The turn of the decade is mere months away, and its arrival will herald not only the 15th year of the festival, but also our expansion into a year-round organization that supports creators’ careers well beyond just the annual October event. Our long-term mission has always been to build a strong community that advances the narrative arts by lowering the barriers between storytellers, audiences, financiers, and the industry. The festival event brought these groups together, and now it will serve to launch a wider, more encompassing venture.
Why now? Because there has been a fundamental shift in the indie TV landscape that did not previously exist. The quality and quantity of superbly produced content is at an all time high, and the mainstream marketplace is yearning to find a way to tap in and acquire it.
The Fundamental Industry Change
Over the last 15 years, the digital revolution has made it increasingly easier to create and distribute content – leading to today’s global storytelling marketplace that is simultaneously more open, connected, and diverse, while simultaneously more disorganized and dissatisfying. Audiences randomly scroll through thousands of programs trying to determine which new shows to watch, while storytellers constantly scramble to monetize their existence, so they can create future projects.
The driving force behind these challenges is the slowness of “Hollywood” to accept new independent voices and shows into its system. But, with the advent of lower cost production equipment, and direct to consumer distribution, viewers and creators have more direct access to each other and can bypass the system entirely.
A viewer’s time is finite and limited, so every hour spent watching an independently produced show is an hour away from watching a major network. This has been an undeniable shock to the traditional TV system, causing major changes including the merging of networks with larger corporate partners (NBC & Comcast, ABC/Fox & Disney, Warner & ATT, etc).
When the concept of creating an independent TV show (instead of an independent film) first began around 2005, the thought of an online project pulling viewers away from network shows like “24” or “Lost” was not plausible.
But, 2020 is only a few months away. And creators have figured it out.
A massive library of narrative content has been independently created by thousands of creators around the world, and it is good. It is very, very good. The quality of these narrative shows being produced on micro-budgets are now strong enough to draw viewers away from traditional multimillion-dollar network programming.
That is the fundamental change.
With today’s consumers thirsty for new stories and today’s storytellers creating quality content that people will pay for, the ingredients are in place for a breakthrough moment. The creators and viewers just need to find each other, and the industry needs to be more open to new talent.
The key is to lower these barriers in a way that allows creators, viewers, and the industry to all benefit from each other. A catalyst is needed.
Our 2020+ expansion is built to be that catalyst alongside our major new industry partner, Abrams Artists Agency.
Four Parts of the Expansion
(1) Moving our festival’s headquarters so it has a more solid foundation and can solidify itself as the primary trusted event where the world’s best new shows get discovered;
(2) Launching a comprehensive professional development program to build relationships between storytellers and industry year-round;
(3) Developing a viable production model that keeps independent narrative storytellers employed as creators year-round; and
(4) Rebranding ITVFest as Catalyst
The first three elements already exist for the independent film world through wonderful organizations like Sundance, Tribeca, IFP, and others. High-quality independent filmmaking has been around for decades with a robust circuit of thousands of indie film festivals, educational development courses, and professional institutions.
In comparison, high-quality independent narrative programming is new.
At an indie film festival, companies are buying completed films that take a couple hours to watch. At an indie TV festival, creators are selling their concepts for future narratives built on multiple episodes, long-term storylines, and years of future production. TV and film are two very different economic models and require two separate and distinct talent development pipelines.
I: Moving the Festival to Duluth, Minnesota
ITVFest began in 2006 in Los Angeles where it achieved the impossible task of organically defining the Indie TV community within the eyes of the existing TV industry. Many TV professionals attended, and new talent were discovered and signed into the industry system.
As the digital revolution grew, the festival changed its approach from being a big city event and moved to the mountains of Vermont from 2013-2018. This rural environment allowed creators and executives to escape the busy city lights, relax, and develop working relationships focused around storytelling. In 2018, the festival launched its first ever marketplace with over 500+ direct meetings between creators and industry. The response was overwhelming, and it became clear that this direct relationship building approach was the right one.
The intensive time required to produce both the festival and the marketplace meant that our organization needed to operate year-round to foster these creator-industry relationships via new educational and professional development opportunities. Simply being a one-week event where people saw each other once a year is no longer enough to satisfy what our international community expects.
