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Family Film Festival: More Than Just Movies

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Most people think of film festivals as glitz and glamour. The International Family Film Festival (IFFF), which took place last month at the historic Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, had all that, but it had a lot more: education for kids and adults, networking, and fun.

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Actress/Screenwriter Judy Norton on red carpet at IFFF

Taking place in a Hollywood studio is a good start to the glitz and glamour. Raleigh Studios was formerly known as United Artists, where classics such as Rocky, High Noon, and Inherit the Wind were created. The “united artists” who inspired its name were Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and Mary Pickford. IFFF films show in screening rooms (Hollywood-talk for movie theaters) that bear the names of these luminaries, and their photos and movie memorabilia decorate the walls.

The Kids are OK

Unlike most film festivals which are mostly adult affairs, IFFF devotes an entire day and an awards ceremony to young filmmakers.

Voice over training for kids was conducted by Bill Farmer, voice of Disney’s Goofy and Pluto. Karen Workman, author of Baby Steps to Hollywood, shared advice for kids and parents based on her personal experience on how to survive as a child actor in Hollywood.

Awards were given to films created by young filmmakers in drama, comedy, documentary, and mixed media categories and age groups ranging from 8-14 and 14-17. The IFFF Institute, sponsor of the festival, also conducts workshops and training year around to encourage young filmmakers.

First Write It

Before you can make a movie, you need a script. The IFFF runs a contest for family-oriented scripts and conducts a screenwriter panel. This year’s panel featured writers Stephen Langford (Family Matters, Dude, Where’s My Dog?!), and Leigh Dunlap (A Cinderella Story, The Standoff), and producer Ilyssa Goodman.

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Screenwriters Stephen Langford and Leigh Dunlap discuss their craft at IFFF

Goodman ran the panel and asked the writers how they got started and if screenwriting was an innate talent.

Dunlap said, “You may be a talented writer, but screenwriting is a different kind of skill.” Dunlap said she honed her skill at the Gersh Agency where she read thousands of scripts. “That led to The Cinderella Story being an overnight success that only took five years to accomplish,” she joked.

Langford said he got his start watching Star Trek as a kid. “Then I read this book about it which was only 60 pages long. I saw how much someone got paid for this and I said, ‘I can do this.’”

Goodman asked if Langford really wanted to do sci-fi.

“I thought I was going to be a sci-fi writer,” he said, “but you do one family show, then they ask you to do another. It is satisfying though. When I created Steve Urkel we thought we were just doing a show. Twenty years later you see someone on a comedy show doing a sketch about Steve Urkel and you realize you’ve created something that will be evergreen.”

All three of the panelists emphasized the importance of being able to pitch your ideas in a meeting.

Dunlap lamented that writers are often shy and awkward when they go in to pitch an idea. “It’s kind of laziness on the part of the studio,” she said, “to judge an idea on how well a writer can act it out. You get a lot of product sold by writers who are good actors.”

Goodman agreed. “There are writers with less substance who are good pitchers and very good writers who are bad pitchers,” she said.

Langford emphasized the importance of good structure in a screenplay. “The truth about writing movies,” he said, “is that whether you have a master’s degree or not, you must develop a master’s degree of knowledge. The audience doesn’t know structure, but they can feel structure. Structure keeps you in the movie.”

Fun and Reads

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Actors doing a live read from finalist screenplays at IFFF

The IFFF also held a panel on film distribution, an indie film financing panel, a producer’s brunch for networking, and a cold read of the finalists in each of the screenplay completion categories.

Screenwriters picked a scene from their scripts and these were read before a live audience by members of the Lauren Patrice Nadler Studio acting school. Winner of the feature screenplay competition was Reach for the Sky by Eric Carlson and the finalist was The Oscar by Julia Liberman. Highlights of the reading are pictured below.

Another highlight was the presentation of the Friz Award for Animation, named after animator Friz Freleng. This was presented to eight-time Emmy award winner Andrea Romano, who started in teaching, worked as a talent agent, then moved to casting and directing. She worked in that capacity for 30 years on many shows including five-and-a-half years as casting director at Hanna Barbera. She directed Disney’s Duck Tales, Rescue Rangers, and Winnie The Pooh. Other credits include many of Universal’s Land Before Time DVD titles, Animaniacs, Pinky and The Brain, and several DC Comics titles.

News about next year’s International Family Film Festival can be found on their website and Facebook page.



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About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.