Indie NYC: Local Filmmakers Share Stories about Breaking into the Industry

September 3, 2013 - An eclectic mix of SAG members and New Yorkers interested in learning about independent film received insightful and practical advice from prominent professionals in the industry at Excellence in Indie Filmmaking, part of “Made in NY” Talks.

Taking place at Baruch College’s Engelman Recital Hall and Performing Arts Center, the panel was presented by the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment and the SAG Foundation and moderated by Todd Asher, first deputy commissioner of MOME.

The indie film professionals, who all chose to base their film careers in New York City, shared their stories of how they broke into the industry. “I snuck into NYU film school and applied to jobs on the internships list,” said Chiemi Karasawa, former script supervisor and now producer/director on independent films including Billy the Kid and Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. Paul Schnee, a casting director, worked in publishing at Simon & Schuster for 12 years, before interning at a casting agency at age 36 and starting his own company with another casting director shortly after.

Celine Rattray, co-president of Maven Pictures, stressed the importance of never giving up in a project that you believe in, remarking that she kept track of the 537 rejections she received to option The Kids Are All Right, the film she produced that went on to receive four Academy Award nominations as well as win the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Director Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On and Forty Shades of Blue) echoed the same sentiment, mentioning that he himself was rejected from the major film schools in New York but still pursued his career in filmmaking anyway. He also remarked about general collaborative nature and supportive environment that is filmmaking in New York, where film is scene in value for its artistic integrity, not purely in its ability to make money at the box office.

The panelists also shared their thoughts on the cinephile nature of New Yorkers, commenting on how talented and dedicated the film professionals are, including actors, PAs, directors and everyone involved in the production process. Schnee’s main advice to actors and aspiring industry professionals: “Be nice to everyone.” He added that you never know who you work with on one project will go on to be someone important on the next project. He also recommended to keep websites and IMDB pages currently with your most updated work, as often actors forget to include clips or shots from their latest productions, which can seem as though they’ve been out of the game for a bit of time.