That need for growth led to Minnesota.
Statewide, Minnesota has experience supporting the TV and film industry with a robust film commission that actively works alongside the state’s professional organizations to increase the number of productions shooting in the state.
Regionally, being located in the Upper Midwest takes the festival out of the shadow of the major coastal cities and opens up new opportunities for creators from more places to attend.
Locally, Duluth keeps the relaxed, small town atmosphere and stunning October foliage views that our festival is known for, while adding the vital support of state, regional, and local organizations to aid our mission of supporting narrative artists. Our new home on the shores of Lake Superior also adds some key infrastructure upgrades such as an airport, more theatre seats in a handful of stunning venues centralized to a 3-block radius, great hotels, new restaurants, and a vibrant arts scene including ballet, orchestra, and multiple theatres.
The warm, heartfelt welcome and direct community support given to us here provides a powerful foundation on which we can build all three components of our 2020+ expansion.
Welcome to Duluth, MN: The Zenith City.
Note: While thousands of people in our festival community enjoyed our Vermont location, a significant amount of Vermonters (local, state, corporate, individual) were not interested in supporting the TV/film production industry expansion. Keeping the organization headquartered there would have required significant trimming down of our festival operations and cancelling the launch of both the educational and production components entirely. This would have hurt our community of artists.
II: Educational & Professional Development Programs
The pathway to success in our industry requires talent, hard work, and a strong professional network. Production life is intense, and trust is paramount, so creators and executives tend to work with people they already know. This is why our organization focuses so heavily on creating environments where people can develop genuine partnerships.
Talent also requires training. Artists never stop learning.
Putting all of these components together into an educational and professional development program for narrative artists is the next part of our expansion.
The program starts at the very beginning of the creative process with a development lab focused on helping the artist take the raw story idea out of their head and formulating it into a presentation ready to pitch to investors and executives.
Once the pitch is approved, the next step is to write the scripts. The in-depth writer program guides artists through the entire script-writing process from cover to cover.
After the script is written, it is time to shoot the show. Directing and producing is something that most indie narrative creators learn just by doing. This on-set professional training course takes that raw passion and talent and adds technique to their ability, filling in missing pieces of the process and answering all the questions along the way.
Finally, the show is shot and it is time to test it in front of a live audience before selling it to a network/distributor. That live test is our existing festival every October. There is no better way to gauge the quality of the new show and find potential buyers.
The core component to all of these steps are the professional relationships the artist will build along the way.
III: Production Community Jobs
The goal of every storyteller is to make a living telling stories. It is not to be working side jobs to pay rent while creating stories in between shifts. Yet, it is difficult for many creators to live and work in the major city centers where most of the production jobs are.
The third step in our expansion creates year-round production opportunities for creators in places like Duluth where they can afford a high quality of life while working on their stories. Letting creators be creators benefits everyone in the long run, including the industry and viewers.
This long-term economic development approach will require a strong state, regional, and local municipal effort, which is currently underway at the Minnesota statehouse. There is a solid tradition of TV and film production here in the land of 10,000 lakes with a well-connected professional creative community filtered throughout Hollywood; the Minnesota production industry is a sleeping giant waiting to awaken.
This year’s 14th Annual Festival from October 9-13 will bring together our worldwide creative community with Minnesota’s local base of creators, and we foresee magic happening.
Hollywood already has LA in the west, NY in the east, and Atlanta in the South. Look to Minnesota to be its north.
IV: Rebranding ITVFest as Catalyst
In the summer of 2018, we began a process of evaluating what the ITVFest brand name meant to both the industry and general public. We found 3 consistent facts:
1) Very few people under the age of 30 use the word "television" in their daily lives. The phrase "what did you watch on TV last night" has been replaced in today's streaming age with "what show have you watched recently"? The word 'television' barely makes an appearance to those born after 1990.
2) For many professionals in the entertainment industry, the word "independent" connotes a show that is of lesser quality than a network series. Most thought it meant a "YouTube series", aka "webseries".
3) Many creators and professionals thought ITVFest meant that we are a subset of the ITV network in England.
Our new identity focuses on what we do: lower the barriers between creators, audiences, and the industry. We accelerate the reactions between these groups so they can discover and gain value from each other.