The Independent Television Festival, or ITVFest for short, was created because while indie short film and feature creators had many outlets to get in front of “traditional” entertainment executives, creators of indie series did not [Editor’s note - amen to that]. Since its founding in 2006, official selections from ITVFest have gone on to be optioned by Lionsgate, Starz, MTV, Dreamworks, and more, and writers have ended up on staff for shows like New Girl, Modern Family, Drunk History, and Shameless.
In 2013, Philip Gilpin, Jr took over as Executive Director of the event, after working in the business affairs division at HBO in Los Angeles. “That is when I learned how TV was rapidly evolving and entering a new golden age,” he explained.
We got to speak with Mr. Gilpin about ITVFest, the future of indie TV, and what more web series creators should be doing to turn their art into a lasting career.
Stareable: What makes ITVFest different from other film contests and festivals?
Philip Gilpin Jr: There are thousands of film festivals out there, but there is only one festival that focuses exclusively on independently produced episodic programming, and that’s ITVFest. Plus our Vermont setting gives the festival a stronger community atmosphere than the big city events do.
What are some of your submission dos and don’ts, for prospective submitters?
The only real submission suggestions are (1) follow the rules. If the festivals ask for a specific size image with your submission or a specific length of show, pay attention to the details. They’re there for a reason. (2) Most judges know within the first 5 minutes if your show is any good. Put effort into having amazing audio and image quality from the first frame. If you don’t know what you’re doing, professionals will know right away.
If an aspiring writer or filmmaker attended the festival as a guest, not a submitter, what would they get out of it?
Access to industry people like nowhere else. Sure NY and LA events may have more execs and attendees, but have you ever tried asking them to chat over a drink by the firepit, or to say hello? There are everyday societal barriers at play which [our event in] Vermont breaks down and gives visitors the chance to get to know people. Plus it’s such a small town that the percentage of industry people is so much higher.
What are some common mistakes you see indie creators making, and how can they course-correct?
Having a story that doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s the most common reason shows are not accepted to the festival. Second most common is having a comedy without any punchlines. You have to make people actually laugh - not just think your show is cute and nice.
What do you wish more indie web series creators were doing?
To steal a sports analogy, leave it all out on the field. This is a golden age of episodic storytelling. Tell the story you REALLY want to tell. Be gritty, be wrong, be challenging, be human. Don’t try to create something based on what you think the industry wants. It doesn’t have a clue what it wants.
What’s different, in your opinion, about producing an indie film versus an indie series?
Indie films are one-offs. You raise the money, find the cast and crew, shoot it, edit it and you’re done. Now you just go around and sell it. Indie Series are a completely different experience. They never really end. And even if you do get to a festival like ITVFest and sell it, you’ll likely then have to fight to stay on the show as it’s re-developed.
In your opinion, should web series creators produce a full series, or just a pilot or proof-of-concept sizzle reel?
Creators should create as much content as they have the time and budget to do well. It’s better to shoot a pilot if possible because almost anyone can make a good trailer, but making a sequence of scenes that keep the viewers’ attention is a much more difficult task.
What are some networking tips for independent TV creators who might not be very outgoing or comfortable in social situations?
Get over it and get in the game. Everyone in the industry is too busy trying to survive each day and make something new - there’s no time for people to jump over any social barriers you might put in your own way.
What trends have you noticed about indie series since starting ITVFest, and which are the most exciting to you?
There’s an amazing trend towards emotional and intellectual content. Gone are the days of TV where people tune out; instead, creators are pushing boundaries and using indie series to challenge their audiences. Almost to the point of being years advanced of where audiences are. But they’ll catch up.
Any final words of wisdom to current or aspiring indie TV creators?
To be successful in the indie series world, you have to find a way to enjoy the struggle and hard work. The daily grind has to be FUN. You have to have such a belief in your story being the one that can change the world that every obstacle you encounter becomes just a new lesson learned.
ITV Fest 2017 will take place in Manchester, Vermont on October 11-15th. If you’re interested in attending, you can purchase tickets here. Let us know how it goes!