Calling Card” Short Film screenwriting workshop application deadline is March 28th. Apply today!

MPI Masterclass Takes Over Austin

 L to R: Lana Link, Hawk Jensen, Aziz Alhamza, Jim Warnock

L to R: Lana Link, Hawk Jensen, Aziz Alhamza, Jim Warnock

RECAP: AMPLIFYING HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISM THROUGH FILM

Last night, the Moving Picture Institute hosted a human-rights based screening and masterclass near the SXSW film festival in Austin. The sold-out event featured an incredible panel of filmmakers and human rights activists and an exclusive screening of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation's “Witness Project” mini-documentary series.

The Human Rights Foundation asserts that half the world’s population lives under authoritarianism. During this masterclass, our panelists—which included Jim Warnock from the Human Rights Foundation; Aziz Alhamza, co-founder of the citizen journalist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently; Hawk Jensen, founder of Smock Media and the filmmaker behind the “Witness Project”; and MPI’s own vice president of talent development, Lana Link—tackled one key question: What can artists do to push back against oppression, amplify the work of activists, and create positive change in the world?

A camera is more powerful than a weapon. . . . Once you share an image with the world, it cannot be taken away
— Jim Harnock

Attendees walked away from the masterclass with a stronger appreciation for the role of film in amplifying human rights activism. One attendee shared, "I'm starting to really understand the importance of documenting stories, especially now that I’ve gotten the whole view of witnesses to communism and oppression and seen the value in amplifying their voices." Another attendee agreed, noting, "There is definitely a need to shed light onto these issues for a greater public to see. If people are not aware of the problem, nothing can be done to mend it." 

For more on the Moving Picture Institute’s masterclass series, visit our Masterclasses page. Also, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook for updates and invitations to our 2018 masterclasses!

Spotlight: MPI Filmmaker Cyrus Saidi

Part 2 in our Filmmaker "Spotlight" Series

The Moving Picture Institute has supported hundreds of filmmakers via fellowships, internships, masterclasses, and productions since our founding in 2005. This year, we are beginning an interview series that checks in with our filmmakers

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Our “Spotlight” series continues with MPI-supported director/producer Cyrus Saidi. In 2013, he co-wrote, produced, and directed a MPI-supported short-film titled L1TTL3 BR0TH3R, a political thriller with a sci-fi twist. He recently completed a major documentary feature titled What We Started—taking on the subject of global electronic music culture. The film features some of the biggest names in music including Martin Garrix, Carl Cox, Tiesto, David Guetta, Dubfire, Usher, Ed Sheeran etc. What We Started is now available for streaming on Netflix. Follow the film on Facebook.

Lana Link (MPI): Your compelling feature electronic music documentary, What We Started, premiered last summer at the LA Film Festival. In March, the film will enjoy its theatrical premiere and go nationwide. Can you tell us a little about this project and how people can watch it?

CS: What We Started explores the rich history of the widely misunderstood and well-insulated dance music industry that began as an underground movement and has soared to become one of the most popular genres in music. The film follows the rise of young superstar Martin Garrix (#1 DJ in the world), and industry pioneer Carl Cox. The cast also includes Tiesto, Erick Morillo, Moby, David Guetta, Steve Angello, Afrojack, Paul Oakenfold, Usher, Ed Sheeran, Richie Hawtin, Seth Troxler, Pete Tong and more. After a theatrical run (March–June) The film will be available exclusively on Netflix worldwide. 

MPI: How did your background in the music business shape this film? Is this something you always knew you wanted to make?

CS: I always wanted to make this film and tell the incredible story of EDM (electronic dance music), which at its core is about freedom of expression and unity. I have worked in the EDM industry for 15 years and knew a lot of its history, politics, and key people.

MPI: Billboard recently shared the updated trailer and wrote: If you're a music geek or a student of dance history, this won't be one to miss. What do you think will draw audiences to the film who aren’t as familiar with dance music? What do you want them to take away from the film? 

CS: My co-director on this film, Bert Marcus, and our producer Cassandra Hamar brought an angle to this project that hugely enabled an objective view needed to make this film attractive to non-fans of the genre. They are extremely good at making commercially successful documentary films such as Teenage Paparazzo, Champs (Mike Tyson), and How to Make Money Selling Drugs, etc.

I think people will have a deep appreciation for the dance music community’s struggles in fighting for their rights, the persistent efforts to continue to love what they have done despite overwhelming odds, and all the challenges that dreamers overcome

I think people will have a deep appreciation for the dance music community's struggles in fighting for their rights, the persistent efforts to continue to love what they have done despite overwhelming odds, and all the challenges that dreamers overcome. All this while being highly entertained at the same time. That is the film’s goal.

MPI: Many of our filmmakers seek to involve high-profile interview subjects or stars. Your film features some of the most prominent players in the music world today, including Martin Garrix, Moby, David Guetta, Tiesto, Usher, and Ed Sheeran. Do you have any advice for how others can attach big names to their projects? 

CS: For us, this came down to two factors: relationships and offering value. Relationships are obviously something we had built over years in our field of work, so making a film about something in which we were deeply involved helped. Value however, is more important; if the film subject is compelling and the your dedication is evident—not only to make the film great but make its release a success—nothing can stand in your way. With this film, even with all the contacts we already had, it took us six months to convince big names to get on board. Once a couple joined, the rest followed. 

Value however, is more important; if the film subject is compelling and the your dedication is evident—not only to make the film great but make its release a success—nothing can stand in your way.

MPI: You first started working with the Moving Picture Institute team on your dystopian sci-fi short, L1TTL3 BR0TH3R. The film explores themes such as the role of technology as a means to fight oppression in society. Can you talk about why you wanted to tell that story?

CS: I have always been fascinated with dystopian “big brother” films. Usually the story is about using technology to take power away from people. I wanted to tell the opposite story where technology was used to take power back.

MPI: What’s the biggest difference between directing a narrative project and a documentary? Which do you prefer and why?

CS: With a narrative you need to have the story down tight. Whereas with a documentary, the story kind of takes shape as you go along. All you need is a very strong subject and and solid “why”—as in why you are dying to shed light on that subject. 

MPI: How about the difference between shorts and features?

CS: Features are a ton more work!

MPI: Is there anything you learned on your filmmaking journey that you wish you’d known at the beginning? Or something particularly valuable that will inform your next project? 

CS: I have made two films so far, and each time the most valuable lesson I have learned is the value of collaboration. Being open to new perspectives can really bring out the best in a project. I have learned that lesson twice. So I will definitely be more flexible as I grow as a filmmaker.

The most valuable lesson I have learned is the value of collaboration. Being open to new perspectives can really bring out the best in a project.

MPI: How has your Moving Picture Institute fellowship, support from our staff, and participation in our programming, like masterclasses, helped develop your career?

CS: Being part of MPI is like being part of a family. Knowing there are people who believe in what you are doing is not something I can put a price on. MPI is and will always be a part of my film career because it is driven by people who deeply care about their mission.

MPI: As you know, our mission is to promote freedom through film. How do you navigate telling authentic stories that deal with current events and big ideas?

CS: Telling freedom-oriented stories is in my creative DNA. Having been born in a country where freedom of expression was so scarce, then growing up in Canada and now living in the US where the idea of freedom is so much more respected—that has had a huge impact on me. Both of my films have freedom as a central idea. I am also working on a feature screenplay that revolves around this theme.

MPI: For fun, share a film that you love that everyone else seems to hate. (Or a film you hate that everyone else loves).

CS: I love Solaris (2002), and most people have never heard of it, don’t understand it, or hate it.

MPI: Any final advice for our filmmakers?

CS: I don’t think I am qualified to give advice as a filmmaker to all of the talented people in the MPI network. But perhaps as a talent manager, which is my day job, I can say: Only give your time to projects you absolutely love.

Only give your time to projects you absolutely love.
 
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More about Cyrus Saidi:

Director/producer Cyrus Saidi has always had an insatiable passion for film, music, freedom of expression, and the crossroads at which they all meet.
 
Starting his entrepreneurial career at 18, Cyrus challenged legislation and produced Canada’s first fully legal electronic music event. Over the past decade he has gone on to manage international acts and produce tours in 30+ countries. 
 
Growing up inspired by the great masters of cinema, Cyrus found his true passion in film. He spent a decade extensively studying screenwriting and directing, and optioned his first feature screenplay in 2012. In 2013, he co-wrote, produced, and directed a Moving Picture Institute-supported short film titled L1TTL3 BR0TH3R. A political thriller with a sci-fi twist, the film has received international attention and won several awards in festivals. The short was also featured on CBC, Canada’s national television channel.
 
Cyrus recently completed What We Started, a documentary feature about global electronic music culture. The film features some of the biggest names in music including Martin Garrix, Carl Cox, Tiesto, David Guetta, Dubfire, Usher, Ed Sheeran etc. What We Started will open in theaters in March 2018.

Moving Violation Wins at DCIFF!

  Moving Violation  film depicts a jilted bride who finally faces the truth about her ex-fiancé after a newly-installed speed camera on her street pushes her to the edge.

Moving Violation film depicts a jilted bride who finally faces the truth about her ex-fiancé after a newly-installed speed camera on her street pushes her to the edge.

MPI Film Awarded Best Narrative Short at the D.C. Independent Film Festival

We are thrilled to announce that our latest MPI original short, Moving Violation, won Best Narrative Short at the D.C. Independent Film Festival, beating out 23 other films—including a BAFTA-winning short. 

Starring Milana Vayntrub from the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning show This Is Us on NBC, Moving Violation is the first narrative short film from MPI filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson (Dog Days, Mama Rwanda). Laura wrote the script in MPI's 2017 Calling Card Short screenwriting workshop, and MPI funded the short film's production. 

Moving Violation enjoyed its world premiere at the D.C. Independent Film Festival where Laura participated in a filmmaker Q&A following the screening.

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Join us in congratulating Laura and the rest of the Moving Violation cast and crew on this incredible win!